Authors: Cathy Maxwell
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Love Stories, #Historical, #Nobility, #London (England), #Regency Fiction, #Nobility - England, #Marital Conflict
All he had to do was touch her and she reverted back to the silly chit who had been so dovey eyed for him when they’d first married.
“Gillian?” He rapped light on the door. His voice took on warmth as he said, “May I come in?”
She couldn’t let him in. She’d worked too hard to be free of him to give it all up now. She raised a distracted hand to her head and knew what she was going to have to do.
It’s what she should have done from the very beginning.
Brian leaned against the door. He swore he could smell her light floral scent through the wood.
Who had known Gillian could kiss the way she did? She was passionate, giving, and yet innocent.
There was a hint of chasteness in the way she approached kissing. The Spaniard had not had her yet.
Brian would have staked his inheritance on it.
Memories of their wedding night came flooding back to him. He’d only been unfaithful to Jess once, and it had been that night.
Of course, he’d been so angry at his father for forcing the marriage and so determined to keep his beloved Jess in mind, he’d done little more than was necessary with Gillian. He’d been young, full of brass, and arrogant.
He’d also had the ill grace to tell her of his love for another.
His callousness stunned him. No wonder Gillian wanted nothing to do with him.
Dear God, he was seven kinds of fool, especially since Gillian was worth twenty-five of Jess. Time had proven his father right. Jess would not have been a worthy wife. The disappointment of the shallowness of her love still burned like an acid on his heart. He had wanted to offer Jess the world and she’d tossed it aside.
But Gillian was different. She was quality. She had intelligence, grace, and the courage of her convictions. She was also educated. She’d make an honorable mother to his children.
For the first time since his brothers’ deaths, since he’d been ordered home and discovered everyone he had trusted had betrayed him, Brian felt hope. His instincts had been to send for Gillian. He was now overjoyed that he’d taken matters into his hands and come for her.
She was a jewel beyond price. A blessing!
Brian leaned against the door, anxious to claim his wife. If he could reach through the door, he would. No woman had ever taken him to this level of arousal.
“Gillian,” he whispered against the door. “Let me in. I’m ready for you.” He was also very aware that the door to the other room, the one the family was using, was right across the hall. He didn’t want to wake them.
But instead of the sound of the door handle being turned, instead of a whispered, “Come hither,” he heard the sound of something being dragged on the other side of the door.
He frowned and listened again. He wasn’t mistaken.
Alarmed, Brian decided being gentlemanly and polite could be damned. Something was wrong on the other side of this door. Gillian might need his help. He grabbed the handle, opened the door, leading with his shoulder—and came to a halt.
The door wouldn’t open more than a few inches of the way.
Brian frowned and tried to shove it open, realizing something was blocking the doorway. Furniture.
A big piece of furniture like a wardrobe had been placed in front of the door. “Gillian? What’s this?”
Her voice came from the other side of the door. “It’s protection, Wright. I’ve pushed the wardrobe in front of the door. I’m not sleeping with you. Go make your bed someplace else.”
“You’ve thrown me out of my own room?” he asked in disbelief.
There was a moment’s hesitation and then she said, “Yes, yes, I have.”
At first, he was confused, but as her words sank in, a red haze fell over his eyes. Had she played him for a fool? Was this some sort of scheme to exact revenge for their years apart?
And he was furious that she was now hiding behind a wardrobe like some spinster when only moments before she’d been panting in his arms.
“Open this door,” he said in a voice that brooked no disagreement.
There was no reply.
There was also no compliance.
He threw his weight against the door. It slammed against the wardrobe but didn’t move it. He pushed against the door with all his weight. “You’d best move, Gillian. I’m going to knock the thing over.”
“You’ll damage it,” she warned.
“I’ll pay for damages later.” Right now, he wanted his wife to know who was in charge. Matters had gone out of hand long enough.
But the wardrobe didn’t move. He made another attempt. It didn’t budge, not even an inch.
