The regency romances, p.116
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       The Regency Romances, p.116

           Laura Kinsale
 

  He was stiff for a moment, unyielding. Roddy pressed her forehead against his chest, her mouth trembling on a dammed sob. Then he made an odd sound, a peculiar, strained chuckle, and stroked the back of her neck lightly. “That Geoff can’t build a decent fire? That’s easy enough to believe.”

  It was not an answer, exactly, but there was a note in his voice that made her throw her arms around him and bury her face against his dusty shirt.

  “It’s the truth,” Geoffrey said softly, meaning more than the fire. “God’s truth, Faelan. I feared she’d be down with pneumonia.”

  Roddy felt her husband’s slow, harsh exhalation. “Yes. And so you rendered the only aid you could think of. I might have known it would involve taking a female’s clothes off.”

  “She’s all yours, my friend.” Geoffrey’s voice held a tentative grin. “Not in my style at all.”

  Roddy turned. “Of course not. Any female with a brain in her head isn’t in your style,” she said waspishly.

  “You see what I mean.”

  “This is all very affecting,” Earnest said, “but we aren’t making much progress toward a port.”

  Roddy straightened. “I’m staying with Faelan,” she declared. “It’s you and Geoffrey who’d best leave the country.”

  “I’m not leaving without you. That’s the only goddamned reason I’m here in the first place! God knows, I’d rather be on my way back to Dublin to clear myself. I don’t fancy carrying the title of escaped felon all my life.”

  “‘Escaped felon’! When Faelan risked his life—” Roddy almost choked on her ire. “Earnest, do you know what the House of Commons did that morning before Faelan got you out? They almost carried a measure to execute suspected rebels before the rebellion! Before it! So unless you’re looking for posthumous vindication, you’d better take yourself off smartly!”

  “Lord, poppet,” Geoffrey said. “Where’d you learn words like that? ‘Posthumous vindication.’ It sounds like something your husband would say.”

  “It sounds to me more like something you’d say,” Faelan drawled, “but consider the sentiment seconded.”

  “Then how does it look, for God’s sake?” Earnest’s voice quivered on a note Roddy had never heard from him before. “Escaping with the same damned rebel I’m supposed to have been helping in the first place?”

  “It appears to me you’re in prime shape.” Faelan let go of Roddy and hefted her saddle from its sprawled position on the ground. “Covered on both sides. If the rebels have Dublin and the French are on the sea, you’re a red-blooded patriot for aiding our hero here.” He nodded toward Geoffrey. “If the thing’s crushed—then…what do you know of it? Butter couldn’t melt in your mouth. You’ve never seen a radical, never heard of democracy, never imagined an upstanding gentleman like Lord Geoffrey was a sleazy closet republican. You’re just a poor English sod who came over to help his sister and got caught in the cross fire.”

  “Ever-practical Faelan,” Geoffrey said indulgently.

  Earnest looked exasperated. Roddy suspected it was because he had a notion that Faelan was right. For now, with the rebels apparently in control of most of the countryside, Geoffrey’s company was more safeguard than menace. And later, once Earnest was out of Ireland, Delamore money and prestige would be standing against the flimsy evidence. And if the evidence weren’t Faelan’s, it would be flimsy—of that Roddy was certain. Earnest would very likely never even come to trial, unless it was for the escape itself. And surely that could be excused under the circumstances.

  Earnest stood, glaring at Faelan and Roddy. She would not open to the question in his eyes, but instead answered by moving closer to Faelan. “Tell Papa that you did your best,” she said in a softer voice. “But I can’t come with you, Earnest. I can’t.”

  His glance drifted over Faelan with lingering distrust. “Can’t?”

  “I won’t.” Roddy pressed back into her husband’s arms.

  For a long moment, Earnest hesitated. Then with an angry sound of defeat he turned to Geoffrey. “So. It’s Wexford, is it?”

  Geoffrey grinned. “You and I, comrade.”

  “Comrade.” Earnest spun away in disgust.

