Rumors - Page 48

‘I don’t want lots of babies. I just want my—’ Isobel caught herself in time. ‘His face is not ruined,’ she snapped. ‘The bruises and swelling will go down, the scar will knit and fade in time.’

‘Yes, but he was so handsome. Perfect, like a Greek god.’ The maid sighed gustily. ‘Terrible blow to his pride, that will be.’

‘He has more sense than to let such a thing affect him,’ Isobel said, hoping it was true. Then a thought struck her. Surely Giles did not think she was saying she thought she loved him because she felt guilty that he had been wounded defending her good name? No, that was clutching at straws and she would go mad if she kept trying to guess at his motives. All she had was the bone-deep conviction that he did care for her and no idea how she could ever get him to admit it.

‘I will go to bed and read awhile. Thank you, Dorothy, I will not need you again tonight.’

The maid took herself off, still talking about the joys of the London Season. Isobel stuffed another pillow behind her back and tried to read. It might as well be in Chinese for all the sense it is making, she thought, staring at the page and wondering why she had selected such a very gloomy novel in the first place.

* * *

The sound woke her from a light sleep that could only have lasted an hour at the most, for the candles were still burning. What was it? A log collapsing into fragments in the fire? No, there it was again, a scratch at the door panels. Isobel scrambled out of bed and went to open the door, half expecting Lizzie, intent on a midnight feast.

Giles stood on the threshold in the brown-and-gold brocade robe open over pantaloons and shirt, his feet in leather slippers. In the dim light his eyes sparked green from the flame of the candle he held.

‘What on earth is wrong? Does Lady Hardwicke need me?’

‘No. May I come in?’ The clock on the landing struck one.

‘Quickly. Before someone sees you.’ Isobel pulled him inside and closed the door before the thought struck her that he was even more compromising on this side of the threshold. ‘Giles, you should not be here.’ How could he be so reckless? He spoke about her reputation and then he came to her room in the small hours. Isobel let her temper rise: it was safer than any of the other emotions Giles’s presence aroused.

‘I am aware of that.’ He put down the candle and went to stand in front of the fire. ‘I could not sleep because of you.’

‘A cold bath is the usual remedy for what ails you, is it not?’ she demanded.

He gave a short, humourless bark of laughter. ‘Guilt, I find, trumps lust for creating insomnia.’

‘What are you feeling guilty about and why, if I may be frank, should I care?’ Isobel pulled on a warm robe and curled up in the armchair, her chilly feet tucked under her. There stood Giles, close enough to touch, and there was her bed, rumpled and warm, and if that was not temptation, she had no idea what was.

He stooped to throw a log on the fire and stirred it into flame with the poker. The firelight flickered across his bruised, grim face and made him look like something from a medieval painting of hell, a tormented sinner. ‘You might care. I lied to you. I care for you very much, Isobel.’

It seemed she had been waiting to hear those words from him for days, but now all that filled her was a blank, hurt misery. Isobel blinked back the welling tears. ‘I had not thought you so cruel as to mock me.’ The heavy silk of the chair wing was rough against her cheek as she turned her head away from him.

‘Isobel—no! I am not mocking you.’ The poker landed in the hearth with a clatter as Giles took one long stride across to the chair to kneel in front of her.

‘Then you are cynically attempting to make love to me.’ She still would not look at him. If he had come to her room with a heartfelt declaration of love then he would not have looked so grim.

‘That would make me no better than those three, tricking my way into your room.’ His hands, strong and cold, closed over hers and she shivered and looked down at the battered knuckles. ‘Isobel, my Isobel, look at me.’

With a sigh she lifted her eyes to meet his. ‘Whatever your feelings, Giles, they do not seem to make you very happy.’

‘That is true,’ he agreed. ‘And it is true that I care for you, and like you and want you, all those things. And it shakes me to my core that you might love me.’

‘Then why deny it? Why hurt me, play with my feelings like this?’

He released her hands, rocked back on his heels and stood up to pace back to the fire. ‘Because what I feel for you is not love and I dare not let either of us believe that it is. Because even if it was, I can see no way to find any happiness in this, however we twist and turn. I do not want to play with your feelings, I would never hurt you if I could help it. But we can do nothing about it. I believed it for the best if you thought I did not care—you might forget about me. Then I realised how much that wounded you and I could not bear not to tell you that I do care, that I want you, that in some way I do not understand, you are mine.’