The Duchess and the Dragon (10 page)

BOOK: The Duchess and the Dragon
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HE WANTED HER.
The girl stood speechless before him, and Drake decided to have pity on her. She had, after all, saved his life. She was the one. His light. He recognized her in a way that was deeper even than her voice.
“I beg your pardon. I haven’t much to be happy about at present, but that has nothing to do with you.” He smiled at her again and saw the light in her eyes change. She was so easy to read, so vulnerable and innocent. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen such open sweetness. “You have brought me back from the darkness, and for that I am forever in your debt. So come, tell me your name.”
Her hands hung, loosely clasped together, against the front of a plain dress, but her face—dear heaven, her face—was lavish extravagance and no amount of plain attire could detract from it.
“Serena Winter. My father is Josiah Winter, a silversmith here in Philadelphia. We would take thee home until thy recovery. If that would be agreeable.”
“From the sound of things, I would say I am fortunate you decided to pay a sick call. I would not relish being out on the road, for sale as a farm hand.” He cursed. “What a mess this is! Please, would you look under this bed and see if you can find my trunk? After being delirious with fever for so many days, I feel the need to check its contents.”
Serena nodded and stooped down, the top of her head at Drake’s eye level. He stared at the plain, white bonnet, fingers itching to take it off and discover the promising richness of her hair, a color he’d never seen before. Streaks of golden and
russet in a lush caramel-honeyed mass, all tucked neatly under the prim cap.
Coming back up, she shook her head. “I see no trunk. There is nothing under thy bed.”
She jumped as he swore violently. He leaned over the side of the bed and peered under it. “Put the lantern down here, if you please.”
“Thou art sure it was here?”
“Yes!” He fumbled and almost rolled into her. “Curse this weakness!” He bit the words out as he threw himself back onto the pillow. “Everything I own, and at least four-hundred pounds . . . gone.”
Serena gasped. “But why would thee indenture thyself if thee could pay for the voyage?”
“’Tis a long and sordid tale and not meant for such innocent ears as yours,” Drake replied in clipped condescension.
“Good heavens, I do believe thou art a duke!”
“Please, could you look around the hold for a trunk?” Drake closed his eyes. His head felt as if a metal spike was being thrust through it, and he didn’t have the mental strength to spar with her.
He heard her rise and walk about the hold, could envision her peering into corners and crevices with her lantern-light. He was afraid to hope and yet, couldn’t help himself.
At her returning steps, he opened his eyes. Her fingers twisted together as she delivered the news. “I am sorry, sir. I cannot find a trunk. It would appear thou hast been robbed.”
The blow was almost physical. He turned his head away, fearing what he might say or do.
“I am a slave in truth, then.” He shut his eyes once more, wishing the blackness would come back, that it would consume him and last forever, setting him free from the horror that was now his life.
But it would not.
His light stood before him, like some guardian angel of old, and he didn’t know if he would come to love her or hate her. But he did know for certain that nothing was ever going to be the same.
Chapter Seven
After Drake was moved to his new bedchamber, the fever spiked again and he spent another two days in and out of a semi-delirious state. The house was like many other houses on Letitia Street, made of orderly, red brick with a neat exterior—a central door, large windows on either side, and a row of three windows looking out from the second story for the girls to peer down at the street, spying and making up outlandish stories about the people coming and going. Josiah, always interested in modern inventions, had installed working sash windows that slid up and down, which the girls would open to catch a summer breeze and lean out of.
There were four rooms downstairs, plastered and whitewashed, with a narrow stairway between them. The front rooms comprised the parlor and the dining room. The two rooms in the back of the house were bedchambers, that of Serena’s parents and another that Serena and Mary Ann shared. It was this room they’d converted into a bedchamber for Drake.
Behind the house was the kitchen and the necessary room, both separate buildings. The upstairs held one large bedchamber for the four younger daughters, which had plenty of room for Serena and Mary Ann to squeeze in while their guest recuperated—not that Serena was getting much sleep.
Her mind was filled with him. His confused semi-consciousness told them more of who he was than if he’d been awake. Serena was put in charge of nursing him back to health, but her mother was ever careful that the door was always left open and others were about. Serena knew her mother had noticed the dreamy, blushing, stuttering state that had suddenly come upon her. Everyone had, save Lidy, and she was only four.
How mortifying to lose one’s composure so thoroughly. Why, men had been calling on her for several years now and she had never had any difficulty being herself around them.
It was . . . frustrating. Absurd even.
“Thou art about to wash that dish clean away, Serena.” Kindness rested in her mother’s smile. “Why dost thou not take him some tea? He seemed to like the last cup better.”
With a guilty flush Serena put down the plate. “Yes, I believe I shall.” She carefully measured out the sugar and put a drop of milk in it—just the way he liked it. Even in his weakened state he had a way of letting everyone know what he expected. “And he certainly knows what he likes!” Serena snorted.
Her mother laughed. “What?”
“Oh, I do not know. I was just thinking how we bend and scrape to his every desire. Why do we do it? After all, he is supposed to be our servant, is he not?”
Her mother laughed. “’Tis strange. But there will be time enough for him to adjust to his new status once he is well. And thanks to thee, that should be soon, and we will have him out from under our feet.”
Serena knew she must have looked stricken at the thought of him leaving, for her mother laughed again and squeezed Serena’s hand. “Oh my dear, thou must tread carefully. I foresee a broken heart from a man such as he.” Pulling back, her mother cupped Serena’s face. “I know how thou feelest, but we know so little about him. Like a handsome, dark devil he is, and not a Friend.” She paused, shaking her head slowly back and forth, her eyes penetrating. “I will not see thee hurt.”
