The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(2) by Lorraine Heath
He took in his surroundings with the attention of someone who never failed to overlook the tiniest of details. “You have a rather nice turnout. I’m not sure I’d have been missed.”
Rubbing the bridge of her nose, she said, “You would have been, I assure you. And you’re correct about the attendance this evening. This year’s donations will provide the funds to see that the work on the hospital begins in earnest.”
His blue gaze came back to bear on her. “A hospital will be much appreciated. You’re very generous to give it your time and such devotion.”
“It’s no sacrifice, I assure you. Perhaps if you have a couple of spare hours in the next few days, we could discuss some of the details. I want to ensure that it suits your needs.”
“I trust your judgment.”
He would never know how much those words meant to her. Her husband had sought to control every aspect of her life, had never trusted her judgment. In the end, she began to doubt it as well. “Still, I value your opinion.”
“Your Grace, it should have nothing to do with me.”
It had everything to do with him. “Please,” she urged, knowing that next he would tell her again that he had done nothing out of the ordinary in caring for her. She liked him, rather a lot, but he kept a respectful distance and was always so formal with her. She knew he had grown up on the streets and was a friend to the Earl of Claybourne. It was how she had met him as the earl had also assisted that awful night. “It gives my life purpose. I’m going to build a hospital whether or not you assist me, but doing it on my own, I may muck things up.”
He smiled, a soft upturn of his lips. “I doubt you will muck things up, but I suppose I could add some insight regarding the needs of a hospital. I’ll make time in my schedule to look over your plans.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Now, can you make time in your hostess schedule to dance with me?”
Joy burst through her. It was the first ball where she had not worn her mourning garb. In her pale blue evening gown, she felt young again, not weighted down with the poor decisions of her youth. “I can indeed. My dance card is completely open. Widows are not nearly as sought after as young single ladies.”
“Personally, I prefer a lady with some experience in life to the ones who are too innocent.” The strains of another waltz started up. “Will this dance suffice?”
She couldn’t contain her pleasure. “It will do very nicely.”
As he led her onto the dance floor, she did experience a moment of disappointment. She would have felt far more self-possessed if she were wearing the sapphire necklace that once belonged to her mother. It would have gone perfectly with her gown and would have served to distract from her misshapen nose that listed slightly to one side—a parting gift from Avendale. But when she’d gone to the safe earlier to retrieve the sapphires, they hadn’t been there. She didn’t know how the necklace could have been stolen when the safe was secure and she was the only one with the key. She tried to remember when she had last worn it, and if she might have placed it elsewhere, but she always took such care with the jewelry, more because of its sentimental value than its monetary worth.
But thoughts of the necklace slipped from her mind as William Graves took her into his arms and swept her over the gleaming marble floor. Her favorite part of the evening was always this singular dance with him. He would only ask her once. It mattered not that no one else escorted her onto the dance area. After these few minutes, he wouldn’t intrude on her evening again—as though she would consider any time spent with him an intrusion.
As his eyes held hers, she wondered if he saw her as she was now or as she’d been. She didn’t wish to be vain, but it seemed that she was nonetheless. A diagonal white line marred one brow. She had a tiny scar on one cheek. Beneath her gown resided several others. William knew of their existence because he’d been the one to stitch her up, the one who had held ice against all the various areas that had swollen and bruised. He was the one who had spooned broth into her mouth when she could barely move her jaw.
She had been a married woman who, within only a few days, began to hold affection for a man who wasn’t her husband. Then Avendale was gone, and her guilt over her feelings toward William had spiked. Entirely inappropriate for her to think of him as anything other than her physician. And William, bless him, had never taken advantage of the situation, had never indicated that he saw her as anything other than a patient.
But now she almost believed she saw desire smoldering in his eyes. They didn’t speak. It seemed there was no need for words. But she was acutely aware of his hand holding hers tightly, his other hand pressing into the small of her back, his legs brushing against her skirt. He was tall, broad-shouldered, but she wasn’t threatened by his physical traits. Rather, she felt safe, protected.
Perhaps it was a result of the days she’d spent under his care. He had secreted her and her son away to his town home. His friend, Frannie, who later became the Duchess of Greystone, had seen to caring for Whit, while William had devoted all his time ensuring that Winnie recovered from the ordeal. It was more than the physical healing that had been required, and he saw to her emotional needs masterfully.
So many nights she awoke with a start from a nightmare to see him sitting in a chair beside the bed keeping watch over her. He filled her hours of recovery by reading Shakespeare and Dickens to her, playing chess, carrying her out to the garden so she could enjoy watching her son kicking a ball around with Frannie. He seemed to know what she needed without her voicing it. He was so attentive, and while she told herself that it was only because he was seeing to her recovery, in a small corner of her heart she could not help but believe that he enjoyed his time with her, that he welcomed excuses to be in her company a bit longer. Sometimes they would talk about nothing in particular into the late hours of the night, until she drifted off into restful slumber. She always seemed to sleep better when she carried his voice into her dreams.
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