The regency romances, p.97
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       The Regency Romances, p.97

           Laura Kinsale
 

  She moved suddenly, sliding off the bed without looking at him. Her bare feet hit cold wood, but she did not wait to find her slippers.

  He caught her before she reached the door. His fingers dug cruelly into her arms, but the instant she jerked to a stop, his grip loosened. He held her, lightly but firmly, his chest not quite touching her back. “Little girl,” he said, in a ragged voice. “Don’t leave me now.”

  She stood rigid, refusing to answer. Refusing even to acknowledge that he held her fast.

  “I need you,” he whispered.

  If he had tried to kiss her, tried to use the power that he had to make her body melt and burn, she could have resisted. She could have imagined him with Ellen Webster—a picture guaranteed to act like ice water on the fire. But he did not.

  He only held her, with a faint, faint trembling in his fingers, and waited for her answer.

  It’s all an act, her reason warned her.

  And: He needs me, her heart replied.

  Against all evidence, all sane judgment and common sense…the barely perceptible tremor in a man’s strong hands.

  She did not give in to him. But neither did she pull away.

  An eternity later, his touch slowly relaxed. She stood still as his palms slid upward, skimming her arms, outlining her shoulders, and then smoothing her hair. It was not a lover’s touch—it was more like a child’s: searching, memorizing, asking reassurance. I need you, that light, tentative contact said. I need you.

  “They say I murdered my father,” he said. It was hardly a whisper.

  Her knees felt they would buckle beneath her.

  “Did you?”

  His hands stopped their restless motion. “Roddy—” She waited. She could not even hear him breathing. When she turned, he was staring into nothing.

  “Did you?” she repeated.

  “I don’t remember.” He looked at her. “Roddy, I don’t remember.”

  Chapter 11

  “I’ve never heard of Pelham House,” Faelan said to the shadows on the far side of the room. “I’ve never written to Ellen Webster. But she was there. I don’t doubt she was there. Waiting for me.” His lips curved in the feral imitation of a smile. “You have a choice, you see. Your choice of a husband. A villain or a madman.”

  Roddy kept silence. The bitterness was on him, as she had felt it once before on a high Yorkshire cliff above the sea. He turned away and walked to the window, yanked open the velvet curtains, and threw the sash wide.

  “A full moon,” he sneered as the cold air poured inward. “Shall I howl?”

  “Faelan—”

  He gripped the curtains with an inhuman laugh. “Faelan! God, how fitting. Wolves do howl, don’t they? Wolves and lunatics.” He stood there, breathing harshly. Then he clasped his hands hard around his head and slid slowly to his knees, his fine, strong fingers white against the black of his hair. “Lunatics,” he whispered. “Oh, God…” He leaned on the sill. “I don’t remember. Roddy—I swear it, I swear—I don’t remember.”

  “It doesn’t matter,” she said: a stupid thing, because she knew nothing else to say. She only stood there, with the wind blowing her gown in soft billows around her.

  He came to his feet in a sudden, lithe move and began a restless circuit of the room. His slanted look back toward her held watchfulness: the mingled distrust and hope of a half-wild animal, lost and hunted and longing for shelter. “It matters,” he said in a voice that was cracked. Driven. “After my father…” He paused, and then took a shuddering breath and spoke with unnatural calm. “After my father was killed, they sent me to England. My mother told Adam it was Iveragh. She said that place would drive anyone mad.” He gave a hollow chuckle. “Dear Mamá. She’s afraid of me. She hates being in the same house with me. I suppose she thinks I’ll push her over the stair rail some night in a frenzy.” The moonlight caught the blue glitter in his eyes. “I’ve thought of it, by God—watching them drain Iveragh dry. Like a pair of vampires.”

  There was savagery in his voice, and a kind of challenge. See what I am, he seemed to be saying. I hate. I want to hurt the ones who’ve destroyed what I love.

