Home > Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)(5)

Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)(5)
Lisa Kleypas

She knew little about men. Almost nothing. Since early childhood, she and her younger sisters, Pandora and Cassandra, had lived in seclusion at their family’s country estate. The male servants at Eversby Priory had always been deferential, and the tenants and town tradesmen had kept a respectful distance from the earl’s three daughters.

Overlooked by her parents, and ignored by her brother Theo, who had spent most of his short life at boarding schools or in London, Helen had turned to her inner world of books and imagination. Her suitors had been Romeo, Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Edward Rochester, Sir Lancelot, Sydney Carton, and an assortment of golden-haired fairy tale princes.

It had seemed as if she would never be courted by a real man, only imaginary ones. But two months ago, Devon, the cousin who had recently inherited Theo’s title, had invited his friend Rhys Winterborne to spend Christmas with the family—and everything had changed.

The first time Helen had ever seen Mr. Winterborne was the day he had been brought to the estate with a broken leg. In a shocking turn of events, as Devon and Mr. Winterborne had traveled from London to Hampshire, their train had collided with some ballast wagons. Miraculously both men had survived the accident, but they had each sustained injuries.

As a result, Mr. Winterborne’s brief holiday visit had been turned into nearly a month-long stay at Eversby Priory, until he had healed sufficiently to return to London. Even injured, he’d radiated a force of will that Helen had found as exciting as it was unsettling. Against every rule of propriety, she’d helped to take care of him. She had insisted on it, as a matter of fact. Although she had done it under the guise of simple compassion, that hadn’t been the only reason. The truth was, she had never been so fascinated by anyone as she was by this big, dark-haired stranger with an accent like rough music.

As his condition had improved, Mr. Winterborne had demanded her companionship, insisting that she read and talk to him for hours. No one in Helen’s life had ever taken such an interest in her.

Mr. Winterborne was strikingly handsome, not in the way of fairy tale princes, but with an uncompromising masculinity that made her nerves jump whenever he was near. The angles of his face were bold, the nose sturdy, the lips full and distinctly edged. His skin was not fashionably pale but a rich, glowing umber, and his hair was quite black. There was nothing of an aristocrat’s ease about him, no hint of languid grace. He was sophisticated, keenly intelligent, but there was something not quite civilized about him. A hint of danger, a smolder beneath the surface.

After he had left Hampshire, the estate had been dull and quiet, the days monotonous. Helen had been haunted by thoughts of him . . . the suggestion of charm beneath his hard veneer . . . the infrequent but dazzling smile.

To her consternation, he didn’t seem at all willing to take her back. His pride had been hurt by what must have appeared to be an insensitive rejection, and she longed to soothe it. If only she could turn the clock back to the day he had kissed her at Ravenel House, she would manage the situation far differently. It was only that she had been so profoundly intimidated by him. He had kissed her, put his hands on her, and she had reacted with startled dismay. After a few harsh words, he had left. That was the last time she had seen him until now.

Had there been a few flirtations in her girlhood—a stolen kiss or two from a young lad—perhaps the encounter with Mr. Winterborne wouldn’t have been so alarming. But she’d had no experience at all. And Mr. Winterborne was no innocent boy, but an adult man in his prime.

The strange part—the secret she couldn’t confess to anyone—was that in spite of her distress over what had happened, she had begun to dream every night about Mr. Winterborne pressing his mouth very hard against hers, over and over. In some of the dreams, he would begin to unfasten her dress, kissing her ever more compellingly and forcefully, all of it leading toward some mysterious conclusion. She would awaken breathless and agitated, and hot with shame.

A flicker of that same turmoil awakened low in her stomach as she looked up at him. “Show me how you want to be kissed,” she said, her voice shaking only a little. “Teach me how to please you.”

To her astonishment, one corner of his mouth curled with contemptuous amusement. “Hedging your bets, are you?”

She stared at him in confusion. “Hedging my . . .”

“You want to keep me on the hook,” he clarified, “until you’re sure about Trenear’s windfall.”

Helen was baffled and hurt by the scorn in his tone. “Why can’t you believe that I want to marry you for reasons other than money?”

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