My breath caught as soon as he said the name and my eyes searched his features, looking for the little boy I had known in the man that stood before me. “Rylan?” I breathed and he nodded, still with that familiar grin in place.
“Oh…my,” was all my idiot brain could say as I took in his fine horse and his fine clothes and his fine eyes.
I probably still had pear juice on my face.
“How are you, Miss Kinley?” he asked with the same light in his eyes that he used to have whenever he would tell me about his favorite part of a lesson.
“I am…well,” I answered in a breathless sort of stuttering. “Very well, thank you. I hope all is well with you and your family. How are Lord and Lady Baylor?”
“My father runs his business affairs with an iron fist and my mother coddles the staff, so everything is as it should be.” He grinned.
“Good.” I had to ignore the grin so that I could speak. “And Master Welsley and Tayana?”
“Welsley takes life too seriously, but is ready to take over for father at a moment’s notice. Tayana is soon to be married.”
“Good, good. That’s very good.” It was so very awkward to be standing in front of this man who had befriended me as a child. How was I supposed to act?
“And what of your family?” he asked eagerly. “It was your brother, was it not? That married…”
“Princess Ariella, yes.” No one seemed to be able to say it out loud, worried that if they were wrong, I’d somehow be offended. I was used to finishing the thought.
He gave a crooked smile. “That must have been an interesting adjustment.”
I laughed, surprised at how succinct that description was. “It was a surprise and an adventure, and I really do adore her.”
“I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her, but everyone seems to have an opinion one way or the other.”
“I can only imagine.” While most of the common folk had accepted Ella and Gavin, I knew that the nobility had not been so easily convinced when she’d stooped to marry a commoner.
He smiled, so casual, so comfortable.
I felt the need to fill the silence. His horse bobbed its head, trying to get Rylan’s attention. I pointed to him. “And who is this?”
He reached up, stroking the horse behind its ear. “This is Apollo. Say ‘Good day,’ old man.”
The horse actually nodded its head up and down. I was reminded of Herman, who I had abandoned.
“I should go.” I gestured awkwardly down the lane. “It was a pleasure seeing you.”
“Wait, can I see you?”
My confusion made the corner of my mouth quirk up. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I’d like to speak with you again,” he said as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
“Oh, um.” He was nobility, and I was decidedly not. “I have to get Herman. My pony, he’s—” I pointed behind me as if that would explain my inability to speak coherently, then turned to walk back the way I had come.