His for Revenge(8)By: Caitlin Crews
“No need to worry about that,” she said quietly. “I won’t.”
THE HOUSE WAS like something out of a Gothic novel.
Zara had to fight to conceal her shiver of recognition from the man who lounged beside her in the black mood he’d worn throughout the drive.
“Cold?” he asked. Chase’s voice was polite on the surface, but his gaze was a wilderness of blue and almost liquid, somehow, with a kind of sharp heat that speared straight through her. And none of it friendly.
“Not at all,” Zara said, though she was. “Your house isn’t the most welcoming place, is it?”
Gothic, she thought again. She’d read significantly more Gothic novels than the average person and not only because she was writing a master’s thesis on the topic. On some level she should have expected she’d find herself in the middle of one. It was the only thing her absurd wedding day had been missing.
“It’s December.” Chase’s voice was as cold as his estate looked in the beam of the limousine’s headlights. Barren and frozen as far as the eye could see. “Nothing in this part of the country is welcoming at this time of year.”
But it was more than that. Or it was her imagination, Zara amended, which had always been as feverish as the rest of her was practical. The old stone manor rose like an apparition at the top of a long, winding drive through a thick and lonely winter forest of ghostly, stripped-bare trees and unfriendly pines coated with ice and the snowy remains of the last storm. Several inches of snow clung to the roof above the main part of the house, and each of its wings glittered with icicles at the gutters, though the sky above tonight was clear. Thick and almost too dark, but clear.
She tried to imagine the house festooned in spring blossoms or warmed by the summer sun, and failed. Miserably.
For the first time in her life, Zara questioned her addiction to Daphne du Maurier and Phyllis A. Whitney novels. They might have helped her through an awkward adolescence and paved the way toward what she hoped would become her life’s work, but they had also made her entirely too susceptible to the dark possibilities lurking in a scary old mansion, a bridegroom she scarcely knew and whatever rattled around in the gloomy shadows of places like this.
“Are you sure you don’t have any madwomen locked away in the attic?” she asked, appalled when her voice sounded more shaken than wry.
“Making me a convenient bigamist and you therefore free of this mess we’re both stuck in?” he replied, smooth and deadly, and shocking Zara. She wouldn’t have pegged him as a reader of Jane Eyre. Or a reader at all, come to that, when he could be off brooding beautifully somewhere instead. “I’m afraid not. My apologies.”
Chase did not sound remotely sorry. Nor did he sound drunk, which Zara couldn’t quite understand. She’d expected sloppiness when he’d continued to drink from that whiskey bottle throughout the drive, had braced herself for his unconsciousness and his snores. Instead, he simply seemed on edge.
More on edge, that was.
Maybe the place—and the man—was more welcoming in the daylight, Zara thought as diplomatically as possible as the car pulled up to the looming front entrance. Then again, it hardly mattered. She wasn’t here to settle in and make a happy home for herself. She was here because Grams had wanted her to try. She was here because this proved, once and for all, that she was the good daughter. Surely this finally settled the matter. Surely her father would finally have to recognize—
“Come,” her brand-new husband said from much too close beside her, his hand at her side and that disconcerting gaze burning into her as surely as that small contact did, and when she jerked her head around to stare back at him it was even worse. All that irrational, unmanageable fire. “I’d like to get out of these clothes, if you don’t mind. And put this lamentable farce behind me as quickly as possible.”
Zara couldn’t keep herself from imagining beautiful Chase Whitaker without his clothes any more than she could stop herself from breathing her next breath. All that long, lean, smooth muscle. All that ruthlessly contained power—
Get a hold of yourself! she yelped inwardly.
And then she pretended she didn’t see the way his eyes gleamed, like he could read her dirty mind.
Chase ushered her into the grand front hall of the sprawling stone mansion, adorned with art and tapestries and moldings so intricate they almost looked like some kind of architectural frosting, with what felt like more irritation than courtesy. He introduced her to his waiting housekeeper, Mrs. Calloway, without adjusting his stride and then marched Zara up the great stair to the second floor. Zara had the jumbled impression of graceful statues and priceless art, beautifully appointed rooms and long, gleaming hallways, all in a hectic blur as they moved swiftly past.