  “So they sent me to school,” he said—not to Roddy, but to the bed, the chairs, to anything that was not alive. “And things began to…happen. Animals. Beneath my window, in the morning—they’d find…” He stopped in front of the dressing table, looking at something dark and far away. After a long moment, he said roughly, “Mostly cats and hares.” He spread his fingers wide. “They’d pull us out of bed and line us up, all in our nightshirts and barefoot—and God, it was so cold. I was always last, I had to stand there while they went down the row…and they would come to me…they knew it…the way they looked at me…” He stared at his image in the mirror. “The others were all white. All clean. And they made me the last; they went down the whole row every time, even when I was standing there…all spotted with it—on my shirt and my hands…and they held up the animal, and they asked me…”

  His voice trailed into silence. The night wind blew in the window, lifting the curtains and ruffling his hair.

  “I always told them no,” he said suddenly. “I didn’t do that.” His mouth grew taut and dangerous, and with a move so swift that Roddy had no time to interpret it, he swung his fist in a backhanded arc and slammed it into his reflection.

  The glass exploded in the silent room. Roddy jumped back, her eyes squeezed shut, and opened them an instant later to see him close his bleeding palm around the shards in his hand. “I didn’t do that,” he repeated in a strangled whisper. “I couldn’t have.”

  Roddy moved. There was a panic in him, in the way he tightened his fingers until she was sure the glass must be driving jagged edges deep into his hand. He stood motionless, but she sensed a breaking point, a violence that threatened to erupt in far more than the destruction of a mirror. With the same instinct that had aided her in calming a stricken mare, she went to him and touched his shoulder, slid her hand through his hair, and drew him into her arms. He was stiff a moment, resisting, and then an instant later he leaned against her. The shards fell tinkling to the floor. He turned his face into her body with a rough, clinging move, as if to hide what she might see.

  She waited, smoothing his hair down over the high, stiff fold of his neckcloth.

  “I should have told you,” he said. His voice was peculiar and thick against the gown. “I tried to. But I just…wanted to go home. You were the only way left. When you looked at me—those eyes of yours—” He shifted, moving away from her, but not far enough to break her touch. “You’re so damned wild and lovely,” he said. “I just couldn’t let go. When I saw you with Cashel—” The name choked in his throat. “—that bloody whoremongering hero—my friend, the only one who’s stood at my back, knowing what I am…” His hand tightened around her hips. “I wanted to murder him for touching you. I wanted to put a bullet through his damned noble brain, and then—God—you came to me and said you didn’t want me…and, Roddy…I was afraid of what I might do. I didn’t sleep; I went off, as far as I could, and I never let myself sleep until I was sure that Cashel must be out of the country.”

  He pushed her away and slid his fingers around her wrist, turning her palm upward and staring down at the bright smear of his blood on her skin. “I’ve loved three things I can remember. Iveragh and Geoff. You. If ever I hurt any one of them—” He closed his eyes, and with a gentle, terrible certainty, whispered, “In the name of God—I’ll kill myself.”

  She gazed up at him, and realized something in that moment: how Geoffrey’s loyalty to Faelan was an ideal of the mind, of reason and philosophy, while Faelan counted his honor in more primitive terms. In lifeblood and love. No elevated sentiments. Just a quiet, deadly promise: If I fail you…

  Madness. It had a horrible, improbable logic. It explained a score of things. But the shock of his admission blunted feeling or response. Once before, she had felt this way—long ago when a favorite dog had died. Dry. Emotionless. Una
ble to accept the reality when she had seen the beloved brown eyes close forever. Instead of the weeping hysteria it seemed she ought to feel, she found that a brisk, numb practicality directed her movements and her words.

  “Sit down,” she said. “Of course you’d never hurt me. ’Tis you who’re hurt.” She lifted his bleeding hand and reached for one of the towels that hung beside the dressing table, wrapping the cloth firmly around his wounded palm. With the other towel, she brushed broken glass from the needlepoint bench-cushion, pushing the wicked shards onto the floor as if they were so much insignificant dust.

  She looked up into his eyes and splayed her hand on his chest, exerting just the slightest pressure to urge him onto the bench. For a moment, she thought he would resist. His face was tight and strange. Beneath her palm, his chest rose, making her vividly aware of the leashed power under her hand.

  He held her gaze an infinite moment, a battle of wills that Roddy was afraid to lose. She summoned concentration, put all the force of her mind and heart behind her talent. It was a look that would have penetrated fathoms deep in any mind but his.

