Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(50) by Lorraine Heath
After tidying up the room, he took a lamp and walked through the house, making certain that no lamps had been left burning. Then he went up the stairs to his bedchamber. The bed was turned down. He set the lamp on the bedside table. Stripping off his clothes, he crawled into bed, put out the flame in the lamp, and settled back. Emma’s rose fragrance surrounded him. He tried not to think of her nestled in this bed. He focused on the window, the draperies drawn back. Lightning flashed and he thought of the fireworks they’d watched, the kiss—
Every damned thing reminded him of Emma, of how much he’d enjoyed having her in his life. Every damned thing reminded him that she was no longer a part of the joy in his life—she was now a suspect. More than that, she was the one he had to arrest. Eleanor may have done the deed, but Emma had played a part in Rockberry’s demise. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t overlook it. And in not overlooking it, he couldn’t ignore that she hadn’t trusted him, had used him, had betrayed him.
It was so easy to forget all the wrongs when he was looking at her, studying her—when she was near enough to touch. It was also impossible to know how much of her true self she’d revealed to him in London. She’d duped him once. He didn’t intend to fall into her trap again.
James awoke to dreary skies. The rain had stopped. The sun was striving to shine through the gray clouds that remained. The house was incredibly silent. Emma had been right. It was never this quiet in London.
Abruptly he sat up. It could also be so quiet because they’d left. Getting out of bed, he quickly dressed and hurried downstairs. He heard activity in the kitchen. When he got there, he saw only Eleanor kneading the bread dough. “Where is she?”
Eleanor peered over at him. “Good morning to you, too, sir.”
“Where in the bloody hell is Emma?”
Wiping her hands on her apron, Eleanor edged past him. “Come with me.”
She led him to a back door, opened it, and stepped outside. “Follow that well-worn path. It leads—”
“To the cove.”
He strode along the edge of the dirt trail where the grass made the journey less muddy. Puddles abounded. At one point he considered removing his boots, then decided that giving them a good polish would at least occupy his hands later in the day. The path eventually led downward and into an area where the waters created a still pool. A small fire was burning nearby. But what caught his attention were the slender bare arms slicing through the water.
Emma was beauty and grace. She rolled onto her back, kicking her feet. He didn’t know how she managed to stay afloat. She wore little more than a chemise that clung to her body. He could see the outline of her taut nipples and the shadow between her thighs. He was well acquainted with the heaven her body offered. Although he knew he should look away, he couldn’t. He remembered the taste, the texture, the sight of what was now barely hidden. But what most astounded him was her face in repose. He didn’t know if he’d ever seen her with absolutely no worries.
With a splash, she suddenly went upright and began paddling toward the shore. When near enough, she stood up. Holding his gaze demurely, she waded toward him until she eventually left the water. Snatching up a blanket that he’d not even noticed, she wrapped it around herself and sat beside the fire.
Only then did he realize that her lips had gone blue and that she was shivering uncontrollably.
“Good Lord, what have you done?” he demanded as he came around behind her and drew her up against his chest, rubbing her arms. “Are you trying to catch your death?”
“I’ve swum in the pool for years. Makes me hearty.”
He continued to hold her until her teeth stopped chattering, then he simply folded her into his embrace. She leaned back into him.
“I didn’t want to betray you,” she whispered hoarsely.
Against his will, his arms tightened around her.
“A thousand times I wished that Father had sent me first and that I’d met you last summer when I was still filled with innocence and knew only happiness. There were times when I was with you that I could forget why Eleanor and I had come to London. Afterward I’d feel guilty for not focusing on retribution for Elisabeth. Ever since that afternoon when you approached me at Hyde Park, everything became so much more complicated. I didn’t want to come to care for you, but you made that wish an impossibility.”
He was acutely aware of her trembling, but knew it had little to do with the cold. She was weeping. He heard it in the rough edge of her voice.
“After that last night…in London…as you returned me to the lodgings, I’d prayed that Eleanor had not possessed the strength to go through with it. I was going to tell her to trust you. That I did. That I thought you would see justice done if you only knew the truth. But it was too late.”
“Why didn’t you come to me afterward?” he forced out through clenched teeth. It was torturous knowing how she suffered, hearing her speak of their time together—but she’d walked away from it. He couldn’t overlook that. “Why not tell me the truth then? Why not trust me to protect you?”
She twisted around in his arms and touched his cheek. “You have so much pride. How could you not hate me for what I’d done? How could you not think that every word uttered, every touch, every kiss, were simply tools to seduce you into doing my bidding?”
“How could you have just walked away from what had developed between us?”
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