Chapter 15

“Thank you, Emmy.” Standing, arms folded, before her sitting-room window, Honoria watched the tweeny tidy her luncheon tray. “Has His Grace returned to the house?”

“I don’t believe so, miss.” Emmy straightened, hefting her burden. “I could ask Webster, if you like?”

“No-thank you, Emmy.” Honoria fabricated a smile. “It was merely an idle question.”

Very idle. Turning back to the window, Honoria wondered how much more idleness she could take. They’d returned from Berkeley Square well after three o’clock; sleep, deep and dreamless, had claimed her. Devil’s pleasure had obviously agreed with her; on waking, she’d determined to waste no time claiming more. Gowned in one of Celestine’s most fetching creations, she’d headed downstairs.

Only to discover the breakfast room empty. Devoid of wolves. Webster informed her that His Grace had broken his fast early and departed for a long drive. After breakfasting in solitary splendor-the Dowager had, the night before, declared her intention of not rising until the afternoon-she’d retreated to her sitting room. To wait. Impatiently.

How dare he demand a declaration from her and then go for a drive? She set her teeth and heard the front door slam. The sound of raised voices reached her. Frowning, she went to the door, opened it, and recognized Webster’s voice raised in exclamation.

Webster shaken from his habitual imperturbability? Honoria headed for the stairs. Surely nothing short of catastrophe-

Her breath caught; eyes widening, she picked up her skirts and ran.

Reaching the gallery, she leaned over the rail. The sight that met her eyes was the opposite of reassuring. In the hall below, footmen milled about a ragged figure, supporting, exclaiming. It was Sligo, pale, shaken, one arm in a makeshift sling, cuts and abrasions all over his face.

Her heart in her mouth, Honoria started down the stairs-and heard Devil’s voice, deep, strong, a forcefully coherent rumble. Relief hit her so strongly she had to lean on the balustrade to let the giddiness pass. Drawing a steadying breath, she continued down.

Devil strode out of the library; Honoria clutched the banister again. His coat was ripped in countless places, in jagged little tears. His buckskin breeches, usually immaculate, were scraped and dusty, as were his boots. Disheveled black locks framed his frowning face; an angry scratch ran along his jaw. “Get the sawbones in for Sligo-that shoulder needs setting.”

“But what about you, m’lord?” Webster, following on his heels, raised his hands, as if tempted to seize hold of his master.

Devil swung about-and saw Honoria on the stairs. His gaze locked on hers. “There’s nothing wrong with me bar a few scratches.” After a moment, he glanced to his left, frowning at Webster. “Stop fussing-Cynsters are invincible, remember?” With that, he set his boot on the first stair. “Just send up some hot water-that’s all I need.”

“I’ll bring it up directly, Your Grace.” With injured dignity, Webster headed for the kitchens.

Devil climbed the stairs; Honoria waited. There were slivers of wood, some painted, caught in the tears in his coat. Her chest felt so tight it hurt. “What happened?”

Drawing abreast of her, Devil met her gaze. “The axle on my phaeton snapped.”

There were small bloodstains on his shirt; he was moving briskly but without his usual fluid grace. He kept climbing; Honoria turned and followed. “Where?”

“Hampstead Heath.” Without waiting for her next question, he added: “I needed some air, so I went out there and let the horses have their heads. We were flying when the axle went.”

Honoria felt the blood drain from her face. “Went?”

Devil shrugged. “Snapped-there was an almighty crack. We might have hit something, but I don’t think we did.”

Reaching the top of the stairs, he turned and strode down the corridor; picturing the scene, and not liking what she saw, Honoria hurried in his wake. “Your horses-the bays?”

“No.” Devil threw her a glance. “I had a pair of young blacks put to-to try out their paces.” His features contorted. “I shot one immediately, but I only carry one pistol. Luckily, Sherringham came along-I borrowed his pistol, then he drove us back here.”

“But-” Honoria frowned. “What actually happened?”

