He did not take her up on that revealing slip. ‘Unfortunately there are many who confuse the outer form, over which I have no control, and for which I can claim no credit, for the inner character. And, it seems, there are many ladies who would welcome a certain amount of...adventure in their lives.’ He shrugged. ‘Men are just as foolish over a pretty face, uncaring whether it hides a vacuous mind or fine intelligence. You must have observed it. But the pretty young ladies are chaperoned,’ he added with a rueful smile.
‘And no one protects the handsome men?’ Isobel enquired. She had managed to lift her hand to his, but it stayed there instead of obeying her and pushing his fingers away. She felt very strange now, not quite in her own body. There was a singing in her ears. She forced herself to focus. ‘You are telling me that you are the victim here?’
‘We men have to look after ourselves. I am vulnerable, certainly. If I acquire a reputation for flirting, or worse, with the unmarried daughters of the houses where I work, I will not secure good commissions at profitable country estates.’ His mouth twisted wryly. ‘Repelling single young ladies has become second nature and a certain cynicism about the motives of those who show an interest is, under the circumstances, inevitable.’
Giles had caught her left hand in his, his fingers long and strong as they enveloped it. ‘You do not know? Never mind.’ Isobel thought about persisting, then restrained herself—probably this was something that would reveal her as painfully naive. Giles drew her closer and slid his hand round to tip up her chin. ‘You are exhausted and probably in a state of shock. Why will you not rest?’
‘I do not want to dream,’ Isobel confessed. ‘I have night...’ The man must be a mesmerist, drawing confessions out of her as she stood there, handfast with him. She should go at once, stop talking to him about such personal matters. If only her body would obey her, because she wanted to go. She really wanted...
‘You suffer from nightmares?’
‘When I have a lot on my mind.’ Her voice sounded as though it was coming from a long way away. She stared at Giles Harker, who was moving. Or perhaps the room behind him was. It began to dawn on her that she was going to faint.
‘You are in no fit state—’ Harker caught her as her knees gave way and gathered her against his chest. He ought to put her down because this was improper. She should tell him... But he was warm and strong and felt safe. Her muddled brain questioned that—Giles Harker was not safe, was he?
There was the sound of footsteps on the great staircase below them, muted voices carrying upwards. Giles stepped back into his room, pulling her with him, and closed the door. ‘Damn it, I do not want us found by a brace of footmen with you draped around my neck and me half dressed.’ His voice was very distant now.
‘Put me down, then,’ Isobel managed as she was lifted and carried into another room, deposited on something. A bed?
‘I do not think I could do anything else...’ It was an effort to speak, so she lay still until he came back and spread something warm and soft over her.
‘Go to sleep, Isobel. If any nightmares come, I will chase them away.’
He will, promised the voice in her head. It was telling her to just let go, so she did, and slid into a darkness as profound as the blackness of the lake water.
Giles locked the door from his dressing room on to the landing and studied the sleeping woman stretched out on the chaise. Isobel must be utterly drained to have fainted like that. He supposed he should have done something, anything, rather than carry her into his room, but it was a trifle late to worry about that now and they were probably safe enough. The family would be too concerned about Lizzie to wonder where their guest had got to and his borrowed valet believed him to be resting and would not disturb him.
He sat down in a chair, put his elbows on his knees and raked his fingers through his damp hair. Nothing had changed, so why the devil was he ignoring the self-imposed rules that had served him so well all his adult life? Isobel was a single young lady of good family and one, it would appear, that he had misjudged. The wild sensuality he had sensed in her must have either been his own imagination or she was unaware of it in her innocence.
He shot a glance through the door into the dressing room, but she seemed deeply asleep. He was discovering that he liked her, despite her sharp tongue and unflattering view of him. He admired her courage and her spirit, enjoyed the sensation of her in his arms. But all of that meant nothing. She should be, literally, untouchable and they both knew it.