The Viscount's Rose(3)

By: Meara Platt

Merciful heavens!

Despite the smudges of soot on Rose’s cheeks and tip of her nose, there was no mistaking her beauty. She had lively blue eyes, a deep, ocean blue that glistened with mirth and intelligence. Her hair was a riotous tumble of honey-blonde curls. She had a generous, sensual mouth. “You asked about Rolf,” she said, interrupting the wayward thoughts he ought not be having.

He nodded. “Is she your sister?”

Rose’s full lips curled upward in a radiant smile.

Her sisters began to giggle.

Bloody nuisance.

“I’m Rolf. Didn’t Nicola tell you?” Rose shook her head lightly.

Yes, his sister had told him repeatedly, only he hadn’t been listening. His heart slammed into his chest. “You?”

She nodded. “Rose Olivia Lorelei Farthingale. Rolf to my friends.”

“Lorelei, as in the siren who lures men with her irresistible beauty and plaintive song onto the rocks to their watery graves?” He arched an eyebrow.

She managed a soft, still raspy laugh. “At the moment I sound like a bullfrog and I’ve never lured any man, so I don’t think your siren and I are related in any way.”

“I suppose not.” Clearly, Rose was far more captivating than any mythical creature ever could be. That she was modest about it only added to her allure. No! She couldn’t be alluring to him. Not now. He couldn’t afford the distraction.

Rose pursed her lips. “Where’s Nicola? Didn’t she come with you?”

He winced. “I’m afraid I tossed her rather ungently into my carriage when we heard the explosion. I ordered the driver to take her a safe distance from your home.”

“Of course. That was the sensible thing to do, while you ran toward the unknown danger. Nicola’s often spoken of your military service, and I see that her glowing description of your bravery is well deserved.”

“I did no more than anyone else would do.” In truth, he was feeling quite cowardly right now. Rose had him quaking in his boots. Nicola had spoken of her in glowing terms, and that description seemed wholly inadequate now. But he’d braved Napoleon’s army, had spent the last few years on dangerous spy missions within the heart of enemy territory. Surely he could resist Rose’s innocent charms until this latest mission was completed.

He had to.

Pruitt returned with wash cloths and refreshments. He handed Julian a damp cloth and another to Rose, and then set the refreshments out on a nearby table. Obviously, this is where Nicola and Rose had planned to sit during their visit, for it was quite pleasant outdoors if one overlooked the lingering wisps of smoke.

One twin grabbed slices of cake and set them out on plates for him and Rose while the other twin poured lemonade. “Rose, come sit with us.”

Julian reached out to lift Rose into his arms. “Your ankle looks swollen. You had better not walk on it yet. I’ll carry you to your chair.”

Rose became flustered, her cheeks stained a bright pink. “Oh, I’m sure I can manage on my own. You needn’t… oh, dear.” She cried out softly the moment she rose and attempted to put pressure on her ankle. She fell against his chest. “Ouch! It really hurts.”

He wrapped his arms about her and carried her to her seat. “Let me have a better look at that ankle.” He reached out to take it very delicately under his inspection. “It could be broken.” All three sisters and their two governesses gasped as he raised Rose’s gown to examine it.

“I’m sure it isn’t,” Rose insisted and nudged the hem lower.

“And what if I’m right and it is broken?” He frowned at her, although he was more annoyed with himself for desiring to see her ankle for reasons other than medical. He wanted to see a lot more than her ankle. The pale blue muslin gown she wore did little to hide her curves. Even though his eyes still stung, he could see well enough through them to know that she was nicely shaped. “At the very least it’s badly bruised and must be attended to at once. Why won’t you let me do it?”

“It’s most improper,” she grumbled.

“He’s already touched your breast,” Lily pointed out. The twins were still hovering over them, curious as kittens.

“What?” Apparently, Rose had been too dazed to notice at the time. Her face was no longer pink but crimson. She gazed at him in confusion. Or was it unbridled horror? Bloody nuisance. Most women liked having his hands on their breasts. Why should she be any different?

“You were having trouble breathing,” he explained, once again annoyed with himself for wanting her to… never mind. He shouldn’t be thinking about her or her body. Done. No longer in his thoughts… well, only a little.

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