A decidedly testy glance found her. “The axle snapped under the box seat-essentially, the phaeton came apart. By hell’s own luck, both Sligo and I were thrown free. I bounce better than he does.”

“The carriage?”

“Is kindling.”

They’d reached the end of the long corridor; opening the heavy oak door at its end, Devil strode on. He stopped in the middle of the room, in the center of a richly hued carpet. Lifting one shoulder, he started to ease off his coat-and caught his breath on an indrawn hiss.

“Here.” Behind him, Honoria reached over his shoulders and gently tugged, freeing first one shoulder, then the other, then easing the sleeves off. “Great heavens!” Dropping the ruined coat, she stared.

His shirt was badly torn, the fine linen shredded down the side of his back that had taken the brunt of his fall. The abrasions had bled, as had numerous little cuts. Thankfully, his breeches and boots had provided sterner protection; there were no rips below his waist.

Before she could react, Devil pulled the shirt free of his breeches and hauled it over his head. And froze. Then his head snapped around. “What the devil are you doing here?”

It took a moment to shift her gaze from his bleeding back to his face. The look in his eyes didn’t, immediately, make sense, then she looked past him-to the massive, fully canopied four-poster bed that dominated the room. In one swift glance, she took in the sumptuous hangings, all in shades of green, the ornately carved headboard and barley-sugar posts, the silk sheets and thick featherbed and the abundance of soft pillows piled high. Her expression mild, she looked back at him. “Your cuts are bleeding-they need salving.”

Devil swore beneath his breath. “You shouldn’t be in here.” He wrestled with his shirt, trying to free his arms.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Honoria caught his hands, now thoroughly tangled; deftly, she unlaced his cuffs. “The circumstances excuse the impropriety.”

Devil stripped the shirt from his wrists and flung it aside. “I am not on my deathbed.”

“You are, however, badly scraped.” Honoria met his gaze calmly. “You can’t see it.”

Devil narrowed his eyes at her-then twisted, trying to look over his shoulder. “It doesn’t feel that bad-I can take care of it myself.”

“For goodness sake!” Honoria planted her hands on her hips and glared at him. “Stop acting like a six-year-old-I’m only going to bathe the cuts and apply some salve.”

Devil’s head whipped back. “That’s just the point-I’m not a six-year-old-and I’m not dead, either.”

“Naturally.” Honoria nodded. “You’re a Cynster-you’re invincible, remember?”

Devil gritted his teeth. “Honoria, if you want to play ministering angel, you can damn well marry me first.”

Honoria lost her temper-she’d been waiting to make the declaration he wanted and he turned up like this! Stepping forward, she planted her index finger in the center of his bare chest. “If,” she declared, emphasizing the word with a definite jab. “I do decide to marry you.” She tried another jab; when he instinctively stepped back, she closed the distance. “I would want to be assured.” Another jab, another step. “That you will behave reasonably.” Her finger was starting to ache. “Inallsituations!” Three quick jabs, three quick steps; Devil’s legs hit the end of his bed. Honoria pounced. “Like now!” Glaring defiantly up at him, she prodded him one last time. “Sit!”

The face she looked into was uncompromisingly set; his eyes, shadowed green, smoldered darkly. They stood, gazes locked, toe-to-toe, will against will-abruptly, Devil’s gaze shifted to the door.

Honoria grabbed the moment. Placing both palms on the heavy muscles of his chest, she pushed. Hard.

With a muffled expletive, Devil toppled-and sat.

“Your water, Your Grace.” Webster elbowed open the door, which had swung half-shut behind them.

Turning, Honoria held out her hands. “I’ll need some salve, Webster.”

“Indeed, miss.” Without a blink, Webster relinquished the bowl into her care. “I’ll fetch some immediately.”

The instant he’d gone, Honoria turned-straight into a furious glower.

“This is not a good idea.”

She raised a brow, then bent and placed the bowl on the floor. “Stop complaining-you’ll survive.”

Devil watched her gown draw tight over her bottom-abruptly, he shook his head. “Maybe-but will I be sane?”

