“Well,” she said, ducking around him and heading down the hallway, “I was hoping for a cup of tea.”
It had been years since he’d laughed as much as he had over the past few days, and chuckling now, he snagged her arm. The desire to pull her against him and kiss her again was tempting, but he quelled it. Holding her in place, he pivoted and then walked down the hallway beside her.
“I’m sure Briggs stocked tea in the kitchen.”
A coy little smirk sat on her lips as she glanced his way. “You specifically requested it, didn’t you?”
His ears heated up, but he admitted, “Yes, I did.”
Her eyes dimmed and a flash of sadness crossed her face, but then her smile returned and she reached over to rub his hand. “Thank you.”
There were times when the sincerity of her appreciation had him questioning his deceit. Pretending not to know who she was. The more he got to know her, the more things he found to like. Seth hadn’t expected that. He’d seen how the general had doted on his daughters, and knew full well the man’s death had left them very wealthy women. Yet she acted as if no one had ever given her anything, had ever taken an interest in her or truly cared for her.
Something opened within him, as if someone had just pulled aside a shutter to reveal a window glowing with light. Caring for her, about her, was so easy, and gave him a pleasure he’d never quite experienced before. It was a little worrisome, but nothing he couldn’t deal with. Letting go of her elbow, he slipped his arm around her shoulders and brushed her hair with his lips. “You’re welcome.”
Millie wanted to close her eyes, but his comforting touch made the chance of tripping and tumbling down the stairs a real possibility. She chose instead to hold her breath and try not to focus on how he kissed her hair, or how his hand tightened on her upper arm, holding her close to his side. It was so wonderful, yet so painful that the tears behind her eyes grew hotter, sharper.
Being Rosemary had become agonizing. No, that wasn’t it. Not being Rosemary was what had become agonizing. His kiss had been all Millie had dreamed it would be and more, but unbearable pain had sliced through her the moment he’d whispered her sister’s name.
He’d been kissing Rosemary, not her. The lump that formed inside her was massive and sore, and try as she might, she couldn’t think beyond it.
“Hey,” he said. “You don’t seem very excited about your tea.”
She stopped next to him at the bottom of the stairs—had no choice, with his arm around her. And digging deeper than ever, she searched for the ability to pull up yet another smile. The past hour had been grueling, pretending nothing had happened, trying to be excited about the house—a beautiful home indeed—all the while knowing it was a sham. A farce.
No, she was the farce, and that wasn’t new. Her entire life had been a charade, at least as long as she could remember. She’d always had to pretend to be someone she wasn’t. Had to pretend she wasn’t the reason her mother took her own life—that an innocent baby couldn’t be to blame. Yet inside, Millie knew it was true, and knew she was as selfish as Rosemary always claimed.
Maybe that’s what hurt so badly this time. All these years she’d wished for a way to prove otherwise, but Rosemary didn’t want to have anything to do with Seth. She didn’t want his attention—didn’t want him to kiss her. But Millie did, and here she was, focusing on that instead of the reason she was here. To save her sister’s life, and the baby’s.
A sob bubbled in her throat even as she tried to pull up an ounce of fortitude. The baby depended on her and she couldn’t forget that. She’d just have to stop thinking about other things, and make sure kissing Seth never happened again. No matter how badly she wanted it.
Resolve came—at least that’s what she told herself—but a smile couldn’t be found. So instead, she just shook her head. “I’m afraid I’ll never be able to steep a pot of tea as well as Mr. Ryan.”
The tenderness in Seth’s face stabbed her already breaking heart, and when he leaned forward, pressed his forehead against hers, an ache shrouded her entire body.
“Then,” he whispered, “I’ll go have Briggs steep you a pot and have it delivered.”
Millie didn’t turn at the sound of Russ’s voice. Tears were pressing too firmly against the backs of her eyes. Crying wouldn’t help, and it wouldn’t stop the urge to fall into Seth’s arms and tell him the truth. He’d be furious and hate her, and that would be worse than having him believe she was Rosemary.