Griffin Stone:Duke Of Decadence(3)

By: Carole Mortimer

Griffin turned to the bedside table and poured some into a glass. He placed a hand gently beneath her nape to ease up her head and held the glass to her lips until she had drunk down several sips, aware as he did that those dark blue eyes remained fixed on his every move.

Tears now filled them as her head dropped back onto the pillows. ‘I—’ She gave a shake of her head, only to wince as even that slight movement obviously caused her pain. She ran her moistened tongue over her lips before speaking again. ‘You are very kind.’

Griffin frowned darkly as he turned to place the glass back on the bedside table, hardening his heart against the sight of those tears until he knew more about the circumstances behind this young woman’s flight through his woods. His years as an agent for the Crown had left him suspicious of almost everybody.

And women, as he knew only too well, were apt to use tears as their choice of weapon.

‘Who are you?’

It was a reasonable question, Griffin supposed, in the circumstances. And yet he could not help but think he should be the one asking that.

When they’d arrived at Stonehurst late last night he had left the care of his carriage and horses to his head groom, before hurriedly taking her into his arms and carrying her up the steps into the house. Once inside he had hurried her up to the bedchambers, much to the open-mouthed surprise of his butler, Pelham.

Rather than send for a doctor straight away Griffin had taken a few moments to assess the condition of the young woman himself. After all, until he knew the reason for her flight through the woods it might be prudent to ask her some questions. Was she in some sort of danger?

Griffin had been grateful for his caution once he had placed his burden carefully down atop the bedcovers and gently folded back the many capes of his topcoat.

As he had thought, the woman was young, possibly eighteen, or at the most twenty, and her heart-shaped face was delicately lovely. She had perfectly arched eyebrows beneath a smooth brow, though the slight hollowness to her cheeks possibly spoke of a deprivation of food. Her nose was small and straight, her mouth a pale pink, the top lip slightly fuller than the bottom, her chin softly curved.

She had been wearing a filthy white cotton nightgown over her slender curves, revealing feet that were both dirty and lacerated beneath its bloodied ankle length. A result, he was sure, that she’d begun her flight shoeless.

There had also already been a sizeable lump and bruising already appearing upon her right temple, no doubt from her collision with his carriage.

But it was her other injuries, injuries that Griffin knew could not possibly have been caused by that collision, which had caused him to draw in a shocked and hissing breath.

The blood he had felt on his fingers earlier came from the raw chafing about both her wrists and ankles. She’d obviously been restrained by tight ropes for some time before her flight through his woods.

There were any number of explanations as to why she’d been restrained, of course, and not all of them were necessarily sinister.

Though he did not favour the practice himself, he was nevertheless aware that some men liked to secure a woman to the bed—as some women enjoyed being secured!—during love play.

There was also the possibility that this young woman was insane, and had been restrained for her own safety as well as that of others.

The final possibility, and perhaps the most likely, was that she had been restrained against her will.

Until such a time as Griffin established which explanation it was he’d decided that no one in his household, or outside it, was to be allowed to talk to her but himself.

His decision made, Griffin had immediately instructed the hovering Pelham to bring him hot water and towels, and to appropriate a clean nightgown from one of the maids. After all, there had been nothing to stop Griffin making his uninvited guest at least a little more comfortable than she was at present.

Still, he had been deeply shocked, once he had used his knife to cut the dirty and bloodied nightgown away from her body, to discover many bruises, both old and new, concealed beneath.

There had been no visible marks on her face, apart from the bruise on her temple, but there had been multiple purple and black bruises covering her body, with other, older bruises having faded to yellow. The ridge of her spine had shown through distinctly against that bruised skin as evidence that this woman had not only been repeatedly kicked and or beaten, but that she had also been starved, possibly for some days if not weeks, of more than the food and water necessary to keep her alive.

If that was the case, Griffin was determined to know exactly who was responsible for having exerted such cruelty on this fragile and beautiful young woman, and why.