Wringing out a cloth, Honoria cast him a measuring glance. Rising, she folded the cloth, then stepped up beside him, her legs almost touching his thigh. Placing one hand on his shoulder, she drew it forward, bringing a deep cut into view. Under her fingers, his skin was warm, resilient, very much alive. “Think of something else.” Carefully, she started to bathe the cut.

Closing his eyes, Devil drew a deep breath. Think of something else. Just as well he was sitting, or she’d know for a fact just what his “else” was. His cuts and scrapes barely rated on his scale of afflictions; his major hurt was throbbing steadily, and was only going to get worse. She was so close, leaning over, reaching around his shoulder; her perfume surrounded him, wreathing his senses, leaving him giddy with need.

Small hands touched gently, hesitantly; she started when his muscles shifted, flickering beneath her fingers. Clenching his fists, Devil anchored them to his knees; when Webster returned, salve-pot in hand, he all but sighed with relief. “How’s Sligo?”

It was an effort, but he managed to keep his butler talking until, with every last scratch bathed and salved, Honoria finally stepped back.

“There.” Wiping her hands on the towel Webster held for her, she slanted him a questioning glance.

Devil returned it with a blank stare. He waited while Webster gathered ruined clothes, towels, salve, and basin, then swept magisterially out. Honoria turned to watch him go-silently, Devil rose and moved up behind her. He’d lost the battle with his demons five minutes before.

“Now!” Honoria turned-straight into Devil’s arms. “What-?” Her words died as she looked into his eyes. A feeling of being about to be devoured washed over her. She felt his hand at the base of her throat. It rose, framing her jaw as his head lowered.

He waited for no permission, implied or otherwise, but took her mouth rapaciously. Honoria felt her bones melt; beneath that onslaught, resistance fled. He shifted and moved her; her legs hit the bed end. Lifting her against him, he knelt on the bed, then they were toppling together. She landed on her back-he landed on top of her. Directly on top of her.

Any thought of struggling vanished; the hunger that roared through him, the sheer muscled weight of him, tense, rigid, and ready to claim her, lit her fires instantly. Honoria wrapped her arms about his neck and feverishly kissed him back.

He pressed his hands into the down covers and slid them beneath her hips, fingers firming, then tilting her against him. More definite, more fascinating than before, she felt the rigid column of his desire ride against her. Instinctively, she writhed beneath that throbbing weight-wanting, needing. “God Almighty!”

Devil’s weight left her-she was plucked rudely from the bed. Trapped in his arms in a froth of petticoats, blinking wildly, Honoria saw the door approaching; juggling her, Devil swung it wide. And deposited her on her feet in the corridor.

What…?” Breasts swelling, Honoria whirled to face him, the rest of her question writ large in her eyes.

Devil pointed a finger at her nose. “Your declaration.” He looked wild, dark hair disheveled, black brows slashing down, lips a thin, hard line. His chest rose and fell dramatically.

Honoria drew in a deep breath.

“Not now!” Devil scowled. “When you’ve thought it over properly.”

With that, he slammed the door.

Honoria’s jaw dropped; she stared at the oak panels. Abruptly snapping her mouth shut, she reached for the doorknob.

And heard the lock fall home.

In utter disbelief, she stared at the door, her mouth open once more. Then she gritted her teeth, screwed her eyes tight and, fists clenched, gave vent to a frustrated scream.

She opened her eyes-the door remained shut.

Jaw setting ominously, Honoria swung on her heel and stalked off.

*****

Devil escaped from his house and sought refuge at Manton’s. It was late afternoon, a time when many of his peers still in town could be counted on to look in, to spend an hour or two culping wafers in convivial company.

Scanning those occupying the shooting stalls, his gaze alighted on one dark head. He strolled forward, waiting until his mark discharged his pistol before drawling: “You haven’t quite corrected for the kick, brother mine.”

Richard turned his head-and raised one brow. “You offering to teach me, big brother?”

Devil’s teeth gleamed. “I gave up teaching you years ago-I was thinking more along the lines of a little friendly competition.”

