In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(77) by Lorraine Heath
“If the manor still stands, put him in the wine cellar. It has a door with a lock and a bar.”
“And after that?”
“You and I will return to London. I’ll come back for Avendale once I’ve made
arrangements. Until then, my most trusted servants will keep him imprisoned and fed.”
“What will the arrangements entail?”
Groaning, he shook his head. “I can’t think clearly right now, Catherine.”
She wrapped her hand around his upper arm as though to steady him. “You’re in a great deal of pain.”
“It’s never been this bad.” It was all he could do to put one foot in front of the other. He was still baffled by how he knew about the passage, but concentrating only made his headache worse and he thought if it got much more painful that he might actually lose consciousness. Instead he focused on Catherine’s hand on his arm. He thought about her silky body beneath his and the pain eased a little. He concentrated on remembering how wonderful it had felt to sink into her. The pain in his head eased a little more, but he began to ache elsewhere.
Better to simply concentrate on walking.
Eventually they reached the manor. It appeared undamaged until they went around to the wing where the library had been. A portion had collapsed and little remained except charred remnants.
“My lord!” His butler rushed over. “We feared the worst.”
Claybourne dropped Avendale onto the ground. “What’s the damage?”
“We were fortunate. Only this wing sustained any real damage. The other wing and the main portion of the house are unscathed and habitable.”
“Good.” Luke stepped over what remained of the wall near the chimney that had withstood the assault. The secret door was gone. A gaping hole revealed the stairs leading down into the passage. “Were you aware this passage existed?”
“No, my lord,” the butler said. “I’m sorry. Where does it lead?”
“To the sea. Ask the other servants.”
Luke pressed his fingers to his forehead. “Ask the servants if anyone knew about this passage. I need to know who told me about it.”
“Yes, my lord.” He hurried off.
Luke looked around. The old gent had taken such joy in his books and now they were destroyed. Luke felt an irrational anger at the useless destruction. The charred stench on the air was nauseating.
A sound caught his attention and he turned just in time to see Catherine stumble.
Reaching out, he grabbed her and kept her from falling.
“So much lost,” she murmured, and he heard the sorrow in her voice.
“It could have been worse. I’ll see that Marcus Langdon has the funds to rebuild all this to its former glory.”
“You may not be the true Earl of Claybourne, but it’s obvious you care about this place.”
He couldn’t deny that he had come to care for it. Giving it up would be more difficult than he’d realized, but it was because he’d come to care for it that he was determined to see it returned to the rightful owner. A good many things would change with his decision
—including the fact that Frannie would no longer have an excuse not to marry him.
Someone had set tall torches in the ground. Their burning flames illuminated Catherine, and Luke could see the soot and dirt covering her face. No, it wasn’t all dirt. A bruise was forming from where Avendale had struck her. Luke had a strong urge to kill him for that alone. Tenderly he touched her cheek. Strangely he found himself thinking about the man who would have the honor of touching her cheek when she was old. He hoped the man would appreciate that her strength and beauty would never age.
“Our chambers are supposedly habitable. I could use a hot bath.”
She smiled at him, stunning him that after all they’d been through, she could still smile.
“I would like that very much,” she said.
And he realized she was granting permission for him to have one more night with her.
As the water lapped around her, Catherine thought she would be forever spoiled when it came to bathing. It was simply delicious to be immersed in warm water while snuggling against a man, especially when that man was Claybourne. Fortunately the tub was large.
Legend had it that it had been made especially for the men of the family, because they tended to be tall and they liked room to move about. She also suspected that they liked not taking baths alone.
They’d locked Avendale in the cellar, with two guards to keep watch. Portions of the library continued to smolder, but the few servants he’d not sent away when he and Catherine had first arrived were keeping watch there as well, putting out any small fires that erupted. It was strange to suddenly have so few worries, yet Catherine relished the peace. She just wished that Claybourne’s head would stop hurting.
He wasn’t complaining, but his furrowed brow and tightened jaw told the tale of his discomfort. He’d been unable to find any servant who knew of the secret passage. He was bothered by the fact that he’d known about it, but Catherine was convinced that the previous earl had shown it to him at some point and Claybourne had simply forgotten. It was the only explanation that made sense.
With his hand, he lazily stroked her arm while she skimmed her fingers over his chest.
She wished she could wash away the scars, the evidence of his harsh life, yet his life had shaped him into a man who stood strong for others. Even if he weren’t a lord, he’d still be a man to be admired.
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