About the book
Her eyes saw him in ways the mirror never could...
Barbara Cluett, daughter of the Duke of Delistown, is haunted by a terrible sin.
Forced to live with the consequences of her mistake, she dedicates her life to charity. But when a hideous-looking man enters her world, she knows he is her only chance for redemption.
Jeffrey Pemberton, the Earl of Carlesend, lost nearly everything in a blazing fire, ten years ago. Accustomed to people’s reactions to his scarred face, he has lost all hope of ever finding love. Until he finds himself looking in the consuming eyes of a seductive lady...
The temptation is too strong to resist and soon, they find themselves in the ashes of their scorching passion…
When Barbara gets trapped in a burning room, the resurgence of Jeffrey’s memories paralyzes him. Reliving the most brutally painful moments of his life, he comes to a crippling realization: he and Barbara have met before.
A lone shaft of milky moonlight cut through the bedroom, slashing across the drowsy face of Lady Barbara Cluett as she turned over in her bed. Though she was only partly awake, some distant part of her was aware of the large grandfather clock downstairs tolling midnight. Twelve somber tolls, announcing to no one that a new day had begun.
Barbara had been in bed by nine, as she always was. Her father, the Duke of Delistown, insisted upon it and her maid, Rosie, enforced the Duke’s edicts with loyal zeal. Her father was always warning her that she was too busy, that she spread herself too thin, and that if she did not get enough rest, her health would suffer for it.
He did not know that Barbara had been plagued by disturbed sleep since she was a child. She wriggled deeper into her blankets. Her fire was dying down to embers and she tucked her nose into the warmth of her covers, clinging desperately to the shimmering hope of sleep. She had been hovering in that odd state between waking and dreaming for some time now. Not quite awake enough to think coherently, but not asleep enough to succumb completely to dreams. Images flashed through her mind, meaningless phrases, memories, fears, all mixed together.
Finally, she felt herself slipping into a dream. A quiet sigh could have been heard through the room as her breathing grew deep and slow.
Before her there stretched a great wide countryside. The landscape was a colorless gray, with rolling hills dotted with jagged rocks and outcroppings. Trees blasted by a constant wind bent unnaturally toward the ground like anguished women. Barbara’s hair was unbound, falling in a tangled heap of unkempt curls that itched at the back of her neck as the wind whipped it around her head.
She was alone.
In the distance she saw a building, squat and dilapidated, hunched against the horizon. She walked toward it, her feet dragging heavily. The grasses below seemed to snap at her ankles, and her progress was unnaturally slow. With every step she took toward the house, it seemed to take a step away from her.
She began to run. Something about the house beckoned to her. It was familiar, somehow, though she knew that she had never lived there. She felt as though she knew what was waiting for her inside the house.
A person. A man. Her heart began to pound, and she ran faster, her skirts clinging to her legs as a murky fog rolled over the hills.
Finally, she appeared at the steps of the house. It loomed above her, seeming to lean toward her in anticipation. Its door swung open, looking like a gaping maw set to devour her. Beyond the threshold she could see nothing but inky blackness, but, despite her fears, something compelled her to step inside.
The contrast between the moors outside and the air in the house was marked. Inside it was dry and warm. The wooden beams of the floor crackled like firewood as the darkness dissipated around her and she stepped inside.
“Yes?” she called.
The house was supernaturally quiet, and she tiptoed through a thick layer of dust that rose up in puffs around her feet as she walked deeper into the house. She knew that she was not alone, but only in that dream-like way of knowing that needs no sound or sight of the Thing to know that It was there.
She passed through a parlor and caught movement on the far wall. A jolt of fear went through her, but when she turned toward the movement she caught only her own reflection in an old, cloudy mirror. She walked toward it and reached her hand out to swipe it across the gritty surface, wiping away an arc of dust to see herself more clearly. Something about her reflection was foreign to her and she leaned forward, inspecting her pores and the faint dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose.
