The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(18) by Lorraine Heath
Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over to the bed, gently laid her down, and drew the covers over her. “Would you like me to close the windows?”
She nodded, and he marched over to them, closing one and then the other. He took a moment to peer through them. Are you out there, you bastard?
With quickness, he drew the draperies closed. Aware of her gaze following him, he went into the bathing room, snatched up some linens, and returned to spread them over the floor beneath the windows so they could soak up the water.
As he neared the bed, he tore off his jacket, waistcoat, and cravat and tossed them on a nearby chair. After pulling off his shoes, he sat on the edge of the bed. “Winnie, you appear to be in shock. You need to be warmed. I’m going to slip beneath the covers and hold you. That’s all, just hold you. All right?”
Her eyes wide and circular, she nodded. “I’m going mad.”
“No, sweetheart, there’s an explanation for all this,” he murmured as he worked his way between the sheets and drew her near, briskly rubbing his hands up and down her back, striving to generate enough heat to stop her trembling. Her teeth were chattering. He feared he might have to wake the servants to have a warm bath prepared for her. Although he suspected she wouldn’t want the servants to see her like this. “Can you tell me what happened?”
Snuggling up against him, she burrowed her nose into the crook of his shoulder. “I was dreaming, and suddenly I began to feel as though a great weight was pressing on me and I was suffocating. I could smell Avendale as though he were wafting through the room. I don’t recall opening the windows or building the fire. Or the rings. How did they come to be here? They were locked up safe at the family estate. Could I be doing these things in my sleep?”
At least she’d stopped trembling, he was grateful for that. He slowed his hands into a gentle caress. “It’s possible I suppose. I once had a patient who would wake up in the middle of the night to find himself standing in the stables with no recollection of how he came to be there.”
She tilted her head up to hold his gaze. “Truly?”
He gave her a comforting smile. “Truly. He also was stark naked. Apparently, he removed his nightclothes before he began his trek.”
She released a little huff that was almost a laugh. “Were you able to cure him?”
“No, I couldn’t determine the cause. It wasn’t physical and there’s a good deal I don’t know about the mind.”
“Do I belong in Bedlam, do you think?”
“No, absolutely not,” he said with conviction.
She nestled her face back against his chest. “Is everything all right with the queen?”
“Yes. She ate something that upset her digestion.”
“She’s fortunate to have you.”
He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Go to sleep now. I’ll hold the monsters and nightmares at bay.”
“Yes, all right.”
He was acutely aware of her relaxing against him, her breathing slowing.
“I’ve never slept with a man in my bed before,” she said in a low voice, as though she feared disturbing him. “I rather like it. Avendale always left right afterward.”
Naturally. The man didn’t appreciate what he once possessed. “I don’t.”
“I suspected that about you.” He thought he could feel a blush warming her skin beneath his hands. “You’re always so kind.”
Her words were like a lash to his heart. If he were kind he would tell her everything right now and end her torment, only others were involved, those with whom he’d grown up, those who had saved his neck on more than one occasion. Claybourne especially. If not for him, Graves would no doubt still be on the streets or worse, dead. “Try to sleep.”
He was acutely aware of the length of her body pressed against his. One of her legs was wedged between his and he fought not to consider that her leg was bare which meant that her gown was hiked up. How far up, he couldn’t tell. At his side, her hand flinched, unfurled. Her breathing went soft, softer.
He kept his arms around her, holding her close, hoping that with his presence he could hold her fears at bay.
Winnie awoke to find William raised up on an elbow, watching her. The fire had long since gone out. With the draperies drawn, no sunlight was entering the room. The only light came from the soft glow of the lamp that he’d brought into the room with him the night before.
She wasn’t yet ready to speak, to disturb his study of her, especially as she wanted to take a few moments to enjoy the sight of him. Although his hair was blond, he had the longest, blackest eyelashes she’d ever seen. Unlike hers, his nose was straight and perfect, narrow, patrician. His chin was narrow, sharp, with the tiniest dent in the center of it. His cheekbones were high, hollowed. The bristles along his jaw were darker than she’d expected them to be. She had an insane thought that she would very much like to shave him, feel and hear the scrape of the razor over his skin.
She thought of doing things with him that she never thought of doing with Avendale. William appealed to her in ways that Avendale never had. She had cared for Avendale, had believed when she accepted his offer of marriage that she loved him, but now she could not help but wonder if perhaps she had been too young to truly recognize love, if perhaps she had simply been in love with the notion of love, or perhaps marriage. It was what girls of her station strived to accomplish: a good marriage. Or maybe he had managed to beat out her affections toward him until no remnants of her original feelings for him remained, and so she could no longer remember exactly how she had felt toward him.
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