Griffin Stone:Duke Of Decadence(8)

By: Carole Mortimer

Damn it, he would not think any more of his marriage, or Felicity!

‘I am sorry.’ Bella hastily released her grasp on the Duke’s hand as she saw the scowling displeasure on his face. ‘I did not mean to be overly familiar.’ She drew her bottom lip between her teeth as she fought back the weakness of tears.

The bed dipped as he sat down beside her, his eyes filled with compassion as he now took one of her hands gently in his. ‘It is only natural, in the circumstances, that you should feel frightened and apprehensive.’ He spoke gruffly. ‘But I assure you that you are perfectly safe here. No one would dare to harm you when you are in my home and under my protection,’ he added with that inborn arrogance of his rank.

Bella believed him. Absolutely. Without a single doubt.

Indeed, he was a gentleman whom few would ever dare to doubt, in any way. It was not only that he was so tall and powerfully built, but there was also a hard determination in those chilling grey eyes that spoke of his sincerity of purpose. If he said she would come to no harm while in his home and under his protection, then Bella had no doubt that she would not.

Her shoulders relaxed as she sank back against the pillows, her hand still resting trustingly in his. ‘Thank you.’

Griffin stared down at her uncertainly. Either she was the best actress he had ever seen and she was now attempting to hoodwink him with innocence, or she truly did believe his assurances that he would see she came to no harm while under his protection.

His response to that trust was a totally inappropriate stirring of desire.

Was that so surprising, when he had seen her naked and she was such a beautiful and appealing young woman? Her eyes that dark and entrancing blue, her lips full and enticing, and the soft curve of her tiny breasts—breasts that would surely sit snugly in the palms of his hands?—just visible above the neckline of her—

What was he thinking?

Griffin hastily released her hand as he rose abruptly to his feet to step back and away from the bed. ‘I will see that breakfast and a bath are brought up to you directly.’ He did not look at her again before turning sharply on his heel and exiting the bedchamber, closing the door firmly behind him before leaning back against it to draw deep breaths into his starved lungs.

He had just promised his protection to the woman he had named Bella, only to now realise that he, and the unexpected stirring of his long-denied physical desires, might have become her more immediate danger.

* * *

‘You are feeling more refreshed, Bella?’

Griffin knew the question was a futile one even as he asked it several hours later, as she stood in the doorway to his study. The walls were lined with the books he enjoyed sitting and reading beside the fireside in the quiet of the evening, a decanter of brandy and glass placed on the table beside him.

At least he had intended to enjoy those things the evenings he was here; the advent of his unexpected female guest meant that he might possibly have to spend those evenings entertaining her instead.

He now felt extremely weary following his days of travel and sitting at her bedside all of the previous night.

Bella appeared very pale and dignified as she remained standing in the doorway, her hair still wet from her bath, scraped back from her face and secured at her crown. She also looked somewhat nondescript in the overlarge pale blue gown borrowed from his housekeeper. It was the best Griffin had been able to do at such short notice, although he had instructed Mrs Harcourt to see about acquiring more suitable clothing for her as soon as was possible.

And if he was not mistaken, Bella had flinched the moment he’d spoken to her.

Unfortunately he knew that flinch too well; Felicity had also recoiled just so whenever he’d spoken to her, so much so that he’d eventually spoken to her as little as was possible between two people who were married to each other and often residing in the same house.

‘My feet are still too sore for me to wear the boots provided,’ Bella told him quietly, eyes downcast.

Griffin scowled slightly as he looked down at her stockinged feet. She gave all the appearance of a little girl playing dress up in those overly large clothes.

Or the waif and stray that she actually was.

He stood up impatiently from behind his desk. ‘They will heal quickly enough,’ he dismissed. ‘I asked if you are feeling refreshed after your bath,’ he questioned curtly, and then instantly cursed himself for that abruptness when Bella took a wary step back, her eyes wide blue pools of apprehension.

The fact that Griffin was accustomed to such a reaction did not make it any more pleasant for him to see it now surface in Bella. But perhaps it was to be expected, now that she was over her initial feelings of disorientation and shock in her surroundings, and had had the chance to fully observe her imposing host?