Home > Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)(6)

Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)(6)
Lisa Kleypas

“The only reason you accepted me was because you had no dowry.”

“That’s not true—”

He continued as if he hadn’t heard. “You need to marry one of your own kind, my lady. A man with pretty manners and a fine pedigree. He’ll know how to treat you. He’ll keep you in a country house, where you’ll tend your orchids and read your books—”

“That’s the opposite of what I need,” Helen burst out. It wasn’t at all like her to speak impetuously, but she was too desperate to care. Clearly he meant to send her away. How could she convince him that she genuinely wanted him?

“I’ve spent my entire life reading about the lives other people are having,” she continued. “My world has been . . . very small. No one believes I would thrive if I weren’t kept secluded and protected. Like a flower in a glasshouse. If I marry one of my kind, as you put it, no one will ever see me as I am. Only what I’m supposed to be.”

“Why do you think I would be any different?”

“Because you are.”

He gave her an arrested glance that reminded her of the gleam of light on a knife blade. After a peculiarly charged silence, he spoke brusquely. “You’ve known too few men. Go home, Helen. You’ll find someone during the Season, and then you’ll thank God, on your knees, that you didn’t marry me.”

Helen felt her eyes sting. How had everything been ruined so quickly? How could she have lost him so easily? Sickened with regret and grief, she said, “Kathleen shouldn’t have spoken to you on my behalf. She thought she was protecting me, but—”

“She was.”

“I didn’t want to be protected from you.” Fighting for composure was like trying to run through sand: She couldn’t find traction amid the shifting angles of emotion. To her mortification, tears welled and a vehement sob escaped her. “I went to bed with a migraine for one day,” she continued, “and when I woke up the next morning, our engagement was broken and I had l-lost you and I didn’t even—”

“Helen, don’t.”

“I thought it was only a misunderstanding. I thought if I spoke to you directly, everything would be s-sorted out, and—” Another sob choked her. She was so consumed by emotion that she was only vaguely aware of Rhys hovering around her, reaching for her and snatching his hands back.

“No. Don’t cry. For God’s sake, Helen—”

“I didn’t mean to push you away. I didn’t know what to do. How can I make you want me again?”

She expected a jeering reply, or perhaps even a pitying one. The last thing she expected was his shaken murmur.

“I do want you, cariad. I want you too damned much.”

She blinked at him through a bewildered blur, breathing in mortifying hiccups, like a child. In the next moment, he had hauled her firmly against him.

“Hush, now.” His voice dropped to a deeper octave, a brush of dark velvet against her ears. “Hush, bychan, little one, my dove. Nothing is worth your tears.”

“You are.”

Mr. Winterborne went very still. After a minute, one of his hands came to her jaw, his thumb erasing the wake of a teardrop. The cuffs of his shirt had been rolled up to his elbows, in the manner of carpenters or farm workers. His forearms were heavily muscled and hairy, his wrists thick. There was something astonishingly comforting about being wrapped in his sturdy embrace. A dry, pleasant scent clung to him, a crisp mingling of starched linen and clean male skin, and shaving soap.

She felt him angle her face upward with great care. His breath fanned against her cheek, carrying the scent of peppermint. Realizing what he intended, she closed her eyes, her stomach lifting as if the floor had just disappeared from beneath her feet.

There was a brush of heat against her upper lip, so soft that she could scarcely feel it. Another touch at the sensitive corner of her mouth, and then at her lower lip, finishing with the hint of a tug.

His free hand slid beneath the fall of her veil to clasp the tender nape of her neck. His mouth came to hers in another brief, silky caress. The pad of his thumb drew over her lower lip, rubbing the kiss into the tender surface. The abrasion of a callus heightened the sensation, stimulating her nerve endings. She was suddenly lightheaded; her lungs wouldn’t draw in enough air.

His lips returned to hers, and she strained upward, dying for him to kiss her harder, longer, the way he had in her dreams. Seeming to understand what she wanted, he coaxed her lips apart. Trembling, she opened to the glassy touch of his tongue, helplessly taking in the flavor of him, mint and heat and coolness, as he began to consume her with a slow hunger that unraveled runners of feeling all through her body. Her arms went around his neck, her hands sinking into his thick black hair, the locks curling slightly around her fingers. Yes, this was what she had needed, his mouth taking hers, while he held her as if he couldn’t draw her close enough, tight enough.

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