  Faelan worked open the leather bag attached to Roddy’s saddle. “Take this.” He pulled out a second pistol, a money purse, and a packet of powder and ball. “It throws left a hair. Remember that.”

  Earnest took the offering. He met Faelan’s eyes with a level look. “Thanks,” he said dryly, and then with a reluctant twist to his mouth: “For everything.”

  Faelan nodded, curt, and turned away. He repacked the saddlebag and held it toward Roddy. “We’ll stop here for an hour to eat. I want to push on west while it’s quiet.”

  Chapter 24

  They reached Kilkenny by noon. The town seemed drowsy with Sunday quiet, but Roddy had learned that horror could hide beneath the calm. They crossed the river Nore in view of the old castle walls, and she looked with eyes of weary apprehension at the scarlet, coats of the occupying garrison stationed at points across the broad lawn. There was evidence that the area had been “disarmed” with the government’s brutal effectiveness. She and Faelan had passed burned-out cottages and stripped farms, and no single soul had appeared on the road, though Roddy knew that the inhabitants were there—in hiding, watching from hedgerows and empty barns.

  Faelan stopped just over the bridge and gave her a smile that looked strange and fierce in the dark stubble that shadowed his jaw. “Will you go another hundred miles if I ask you?”

  Her whole body ached and her eyes burned. She’d been riding since midnight: she was hungry and thirsty and bruised and scared.

  She looked up into his eyes and said, “Yes,” without flinching.

  He reached out and touched her cheek as their horses stood with heads lowered together. “Little girl. You’re turning into a heroine on me.”

  “Am I?” She managed a smile in return. “It must be rubbing off of you.”

  He looked down at that, with a faint frown, as if it had been an accusation instead of praise. He swung off his horse and handed her the reins. “I’ll see what I can find out.”

  A quarter of an hour later, Roddy was walking stiffly into an inn with the promise of at least a few hours’ rest. “Not longer,” Faelan said. “Nothing’s reported to the south and west, but communication’s cut off from Dublin. We’re not far ahead of it.”

  “Thank you.” She sat down and threw herself onto her back on the deep feather bed. “I’ll certainly rest better for knowing that.”

  He pulled his boots off with the jack and sat beside her, smelling of horse and sweat and black powder. Roddy knew she could be no better, except for the powder smell. There was a smudge on his face where he’d used his arm as support once—aiming over his shoulder at a deserter who’d tried to take Roddy’s horse.

  She saw his lashes relax and lower as he looked down at her. His glance traveled the length of her body.

  Roddy smiled and shifted her fingers, rubbing the back of his hand where it rested on the bed. “Too tired,” she murmured. “Too tired.” She closed her eyes and concentrated on the feeling of him, on the fine muscle and the bone beneath; his hard, steady warmth.

  The mattress moved. He leaned over her. She felt his breath on her skin, and then the scratchy touch of his cheek as he buried his face in her hair. “I’m sorry, love. God, I’m so sorry to put you through this.”

  She patted his back, the only part within easy reach. “It isn’t your fault. ’Tis all the Geoffreys and the Mullanes and Willises in the world, who look at people and only see chess pawns. Who play with fire and think it’s clay.”

  He rolled away and rested on his elbow, looking down at her with dark amusement. “Ah. She’s become a philosopher now.” He tangled his fingers in a strand of her hair and said slowly, “I’m sorry you’re here, I meant, and not safe in England as Earnest would have you.”

  “Earnest,” she said with disgust, and then bit her lip.
>
  She turned suddenly, pressing her face to Faelan’s shoulder. “Oh, God, I hope they make it.”

  He stroked her hair. “They will. Your brother has some sense, if Geoffrey doesn’t.”

  “At least they had a chance.” Her words were muffled in his coat. “Because of you.”

  His hand paused, wavered over her hair. He drew back and sat up. “Don’t harp on that,” he said harshly. The floor creaked under his feet as he stood and paced to the open window, where green light filtered through leaves and made a moving pattern on the wall.

