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Authors: Danelle Harmon

The Wild One (10 page)

BOOK: The Wild One
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There was nothing for it, then. She would
have to put the letters on the table beside his bed and hope he
didn't wake.

She steeled herself. Then, shielding her
eyes as though from the sun, head down and watching the progress of
her shoes — anything to keep from looking at that bed as she
approached and at Gareth, who was probably still naked, who might
even be half-exposed by the looseness of the sheet, for all she
knew — she moved swiftly across the rug, her heart beating
triple-time.

The edge of the bed came into view. She
tried to keep her gaze downcast, but like Pandora with her box, it
lifted, nervously strayed, crept up to stare at that which she had
no business observing. She saw the curve of that bare, muscled
shoulder, close enough to touch; the clean white bandage around an
equally bare torso; and there, beneath the soft, draped sheet, the
outline of hips, legs, ankles, feet ...
Oh, my!
And then he
sighed and turned over, and Juliet froze, praying that he wouldn't
wake and find her here, wide-eyed and uninvited, a silent voyeur
staring at him as though she had never seen anyone asleep
before.

And stare she did. He lay not quite on his
side, not quite on his back, but halfway between the two,
beautifully chiseled lips slightly parted, one arm bent at the
elbow and thrown over his head, the palm of his hand showing
beneath loosely curled fingers. He had a broad, sculpted chest.
Powerful arms. She watched the sheet rising and falling in time
with his breathing, noting the way the light and shadows came in
from the windows and dappled his relaxed face, the strong column of
his neck where it flowed into wide, capable shoulders, the loosely
draped hips, thighs, and legs.
Oh, dear
, she thought, laying
a hand to her burning cheek.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh
dear...

Juliet swallowed — hard. Then she tiptoed up
to the bed and placed the stack of letters on the small
marble-topped table. Her anxiety and attempt to be quick were her
undoing. Her sleeve caught the edge of the stack as she withdrew,
and the letters made a whispery little sound as they tumbled to the
floor.

The man in the bed opened his eyes.

Juliet gasped.

And Lord Gareth merely grinned, instantly
seeing her plight and giving her time to compose herself by
emitting a very exaggerated, vocal yawn. "Mmmmm," he murmured, his
eyes sleepy, heavy-lidded, hopelessly seductive. "You are still
here. Good."

"G-good?" She backed up and looked away,
painfully embarrassed, her face so hot that she feared it might
melt.

"Yes, good. You see, I had some strange
dreams last night." He knuckled his eyes and then, letting his arm
fall back, rested his loose fist across the pillow beside his ear.
"I dreamed that my brother had fathered a darling little girl and
lived on through her. I dreamed that a beautiful woman was in my
room watching over me whilst I slept. And I dreamed that Lucien did
not send her away." He smiled up at her, his eyes warm upon her
face. "I see that perhaps I have not been dreaming."

"I, uh —" Juliet suddenly couldn't find her
tongue, or the means to make it work. "I — I was just leaving."

"Leaving? Come now, I just woke up. If you
go so soon, I may be offended." Sitting up, he flexed his arms,
scrunched up his face, and emitted a yawn of such pure, robust
pleasure that it sounded almost leonine; then he struck out
sideways in a leisurely stretch, his fist hitting a pillow and
sending it tumbling off the bed to join the others on the floor.
"So —" he lay back and crossed his arms behind his head, treating
Juliet to a view of hairy male underarms and strikingly defined
muscle — "how are you getting on with Lucien, anyhow?"

Juliet's face flamed at the unconsciously
seductive sight he made. She looked away. "Well, all right, I
guess. But he is rather —"

"Difficult?"

She smiled and gave a little shrug, not
wanting to say anything bad about his brother.

"Domineering?"

Her smile became a downright grin.

"Rude, oppressive, bad-tempered, and
unpleasant?"

She saw the twinkle in his eyes. "Well, I
didn't want to say it myself."

"Why not? It is, after all, the truth." He
immediately sobered, his expression becoming more focused, sharper.
"What did he say about Charlotte? He
is
going to make her
his ward, isn't he?"

"I don't know. He's given me no indication
what his plans are."

Lord Gareth swore beneath his breath.

