He wetted a clean cloth and brought it back to where Lady Octavia sat, watching him with an unreadable stare. Part of him was surprised she had not defiantly moved. Part of him was pleased.
More opportunities to touch her.
Jasper sank to his knees once again. “Raise your gown and hold it in your lap so that I may see what I’m about.”
“I told you that I am fine.” Her lips were set in a mulish line.
If that was how she wished to play this game…
Ignoring her, he raised her petticoats and gown himself. Her white silk stockings were fastened above her knees with garters. For a moment, he forgot to breathe. Jasper had never been the sort of man who worshiped a woman’s limbs as some did. But he could not li
e. The sight of Lady Octavia’s finely turned ankles and delicate calves encased in such finery was more intoxicating than a gallon of gin.
But this was not about seduction. She was his patient, unwilling or not.
Gently, he unfastened the garter on her injured leg. His fingertips grazed over velvet-soft feminine flesh. His heart was pounding steadily. He would not get a cockstand while cleaning her scratches. He vowed it. He would not.
Down went the stocking, revealing more glorious, creamy skin until he reached the place where the tree branch had wounded her. Gently, he dabbed at the angry-looking scratches, cleansing the dried blood. Some of the cuts were deeper than he had originally supposed.
She flinched, inhaling on a hiss.
He paused, glancing up at her. “Stings, yes?”
She bit her lower lip. “Yes.”
“I will be gentle,” he promised, before resuming, aware of how bloody much of a looby he was.
There was nothing gentle about Jasper Sutton.
For her, there was. Incredibly enough. He finished his ministrations and then applied some of Caro’s salve to aid with healing, taking his time. Reluctant to allow this moment between them come to an end. When it did, he would have to lower her gown and petticoat. He would have to stop touching her.
He added more salve. More than was necessary. Prolonging the moment. His thumb traced circles over the bony protrusion of her ankle, a place he had never found particularly alluring on a woman before. But a place he very much admired now. Here was evidence of her strength and fragility all at once. Her ankles were slim enough that he could encompass one in his meaty paw. He had never felt more like a brute than he did now, tending to Lady Octavia as if she were a bird with a broken wing.
“I do not think your betrothed would approve,” she said tartly above, breaking the spell that the luxury of his bare skin on hers had cast.
Reminding him of all the reasons why he must put an end to this.
Why he must send her on her way.
But I want to keep her.
The realization hit him as their gazes met and held. Mrs. Martin was the last thing on his mind. His obligations flitted away.
“I don’t have one yet, as I told you,” he said, finding a small place were her skin was slightly puffed and swollen. “Did you twist your ankle when you fell?”
“I may have. This is quite enough, Mr. Sutton.”
She sounded as prim as a governess. And now he was a mister instead of merely Sutton. Her dudgeon was up.
“Jasper,” he found himself saying. “If you insist on trespassing in my establishment, you may as well call me by my name.”
“Again, I do not believe your betrothed would approve of such familiarity.”
His gaze flicked up from his lengthy exploration of her beautiful limbs. That was when he noticed how tightly she held her gown in her lap, the delicate knuckles white with strain. Restraint or anxiety?
“I don’t give a damn if Mrs. Martin approves,” he said slowly, honestly.