  She sat up. “No.” Her words were soft. “I won’t harp on it, if you don’t like it. But I wanted to say—” She stopped, searching for words, and then shook her head in despair. “…‘Sorry.’ That’s not enough. That’s not nearly enough. The things I said to you—the accusations—”

  He turned on her. “Aye, you had every reason to doubt me.”

  “All I knew for certain was that you’d sent Earnest to the cottage.” She could not tell him of her brother’s suspicions, of how his interpretation had shaped hers. She shrugged, and looked at the plank floor. Color mounted in her cheeks. “You had far more reason to doubt me than I did you.”

  He shook off his coat and threw it over a chair. “Did I? You don’t think I might have arranged Geoff’s arrest in a jealous frenzy? And thrown in Earnest too, when I saw the chance?”

  “No.”

  “‘No, not anymore,’ you mean.” He stripped off his waistcoat and cravat. “You saw me break them out, so you think it’s only logical that I didn’t put them in.”

  She stared at him, suddenly uneasy with his words. “What are you saying?”

  “I’m saying,” he snarled, “that I don’t remember what I did after I sent Earnest to that damned cottage to find you. I left there, and when I arrived at Derrynane—” He bent his head, leaning into the windowpane, staring out as if there were demons in the yard below. “When I arrived at Derrynane—” He stopped again, and then like an explosion the words burst out of him. “—you were there, with that letter that said ‘two days ago.’”

  He refused to talk about it. The confession seemed to have been a rush of water from a weakened dam, quickly repaired and plastered over. That afternoon in Kilkenny, he had not allowed her even to respond, but only told her to go to sleep while she could, and pulled on his boots and left the room. Two hours later he’d woken her from exhausted unconsciousness and they’d ridden out of Kilkenny, driven by a rumor of rebel columns retreating south out of Carlow.

  Now, close to home, she had finally begun to feel safe. In Kenmare, within the shadow of Iveragh’s mountains, they had left the reports of uprising far behind. The country was in upset, but the rumors had become wilder and more unbelievable, and through her talent, Roddy picked out no one who had actually experienced any violence. The government repression in the area had been the same as in Iveragh—directed against property, not people. Roddy had come to understand how lucky the southwest had been in the restraint and humanity of the army’s commanders there.

  Over a quiet supper in one of Lord Kenmare’s excellent inns, Roddy screwed up her courage and attacked the subject she’d been brooding upon since Kilkenny. “I think we should investigate,” she said, between bites of stewed apple in their private parlor.

  Faelan didn’t look up from his lobster. “Investigate what?”

  “Who betrayed Geoffrey and Earnest.”

  Instantly, she regretted her choice of words. He glanced at her, a flash of icy blue, and went back to his meal.

  “The O’Sullivans and O’Connells can help us,” she added doggedly. “Between them, they know everyone in the barony.”

  He poured himself another glass of wine.

  “I’ve thought about it,” she said. “It must have been someone who followed Earnest from Derrynane. No one but you and I knew Geoffrey was at the cottage, and only someone at the O’Connells could have known Earnest was trying to arrange passage for two people.”

  “Leave it, Roddy.” He stood up, his plate only half touched. “Just leave it alone.”

  “I won’t leave it alone.”

  “Dammit, you will.” He took a large swallow of wine and turned to stare into the fire.

  She sat back in her chair. “I need to know—did you meet anyone on the road after you spoke to Earnest?”

  “I said leave it, curse you!”

  She was focusing her gift, testing the blank wall. “Did you meet someone?”

  The wineglass hit the table with force enough to crack it. He twisted Roddy’s chin up. “Did you hear me? Don’t press your luck, little girl.”

  She refused to flinch before his black glare, though his fingers bit painfully into her skin. When he let go of her, she forced herself not to reach up and soothe the lingering ache. “Now,” she said, “you see that intimidation hasn’t worked.” She gave him a small smile. “I believe that seduction is usually the next stage.”

  He looked down at her, frowning savagely.

  “Go on,” she said after a moment. “I’m quite prepared to enjoy, your efforts.”

