Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(40) by Lorraine Heath
But never had Emma regretted their skill more.
With a sigh snatched by the wind, she turned and began walking back to the cottage. A few sheep, cows, and chickens grazed about. They had long ago sold the horses. The only place they needed to go was to the village, and it was reached with an hour of walking. They’d had a light buggy for traveling when their father and Elisabeth were alive. But now it sat unused—the same as their laughter.
Opening the door into the front room, she felt the loneliness of the house even more. Perhaps tonight she would write a letter to James and thank him for the wonderful time he’d shown her in London—even if his ultimate goal hadn’t been to impress and charm her, he’d given her precious memories she’d never forget. Perhaps this time she would send it. Remorse and guilt gnawed at her, and she wondered if James had deduced everything. How long would it take him to realize he’d been duped? And when he did—dear God, she didn’t share Eleanor’s conviction that they were both safe.
She walked through the dining room and into the kitchen. “Well, I do believe we have a storm coming up.”
She came to an abrupt halt at the sight of Eleanor pumping water into the sink, then scraping a rough brush over her hands with a vengeance.
“Oh, Eleanor,” Emma said as she hurried over and wrenched the now red-stained brush free of her sister’s hold.
“I can’t get his blood off, Emma. No matter how hard I scrub. My skin feels so slick and dirty.”
“It’s not his blood, sweeting. It’s yours.” Gingerly, she guided Eleanor to a chair at the table. “Sit down while I fetch things.”
After gathering up the cloths and salve, she joined her sister and very carefully took her hand. Then, as gently as possible, she cleaned the raw, oozing flesh.
“It’s not my blood, it’s his,” Eleanor insisted.
“I’m going to clean it off, put salve on your hands, and wrap them up. His blood won’t come back after that.”
“You said the same thing yesterday.”
Emma lifted her eyes to Eleanor’s. “I’ll do it properly this time, but you mustn’t remove the bandages until the wounds heal.”
“They start to itch and burn. They hurt.”
“When that happens, come to me and I’ll take care of them.”
Nodding, Eleanor turned her head to look out the window. “Oh, my God, Emma, he’s here.”
Emma didn’t have to ask who. She heard the despair in Eleanor’s voice. And when she dared to peer out the window, her heart leapt at the sight of James riding astride a large brown horse. How often had she imagined him arriving to sweep her away and into his arms? Just as quickly, her heart crashed into the pit of her stomach. If he swept her away at all, it would be toward gaol.
Swindler owed Greystone another debt. The sketch Greystone provided had allowed Swindler to much more easily follow Eleanor’s trail from the train station to this nice stone cottage near the cliffs. It also helped that Greystone had made some inquiries of his peers and managed to discover the location of Viscount Watkins’s residence. Swindler had ridden the train as far as it would take him, and then hired a horse for the remainder of the journey. At a nearby village he’d managed to garner precise directions to his destination.
He wanted to remain level-headed until he questioned Eleanor. Presently, he only had suspicions regarding her duplicity. He held out hope that another explanation existed—that she’d not in fact arranged Rockberry’s murder and then used Swindler as her alibi. But if she hadn’t, why had she left him? Had she been overcome with shame for coming to his bed? Was it her reputation she was striving to protect?
His head and his pride were in a continual argument. He was not a man prone to emotions, but he wavered between boiling rage and crushing disappointment. Then he’d remember the wonder of her in his arms, before remembering that she had shattered the fragile trust developing between them.
Then there was the matter of the dagger. He’d only caught of a glimpse of it in the shadows. Perhaps his memory of it wasn’t clear. But he’d taught himself over the years to pay attention to details. It was unlikely now that he’d become careless. He’d barely brought the horse to a halt when she opened the door. She wore a simple dress of pink, her hair held in place with a pink ribbon.
As he dismounted, the emotions roiled through him like some sort of tempest. He was angry, yet still he desired her. He wanted the taste of her, the scent of her, the feel of her. He wanted her naked beneath him. He wanted her asking for his forgiveness, wanted her sharing her secrets. He wanted her arms wound around his shoulders, her fingers in his hair, her legs wrapped around his hips, her eyes holding his.
He barely remembered striding to the door, but suddenly she was in his arms, her mouth greedily greeting his. He’d been searching a fortnight, and every minute of every day had been hell, knowing what his duty would require of him when he found her, selfishly fearing he might never again set eyes on her. Desperation clung to him now, to yearn to have this forever and to know that he couldn’t.
She still smelled of roses. That much was real. She still moaned softly as he deepened the kiss. No deception there. Her body molded against his as though it belonged, and damned if he didn’t want it to.
But she’d betrayed him, betrayed his trust.
Breathing harshly, he tore his mouth from hers and cradled her face between his hands.
“Why in God’s name did you leave?”
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