The Duke I'm Going to Marry(2)

By: Meara Platt

“That’s better. About time you showed proper respect for my title.” He tried to sit up, but he couldn’t and fell back with a gasped oath, struggling for breath as he clutched his side.

Dillie shivered, not only from the wintery chill in the midnight air, but also from her concern that she truly might have shot him. She had been aiming for those awful men. To be precise, aiming a warning blast above their heads to frighten them off. She was sure she’d hit one of the larger branches of the sturdy oak tree standing by the front gate. It now lay splintered on the ground near Ian.

She glanced around. His attackers had run off, frightened but unharmed. So why was Ian still on the ground, fumbling to rise and determined to hide his obvious agony? “Let me help you up.”

He brushed her hand away when she reached out to steady him. “No, I can manage.”

“Are you sure? Because you seem to be doing a spectacularly dismal job of it.” She couldn’t see him very well. The only light available was from the moon’s glow, a full, silver moon that shone brightly against the crisp, starry sky.

“Are you still here, Daffy? Why don’t you go away and leave me to my misery?” He sank onto the cool grass with another pained gasp, his head thumping against the hard trunk of the oak tree as he fell back.

“I’m having far too much fun watching you struggle,” she said, though her heart was still in her throat and she was now seriously worried about him. Another shattered tree branch dangled precariously overhead, held up only by a small scrap of bark. It was in danger of falling atop him.

She reached out again, determined to move him out of its path, but as she touched his jacket she felt something warm and liquid seep through her fingers. “Ian, you clunch! You’re bleeding. Oh, my goodness! Did I hit you?”

She let out a sob, now worried that she truly had done him damage. The air released from her lips cooled and formed a vapor that swirled about her face. It was too cold for Ian to be left out here for very long, and he wasn’t in any condition to get up and walk on his own. “I didn’t mean to shoot you.”

He took hold of her hand, gently stroking his thumb along her palm to calm her down. “You didn’t. I’ve been stabbed.”

Dillie gasped. Was that supposed to calm her? “I’ll get help. Don’t move.” Even in the dim light, she could see the crimson stain now oozing through his fancy silk vest. As she scrambled to her feet, the Farthingale butler came running through the gate. “Oh, Pruitt! Thank goodness! Fetch Uncle George. He must come right away, and tell him to bring his medical bag.”

Pruitt’s eyes rounded as wide as saucers the moment his gaze fell on Ian. “At once, Miss Dillie.” He hurried back into the house as fast as his old legs would carry him. She heard him shouting up the stairs for her uncle, something the staid butler had never, ever done before, even when faced with an army of boisterous Farthingale relatives and their unruly children. Pruitt never lost his composure. His voice never rose above an ordinary, conversational tone. Never.

Until tonight.

Dillie sank back to her knees beside Ian. His hands were now pressed against a spot just above the left side of his waist. “That’s it. Use your palms to press down hard on the wound,” she instructed while quickly removing her shawl. The clunch was bleeding everywhere, and that meant he’d been stabbed more than once. She folded her shawl and then, nudging his hands aside, firmly pressed it to his waist and secured it by tightly tying the ends about his body. Big body. More solid strength than she’d realized. “Where else hurts?”

“Right thigh, just above my knee.”

She ran her hand along his thigh, careful to avoid the hole in the fabric where he’d obviously been stabbed. He tensed and let out a laughing groan. “Better not touch me there.”

No doubt to hide his extreme pain. She grabbed the velvet ribbon from her hair, ignoring the sudden cascade of long, dark strands about her shoulders and down her back. She used the ribbon to form a makeshift tourniquet around his thigh, hoping it was tight enough to stem the flow of blood from his leg until her uncle arrived to properly treat him.

Her hands were beginning to numb. It was freezing outside, the grass hard and crunching beneath her knees. A cloud of vapor formed with her every breath. She’d given up her shawl and was definitely underdressed. “Where else?”

“My forearms are sliced up, but not too badly. My jacket sleeves absorbed most of the damage.” He studied her, as though noticing her for the first time. Really noticing her, a sign that he’d finally regained his full vision. He cast her a wickedly seductive grin. “There’s a hard ache between my legs.”

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