washing. “Mr. Haddonfield? Sir?” He felt a hand on his shoulder but wished it away when sleep was a heavy, comforting blanket over his awareness.

“You’ll not get supper,” the voice warned him, “and your water will get cold, so you’ll get the ague and perish without dessert.”

Beck’s eyelids lifted, just as that hand pushed a little harder against his shoulder.

“M’wake,” he muttered, realizing the water was considerably cooler. Without thinking, he stood and heard a soft female sigh as he did. As his brain caught up to his body—his naked, dripping, exhausted body—he realized Mrs. Hunt was studying him.

“Mrs. Hunt?” He reached for his bath sheet, but did so slowly, struck by the peculiar expression on the lady’s face. She wasn’t horrified, and she wasn’t attracted, but she was somehow interested.

“God above.” The housekeeper exhaled. “Surely Polly would take up sculpting could she see you thus.”

What an odd remark for a housekeeper to make about a cook. She offered no further explanation, just turned and left with a single shake of her head.


“I’ll see you to your room.” Sara made the offer out of civility. Mr. Haddonfield had been gracious over dinner and afterward had patiently explained whist to Allie, even going so far as to partner the child for a few rounds.

That did not mean Sara liked him.

“I should tell you your escort isn’t needed,” Mr. Haddonfield said. “However, because the house is unlit and I’m dead on my feet, it probably is very necessary.” He winged his arm at her as he spoke, which surprised Sara into outright staring at him, then she gingerly placed her fingers on his sleeve.

Excellent manners were no reason to like a man either—Reynard had had excellent manners, when it suited him.

“What time would you like us to bring you your tea in the morning?” she asked as they traveled the cold, dark hallways and stairs.

“That won’t be necessary. I can find my way to the kitchen the same as the rest of the household no doubt does. I’m a seasoned traveler, and I know how to make shift.”

“We do break our fast in the kitchen, but Polly, Allie, and I have an apartment right off the kitchen, and it’s warm and close to the larder.”

“And where does the estimable Mr. North lay his weary head?”

“Gabriel has a room in the south wing,” she said, though it was none of the gracious, considerate, polite Mr. Haddonfield’s business, and if he was going to suggest that any impropriety at all

“Good. I would not want ladies to be without protection in the dark of night this far from any town or village. This is my room?”

Maybe she did like him, just a penny’s worth.

“Next door down.” Sara reached forward to open his door then jumped aside, a shriek escaping her as a black-and-white cannonball of fur rocketed past her skirts. In that single instant, several things happened at once.

Heifer yowled his indignation as he shot down the corridor with uncharacteristic speed.

Sara’s candle tipped off its holder when she jumped out of the cat’s path.

She tried to grab the candle as it fell, only to yelp in pain and lose her balance without catching the candle.

The candle winked out as it rolled over her knuckles and hit the floor, leaving a stygian darkness in the hallway.

“Steady.” Mr. Haddonfield’s arms caught her when she would have overbalanced, but Sara’s momentum was such that she pitched into his chest and would have fallen to her hands and knees had he not kept a firm grip on her upper arms. “Take a moment,” he urged, his voice a rumble in the inky darkness.

Up close, he smelled as good as he had in the stables, only more so for having soaked, washed his hair, and shaved. Sara wanted to die of mortification, but in the complete darkness, her balance was hard to regain, so she savored the simple, long-forgotten pleasure of being held by a man.

“I’m all right,” she insisted, except the words came out shaky and unconvincing, even to her own ears.

“Take small breaths.” His thumbs moved against her shoulders in slow circles. “You’ve had a fright. Give yourself a minute.”

She should pull away, Sara knew that, but he wasn’t taking advantage; he was being everything that was gentlemanly, almost brotherly, and she simply lacked the strength of will to stand on her own two feet.

“That’s better. Did you get burned?” He reached around and opened the door to his sitting room, letting a dim light leak into the hallway. “Let’s have a look, shall we?” His arm slipped around Sara’s shoulders as he shepherded her into the sitting room. Maudie, the maid-of-all-work, had left candles lit on the sideboard, and from the bedroom, more weak light came through the door. His rooms weren’t exactly warm, but neither did they bear the bone-chilling cold of the unheated corridor.

“There’s better light in here.” He escorted her to the bedroom, as if waltzing along with housekeepers was a common pastime for him. “I thought the candle might have struck your hand.”

“Not the candle, the wax. It’s nothing, really.”

He towed her over to the fire and examined her hand, using his thumbnail to scrape a drop of warm wax off her knuckle.

“At least the wax,” he said, pulling out his handkerchief. He crossed the room and dipped the linen in a pitcher of drinking water on his night table. “This might take a little of the sting out.”

He wrapped a startlingly cold cloth around Sara’s hand, and it did indeed take the sting out.

“Sit you down.” He pulled out the chair from his escritoire then leaned a hip on the desk, causing the wood to groan, but letting him keep hold of Sara’s hand as she took the chair. “It will likely blister, as red as it is. Have you any aloe?”

“Aloe?” Sara looked at his hand, wrapped around hers. When was the last time she’d held hands with anybody save her daughter or her sister?

“It’s a medicinal plant,” he said, his grip firm and impersonal. “I spent a summer in Virginia a few years ago, right after the hostilities with the Americans concluded, and they’ve a number of plants we don’t find here. I sent as many as I could back to my father for study and propagation.”

“What were you doing in Virginia?” Sara asked out of sheer desperation. The continued grip of his hand around hers was making her insides unsettled, and while she might like him a very little bit, she did not like being unsettled. She’d seen this man in all his naked, Greek-god glory, and now he was holding her hand in dimly lit private quarters.

Though Mr. Haddonfield himself seemed oblivious to every one of those facts.

“My stated task was to assess the viability of investing in tobacco on behalf of my father’s earldom.” He let go of her hand, unwrapped it, peered at it, frowned, and soaked the cloth in cold water again. “I really ought to get you some ointment for this.”

Tending to minor hurts was the housekeeper’s province—her exclusive province. “You really ought not. Is your father raising tobacco now?”

“He is not.” He let her scold go unremarked as he wrapped her hand once again, “Tobacco is profitable. It becomes a habit, and those who indulge in it are loyal to their habit, but it’s hard on the land.”

“Is that why the plantations are so large? Because they have to fallow a lot of acreage?”

“Everything in America is large. We think Cornwall is far from civilization, but consider that the distance from Penzance to London—not quite three hundred miles—might be little over a tenth the distance from Atlantic to Pacific coasts, and the Americans intend to lay claim to it all.”

“One tenth? That is incomprehensible.”

“Not to them. It takes half-savage people to deal with so much wilderness, and they will deal with it, inevitably.”

“But you decided not to invest there. Why not?”

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