“Dark,” she agreed.
She pressed her lips together in what turned out to be a failed attempt to hold back laughter. “Woolly?” she echoed.
“That’s what you’d find in my wardrobe.”
“I find myself alarmed by a vision of sheep.” She paused, then winced. “And of what Harriet might do with such a scene in one of her plays.”
He held up a hand. “Let us change the subject.”
She cocked her head to the side, then realized she was smiling flirtatiously. So she stopped smiling. But she still felt unaccountably flirtatious.
So she smiled again, because she liked smiling, and she liked feeling flirtatious, and most of all because she knew he would know that she wasn’t actually flirting with him. Because she wasn’t. She was just feeling flirtatious. It was a result of having been cooped up in that room for so long with no one but sisters and cousins.
“You were on your way to the library,” he said.
“And you started out at . . .”
“The breakfast room.”
“You did not make it very far.”
“No,” she admitted, “I didn’t.”
“Did it perhaps occur to you,” he asked in careful tones, “that you should not be walking on that foot?”
“It did, as a matter of fact.”
He quirked a brow. “Pride?”
She gave him a glum nod of confirmation. “Far too much of it.”
“What shall we do now?”
She looked down at her traitorous ankle. “I suppose I need to find someone to carry me there.”
There was a long pause, long enough for her to look up. But he had turned away, so all she saw was his profile. Finally, he cleared his throat and asked, “Would you like to borrow my cane?”
Her lips parted in surprise. “But don’t you need it?”
“Not for shorter distances. It helps,” he said, before she could point out that she’d never seen him without it, “but it is not strictly necessary.”
She was about to agree to his suggestion; she even reached for the cane, but then she stopped, because he was just the sort of man to do something stupid in the name of chivalry. “You can walk without the cane,” she said, looking directly into his eyes, “but does it mean that your leg will give you more pain later?”
He went quite still, and then he said, “Probably.”
“Thank you for not lying to me.”
“I almost did,” he admitted.
She allowed herself a tiny smile. “I know.”
“You have to take it now, you know.” He grasped the center of the cane and held it out so the handle was within reach. “My honesty should not go unrewarded.”
Sarah knew she should not allow him to do this. He might want to help her now, but later that day, his leg would hurt. Needlessly.
But somehow she knew that to refuse would cause him far more pain than anything his leg could give him later that day. He needed to help her, she realized.
He needed to help her far more than she needed help.
For a moment she could hardly speak.
She looked up. He was watching her with a curious expression, and his eyes . . . How was it possible his eyes grew more beautiful each time she saw him? He wasn’t smiling; the truth was, he didn’t smile that often. But she saw it in his eyes. A glint of warmth, of happiness.
It hadn’t been there that first day at Fensmore.
And it stunned her to her very toes how much she never wanted it to go away.
“Thank you,” she said decisively, but instead of the cane, she reached toward his hand. “Help me up?”
Neither was wearing gloves, and the sudden burst of warmth on her skin made her tremble. His hand wrapped firmly around hers, and with a little tug, she found herself on her feet. Or foot, really. She was balancing on the good one.
“Thank you,” she said again, somewhat alarmed at how breathless she sounded.
Wordlessly, he held out the cane, and she took it, curling her fingers around the smooth handle. It felt almost intimate, holding this object that had practically become an extension of his body.
“It’s a bit tall for you,” he said.
“I can make do.” She tested out a step.
“No, no,” he said, “you need to lean into it a bit more. Like this.” He stepped behind her and placed his hand over hers on the handle of the cane.
Sarah stopped breathing. He was so close that she could feel his breath, warm and ticklish on the tip of her ear.
“Sarah?” he murmured.
She nodded, needing a moment to find her voice again. “I-I think I have it now.”
He stepped away, and for a moment all she could feel was the loss of his presence. It was startling, and disconcerting, and . . .
And it was cold.
She shook herself out of her odd reverie. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “Woolgathering.”
He grinned. Or maybe it was a smirk. A friendly one, but still smirkish.
“What is it?” She’d never seen him smile like that.
“Just wondering where the wardrobe was.”
It took her a moment—she was sure she would have got it instantly if she’d not been so befuddled—and then she grinned right back. And then: “You called me Sarah.”
He paused. “So I did. I apologize. It was unconsciously done.”
“No,” she said quickly, jumping atop his final words. “It’s fine. I like it, I think.”