“I’m sure it will be perfect,” she said, taking it from him and folding it to her liking. She reached out and dabbed it against his cheek. “Does this hurt?” He shook his head.
“I wish I had some water. The blood has already dried.” She frowned. “Have you any brandy? In a flask, perhaps?” Gentlemen often carried flasks. Her father had. He had rarely left home without it.
But Lord Winstead said, “I don’t drink spirits.”
Something about his tone startled her, and she looked up. His eyes were on hers, and she caught her breath. She hadn’t realized how close she’d leaned in.
Her lips parted. And she wanted . . .
Too much. She had always wanted too much.
She puled back, unsettled by how easily she’d swayed toward him. He was a man who smiled easily, and often. It didn’t take more than a few minutes in his company to know this. Which was why the sharp and serious edge to his voice had transfixed her.
“But you can probably find some down the hal,” he said suddenly, and the strange, captivating spell was broken. “The third door on the right. It used to be my father’s study.”
“At the back of the house?” It seemed an unlikely place.
“There are two entrances. The other side opens onto the main hal. There shouldn’t be anyone there, but you’ll want to be careful when you go in.” Anne rose to her feet and folowed his directions to the study. Moonlight filtered through the window, and she easily found a decanter. She brought the whole thing back with her, carefuly shutting the door behind her.
“On the shelf by the window?” Lord Winstead murmured.
He smiled a bit. “Some things never change.”
Anne puled out the stopper and put the handkerchief over the vessel’s opening, sloshing a healthy dose of brandy onto the cloth. The scent of it was instant and Anne puled out the stopper and put the handkerchief over the vessel’s opening, sloshing a healthy dose of brandy onto the cloth. The scent of it was instant and permeating. “Does that bother you?” she asked with sudden concern. “The smell?” In her last position—right before she’d come to work for the Pleinsworths—her young charge’s uncle had drunk too much and then stopped. It had been monstrously difficult to be near him. His temper was even worse without the alcohol, and if he so much as smeled a hint of it, he nearly went mad.
Anne had had to leave. For that and other reasons.
But Lord Winstead just shook his head. “It’s not that I can’t drink spirits. I choose not to.” Her confusion must have shown on her face, because he added, “I have no craving for it, just disdain.”
“I see,” she murmured. He had secrets of his own, apparently. “This will probably sting,” she warned him.
“It will definitely st—ow!”
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, rubbing the handkerchief lightly against his wound.
“I hope they pour the bloody stuff over Marcus,” he muttered.
“Wel, he does look worse than you do,” she remarked.
He looked up, confused, and then a slow smile spread across his face. “Indeed he does.” She moved to the scrapes on his knuckles, murmuring, “I have it on the best authority.” He chuckled at that, but she didn’t look up. There was something so intimate about this, bending over his hand, cleaning his wounds. She did not know this man, not realy, and yet she was loath to let go of this moment. It wasn’t because it was him, she told herself. It was just that . . . It had been so long . . .
She was lonely. She knew that. It was no great surprise.
She motioned to the cut on his shoulder and held out the handkerchief. His face and hands were one thing, but she couldn’t possibly touch his body. “Perhaps you should . . .”
“Oh, no, don’t let me stop you. I’m quite enjoying your tender ministrations.”
She gave him a look. “Sarcasm does not become you.”
“No,” he said with an amused smile. “It never did.” He watched as she slopped more brandy onto the handkerchief. “And anyway, I wasn’t being sarcastic.” That was a statement she could not alow herself to examine, so she pressed the wet cloth to his shoulder and said briskly, “This will definitely sting.”
“Aaaaah- aaaaaaaaah,” he sang out, and she had to laugh. He sounded like a bad opera singer, or one of those jesters at a Punch-and-Judy show.
“You should do that more often,” he said. “Laugh, I mean.”
“I know.” But that sounded sad, and she didn’t want to be sad, so she added, “I don’t often get to torture grown men, though.”
“Realy?” he murmured. “I would think you do it all the time.”
She looked at him.
“When you walk into a room,” he said softly, “the air changes.”
Her hand went still, hovering an inch or so above his skin. She looked at his face—she couldn’t help herself—and she saw the desire in his eyes. He wanted her.
He wanted her to lean forward and touch her lips to his. It would be so easy; she need only to sway. She could tell herself she hadn’t meant to do it. She’d lost her balance, that was al.
But she knew better. This wasn’t her moment. And it wasn’t her world. He was an earl, and she was . . . Wel, she was who she’d made herself to be, and that was someone who did not consort with earls, especialy those with pasts wreathed with scandal.
A bucketload of attention was about to rain down on him, and Anne wanted to be nowhere near him when that happened.