When not escaping to another world via reading or writing a book, she spends her time chasing two young boys around the house, being hunted by wild animals, or sitting on the swing in the backyard where she has to use her arms as shields to deflect projectiles AKA: balls, water balloons, sticks, pinecones, and anything else one of them picks up to hurl at his brother who just happens to be hiding behind her.
Unfortunately, Alex misunderstood what game she liked. It wasn’t lawn chess, but lawn chess–where the board is a huge wooden platform and the pieces are life-size. To salvage the afternoon, Lady Watson (Regina Banks) says that she’s instructed a footman to set up a pall mall course and with her parting words, reminds Alex to be a gentlemen and allow Caroline to use the pink mallet if she so wishes.
And thus begins their game of pall mall:
They walked over to the grass he’d pointed to and she carelessly dropped her ball to the ground. Standing next to her ball, she swung the mallet back so far she almost knocked herself in the head with the heavy chunk of wood on the end. Then she brought it forward with a swing that would have been more appropriate for a links course. The mallet hit the underside of the ball and sent it straight up into the air.
Caroline shrieked and brought her arms up to cover her face as the ball flew back down to earth only ten inches from where it was originally placed.
“Congratulations, Caroline,” Alex said smartly. “You’re ten inches closer to the hoop!”
She made a face at him and he chuckled.
Alex dropped his ball to the ground in the same place she’d started and brought his mallet back only about ten inches or so. Lightly swinging the mallet forward, he tapped the ball and sent it rolling straight ahead. His ball rolled smack into hers, but because it hadn’t been a hard hit, his ball stopped and rolled back about two inches.
“Oh congratulations, Alex,” Caroline said sarcastically. “Your ball is a whole eight inches closer to the hoop.”
“It would have gone further had yours not been in the way,” he returned with a teasing grin.
“Excuses, excuses.” She walked up to their balls with him. “Who goes now?”
“You do,” he said. “We always go in the same order, even if there’s a gap.”
“Oh.” She blinked at the balls that were no more than two inches apart.
He bit back a smile. The head of the mallet was about four inches long, the only way she’d be able to hit that ball was if she either hit it to the side, knocking it off course, or turned her mallet to the side and hit it with the side of the mallet, which would probably only make it roll a half inch away. “Your turn,” he prompted.
She sighed and leaned down to pick up her ball.
“Don’t,” he commanded more harshly than he meant, stepping backward. “It’s against the rules to move your ball.” Not to mention that when she’d leaned down, her shoulder had unintentionally, but still seductively, brushed the fall of his pants.
“What should I do?”
“Put your stick between the two balls and give it a flick with your wrist,” he suggested, feeling grateful nobody else was here to hear him say those words. There were too many ways that sentence could be misconstrued.
She angled her mallet sideways between their balls and hit hers just far enough to get it out of the direct path of his.
“Good work,” he said approvingly as he strode up to his ball. He swung and hit it, sending it about eighteen inches in front of him.
“Nice shot,” she said with a look on her face he couldn’t interpret.
“Thank you,” he said tentatively. “It’s your turn.”
She walked up to her ball and got in position to club it again. “What are you doing?” she squealed as his hands descended on her.
“Helping you,” he murmured in her ear. Covering her hands with his, he stood as close to her as he dared.
“Where did your mother go?”
He froze. “She probably went to check on my father. She’ll be back shortly. Don’t worry, I won’t do anything I oughtn’t.”
“I know,” she said with a swallow.
“Now, the problem is you’re trying to hit it for all it’s worth. That won’t work with pall mall. It’s more about tapping the ball. Just bring it back this far—” he pulled their arms back together until the mallet was only about a foot from the ball— “then, smoothly bring the mallet forward. All right, let’s try it for real this time.”
She nodded and let him help her move her arms back, then swung forward. The ball rolled about three feet. “Did you see that, Alex?” she squealed, his arms still wrapped around her.
“Yes. I might wear spectacles, but I can see,” he teased, fruitlessly willing himself to let go of her.
“Your turn.” She twisted in his arms, presumably to get free.
He let her go. “Right,” he clipped. He walked to his ball and knocked it a good twelve inches.
Paying him and his poor playing no mind, Caroline took her turn and without his help, hit her blue ball so well he had to take a second glance to make sure it had in fact gone through the hoop. Hell’s afire, she truly was a natural.
In less than twenty minutes, Alex crossed through the first hoop and Caroline’s ball sailed through the fifth. They’d gotten in a habit of yelling to the other when they’d finished with their turn so the other could go. More than once, Alex had contemplated picking up his ball and throwing it further ahead when she wasn’t looking. But he’d never cheated at a game before and he wasn’t going to start with pall mall!
Alex stood with his mallet poised behind his ball, waiting for Caroline to scream it was his turn. Instead, her words came out sounding a bit different. Usually she said, “Your turn.” But this time she said, “Wait a second, Alex. I’m going to help you.”
His lips twisted into a snarl. There was only one thing worse than cheating: getting help. He swallowed and swung his mallet back. He didn’t care if he hit the ball in a way that would send it backward. He just wanted to hurry and hit it before she got here to “help” him. Staring down at the ball, he brought his mallet forward to hit his ball when suddenly a purple slipper came into view and settled on his ball.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, hands on her hips.
“Taking my turn. Now, if you’d remove your dainty slipper, I’ll get on with it.”
“Not so fast.” She grabbed him by the lapels. “I said I was going to help you. Didn’t you hear me?”
“Yes. But I don’t want your help, so I ignored you.”
She rolled her eyes. “Too bad. Now stand still.” She came around to stand behind him, wrapped her arms around him, and put her hands on his.
Never in his life had he been torn between feeling two vastly different emotions. On one hand, he was rather embarrassed she was helping him. On the other, lust and desire coursed through him at an astonishing rate as her soft breasts rested against his back. “Perhaps we should back up,” he rasped. With how responsive his body was to hers, when they swung that mallet, her hands were going to feel something else that was long and hard if she didn’t allow him some space.
“Nonsense,” she said, pressing closer to him. “The problem is you’re stiff.”
Yes, I know. But how did you? “Excuse me?” he asked raggedly.
She brought her hands to his shoulders and kneaded his muscles. “You’re body is too tense. Relax.”
He wanted to groan in vexation. As long as she stood pressed up against him like this, his body would not relax.
He let her help him swing, and the ball went about as far as it had when he’d done it alone.
She shook her head. “You’re too rigid, Alex. If you’d soften up and relax, your game would improve.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said dryly. “Now go take your turn.”