Read Love's Misadventure (The Mason Siblings Series Book 1) Online
Authors: Cheri Champagne
The moment the door closed behind the maid, Anna dashed to the washbasin and poured water from the pitcher into the ceramic bowl. Grateful for the soap on the stand, Anna washed her hands and face, then poured water over her hair. It wasn’t a bath, but it would suffice while they were under time constraints. She wrung out her long locks and tied them in a knot at the base of her neck, then dried her face and hands with a nearby towel.
She turned to look at Lane over her shoulder. “Would you care to wash, as well? There is plenty of water remaining.”
He visibly shook himself before nodding.
Anna tossed the bowl’s contents out the window then set it down for Lane’s use. The water sloshed behind her as she stared longingly at the large bed monopolizing the majority of the room. What she would not give for a full night of sleep in a clean, comfortable bed such as that.
A knock sounded at the door, and she called out entrance. A maid entered
, a tray with hot water, liniment, and poultice atop of it.
“Your meal will be brought up soon, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts,” the maid said, placing the tray upon the chest of drawers. She curtseyed and retreated.
“What do you mean to do with that?” Lane inclined his head toward the tray. He set the towel aside and crossed his arms over his chest.
Anna clucked her tongue. “Pray do not be thick, Lane. I mean to clean your wound.” She gazed meaningfully at the dried blood on his arm.
He shook his head. “We haven’t time, Anna. The bullet scarcely grazed me. Our food will arrive directly, and I fear we have hardly enough time to
, let alone—”
Anna pulled a chair out from beside the table, its legs scraping noisily across the floor before she settled it in front of her. “I do not intend for you to die of infection, Lane. You
have your wound cleaned. If you would stop grumbling about time and merely sit down, I could have you bandaged by now.”
His jaw tightened. “Demanding woman.”
She sent him a thin smile. “Remove your clothing.”
His eyes widened, and the lobes of his ears reddened. Anna realized what she had said and fought down her own blush.
I mean,” she stammered, “your coat, waistcoat, shirt, and cravat, if you please.”
Lane hesitated for another moment before acquiescing and carefully removed the clothing from his upper body. He hissed a breath as he reopened the wound on his arm, and Anna grimaced in empathy. It must be dreadfully painful.
He pulled the material of his shirt from the waist of his tan riding breeches, and Anna could not help but be riveted. A line of coarse, dark hair ran down the centre of his abdomen and peppered his chest. He was lean and muscular, but not overly so. Anna longed to trail her fingers over the dips and curves of his muscles.
Heat pooled in her belly at the sight of him.
So this is what a man’s upper body looks like without the veil of clothes… No. This is what
Her gaze travelled over his finely toned arms, broad shoulders, and—
Lane’s throat cleared, and Anna jumped guiltily. “H—have a seat, if you would.” She indicated the chair in front of her before turning her back on him to pick the items off the tray.
Foolish, Anna. Foolish!
Their lives were in danger; the very last thing they needed was to waste time and be caught. Most particularly when Anna’s distraction was lust…
. Yes, foolish, indeed.
Lane sat in the proffered chair, his body’s shameless response to Anna’s brazen gaze hidden by the stained shirt balled in his lap. Had he truly seen what he thought he saw in Anna’s eyes? Did she
He gazed ruefully at the overeager appendage straining the front of his breeches. He certainly felt desire for
. But while his body easily
for the act of lovemaking, following through with the deed proved—as of yet—to be impossible.
In the back of his mind, he heard the sloshing of water. Anna reappeared at his side, her demeanour aloof as she pressed a wet cloth to the wound on his arm.
Lane ground his teeth and hissed his breath through the intense pain as she administered to him.
“Last evening when I…” How did one propose marriage to their closest friend, but warn her that they may never have intimate relations? How did he express his regret for her state of ruination and offer her the protection of his name without having her feel as though she had inconvenienced him?
