Dreams were only that—dreams. She would have the rest of her life to forget them.
But mercy. For as long as she lived, she didn’t think she’d forget the sight before her eyes now.
As she watched, Chase lifted the far edge of the bed, hefting the heavy mattress and frame onto its end to return it to the cabinet. The powerful muscles of his arms and shoulders were on dazzling display.
Licked by amber tongues of candlelight.
Lord, he was a beautiful man.
His low grunt of effort pulled her out of her reverie.
Ho there, Alexandra. Perhaps you ought to help?
She rushed to help him shove the mattress back into place, fold the bed frame’s wooden legs, and lock the cabinet. Having managed it, they turned to face one another, each resting one shoulder against the closed cabinet doors.
“So we’re agreed? On continued . . . lessons?”
He studied her face. “If you’re certain you want them.”
“Quite certain. It makes sense. The only alternative is to avoid each other all the time, growing progressively more frustrated. That’s not good for anyone in the house.” She swept a gaze about the room. “And thanks to your industriousness, we do have a secluded, private place for liaisons.”
“I’ll need to rename it.”
“Cave of Carnality doesn’t suit anymore? I thought you’d ordered the plaque.”
“If I’m giving you lessons, I think it needs something more . . . tutorial in nature. School of Sensuality,” he proposed. “Climax Classroom. Perhaps the Office of Orgasms?”
“Anything’s an improvement over the Virility Vault.” Alex smiled. She’d missed this back-and-forth with him. She looked at the fireplace mantel. “I don’t suppose you might take down the antlers?”
“What do you have against antlers, anyway?”
“I just think they could be replaced with something more welcoming. A nice landscape, perhaps.” She gave him a teasing look. “Or maybe a sampler in needlepoint? The place could use a woman’s touch.”
He took her by the waist and pulled her flush against his chest. “There’s only one thing in this room that needs a woman’s touch.”
Oh, that seductive growl in his voice did unspeakable things to her.
“Of course,” she said in her firmest governess voice, “it goes without saying we must be absolutely, entirely discreet.”
“Don’t worry. They’ll never know. Why do you think I installed new paneling? To prevent any sound from escaping. The drapes are heavy enough to keep light out, and in. And that door”—he tipped his head toward the kitchen entrance—“has three locks.”
Apparently, none of those three locks was engaged at the moment. The door swung open.
“Mr. Reynaud? Miss Mountbatten?” Daisy rubbed her eyes as she stumbled into the room.
Alexandra deftly sidestepped, putting distance between her and Chase. She wrapped her arms about her torn nightclothes. “Daisy. You surprised us.”
“I couldn’t find you.”
“And now you have. Let’s go back up to bed.”
The girl looked from Alex to Chase. “Why are you down here in the middle of the night?”
“Oh, we were merely talking. About . . .” Alex rummaged through her brain for a topic. “Needlepoint.”
Which would have been an excellent reply, had Chase not simultaneously said, “Antlers.”
Daisy’s face scrunched with confusion.
“Antlerpoint,” Chase said with authority. “It’s a traditional handicraft in the Finnish Lapland.”
Alex looked at him. Antlerpoint?
He shrugged. “I’ve been looking into the schools there, as you know. So it’s an important educational matter. One that couldn’t wait until morning.”
Alexandra went to her young charge. “Why are you out of bed, darling?”
“Millicent has a small bowel obstruction.”
“Goodness. We’d better make her an infusion of buckthorn, now hadn’t we?” She looked cautiously at Chase. “Would you care to join us for a cup of tea?”
The words had Alex feeling deflated. Perhaps Daisy’s interruption had changed his mind, and he’d be calling off their arrangement before it had scarcely begun.
Instead, he searched out and lifted his hammer. “I have a lock to install. The fourth.”
“Oh.” Alex smiled and nodded. “Good.”
Alex woke in the night again—trembling all over, her lips cracked with thirst.
Somehow the episodes came and went in an insidious rhythm, disappearing just long enough that she could almost forget and feel safe, before crashing back with a cruel vengeance. The past had a hold on her, and she’d long given up on breaking free. The best she could do was keep a full glass of water next to her bed. She hastily drained the largest share of it—saving a little bit to wet a cloth and dab the perspiration from her neck.
Dawn had begun its slow creep through the house. She wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again, and her charges wouldn’t wake for a few hours more—she hoped.
Since she was awake, she decided to dress and have a stealthy wander downstairs. Even after all these weeks, there were parts of the house she still hadn’t explored.
The room called to her. Any roomful of books called to her, but this particular library wailed like a bevy of sirens.