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His Housekeeper's Christmas Wish - Page 71

He was staring at her across the width of the bed. ‘Tess, I am sorry. I hurt you.’

 ‘No, not at all.’ Why wouldn’t her come to her, hold her?

 ‘I was a brute. An animal.’

 ‘Alex, don’t—’

 ‘I won’t, don’t be afraid that after that I would touch you. No, don’t try to tell me it is all right, you are too forgiving, Tess.’

 I will come over there and show you the opposite of forgiveness if you won’t let me get a word in, Alex Tempest! She opened her mouth to override him, shout him into being forgiven for whatever male sin he thought he had committed, if that was what it took to wipe that look from his eyes.

 ‘I meant to say this after Christmas, but it is best now. Tess, I can’t have you going back, dragging round agencies, finding yourself a position as some sort of drudge to a cantankerous old lady or a house full of screaming brats.’

 ‘But—’

 ‘I will find you a house somewhere, a pleasant market town, perhaps. Somewhere you and Dorcas can settle down respectably. I’ll give you an allowance. You won’t have to see me again. My man of business will handle it all discreetly.’

 You won’t have to see me again. At first her brain could not make sense of what he was saying, then it was as though her body realised at some deeper level. She began to shiver. ‘You are paying me off? A house and an allowance is very generous in exchange for two nights in my bed, especially considering my complete lack of skill or experience. My goodness, what might I ask for if I acquire some more tricks?’

 ‘Tess, it is not like that.’ Alex swung off the bed and stood up, over six feet of naked, angry male. ‘You didn’t expect me to marry you. We talked about that. And don’t flinch. Do you think I am going to hit you next?’

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 ‘I am not flinching. I am recoiling from a man I thought I knew and now find I do not. How dare you treat me like a whore! How dare you offer me money!’ She scrambled from the bed in an ungainly lurch, picked up his robe and threw it at him. ‘How dare you suggest that I am angling for a marriage so far above my station!’

 Alex caught the bundle of red silk one-handed. ‘Tess.’

 ‘Miss Ellery to you, my lord.’ The shivering had stopped, replaced by a strong desire to be sick. ‘Now get out of my bedchamber.’

 At least he had the sensitivity to go without saying another word. It was difficult to move after the door closed behind him. After a while she became conscious that she was cold, so she moved round to the side of the bed nearest the fire and stood there, watching the dull glow of the coals. Then it occurred to her that she would like to wash, so she did, all over, in the water that had cooled almost to the temperature of the room.

 There were marks on her body, red pressure marks where Alex’s weight had lain on her, a roughness on her shoulder that his evening beard must have left. Yesterday the slight soreness and stiffness that lovemaking had created had been exciting, welcome. Now she moved gingerly as though she were ill, trying not to send those aftershocks of pleasure through her belly, through her limbs.

 When she was sure she had scrubbed the scent of his body from hers she turned to the bed, pulled on her nightgown, flapped the sheets, found several brown-gold hairs that she threw on the fire. Then she climbed back into bed on the far side from the one they had made love on and curled into a tight ball while she waited for sleep.

 * * *

 ‘Miss Ellery, are we overworking you?’ Lady Moreland put down the teapot and looked at Tess in a way that made it quite clear that her mirror had not lied. She did have dark circles under her eyes and she was pale and, try as she might, her cheerful expression looked as though she had cut it out of a print and pasted it on.

 ‘No, not at all. I simply had one of those inexplicable sleepless nights. You know, I am sure, the kind where you toss and turn and can’t drop off.’

 ‘Oh, dear, that is so annoying when it happens. I wouldn’t mention your looks if any of the men were down to breakfast of course, but Alexander and Matthew have gone out with the workers from the Home Farm to cut evergreens and my husband is staying in his room.’

 ‘Alex—Lord Weybourn has gone out to cut evergreens?’

 ‘Yes, and I hope some fresh air and exercise will put him in a better mood,’ Maria said as she heaped eggs on her plate. ‘He looked positively grim this morning. I thought he and Matthew had been arguing again, but they seem perfectly in charity with each other.’

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