Richard grinned back. “A tenner each wafer?”

“Why not just make it a monkey the lot?”

“Done.”

In perfect amity, they set to culping wafer after wafer; acquaintances strolled up, making none-too-serious suggestions, to which the brothers replied in like vein. No one, seeing them together, could doubt their relationship. Devil was the taller by an inch or so; although Richard lacked his more developed musculature, much of the difference lay in the four years between them. Their faces, seen separately, were not obviously alike, Devil’s features being leaner, harder, more austere, yet when seen side by side, the same patriarchal planes, the same arrogant nose and brow line, the same aggressive chin, were readily apparent.

Standing back to let Richard take his shot, Devil smiled to himself. Other than Vane, who was as familiar as his shadow, no one was closer to him than Richard. Their similarity went deep, much deeper than the physical. Of all the Bar Cynster, Richard was the one he could predict most easily-because Richard always reacted as he did.

The retort of Richard’s pistol echoed in the stall; Devil looked up, noting the hole an inch to the left of the target’s center. They were using a brace plus one of Manton’s specials, wicked, long-barreled specimens. While well balanced, over the distance they were shooting, the longest permitted in the gallery, there was a definite difference between the guns; using the three in rotation meant they had to constantly readjust their aim.

The assistant waiting on them had reloaded the next pistol; Devil weighed it in his hand. Richard shifted positions; Devil swung into place and raised his arm. His shot holed the wafer between the center and Richard’s shot.

“Tsk, tsk! Always impulsive, Sylvester-taking a fraction more time would yield a better result.”

Richard, who’d been lounging against the stall wall, stiffened, then straightened, his previously relaxed expression leaching to impassivity. He nodded briefly to Charles, then turned to supervise the reloading.

In contrast, Devil’s smile broadened wickedly. “As you know, Charles, wasting time’s not my style.”

Charles’s pale lashes flickered; a frown showed fleetingly in his eyes.

Devil noted it; unfailingly urbane, he picked up a freshly loaded pistol. “Care to show us how?” Swinging the gun about, he laid the barrel across his sleeve and presented the butt to Charles.

Charles reached for it-his hand stopped in midair. Then his jaw firmed; wrapping his fingers about the polished butt, he hefted the pistol. Stepping past Devil, Charles took up his stance. He flexed his shoulders once, then lifted his arm. He sighted, taking, as he’d said, only a moment longer than Devil, before firing.

The wafer’s center disappeared.

With a sincere “Bravo,” Devil clapped Charles on the shoulder. “You’re one of the few who can do that intentionally.” Charles looked up; Devil grinned. “Care to join us?”

Charles did; despite his initial stiffness, even Richard studied his eldest cousin’s style. Shooting was one of the few gentlemanly pursuits Charles shared with the members of the Bar Cynster; pistol shooting was an activity at which he excelled. Charles accepted Devil’s easy compliments as his due, but after twenty minutes recalled another engagement and took his leave.

Watching Charles’s retreating back, Richard shook his head. “If he wasn’t such a prig, he might be bearable.”

Devil studied the score sheets. “What’s the tally?”

“I lost count when Charles appeared.” Richard glanced at the sheets, then grimaced. “You probably won-you usually do.”

“Let’s declare it a draw.” Devil laid the pistols aside. “For me, it served its purpose.”

“Which was?” Brows rising, Richard followed Devil from the stall.

“Distraction.” With a nod for Manton, who smiled and bowed in return, Devil led the way from the gallery.

Richard ambled in his wake, coming up with him on the pavement. Glancing into Devil’s frowning face, Richard raised his brows higher. “Well, you’re certainly that.”

Devil blinked and focused. “What?”

“Distracted.”

Devil grimaced. “It’s just that… I’ve forgotten something-something about Tolly’s murder.”

Instantly, Richard sobered. “Something important?”

“I’ve an ominous feeling it might be crucial, but every time I try to catch hold of it, it slips back into the mist.”