Unnerved by the strange reflection, she abandoned the mirror and continued her search for whoever was waiting for her in the house. She called out again, but was met only with a faint scurrying of mouse’s feet. In the hallway, though, she caught the sight of a flickering light at the top of the stairs. She followed it.
The stairs creaked and groaned under her weight as she climbed them. The banister under her hand wobbled, and she felt that if she put any weight on it at all it would fall clean off, exposing the side of the stairs and herself to the danger of toppling over the edge to the floor below.
At the top of the stairs, there was a room with the door ajar. The room flickered as though there was a fire burning inside, but when she pushed the door open more, she found that the source of the light was merely an oil lamp, left burning in the middle of a dusty table.
The lamp was full, but the dust in the room was utterly undisturbed.
How long have you been burning?
She touched the lamp, the warmth of it traveling up her arm. Lifting it up, she peered around the room. The sense that she was not alone intensified so that the short hairs along the backs of her arms stood on end.
“Who is there?” she whispered. “What do you want?”
Suddenly there was a clatter at the window. Barbara jumped, nearly dropping the oil lamp. A fiery red crossbill dashed itself against the grainy pane of glass. Again, and again, the frantic bird smashed its gnarled beak and tiny, fragile body against the window so that Barbara thought the animal would kill itself.
She put the oil lamp back down on the table and ran to the window, throwing it open. Immediately, the bird plummeted to the ground with a lifeless thud, and as her eyes followed its descent she saw the man standing outside.
She jumped again, a shiver of dread, fear, and wavering recognition shaking her to her toes. His form was indistinct, the colors of his clothes seeming to meld into the brownish gray of the landscape as the wind swirled around him. His hair, a dark, dirty blond, moved around his head in a way reminiscent of the grasses moving in undulating waves across the windy moor.
He stared up at her. Silent. Unmoving.
He looked young, no older than seventeen. His body was angular and thin, but strong with the sinewy strength of recently outgrown boyhood. His jaw, his cheekbones, his shoulders, were sharp.
There was something animal about him. Something elemental. She didn’t expect him to speak any more than she would expect a lone fox crossing her path to stop and say good morning. And yet she was certain that it was he who had sent for her. He was the force that had drawn her to this house.
After a timeless moment that passed in the way that dream-time passes— possibly a second, possibly an hour— he moved. He stepped forward, his hands reaching out for the side of the house, and he began to climb.
Barbara leaned over the windowsill, breathless, watching him scale the side of the house. His long fingers managed to work their way into unseen knots in the wooden slats and she could see his muscles straining through the thin, wind-swept linen of his shirtsleeves. He stared up at her as he climbed, his eyes seeming to grow larger and more intense as he approached.
When he was nearly to the window, she reached down. His hand grasped hers. It was rough and calloused. Slivers pricked through his skin. But most remarkable of all was the terrible heat that radiated from him. His hand was as hot as the side of a steaming teapot. She gripped his long fingers tighter and used all of her strength to help him through the window.
When he straightened up, she was surprised by his height. He seemed to unfold himself in stages until he stood a full foot taller than she.
“Did you light the lamp?” she asked in a low voice. At least she thought she asked it in a low voice. Perhaps she had not said anything at all. He stared down at her with that penetrating gaze that betrayed nothing. There was emotion behind those eyes, they were practically brimming over with it, but she could not understand what it was or what he was thinking.
Her heart and her body were stirred for him. Although his edges still felt strangely indistinct and distant, as he stood there before her, he looked more physical than before. She could measure the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. His breath stirred the air around them, and she was drawn toward him, until she was so close that she could feel the heat of his body warming her skin through her clothing.
“Did you light the lamp?” she inquired silently, her hands coming up to rest on his chest. He was burning up. Suddenly she felt very cold and, instinctively, she folded herself against him, pressing herself against the radiating heat that seemed to find its source in his heart, which she could feel beating against her cheek as she rested her head against him.