  He stared down at her, a long uncertainty. Then, with a sudden rush, the air went out of him. The taut, wild look faded from his face. His thick eyelashes fell. When they rose again, it was as if he saw her anew, as if they were both different people from the ones they had been an instant before.

  The corner of his mouth tilted upward. He murmured, “Cailin sidhe. Is this the Evil Eye?”

  Roddy relaxed. The panic was gone, then, the black spell broken. In the flood of relief at finding reason in his eyes again, she adopted a cheerful, deliberate normality. Better to ignore it all for now, to pretend it hadn’t happened. “Quite possibly.” She leaned forward and gave his chin a kiss. “Sit down and tell me about your cows while I dress your hand.”

  In silence, she searched for handkerchiefs and pins to secure a makeshift bandage. She had no desire to call Jane. Morning would be soon enough to explain the mirror. Roddy filled the basin with water from her pitcher and dipped a bit of linen into the clear liquid.

  Faelan held up his hand when she had finished her dressing. He inspected the broad, red patch soaking through the lace with a grim smile. “Not very effective, I fear. Bits of fairy moss and moonbeams might have done better work, cailin sidhe.”

  She smiled briefly, relieved that his humor held, along with the fragile pretense that nothing was hideously wrong. She hesitated a moment, and then said, “I went to Islington to find you because there’s a problem with Geoffrey’s guns.”

  “Ah,” he said carelessly. He left the bench and sat down on the bed, beginning to unbutton his coat. “Those slipshod French. Have they forgotten to include the powder and ball?”

  Faelan was obviously not a starry-eyed Irish patriot. Roddy frowned at him. “It doesn’t worry you at all, to have illegal arms smuggled through Iveragh?”

  He looked sideways back toward her. “Just what is this problem?”

  “They can’t be moved for a month. Geoffrey wants you to postpone your work.”

  “A month be damned! I gave him until the twentieth of October. That was yesterday.”

  “The army is camped in the district. Geoffrey’s men can’t get through on the road.”

  “Christ!” Faelan threw his head back and moaned. “Spare us the Irish army. Buffoons blocking clowns on the road out of Iveragh. For God’s sake—must Geoffrey’s fine strapping rebels have a highway paved with gold? There’re other ways across the mountains.”

  “The local lieutenant has taken ill. Geoffrey says no one else knows the country.”

  Faelan pried at the heel of one boot with the toe of the other. “I do.”

  She looked sharply at him. He bent over and yanked the boot free.

  “Faelan—”

  He sat up. “Are you packed?”

  “We can’t go yet.”

  “The devil we can’t. We leave tomorrow.”

  “But Geoffrey said—”

  “Damn what Geoffrey said. If he came after me, it’s because he needs me to clean up his mess.”

  Roddy opened her mouth to protest, and closed it. She stared at him as he worked on the second boot. That hope had been in Geoffrey’s mind. Underneath all the panic.

  Faelan tossed the second boot after the first. “What did you think—that he ran back here just to save my hide? ‘Don’t start any work.’ What the deuce difference would work make? I was hardly going to bring in King George to start draining the bog.”

  He pulled off his coat. Roddy stood watching him, chewing on her lower lip. His sprigged white waistcoat followed the coat onto a chair. As he began to unbutton his shirt she said, “I think you should stay away from there.”

  He looked up from loosening his cuff.

  “I’m afraid for you,” she whispered. She rubbed her flannel gown between her thumb and forefinger. “I know why you did it. The bargain you made, to let Geoffrey use Iveragh.”

  Faelan raised an eyebrow. “My Lord Cashel seems to have developed a bad habit of running on at the mouth.” He watched her a moment, his gaze drifting down to where her fingers worked at the gown. He reached out suddenly and drew her toward him, pulling her between his knees. “Do you hate me for it?”

  “I suppose…you had no choice.”

  He rocked her gently side to side. “Are you packed?”

  “Yes.”

  He grinned and caught her chin, drawing her down to his mouth. His shoulders were broad and warm beneath her hands. He kissed her lips, then her throat and breasts, his fingers cupping their weight through the gown. With a low growl, he pulled her close, burying his face against her. “Between French muskets and you, I know who had the best end of the bargain.”

