Unclaimed (Turner 2) - Page 38

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He took one step toward her. “By God. If you knew—”

She waved one hand in the air. “But I won’t know, will I? You’ll forget this all soon enough.”

He stepped toward her, his eyes darkening from furious to murderous. “Don’t. Tell. Me.” His hands landed on her shoulders. “Don’t tell me what I’ll forget.” His grip tightened. Had he been any other man, she would have been frightened. But this was Mark; even now, his body gave the lie to the harshness of his tone. Her breath cycled in tune with the heave of his chest. His grip was firm, not hard.

“You,” he said, “have absolutely no idea.” And then his lips were on hers, pressing into her. Not just a kiss; nor even an embrace. His body pressed into hers. His skin was heated with passion; the hard ridge of his member pressed into her belly.

Love was angry. Love was hurt. And love would take anything it could get, even if it was his hands pushing her against the wall, his tongue slipping between her lips in furious anger. His hips grinding against hers. There was no love in his touch, none of the cherished sense of wonder she’d sensed in his kiss before. Just lust.

His head dipped. His teeth nipped down her neck. Jessica threw her head back and let him touch her.

I love you. Her hands found his elbows, cupped them.

He pulled away. “Print that in the paper,” he said scornfully. “I’m sure Nigel Parret would love to see it. Print that you brought me to the last edge of desire, to the point where I could scarcely pull away from you.”

“Sir Mark—”

“Print that I told you secrets I’d never dared to tell another soul.” He raised his hand to her face, moving slowly, as if to touch her in farewell. “Print that you brought me to my knees, and that when you had me there, you laughed.”

She didn’t much feel like laughing. Jessica felt beyond tears—as if she’d killed something sweet and innocent. And she had—as she’d known she must. Everything good always failed. She’d known from the start that this—his regard, his goodwill—would not last past her unmasking.

“I—I had so little choice, Mark.” Her hands fluttered. “I had to get away. I needed the money. It was this, or—”

He shook his head. “Or what? Participate in the ruin of a man who was not a willing dupe?”

She bowed her head. Her hands trembled, and she pressed them into her skirts. “You’ll never have to see me again. I’ll be gone by tomorrow.” Although heaven knew where she would go now. Or what she would do.

“Don’t bother.” His voice was tight. “I’m leaving in the morning. I don’t want to see you again, not ever.” He stepped back from her.

She reached for him. But this time he flinched from her. Her hand dangled uselessly in midair, and she let out a covert breath. “Mark. Be well.”

He gave her a jerk of a nod. And as if he hadn’t bid her farewell for life, he turned and grabbed his hat and gloves from the table. Without one backward glance, he stumbled through her doorway, and then he was gone, swallowed up by the coming evening.

He’d escaped her, and if it left her in an impossible situation…well, better her than him.

It was only when he was gone past all point of calling him back that she realized she was still holding his ring.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

THE RAIN RAN DOWN Mark’s face in slick tracks. He clutched his cloak to him, readjusted the lumpy satchel that lay warm against his side and knocked on the door.

The streets of Bristol had fallen into darkness; an oil lamp on the corner had not yet been lit by the lamplighter and only a sliver of the moon peeked out from behind a breath of ragged cloud. The satchel shifted against his ribs and then subsided before the door opened.

“Mark.”

Of course Smite answered his own door. His older brother stood in the entry, barring his path. He stared for a few seconds before he turned. “Come in. Come in.” He cast another glance at Mark’s wet form. “I wasn’t expecting you in this weather. Come to think of it, I wasn’t expecting you at all.”

Twenty-four hours ago, Mark had been so full of hope for his future. Now, he’d landed on his brother’s doorstep. He hadn’t been able to think of anywhere else to go. On the ride here—half on horseback, half by steam train—Mark had imagined himself telling the entire story to his brother a thousand times. Sometimes he’d raged; mostly, he’d been confused. But he couldn’t imagine saying a word now. It was too humiliating, for one.

Mark handed off his wet things and then set the leather satchel he’d brought from Shepton Mallet on the wooden floor.