“You lit the lamp.” The reply was not spoken but felt. She heard it only in her own mind though she was sure that he had been its source.
“Why did you call me here?” she asked, wrapping her arms around him. He was so warm, so warm. He combed his fingers through her hair, wrapping her in his heat.
“You called me.”
She knew that it was true. Somehow. Her body ached for him, for his hands which roamed over her, leaving trails of heat over her skin. The force of her desire for him seemed to tilt the room onto its side and back again. She must have wanted him before she even saw him. He must have felt her need from across the moors.
He answered her unspoken plea, tilting her face up to kiss her. Heat poured from his mouth and pooled low in her stomach at the apex of her legs. His tongue licked her lips, slow and hot and obedient to every unspoken, lustful thought that fluttered through her mind. He grasped at her, pawed at her flesh, until she was utterly overwhelmed.
He seemed to grow hotter and hotter, the blaze inside of him threatening to burn out of control. When he broke away from her she looked into his eyes and was startled by the change in them. They were no longer a cool, steely blue. There was flickering behind them, a golden glow that obliterated any sign of pupil or iris.
“What have you done?” his voice was clear in her mind.
Black swirls of smoke began to pour out of his mouth and ears. Her desire crossed the threshold into fear as her own panic was reflected back to her in his eyes.
“What have you done?” he asked again.
When she turned to flee, she found that the room was engulfed in flames. Fire licked at the peeling wallpaper and swirling trails of flame danced around their feet. Barbara tried to scream, but smoke caught in her throat and filled her lungs, burning and making her sputter into uncontrollable coughs.
She fell to the ground, flames licking at the hem of her skirt. When she looked up at him, he was being consumed by the fire. He was shrieking, but he made no sound.
Barbara woke with a start, sitting upright in her bed. She was covered in a sheen of sweat, her sheets twisted around her body and clinging to her skin. Her body tingled with fear and arousal as she sought to catch her breath.
That blasted nightmare again.
Barbara pushed her hair out of her face. The sweat on her brow made her hair stick to her forehead and neck in a way that made her itchy and uncomfortable. With some difficulty, she untangled herself from the twist of sheets about her legs and got out of the large, plush bed.
As she tumbled toward the basin, she could only be thankful that she had awoken before her maid had come in to rouse her. Rosie was the only living soul who knew about Barbara’s recurring nightmare, and Barbara hated the look of concern in the woman’s eyes when she was shaken awake from it by her.
She poured the cool water from the pitcher into the basin and dipped her hands in, splashing her face. The cold washed away the sweat and, with it, the distressing pounding of her heart.
The dream, which she had been having periodically for years, felt like something very private and important to her, in a way. It felt wrong for anyone else to know about it. As much as the dream disturbed her, a part of her enjoyed harboring this little secret. She straightened up and loosed the thick braid that hung over her shoulder. Using her fingers, she combed through the messy curls.
She closed her eyes and tried to forget the ending of the dream. She tried to bring herself back to the kiss, and the sensations that flooded her body at the strange man’s touch. Her spine tingled at the memory of it, and her toes curled into the carpet. She sighed, letting her lips part, and endeavored to remember how it had felt to have his mouth on hers.
A soft knock came to her bedroom door, and Barbara was quickly roused from her fantasy. Rosie came in, neatly dressed as always. If there was one word that Barbara could use to define her maid, it would be neat. Tidy, precise, fastidious, those would work as well. The woman was older than she was, and Barbara often wished that she’d had a maid closer to her own age, and closer to her own temperament. It would have been good to have a friend.
“Awake already?” Rosie asked in that politely disinterested tone.
“Only just.” Barbara squinted as Rosie threw the heavy curtains aside, flooding the dark room with gray morning light.
As with every morning, Barbara was seated in front of her vanity and stared at her own reflection as Rosie, with her thin mouth and silent diligence, worked to tame her unruly mass of curls. But on this morning in particular, Barbara wanted more than ever for the woman to just go away and leave her alone. Barbara wanted to crawl back into her bed and return to her dream.
