Page 26

Author: Anne Stuart

“What happened?” she demanded breathlessly.

“I fell,” Melisande spoke up for the first time.

“Where’s her bedroom?”

“You’re not taking me to my bedroom!”

“Yes, I am. And have someone call for a doctor. I don’t think she’s broken her ankle but I could be wrong. She’ll definitely need it elevated and bandaged,” he said, overriding her objection.

“I can elevate it downstairs!” she shot back.

Mrs. Cadbury wasn’t the kind of woman who was easily intimidated, but he was a man who knew how to get his own way. He looked at Emma Cadbury.

“Her bedroom is on the second floor,” she said after a moment. “First doorway on the right. I’ll send someone for a doctor.”

“Traitor,” Melisande said bitterly as Benedick started up the stairs.

He ignored her. A couple of the younger girls met him at the top of the stairs, rushing ahead to open the door for him. Melisande was fuming now, rigid and silent and outraged, and he wondered what kind of tongue-lashing she was dying to deliver. And whether she’d let loose if her doves were around.

He glanced around the room in surprise. It was utilitarian but a far cry from the kind of place a wealthy widow like Lady Carstairs should live in. No chaise, so he set her down on the plain bed, letting his hand caress her bum as he withdrew it, his face blandly innocent. He took a pillow from the top of the bed, lifted her leg and placed it on the pillow with as much care as he could manage. Even that much of a touch left her white with pain.

“Has someone gone for that damned doctor?” he snarled over his shoulder.

“Of course, your lordship,” Emma Cadbury said in a cool voice, coming into the room. “I expect he’ll be here shortly. You needn’t trouble yourself further.”

He glanced at her. “Mrs. Cadbury, it’s very difficult to get rid of me when I’m not ready to go. I don’t take hints very well. I intend to stay until the doctor has seen her. After all, Lady Carstairs was in my company when she was injured and I count it as simply my responsibility to ensure she’s all right.”

“I absolve you of your responsibility,” Melisande snapped, her temper finally shattered. “Go away, please.”

He turned back to her. “Don’t waste your breath, sweetheart. I’m not leaving.” And in order to demonstrate, he took a seat on the bed beside her.

“Your lordship!” Mrs. Cadbury sounded scandalized. And faintly amused, which surprised him.

“Don’t bother. You’ve seen a great deal more shocking things than my sitting on Melisande’s bed. Go and get her a glass of brandy—it might help with the pain.”

Mrs. Cadbury looked at the two of them for a long, speculative moment. And then, to his astonishment, she swept from the room, taking the other members of the gaggle with her. Leaving him alone with a very angry Charity Carstairs.

“I’m going to kill her,” she said beneath her breath.

Benedick stretched out on the bed beside her. “Save your energies, Charity. You can’t budge me until I’m ready to go. Just close your eyes and breathe.”

“I’m not closing my eyes anywhere around you. I don’t trust you.”

He reached out to touch her face, and she jerked it away, her eyes troubled. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said quietly, suddenly serious. She turned back to look at him, and there was one of those odd, eerie moments of understanding between them. The kind of moment that shook him, disturbed him more than he cared to admit.

“You already have,” she said.


Brandon Rohan opened his eyes, staring lazily up into the hooded figure that loomed over him. The opium dream was at its zenith, and he didn’t want anyone to draw him out of it. What was the Master doing in here, anyway? He’d never seen him here before. This small, dark place that was akin to his childhood closet didn’t hold more than half a dozen men, and he was familiar with most of them. It was an exclusive meeting place for those with a taste for the poppy, and while none of them spent time socializing, he’d grown used to them. He couldn’t believe any of them could be the mysterious Master of the Heavenly Host.

“Go ’way,” he said thickly to the man. “You don’t belong here.”

Not that he knew for certain. No one knew who currently led the Heavenly Host. The new rules were clear enough that even he could remember them in his current state. The leadership of the Heavenly Host rotated, and no one ever knew who the current one was. That way there would be no repercussions.

“Your brother’s been causing problems, Rohan,” the Master said, his voice that breathy whisper of sound from beneath the enveloping hood. “We warned you when you took your place among us that we couldn’t afford to have family members interfering.”

“Not my fault,” he managed to protest. Damn Benedick. If he was kicked out of the Heavenly Host he would kill him. “Can’t…control him.”

“You’ll need to. Or we’ll control him for you.”

Brandon’s eyes were drifting closed. Even the dim light of the opium den hurt his eyes, and he disliked having anyone interfere with his desperately needed dream state. This was the only way he could shut out the voices, shut out the sounds and the smells of war and blood and death. Of hacked bodies and screams of pain and death all around him. “Don’t care,” he said sullenly.

