The Viscount's Rose(2)

By: Meara Platt


Fiery did not begin to describe the heat now raging through his body.

Bloody nuisance.

“Who are you?” he asked. The question came out more sternly than intended, but it couldn’t be helped. She was turning him inside out, and he didn’t know who she was nor could he see her clearly because smoke still stung his eyes. She did not reply.

A cool, gusting breeze surrounded them now that they were outside. The bright sunshine caused his eyes to tear up worse than they had done in the shed, but he managed to set her down on the grass under a shade tree without stumbling. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve, which wasn’t the cleverest idea, for his sleeves were covered in soot and now so was his face.

He knelt beside her, and the little girls with identical faces fell to their knees on the opposite side of their sister, excitedly chattering and obviously relieved she was safe and relatively unharmed. “I didn’t hide my box of explosives in your kiln, Rose,” one of them said. “I’d never do anything so foolish.”

What?

He now knew the name of the girl he’d just carried out. But what were her young sisters going on about? Military ammunition? In elegant Mayfair, no less? He’d question the young girl later, but right now his attention was focused on the one he’d just carried out. He cleared his throat. “Your name is Rose?”

She nodded. “It is, sir. Thank you for saving me. May I ask—” That was as much as her raspy voice managed before she erupted in a fit of coughing that alarmed the small crowd of servants who must have run out of the house when they heard the noise and saw the fire. They were now gathering around him and Rose.

A tall, older man seemed to be in charge of the worried staff and was, no doubt, the Farthingale family’s head butler.

“Pruitt, she needs something to drink,” one of her sisters said, wringing her small hands together in worry. “And wash cloths to clean the grime off their hands and faces. We mustn’t track soot all over this lovely new house after Mama worked so hard to put it in shape.”

“Right away, Miss Lily.” He sent one of the maids to attend to the chore and then sent two others to the kitchen to bring out refreshments. “Will tea and cakes do for all of you? Sir, shall I send out something a little stronger for you?”

“Tea will do for me.” He needed to keep his wits about him, for he had yet to regain control of his body despite the fact that he was no longer holding Rose.

Pruitt assigned several footmen the task of securing the rubble now that the fire was out, and once assured that Rose was all right, he ordered the others back into the house. Only the governesses and Rose’s sisters remained beside them. “I’m Dillie,” one of the girls said, smiling at him. “This is my twin, Lily.”

He grinned. “I guessed as much. Identical blue eyes and dark hair. Identical faces.” Same thin, gangly bodies. “Lord Julian Emory, at your service.”

“Emory? As in Viscount Chatham? Lady Nicola’s brother?” Rose attempted to raise herself to a sitting position, but the movement caused her to cough again.

Alarmed when the coughs suddenly mingled with wheezes, he drew her into his arms and placed a hand on her chest to feel her heart, which was beating wildly but not in a haphazard pattern that would signal something more serious than a cough. Her intake of air, despite her wheezing, appeared adequate.

After a frighteningly long moment, she calmed.

Dillie stared at him and then turned to her twin. “Why is his hand still on Rose’s breast?”

“To check her lung capacity, of course.” Lily frowned. “What did you think he was doing?”

“Girls, I’m right here. You can ask me… er, no. Lily just answered the question.” Although it didn’t explain why his hand was still on Rose’s breast or why he was reluctant to draw it away. “Who is Rolf?”

Perhaps he ought to meet that sister after all. Nicola had been urging the introduction for several weeks now. Was the girl anywhere near as beautiful as Rose? Not that he’d actually taken a good look at Rose. No, his body had responded to hers in the dark. Quite another matter to study the girl by the bright light of day when her flaws would be glaringly obvious.

He finally managed to move his hand off her chest, but kept it loosely poised at her waist, easily convincing himself that she required his attendance while still unsteady and trembling from her ordeal.

He required something altogether inappropriate.

Why her? Why now? No matter, his inexplicable bout of lust for the girl would soon pass. Even if it didn’t, he was never going to act upon it. Still, he was curious to study the face attached to that exquisite body. He spared her a glance… more than a glance.

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