The heady mixture of terror and desire intoxicated her. She dreaded the dream as much as she craved it. For a while, in her sixteenth year, the dream had not come to her for several months. She had grieved so obviously that even her father had asked her what had happened to make her so despondent. She couldn’t tell him, of course.
How could one say such a silly thing out loud?
When the dream had returned, it had been with a vengeance. Before then, the meeting with the man of fire had been mysterious, but chaste. When the dream returned, that was when he had begun to take her into his arms and kiss her.
She remembered the first time she had dreamed that kiss. How she had woken up with a thudding heart and an unfamiliar ache in her stomach. How she had stared up at her ceiling and wanted to weep but not knowing why.
With her hair pinned to within an inch of its life, Barbara was helped into her day dress. It was simple enough to suit her modest taste, but fine enough not to shame her family name when she wore it into town, just like the majority of her dresses.
“His Grace awaits you for breakfast,” Rosie said needlessly as she began to straighten the room. It was the same routine every morning, there was no need to announce it.
Barbara hurried from the bedroom and the maid, stepping lightly down the stairs toward her father. The manor was silent and empty, save for the whispering sounds of her dress as she walked.
That had not always been the case. Barbara had three older siblings, two brothers and a sister. Her oldest brother and sister had both gotten married and moved away when Barbara was quite young, but now even the younger of the brothers, who had always been closest with her, had married a gentlewoman he’d met in the country. Barbara was alone now, save for her father. The manor felt large and ridiculous with so few people living in it.
“Good morning, Papa,” she greeted warmly, smiling as she approached the Duke of Delistown. She stooped down to kiss his wrinkled brow where he sat.
“Good morning, pet. Sit down quickly, I’m starved.”
Barbara did as she was told and soon a servant appeared with trays of food and tea.
“You are hungry because you did not eat your dinner last night,” Barbara chided.
“Yes, and you gave me trouble for it then, too. I need not be reminded.” He sounded irritated, but his scolding was softened by the fact that he looked up at her over his spoon of porridge and winked one gray eye.
Barbara had long since inherited her mother’s role of worrying over her father’s health. It was ironic, with all of the Duchess’s fretting over him, that she would be the first to die. Though no one said anything about the irony outright, especially as her mother was wasting away from consumption.
They ate in pleasant silence for a while, listening to the sounds of birds chirping through the windows. They’d been pushed open and a cool morning breeze wafted through the gauzy curtains.
Barbara watched as her father put down his utensils and took up a linen napkin to dab at the corners of his mouth. She knew what was coming next and she braced for it, as she did nearly every morning. He cleared his throat.
“You must be back home for dinner tonight, Barbara. We have a visitor calling. He should arrive shortly after you return from your walk.”
“Who is he this time, Papa?” Barbara asked, attempting to tone down the petulance in her voice for her father’s sake.
“Allen Wilkeshire, the Earl of Brookham. His father and I went to school together, all those many ages ago.” The Duke smiled, his eyes growing distant for a moment as he seemed to reminisce over his boyhood.
“And why is Lord Brookham coming for dinner, and not his father?” she asked, though she already knew the answer.
“He’s a fine gentleman, well off in terms of money, polite, and well mannered.”
“And unmarried, I suppose?” she supplied.
Her father nodded sagely. “For now, yes, though not for long I suspect. He’s a highly sought-after gentleman. Any young lady would be lucky to snag him for herself.”
It was not that the Duke was a bad matchmaker. Any one of the numerous suitors he had designed to put in Barbara’s way would have been an acceptable match. They were all fine gentleman. The town was in no shortage of fine gentlemen, it seemed.
But whenever Barbara met with these gentlemen, she felt something in her grow cold. It wasn’t that she hated them, it wasn’t anything so passionate as that. Just a tame boredom, a tepid disinterest for these tepid men. Pretending to flirt was not a talent of hers, and these suitors soon lost interest in her when they found that she had none in them.