  She arched a little as his hands slid down and his thumbs followed the curves and hollows of her body to the joining of her legs. “Faelan,” she said, “I want to talk about this.”

  “We’re going.” He didn’t look up from his provocative exploration. “Tomorrow.”

  “Can’t we even wait—” She drew in a quick breath, and forgot her train of thought as he found the tender, sweet warmth between her thighs. “Faelan…”

  She leaned on him. While his hands pleasured her below, his tongue circled and flicked over her nipple, a rough, tingling delight through the flannel gown. His legs closed against her and he lay slowly back, dragging her inexorably with him until she had to sprawl with her full weight on him and the hard evidence of his intentions pressed into her belly. She lay there, feeling each breath that he took lift her, as lightly and easily as a leaf.

  He could be a killer. There was that much power in the hands that ran over her hips and loins, in the shoulders and smooth torso beneath her. He smiled at her as she looked down at him, no madness in his face, nothing in those eyes but the depths of the sky and a faintly wolfish, male anticipation. It was as if that moment by the mirror had never been.

  She found herself glad—too glad—to forget it. She focused instead on the other question he had made her forget so easily. “Why do we have to go so soon?”

  His thick lashes lowered in indulgence. “I want to be there on November Eve.”

  “Why?”

  The hesitation was slight, just a flick of his gaze to some unfocused point behind her ear and then back again. His smile turned into a wicked grin. “You’ll see.” He wrapped his arms around her and rolled her onto her back, propping himself on his elbow as he leaned across her. Golden hair fell in a cascade from his bandaged hand. “Cailin sidhe,” he said, playing with a strand. “You’ll see.”

  Before dawn he was up, like a child on fair day. Roddy woke to the mutter and mental groans from the powder closet of a valet rung out of bed and put to work shaving before he had the sleep out of his eyes. She buried her face in her pillow, thinking that Faelan might not have trusted the man with a razor if he’d known just how violent the poor fellow felt about his rude awakening.

  Jane bustled into the room, in just
as foul a mood as the valet. She stopped short of shaking Roddy out of bed in order that everyone might suffer together, but the maid didn’t hesitate to rattle the tea tray or slam the wardrobe door a shade too loudly. She walked around to Roddy’s side of the bed, and suddenly her early-morning grumbling blossomed into shock.

  “Gracious Lud! What’s this—”

  Roddy sat up, coming full awake with an unpleasant jolt. She glanced at the glittering shards that covered the floor and the bloodstains in the washbowl and on the discarded linen. “Oh—yes!” She struggled to gain command of herself, searching frantically for an explanation. Finally she faked a yawn as she flopped back down into the bedclothes. “’Twas an accident, Jane.” She affected a bored drawl. “I couldn’t get one of those ridiculous hairpins out of my hair, and I was so furious I just—threw my brush. I never thought it would come near the mirror.”

  Jane rushed to the bedside. “La—you didn’t hurt yourself, m’lady? I’ll ne’er forgive m’self if you’ve taken a cut and it goes inflamed. Lawks, what would I say to your dear mother? You might have called, m’lady, by all that’s holy, you might have—”

  “Oh, I’m not even scratched!” Roddy exclaimed quickly, seeing Jane descending upon her purposefully. “’Twas His Lordship who—”

  Before the sentence was even completed, Roddy realized her mistake. Jane—no admirer of His Lordship—recoiled in immediate suspicion. She glanced again at the mirror, and back at Roddy. Drunk, Jane thought in quick disgust. Drunk and breakin’ things again.

  Roddy had forgotten that the earlier incident of the music box and decanter would certainly be common knowledge in the servants’ quarters. She felt herself blushing for her lie, and Jane noticed the flush with growing fury. Ever since the maid had been told that the trip to Ireland was imminent, she’d been gathering spite against the earl. Stories of Iveragh, begun by the dowager countess and embellished by Tilly, had grown to frightening proportions. Live in a ruin, Jane fumed. Happen the roof’ll cave in on me. Happen t’ place’ll be haunted. She darted a venomous glance toward the closed door of the dressing room. Happen that black devil’ll murder us all in our beds.

 

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