Virtue's Reward

Virtue's Reward by Jean R. Ewing

Book: Virtue's Reward by Jean R. Ewing Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jean R. Ewing
Tags: Regency Romance
here.”
    “What’s why you’re here?”
    Richard smiled suddenly, and Helena tried to stop her heart from running away.
    “I have an hour I can spend with you, if you will let me.”
    An hour! He would fit her in between his other obligations whenever he could spare a moment. Marie had been given three days.
    “Of course,” she said.
    His fingers reached for her cheek and lingered there for a moment. Then he shrugged out of the dressing gown and slipped in between the sheets. The glimpse of his lean body made her instantly breathless.
    “I owe you another apology,” he said, turning and stroking the hair away from her face. “It was not my intention to leave you so long without notice. Yet you don’t seem to have missed me. Are you always so self-contained and competent?”
    She did not want to say it. Had she no pride left at all? But it was only the truth.
    “I missed you,” she said.
    “Oh, God, sweet Helena!”
    His lips seared her mouth with the intensity of his desire. She felt herself respond with abandon. Savor these moments, she told herself, nothing else matters .
    * * *
     
    Nigel Garthwood stood quietly in the woods and contemplated the house. So Richard Acton was the son of an earl! It made no difference at all. He had watched Richard ride away with a younger dark-haired man. They were laughing together. A brother, perhaps? That could be more than useful. He would pursue it.
    A few moments later Helena herself stepped out with a basket. Garthwood watched her disappear into the gardens. There seemed to be a dearth of staff, so it should be no problem at all to pursue his goal. And if he were not successful? An earl’s son was as vulnerable as a tinker’s was.
    The long lips curved into a smile, and Garthwood moved silently through the shrubbery and up to the side door.
    * * *
    Helena came back into the house with her basket full of autumn flowers. She moved steadily through the rooms, filling vases and urns with the bounty of the late dowager countess’s gardens. A door banged somewhere, but she was intent on her task.
    When Richard came into the room, she looked up and smiled. The smile died on her lips.
    “What the devil were you looking for in my room?”
    “Your room?”
    “I would rather you didn’t parrot me like the nymph who haunted Narcissus.”
    Helena felt her heart contract. “I have never been in your room.”
    He raised a brow. “The entire house is yours to do with as you like. I require only that my study and my bedchamber be private. If you need something, you have only to ask.”
    “I have respected that.”
    “Helena, I have lived for years in a world of shifting sands. I thought you were honest. For God’s sake, who else would dare to disturb my things?”
    “I don’t know. One of the maids? Harry?”
    “Not even Mrs. Hood would dream of it, and I trust my brother as I trust myself. Harry may appear a rattle-brained dandy, but his honor is absolute.”
    “And mine isn’t?”
    “Apparently not!” He wrung his hand over his face. “Oh, devil take it! I’m sorry. Forget I said that! Harry and I were talking about something that made me particularly bloody-minded. I had no right at all to take it out on you.”
    “You have just accused me of rifling through your possessions and then denying it. You impugn my honor, then you expect me to pretend it never happened? Like Narcissus, do you do nothing but gaze at your own reflection in a pool and think of the feelings of no one else? I thought we could live together in harmony, but if you doubt my word, my position here is untenable. As for your brother, if he has so little principle that he would seize a maidservant and kiss her as a matter of habit, then your definition of honor is not the same as mine.”
    “Harry would not dream of kissing the maids, Helena. In spite of your apron, he knew it was you. It was getting the news from our mother of my marriage that sent him here in the first place. He wanted to see

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