"He didn't say a word all through breakfast,
except to antagonize Lord Andrew — and ask that I bring these
letters up to you. I tried to be quiet so as not to wake you,
but...." She gave a little shake of her head. "Oh, I am so
embarrassed!"

"Why?"

"I don't usually make it a habit of prowling
around a man's bedroom, especially when he's in it, asleep!"

"Well, I do not mind." Arms still crossed
behind his head, he gave her a look of twinkling amusement. "That
is, if you don't."

"I think I had better leave."

"Oh, please don't, Miss Paige. I am enjoying
your company."

"This is unseemly!"

"Says who? I am bored. Restless. And I have
no one else to talk to."

"You shouldn't be talking to me. Not when
you're lying there naked beneath those sheets, and..."

His brows rose. "How do you know I am naked,
Miss Paige?"

"I didn't look, if that is what you're
implying!"

"Oh. But you did —" his lips were twitching
— "in my dream, that is."

"
Lord Gareth!
"

He laughed, his eyes warm, teasing, and as
blue as the sky outside. Confused and flustered by the warm
interest she saw there, Juliet looked away, awash in a wave of
prickly, pleasurable heat. She could feel his gaze upon her. Could
feel her own response to it, to him. And then, despite herself, she
began to smile. She liked Gareth. He liked her. And truth be told,
his playful yet ardent attention felt rather nice.

"So, what do
you
do?" she asked,
trying to change the subject to something ... safe.

"Do?"

"Yes. I mean, Charles was an army officer,
Andrew aspires to be an inventor, Lucien is a duke — what about
you?"

"Oh. Uh, me."

"You."

He looked temporarily lost. She could not
know what he was thinking:
I am a hopeless wastrel. The black
sheep. The family embarrassment. What do I do? Nothing.

"I ... have fun," he said, and then looked
innocently up at her through his lashes, bestowing upon her such a
charmingly dimpled grin that she could only laugh.

"That's
all
you do?"

"For now. Though I must confess, I expect
life will be rather boring whilst I am stranded here convalescing.
Therefore, you simply must come and visit me every day, Miss Paige
— I could
never
be bored if I have you here to amuse
me."

She laughed, picked up the pile of letters
and rapped them lightly across his shamelessly naked chest. "Here.
If you're so bored, I expect these will make your convalescence all
the more bearable."

"But I am not in the mood for reading, Miss
Paige. Besides, I'd wager they all say much the same thing. Read
one, you've read them all."

"And have you read one?"

"Actually, I have not. I can do many things
in my sleep, but reading is not one of them."

He gazed up at her, arms still crossed
behind his head, a playful little smile on his face.

She took a deep breath and looked away — and
all she saw were flowers. On the chest of drawers, on the
windowsill, on the writing desk. Looking at them — and the pile of
letters whose scent remained on her palm — Juliet felt a restless,
twisting pang of something she would've identified as jealousy had
there been any reason to feel such a thing. But of course she
wasn't jealous. She barely knew Lord Gareth. Just because she'd had
a claim on his brother didn't give her one on him.

"Pretty flowers," she said, inanely. She
wiped her palm on her skirts, unconsciously trying to rid it of
another woman's scent. "You seem to be quite popular with the
ladies, Lord Gareth."

"You think so?"

"Don't you?"

He gave a little shrug, a modest
acknowledgement that yes, he supposed he was, but did not at the
moment find it particularly important. Or, relevant.

She asked, "Was your brother popular with
the ladies, too?"

"Who? Charles?"

"Why, yes."

His gaze warmed yet further as it played
over her face. "It would appear he was quite popular with at least
one
lady."

Her cheeks went pink and she looked down,
hiding a little smile. "Besides me."

"Oh, Charles had his admirers. But he was an
ambitious man, given to his studies and later his military career,
and didn't have time to chase skirts. Or so he said. The truth was,
our parents — and Lucien — had his life perfectly arranged, and
Charles was not the sort to rebel simply for the sake of
rebelling."

"I see.... The duke did imply that Charles
was promised to someone else."

"He was promised to someone else before he
was even born. That certainly did not mean he had any feelings for
the girl."

