Griffin Stone:Duke Of Decadence(4)

By: Carole Mortimer

After assuring she was as comfortable as was possible, Griffin had then gone quickly to his own room to bathe the travel dust from his own body, before changing into clean clothes and returning to spend the night in the chair at her bedside. He’d meant to be at her side when she woke.

If she woke.

She had given several groans of protest as Griffin had bathed the dirt from her wrists, ankles and feet, before applying a soothing salve and bandages, her feet very dirty and badly cut from running outdoors without shoes, and also in need of the application of the healing salve. Otherwise she had remained worryingly quiet and still for the rest of the night.

Griffin, on the other hand, had had plenty of time in which to consider his own actions.

Obviously he could not have left this young woman in the woods, least of all because he was responsible for having rendered her unconscious in the first place. But the uncertainty of who she was and the reasons for her imprisonment and escape meant the ramifications for keeping her here could be far-reaching.

Not that he gave a damn about that; Griffin answered only to the Crown and to God, and he doubted the former had any interest in her, and for the moment—and obviously for some days or weeks previously!—the second seemed to have deserted her.

Consequently Griffin now had the responsibility of her until she woke and was able to tell him the circumstances of her injuries.

Just a few minutes ago Griffin had seen her eyes moving beneath her translucent lids, and her dark lashes flutter against the pallor of her cheeks, as evidence that she was finally regaining consciousness. And her voice, when she had spoken to him at last, had at least answered one of his many questions; her accent was refined rather than of the local brogue, and her manner was also that of a polite young lady.

‘I am Griffin Stone, the Duke of Rotherham.’ He gave a curt inclination of his head as he answered her question. ‘And we are both at Stonehurst Park, my ducal estate in Lancashire.’ He frowned as she made no effort to reciprocate. ‘And you are?’

And she was...?

Panic once again assailed her as she sought, and failed, to recall her own name. To recall anything at all from before she had opened her eyes a few minutes ago and seen the imposing gentleman seated at her bedside in a bedchamber that was as unfamiliar to her as the man himself.

The Duke of Rotherham.

Even seated he was a frighteningly large man, with fashionably overlong black hair, and impossibly wide shoulders and chest. He was dressed in a perfectly tailored black superfine over a silver waistcoat and white linen, and his thighs and legs were powerfully muscled in grey pantaloons above brown-topped Hessians.

But it was his face, showing that refinement of feature and an expression of aloof disdain, surely brought about only by generations of fine breeding, which held her mesmerised. He had a high intelligent brow with perfectly arched eyebrows over piercingly cold silver-grey eyes. His nose was long and aquiline between high cheekbones, and he’d sculptured unsmiling lips above an arrogantly determined jaw.

He was an intimidating and grimly intense gentleman, with a haughty aloofness that spoke of an innate, even arrogant, confidence. Whereas she...

Her lips felt suddenly numb, and the bedroom began to sway and dip in front of her eyes.

‘You must stay awake!’ The Duke rose sharply to his feet so that he could take a firm grip of her shoulders, his hold easing slightly only as she gave a low groan of pain. ‘I apologise if I caused you discomfort.’ He frowned darkly. ‘But I really cannot allow you to fall asleep again until I am sure you are in your right mind. So far I have resisted calling the doctor but I fear that may have been unwise.’

‘No!’ she protested sharply. ‘Do not call anyone! Please do not,’ she protested brokenly, her fingers now clinging to the sleeves of his jacket as she looked up at him pleadingly.

Griffin frowned his displeasure, not in the least reassured by her responses so far. She seemed incapable of answering the simplest of questions and had now become almost hysterical at his having mentioned sending for the doctor. Had last night’s bump to the head caused some sort of trauma to the mind? Or had her mind been affected before?

Griffin knew the English asylums for housing those pitiful creatures were basic at best, and bestial at worst, and tended to attract as warders those members of society least suited to the care of those who were most vulnerable. Admittedly, some of the insane could be violent themselves, but Griffin sincerely doubted that was true in the case of this young woman. She was surely too tiny and slender to be of much danger to others? Unless her jailers had feared self-harm, of course.