His Christmas Countess(4)

By: Louise Allen

He undressed her like a man who knew his way around the fastenings of women’s clothing. Not sexless, then. She was out of her stained, crumpled gown and underclothing before she had time to be embarrassed. He’d placed the nightgown so it had caught a little warmth from the fire and soon she was into that and on to the bed, sighing with relief at the simple comfort of it, before she had the chance to realise her nightgown was up around her waist.

‘There, we just place this so.’ Grant swung the greatcoat over her. ‘Now a light, something hot to drink. Lie back, concentrate on getting warm.’

Kate watched from between slitted eyes as he built up the fire, brought in a bucket of water and set it by the hearth. He lit a small lantern, then dipped water into a mug, adding something from a flask balanced on a brick by the flames, and washed his hands in the bucket. His actions were rapid, yet smooth. Efficient was probably the word. A man who wanted to get things done and who wouldn’t waste time. A man who was forced to wait on this baby’s schedule. Both his efficiency and, strangely, his impatience were reassuring. She was seeing the essence of this man.

‘Where did the lantern come from?’

‘I carry one in my saddlebags. I’ll just find something else for water. We’ll need a fair bit before we’re done. Luckily the last occupants were fairly untidy and there’s a promising rubbish heap outside.’

He ought to seem less than masculine, coping so handily with domestic tasks, but he merely appeared practical. Kate studied the broad shoulders and narrow hips, the easy movement, the tight buckskin breeches. She never expected to feel the slightest flutter of sensual need for a man again as long as she lived, but if she did, purely theoretically, of course, Grant Rivers was more than equipped to provoke it. He was definitely very— ‘Ooh!’

‘Hang on, I’ll be with you in a minute.’ He came back in carrying an assortment of pots, water sloshing out on to the floor. He held out his hands to the fire. ‘My fingers are cold again.’

What has that got to do with...? Kate sucked in an outraged breath as, lantern in hand, he knelt at her feet and dived under the greatcoat tented over her knees.

‘It is remarkable how one can adapt to circumstances,’ she managed after five somewhat stressful minutes. Incredibly she sounded quite rational and not, as she felt, mildly hysterical.

Grant emerged, tousled but composed, and sat back on his heels, shaking thick, dark brown hair back out of his eyes. He smiled, transforming a face she had thought pattern-book handsome into something approaching charming. ‘Childbirth tends to result in some unavoidable intimacies,’ he said. ‘But everything seems to be proceeding as it should.’ The smile vanished as he took a pocket watch from his waistcoat and studied it.

‘How much longer?’ She tried not to make it sound like a demand, but feared it had.

‘Hours, I should think. First babies tend to be slow.’ He was at the fire, washing his hands in yet another container of water, then pouring something from a flask into a battered kettle with no handle.


‘Drink this.’ He offered the brew in a horn beaker, another of the seemingly inexhaustible contents of his saddlebags. ‘I’ll get some food in a minute. When did you last eat?’

That needed some thought. ‘Yesterday. I had breakfast at an inn.’

Grant made no reply, but when he brought her bread and cheese made into a rough sandwich, she noticed he ate nothing. ‘What are you going to eat? This is all the food you have with you, isn’t it?’

He shrugged and took a mouthful of the liquid in the horn beaker. ‘You need the energy. I can live on my fat.’

He rested his head against the rough stone wall behind him and closed his eyes. What fat? With a less straightforward man she might have suspected he was fishing for compliments, but it did not seem to be Grant Rivers’s style.

What was he doing as a doctor? She puzzled over him, beginning to slip into a doze now the food was warm in her stomach. He was educated, he had been in the army. There was no wedding ring on his finger—not that there was anything to be deduced from that—and there was an engraved signet on his left hand. His clothes were good. And yet he was riding over the Marches without a servant and prepared for a night of rough living.

A piece of wood slipped into the fire with a crackle, jerking her fully awake again. ‘How did you hurt your head?’ Was he fleeing from something?

‘A stupid accident in Edinburgh. I’d been staying with a friend in the New Town and the place is covered in building sites. Some fool of a labourer dropped a plank on me. I was out cold for a couple of days and in no state to move much after that, but there’s nothing broken.’