"And what about you? As the new
heir-presumptive, are
you
promised to another?"

He grinned. "My dear Miss Paige. I
am
the sort to rebel, simply for the sake of rebeling. When and if I
ever marry, it will be to someone of my own choosing, not
Lucien's."

"Yes ... somehow, I cannot see you following
a course laid out for you by him or anyone else."

"Ha! But that doesn't mean he doesn't try to
force one upon me." He was still gazing fondly up at her; but as he
studied her face, his grin faded somewhat, only to be replaced by
an expression of sympathy and understanding. "You still miss him,
don't you?"

Her smile dwindled, too. She stared
wistfully out the window and across the green, green downs. "I
think I'll always miss him, Lord Gareth." She was still for a
moment, her gaze cresting the brow of the downs to the milky-blue
horizon, as though she could see all the way back to Boston and
that terrible day last April. "I can still remember it so well,
that last night I saw him alive. I'd just told him I was going to
have his child. Oh, you should've seen his face ... so full of joy,
then sober duty as he got down on one knee before me and asked me
to marry him. And that is my last memory of him: Charles on his
knee, his head bent, the candlelight flickering in that bright,
gold hair of his."

"As last memories go, that is not such a bad
one, Miss Paige."

"Yes — I know. Sometimes I'm thankful for
the fact that I never did see his body, for that very same reason.
It's much nicer to remember a person alive, don't you think? Still,
in some ways, it makes it harder ... I never had the chance to weep
over him, never had the chance to tell him good bye. And that's the
part that still hurts. It's horrible to lose someone you love; it's
even more horrible when that person is snatched from you with no
warning whatsoever, and you never get the chance to say good
bye."

"Yes ... I know exactly what you mean." He
was silent for a moment, sad, and she knew he was reliving his own
memories, quietly relating to her words in a way that no one on the
other side of the Atlantic had ever been able, or inclined, to
do.

It made her feel suddenly close to him.
Kindred.

"You still miss him, too."

"All the time."

"Your sister put me in his old room last
night. I know this is going to sound silly, but I'd thought — hoped
— I'd feel him there somehow."

"And did you?"

She hugged herself and, gazing somewhat
wistfully at the floor, shook her head. "No."

He was quiet for a moment. Then: "I don't
know if it's of any comfort, but I've never felt him in there,
either."

"You, too, have gone in there, hoping to
feel his presence?"

He gave a gentle smile. "Many times."

A still moment hung between them as she
fussed with the lace at her sleeve. She could feel his gaze upon
her. "Are my feelings for Charles so very obvious, Lord
Gareth?"

He smiled, kindly. "Yes — but they are not
offensive. In fact, I must confess that I am happy for my brother,
having loved someone who, even a year after his death, remains so
loyal to him." His eyes grew a little sad. "Happy for Charles,
perhaps — but not for the woman he left behind. You must get on
with your life, Miss Paige. He would have wanted you to, you
know."

"Yes ... I know. I was doing fine until I
met you," she admitted. "Seeing you, your close resemblance to him,
brought everything back."

"Ah, but physical appearance is the only
resemblance Charles and I shared," he said, with another of those
warm, dimpled grins that made her insides do somersaults. "Get to
know me well enough, Miss Paige, and you'll see that I am a very
different man, indeed."

He pulled the sheet up to better preserve
his modesty — or perhaps hers — and, leaning sideways, tried to
reach the glass and bottle of spirits that stood beside the letters
on the marble-topped table. As he did so, he winced, his hand still
four or five inches from the glass, and settled slowly back against
the pillows, empty-handed, his face suddenly quite pale.

"Please, let me help you!" Juliet gasped,
rushing forward.

"I am fine, just a bit of pain in my side,
that is all." He grinned up at her as she hovered above him. "I
daresay the Irish whiskey has worn off. Everything is beginning to
hurt."

She picked up one of the pillows that lay on
the floor. Then another. "You passed a bad night, didn't you?"

"I have had worse. And woken in a great deal
more pain than I am feeling now. Miss Paige — I am sorry to impose,
but will you pour me a measure of that whiskey, there? I must
stretch to reach it, and...."

BOOK: The Wild One
9.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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