  He took a deep breath. One corner of his mouth curved—more a grimace than a smile. He reached out and touched her face again, this time a caress. The backs of his fingers skimmed her temple and cheek. “Are you?” he said softly. He bent and drew her mouth up for a long kiss, light at first lingering and sweet, and then his palms spread to cup her face and his tongue drove deep into her mouth.

  Her loins melted, hot liquid fire that leaped with unexpected strength. She had meant to let him kiss her and then ask again. Senach had told her—he had said she could read Faelan if she tried. She clung to her focus, letting the feel of his hands on her flow into it and add power and connection. For an instant, it seemed…“Did you meet anyone?” she gasped.

  The image flashed and was gone, incomprehensible. She made a small sound of frustration and reached up to put her arms around his shoulders, arching toward him, searching for that touch that had escaped her.

  He groaned, his hand sliding downward, molding her breasts, slipping beneath her back and knees. The room tilted and spun as he lifted her, and then she was on the bed in the connecting chamber, and Faelan was slamming the door behind him and working at his neckcloth.

  Roddy moistened her lips, watching him undress in the evening light that filtered through the lace curtains. Shadows slid and flowed over his skin, dark against pale gold. Naked, he leaned over her, his arms braced on either side of her head.

  “Did you meet anyone, Faelan?” Her voice sounded thin and unreal. Breathless.

  He buried his face in her throat, his hands pulling at the shoulders of her dress. “No,” he growled, and drew his tongue down her skin, following the neckline of her grown. “That satisfy you?”

  He was lying. She was certain of it. Before she could answer, his fingers dragged the gown down off her breast and his lips found her exposed nipple. Her body jerked and writhed as he teased at the swelling bud. She slid her hands across his back and underneath, spread her palms across his belly, circling the hot, smooth thrust of his manhood. The sound he made in response sent passion arcing down her spine.

  He moved, pushing her skirt up as he knelt over her, shaping her thighs and hips with his palms. Roddy panted and tried to think, tried to keep her gift focused, but he never met her eyes. She only saw black hair and smooth skin; his jaw and his neck and his shoulders, the curve of his back as he mounted her. “Faelan—” One last attempt. “Faelan, did you—see anyone—”

  The memory came: a face, strange eyes, old; old, and familiar and frightening. He gripped her shoulders with a moan like a child’s whimper. “Not now.” His body shuddered and pressed into hers. “Ah, God. Not now…” The image vanished; reason dissolved into sensation as he penetrated. She tilted her head back, feeling her body and her gift expand, drinking in passion that seemed more than she had ever felt before. She knew what he wanted, what he felt; she moved beneath him in perfect ans
wer. His need was to drown himself, to lose all thought and logic in the joining. He drove toward that, to be part of her: domination and submission, life and death, a mystery and an answer in the dark, hot oblivion that her body offered. His explosion took her with him, tore her into a thousand glittering sparks and put her back together, her own self, her own skin—alone again.

  She realized it only from the loss. She had reached him, in that moment of fulfillment. But now the touch was gone. He lay on top of her, his sweat trickling down her shoulder, his palms damp in her hair. Outside the open window, a carriage rattled into the court below.

  He slid to the side. His hand sought hers—an odd, obsessive move. He locked their fingers together and rested heavily against her. As his breathing slowed, his body softened. His fingers loosened; his arm and leg went slack across her, holding her down with warm, solid weight.

  There was still late-evening light pouring in the window over the bed. She turned on the pillow and looked at him, at his thick lashes that lay like devil’s wings against the taut skin beneath his eyes. His mouth was relaxed; his chest rose and fell in deep rhythm.

  It was his peace that defeated her, rather than his threats or his sensual distractions. The question that had risen again on her lips died there. She touched his cheek and traced the line of his brow, and then turned over in his arms and let him sleep.

  They rode into the O’Connells’ yard at midafternoon two days later. Almost before Roddy hit the ground, MacLassar trotted out from the stable behind the house. He seemed much bigger than she remembered—finally grown too large to lift in the month that she’d been gone. She dropped to her knees, calling him, giving him a hug and a scratch in his favorite spot while he grunted and snuffled in excited welcome.

 

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