“You’re putting me on,” Hollie Babbitt says faintly. “For sure?”
Russell does not look flattered. Russell, in point of fact, looks scared witless. “You have a look,” he says, in a very odd voice. Hollie looks up and raises an eyebrow. “Russell, what you talking like that for? With your mouth shut?”
The scarred lieutenant points. (That damned Amazon female. She has a habit of passing her ill-conceived and unwomanly pamphlets of seditious literature by Russell, and she knows what it does to him.)
“Seductive smile,” Hollie reads, with mild disbelief. “What, him? That bugger was in my troop and I’d have him buck his ideas up, for sure. Running round half-dressed, he’ll catch his death of cold. Small, straight incisors -” he pokes his own straight teeth with a thumb, and then looks at Russell in the manner of a man assessing the age of a horse. “Well, you do have all your own teeth, Hapless. That is true. And they are, surely, straight. Though I wouldn’t call you seductive. You don’t do much for me, anyway.”
This is evidently of little consolation to Russell, who keeps his mouth firmly closed over admittedly-good teeth and looks quizzical.
“Manly,” Hollie goes on, “but not too muscular.” That leaves him somewhat at a loss. “You know a lot of fat cavalry officers?” he asks the ceiling. “- all right, Venning’s built on the perpendicular, but even he’s not fat. Say square, rather. Hapless, you want to have a word with that lass of yours. What is this rubbish? Manly – well, aye, we are, for the most part, fellers, yes. With one or two significant exceptions.” He glowers at Luce, who ignores him. Old news. “And not too muscular. Well, that’s three of us in this room who are masculine by gender and all of -“
“Slight,” Luce prompts.
“Elegant build,” Hollie corrects him, with a sidelong glance at Russell’s lithe and greyhound-lean person. Russell – still with his mouth closed – says nothing, but tries to look untidy.
“Oh God,” Russell says faintly. He is, after all, a cavalry officer. Most gentlemen with a deal of acquaintance with horses have –
“Calluses on their arse,” Hollie adds. “What kind of lass is this anyway, goes around assessing men by the quality of their backsides?” He – a married man of several years’ standing – looks up in indignation. His two junior officers are looking distinctly dreamy. “I wouldn’t mind?” Luce says hopefully.
“Aye, and you probably do look good in a frock, brat. The hell is this, Hapless? Oh – frock coat. What’s one of them?” He almost throws the pamphlet at Russell and then goes back to it. (They are strangely addictive, these things.) “Plain soldier’s coat not good enough for these wenches, is it not? Bloody soft-handed womanish – thing – look at the bloody state of him. Flailing about in the water like the Lord had meant him to be a bloody fish. Wouldn’t know proper soldiering if it bit him in the ar- back of the leg.” Hollie scratches at three days’ worth of ruffianly cinnamon stubble. “Too clean by half, that boy. Give me a week with him and I’d make a bloody trooper of him, you see if I wouldn’t.”
An accent, apparently. This paragon has to have a deep, gravelly voice. Luce the Essex boy looks relieved. Russell with his soft Buckinghamshire burr, and Hollie the North Countryman, exchange a horrified glance. Luce gets up and peers at the inflammatory pamphlet. “And long hair, apparently,” he says. “How fascinating.”
Hollie shifts in his seat, awkwardly, touching the thick russet ponytail that hangs straight down his back. And Russell – thick fair hair worn loose, most of the time, just past his shoulders. It covers the –
“Scar,” Luce says. “Good lord, Thankful. Apparently this gentleman was badly scarred in the face as a young man in the wars in Spain. They say it’s most appealing to the ladies.”
It’s not helping, of course. The fact remains, no matter how many of the traits the experts deem so desirable may happen to be possessed by Russell, the scarred (and not unhandsome) lieutenant remains unconvinced. And, possibly, therein lies his appeal. He thinks it’s all cobblers. Funny, but cobblers.
Hollie’s married, so he doesn’t care, although he folds up the inflammatory pamphlet to show Mistress Babbitt. He happens to share many of these desirable traits, and he’d like to confirm his good lady’s agreement with same.
Luce? Well, Luce is – currently – single, and ready to mingle. He pulls the cord loose that binds his own fair hair neatly back, and wonders if a shaving-cut from this morning counts as a fabulous flaw….