lashes when he thought she wasn’t looking. She wished she knew what those troubled glances signified. At present, only one aspect of his character was truly clear to her.
Though facing a horrendous death in quicksand, he’d tried to drive her off—because he was afraid she’d fall in.
He had been willing to risk medical bedlam and eventual incarceration in a madhouse, rather than subject her to marrying him.
Though informed of the deadly risks of unsupervised laudanum consumption, he had locked himself alone in his room—to spare her witnessing his miseries.
The Earl of Rawnsley, in short, had a protective streak a mile long and three miles deep.
Gwendolyn didn’t think she was overestimating him. She’d had enough experience with her father, brothers, uncles, and cousins to recognize this particular ailment.
The awareness was doing nothing to restore her clinical detachment, which was in dangerous disrepair already.
Just looking at him paralyzed her intellect. When she recalled what that sensuous mouth, those strong, graceful hands, and that long muscled body had done to her, her entire brain, along with her heart and every other organ and muscle she possessed, turned to jelly.
His low voice broke into her bewildered thoughts.
“I don’t think you ought to stay in here,” he said gently.
She looked up from her folded hands. His carefully polite expression made her heart sink.
She could guess why he wanted her out of his sight. He’d probably spent most of the time since they’d left the bathing room devising a courteous way of telling her he’d rather not repeat the experience.
But she’d been rejected countless times before, Gwendolyn reminded herself, and it hadn’t killed her yet.
“I understand,” she said, her voice cool, her face hot. “I know I behaved shockingly. I scarcely know what to think of myself. I have never, ever, in all my life, reacted that way—to anybody.”
A muscle worked in his jaw.
“Not that I’ve had so many beaux,” she hurriedly added. “I am not a flirt, and even if I was, I hadn’t much time for suitors. I didn’t want to make time,” she babbled on as his expression grew tauter. “But girls are obliged to make an appearance in Society, and then of course the men think one is like the others, and one feels obliged to pretend that’s true. And I must admit that I was curious about what it was like to be courted and kissed. But it wasn’t like anything, and not half so interesting as, say, Mr. Culpeper’s Herbal. If it had been that way with you, I’m sure I should have behaved much more decorously downstairs. I should have fastened my mind on a medical treatise and not made a spectacle of myself. But I could not behave properly. I am truly sorry. The last thing I wanted was to make myself disagreeable to you.”
With a sigh, she started to crawl from the bed.
“Gwendolyn.” His voice was choked.
She paused and met his gaze.
“You are not disagreeable to me,” he said tightly. “Not at all. Word of honor.”
She remained where she was, kneeling near the edge of the mattress, trying to read his expression.
“How could you think I was displeased?” he demanded. “I all but ravished you.”
Good grief, how could she be so stupid? He was upset with himself, not her. Because of the mile-long protective streak.
She tried to remember what Genevieve had told her about men—and the first time—but her mind was a jumble. “Oh, no, it was not like that at all,” she assured him. “You were so very gentle—and I did appreciate that, truly I did. I know I should not have acted like a general: ‘Do this,’ ‘Do that.’ ‘Hurry.’ But I could not help myself. Something”—she gestured helplessly—“came over me.”
“The something was your lusting spouse,” he said grimly. “Which I should not have allowed myself to become.”
“But we are wed,” she argued. “It was your right, and it was a pleasure for me and—” Her face
Jolene Perry, Janna Watts