Because of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #1) by Julia Quinn

Chapter 1

The roof of an abandoned farmhouse

Midway between Aubrey Hall and Crake House

Kent, England

1779

It wasn’t that Billie Bridgerton was lacking in common sense. On the contrary, she was quite sure that she was one of the most sensible people of her acquaintance. But like any thoughtful individual, she occasionally chose to ignore the little voice of reason that whispered through her mind. This could not, she was certain, be considered recklessness. When she ignored this cautionary voice, it was a conscious decision, made after a (somewhat) careful analysis of her situation. And to her credit, when Billie made a decision – one that most of humanity would deem beyond foolish – she usually landed quite sprightly on her feet.

Except when she didn’t.

Like right now.

She glared down at her companion. “I ought to throttle you.”

Her companion let out a rather unconcerned meow.

Billie let out a rather unladylike growl.

The cat assessed the noise, judged it to be beneath its notice, and began to lick its paws.

Billie considered the twin standards of dignity and decorum, decided they were both overrated, and returned volley with an immature scowl.

It didn’t make her feel any better.

With a weary groan, she looked up at the sky, trying to gauge the time. The sun was wedged quite firmly behind a layer of clouds, which complicated her task, but it had to be at least four o’clock. She reckoned she’d been stuck here for an hour, and she’d left the village at two. If she factored in the time it took to walk…

Oh bloody hell, what did it matter what the time was? It wasn’t going to get her off this damned roof.

“This is all your fault,” she said to the cat.

Predictably, the cat ignored her.

“I don’t know what you think you were doing up in that tree,” she continued. “Any fool would have known you couldn’t have got down.”

Any fool would have left it up there, but no, Billie had heard the mewling, and she’d been halfway up the tree before it occurred to her that she didn’t even like cats.

“And I really don’t like you,” she said.

She was talking to a cat. This was what she’d been reduced to. She shifted her position, wincing as her stocking caught on one of the weatherworn roof shingles. The snag jerked her foot sideways, and her already throbbing ankle howled in protest.

Or rather her mouth howled. She couldn’t help it. It hurt.

She supposed it could have been worse. She’d been well up in the tree, easily a good eight feet above the roof of the farmhouse, when the cat had hissed at her, flung out a well-clawed paw, and sent them both tumbling.

The cat, needless to say, had made its descent with acrobatic grace, landing without injury, four paws on the roof.

Billie still wasn’t sure how she’d landed, just that her elbow hurt, her hip stung, and her jacket was torn, likely from the branch that had broken her fall two-thirds of the way down.

But the worst was her ankle and foot, which were killing her. If she were home, she’d prop it up on pillows. She’d witnessed more than her fair share of twisted ankles – some on her own body, even more on others – and she knew what to do. Cold compress, elevation, a sibling forced to wait on her hand and foot…

Where were her minions when she needed them?

But then, off in the distance she saw a flash of movement, and unless the local beasts had recently made the move to bipedalism, it was quite clearly human.

“Helloooooooo!” she called out, then thought the better of it and yelled, “Help!”

Unless Billie’s eyesight was deceiving her – and it wasn’t, it really wasn’t; even her best friend Mary Rokesby admitted that Billie Bridgerton’s eyes wouldn’t dare to be anything but perfect – the human in the distance was male. And there wasn’t a male of her acquaintance who could ignore a feminine cry for help.

“Help!” she yelled again, feeling no small bit of relief when the man paused. She couldn’t quite tell if he’d turned in her direction – perfect eyesight only went so far – so she let out another holler, this one quite as loud as she could make it, and nearly sobbed in relief when the gentleman – oh, please let him be a gentleman, if not by birth, then at least by nature – began to move in her direction.

Except she didn’t sob. Because she never sobbed. She would never have been that sort of a female.

She did, however, take an unexpected breath – a surprisingly loud and high-pitched unexpected breath.

“Over here!” she called out, shrugging off her jacket so that she could wave it in the air. There was no point in trying to appear dignified. She was, after all, stuck on a roof with a twisted ankle and a mangy cat.