By Liana LeFey
Remaining true to a dead saint is nowhere near as satisfying as succumbing to the touch of a dedicated sinner...
“What the devil are you doing here?” growled Manchester, moving closer, forcing her back a step until she bumped up against the wall.
“I happen to be volunteering my services!” Perhaps, if she was quick, she could slip past him.
He must have read her thoughts, for he raised his arms and laid his palms on the wall on either side of her, trapping her.
“Still playing the martyr, Harriett?” His voice was a soft rasp that caused gooseflesh to break out across her skin despite the heat reaching across the scant space between them. “Do you really think my brother is beneficently watching from on high? That he sees and approves of your toil and sacrifice in his name? I can assure you he does not. The dead have no care for the living.”
His breath stirred the hair at her temple, and she was transported back to that awful day. William had just been buried, and this horrid man had disrupted the memorial service with his drunken irreverence. Giving him the benefit of the doubt—she’d seen he was mad with grief—she’d taken him aside to calm him.
Closing her eyes, Harriett tried not to think about what had followed, but it was impossible with his scent yelling in her nostrils: brandy, tobacco, leather, and something else she couldn’t put a finger on, something uniquely him. He’d staggered into her at the cemetery, resulting in the shock of her life. For just a moment as her hands had braced against his chest, feeling the pounding of his heart beneath, she’d looked into his pain-filled eyes...and had wanted to embrace him. Worse, she’d wanted him to return her embrace, to fold her in his arms and tell her she wasn’t al—
“Did you not hear me?” he barked, jolting her back to the present.
She hadn’t. But she wasn’t about to let him know it. “You will release me at once,” she said in her sternest manner, the one she reserved for very naughty children.
A corner of his mouth lifted as he removed his hands from the wall beside her and straightened. “The years have not mellowed you one whit, have they?”
“Nor have they made you any more of a gentleman,” she retorted before thinking better of it.
“So speaks a lady dressed as a drudge.”
She raised her chin. “The clothes do not make the person, Your Grace. I could be wearing a grocer’s sack and still remain a lady, whereas no matter how much finery you don, you will remain an uncouth pig.”
The look in his honey-brown eyes made her uneasy as he swayed and again leaned toward her. “I’m quite convinced you would remain every inch a ‘lady’ even without the grocer’s sack.” His gaze dropped to her mouth. “Or am I wrong, I wonder?”
His implication set fire to her already heated cheeks. Without thinking, she licked her suddenly dry lips. As she did so, something lit in the depths of his leonine eyes, something that caused her pulse to whoosh in her ears, her head to become light, and her body to become leaden. Instinct screamed at her to bolt, but she remained rooted to the floor, mesmerized as he drew closer still.
Stopping mere inches from her, his lips parted in another mocking smile. “I’ve often wondered what William saw in you.” He cocked his head to one side. “Now I begin to understand, I think. Unlike me, my brother always did as he was told. Whereas I favored defiance, he actually seemed to enjoy submission. He lacked the courage to challenge authority. You, however, appear to have an overabundance of spine. I’ve often heard it said that opposites attract. You must have drawn him like a lodestone.”
His drawling tone set her teeth on edge and made her palms itch. She stood her ground, refusing to show the brute any weakness. The breath she drew was shaky at best. “You, sir, are incapable of even the barest modicum of decency. And you understand nothing. Now, you will remove yourself at once and wait for me below,” she commanded, raising her arm to point the way back for him since, given the strong scent of brandy rising from his person, he probably didn’t know which way was up.
He did not move. “William might have bowed to your every whim, madam, but I certainly shall not. You will take me to see Mr. Dun. Now.”
The urge to slap him drained away along with all the blood in her head. “I will do no such thing. Because he is not here,” she added quickly. “He has already gone home.”
“Then you will provide me with his address so that I may call upon him at his residence,” he said with a slow, cheerless smile.
She squirmed. “I do not know his address.”
“Then take me to someone who does.”
“I—I don’t think—”
“My lady!” a frantic voice called from the other end of the hall. It was Nurse Hayes. “Oh,” said Hayes, taking in the scene. A flush colored her cheeks. “I didn’t realize you were with...”
Harriett watched as Manchester fixed the intruder with hard eyes. “Lady Harriett was just going to escort me to Mr. Dun’s office.”
“Mr. Dun?” repeated Hayes, blinking. “But downstairs you said you wished to see the Assistant Administrator, did you not?”
He looked at the woman as though she was an idiot. “So I did. I wish to see Mr. Dun. Now.”
“But, Your Grace, there is no Mr. Dun,” stressed Hayes. “I’ve already told you there is no one here by that name.”
With a sinking heart, Harriett watched as Hayes—who’d remained oblivious to her small, frantic signals—pointed a trembling finger at her and spoke the dreaded words.
“Lady Harriett is the Assistant Administrator.”