On the pillow his head was still, with a bandage around the forehead, down over one cheek and around his neck. It was lighter than the heavy turban he had been swathed in when he arrived—Isobel tried to take comfort from that as she crept closer. The doctor had paid no attention to anything but getting his dressings right, it seemed—Giles’s normally immaculate golden-brown hair stuck out incongruously between the linen strips.
She felt the need to smooth it, touch it and feel the rough silk, convince herself that he was alive and would soon be well, although he lay so immobile. Even as she thought it Giles moved, caught himself with a sharp breath. His ribs, or perhaps it was just the accumulation of bruised muscles.
‘Lie still,’ Isobel murmured and took the last few steps to the bedside. His unbandaged cheek was rough with stubble and unhealthily hot when she laid her palm against it. They had placed him in the centre of the wide bed and she had to lean over to touch him.
‘Isobel?’ His eyes opened, dark and wide in the lamplight, the pupils huge. ‘Go ’way.’
‘Did the doctor drug you?’ It would account for the wide pupils, the slur in his speech. ‘Are you thirsty?’
‘Stubborn woman,’ he managed. ‘Yes, drug. Tasted foul...thirsty.’
There was a jug on the nightstand. Isobel poured what seemed to be barley water and held it to Giles’s bruised lips. He winced as it touched, but drank deeply.
‘Better. Thank you. Now go ’way.’ His eyelids drooped shut.
‘Are you warm enough?’ There was no answer. She should go now and let him sleep. There was nothing she could do and yet she could not leave him. He had fought for her honour and for his friend who could not demand satisfaction for his sister. If she had only screamed when those men broke into her room, then none of this would have happened.
‘Idiot man,’ she murmured. ‘You try to convince me that you are a rake and then you almost get yourself killed for honour.’
Giles shifted restlessly. He should not be left like this. There was a chair by the fireside, she could sit there and watch him through the night; she owed him that.
She eyed the bed. It was wide enough for her to lie beside him without disturbing him. Isobel eased on to the mattress, pulled the edge of the coverlet up and over herself. When Giles did not stir she edged closer, turned on her side so she could watch his shadowed face and let herself savour the warmth of his body.
It was very wrong to feel like this when he was injured, she knew that. It was not only wanton, it was unbefitting of a gentlewoman. She should be concerned only with nursing a sick man, not with wanting to touch every inch of him, kiss away every bruise and graze, caress him until he forgot how much he hurt.
She must not do it. But she could lie there, so close that their breath mingled, and send him strength through her presence and her thoughts. Tomorrow she must face the consequences of his defence of her, of the debt she now owed him and her own jumbled emotions, but not tonight.
* * *
‘Oh, my Gawd!’
Giles woke with a jerk from a muddled, exhausting dream into pain that caught the breath in his throat and the sound of the valet’s agitated voice. He must look bad to shake that well-trained individual.
He kept his eyes closed while he took stock. Ribs, back, a twisted shoulder, aching jaw, white-hot needles down the side of his face and a foul headache. Nothing lethal, then, only bruises, cuts and the effects of the good doctor’s enthusiastic stitchery and drugs on top of a thoroughly dirty fist fight. But he had little inclination to move, let alone open his eyes. All that would hurt even more and, damn it, he had earned the right to ignore the world for a few minutes longer.
That brought him awake with a vengeance as the bedding next to him was agitated and a figure sat upright.
‘Oh, hush, Tompkins! Do you want to rouse the entire household?’
‘No, my lady. That’s the last thing I’d be wanting,’ Tompkins said with real feeling. ‘But you can’t be in here, Lady Isobel! What would her ladyship say?’
‘I was watching over Mr Harker last night and I fell asleep,’ Isobel said with composure, sitting in the midst of the rumpled bedding in her nightgown and robe. Giles closed his eyes again. This had to be a nightmare. ‘She would say I was very remiss to lie down when I became sleepy and we don’t want to upset her, do we?’
‘No, my lady,’ said the valet weakly.
‘So you will not mention this, will you, Tompkins?’
‘No, my lady.’
Neither the valet nor the woman in bed with him—in his bed—were paying him the slightest attention. Giles gritted his teeth and pushed himself up on his elbows as the valet went to draw back the curtains. ‘What the devil are you doing here, Isobel?’