He nodded as she added a little soap to a dish and worked it into a lather with the brush she’d found alongside the razor. She brought it over to his bedside and frowned.
“Your beard is quite long.”
“I’m not as scruffy as that.”
“It’s longer than my father’s ever was.”
“Is that where you honed your skills?”
“Every day for the last few years of his life.” She tilted her head to the side, like an artist examining her canvas. “It would be best if we could trim it first.”
“Alas, I have no shears.”
Cecilia had a sudden vision of the gardener going after his face with the hedge trimmers and had to stifle a snort of laughter.
“What?” Edward demanded.
“Oh, you don’t want to know.” She picked up the brush. “Let’s give this a go.”
Edward lifted his chin, allowing her to coat the left side of his face with the soapy lather. It wasn’t as thick as she’d want, but it would do. She worked carefully, using one hand to stretch his skin while the other scraped the blade down from cheek to chin. With each pass she rinsed the blade in the washtub, watching as the water grew thick with his whiskers.
“You have quite a lot of red in your beard,” she observed. “Does one of your parents have red hair?”
He started to shake his head.
He looked at her sideways. “Don’t ask me questions.”
“My mother’s hair is blond,” Edward said the next time she rinsed the razor. “My father’s is brown. Same as mine. Or rather, it used to be. He’s going gray. Or silver, as he prefers to call it.” He frowned, and his eyes clouded with something that looked an awful lot like regret. “I imagine he’ll have quite a bit more when I see him again.”
“Gray hair?” she asked, keeping her voice carefully light.
“Indeed.” He tipped his chin up as she went to work on his throat. “Thank you again for writing to them.”
“Of course. I only wish there was some way to get word to them faster.” She’d managed to get the letter to the Rokesbys out on the very next ship, but still, it would be at least three weeks before it reached England. And then another five before they might expect a response.
They fell into silence as Cecilia continued her work. She was finding it much more difficult to do a proper job than when she’d shaved her father. Edward’s whiskers had to be at least a half inch long—much different than the single day’s growth she was used to.
To say nothing of the fact that this was Edward. And he had just kissed her.
And she’d liked it. Very much.
When she leaned toward him, the air seemed to change around her, swirling with awareness. It was almost electric, stealing her breath and prickling at her skin. And then when she finally did draw air, it was as if she was breathing in him. He smelled delicious, which made no sense, since he smelled like soap. And man.
Dear God, she was going mad. You couldn’t smell heat. And soap wasn’t delicious. But nothing seemed to make sense when she was standing this close to Edward Rokesby. He addled her brain, and her lungs felt tight . . . or light . . . or something.
Honestly, it was a miracle she was able to keep her hand steady.
“Can you turn your head just a bit?” she asked. “I need to get that spot by your ear.”
He complied, and she leaned even closer. She needed to angle the razor just so to avoid nicking him. She was so close now she could see her breath ruffling his hair. It would be so easy just to sigh, to let herself melt into him, to feel her body against his.
She heard his voice, but she couldn’t seem to do anything about it. She felt almost suspended, as if the air was thick enough to hold her in place. And then, as if her brain had needed an extra moment to get through to the rest of her body, she pulled herself back, blinking away what she could only assume was the fog of desire.
“Sorry,” she said, the word seeming to come more from her throat than her lips. “Lost in my thoughts.”
It wasn’t a lie.
“It need not be perfect,” he said, his voice strained. “As long as you get the bulk of it off, I can do a closer shave tomorrow.”
“Of course,” she answered, taking an unsteady step back. “I . . . ah . . . that will take much less time. And you’re tired.”
“Right,” he agreed.
“You’ll want . . . ehrm . . .” She blinked a few times. His bare torso was most distracting. “Do you want to don a shirt?”
“Perhaps after we finish. So it doesn’t get wet.”
“Of course,” she said. Again. She looked down at his chest. A small blob of lather clung to the light sprinkling of hair, just above his nipple. She reached out to wipe it away, but the moment she touched his skin, his hand wrapped around her wrist.
“No,” he said.
It was a warning.
He wanted her.
Maybe even more than she wanted him.
She licked her lips, which had gone unaccountably dry.
“Don’t do that,” he choked out.
Her eyes flew to his, and she was electrified, gripped by the intensity of his piercing blue gaze. She felt it in her chest, a pounding, pulsing thing, and for a moment she could not speak. His hand was hot against her skin, his touch unexpectedly tender.
“I can’t leave you like this,” she said.
He stared at her, uncomprehending. Or maybe like he thought he must have misheard.
She motioned to his beard, full on the right side, completely absent on the left. “You look rather half-baked.”
He touched his chin, right at the spot where whiskers met skin, and let out a little puff of amusement.
“You look ridiculous,” she said.
He stroked one side of his face, then the other.
Cecilia held up the razor and brush. “Perhaps I should finish.”
His right brow rose into a perfect arch. “You don’t think I should meet with Major Wilkins like this?”
“I think I might pay good money to see that.” She scooted around to the other side of the bed, relieved that the tension seemed to have been broken. “If I had money.”
Edward moved across the mattress so that he was closer to the edge, then held still while she soaped him up. “You are short of funds?” he asked.
Cecilia paused, wondering just how much she should tell him. She settled on: “This has proven a more expensive journey than I had anticipated.”
“Such is true for most journeys, I imagine.”
“So I’m told.” She rinsed the razor in the tub. “This is the first I’ve ventured more than twenty miles out of Derbyshire.”
“Don’t move,” she admonished. She’d had the blade right at his throat when he’d startled.
“Sorry, but really? The first time?”
She shrugged, rinsing the blade again. “Where would I have gone?”
“No reason to go.” The Harcourts were respectable, to be sure, but hardly the sort to send a daughter to the capital for a Season. Plus, her father hated cities. He made a fuss when he had to go to Sheffield. The one time he’d been forced to attend to business in Manchester, he’d complained for days. “No one to take me either,” Cecilia added.
“I will take you.”
Her hand stilled. He thought they were married. Of course he’d think he might someday take her to London.
“That is, if you wish,” he added, misunderstanding her hesitation.
She forced a smile. “That would be lovely.”
“We’ll go to the theater,” he said with a yawn. “Or maybe the opera. Do you like the opera?”
Suddenly she was desperate to end the conversation. Her mind was filled with visions of a future that included the both of them, a future where her last name really was Rokesby, and she lived in a darling house in Kent with three little children, all with their father’s arrestingly blue eyes.
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