“Rhys,” she whispered.
Wordlessly he reached for the fastening of her cape and hooked the silk loop around the button. He was smartly dressed in a beautiful black wool overcoat and a pearl gray hat. But his civilized attire did nothing to soften the hard-edged tension of a dangerous mood.
“Why did you come?” she managed to ask, her pulse in her throat.
“Do you think I’d let you leave London without saying good-bye?”
“I didn’t expect—but I wanted—that is, I’m glad—” Flustered, she fell silent.
Sliding a hand to the center of her back, Rhys murmured, “Come with me.” He guided her toward a tall wooden barrier that had been set up partially across the platform. The wall was plastered with advertisements and notices about alterations to train services.
“My lady!” Helen heard from behind her, and she stopped to glance over her shoulder.
The family footman, Peter, stared at her distractedly as he tried to buffer the rest of the family from the onslaught of departing passengers. “My lady, the earl bade me to keep you all together.”
“I’ll look after her,” Rhys told him curtly.
Kathleen, who had just noticed Rhys’s presence, interrupted the footman. “Allow them five minutes, Peter.” She sent Helen an imploring glance and held up five fingers to make certain she understood. Helen responded with a hasty nod.
Rhys pulled her to a sheltered corner created by the wooden barrier and a cast-iron support column. He turned his back to the crowd, concealing her from view.
“I had a devil of a time finding you.” His low voice undercut the din around them. “You’re at the wrong platform.”
“Cousin Devon has gone to find out where we should wait.”
An icy breeze teased a few white-blond wisps of hair loose from her coiffure and seemed to slip beneath the collar of her dress. She shivered violently, trying to huddle deeper into her cape.
“I can hear your teeth chattering,” Rhys said. “Come closer.”
With mingled dismay and longing, she saw that he was unfastening the front of his double-breasted coat. “I don’t think—there’s no need—”
Ignoring her protests, he pulled her against his body and wrapped the sides of the coat around her.
Helen closed her eyes as warmth and private darkness surrounded her, the thick wool muffling the busy clamor of their surroundings. She felt like a small woodland creature nestling in its burrow, hidden from dangers that lurked outside. He was large and strong and warm, and she couldn’t help relaxing into his embrace, her body recognizing his as a source of comfort.
“Better?” His voice was soft against her ear.
Helen nodded, her head on his chest. “Why didn’t you reply to my last letter?” she asked in a muffled voice.
The fine leather of his black-gloved fingers slid beneath her chin, nudging it upward. The mocking glint in his eyes was unmistakable. “Perhaps I didn’t like your question.”
“I was afraid—that is, I thought—”
“That I might have changed my mind? That I might not want you any longer?” His voice was edged with something that sent a prickle down the back of her neck. “Would you like proof of how I feel, cariad?”
Before she could reply, his mouth crushed over hers in a demonstration that was nothing less than scandalous. He didn’t care. He wanted her, and he intended for her to know it, feel it, taste it. Her hands inched up his shoulders and around his neck, clinging for balance as her knees gave way. The kiss went on in timeless suspension, his lips restless and searing, while his hand cradled her cheek in cool black leather. It wasn’t anger that drove him, she realized dazedly. He had come because he wanted reassurance. He was no more certain of her than she was of him.
With a rough vibration in his throat, he ended the kiss and lifted his head. His breath came in bursts of steam that scalded the wintry air. He loosened the coat from around her and stepped back, leaving her to stand on her own again.
Helen’s body quivered at the onslaught of fresh cold air.
Rhys reached into his coat, rummaging through an inner pocket. Taking Helen’s gloved hand, he pressed a small sealed envelope against her palm. Before she could ask what it was, he said, “Tell your family to go to platform eight, by way of the footbridge.”
“Hwyl fawr am nawr.” He took a last look at her, a lonely-demon flicker in his eyes. “‘Good-bye for now,’ that means.” After turning her in the direction of her family, he nudged her forward. Helen paused and turned to look back, his name on her lips. But he was already walking away, cutting through the crowd with purposeful strides.
HELEN TUCKED THE letter in her close-fitting sleeve and didn’t read it until much later, after Devon had bustled the family to the correct train at platform eight, and they were all seated in a first-class carriage. When the train had pulled away from Waterloo Station, beginning the two-hour journey to Hampshire, she carefully inched out the envelope.
Seeing that the twins were staring outside the window, and Kathleen was engaged in conversation with Devon, Helen broke the dark red wax seal and unfolded the letter.
You ask if I regret our engagement.
No. I regret every minute that you’re out of my sight. I regret every step that doesn’t bring me closer to you.
My last thought each night is that you should be in my arms. There is no peace or pleasure in my empty bed, where I sleep with you only in dreams and wake to curse the dawn.
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