She remembered her dream. How could any Lord So-and-So of Wherevershire compare to a man who kissed like a ravenous beast and burned like elemental fire? A life of caring for her aging father, tending to her charitable foundations, and harboring a secret love affair with a man in her dreams did not seem so terrible to her.
“Father, yesterday at the orphanage I overheard some talk about trouble with the books, I think we should discuss—” She tried to change the subject. She knew that it wounded him when she turned away his suitors. He took it to mean that he did not know her well enough to know her taste.
Her father silenced her with a raised finger and shook his head. “Not at breakfast, pet. You know our rule.”
Barbara sighed. “All right, Papa. But I must insist on a meeting directly following our meal.”
The Duke nodded imperiously, causing Barbara to huff a tiny laugh. He had been extremely hesitant to involve his youngest daughter in business, thinking it far too masculine a hobby for an unmarried lady. But Barbara had been insistent, her heart absolutely set on using the family name and means for charity in the town. Eventually, the Duke had succumbed to her machinations, but even now he insisted on a sharp line of demarcation between their family relationship and her business affairs.
When they had both finished their tea, they got up from the table and walked together toward the Duke’s office. Barbara stood in the hallway as he went into the room, shutting the door behind him. She chuckled quietly, giving him a moment to settle himself behind the large ebony desk that commanded the room.
After a moment or two, she knocked.
“Yes?” she heard him reply.
She pushed open the door. “It’s Lady Barbara, Your Grace.”
“Ah yes, come in.” He was smiling. It was a silly game, all this about pretending to be business partners and not father and daughter, but they’d kept it up for so many years it seemed natural now. Even if it did bring a silly smile to both their faces.
Barbara came in and sat down in the chair across from the Duke, folding her hands in her lap.
“I’ve heard talk of insufficient funds being allotted to my orphanage. I demand to know if this is true,” she said.
“Hum…” the Duke slid his wire spectacles over his ears and began shuffling through papers. “I assure you, Lady Barbara, that all of the money allocated for the orphanage is going there and nowhere else. If they are short of funds it must be a matter of growing need, not diminishing income.”
Barbara sighed. “Of course, there are always new orphans coming in. If the need is growing, then the income must likewise grow. Is there not more money that can be sent?”
“Not without pulling funds from other charitable foundations, I’m afraid,” he replied.
“The state of the orphanage is not acceptable. They’ve been without new bedding and linens for too long, and they are growing threadbare. And there must be more clothing for the children who come there with none of their own. And the meals should be larger and more diverse. With our—excuse me—my name above the door, I cannot allow for anything less than comfort and health for the children.”
“Well then,” the Duke leaned back in his chair, removing his spectacles and laying them on the desk. “I suggest you begin scheming. The Bank of Papa is not bottomless, but your ingenuity surely is.”
Barbara grinned. She wasn’t happy that it would not be a quick fix as she had hoped, but her father’s belief in her ability bolstered her confidence.
“I certainly shall begin scheming, thank you,” she said.
“Whatever you come up with, you’ll have my support, as always,” he said. “Now run along, I’ve other business to attend to.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Barbara said, rising from her chair. But before she left the room, she fluttered around the desk and kissed his brow again.
“I’m off to town now, Papa.”
“Be back for dinner, remember.”
“I will,” she promised, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
As Jeffrey Pemberton, Earl of Carlsend and Captain in the Royal Navy, stood on the deck of the ship, there was no breath of wind even to disturb his sandy hair. A pipe hung limply from his lips as he squinted out at the uncanny blue. The sea was as featureless as glass, and met the sky in a pale line that stretched out to infinity.
Not infinity. Only to England.
He knew that the land of his birth was just beyond that horizon line, and that soon he would once again be sailing through the English channel and his home country would appear before him like the memory of a dream.
