The Dangerous Lord Darrington(5)

By: Sarah Mallory

The young woman opened the door to a snug bedchamber with a cheerful fire burning in the grate. She walked across the room and lifted a large white cloth from beside the washstand.

‘Use this to dry yourself. And if you remove your wet clothes, I will arrange for them to be cleaned and dried.’

She avoided looking at him and, almost before she had finished speaking, she was back at the door, whisking herself out of the room before he could thank her.

Guy stripped off his wet clothes and rubbed himself down with quick, powerful movements that forced the blood around his chilled body. There was a knock at the door and he looked out. The passage was empty, but a brightly patterned bundle of cloth was lying at his feet. Shaking it out, he found it was a wrap. Unlike the fashionable silk banyan that his valet would have laid out for him on his bed at Highridge, this garment was made of fine, soft wool, warm to the touch and infinitely comforting as he shrugged himself into it and fastened the ties at the waist. It was a little short, but otherwise a good fit. He was rubbing the worst of the wet from his hair when there was another soft knock on the door. It was Beth Forrester, holding a tray in her hands. His instinct was to take it from her, but some spirit of mischief made him stand aside, so that she was obliged to enter the room and carry the tray across to a table.

‘I thought you might like a little bread and wine,’ she said, not looking at him. ‘My grandmother has asked me to look out some clothes for you, so that you may join us for supper later.’

‘Thank you. I should be honoured to do so.’ As he shut the door she whirled around, startled, and for the first time looked directly at him. Her eyes were a deep, dark brown, too beautiful to hold such anxiety as he read in their liquid depths. He said soothingly, ‘Please, stay a moment—Mrs Forrester, is it not? I would like to talk to you.’ She eyed him warily and he smiled. ‘I am naturally anxious to know how my friend goes on.’

‘Doctor Compton is still with him. There is no news yet.’

‘Ah, of course.’ He moved towards the dressing table. ‘May I use this comb?’

She nodded and stood silent as he tidied his damp hair.

‘Is this your bedroom?’ His question brought her eyes to his face again and with a little smile he lifted a silver-backed hairbrush from the dressing table. ‘There are red hairs in it.’

She nodded again.

‘It was the only bedchamber with a fire. With Tilly and Martin both occupied it seemed the most sensible thing…?.’ She trailed off, a delicate flush mantling her cheeks.

‘It is not at all sensible to let a strange man into your bedchamber,’ he murmured, guessing her thoughts. ‘But I am extremely grateful. I only hope your husband will understand.’

‘My husband has been dead these six years, sir.’

‘I am so very sorry.’ He paused. ‘Is this his banyan I am wearing?’

‘No, it—it is my brother’s, but it was always far too big for him and he never wore it. I should go…’

‘Please, do not run away!’

‘I am not— I mean, I must find some clothes to fit you, if you are to join Grandmama for supper.’

She stood before him, like a deer poised for flight, but still Guy stood in her way.

‘And will you be at supper, too?’

‘Of course.’

‘Very well, I will let you go.’

He stepped aside, but even so in the small chamber there was only just room for her to walk by him to reach the door. He forced himself to keep still as she passed within inches of him and as she went by he breathed in the unmistakable scent of lemons.

Chapter Two

Beth’s composure only lasted until she reached the corridor. As soon as she was out of sight of the bedroom door she collapsed against the wall, her legs trembling so much she could barely stand. What on earth was she about, to enter the room with that man in there, naked save for a thin wrap that clung to every contour of his body? As soon as she realised he was not going to take the tray from her she should have placed it on the ground and walked away, not carried it into the room. She was well aware of Lord Darrington’s reputation as a dangerous rake—as well walk into a lion’s den! A laugh bubbled inside her. He was certainly built like a noble beast. That clinging wrap had left little to the imagination and, although he was so tall, his broad shoulders and slim hips were to her mind perfectly proportioned. Her mouth had grown quite dry when she had watched him pulling her own ivory comb through his hair—for one reckless moment she wished it was her fingers that had been driving through those thick, dark locks. Beth closed her eyes, shocked by her reaction to this stranger. Was this what happened to widows when they had been alone for several years? The caresses and intimate moments she had shared with her husband had never seemed very important to her, yet now she was imagining herself locked in the arms of the earl and sharing heady, passionate kisses…

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