There may be no other recourse but to announce his intention and hope for the best. “I intend to marry you.”
Perhaps that was a touch too blunt
, his conscience admonished.
Her hands stilled in the process of wrapping the poultice over his wound. “I…pardon?”
Out with it, Lane
. “Last evening,” he began, astonished at the nervousness besetting him, “you lamented the potential collapse of your engagement to Lord Boxton and your state of ruination. I am offering you my protection.”
Anna moved behind him, handling the items on the tray. Her silence only intensified his anxiousness.
. He had not realized how important her answer was to him. Should he tell her that he loved her? Should he confess his inability to—
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts.
“Come,” Anna called shakily.
He fought a grimace. Had he made her so discomfited?
Two maids entered, one holding a tray of covered dishes and the other burdened with the clothing he had requested.
The time for lingering had passed. Lane stood and one of the maids squeaked.
. He’d forgotten that he was not properly dressed. He pressed his stained shirt to his chest and smiled weakly at the maids before retrieving his purse.
“What ye requested, sir,” the blushing maid said quietly.
“What is that?” Anna stepped toward them as the other maid put the food on the table.
Lane placed several coins in the maid’s hand. “Thank you very much.” He glanced over his shoulder at Anna. “This is a suit of clothes for me and a dress for you. I did not suppose you wished to continue on in your torn riding habit.”
Anna bit her lips together. “Thank you, Lane.” She paused. “But…where in heaven’s name did you manage to purchase a new dress?”
He smiled at her. “I asked the maid in the taproom if there were any dresses in your size available for purchase in the inn. She informed me that they had cleaned one such dress that had been left her by another patron several days ago. She believed it would fit you well enough.”
“That is wonderful!” She clapped her hands delightedly, the sight warming him far more than it should have, though part of him was also saddened that she was reduced to wearing another’s used frock.
Both maids bobbed curtseys, received Lane and Anna’s thanks, and quit the room.
“Mmm,” Anna moaned as she lifted the cover off of one of the dishes. “Beef, vegetables, buns…
“What is it?” Lane stepped forward.
“Chocolate cake!” Her eyes lit with joy, and Lane swallowed convulsively as his body responded inappropriately.
What is the matter with me? Now is
the time to become aroused
He spun the table’s chair around and held it for her to sit. She did so eagerly, and he followed suit, both of them removing the dishes’ covers to see what was beneath.
Anna moaned, her eyes closed, as she chewed. Lane bit the inside of his cheek to slow the flow of blood to his already throbbing erection. He took a breath and released it slowly.
“I am not certain if it is because I have not had proper fare in the past three days, but this is positively the most
beef I have ever tasted.” Anna took another bite.
Lane sent her an absent smile then focused on his plate. He ate quickly, steadfastly ignoring Anna’s moans and sighs of pleasure. He wiped his lips with his napkin and stood to dress. “Please excuse me.”
* * *
“What do you mean to do?” Anna asked Lane. He had behaved so strangely through their luncheon, perhaps he felt unwell. She rose and placed the back of her hand to his forehead.
His eyes closed on a groan, but he was not hot. “You do not have a fever. Is it your stomach?” she asked in concern as she continued to test his skin for heat.
She wished she could put her hands elsewhere on his body. Was he hot there? Was he aware that he still wore no shirt? She’d been hard pressed not to stare while she ate.
His voice was gruff. “No.” He pulled her hands from his cheeks, his intense brown gaze searching hers. “I do not feel ill.”
Anna’s stomach fluttered as he stepped back, releasing her.
“I will leave you to your meal.” He sketched a halting bow. “We must both dress and catch the mail coach before it leaves without us.”
Her heart thudded in her chest. It had felt, for the briefest of moments, that he might kiss her. What was she to make of that? Lane’s behaviour was so erratic, so withdrawn. Was he displeased with her?
He retreated with his suit of clothes behind the privacy screen.
