The Duke I'm Going to Marry(3)

By: Meara Platt



More injuries? All her fault. “Oh, dear! How bad? Show me.”

“Did I say that aloud?” He let out a deep, rumbling laugh. “Gad, you’re innocent. Don’t look so stricken. The ache will disappear once you put on some clothes. Maybe.”

“What?” She was in a panic, her heart pounding through her ears, and he was tossing jests?

“Your nightgown hides very little,” he continued, as though needing to explain the meaning of his jest. “If you lean any closer, I’ll have a clear view down your—”

She smacked him. Then smacked him again for good measure.

“Bloody hell! Wounded duke here. Show a little mercy.”

She wanted to smack him again, but as he said, he was seriously injured. The folded shawl she’d applied to his waist was already stained through with his blood. He took hold of her hand, no longer smiling. She stilled, unable to draw a breath, for the first time realizing that he might not survive into the morning. “I’m so sorry, Ian. Just keep your mouth shut and I’ll stop hitting you. Much as I hate to admit it, I don’t wish you to die.”

He gave her hand a light squeeze. “Much as I hate to admit it, I’m glad it’s you by my side if I am to die.” He paused, the effort of speaking too much to manage. “I thought you’d returned... to Coniston with the rest of your family... all five thousand of them.” Those last words were spoken through shuddering pain.

Oh, God! Not you, Ian. You’re invincible. She shook her head and tried to keep her voice steady. “They went on ahead.” But her voice faltered as she tried to hold back tears. “All five thousand of them, traveling north like a great horde of locusts, eating everything in their path. I stayed behind with Uncle George to help him close up the house and enjoy the blessed quiet.”

“Guess I’ve foiled your plans.” He sounded weak, his words even more strained.

She melted at his soft gaze. Ian, with his gorgeous gray-green eyes, had a way of melting female hearts. Good thing it was dark and she couldn’t clearly see the beautiful green of his eyes. That soft glance was devastating enough. “We were supposed to leave yesterday, but my uncle was called to a medical emergency. We had to delay our departure.”

“Must thank the poor, sick blighter.” His voice was weaker still. “I mean it, Dillie. If I’m to die tonight, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have beside me than you.”

There were times when Ian rankled her.

In truth, he always rankled her.

But not tonight.

“Keep breathing, you clunch,” she said in a ragged whisper, keeping tight hold of his big, cold hand.


***

Ian awoke in an unfamiliar room, uncertain how much time had elapsed since he’d been attacked. At least eight hours he guessed, for the morning sun was streaming in through the unshuttered window, glistening against the peach silk counterpane that covered the bed in which he lay. He recalled Dillie asking him about his assailants, but he didn’t know who had sent them, only that they’d done a good job of carving him up with their knives.

Where was he? Somewhere safe, of that he was certain.

He had to get word to the Prince Regent. He suspected those men were disgruntled agents of the now exiled Napoleon, seeking retribution for his dismantling of the French spy network that had flourished in England until recently. Ian and his friends, both of whom now happened to be married to Dillie’s sisters, had crushed the web of spies and exposed its leaders, some of whom had held prominent positions in the English government. Was this attack an act of revenge?

Or part of a more sinister scheme?

He tried to move his hand and realized someone was holding it. Someone with a soft, gentle touch. He glanced down and groaned. Dillie, primly dressed in a morning gown that hid all her good parts from view, was perched on a chair beside his bed, her slender body slumped over so that her head and shoulders rested on the mattress beside his thigh. Her dark hair was loosely bound, flowing down her back in a waterfall of waves. Her lips were partly open and she snored lightly.

Hell. She looked adorable.

What was she doing here? He glanced around and realized he must be in her bedchamber, the one she’d shared with her twin until last month. There were two beds, two bureaus. Matching sets of everything. Bloody hell. He had to get out of here fast. But how? His arms and legs felt as though they were weighed down by blocks of granite. He’d lost a lot of blood and knew he was as weak as a damn kitten.

“Dillie,” he said in a whisper.

She responded with a snore.

“How long have I been here?”

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