Seven hours later the fire had consumed everything that it could. Men were forming lines into the house and putting out smaller fires. They were very fortunate that the fire hadn’t spread. The house was in complete ruins, but other than a few burns, no one was seriously injured.

Elizabeth and the four men completely covered from head to toe in wet soot traveled by Lord Bradford’s carriage to Bethany House, her family’s London seat. No one was surprised to find the parlor full of curious women. They nodded politely, but didn’t answer any questions. They were hungry, tired and sore. All Robert wanted at that moment was a hot bath, a warm bed and perhaps a warm body to hold. His gaze shot to Elizabeth the same time that hers shot to his. They held the gaze until one of the men cleared his throat.

“I’ve had rooms set up for you and hot baths should be awaiting all of us,” Lord Norwood said, his voice was as scratchy as theirs. “I’ll have meals brought up. Get some rest and then later we’ll sit down and figure out some things.” His attention shifted to Elizabeth. She swallowed nervously and stepped back into James, who steadied her by cupping her elbow with his hand.

“Are you okay?” he whispered.

She nodded.

“Thank you for your help, Elizabeth. I don’t think we would have put the fire out as quickly or would have been this fortunate not to lose anyone in the fire if the women hadn’t joined,” James said sincerely.

“Y-you’re welcome,” she said, a bit embarrassed by all the attention.

“I would have to agree. Thank you, my dear,” Lord Bradford said, bowing to her.

Robert didn’t speak. His eyes dropped to where James held her elbow before he turned around and gestured for a footman to show him to his room.

Her father looked both proud and upset. He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Don’t ever scare me like that again. It’s not good for an old man’s heart to see his youngest daughter run into a burning building.”

“Sorry, Papa,” she mumbled as he kissed her forehead.

“Run along and get cleaned up.”

“Yes, Papa.” She forced a smile and made her way upstairs. A nice warm bed sounded so good. A nice warm strong body to curl up with sounded better. She looked towards the guest wing and sighed. That would have been very nice indeed.

Chapter 11

“Good morning, Lady Elizabeth,” he heard a footman say in greeting to the woman that hadn’t left his thoughts since the moment he’d laid eyes on her in the orangery.

He paused mid-chew, wondering if he should do them both a favor and sneak out the servants’ door and leave for the day, but the maid carrying in a fresh platter of eggs took the decision out of his hands.

With a putout sigh, he got to his feet and picked up two of his empty plates and headed for the sideboard. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elizabeth enter the breakfast room, come to an abrupt halt when she spotted him, take an anxious step back before a look of determination took over her features and she forced herself to walk into the room. So, she wasn’t a coward, he thought with a spark of admiration, that was good to know.

Because he just couldn’t help himself, he took his time loading both plates with food. He ignored the rather adorable homicidal glare that she was sending his way as she stood to the side of him, holding an empty plate as she waited for him to get the hell out of the way. When she started to tap her foot impatiently, he decided that perhaps he should add a third plate now, to save time later and to annoy the little brat. He took his time making his selections, wondering just how far he would be able to push her before she started screaming at him or threw her plate at his head, but to his surprise she didn’t say a word while he made her wait.

Feeling slightly disappointed, he picked up his plates, careful not to drop a single delicious morsel, and carried them back to his seat at the table. As he ate, he watched her make her selections, wondering if she was going to leave the room entirely or sit at the far end of the table to get away from him. She did neither, surprising him once again.

“Couldn’t stand to be away from me?” he asked when she sat down across from him, because apparently he was an idiot. He should be avoiding this woman and figuring out a way to convince his mother that he needed to leave before he did something foolish like throttle the woman sitting across from him or bend her over the table, lift up the skirts of her light pink dress and relieve the ache between his legs that was now making itself known.

Instead of answering him, she simply sat there eating quietly as she pretended as though she hadn’t heard him. He wasn’t sure why that pissed him off, but it did. Given their history it would probably be for the best if they ignored each other, but he really wanted to get a reaction out of her. He really loved it when she reacted, he thought, remembering last night when she’d been beneath him, fingernails digging into his back as he slid in and out of her incredibly tight sheath.

With a muttered curse, he focused his attention back on his food as he shifted in his chair to try and adjust his already too tight pants. Lusting after the pain in the ass wasn’t going to help him. She’d ruined his life and he’d be smart to remember that, no matter how good she’d felt in his arms.

“Good morning, Elizabeth,” his brother said as he walked into the room, sounding genuinely pleased and drawing Robert’s glare.

The betraying bastard, he thought, as he watched his brother walk over to Elizabeth, who was smiling up at the bastard, and press a kiss to the back of her hand.

“Good morning, James,” she said, smiling and not pissing him off.

Not. At. All.

When his brother reluctantly stepped away from Elizabeth to fill a plate at the sideboard, Robert’s eyes narrowed on him, taking in the well-fitted jacket and pants that fit him to perfection and then down to the borrowed clothes that he now wore and hated. They were too small, too tight and, unfortunately, too short. He looked ridiculous while his brother looked every inch the lord that he was.

All of their clothes had been ruined in the fire and the clothes that they’d worn last night had been unsalvageable. This morning he had been faced with the choice of wearing the borrowed clothes from God only knew or staying in his room wearing his drawers until some new clothes could be made and delivered to him. He should have stayed in his room, he realized with an annoyed grunt as he returned his attention back to his food.

“What are your plans for this morning?” James asked.

“Work,” he grunted, not bothering to look up from his food as he answered the bastard.

“I was talking to Elizabeth,” his brother drawled, reminding Robert that the dumb bastard was infatuated with the little pain in the ass.

Elizabeth cleared her throat before she answered. “I thought I’d go for a walk in the park since it’s such a beautiful day.”

“It’s far too cold for a walk,” his brother explained with a light chastising tone. “Why don’t I take you for a ride this afternoon in my carriage instead?”

Ah, so the courting was already beginning, Robert realized with dread, his appetite suddenly gone. Somehow he forced himself to sit there and shovel another forkful of food into his mouth as he waited for her answer.

“That sounds lovely, James. Thank you,” Elizabeth said politely, sounding pleased and forcing him to abruptly stand, knocking his chair to the floor in the process, and walk out of the room before he did something that he might truly regret.