“Can I put that away for you?”

The bag wasn’t twitching, which was a good sign.

“Never mind,” his brother said. “You look like you need a drink. Never tell me she said no.”

Why, oh, why had Mark committed his foolish, burbling hopes to a letter? And why had he sent it before he’d had a reply from her?

“Can we…can we not talk about that?”

It must have been obvious from his face that something was wrong, because instead of teasing him, his brother shrugged his shoulders. “Suit yourself.”

Anyone else would have heard that airy dismissal as unkind or uncaring. But Mark had come here because he knew his brother would understand without Mark’s having to say a single word on the subject. That was the way it was between them.

He had been to Smite’s home before. Any other man in his brother’s financial position would have set himself up in high style—a home crowded with servants eager to do his bidding. Smite, of course, eschewed all of that. He’d been branded by their mother in a way that Mark scarcely comprehended and could never explain to anyone else. Smite was too proud to admit to the difficulties under which he labored. Not even to servants.

They didn’t ask each other for anything. Perhaps that was why Mark felt comfortable giving his brother everything.

“Your satchel. It’s moving,” Smite said.

“Oh, good. That means your gift is awake.”

“A gift?” His brother stepped back, suddenly wary.

Mark felt a rush of affection. Only Smite would quail at the thought of a gift. “Yes, a gift,” he said. “A good one.” He knelt beside the satchel and unbuckled the heavy, oiled leather. He’d shielded it with his cloak through the worst of the rainstorm, and the satchel was dry inside. Still, a rough wetness swiped his fingers as he reached in.

“Here.” He pulled out the bundle—it was wriggling, and that made it feel twice as heavy—and held it out.

Smite simply stared at him. “Dear God,” he said finally. “What is that thing?”

“Somewhere in the furthest reaches of your voluminous memory, you will recall seeing similar creatures.”

“Yes,” Smite said, gingerly extending a finger. “Perhaps. Somewhat similar creatures. But in all my prior experience, I have generally encountered puppies that have…eyes. Not great mounds of fur, topped by a big black nose.” He parted the gray fur on its head, almost tentatively. “Good Lord. There are eyes in there after all.”

Mark thrust the bundle out; Smite took it, his face a pattern of bemusement. “What sort is it?”

It was all long fur, gray everywhere except the white of its feet and chest. “It’s the progeny of the most capable sheepdog in all of Somerset. But don’t think you need to rush out and purchase a flock. The owner tested it for herding instinct. Apparently, it failed utterly, thinking it much more interesting to turn up grass.”

“Hmm.” Smite set the animal down, where it stood on clumsy legs. “And I suppose you thought I needed a puppy to dribble on the floor? You imagined I wanted a beast that would demand to be taken on great circuits of the surrounding areas? You wanted to make me a slave to sticks thrown and sticks fetched? Have you any notion how much work a dog is?” His words were harsh, but his tone was light, and he gently caressed the little dog, who immediately sank its teeth into his cuff. Smite tried to pull his hand back, but the d

og dug its claws in and growled in mock play. “Don’t tell me. This is all part of a clever plan to see my shoes chewed to bits.”

“Not in the least,” Mark informed him. “I didn’t think you needed a dog. I thought the dog needed you.”

Smite looked up, his expression momentarily stricken. He looked down at the dog. “Thank you,” he said quietly. It was the only acknowledgment Mark was likely to get from him.

Gently, his brother disentangled the dog’s teeth from his coat. “Cease that behavior, Ghost,” he admonished. “Here—you may chew on this instead.”

Mark clouted him on the shoulder. “That’s my satchel, you buffoon.”

Smite didn’t answer, and when the pup grabbed one end of the strap and pulled clumsily, a smile lit his face. “Good dog.”

It was almost an hour later—after the dog had been taken outside twice, and then fed remnants of chicken, had a ball of rags constructed and rolled on the floor, and a box found for it and lined with blankets—before Smite looked over at Mark. “In the normal course of things,” he said, “I would send you out to a hotel, where you might be comfortable. I assume that’s not a good idea tonight.”


Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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