Serena couldn’t help herself. She wailed, “I do not know what is happening to me! Why can he not be a Quaker?”
Her mother sighed. “I know. I have spoken with thy father and we both feel this man has many secrets—and pain, even aside from the illness he now fights. He is dangerous, Serena, and will soon be gone. Thou must accept that. Anyway, what of Christopher? He should be here to visit again soon.”
Christopher! Oh, how could she have forgotten? And why did she feel no emotion, no joy, no dread, no . . . anything at the reminder? “I suppose he will.”
“Thee
supposest
he will?” Her mother’s brows arched. “Thou art not excited for his visit?”
“Yes . . . of course. It is always good to see Christopher . . .” She shrugged. What else was there to say?
“But not so very good now? Serena, have a care. Christopher has deep feelings for thee.”
Serena nodded. “I know. I fear I have little to give him back.”
Her mother sighed. “There are many kinds of love, Serena. The feelings thou hast for Mr. Winslow seem powerful and overwhelming, I am sure.” Her eyes took on a faraway gleam. “There was once a young man I thought I loved. I was convinced life would cease to have meaning without him. That all ended when he left town with a friend of mine. They never married. He ruined her, in more ways than the obvious. He nearly ruined me. I was so close to giving him everything, and all he gave me were empty promises.”
She tilted her head and a soft, sad smile touched her lips. “Now I am grateful it was not me he asked to run away with him. Now I can look back and see the shy Josiah in the wings: honest, good, caring, and right for me. Thy father might not have inspired the height of emotion in me as did the other young man. But thy father loved in depths. Depths I did not understand at the time, but depths upon which we have built a life. Knights in shining armor are more often are cloaked in nothing but plain, brown wool.”
Serena couldn’t imagine her mother ever being in love with a man other than her father. “Thank thee for telling me that. I will remember.”
Her mother gave her a squeeze. “Now take his royal highness his tea—” she laughed—“and we’ll leave to thy father the task of teaching him servitude.”
Serena’s eyes widened with shocked laughter. “Poor Father.”
DRAKE LOOKED AROUND the room, not particularly liking the disdain he felt for it, but feeling it none the same. It was positively sparse. Plain white walls, no paintings, no tapestries, no rug to warm one’s feet on the cold wood floor. There were plain, cream-colored linen curtains and a few pieces of furniture made of sturdy oak—heavy, dark, serviceable: a simple highboy, a small chest at the foot of the bed, and the four-poster bed without curtains where he was currently reclining. But the bed was stuffed with soft feathers and conditions were vastly more comfortable than those in the ship’s hold. He was grateful for the warmth, the care these people had given him, the many kindnesses. He felt almost good enough to get up and wondered how much longer he could endure the sickbed.
He was contemplating what he might do first when he got out of it when Serena glided in bearing a loaded tray and a surprisingly handsome silver tea service. She set it down on the round table with a clatter and then turned to face him, her hands held loosely behind her back, a shy smile on her face—an expression endearing and stirring at the same time. It never ceased to amaze him, this effect she had on his senses. Drake Weston was no stranger to beautiful women. Some of the most sought-after women in English society had sought after him. But none had given him the physical jolt this simple but lovely creature did just by smiling at him.
“Thou art feeling better?”
His smile deepened. He could listen to her
thees
and
thous
all day long. Her voice had such a lilting quality to it. “Yes—” he cleared his throat, still a little hoarse from disuse—“thank you.”
“I brought tea and toast.” She smiled again at him, this time with adoring eyes. Did she have the vaguest idea what she was doing to him? “Just the way thou likest.” She smiled, handing him the cup.
A memory of abruptly correcting her yesterday flitted across his mind, and he frowned. “Thank you. I beg your pardon if I was demanding yesterday. I am unused to lying abed. It seems to have a grating effect on my nerves.” He gave her the practiced smile that never failed to melt a woman’s heart.
She didn’t seem to notice, only waved it off with an endearing, delicate move of her hand. “Thou art forgiven.” Handing him a plate she perched on the feather mattress beside him and reached out to feel his forehead. “Thy fever has broken and thy eyes look clear. I do believe thee will recover, sir.”
“Please, you may call me Drake. ‘Sir’ makes me feel old enough to be your father.”
“Drake.” His name was breathless on her lips. “What does it mean?”
The jolt coursed through him again. No one had ever asked him that. He reached over and took her hand. Rubbing little circles in her palm with the pad of his thumb he said deeply, “
Dragon,
I believe. My father was obsessed with them.”
“Oh.”
She would be so easy to seduce. Drake drew her hand to his mouth and just touched the backs of her fingers with his lips. She inhaled sharply, and he smiled. “I don’t have to ask what Serena means.” He watched the play of emotions on her face. “’Tis obvious.” He glided her fingertips across his lips. “And so fitting.”
Serena gasped, snatching her hand away. Hot color filled her face. “What art thou doing?”
Drake released an abrupt laugh. Some part of him, some part he hadn’t known was there, felt like he had known her forever. “I don’t know. I fear I lose my grasp on reality and propriety when you are near.” He looked down at the covers for a moment, pondering the surprising truth in his own words, then looked back at her with a grin. “But since I am forever begging your pardon, I will beg for something else instead.”
BOOK: The Duchess and the Dragon
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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