“Gillian,” he said, not bothering to keep his voice down. “Move that wardrobe or I shall take it apart in splinters.”
“You haven’t been too successful so far,” came her prim reply.
Brian roared his frustration. He shoved at the door again and when that time wasn’t any more successful than his first attempt, he pounded the door with his fist, needing some sort of release before he exploded.
The door opened across the hallway. Wearing his night cap, the father of the family peeked out into the hall. Targeting him as a focus for his anger, Brian all but growled before ordering, “Back in your room.”
But when the wide-eyed man pulled back to obey, Brian had a new idea and stopped his neighbor’s door from closing with one hand. “Let me have a look in there.”
“In here, my lord?”
“Yes,” Brian answered absently as he took charge and shoved the door wider to take a look around the room. He knew he was being rude but this was war. A war between a man and a woman. Not even the French could be as formidable opponents. And he was not going to let Gillian best him.
In the glowing light coming from the hearth he could see the family huddled in the room’s two beds and a few cots. Brian wasn’t interested in them. Instead, he noticed the two windows on the far wall.
He’d wager his room was laid out much the same way.
A chubby toddler came suddenly awake. The child stared at Brian as if he were a mad man, which right now he probably was, and then opened his mouth to cry. His mother scooped him up into her arms, trying to shush him—a scene that finally made Brian snap to his senses.
“So sorry,” Brian said to the child’s mother. He backed out of the room, nodding to the father.
“Again, beg pardon. But thank you for your indulgence.”
The door was slammed behind him. That slam was echoed from his room across the hall. Gillian had repositioned the wardrobe so that he couldn’t push open the door at all.
He narrowed his gaze, wishing he could see right through his door. She probably thought she had him beat. He wondered why she’d run so hot and then cold…and decided it was because the intensity between them had frightened her off. He’d upset her avowed dedication to her Spaniard. He’d made her question herself and Gillian didn’t like questions. He understood that about her now. She wasn’t one to flirt easily or to be jaded about morals. That was the reason she’d left his father’s house. He would have staked his career on it.
She’d said she wanted a divorce. Brian almost laughed. There would be no divorce. Not in his marriage.
Besides, he couldn’t lose her. She was all he had left.
He went down the back stairs of the inn. Not bothering with the still-burning lamp, he walked toward the front door where he paused only long enough to remove his jacket and hang it on a peg in the wall before going outside.
Four windows to the taproom lined the front of the inn. Besides the dying fire in the grate, two candles were still burning. Peter must still be up doing chores.
Not wanting to be discovered slinking around outside, Brian hunched over so he couldn’t be seen and ran past the windows.
At the corner of the inn, he stopped to study the side of the house. There were two windows on the first floor, exactly as there had been in the family’s room. However, he decided to try the window over the taproom. There was a tall oak at this corner whose branches came close to those windows.
Brian could have danced a jig. He was going to enjoy the look on Gillian’s face when he climbed through one of them. And the irony was he’d shared the story of his tree-climbing abilities with her.
It seemed poetic justice.
He jerked off his boots and socks, hiding them against the house. The ground was cold and damp beneath his bare toes but he’d need them to help him scale the oak.
Removing his neck cloth, he used it as a strap. Throwing it round the tree and holding each end, he began his ascent.
Some ten feet over his head was a good, steady limb that should hold his weight. If he stood on it, he’d be able to reach the first window.
As he passed the taproom windows, Peters came out and blew out the candles. Although his arms screamed in agony, Brian held still, not wanting his movement to draw the innkeeper’s attention toward him.
When all was dark, he started up again.
The climb actually went better than he had anticipated. His muscles hadn’t had a good stretch or challenge for months and his night vision, something he’d always prided himself on, was coming back.
Gillian had lit a candle. The lead and glass window was covered with curtains but he could see the glow of the candle flame and occasionally, her shadow as she moved around in the room. He was surprised she hadn’t gone to bed. Perhaps she was nervous about where he’d gone?
She should be.
He grinned in anticipation of her reaction when he surprised her.
