Until You (Westmoreland Saga 3) - Page 10

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“We might,” Stephen said dryly, “but she will have precious little to tell you.” Taking pity on the solicitor, he added, “Her injury was to the head and severe enough to cause a loss of memory, which Dr. Whitticomb believes is a temporary condition. Unfortunately, although her health is mostly restored, her memory isn’t.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Matthew said sincerely. Thinking that concern for the young woman had somewhat diminished the earl’s usual perspicacity, he suggested diplomatically, “Perhaps her maid could be of help?”

“I’m certain she could. If I knew where she was.” With veiled amusement, Stephen watched the solicitor struggle to keep his face from showing any emotion whatsoever. “I sent someone to her cabin within minutes after the accident, but the maid was nowhere to be found. One of the crew members thought she might have been English, so perhaps she went home to her family.”

“I see,” Matthew replied, but he still wasn’t overly concerned. “In that case, we’ll begin our inquiry on the ship.”

“It sailed the following morning.”

“Oh. Well, what about her trunks? Was there anything in them to give us a clue as to her family’s direction?”

“There might have been. Unfortunately, her trunks sailed with the ship.”

“You’re certain?”

“Quite. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, my only concern was to get her medical attention at once. The following morning, I sent for her trunks, but the Morning Star had already sailed.”

“Then we’ll begin our search at the ship’s office. There’s bound to be a passenger manifest and a cargo manifest, and they’ll be able to tell us what her ports of call were in America.”

“Start with the shipping office,” Stephen agreed. He stood up, concluding the interview, and Matthew promptly arose, his mind already on the search he was about to instigate.

“I’ve only been to the Colonies once,” he said. “I shan’t mind another visit.”

“I’m sorry to have cut your holiday short,” Stephen repeated. “However, there’s another reason for urgency, beyond the obvious one. Whitticomb is becoming concerned that her memory hasn’t shown the slightest sign of returning. I’m hoping that seeing people from her past may help.”

12

As he’d promised, Stephen went upstairs to see her later that evening. He’d made it a practice to visit her twice each day, and although he kept them very brief and impersonal, he found himself nevertheless looking forward to them. He knocked on her door, and when there was no response, he hesitated then knocked again. Still no reply. Evidently his instructions that a maid was to be with her at all times had not been followed. Either that or the servant had fallen asleep on duty. Both possibilities angered him, but his primary emotion was alarm for his houseguest. She’d wanted to leave her bed. If she’d decided to try it, despite his instructions, and then collapsed with no one there to help her or sound an alarm . . . Or if she’d lapsed back into unconsciousness . . .

He shoved the door open and strode into the chambers. The empty chambers. Baffled and annoyed, he looked at the bed, which had been neatly made up. Evidently the little idiot had not seen fit to follow his orders, and neither had the maid!

A soft sound made him swing around. And stop cold.

“I didn’t hear you come in,” his houseguest said, walking out of the dressing room. Clad in a white dressing gown that was too large for her, with a hairbrush in one hand and a blue towel loosely draped over her head, she stood before him barefoot, unselfconscious, and completely unrepentant for ignoring his instructions.

Having just been needlessly subjected to several awful moments of fear, Stephen reacted with a flash of annoyance, followed by relief, and then helpless amusement. She’d borrowed a gold cord from the draperies and tied it around her waist to hold the white dressing robe closed, and with her bare toes peeping out from beneath the long robe and that light blue towel over her head like a veil, she reminded him of the barefoot Madonna. Instead of the real Madonna’s serenely sweet smile, however, this madonna was wearing an expression that looked bewildered, accusing, and distinctly unhappy, all at once. She did not make him wait to find out the cause.

“Either you’re extremely unobservant, my lord, or else your eyesight is afflicted.”

Caught completely off-guard, Stephen said cautiously, “I’m not certain what you mean.”

“I mean my hair,” she said miserably, pointing an accusing finger to whatever was concealed beneath the towel.

He remembered that her hair had been matted with blood, and assumed the wound to her scalp had bled even after Whitticomb had stitched it. “It will wash right out,” he assured her.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” she said ominously. “I already tried that.”

“I don’t understand . . .” he began.