Well, not too soon, with this eerie calm.
He had hardly been above decks in several weeks. A devilish illness had worked its way steady through his crew in the past weeks. Like a biblical curse, it had laid low his best men, one by one. Of course, it was only a matter of time before it got to him.
Some were lucky, and recovered after only a frightful week of disgusting sickness. Others were not so lucky. One of the eldest of his crewmen had died, and the death cast a pallor of worry over everyone else aboard. Plagues spread quickly aboard ships at sea, and they were all frightfully aware of stories of ships that had set out fully manned and returned with only a few survivors.
When Jeffrey had first noticed a touch of biliousness to his stomach, he thought that perhaps it was merely the tilting of the ship that was finally getting to him. The day had not been out before he had been laid up in his quarters, heaving into a bucket at regular intervals, however.
That had been a fortnight ago, and he was not feeling any better. He’d come up to the deck to gulp down some fresh sea air, and had prayed for a cool breeze to chill the fetid sweat that clung to his scalp and brow. All he had been met with was this unearthly calm.
He swallowed thickly, reaching for a post to hold himself upright. Never before had the thought of reaching England brought him any sort of comfort. Joining the Navy had been his glorious escape from the high class world of his birthplace.
On the high seas, there were no dandies or delicate ladies to glance askance at the scars that twisted half of his face. Out here, in the world of hardened sea men, no one flinched at the sight of him, nor pitied him. Here, he was Captain Pemberton, a man of dignity who had earned the respect and even admiration of his loyal men.
It would be good to lie in a real bed, though. To have a competent physician look him over and tell him he must not dream of getting up. He thought briefly of even taking himself to a hospital rather than calling for the physician to his estate. In a hospital, a corpus of mild, soft-faced, and gentle-handed nuns would fuss over him. Nuns though they may be, and sterile as their attention would surely be, the comforting touch of a woman was the best thing he could think of to feel better.
Even with the nightmarish sounds of retching echoing though the lower decks, the prospect of reaching land brought the thought of women back into the minds of every sailor. Many of the men were being soothed by the prospect of returning to their wives, whose soft bodies had been keeping their marriage bed warm for these long months while the men were at sea. The younger, unmarried crewmen’s eyes glittered at the prospect of young ladies, fresh and unspoiled and ripe for the picking.
And there was Jeffrey. An Earl, a captain, with more wealth than he knew what to do with, fantasizing about the cool brush of a nun’s hand against his fevered brow in a blasted hospital.
There had been a time when he had grown desperate and, giving up the hope of finding an eligible lady to marry who would not be disgusted by his scarred body, he had turned to the houses of ill repute. He had found, however, that the only thing worse than the troubled politeness of frightened young ladies was the cringing, coerced acquiescence of prostitutes who only touched him because they could not refuse.
Since then, he had firmly put away any foolish daydreaming about finding love and happiness in the arms of a woman.
The sea was his mistress and, at least until this ill-fated voyage, they had never quarreled. Her vastness, her freedom, the untold depths of her, they all comforted and thrilled him more than a woman ever had, or ever could.
It was full dark by the time they reached port. There was a flurry of activity as men disembarked and were taken immediately to hospital. Jeffrey, despite his soaring fever and mutinous stomach, fought through his own sickness to see that the ship was unloaded properly. By the time he himself was tucked into a carriage and on his way home, it was past midnight.
He was bone tired, exhaustion overwhelming his senses as he sank into the upholstered seat. His stomach lurched at the jolting of the carriage over the road, but there was nothing left in his belly to come up. He groaned. His valet, who had arrived at the port to meet him, had been sent to fetch a physician, and as soon as he reached home he would be seen to properly. He kept this comforting thought in mind as he squeezed his eyes shut against the fruitless nausea and feverish fatigue.
