“You don’t even have a ring,” he said.
“I don’t need one,” she said quickly.
His brow drew into a firm line. “You need one.”
“It can wait, though.”
Then, with a movement so sudden she wouldn’t have thought him capable of it in his current condition, he pushed himself upright and touched her chin. “Kiss me,” he said.
“What?” she practically yelped.
“It’s possible,” he said agreeably, “but I think any man would be quite sane to want to kiss you.”
“Any man,” she echoed, still trying to make sense of the moment.
“Perhaps not.” He pretended to consider this. “I think I might be the jealous sort. So it would probably be quite foolish on their part.”
She shook her head. Then rolled her eyes. Then did both. “You need to rest.”
“A kiss first.”
He mocked her tone to perfection. “Cecilia.”
Her mouth fell open. “Are you making puppy eyes at me?”
“Is it working?”
He hmmphed. “You’re not a very accomplished liar, are you?”
Oh, he had no idea.
“Finish your broth,” she ordered, trying—and failing—to sound stern.
“Do you mean to imply I don’t have the strength to kiss you?”
“Oh my goodness, you’re insufferable!”
One of his brows rose into a perfectly arrogant arch. “Because I’ll have you know I take that as a dare.”
She pressed her lips together in a futile attempt to hold back a smile. “What has got into you?”
He shrugged. “Happiness.”
Just one word, and it knocked the breath right out of her. Underneath his honorable exterior, Edward Rokesby had a streak of playfulness a mile wide. She supposed she shouldn’t have been so surprised. She’d seen hints of it in his letters.
All he’d needed to unlock it was a spot of joy.
“Kiss me,” he said again.
“You need to rest.”
“I just napped for three hours. I’m ridiculously awake now.”
“One kiss,” she heard herself saying, even as her mind was warning her not to do it.
“Just one,” he agreed, then added, “I’m lying, of course.”
“I’m not sure it counts as a lie if you confess to it in the same breath.”
He tapped his cheek, reminding her.
Cecilia caught her lower lip between her teeth. Surely one kiss wouldn’t hurt. And on the cheek, even. She leaned in.
He moved his head. Her lips touched his.
“You tricked me!”
His hand came to the back of her head. “Did I?”
“You know you did.”
“Did you realize,” he murmured, his breath hot and seductive against the corner of her mouth, “that when you speak against my lips it feels like a kiss?”
She nearly groaned. She did not have the strength to resist him. Not when he was like this—funny and endearing and so obviously delighted to have woken up to find himself married to her.
And now his lips were moving against hers, brushing slowly back and forth in a kiss that should have seemed chaste. But there was nothing innocent in the way her body arched toward his, eager for more. She’d been half in love with this man before they’d even met, and now her body recognized what her mind did not wish to admit—she wanted him, desperately, and in every way.
If he were not ill, if he were not still so weak, heaven only knew what would happen. Because she was not sure she would have the strength to stop them from consummating a marriage that did not even exist.
“You are the best medicine,” Edward murmured against her skin.
“Don’t discount the laudanum,” she tried to joke. She needed to lighten the moment.
“I don’t,” he said, pulling back just far enough to look into her eyes. “Thank you for insisting that I take it. I do think it was a help.”
“You’re welcome,” Cecilia said a little hesitantly. The change of topic was somewhat disorienting.
He stroked her cheek. “It’s part of the reason I said that you are the best medicine. I spoke with the people at the hospital, you know. Yesterday, after you left.”
She shook her head. She wasn’t sure where he was going with this.
“They told me how well you cared for me. They told me that you insisted upon a higher standard of care than I might have received otherwise.”
“Of—of course,” she stammered. This had nothing to do with her being his wife. She would have done this regardless.
“One of them even said he did not think I would have awakened if not for you.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” she said, because she could not take credit for that. And she could not let him think he owed her for it.
“It’s funny,” he murmured. “I can’t recall thinking very much about getting married. I certainly don’t recall thinking about being married. But I think I like it.”
Tears began to pool in Cecilia’s eyes. He reached out and brushed them away.
“Don’t cry,” he whispered.
“I’m not,” she said, even though she was.
He smiled indulgently. “I think this might be the first time I’ve kissed a girl and made her cry.”
“Georgie Porgie,” she whispered, grateful for the distraction.
This seemed to amuse him. “It is my middle name.”
She drew back, needing to put a little distance between them. But his hand slipped from her cheek to her shoulder and then down her arm to her hand. He would not let go, and she knew that deep in her heart, she did not want him to.
“It’s getting late,” he said.
She glanced toward the window. She’d long since pulled the curtains shut, but she could see around the edges that the day had fallen past dusk and was now somewhere close to night.
“Will you sleep tonight?” he said.
She knew what he was asking. Would she sleep in this bed?
“You need not feel uncomfortable,” he said. “Much as I wish it were otherwise, I am not in any condition to make love to you.”
Her face burned. She couldn’t help it. “I thought you said you weren’t tired,” she mumbled.
“I’m not. But you are.”
He was right. She was exhausted. She would have slept when he did, except that she’d felt she needed to watch over him. He’d looked so awful when she’d put him to bed earlier that evening. Worse, almost, than when he’d been in hospital.
If something happened to him, after all that had transpired . . .
She could not bear to consider it.
“Have you eaten?” he asked.
She nodded. She’d had a light meal when she’d gone down to get the broth.
“Good. We do not want the nurse to become the patient. I assure you, I would not be nearly so proficient in the role as you are.” His face grew serious. “You must rest.”
She knew this. She just didn’t see how it was possible.
“I’m sure you still wish for modesty,” he said, his own face taking on a slightly discomfited hue. Cecilia felt a little better knowing that he too saw the irregularity in their current situation.
“I give you my word that I will turn the other way,” he said.
She just stared at him.
“While you change into your bedclothes,” he explained.
“Oh, of course.” God, she was an idiot.
“I’ll even pull the covers over my head.”
She rose to shaky feet. “That won’t be necessary.”
There was a pregnant pause, and then he said in a voice turned ever so hoarse, “It might.”
Cecilia let out a little gasp of surprise at his admission, then rushed over to the wardrobe where she’d unpacked her meager supply of clothing. She’d brought one nightgown, a serviceable dress of white cotton devoid of lace or frills. Not the sort of thing a lady might tuck into her trousseau trunk.
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