“My hair is not brown—” she clarified as she swept the towel away and picked up a fistful of the offending tresses to illustrate the problem. “Look at it. It’s red!”

She sounded revolted, but Stephen was speechless, completely transfixed by a heavy mass of shiny, flaming strands that tumbled in waves and curls over her shoulders and the bodice of her robe and down her back. She released the handful she was holding, and it ran through her fingers like liquid fire. “Jesus . . .” he breathed.

“It’s so . . . so brazen!” she said unhappily.

Belatedly realizing that her real fiancé wouldn’t be standing there, staring at something he would have already seen, Stephen reluctantly withdrew his gaze from the most magnificent, and unusual, head of hair he had ever seen. “Brazen?” he repeated, wanting to laugh.

She nodded and then impatiently shoved aside a glossy panel of coppery locks that slid away from her center part and draped itself over her forehead and left eye.

“You don’t like it,” he summarized.

“Of course not. Is that why you didn’t want to tell me its real color?”

Stephen seized the excuse she’d inadvertently handed him and nodded, his gaze shifting back to that exotic hair. It was a perfect frame to set off her delicate features and porcelain skin.

It began to register on Sheridan that the expression on his face wasn’t revulsion at all. In fact, he looked almost . . . admiring? “Do you like it?”

Stephen liked it. He liked every damn thing about her. “I like it,” he said casually. “I gather that red hair isn’t quite the thing in America?”

Sheridan opened her mouth to answer, and realized she didn’t know the answer. “I . . . don’t see how it could be. And I don’t think it is in England.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because the maid who helped me admitted after I pressed her that she had never seen a head of hair this color in her entire life. She looked perfectly appalled.”

“Whose opinion matters most?” he countered smoothly.

“Well, when you put it that way . . .” Sheridan said, feeling shy and overheated beneath the warmth of his smile. He was so beautiful—in a dark, manly way—that it was difficult not to stare at him and even more difficult to believe he’d actually chosen her above all the women in his own country. She loved his company, his humor, and the gentle way he treated her. She counted the hours between his visits, looking forward eagerly to each one, but the visits had all been very brief and completely uninformative. As a result, she still knew nothing about herself, or about him, or about their past relationship. She was no longer willing to exist in limbo, waiting for her capricious memory to return at any moment and provide the answers.

She’d understood Lord Westmoreland’s point of view, which was that she shouldn’t jeopardize her health by overtaxing her mind, but her body was healed now. She’d gotten out of bed, bathed, and washed her hair, and then put on the dressing robe, in order to prove to him that she was well enough now to ask questions and hear answers. Her legs felt wobbly, but that might be due to a lingering weakness from her ordeal or, more likely, it was anoth

er symptom of the flustered nervousness she sometimes felt in his presence.

She nodded toward a pair of inviting gold-silk-covered sofas positioned near the fireplace. “Would you mind if we sat down? I’m afraid I’ve been in bed so long that my legs have grown weak from disuse.”

“Why didn’t you say something before?” Stephen said, already stepping aside so that she could precede him.

“I wasn’t certain it was allowed.”

She curled up on the sofa, tucked her bare feet beneath her, and arranged the dressing robe neatly around her. One of the things she’d obviously forgotten, Stephen noted, was that well-bred young ladies did not entertain gentlemen who were not their husbands in their boudoir. Stephen, on the other hand, was as aware of this as he was his own transgression in being there. He chose to ignore both issues in favor of his own desires. “Why did you say you weren’t certain you were allowed to sit down?”

Her embarrassed gaze slid to the fireplace, and Stephen felt absurdly deprived of the delight of her face, and absurdly pleased when she looked back at him. “I understand from Constance—the maid—that you’re an earl.”

She looked at him as if she almost hoped he’d deny it, which made her the most unusual woman he’d ever met.

“And?” he said when she didn’t continue.

“And that I ought properly to address you as ‘my lord.’?” When he merely lifted his brows, waiting, she admitted, “Among the things I do seem to know is that in the presence of a king, one does not sit unless invited to do so.”

Stephen suppressed the urge to shout with laughter. “I am not a king, however, merely an earl.”

“Yes, well, I wasn’t certain if the same protocol applied.”


Tags: Judith McNaught Westmoreland Saga Romance
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