“Stop trying so hard.” Richard clapped him on the shoulder. “Go talk to Honoria Prudence-distract yourself some more.” He grinned. “Your vital clue will probably come to mind in the most unlikely situation.”

Stifling the impulse to inform his brother that it was Honoria Prudence he needed distracting from, Devil nodded. They parted, Richard heading for his lodgings, Devil striding along the pavements toward Grosvenor Square. In his present condition, the walk wouldn’t hurt.

The wind had risen by the time Devil reached his front door in the small hours of the morning. After leaving Richard, he’d returned home only to dress for the evening. Like most of his recent evenings, the past night had been devoted to what, borrowing Honoria’s description, he now mentally dubbed “Lucifer’s discreditable rumor.” It was not something he or his cousins could investigate directly-their views were too widely known. No one would talk openly in their presence for fear of repercussions. Which meant he’d had to find a pawn to do their investigating for them-he’d finally settled on one Viscount Bromley. His lordship was bored, dissipated, a hardened gamester, always on the lookout for distraction.

A renowned cardplayer himself, Devil had found no difficulty in dangling the right lure before his lordship’s nose. As of tonight, the viscount was well on the way to losing his shirt. After which, his lordship was going to prove exceedingly helpful. And after that, he’d probably never play piquet again.

Grinning grimly, Devil paused, latchkey in hand; eyes narrowing, he scanned the night sky. It was dark, but not so dark he couldn’t see the thunderheads rolling in, lowering blackly over the housetops.

He quickly let himself in. He hoped Webster had remembered his instructions.

The storm broke with an almighty crash.

It flung Honoria straight into hell. Only this time, it was a different hell, with a different scene of carnage.

From above, she looked down on the wreck of a carriage, all splintered wood and crushed leather seats. The horses, tangled and torn, were screaming. Beside the carriage lay the figure of a man, sprawled, long limbs flung in impossible angles. Black locks covered his eyes; his face was pale as death.

He lay unmoving, with the absolute stillness of one gone from this world.

The black misery that welled from Honoria’s heart was stronger than ever before. It caught her, effortlessly whirled her, then dragged her down into a vortex of desolation, the vale of unending tears.

He was gone-and she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t find voice to protest, could find no strength to call him back. With a choking sob, hands outstretched, beseeching the gods, she stepped forward.

Her fingers met solid flesh. Warm flesh.

“Hush.”

The nightmare shattered; despair howled, then slid away, slinking back into the darkness, relinquishing its hold. Honoria woke.

She was not in her bed but standing before the window, her feet cold on the boards. Outside, the wind shrieked; she flinched as rain stung the pane. Her cheeks were wet with tears she couldn’t recall shedding; her fine lawn nightgown was no match for the room’s chill. She shivered.

Warm arms surrounded her, steadied her. Wonderingly, she looked up-for one instant, she wasn’t sure which was reality and which the dream-then the heat reaching through his fine shut registered. With a sob, she flung herself against him.

“It’s all right.” Devil closed his arms about her; with one hand, he stroked her hair. She was quivering; her fists, tight balls, clutched his shirt. Slipping his hand beneath the heavy fall of her hair, he stroked her nape, leaning his cheek against the top of her head. “It’s all right.”

She shook her head furiously. “It’s not all right.” Her voice was choked, muffled in his chest. Devil felt her tears, hot against his skin. Gripping his shirt, she tried, ineffectually, to shake him. “You were killed! Dead.”

Devil blinked. He’d assumed her nightmare concerned her parents’ and siblings’ deaths. “I’m not dead.” He knew that for certain; she was wearing nothing bar a single layer of fine lawn, a fact his rakish senses had immediately noted. Luckily, he’d come prepared. Reaching out, he snagged the blanket he’d left on the window seat. “Come-sit by the fire.” She was tense, cold and shivering; she wouldn’t sleep until she was relaxed and warm.

“There’s no fire-one of the footmen put it out. There’s something wrong with the chimney.” Honoria imparted the information without lifting her head. She had no idea what was going on; her heart was thumping wildly, sheer panic walked her nerves.

