‘Now you must start afresh,’ Giles said and turned from the window to look at her. ‘You have the courage and the strength, you know you have. And you are better off without me, even ignoring my birth. I have been—I am—a rake, Isobel. I have never courted a respectable young woman.’
‘So will you forget me easily?’ He had made love with her, slept with her, been thinking about her for hours—and he still did not know if he loved her, she thought, her confidence shaken.
‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘You have marked my heart as surely as these scars will mark my face. I will never forget you, never cease to want you. You are, in some way I do not understand, mine.’
‘But you will find a wife and marry and have children.’ She could see it now. He would find an intelligent, socially adept daughter of some wealthy city merchant and she would love him and he would be kind to her and together they would raise a family and Isobel would see them sometimes and smile even though her heart was cracked in two...
‘Yes. And you will find a husband. We will find contentment in that, Isobel.’
How the sob escaped her, she did not know; she thought she could control her grief. ‘It sounds so dreary,’ she said and bit her lip.
‘You will make a wonderful mother,’ Giles said. ‘You will have your children.’
‘Oh, no. Do not say that. Do not.’ And then the tears did finally escape, pouring down her face as she thought of Annabelle and the children she would never have with Giles.
‘Sweetheart.’ Giles pulled her into his arms, kissing away the tears. ‘Please don’t cry. Please. I am sorry I cannot be what you want me to be.’
She turned her head, blindly seeking his mouth, tasted her own tears, salt on his lips. ‘Love me again, Giles. Now and every night while we are both here.’ He went so still she caught herself with a pang of guilt. ‘I’m sorry, that is selfish, isn’t it?’ She searched his face, looking for the truth she had learned to read in his eyes. ‘It isn’t fair to expect you not to make love fully.’
‘I would want to be with you even if all I could do was kiss your fingertips,’ Giles said, his voice husky. ‘You gave me so much pleasure last night, Isobel. But I have no right to let you risk everything by coming to your chamber again.’
‘If that is all we have, just the time we are both here, then surely we can take that, make memories from it to last for ever? We will not be found out, not if we are careful as we were last night.’ It was Sunday, so perhaps it made what she was asking even more sinful. But how could loving a man like this be a sin?
‘Memories?’ He held her away from him, studying her face, and then he smiled. It was a little lopsided, but perhaps that was simply because of the stitches in his cheek. ‘Yes. We will make one of those memories here and now and use that little chamber one last time for the purpose for which it was intended.’
There was a rug thrown over the chair at the desk he had been using to write his notes. Giles spread it over the frame and ropes that were all that remained of the daybed in the painted chamber and while he closed the battered shutters Isobel shed her riding habit, pulled off her boots and was standing, shivering slightly in her chemise and stockings, when he turned.
‘Goose bumps,’ she apologised, rubbing her hands over her chilled upper arms.
‘I’ll warm them away. Don’t take any more off, it is too cold.’ He wrapped his greatcoat around her, then eased her on to the bed before stripping to the skin.
Isobel lay cocooned in the Giles-smelling warmth of the big coat and feasted her eyes on him. He would be embarrassed if she told him how beautiful his body was, she guessed, and besides, many other women had told him that, she was sure. Instead she wriggled her arms free to hold them out to him. ‘Giles, come into the warm.’
‘I am warm.’ He wrapped her up snugly again, then parted the bottom of the coat so he could take her feet in his hands, stroking and caressing them through her stockings, teasing and warming and arousing as he worked his way up. Then he flipped the coat back over her lower legs and proceeded to kiss and lick and nibble her knees until Isobel was torn between laughter and desperation.
‘Impatience will be punished.’ He covered her knees, then shifting up the bed, left precisely the part she wanted him to touch shrouded. He pushed up her chemise to lick his way over the slight swell of her belly, into her navel, up between her breasts without once touching the curve of them, the hard nipples that ached for his touch.
Only when he reached her chin and she was whimpering with desire and delicious frustration did he lie on the bed beside her, lower his mouth to hers and kiss her with languorous slowness while his hands caressed her, edging her to the brink, then pulling back, building the pleasure until Isobel thought every nerve must be visible as they quivered under the skin, then leaving her again teetering on the edge of the abyss.