“Not a scratch on him.”

Sighing, Devon turned to Kathleen. “We’ll need brandy and ice bags as well as the shirt. And a camphor poultice—the kind we used on my cracked ribs.”

Kathleen smiled at him. “I remember.” She strode to the door and flung it open, and halted abruptly as she discovered a crowd eavesdropping at the threshold. Her gaze moved over three housemaids, a footman, Mrs. Abbott, and Devon’s valet.

The housekeeper was the first to react. “As I was telling all of you,” she said loudly, “it’s time to go about your work, and mind your p’s and q’s.”

Kathleen cleared her throat as if trying to choke back a laugh. “Sutton,” she said to the valet, “I shall need you to bring a few items for our guest. Did you overhear Lord Trenear quite clearly, or should I repeat the list?”

“Brandy, ice, a poultice, and a shirt,” the valet replied with great dignity. “I will also obtain a length of fabric to fashion a sling for the gentleman’s arm.”

As Sutton left, Kathleen turned to address the housekeeper. “Mrs. Abbott, I’m afraid a porcelain vase has been accidentally overturned.”

Before the woman could reply, all three housemaids excitedly volunteered to sweep up. One couldn’t help but question whether their enthusiasm was for their work, or the desire to be in the same room with the half-naked Winterborne. Judging from the way they were craning their necks to glance at him, definitely the latter.

“I’ll do it myself, my lady,” the housekeeper declared, shooing the housemaids away. “I’ll return momentarily with the broom.”

Kathleen turned to the twins, who had remained at the threshold. “Is there something you would like to ask, girls?”

Pandora looked at her hopefully. “May we say hello to Mr. Winterborne?”

“Later, darling. He’s in no condition for that right now.”

“Please tell him we’re so very sorry that a building fell on him,” Cassandra said earnestly.

A smile wove through Kathleen’s voice as she replied. “I’ll convey your kind wishes. Now, off you go.”

Reluctantly the twins trudged from the library.

After closing the door, Kathleen headed back to the group near the settee. Along the way, she retrieved a lap blanket that had been draped over the arm of a chair.

Devon was examining Rhys’s shoulder, palpating it carefully to discern whether or not the bone had come loose from the socket. “You should be at home in bed,” he said brusquely, “not traipsing across London proposing to young women you’ve ruined.”

Rhys scowled. “First, I don’t traipse, and second, Helen’s—devil take you, that hurts!” Exhausted, he dropped his head to his chest.

Helen regarded him sympathetically, knowing how he hated not being in control. Rhys was always well dressed and in command of himself. His very name connoted success, luxury, and elegance. None of that was consistent with finding himself on the floor, battered, bruised, and forcibly divested of his clothing.

“And second?” she prompted gently, bringing him back to his unfinished thought.

“You’re not ruined,” he said gruffly, his head still down. “You’re perfect.”

Helen’s heart twisted with painful sweetness. She wanted badly to comfort and cradle him. Instead she had to settle for stroking his black hair very lightly. He pushed his head against the caress, like an affectionate wolf. Her palm moved along the side of his face to his jaw and down to the firm, perfect line of his good shoulder.

“It seems stable,” Devon said, sitting back on his heels. “I don’t think it’s been reinjured. Helen, if you continue to fondle the bastard right in front of me, I’ll have to dislocate his other shoulder.”

Helen withdrew her hand sheepishly.

Lifting his head, Rhys gave Devon a baleful glance. “She’s leaving with me tonight.”

Devon’s face hardened. “If you think—”

“But we would rather have a June wedding,” Helen interrupted hastily. “And above all, we would like to have your blessing, Cousin Devon.”

“Here you are, Mr. Winterborne,” Kathleen said brightly, coming forward to drape the lap blanket over his tawny exposed torso. “Let’s help him up onto the settee—the floor is too drafty.”

“I don’t need help,” Rhys grumbled. With effort, he managed to hoist himself onto the leather upholstery. “Helen, go pack your belongings.”

Helen was filled with consternation. She couldn’t bring herself to oppose Rhys, especially when he was injured and vulnerable. But she didn’t want to leave Ravenel House on these terms. Devon had been extraordinarily kind, letting her and the twins stay at Eversby Priory, when anyone else in his position would have cast them out without a second thought. Helen had no desire to divide the family by eloping and excluding them all from her wedding.

She glanced at Kathleen, silently pleading for help.

Understanding at once, Kathleen spoke to Rhys in a placating tone. “Surely there’s no need for that, Mr. Winterborne. You both deserve a proper ceremony, with family and friends around you. Not some hasty slap-and-dash affair.”

“Slap-and-dash was good enough for you and Trenear,” Rhys retorted. “If he didn’t have to wait for a wedding, why do I?”

Kathleen hesitated before replying with amused chagrin. “We had no choice.”

It took approximately two seconds for Rhys’s agile brain to process the implications. “You’re expecting,” he said flatly. “Congratulations.”

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***