The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(7) by Lorraine Heath
After arriving in her bedchamber, she rung for her lady’s maid. It seemed to take no time at all for Sarah to prepare her for bed. After the servant left, Winnie studied her reflection in the mirror at the dressing table. From a certain angle, it was almost impossible to tell that her nose had been broken. She flinched at the memory of the pain, the blood, the crack of cartilage giving way beneath the meaty fist. Her offense had been allowing the Devil Earl to attend their ball. Her husband had been furious.
She hadn’t run images of that horrid night through her mind in a good long while. She did hope she wouldn’t awaken in a cold sweat with her screams echoing through the room. Thoughts of that night so often brought on nightmares, even though years had passed. It was as though they were woven into the fabric of her soul.
Rising from the chair, she gave her reflection one last look before wandering over to the bed. As she crawled between the sheets, she had a momentary vision of William Graves waiting for her there, of his taking her into his arms, and kissing her with the same passion that he had in the garden. While she had every reason to dread the intimacy that would follow, she found herself anticipating it. She fully understood that not all men were as brutish as Avendale. She longed to glow with the happiness that Catherine did.
She didn’t bother to reach for the lamp, to extinguish the flame. Her son wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to sleep in the dark.
Rolling onto her side, she slipped a hand beneath the pillow—
Froze as her fingers touched something hard and cold.
No, it couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible.
Straightening, she flung the pillow aside and gasped at the sight of the sapphire necklace winking up at her.
Sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace in his small private parlor, William Graves slowly sipped his whiskey. He’d known sleep wouldn’t come easily tonight, not after indulging himself. He could still taste Winnie on his tongue, could still feel the impression of her body pressed against his. Devil take him, but he was a fool to yearn for something he could never possess.
He generally called on his patients, except for those he saw in hospital. Winifred Buckland had been the first he’d nurtured back to health in his residence. It had been a strange thing, having her in his home. It had seemed not quite so empty, so lonely.
While she had been here, after caring for a patient, he anticipated returning to his residence. His first order of business was to look in on her—regardless of the hour. Sometimes he would watch as she endured a restless sleep that even laudanum couldn’t tame. He would hold her hand, one that was neither rough nor callused, and urge her to fight. When she had begun to recover, he had spent hours talking with her. Day by day, he observed as she grew stronger not only in body, but in spirit. He caught glimpses of the lady she might have been before her marriage, and he was intrigued by the certainty of her demeanor that began to rise to the fore. It was then that she started discussing her plans to build a hospital as a way to repay him for his kindness. He loved the way her eyes sparkled when she spoke of different aspects she planned to include. Her excitement was contagious, and for the first time in his life, he’d wondered if he had punished himself enough, if he were finally deserving of love.
His musings were interrupted by a knock at his door. He thought nothing of it as he was accustomed to visitors at all hours of the night. The arrival of illness and injuries were not dictated by the ticking of a clock. With haste, he set aside his tumbler, got up, and marched to the door. Opening it, he stared at his visitor. “Winnie?”
“I need to talk to you straightaway.”
A pelisse was draped over her shoulders. Her hair was braided. If not for the trepidation in her features, he might have been distracted by thoughts of unraveling the strands. “Yes, of course, come in.”
As she stepped through the portal, he caught a glimpse of her carriage in the street. The fog was beginning to roll in. All seemed quiet, but then considering the hour he hadn’t expected anything else. Closing the door, he led her into the parlor. “Please sit down.”
She took a chair near the fire. Kneeling in front of her, he took her hands. He could feel the tiny tremors cascading through her. “My God, you’re like ice.”
“I didn’t know where else to come.” She lifted tear filled eyes to him. “I believe I’m going mad.”
“Why ever would you think that?”
Pulling her hands free of his, she reached into her reticule, removed something, then slowly unfurled her fingers to reveal a necklace of sapphires. “I found it beneath my pillow.”
“You’re going to tell me everything, but first we have to stop your trembling.”
Straightening, he went to a table set against a wall and poured whiskey into a glass. He wished he had something a bit more elegant for her, but as he rarely had visitors other than those seeking he come with them posthaste, he didn’t bother with having an assortment of liquor on hand. Whiskey served his needs and when people were upset and in want of something more than his words, it usually served theirs.
He had invited her to come here for an examination because he had an examination room here, and he’d thought she’d be more comfortable talking candidly away from her residence. It harbored far too many bad memories.
He crossed back over and handed her the glass. With a grateful nod, she took his offering and sipped. He suspected she was too upset to fully take notice of the fire going down, but hopefully it would serve to warm her.
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