Griffin Stone:Duke Of Decadence(9)

By: Carole Mortimer

He leant back against the front of his desk in an effort to at least lessen his height. ‘Have you perhaps recalled something of what brought you to Shrawley Woods?’

Bella had been horrified when, after eating a very little of the breakfast brought up for her, she had undressed for her ablutions and seen for the first time the extent of her injuries to her body. She could only feel grateful that she’d seen fit to refuse the attendance of a maid before removing her nightgown as she stared at the naked reflection of her own body in the full-length mirror placed in the corner of the bedchamber.

She was literally covered in bruises. Some of them were obviously new, but others had faded to a sickly yellow and a dirty brown colour, and were possibly a week or so old. As for those strange abrasions, revealed when she removed the bandages from her wrist and her ankles...

How could she have come by such unsightly injuries?

She had staggered back to sit down heavily on the bed as her knees had threatened to buckle beneath her, her horrified gaze still fixed on her naked reflection in the mirror.

She had stared at her bedraggled reflection in utter bewilderment; her long dark hair had been tangled and dull about her shoulders, and there was a livid bruise on her left temple, which the Duke said she had sustained when she and his carriage had collided the night before.

But those other bruises on her body were so unsightly. Ugly!

She had realised then how stupid she had been to think that he had chosen the name Bella for her because he had thought her beautiful!

Instead it must have been his idea of a jest, a cruel joke at her expense.

‘No,’ she finally answered stiffly.

Griffin had issued instructions to all of the household staff, through Pelham, that knowledge of the female guest currently residing on the estate was not to be shared outside the house, and that any attempt to do so would result in an instant dismissal. No doubt the servants would do enough gossiping and speculating amongst themselves in that regard, without the necessity to spread the news far and wide!

Griffin, of course, if he was to solve the mystery, had no choice but to also make discreet enquiries in the immediate area for knowledge of a possible missing young lady. And he would have to do this alongside his research into the whereabouts of Harker. But he would carry out both missions with the subtlety he had learnt while gathering information secretly for the Crown. A subtlety that would no doubt surprise many who did not know that the Duke of Rotherham and his closest friends had long been engaged in such activities.

It would have been helpful if the maid who had taken up Bella’s breakfast, or any of the footmen who had later taken up her bath, had recognised Bella as belonging to the village or any of the larger households hereabouts. Unfortunately, Pelham had informed him a few minutes ago that that had not been the case.

Confirming that Griffin now had no choice but to try and identify her himself.

In the meantime he had no idea what to do with her!

‘Do you play cards?’

She eyed him quizzically as she stepped further into the room. ‘I do not believe so, no.’

Griffin watched, mesmerised, as she ran her fingers lingeringly, almost caressingly, along the shelves of books, his imagination taking flight as he wondered how those slender fingers would feel as they caressed the bareness of his shoulders, and down the tautness of his muscled stomach. How soft they would feel as they encircled the heavy weight of his arousal...

‘You obviously have a love of books,’ he bit out tensely, only to scowl darkly as she immediately snatched her hand back as if burnt before cradling it against her breasts. ‘It was an observation, Bella, not a rebuke.’ He sighed his irritation, with both his own impatience and her reaction.

‘Do not call me by that name!’ Fire briefly lit up her eyes. ‘Indeed, I believe it to have been exceedingly cruel of you to choose such a name for me!’

Griffin felt at a complete loss in the face of her upset. Three—no, it was now four—of his closest friends were either now married or about to be, and he liked their wives and betrothed well enough. But other than those four ladies the only time Griffin spent in a woman’s company nowadays was usually in the bed of one of the mistresses of the demi-monde, and then only for as long as it took to satisfy his physical needs, and with women who did not find his completely proportioned body in the least alarming. Or did not choose to show they did.

His only other knowledge of women was that of his wife, Felicity, and she had informed him on more than one occasion that he had no sensitivity, no warmth or understanding in regard to women. Not like the man she had taken as her lover. Her darling Frank, as she had called the other man so affectionately.