But he had done all that. Hugh Prentice had done everything humanly possible to make things right, and still he was not at peace.
He was such a good man. He defended young girls and unicorns. He waltzed with a cane. He did not deserve to have his life defined by a single mistake.
Sarah Pleinsworth had never done anything by half measures, and she knew that if she loved this man, that meant that she would devote her life to making him understand one simple fact.
He was precious. And he deserved every drop of happiness that came his way.
She reached up and touched her finger to his lips. They were soft, and wondrous, and she felt honored just to feel his breath on her skin. “Sometimes at breakfast,” she whispered, “I can’t stop looking at your mouth.”
He trembled. She loved that she could make him tremble.
“And your eyes . . . ,” she continued, emboldened by his reaction. “Women would kill for eyes that color, did you know?”
He shook his head, and something about his expression—so baffled, so overcome—made her smile with pure joy. “I think you’re beautiful,” she whispered, “and I think . . .” Her heart skipped a beat, and she caught her lower lip between her teeth. “I hope that mine is the only opinion that matters.”
He leaned down and lightly touched his lips to hers. He kissed her nose, then her brow, and then, after one long moment when his eyes held hers, he kissed her again, this time holding nothing back.
Sarah let out a moan, the husky sound becoming trapped in his mouth. His kiss was hungry, ravenous, and for the first time in her life, she understood passion.
No, this was more than passion.
This was need.
He needed her. She could feel it in his every movement. She could hear it in the harsh rasp of his breath. And with every touch of hand, every flick of his tongue, he was stoking that same need in her. She had not known it was possible to crave another human being with such intensity.
Her fingers found the untucked hem of his shirt, and she slid her hand under the edge, skimming lightly over his skin. His muscles jumped beneath her touch, and he drew a sharp breath, the air whispering past her cheek like a kiss.
“You don’t know,” he rasped. “You don’t know what you do to me.”
She could see the passion in his eyes; it made her feel womanly and strong. “Tell me,” she whispered, and she arched her neck to bring herself up to his lips for a soft, fleeting kiss.
For a moment she thought he might. But he just shook his head and murmured, “It would be the death of me.” Then he kissed her again, and she didn’t care what she did to him, just so long as he kept doing the same thing to her.
“Sarah,” he said, lifting his lips from hers for just long enough to whisper her name.
“Hugh,” she whispered back, and she could hear her grin in her own voice.
He drew back. “You’re smiling.”
“I can’t stop,” she admitted.
He touched her cheek, gazing down at her with such emotion that for a moment she forgot to breathe. Was it love she saw in his eyes? It felt like love, even if he had not said the words.
“We have to stop,” he said, and he gently tugged her nightgown back to its proper place.
Sarah knew he was right, but still she whispered, “I wish we could stay.”
Hugh let out a hoarse chuckle, almost as if he was in pain. “Oh, you have no idea how much I wish the same thing.”
“It’s hours yet until dawn,” she said softly.
“I won’t ruin your reputation,” he said, bringing her hand to his lips. “Not like this.”
A bubble of mirth floated inside her. “Does that mean you intend to ruin me some other way?”
His smile turned hot as he stood and pulled her to her feet. “I would very much like to. But I shouldn’t call it ruining. Ruin is what happens to a reputation, not what happens between a man and a woman. Or at least,” he added, his voice dropping sensually, “not what happens between us.”
Sarah shivered with delight. Her body felt so alive; she felt so alive. She did not know how she managed to walk back to the house. Her feet wanted to run, and her arms wanted to wrap themselves around the man next to her, and her voice wanted to laugh, and deep inside . . .
Deep inside . . .
She was giddy. Giddy with love.
He walked her to her door. No one was up and about; as long as they were quiet, they had nothing to fear.
“I will see you tomorrow,” Hugh said, lifting her hand to his lips.
She nodded but said nothing. She could not think of a word big enough to capture everything that was in her heart.
She was in love. Lady Sarah Pleinsworth was in love.
And it was grand.
The following morning
“Something is wrong with you.”
Sarah blinked the sleep out of her eyes and looked at Harriet, who was perched on the edge of their four-poster bed, watching her with considerable suspicion.
“What are you talking about?” Sarah grumbled. “Nothing is wrong with me.”
This caught her off guard. “I can’t smile?”
“Not first thing in the morning.”
Sarah decided there could not possibly be an appropriate response and went back to her morning routine. Harriet, however, was in full curiosity mode and followed her to the washbasin, eyes narrowed, head tilted, and letting out dubious little “hmmms” at irregular intervals.
“Is something amiss?” Sarah inquired.
Good heavens, and people called her dramatic. “I’m trying to wash my face,” Sarah said.