She remembered. She sat bolt upright and stared across the room.
Charles wasn’t in the chair.
She searched, but could see not a single sign that he ever had been.
But she hadn’t dreamed it; he’d been there—he had, they had…
She glanced down. Her nightgown gaped to her waist.
Muttering a curse, she yanked the halves together. Doing up the buttons, she tried not to blush as memories crowded in. She would have liked to lay the entire incident at his door, but, unfortunately, remembered all too well that she had, somehow, succumbed, and been a more-than-willing partner.
It was because it had all been so different—in many ways novel, the sensations so very pleasant and prolonged. Long, slow, sweet caresses—and he’d let her touch him, explore and indulge her own desires, too. So unlike that long-ago grappling in the barn—rushed, heated, frantic, and rather painful.
Last night, she’d enjoyed and consequently encouraged him far beyond what was wise; she couldn’t now blame him for how much further than a kiss the engagement had gone. She was loweringly aware that he could have taken matters much further, but hadn’t. Instead…
Her breasts tingled; remembered delight glowed, then flowed through her veins.
She’d never in her life felt like that—so desperate, and then so blessed. So amazingly alive.
And then he’d asked…
With another muttered curse, she kicked the covers aside, got down from the bed, and stalked across the room to ring for Ellie.
By the time she’d washed and dressed, she’d compiled a long list of questions she ought to have asked last night. Such as where had Charles changed? He couldn’t have gone home, so who else knew he’d remained at Wallingham overnight? Where were his curricle and pair—he had driven himself over, hadn’t he? How had he got back into the house? How had he left again, and when?
Most important of all, just what was he thinking? He’d insisted she leave his house so he wouldn’t succumb to his baser instincts and seduce her—and yet here he was, insisting on sharing her bedchamber.
She wasn’t naive enough to suppose that his baser instincts ran any less strongly at Wallingham than they did at the Abbey.
Sweeping down the stairs, she turned toward the breakfast parlor—and heard their voices. Nicholas’s and Charles’s. She slowed, considering, then picked up her pace and glided into the room.
They saw her; both made to stand—she waved them back. Nicholas murmured a greeting, to which she replied. She nodded vaguely in Charles’s direction; he responded with a polite “Good morning.” Going to the sideboard, she helped herself to ham and toast, conscious of the silence behind her.
When she turned to the table, Charles rose and held the chair beside his. As she sat, he murmured, “Did you sleep well?”
She’d fallen asleep in his arms. “Indeed.” She glanced at him as he resumed his seat; he must have carried her to her bed and tucked her in. “And you?”
He met her eyes. “Not, perhaps, as well as I might have.”
With a light, ostensibly commiserating smile, she gave her attention to her plate; she wasn’t going to comment.
Charles turned to Nicholas. “As I was saying, I haven’t been out on the waves since I returned last September, but I’m sure the Gallants would be happy to take you out sometime.”
Nicholas waved his fork. “It was just a thought—a passing fancy. Purely hypothetical. Why”—he paused, drew breath—“I’m not even sure for how much longer I’ll be here.”
Penny glanced up, startled not so much by the words as the undercurrent rippling beneath them. Nicholas sounded rattled, not his usual coolly distant self. Indeed, now she looked, he appeared even more tense than he had the previous evening, and distinctly more ashen. Of the three of them, he looked to be having the greatest trouble sleeping.
“Is your room quite comfortable?” The question was out before she’d thought.
Nicholas stared at her blankly. “Yes—that is…” He gathered himself. “Yes, thank you. Perfectly comfortable.”
Grasping the opening she’d unwittingly created, she looked at him encouragingly. “It’s just that you seem rather under the weather.”
Nicholas’s eyes flicked to Charles, apparently engrossed with ham and sausages, then returned to her face. “It’s just…I have a lot to do, and there’ve been more details to attend to here than I’d foreseen.”
“Oh? If I can help, please ask. I used to run the estate, so I’m acquainted with most of the arrangements.”
He looked uncomfortable. “It’s not so much any difficulty, as the pressure of what I need to attend to back in London.”