Unclaimed (Turner 2) - Page 29

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It was only then that he let himself observe his surroundings. He’d traveled miles upstream from his mother’s house. In the distance, he could see the blackened bricks of a factory—one that no doubt had been burned back in the troubled times. Times his own family had precipitated. If he’d needed another reason to avoid the dangers that awaited him if he gave in to his animal needs, those dark stones stood as a whispering reminder. This wasn’t about him or his selfish, burning want for a woman.

Mark wasn’t his father. He wasn’t his mother. But…he might duplicate their mistakes, if he let himself slip.

Even with an hour between him and that kiss, even with his every thought bent toward expunging the sense of heat, he could still feel the pressure of her lips against his. No. There was nothing for it. He was going to have to stop indulging himself. He was going to have to stop pretending that his want for her was anything other than animal desire.

He was going to have to stop seeing her.

So why did that decision feel so wrong?

That twinge of regret he felt, that soul-deep gasp that filled him…

That was only further proof that she was the last woman on earth he needed to be thinking about.

With that decision firmly in hand, he turned and headed for home. The walk back took longer, now that he was no longer trying to outrace his own desires. If anything, he was almost reluctant to turn to his house again. It was cold and empty, filled with the ghosts of his childhood: precisely not the calm comfort he needed to keep his life in regular order.

When he was a child, there had been scant opportunity for quiet and comfort. But still, there had been times when his mind cleared, when the everyday bustle had been taken away. In times like this, with his fears cascading about him with no escape, he found an almost meditative calm in reciting words he’d long memorized.

Lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shall make me to understand wisdom secretly.

The words were familiar, restful. A muttered incantation, offered to his own fitful spirit.

Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness. Renew a right spirit within me.

That was what he wanted more than anything—to be refreshed, to not fear his own thoughts. But peace didn’t come. Nothing eased the turmoil he felt. No quiet. No calm. His thoughts made a whirlpool around him.

He made his way along the embankment of the mill-leat, the water running fiercely beside him, until he saw the familiar shape of home. It was just as he remembered it: gray and chilly in the late afternoon, fading into the brackish fenlike underbrush around it. Tonight, it would be dank and lonely. Mark sighed, wishing for the first time that one of his brothers had come with him.

When he was within a few yards of the entrance, movement off to the side distracted him.

He turned.

There was a moment of staggering stillness, as if the maelstrom of his discontent had simply frozen in place. As if every argument he’d conducted with himself had fallen in on itself. As if she had come here in answer to his desperation.

She brought him no calm. No quiet. If he hated excess, he should despise the sight of her.

He didn’t.

Jessica, his body whispered.

“Mrs. Farleigh,” he said instead.

“Sir Mark.” She was wearing a heavy cloak, covering her from neck to ankle. Her head was bowed, not in reverence, but as if she were carrying a heavy burden. She looked up, and her eyes sought his.

At the look in them—that haunted, sad look—he wanted to go to her and put his arms about her. He wanted to turn and barricade himself behind the heavy wooden planks of his door. He wanted her never to feel sorrow again. He wanted to make it all better. He wasn’t sure if she was the answer to his desperate prayer, or temptation sent from the other side.

“I know how improper this must seem,” she said. “Particularly after what transpired earlier today. I know what you must think. But I did not come here to enlarge on our prior…discussion. Truly. I came because there is no one else I can turn to.”

She took another step toward him, and he could make out the tight lines around her eyes, the tremble of her hands. There was nothing fabricated about her distress.

“Mrs. Farleigh,” he repeated. He should send her away. He’d just decided that he could have nothing more to do with her. He should tell her to unburden her problems on the rector and be shut of the situation.

Right. And the man would no doubt paw at her breast and then blame her for tempting him.

No. Mark was many things, but he was not the sort of man who would walk away from a woman in trouble. Especially not this woman. This maddening, tempting, arousing woman.

He hadn’t responded, and she clasped her hands in front of her—not in entreaty, but in an unconscious movement. “We can speak out here, if it makes you more easy. I brought my cloak and an umbrella, just in case. But I want—no, I need—to talk with someone.”

And that’s when Mark knew that he was in even more trouble than he’d believed. Because all it took was that one plea, and the objections he’d had against her, so carefully considered, disappeared in smoke. And all he could think of was her.

CHAPTER TWELVE

JESSICA GASPED in relief when Sir Mark silently opened the door and ushered her inside. He took her cloak and hung it on a hook. But he didn’t say anything as he conducted her down the long hall she’d walked once before. Once they’d reached the parlor, he silently gestured her to a seat in front of the fireplace. It was beginning to cool down; inside, it was actually cold. He set logs in the cavern of a fireplace with easy assurance before reaching for a small bellows and encouraging the embers to spark to life.

He did all of this without touching her, without a brush of his fingers against her neck. She was glad of it.

Flames licked up, devouring wood. He pulled the grate in front of the fire once more and turned to her. His gaze touched her eyes, dropped to her hands, pale and clasped together.

“You’re chilled,” he said. He spoke so matter-of-factly, she would never have known they’d kissed earlier. She might have thought there was nothing between them but bare facts. “Would you like some tea?”

“No.” Her fingers spasmed, and she burrowed them into her skirt. “No. I don’t like tea.”

He must have heard something in her voice, because he cocked his head and looked at her. But he didn’t press her any further. “Coffee?” he asked. “Warmed milk?”

“I don’t suppose yo

u have any port.” The words escaped her.

But he didn’t look offended at the notion that a woman might do something so unladylike as take strong spirits. Instead, his eyes crinkled in amusement, and he turned and left. Rustling sounds, and then a long creak, floated into the room. He came back a few minutes later, with a pair of tumblers and a dusty bottle.

“No port,” he told her. “But—” he hefted the green glass “—I do have a bottle of the local apple brandy. Have you ever tried any?”

She shook her head.

He wrested the cork from the bottle and then poured a splash of the caramel-colored liquid into a glass. “It’s a local tradition.” He handed this over—their fingers did not touch—and then he poured himself a more generous measure.

She just needed to steady her nerves. A sip, that’s all. She was beginning to feel foolish for having come here.


Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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