His home was nestled in the midst of town. His mother still lived in the sprawling estate on the edge of town, but Jeffrey had decided quite early on that he would prefer a less ostentatious existence for himself. The townhouse was not large, but it was decorated precisely to his own taste and inhabited only by him and the few servants he had real need of. It was a nest of privacy for him on his short sabbaticals on land and offered no small comfort to his sickly mind as he hobbled up the steps.
He was whisked to his bed and prodded over by the same physician who had been present at his birth and oversaw his every boyhood illness. After the fire that had caused the havoc that marred his flesh, it was Mister Wilson who had patiently applied bandages to the seventeen-year-old Jeffrey’s writhing body. The man’s familiar look of calm concern almost brought a smile to Jeffrey’s face.
Words were whispered to Jeffrey’s valet, but he didn’t bother trying to listen for his diagnosis. He drifted quickly and eagerly into a deep sleep.
When he awoke, his mother was there.
Josephine Pemberton, Countess of Carlesend, was a lady not to be trifled with. With her thin-set lips and piercing eyes, she could silence gossip as quickly as she could spread it. She was a fastidious and attentive mother, if not a particularly warm one.
“A plague!” were the first words out of her mouth.
“I’m fine, Mother.”
“Fine! Fine, he says! You’re as scrawny as an old farmer, Jeffrey.”
“Scrawny is an odd word to apply to a hard working man,” Jeffrey sighed, only half conscious of the conversation taking place. The room was darkened by heavy curtains, but wan sunlight shone through the cracks of the fabric, indicating that it was a cloudy morning.
“The physician says you’re not to return to sea all spring, possibly through the summer as well.”
“Nonsense,” Jeffrey mumbled. “I’m feeling better already.”
His mother scoffed.
“At any rate, this will give you an opportunity to mix with society. You’ve become something of a legend, Jeffrey, and not a very pleasant one. People will start calling you a hermit if you spend yet another turn in England shut up in your odd little townhouse.”
“I like this house,” he said. He tried to scoot up to face her better, but the movement made his head swim.
“It’s dark and frightening in here. It’s no wonder you can’t find a wife. Who would want to make a home of this place?”
“Mother, unless you’re eager to watch me be sick into the chamberpot, I suggest you leave. I’ll call on you when I’m back on my feet.”
“Oh.” She jumped up quickly. She’d always had a weak stomach, and had a habit of disappearing whenever he was ill. After the fire, she could hardly look at him for months.
“Thank you for your concern, as always, Mother,” he mumbled, reaching for the pot beneath the bed as she scurried out of the room.
Once the door was closed, he slid the pot back under the bed. While he still felt quite queasy, the truth was that he just wasn’t up to the challenge of fending off his mother’s matchmaking that morning.
Carefully, he rose from the bed and crossed to the window. He moved the curtain aside slightly and peeked out. The view of the street below offered little to keep him interested and he soon dropped the curtain shut again and glanced about the room.
He caught sight of himself in the tall mirror and was surprised at the look of himself. His nightshirt hung lifelessly off his shoulders. He still wouldn’t quite call himself scrawny, but her alarm had been justified. He’d lost a troubling amount of weight to whatever illness this was. His cheeks were hollow, lending an even more monstrous look to his face.
When he saw that a tray of light food was beside his bed, he found to his relief that he actually had an appetite. Although he had little hope of keeping the food down for long, he was not repulsed at the sight of the dry toast and tea, and he sat down on the edge of the bed to nibble at it.
A whole season at home. The air outside still carried the crispness of winter on the breeze. It would be a very long time until summer arrived and he could return to his true home. The thought depressed him, and he laid back against his pillows and waited. Soon enough, his butler appeared to announce the arrival of the physician and Jeffrey braced to hear his sentence from the man’s own mouth.
He tried to listen to the man’s advice, but one sentence only turned over and over in his mind.
“I cannot, in good conscience, recommend a return to sea at least until the summer months, if by then you have regained all of the muscle and resilience that this illness has cost you.”
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
A Seductive Lady for the Scarred Earl is now live on Amazon!