“Let him go,” Daniel said in a weary voice, finally rising to his feet. “He is not worth a trip to the gallows.”
Sarah stared at the tip of the cane, still flush with Lord Ramsgate’s throat. It seemed to press forward, and she thought, No, he wouldn’t . . . and then, quick as mercury, the cane flew away, leaving Hugh’s grip for a split second before he caught it again and stepped away. He was favoring his injured leg, but there was something dashing about his uneven gait, something almost graceful.
He was still beautiful in motion. One had only to look.
Sarah felt herself exhale. She wasn’t certain when she had last drawn breath. She watched in silence as Lord Ramsgate pulled himself to his feet and left the room. And then she stared at the open doorway, half expecting him to return.
Dimly, she registered Hugh’s voice. But she couldn’t tear her eyes from the doorway, and she was shaking . . . her hands were shaking, and maybe her whole body was shaking.
“Sarah, are you all right?”
No. She wasn’t.
“Let me help you.”
She felt Hugh’s arm on her shoulder, and suddenly the shaking intensified, and her legs . . . What was happening to her legs? There was an awful, wrenching noise, and when she gasped for breath, she realized that it had come from her, and then suddenly she was in his arms, and he was carrying her to the bed.
“It’s all right,” he said. “Everything will be all right.”
But Sarah was no fool. And she didn’t feel all right.
Later that evening
Hugh’s hand hovered in the air for a long moment before connecting with the door in a crisp knock. He wasn’t sure what sort of shuffle had taken place among the guests, but Sarah had been moved to a room of her own upon their return to Whipple Hill. Honoria, who had arrived at the White Hart with Marcus shortly after Lord Ramsgate had departed, had set it about that Sarah had reinjured her ankle and needed to rest. If anyone was curious as to why she could not do so in the room she’d been sharing with Harriet, they had not said anything. Probably no one had even noticed.
Hugh had no idea how Daniel was explaining the black eye.
“Enter!” It was Honoria’s voice. This was not a surprise; she had not left Sarah’s side since they’d returned.
“Am I interrupting?” Hugh asked, taking just two steps into the room.
“No,” Honoria said, but he did not see her turn to face him. He could only stare at Sarah, who was sitting up in bed, a mountain of pillows propped behind her back. She was wearing the same white nightgown as—dear God, could that have been just the night before?
“You shouldn’t be here,” Honoria said.
“I know.” But he made no move to leave.
Sarah’s tongue darted out to moisten her lips. “We are betrothed now, Honoria.”
Honoria’s brows rose. “I know as well as anyone that that does not mean he should be in your bedroom.”
Hugh held Sarah’s gaze. This would have to be her decision. He would not force it.
“It has been a most uncommon day,” Sarah said quietly. “This would hardly be the most scandalous moment of it.”
She sounded exhausted. Hugh had held her the entire ride home, until her sobs had given way to a gut-wrenching stillness. When he’d looked into her eyes, they had been blank.
Shock. He knew it well.
But she looked more like herself now. If not better, then at least improved.
“Please,” he said, directing the single word to her cousin.
Honoria hesitated for a moment, then stood. “Very well,” she acquiesced, “but I will return in ten minutes.”
“An hour,” Sarah said.
“What is the worst that could happen?” Sarah asked with an incredulous expression. “We could be forced to marry? That’s already been taken care of.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Then what is the point?”
Honoria’s mouth opened and closed as she looked from Sarah to Hugh and back. “I’m supposed to be your chaperone.”
“I don’t believe that exact word crossed my mother’s lips when she was here earlier.”
“Where is your mother?” Hugh asked. Not that he was planning to make any untoward advances, but as long as he was going to be alone with Sarah for the next hour, it did seem a good fact to know.
“Supper,” Sarah replied.
Hugh pinched the bridge of his nose. “Lud, is it that late?”
“Daniel told us that you took a nap, too,” Honoria said with gentle smile.
Hugh gave a tiny nod. Or maybe it was a shake. Or an eye roll. He was turned so inside out he couldn’t even be sure. He had wanted to stay with Sarah when they’d got back to Whipple Hill, but even he had known that such a liberty would not be tolerated by her cousins. And more to the point, he had been so exhausted himself that it had been all he could do to climb the stairs and crawl into his own bed.
“They’re not expecting you,” Honoria added. “Daniel said . . . er, I don’t know what he said, but he’s always been good at credible excuses for such things.”
“And his eye?” Hugh asked.
“He said that he had a blackened eye when he met Anne, so it was only fitting that he’d have one when he married her.”
Hugh blinked. “And Anne was all right with this?”
“I can honestly say that I have no idea,” Honoria said in a prim voice.