However, when he reached the limb, he realized it wasn’t as steady as he had estimated. He pulled himself up, holding the tree trunk by one arm while he debated his next move, realizing he had another problem. In the dark, it wasn’t easy to tell if there was a way to open the window on the outside or not. Chances were there wasn’t, and he hadn’t brought a knife with him to attempt to pry them open.
Well, he hadn’t climbed up here for nothing. He was going to take a chance there was a way in.
Balancing himself by holding his arms out, Brian gingerly stepped out on the limb, moving toward the window. One step, two, three—
He reached out and grabbed the decorative brick over the window with his fingers. He was just able to sit his left hip on the narrow ledge. The stance gave him a better sense of balance—and he could breathe again. The worst part was over.
Not wanting to alarm Gillian until he was ready for his surprise, he began inspecting the window with his fingers, searching for a catch. Nothing.
He pressed on the panes, testing them. What if he popped one of the leaded glass diamonds out?
Then he would be able to reach in and let himself in cool as you please.
That seemed the best plan but as he shifted his weight so he could start to wiggle the glass free, he heard an ominous crack.
He glanced down at the tree limb where he still rested one bare foot for balance. He’d had to put more weight on it for leverage to work on the window. The majority of his weight was still in his hip on the window ledge, but it was a precarious position. He needed to work fast.
At that moment, Gillian blew out the candle. Here was his moment. It was all or nothing.
Brian pushed on the windowpane. It was loose but he was going to have to apply more pressure to pop it out. He took the risk, placed more of his weight on the limb and pushed—
The limb gave out another crack.
The time had come for rash action. Meaning to just break the window and pay the innkeeper for the damage on the morrow, Brian put his shoulder into it. He had to draw back to gain some momentum, but at that moment, the limb broke and he felt himself start to fall.
Fortunately, his hands caught the ledge and he saved himself from a nasty tumble that could have broken a bone or two.
It also left him dangling against the side of the inn outside Gillian’s window.
“This is not a good plan,” he muttered to himself and wondered if he could pull his body weight back up onto the ledge. It was worth a try…except the window started to open.
Gillian had heard the tree crack.
She’d known immediately it was Wright. After she’d moved the wardrobe, she’d glanced out the window and taken stock of her surroundings. She’d known better than to think he would meekly walk away. Not after those kisses.
So, she’d checked to be certain the window was locked, blown out the candle, and waited.
Minutes later, his shadow had crossed the window.
Gillian had been confident he wouldn’t be able to come in this way until he started pressing on one of the lead glass panes. She hadn’t imagined that he would break it. She immediately began scrambling around the room, looking for something to use to fend him off when there had been the awful sound of wood splintering—and then silence.
Her intention had never been to harm him. In a panic she ran to the window and opened it, not knowing what to expect—and not expecting what she saw.
Wright hung by his fingertips from the window ledge.
Alarm flooded through her. He wasn’t dead—yet.
“What do you think you are doing?” she demanded, relief making her voice sharp.
“Attempting to enter my room,” he replied as if hanging from a window ledge was the most commonplace thing to do. “I would have used the door but it was blocked…or had you noticed?”
She couldn’t help but admire his nonchalance. Anyone else would be screaming. He acted as if he didn’t mind hanging outside her window. Intrigued, she couldn’t help playing with him a bit.
“I’d noticed,” she admitted. “I’m glad to see you are alive. Good night,” she said and started to close the window.
“Wait, Gillian.” He reached up and blocked the window with one hand, his body dangling dangerously free. “You can’t leave me out here. What will the innkeeper say when he sees my body in the morning?”
“It’s not that long a fall, Wright.”
“But surely I will break both legs and then you will still be stuck with me.” He gave as charming a look as a dangling man can give and said, “Please, Gillian, help. The innkeeper has children. What if I look a terrible mess on the ground?”
When he saw her hesitate, he added slyly, “If I injure myself, you’ll be forced to stay here and care for me. As attractive as that sounds to me, I don’t believe you will be as happy.”