Authors: Cathy Maxwell
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Love Stories, #Historical, #Nobility, #London (England), #Regency Fiction, #Nobility - England, #Marital Conflict
“You’re right. I have no desire to wait on you hand and foot.”
“And you’d be forced to,” he assured her. “Your conscience would weigh heavy until you did.”
Did he know her that well? He was completely correct.
He was holding the ledge with both hands now. Gillian leaned out the window and took his wrist with her hands. “I’ll help you in, Wright, but don’t think that this means I am pleased with you. I’m not. And I won’t kiss you. Not once more.”
“I wouldn’t think of asking for another, Gillian,” he replied too readily. “Not after your kindness.”
“It’s not that you ask, Wright. You take,” she replied archly and he laughed, the sound almost joyful.
She didn’t want to think of him as happy or attractive. She needed him to be a complete villain, and he wasn’t. If she wasn’t careful, he’d worm his way into her heart.
“I’m waiting for your promise,” she said, sounding as strict as she possibly could. “I want your word of honor. No more kissing or I will let you dangle there until kingdom come.”
There was a beat of silence. “Perhaps you should let me drop.”
That wasn’t the answer she wanted. But before she could frame a reply, he sighed heavily. “Have it as you will. No more kisses.” He snorted. “That sounded silly.”
It did. And made her feel petty, but it was the way matters had to be. She had to keep some distance between them.
She didn’t want him to break his neck either…although it would solve her problems.
Pushing aside her dark thoughts, Gillian pulled his arm, giving him the leverage he needed to heft his weight up so that he could sit on the edge. He leaned back against the window and flexed his arms to relieve strained muscles.
“You pulled me up just in time,” he said. The firelight reached his features. He was relaxed, smiling even.
“You weren’t that much in fear of your life,” she murmured, and drew back—but then his large hand wrapped around her wrist.
Before she knew what was happening, he draped her over his lap, hanging her head out the window, her hair releasing from its pins. For a moment, she feared he would drop her until she realized exactly how strong the arms were that held her. He had his balance. He was athletic enough to know exactly what he was doing.
She met his eye, refusing to be cowed. “Well?”
His teeth flashed white in his grin. “You are a bold one, Wife. There are few women who have your courage.”
He released her and she stood, pushing her hair back with one hand. “Was that meant to frighten me?” she asked, proud her voice didn’t waver.
“No,” he answered, coming in through the window. “My kisses are what frighten you. I didn’t expect you to be afraid just then.”
“Why did you do it?”
“It was a test,” he murmured. “You think well on your feet. I respect that.” He didn’t wait for her answer but walked around the bed to the wardrobe. Taking in its size and breadth, he asked, “You moved this yourself?” He sounded impressed.
“I was angry,” Gillian confessed. “There’s no telling what I will do when angered.”
That easy smile returned to his face. “Remind me not to anger you, Wife,” he remarked, his voice low, teasing.
“You are already a master at it,” she said, moving away from him and the bed. She didn’t like being in such close quarters with him. He was too tall, too strong, too vital.
Earlier today, there had been a darkness about him. He’d been somber and had appeared and acted exhausted.
However, now he was completely revitalized. He had the energy and strength she’d remembered about him.
“I should have let you fall,” she said, not realizing she’d spoken her thoughts aloud until he laughed.
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
He threw himself upon the bed, testing it. Gillian took another step back into the corner. He shook his head. “Don’t worry, Wife. I’ll honor my promises. No kissing.”
“Or anything else,” she added, wanting her distrust to be clear. “Starting with not calling me ‘wife.’ I don’t like it.”
He considered her request a second, and then said, “Yes, dear.”
Gillian thought she would scream. Whereas he seemed to be full of energy, she was tired and cross. “I don’t like ‘dear’ either. Call me Gillian,” she said before he could open his mouth with new suggestions.
“Yes, Gillian,” he said dutifully and ran his hand across his face. “Is that my shaving kit on the wash basin? I had James bring it up.” He rose from the bed and walked toward where she stood next to the wash basin.
