Until You (Westmoreland Saga 3) - Page 8

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She tried to think of something clever, but her mind went blank.

She tried to think of a charming phrase, and her mind remained blank. Trying to stay calm, she settled for thinking of her face. Her face . . .

She had no face.

SHE HAD NO FACE!

Some instinct or latent character trait was struggling to keep her calm, but terror was beginning to quake through her. She couldn’t remember her name. She couldn’t remember his name. SHE COULDN’T REMEMBER HER OWN FACE.

Stephen felt as if his hand had suddenly been clamped in a vise that was biting into his fingers, cutting off their blood supply. He tried to pull free of its painful grasp, but it held onto him. After three days without sleep, it took a supreme effort just to force his eyes open enough to peek between the heavy lids at whatever was causing his hand to go numb. Instead of finding a pitchfork buried in his fingers, he saw a woman lying in the bed beside him. Since that situation certainly wasn’t unusual enough to startle him from his dazed stupor, he simply twisted his hand to free it a little so that he could go back to sleep. But because courtesy to the opposite sex had been drummed into his head since childhood, and because the woman had looked truly frantic, he managed to form a polite inquiry about her problem just as his eyes closed and he began sinking into a deep sleep. “What’s wrong?”

Her voice shook with alarm. “I don’t know what I look like!”

Stephen had known other women who were obsessed with their appearance, but this female’s concern—in a dimly lit boudoir in the middle of the night—verged on the ridiculous. Given that, he didn’t feel obliged to even open his eyes when she tightened her grip and frantically implored, “What do I look like?”

“Ravishing,” he stated tonelessly. His entire body ached, which, he belatedly realized, was because she was in the bed and he wasn’t. He was trying to muster the strength to ask her to move over, when he heard the unmistakable sound of stifled crying. Turning his head away from the sound, he wondered irritably what he had done to make her cry and resolved to have Wheaton send her a pretty trinket to atone for whatever it was—a ruby brooch, or something. The desire for an expensive piece of jewelry was, more often than not, the underlying cause of most feminine bouts of delicate tears. Even in his sleep, Stephen knew that.

Her crying promptly escalated to serious, anguished weeping, punctuated with gulped breaths and shuddering. Whatever he’d done to cause this outburst, it was far more than merely forgetting to compliment her gown or breaking an engagement for the theatre. This outburst was going to cost him a diamond necklace!

A convulsive sob shook her entire body along with the bedcovers.

And a matching bracelet.

Exhausted in body and spirit, he drifted deeper into slumber, reaching for the bliss of it, but something she’d said was holding him back, tugging at him. “I don’t know how I look . . . don’t know . . . don’t know.”

Stephen’s eyes snapped open, and he jerked his head toward her. She’d turned her face away and covered her mouth with her left hand in an attempt to silence her cries, but shudders were still racking her body. Her eyes were closed, but tears were trickling steadily from beneath her long wet lashes and streaking down her pale cheeks. She was weeping her heart out, but she was fully conscious and lucid, and his relief at that outweighed his guilt over her tears.

“I wasn’t awake enough to understand your question before,” he said quickly. “I apologize.”

Her body stiffened at the sound of his voice, and he saw the gallant struggle she made to bring herself under control before she turned her head on the pillow and looked at him.

“What’s wrong?” he said carefully, gentling his voice to what he hoped was a soothing tone.

Sheridan swallowed, taken aback by how tired he still looked and how relieved. He must have been worried to death about her for days, she realized, feeling foolish and ungrateful for weeping like an infant over what in reality was little more than a temporary inconvenience. A bizarre, frightening inconvenience, to be sure, but it wasn’t as if she’d been crippled or maimed or diagnosed with some deadly ailment. Guided by an instinctive desire to make the best of a difficult situation, she drew a shaky breath and gave him an apologetic smile. “I—It sounds absurd, but I don’t know what I look like, and it—” she broke off, unwilling to distress him by telling him how frightening that was. “It’s a trifling thing, really, but since you’re already awake, could you just describe me a little?”