Devil turned her to the door. “In the sitting room.”

He tried to set her from him; when she wouldn’t let go, he heaved a sigh and draped the blanket about her back and shoulders, tucking it about her as best he could.

Honoria accepted his ministrations meekly-just as long as she didn’t have to let go.

She felt him hesitate; he muttered something incomprehensible, then stooped and swung her into his arms. The movement broke her hold; she clutched two fresh handfuls of his shirt and pressed her cheek to his chest, relieved beyond measure when his arms tightened about her. The turbulence inside her was frightening.

As if she was a child, he carried her into the sitting room and sat in a large armchair facing the blazing fire. He settled her in his lap; she immediately curled close, pressing tightly into his hard body. Both chair and fire had changed since she’d retired, a fact she noted, but that was the most minor aspect of the confusion clouding her mind.

Her heart was still racing, high in her throat; her lips were dry. There was a metallic taste in her mouth; her skin felt coldly clammy. Her mind was awhirl, thoughts and fears, present and past, jostling for prominence, demanding responses. Reality and fearful fancy merged, then separated, then merged again, partners in a giddy dance.

She couldn’t think, couldn’t talk-she didn’t even know what she felt.

Devil asked no questions but simply held her, stroking her hair, her back, his large palms moving slowly, hypnotically, yet without any sensual intent. His touch was pure comfort.

Honoria closed her eyes and leaned into his strength; a shuddering sigh escaped her, some of her tension drained. For countless minutes, she lay in his arms, listening to his heart, steady and sure, beating beneath her cheek. Like a rock, his strength anchored her; under its influence, the kaleidoscope of her emotions slowed, then settled-suddenly, everything was clear.

“Your phaeton.” Twisting, she looked up at him. “It wasn’t an accident-you were meant to die.”

The flames lit his face; she could see his frown clearly. “Honoria, it was an accident. I told you-the axle broke.”

“Why did it break? Do axles usually break-especially in carriages from the sort of carriagemaker you patronize?”

His lips firmed. “We might have hit something.”

“You said you hadn’t.”

She felt his sigh. “Honoria, it was an accident-the rest is all nightmare. The fact is, I’m alive.”

“But you’re not supposed to be!” She struggled to sit up but his arms firmed, holding her still. “I don’t have nightmares about deaths that didn’t happen. You were meant to be killed. The only reason you’re alive is…” Lost for words, she gestured.

“I’m a Cynster,” he supplied. “I’m invincible, remember?”

He wasn’t-he was a flesh-and-blood man, no one knew that better than she. Honoria set her lips mutinously. “If someone tampered with the axle, wouldn’t it show?”

Devil looked into her eyes, unnaturally bright, and wondered if sleepwalkers got fevers. “The whole carriage, axle and all, was reduced to splinters.” What could he, what should he, say to ease her mind? “Why would anyone want to kill me?”

He realized, instantly, that that wasn’t a wise choice. Fighting his hold, Honoria squirmed and sat straighten “Of course!” Eyes wide, she stared at him. “Tolly-Tolly was coming to warn you. Whoever’s trying to kill you had to kill him before he did.”

Briefly, Devil closed his eyes-in pain. Opening them, he lifted her and resettled her, clamping his arms about her. Then he met her gaze. “You are weaving this from whole cloth-and from the remnants of your nightmare. If you like, we can discuss this in the morning, when you can examine the facts in the cold light of day.”

Even in her present state, he could sense the rebellion within her. Her chin firmed, then tilted. Turning her head, she settled back against his chest. “As you wish.”

Too wise to take exception to her tone, he waited, patiently, for some of her haughty tension to leave her, then tightened his arms again.

Staring into the leaping flames, Honoria reexamined her newfound certainty and could not fault it. She knew what she knew, even if he refused to see it. He was a Cynster male-he believed he was invincible. She’d no intention of arguing the point, any more than she intended to change her perspective. Her “facts” might not appear all that substantial in daylight, but she wasn’t about to deny them.