Anna resumed her seat at the table and put several desserts on her plate; a slice of chocolate cake, two raspberry-lemon tarts, and an orange.
Throughout luncheon, she had tried to distract herself from the riot of emotions hurdling through her. The euphoria at Lane’s proposal had quickly faded once he had given his reasoning.
A marriage of obligation.
She was conflicted. For countless years she had waited—
—for a proposal from Lane. But was a marriage such as this what she truly wanted?
The rustling of his movements echoed through the bedchamber. Had he taken off his breeches? Did he wear smallclothes beneath, or did he go without? What would his
look like? Was it like Greek statues? Or was it larger? Smaller? Anna blushed at the indecent thoughts.
She bit her tongue and grimaced at the metallic flavour of blood.
Could her lack of a response to Lane’s proposal be the cause of his unease? It was possible, she supposed. But she could not give him an answer! Would their marriage be a
marriage, or did he imagine that they would continue on as they were—as very good friends—in addition to her change in name? Did he feel forced to offer a proposal, or did he do so out of a genuine desire to be her husband?
Anna tore into the orange then licked its juices from her thumb.
Could she wed Lane with the knowledge that he proposed merely to preserve her honour? Likely not. Anna had no desire for a marriage with one-sided passionate love. She would forever be wishing he would ravish her, and he would merely expect their friendship of old.
The object of her thoughts came out from behind the privacy screen, the previously used suit of clothes hanging loosely across his shoulders. He wore slightly long, brown, woollen trousers, a black waistcoat, and a light-brown coat, with a white shirt and cravat. The material was not as fine as he would ordinarily commission, and his hessians appeared particularly odd peeking from beneath his trousers, but he was as handsome as ever.
He cared for her, of that she was certain. But could he view her as more than a very good friend? Could she inspire lust in him? Could his fondness then turn to love?
Lane placed his pocket watch in his waistcoat’s pocket, glancing at the time as he did. “We have tarried far too long, I’m afraid.”
Anna stood, wiping her hands on a napkin. “Of course.”
She gathered her new—used—dress in her arms and brought it behind the privacy screen. She stifled a laugh at the sight of Lane’s riding breeches folded neatly on a chair, in vain though the effort was. Would he fold his other clothing while she changed?
Anna draped the dress over the chair and withdrew from behind the screen. “Lane?” She caught his attention as he had bitten into a tart.
He looked up, startled at her reappearance.
“Would you be so kind as to help me out of my dress?” She turned her back to him, partly hoping that such an intimate service would help induce a passion in him. “I cannot reach the buttons.”
* * *
Bloody Hell. Did she know what she asked?
She very obviously had no notion of how miniscule his self-restraint was. He’d been hard pressed not to pull her into his arms and—
He shook his head to clear his thoughts, then swallowed his bite of tart. “Certainly.”
Anna turned her back to him, and he strode forward, his gaze never leaving the gentle curve of her neck. He began unbuttoning her once-deep-blue riding habit. The alluring scent of lemons wafted to him. How could she still carry that fragrance after being among those blackguards for three days? He was tempted to press his lips to her skin…to trail them over the slope of her neck and into the curling tendrils of hair that managed to escape their knot.
Lust roared through him as he exposed the skin of her shoulders.
“Would you…” He hesitated. “Do you wish for me to unlace your corset, as well?”
Anna was quiet for a moment, then nodded. “If I am to flee for my life, I would prefer to do it without the restraint of a corset. Please do.”
Lane continued down until the gown had been unlaced, then he worked on her corset. He swallowed back the saliva that had gathered in his mouth and tugged at the knot of her corset strings.
Now is not the time for yearning, Lane. We must continue our escape!
His fingers brushed her back with every movement of his hands, and the heat from her skin sent hunger straight to the maypole in his trousers. His breathing became harsh, ragged.
He concluded his task, then abruptly turned and made his way back to the table.
“Thank you,” she called after him.
He cleared his throat. “You are welcome.”