The Duke I'm Going to Marry(5)

By: Meara Platt

“Ian, you’re awake. Thank goodness.” She cast him a beautiful, openhearted smile.

He closed his eyes and sank back against his pillow, drawing his hand away before she noticed that it had been buried in her luscious hair. “I feel like hell.”

She laughed lightly. “You look like it, too.”

“Ah, I knew I could count on you for compliments.” He opened one eye.

Her smile faded and she began to nibble her lip. “You’ve been unconscious for three days.” As though to prove her point, she leaned forward and ran her knuckles along his chin, gently scraping them against his three-day growth of beard. “If it’s any consolation, you look wonderful for a man who’s spent that much time fighting at death’s door.”

“Was I that bad?”

She nodded. “Let me feel your forehead. You were running a very high fever.” She placed that same hand across his brow. “Oh, thank goodness. No longer hot.”

He was hot. She wasn’t looking low enough.

“Have you been by my side all this time?” Both his eyes were now open and trained on Dillie. Her morning gown was a simple gown of gray wool, its only adornment a velvet ribbon of a slightly darker gray trim at the sleeves. Her hair was long and loose—as he well knew, since he’d just run his feverish fingers through it. She had a sleepy look in her eyes, slightly tousled hair, and a smile as beautiful as a moonbeam.

She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever set eyes upon.

He wanted her badly... naked and in his bed.

It was one thing to have those desires, but another thing altogether to act on them.

“Yes, I’ve been beside you most of the time,” she replied, unaware of the depraved path of his thoughts. “Uncle George had to tend to that important patient of his, so he hasn’t been around much. He left me in charge of you. Fortunately, the stab wound to your side was the worst of it. And it was bad, if you wish to know the truth. The blade missed your vital organs by a hair’s breadth. You wouldn’t have pulled through otherwise.”

The notion seemed to distress her. It felt odd that she should care whether he lived or died. No one in his family did.

In truth, he didn’t either.

“I never lost faith that you would survive. You’re strong. And Uncle George is the best doctor in all of England,” she said with noticeable pride. “He cleansed your wounds thoroughly and stitched you up. Your arms weren’t slashed as badly as we’d feared, and the stab wound to your leg wasn’t very deep.”

She sounded efficient, as though she were taking inventory. Suddenly, she paused and there were tears glistening in her eyes.

Surprised, he reached out to run his thumb along the thin trail of water now sliding down her cheek. He winced as a painful jolt shot from his fingers to his brow. He’d braced himself against the expected pain, but it hurt like blazes anyway. One of those assailants must have sliced through muscle. Perhaps cracked one of his ribs. The mere raising of his arm would not have caused him agony otherwise.

No matter. Dillie was worth it.

“How silly of me.” She shook her head and let out a delicate laugh. “I don’t know why I’m crying now that you’re better.”

He arched an eyebrow. “Disappointment?”

Her smile faded. “How could you even think such a horrid thought? Of course I’m not disappointed. I would have been shattered if you’d died. In my bed, no less!”

“Right. Nobody likes a dead duke in their bed.”

She was frowning now, but made no move to remove his hand, which was once more caressing her cheek. Her blue eyes still shimmered with tears. “It would be especially difficult to explain away to the authorities.”

He nodded. “Or to the patronesses at Almack’s. My death would have been quite the scandal, and certainly the ruination of you.”

She tipped her head, turning into his hand so that he now cupped her chin. She didn’t notice, obviously distressed by his words. “Surely not my ruination.”

“Dillie, nobody would have cared that you’d worked tirelessly to save my sorry life. All they would have noticed is that I’d departed this world in Dillie Farthingale’s bed.”

“You’re simply being your cynical self, thinking the worst of your fellow man.”

“And you’re thinking like a wide-eyed innocent. People will always disappoint you. The sooner you realize it, the better.”

Her gaze turned tender. “Ian, who hurt you so badly to make you feel that way?”

He laughed, and then winced as the effort sent more shooting pains up and down his body. “No one.” Everyone. “I was born this way.”

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