Once her breathing slowed and the leg draped over his shoulder went limp, he extricated himself from beneath her skirts and carefully rose to his feet, making sure to support her weight as he did so.
God, she looked beautiful. Throat flushed, chest heaving, her glazed eyes looking up through thick, dark lashes. Her hair had been mussed in the back, from where she’d reeled and rubbed against the shelves. The early-morning light painted her skin with a palette of golds and rosy pinks.
“You,” she sighed, “are terrible.”
“You”—he pressed his lips to her forehead—“are delicious.” He kissed her cheek. “Beautiful.” Then the corner of her lips. “Irresistible.”
He leaned in, hungry for more.
She put her hand to his chest, holding him in place.
He took a step back, then cocked his head and searched her expression. “Is something the matter?”
“No.” She wet her lips. “Not really. It’s only . . .”
Chase wheeled about, searching for the source of this abrupt diagnosis. What?
Rosamund stood in the corridor. “It’s dropsy today,” she repeated. “The funeral is prepared.”
“Right.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Miss Mountbatten and I were just . . .”
“Looking through books,” Alex finished.
“Well, yes.” Rosamund gave them a quizzical look. “That is what one does in a library, isn’t it?”
“Precisely,” Chase declared. “Go on, then. We’ll be up directly.”
Once Rosamund had left, he and Alex exchanged looks of relief.
“That was close,” he said.
“If she’d been three minutes earlier, Chase. Just imagine.”
“No,” he clipped. “I refuse to imagine. You can’t make me.” He stood aside for her to precede him as they left the room.
“You’re right. There’s no use fretting over it now.” She repinned her hair as they went. “Dropsy, really? I thought that was an old person’s disease.”
“Well, you know what they say. Only the wood die young.”
She stopped in the middle of the corridor and burst out laughing. “That,” she wheezed, “was dreadful. Criminally bad.”
“It made you laugh, didn’t it?”
Chase tore his gaze away from the clock. “Hm?”
“And . . . ?” Barrow gave him an impatient look. “What did you want to do about the mining interests?”
“Which mining interests?”
“The ones we’ve been discussing for the past hour. The coal in Yorkshire. Is this jogging your memory?”
“Right. The coal. Sorry.”
Memories weren’t Chase’s problem. His mind was full to bursting with memories. The problem was, they were all memories of Alexandra beneath him, naked, gripping the bedsheets in ecstasy. Even if his body was in the study with Barrow, his mind was downstairs in his retreat. Which wasn’t even his retreat anymore. Over the past fortnight, it had become their retreat.
Chase straightened in his chair and sifted through the report before him. “Hold on to the mines. The seam is nowhere near exhausted, and the demand for coal will only increase.”
“Agreed.” Barrow dipped his quill and bent over the writing desk. “Chase, I know how you feel about me meddling in your personal affairs, but this is different. You must put a stop to it.”
“Whatever it is you’re doing with Miss Mountbatten.”
Chase looked up sharply. “What makes you think I’m doing anything with Miss Mountbatten?”
“Oh, come along.” Barrow threw down his quill. “Whenever she’s in the room, you steal hungry glances at each other. It’s obvious.”
Barrow lifted his eyebrows, and Chase realized too late that he’d given himself away.
“That’s not what I meant. It’s not obvious because it’s not happening.”
“Work on that ‘gentleman’s retreat’ seems to have stalled. You haven’t demanded my opinions on satin bedding or erotic etchings in weeks.”
“I was going to solicit your preferences on perfumed sensual oils,” Chase said idly, “but then I decided not to spoil your Christmas present.”
Someone knocked at the door.
“Cha—” Alexandra popped her head around the door. Her lips clamped shut, and her cheeks flushed pink. “Oh. Mr. Barrow. I didn’t realize you were here. I beg your pardon for interrupting.”
“Not at all,” Barrow said. He slid a meaningful glance in Chase’s direction. “We were discussing nothing, apparently.”
“If that’s the case . . .” Alex came out from behind the door and entered the room. “Mr. Reynaud, I thought you’d want to know that Rosamund and Daisy are ready.”
Ready? Ready for what?
Once again, Chase had completely lost hold of his faculties. Because she stood in the doorway, dressed in a gauzy, daffodil-yellow frock, and the only readiness that mattered was how ready he felt to pull her into his arms.
She stole his breath away.
He rose to his feet. Etiquette didn’t require a gentleman to stand when a member of his house staff entered the room. Alexandra knew it, and her expression reflected the awkwardness of his gesture.