Excerpt ©2013 Thomas Nelson Publishers
He watched as her fingers made quick work of smoothing the linen strips. He didn’t realize he was staring at her face until her eyes flicked upward, her face close to his own. She nearly jumped back when their eyes met at such close proximity and dropped his arm against the table. Crimson flushed her pale cheeks, almost matching the rims of her eyes, reddened, no doubt, by the smoke’s effect. “I…I, uh, I mean, I did not mean to be so close.”
Her innocence fascinated him, distracting him from the pain. She wiped her hands on her robe and brushed long locks of loose hair from her face. “That should be good for a couple of hours, Mr. Sterling.”
She fastened the lid back on the ointment and rolled the linen strips with trembling fingers.
He was clearly having an effect on her.
Or was in presumptuous to think so?
But what he could not account for was how this quiet woman had such an effect on him.
Why was she being so kind? Did she feel obligated? Or was it merely in her character to do so?
For despite her benevolence toward him, William was uneasy, and he jerked as Rafertee’s men barreled through his mind. They had attacked him on the moors, not far from this spot. Would they also attack his property, his tenants, to prove their point? He doubted Miss Creighton would be so kind if she knew that he could ultimately be the one to blame for the fire.
The idea quickly squelched the warmness he was beginning to feel from her. She was good. It was evident in her compassion. She was different from him, and that idea both fascinated him and frightened him. Miss Creighton was how he wished he could be, but it was too late for such ideas. For he saw something in her he wanted to protect, to shield from the outside world, but how could he do that if he himself was dangerous? Unpredictable? Impulsive? If she knew the real William Sterling, knew of his past and of the danger surrounding him, she would know better than to be so kind to a man like him.
Miss Creighton, with a sharp nod of satisfaction, stood up and stepped away. “I think you will be all right now.”
“And you?” he blurted out, standing from the chair.
She whirled to look at him. “Pardon me?”
“And you?” he repeated, his boldness surprising even him. “Will you be all right?”
Their gazes locked and her lovely eyes narrowed, as if assessing his sincerity.
He needed to speak quickly, otherwise he’d think twice about speaking to her so openly. “It has been a trying night. You have been through an ordeal.”
He thought he noticed a tremor in her lip. “I’m fine.” She looked away.
But, as if entranced, he could not look away.
She was so proper. So controlled. Or at least her words were. But the expression in her eyes conveyed a message far deeper, far different.
What he would give to know her thoughts. Her real thoughts.
He noticed her hand as she returned the jar to the shelf. He reached out to warn her. “Be careful, you’re trembling.”
But his warning was too late. The jar tipped and fell. William lunged forward and caught it before the glass container smashed on the stone floor, but in doing so he brushed against her robe.
She jumped back, as if she were the one who had encountered a burn. She masked her discomfort behind a wary laugh. “How clumsy of me. My hands … I suppose it is the cold. Or, I mean, the fire. Or—” Her words stopped short. “I’m fine.”
He didn’t believe her. Not for a minute. She wasn’t fine. He held her gaze, not allowing her to look away. His stomach churned with an unfamiliar ache. For a story was hidden behind those red-rimmed eyes. Her chest rose and fell with shallow breaths. Her cheek twitched. The desire to comfort her, to protect her, welled up within him, reminiscent of feelings he thought long buried. He sensed the emotion radiating from her, and as strange as it seemed, he almost felt as if he could identify it. And at that moment he knew he’d not rest until he knew what it was.
Sarah E. Ladd received the 2011 Genesis Award in historical romance for The Heiress of Winterwood. Her latest release is The Headmistress of Rosemere. She is a graduate of Ball State University and has more than ten years of marketing experience. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing husband, sweet daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever. Connect with her online! Visit her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.
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