“Lady Sarah, stop.”
She kept clearing and did not bother to look at him. “No.”
“I insist.” It was too strange. Lady Sarah Pleinsworth was clearing away dirty dishes and preparing to move furniture. Even more astonishing was that she was doing it in order to help him.
“Be quiet and allow me to help you,” she said. Rather sternly, too.
His lips parted with surprise, and she must have taken a bit of pleasure in his astonishment, because her lips formed a smile, and then that smile turned smug.
“I’m not helpless,” he muttered.
“I didn’t think you were.” Her dark eyes sparkled, and as she turned back to the task of clearing the dishes, realization thundered through him like a hot desert wind.
I want her.
His breath caught.
“Is something wrong?” she called out.
“No,” he croaked. But he still wanted her.
She looked up. “You sounded funny. As if . . . well, I don’t know what.” She resumed clearing the dishes, speaking as she worked. “Maybe as if you were in pain.”
Hugh held silent, trying not to stare at her as she moved through the drawing room. Dear God, what had happened to him? Yes, she was very attractive, and yes, the velvet bodice of her dress was fitted in such a way that a man could not help but be aware of the exact—exactly perfect—shape of her breasts.
But this was Sarah Pleinsworth. He had hated her less than twenty-four hours ago. He might still hate her a little bit.
And he bloody well didn’t know what a hot desert wind felt like. Where the hell had that come from?
Sarah set the final dish down and turned to look at him. “I think what we need to do is get your foot on the table, and then pull the whole thing toward you so it will support the rest of your leg.”
He didn’t move for a moment. He couldn’t. He was still trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
“Lord Hugh,” she said expectantly. “Your leg?”
There was no stopping her, he realized, so he imparted a silent apology to his hosts and set his booted foot on the table.
It did feel good to stretch out the leg.
“Hold on,” Sarah said, coming back around to his side of the table. “It’s not supporting your knee.” She moved next to him and pulled the table closer, but it set the whole thing at a diagonal. “Oh, sorry,” she said, scooting around the back of his chair. “Just a moment.”
She stepped sideways through the space between the sofa and his chair, squeezing herself into a spot right next to him. They were not touching, but he could feel her warmth, pulsing off her skin.
“If you’ll just excuse me,” she said under her breath.
He turned his head.
He really shouldn’t have done so.
Lady Sarah had bent over to get a bit of leverage, and that dress . . . the dip of the neckline . . . so close to him . . .
He shifted in his seat again, and this time it had nothing to do with his injury.
“Can you lift it a bit?” Sarah asked.
“Your leg.” She wasn’t looking at him, thank God, because he could not stop looking at her. The shadow between her breasts was so close, and the scent of her was swirling around him—lemons and honeysuckle and something far more earthy and sensual.
She had been dancing all morning. Out of breath and dizzy with exertion. Just the thought of it made him so desperate for her that he thought he might stop breathing.
“Do you need help?” she asked.
Dear God, yes. He hadn’t been with a woman since his injury, and the truth was, he hadn’t really wanted to. He had the same needs as any man, but it was so bloody hard to imagine anyone desiring him with his ruined leg that he’d not allowed himself to feel it for anyone else.
Until now, when it had hit him like—
Oh, bloody hell, not a hot desert wind. Anything but a hot desert wind.
“Lord Hugh,” Sarah said impatiently, “did you hear me? If you lift your leg, it will be easier for me to pull the table in.”
“Sorry,” he muttered, and he lifted his leg an inch.
She pulled at the table, but it rubbed against the upper of his boot and caught a little, forcing her to take a step to maintain her balance.
She was so close now he could reach out and touch her. His fingers clamped down on the arms of his chair lest they give in to desire.
He wanted to touch her hand, to feel her fingers curl around his, and then he wanted to bring it to his lips. He would kiss the inside of her wrist, feel her pulse thrumming beneath her pale skin.
And then—oh, dear God, this was not the time for an erotic daydream, but he could not seem to help himself—then he would lift her arms above her head, the motion arching her back, so that when he pressed her body against his, he would feel all of her, every dip and curve. And then he would reach beneath her skirt and slide his hand up her leg to the sensitive crook of her hip.
He wanted to know the exact temperature of her, and then he wanted to know it again, when she was hot and flushed with desire.
“There we are,” she said, straightening back up. It was nearly impossible to think that she was oblivious to his distress, that she could not know that he was within inches of losing control.
She smiled, having got the table into the position she wanted. “Is that better?”
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
“Are you all right? You look a bit flushed.”
Oh, dear God.
“Can I get you anything?”
“No!” he blurted, rather too loudly. How the bloody hell had this happened? He was staring at Sarah Pleinsworth like a randy schoolboy, and all he could think about was the shape of her lips, the color.