Stephen recognized her attempt to control her fear as well as reassure him—which struck him as remarkably and touchingly brave. “Describe you . . .” he said, stalling for time. He didn’t know the color of her hair, and he was afraid of how she might react if she saw herself in a mirror, so he tried to pass the entire issue off as a joke. “At the moment, your eyes are puffy and red,” he said with a smile as he flicked a quick glance at her eyes to gather additional information, “but they’re . . . very large and . . . gray,” he concluded with some surprise.

In fact, she had startling eyes, Stephen realized—light silvery gray at the center with a thin outline of black at the edges and set off with that luxurious fringe of long sable lashes.

“Gray?” Sheridan said, disappointed. “I don’t think I like that.”

“Right now, when they’re wet, they look like liquid silver.”

“Perhaps they aren’t so very bad. What about the rest of me?”

“Well, your face is pale and streaked with tears, but it’s a rather nice face, despite that.”

She looked torn between horror, tears, and laughter. To his relief and surprise, she decided to smile. “What color is my hair?”

“At the moment,” he prevaricated quickly, “your hair is concealed by a large white . . . er . . . turban. Wearing a turban to bed has become all the rage, as you know.” The night of the accident, the light had been poor and her hair had been covered, first with a hood and then with her blood. Still, her lashes were brown, so it stood to reason her hair would be. “Your hair is brown,” he said decisively. “Dark brown.”

“It took you rather a long time to decide.”

She was watching him closely, puzzled but not suspicious.

“I’m not very observant—about some things,” he countered, inanely he thought.

“May I see a mirror?”

Stephen wasn’t certain how she’d react if she didn’t recognize her face even when she saw it in a mirror, and he wasn’t certain if she’d panic when she saw her head swathed in bandages and the dark bruise near her temple. He was, however, certain that when the time came for her to look in a mirror, he wanted Whitticomb here in case she needed medication. “Another day,” he said. “Perhaps tomorrow. Or when the bandages are removed.”

Sheridan sensed why he didn’t want her to look at a mirror, and since she wasn’t up to another bout of terror and had no desire to make things any more trying for him than she already had, she reverted to their earlier remarks about turbans. “Turbans are very practical, I suppose. They save one the bother of using brushes and combs, and all that.”

“Exactly,” Stephen said, marvelling at the grace and courage she displayed under such extreme duress. He was so grateful she was able to talk and so touched by her attitude that it seemed perfectly natural, perfectly right, to cover her hand with his, smile into those amazing silvery eyes, and tenderly inquire, “Are you in much pain? How do you feel?”

“I have a bit of a headache, that’s all,” she admitted, returning his smile as if that, too, were natural and right. “You needn’t worry that I feel as badly as I look.”

Her voice was soft and sweet, and yet her expression was open and direct. She’d indicated a feminine concern about her appearance earlier, then calmly accepted that she did not look her best, and now she was actually joking about it. All those things gave Stephen the distinct impression that pretense and pretension were completely foreign to her, and that she was refreshingly unique in those ways and prob

ably many other delightful ways, as well.

Unfortunately, that realization led instantly to another—one that banished his pleasure and made him quickly withdraw his hand from hers. There was nothing natural, nothing right, about what he was doing or the way he was thinking about her. He was not her fiancé, as she believed; he was the man who was responsible for her fiancé’s death. Common decency, respect for the young man he had killed, and just plain ordinary good taste all dictated that he keep his distance mentally and physically. He was the last man on earth who had the right to touch her or think about her in any personal sort of way.

Hoping to end his visit on a light note, he stood up, rotating his sore shoulders, trying to work the kinks out of them. Reverting to her last comment about her looks, he said, “All in all, if I had to describe you at this moment, I’d say you look like a fashionable mummy.”

She giggled weakly at that, but she was tiring, and he saw it. “I’ll send a maid in with breakfast. Promise me you’ll eat something.” She nodded, and he turned to leave.

“Thank you,” she said quietly behind him, and he turned back, puzzled.


Tags: Judith McNaught Westmoreland Saga Romance
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