Her life, her purpose, was now crystal-clear. She knew, absolutely, with complete and utter conviction, precisely what she had to do. He’d challenged her to face her deepest fear; fate was now challenging her to face a deeper truth-the truth of what she felt for him.

She would give him what he asked, all he asked, and more; she would let nothing-no one-take him from her. She might be his, but he was hers. Nothing under heaven could change that.

Last time death had threatened those she loved, she’d been helpless, unable to save them. This time, she would not stand by; she would not let any mere mortal steal her destiny from her.

Conviction, total certainty, infused her. Her earlier confusion had passed; she felt calm, in control. Focused. Aware. She frowned. “Why are you here?”

He hesitated, then answered: “You always sleepwalk during storms.”

“Always?” Then she remembered the night Tolly died. “In the cottage?”

She felt Devil nod. Safe in his arms, she considered, then snook tier head. “That can’t be right. It’s been eight years since the accident. I haven’t woken anywhere other than in my bed and I’ve slept in so many different houses, through so many different storms.” It had only been when violent death had hovered close-at the cottage, and now, in the aftermath of his accident. Honoria mentally nodded, her conclusion confirmed. If death’s presence was what evoked her nightmare, then death had stalked him that morning.

Behind her, Devil shrugged. “You walked tonight-that’s all that matters. I’ll stay until you sleep.”

Her gaze on the flames, Honoria raised her brows. And considered that in some detail. Increasingly salacious detail. Then she grimaced. His muscles were locked, not tensed with passion but holding it at bay.

Turning her head, she looked up, into his face, all hard angles and austere planes. Raising a hand, she traced one lean cheek; at her touch, he froze. “I don’t suppose you’d consider taking me to bed?”

His jaw locked; flames danced in his eyes. “No.”

“Why not?”

Devil met her gaze; when he spoke, his tone was flat. “You’re upset-distraught. And you haven’t made your decision yet.”

Honoria sat up and twisted to face him. “I’m not upset now. And I have made up my mind.”

Devil winced. Teeth gritted, he lifted her and set her bottom back on his thigh. “I’m not taking you to bed-to wife-purely because you’re afraid of lightning!”

Honoria narrowed her eyes at him-his expression was not encouraging. “This is ridiculous.” She felt soft, warm and empty inside.

“Forget it.” Devil ground the words out. “Justsitstill.”

Honoria stared at him, then uttered a strangled, disgusted sound and slumped back against his chest.

“Go to sleep.”

She bit her tongue. In the orangery, she’d surprised him; after the accident, her tending him had simply been too much. He wouldn’t again make the mistake of letting her touch him-without that, she stood no chance of getting his body to change his mind.

The warmth surrounding her had unlocked her muscles. Safe, certain-determined to prevail-she slid into untroubled slumber.

She woke the next morning neatly tucked in her bed. Blinking her eyes wide, she was almost at the point of dismissing her memories of the night as dreams when her gaze alighted on the odd blanket draped across the bed’s corner. She narrowed her eyes at the inoffensive plaid; her recollections became much clearer.

With a disgusted humph, she sat up and threw back the covers. It was clearly time she had a long talk with his Obstinate Grace of St. Ives.

Gowned appropriately, she swept into the breakfast parlor primed to declare herself won-only to discover he’d left the house early, ostensibly on business. He was not expected to return until shortly before dinner, after which he would escort her to the Theater Royal.

She amended her plans-he invited some country neighbors passing through town to join them in their box. The Draycotts were charming, and utterly unshakable. At Devil’s invitation, Lord Draycott accompanied them back to Grosvenor Square, the better to discuss repairs to the Five-Mile fence.

There was no storm that night.

The next morning, Honoria rose early, determined to catch her worm. He didn’t even appear, taking breakfast in his library, in the protective presence of his steward.

By evening, she’d reached the end of her tether. Why he was avoiding her she had no idea, but his actions left her no choice. There was one approach guaranteed to gain his complete and undivided attention-as far as she was concerned, there was no reason she couldn’t employ it.

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