Gillian didn’t want to skitter out of his way and yet had little choice. She walked to the other side of the room, pretending she needed to sit in the chair located in the corner. Wright and the bed blocked her way to the door, although there was no way she’d be able to move the wardrobe without help.
If Wright noticed her discomfort, he didn’t say anything. Instead, he began doing the things a person does to ready for bed. He polished his teeth, gave his face a quick wash, and then yawned loudly. “I’m tired,” he said, stretching his arms. “It’s been a long day.”
It had been . Without meaning to, Gillian echoed his yawn.
He smiled at her. “Aren’t you going to prepare for bed?”
“I’m not tired.” Her eyes watered, she was so anxious to close them.
“Well, I am.” He walked over to the bed and threw back the covers.
For the first time, his bare feet registered in her mind. “Where are your boots?”
“Downstairs,” he said. “I hid them in some bushes. They’ll be fine for tonight.” He picked up the feather pillow and tossed it in the middle of the bed. “There, that side is your half, this side is mine.
Or one of us can sleep in the covers and the other on the outside.”
She didn’t say anything. If he thought she trusted him enough to lie next to him in bed, he was wrong.
“Don’t be this way, Gillian. You’re tired. Come along. It is possible for a man and woman to be in such quarters and not kiss or ravage each other.”
“I’m well aware of that,” she responded primly, focusing as much as she could on the floorboards and not on him.
He gave a heavy sigh. “I’m attempting to be accommodating here, Gillian,” he pointed out.
“I realize that.” She also realized he was mocking her. She couldn’t wait to be rid of him. He seemed to know exactly the right thing to do to goad her—
Her complaints broke off as he lifted the hem of his shirt and pulled it off over his head.
Gillian’s first instinct was to look away, but she didn’t. Their wedding night came roaring back to her.
There had been no light in the room then. Not a candle or even a fire in the grate like there was now because they’d married in summer. It had been pitch black, or had she closed her eyes?
She remembered the sound of him entering her room, crossing to the bed, and then disrobing. She could still recall the give of the bed as he’d joined her and her sense of anticipation in discovering he was naked beneath the sheets. Her heart must have beat double time that night.
Modesty had made her shy, but curiosity had made her bold. She’d been raised in the country and had six siblings all much younger than herself. She understood where babies came from and had a vague notion of how.
But she’d not seen her husband naked that night because by the time morning came, he was gone from her bed.
Now, she almost had to look. She’d always wondered what the only man she’d ever bedded looked like. She’d had imaginings but never confirmation.
Pretending to try to be comfortable in her chair, she let her gaze drift toward him—and then stared.
His chest was all flat planes. There was no pudge to him at all, even over the waist of his breeches.
No wonder he moved with such grace. His muscles were lean and long, his bone structure strong.
Not even the Greeks could have sculpted such a perfect man—
“Enjoying yourself?” he asked.
Gillian blinked, heat flooding her cheeks at having been caught staring.
He laughed, again. She didn’t know if she’d ever become accustomed to the sound. It defied the picture she’d spent years building of him. It made him human.
“Gillian, don’t be so embarrassed. You have a right to look. If you started undressing, I’d stare.”
The heated image such a statement conjured in her mind brought her to her feet in a mixture of outrage and yearning. “You are deliberately provoking me.”
“No, I’m teasing you, or attempting to do so. I know you are uncomfortable, but, Gillian, be reasonable. I won’t ravage you or even offer a peck on the cheek. I’m tired. You’ve worn me thin.” He climbed under the covers, stretching out. “Come to bed, Gillian. You will only make yourself angrier with lack of sleep.”
But Gillian wasn’t ready to give up her anger, not when he looked so good in that bed. Instead, she girded herself with impotent rage. It was the only defense left to her.
“Have it your way then,” he said with equanimity and rolled over, giving her his back.
Gillian stood ready to smite him down if he should rise out of the bed and seize her. Long minutes drew out between them.
Just as she was ready to relax her guard, he said, “Thank you, Gillian.”
“For coming with me. It’s all going to be good now. It will be all right.” He didn’t look at her but stayed on his side.