The hooded figure straightened, though in the dimness of the room he probably wouldn’t have been able to see him even if he were bareheaded. “So be it,” the man murmured, his faint lisp clear.

And then he vanished, like the opium dream he had to have been. And Brandon closed his eyes once more and drifted into oblivion.

Melisande fell asleep. She couldn’t quite believe it. One moment she was lying in her bed, her ankle propped up, the dastardly Viscount Rohan stretched out beside her, for all appearances like the knight and his lady on a medieval grave, and the next she was asleep, dreaming. It took the arrival of the doctor to awaken her, and by that time her nemesis was across the room, shoulders leaning against the mantel, watching her with an unreadable gaze.

“If the gentleman would leave us,” Doctor Smithfield said and Melisande could have kissed him. There was no reasonable way Benedick could refuse.

But why had she ever thought him to be reasonable? “I don’t believe so,” Rohan proclaimed. “I’ve already examined the lady’s ankle—I won’t see anything that would shock me. Go ahead.”

“I really must insist…” The doctor’s voice trailed off as Benedick rose to his full height.

“And I would insist you don’t attempt to insist upon anything. This lady is my responsibility, and I’m not leaving her in the hands of a sawbones I’ve never seen before.”

“Are you impugning my qualifications, my lord?” Dr. Smithfield was a dear man, and he volunteered his services toward the doves for free, but he was possessed of a certain amount of pride.

“I’m impugning nothing. Stop arguing with me and attend to Lady Carstairs.”

Smithfield opened his mouth to argue but Melisande quickly intervened. “Ignore him, Doctor,” she said amiably. “He enjoys being difficult. Do you think my ankle is broken?”

After one last grumble he turned back to Melisande. There followed a few extremely uncomfortable minutes before he stepped back. “It’s my belief you’ve merely suffered a strain, your ladyship. I’ll bandage the afflicted appendage and prescribe some laudanum. If you remain off it for the next fortnight then I expect you’ll have no repercussions.” He glared at Lord Rohan, who serenely glared back.

“I’ll make sure of it,” Benedick said smoothly. “You may send your bill to me, of course.”

“Don’t be absurd. I’m responsible for my own bills,” she snapped, but Rohan simply ignored her, ushering Dr. Smithfield out the door.

When he turned back around, she fixed Rohan with a stern expression. “All right, you can go now. The doctor has seen me, pronounced his verdict and prescribed treatment. Now go away.”

He didn’t seem in any particular hurry to leave. “So, are you going to stay off your feet for two weeks?”

“What do you think? The full moon is in five days. I can either stay in bed and coddle myself and let innocent women be tortured and perhaps killed, or I can deal with it.”

“By dealing with it you mean getting out of bed and risking crippling yourself?” He sounded no more than casual. “I don’t think so. Our partnership is over, Lady Carstairs. You’ll have to trust me to deal with the Heavenly Host.”

She glared at him. “I don’t. Not for one moment.”

“You don’t have any choice in the matter.”

“Then I have no choice but to follow my investigations on my own.” She would have climbed out of bed, just to prove to both herself and him that she could do it, but Dr. Smithfield had already given her a generous dose of tonic and she was having trouble lifting her head from her pillow. No trouble glaring, however.

He moved swiftly, so fast that she had no warning, and he was on the bed, his hands braced on either side of her as he leaned over her, and all pretense of manners had gone. “You will not,” he said in a dark, angry voice, “do anything more to endanger yourself. Do you hear me?”

She stared up at him, her mouth set in a stubborn line. For a long moment he didn’t move, and then his hands gripped her arms and yanked her up, and he kissed her.

Oh, God, she thought, as sensation washed over her, pure, bloody wonderful sensation. How many times had he kissed her? she thought. More than any other man. She knew his mouth by now, the touch and taste of him, the rich thrust of his tongue, the hard edge of his teeth, the sweet smoky flavor of him. Night had already closed in around the room, and the only candles were beside the bed, left there to assist the doctor’s examination. It was only a blur of light, and she closed her eyes against the shimmering brightness, lifted her arms and slid them around his neck, pulling him closer, wanting to feel him against her body, heat and hardness and living flesh. He shifted, and she knew he’d moved onto the bed, covering her, and she didn’t even think of making a protest. This was going to be the last time she would see him, she thought dazedly. He was going to refuse to help her after this, and she was going to have to proceed on her own. He would never come near her again, and she had every right to take what she wanted right now, and what she wanted was him. To indulge in the forbidden delight that was Benedick Rohan.


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