“I don’t know that I can help your desire for a place on Liverpool’s staff,” she confessed.
He shrugged. “It is enough that you are here. A wife is important to a man in government. She gives him character.” He leaned onto his back. “It’s also nice to have someone close who is invested in whether a man succeeds or not.”
She could have pointed out he’d had a wife all these years…but then decided that it had been said enough. In fact, she was finding it hard to stay angry at him. She was forced to overreact and behave in ways not becoming to herself.
He smiled sleepily and curled back over. “I really could have killed myself in that tree,” he muttered, his eyes closing.
“You didn’t have to climb it,” she reminded him.
“Yes I did. I did it for you.”
Gillian was quick to jump on his claim. “How did you do it for me?”
He sighed. “I needed to prove to you how far I would go for you. Hadn’t done that before.”
That was true .
“And I had to have another kiss,” he said. “You are a good kisser. I hadn’t realized that.”
“Does it make a difference if I can kiss or I can’t?” she asked, uncertain what to think.
“In all the best ways,” he mumbled, drifting off to sleep.
Gillian experienced a vague disappointment. Wright obviously had the ability to fall asleep at any time and in any place. Perhaps it was a skill he’d acquired in the military.
Perhaps he didn’t find her as interesting as she found him.
But to make an intriguing comment about her kissing and then nod off—? She didn’t know what to think.
No, she did know, she reminded herself. She was in love with Andres Ramigio.
“Andres. Andres Ramigio. I love Andres,” she repeated as she walked over to the washbasin. She poured more water into the basin, her gaze meeting her reflection in the mirror and then drifting past her reflected shoulder to where Wright slept peacefully in the bed.
Gillian set down the water pitcher and raised a hand to her forehead. Dealing with Wright was giving her a headache. Her life had been simpler and happier without him.
She would not think of him.
She would not trust him.
She would not give one quarter of an ounce of care and concern to him.
Her resolve firmly in hand, Gillian splashed water on her face, dried it off, and returned to the chair.
Crossing her arms, she resolved to stay there all night. It wouldn’t hurt her. She’d slept in more uncomfortable situations before. Many nights she’d sat up nursing one of her many, much younger siblings when her stepmother was unable to do so. She’d also taken care of Holburn’s crofters.
No, a night sitting in a chair wouldn’t hurt her.
She just wished Wright didn’t look so comfortable.
It had been a long, challenging day. Her mind felt numb. Her bones began to ache with the desire to rest and her eyes were getting that itchy, red feeling.
What had Wright suggested? That one of them sleep outside the covers while the other slept on top?
Was that truly such a bad idea?
In the end, she didn’t know that she ever made a decision. Instead, she woke to morning light coming through the windows where the curtains had been thrown back. The wardrobe had been moved back in place, a toasty fire burned in the grate, and her husband stood half naked at the washbasin shaving.
He caught her eye in the looking glass. “Good morning,” he said. He looked remarkably handsome and in good spirits whereas she felt as if she’d been dragged under the coach for a mile.
“’Morning.” She lifted the covers, ready to pull them over her head—when she realized that she was wearing nothing but her petticoats.
And she didn’t remember climbing into bed or under the covers.
Gillian sat bolt upright. Her dress was neatly hung over the chair she’d thought she’d fallen asleep in last night. Why, even her stockings were there. Someone had undressed her in the night.
Thank the Lord, that person had stopped at her petticoats or she could have found herself completely naked.
Her gaze went immediately to Wright.
He stood by the washbasin watching her, one hand cleaning off his razor in the soapy water. “Should I surmise you are not happy with me?”
Not happy? I’m furious with you,” Gillian said, clutching the bedcovers with her fists lest she set them loose on her husband. “How dare you undress me? How dare you take advantage of me in that shameful manner?”
Wright set down the razor. He wiped his face with a linen towel. “What do you believe I did?”
“I believe you took shocking advantage,” Gillian said, her voice shaking with her anger.
He looked heavenward a moment as if searching for divine guidance. “Gillian, I woke to find you slumped over in that chair to the point your chin all but touched your knees. That’s not the way to sleep, especially when you are that exhausted.”