Frances pushed the door wider, stepped forward, and gazed at the bed.
The Marquess lay flat on his back, one wrist across his brow, the other hung over the edge of the bed as if reaching toward the fallen wine bottle on the floor. He had kicked off his boots and abandoned them where they fell. It looked as if he had struggled to remove his shirt and fallen asleep with the task unfinished.
Torn between amused horror at the widespread disorder and relief he was safe, Frances choked back an urge to giggle. He was safe and unharmed, though without doubt he would have a prodigious headache when he awoke. Now she ought to leave at once. He would not be pleased to find her here. And she most certainly did not wish to be found sneaking into a gentleman’s chambers. The impropriety of what she had done struck her quite suddenly and made her catch her breath.
She stepped back and caught a spur in her skirt.
Off-balance, she toppled back against the door. The solid wood banged shut with a noise like thunder, and she fell against it.
Petrified, Frances glanced at the bed. Streatham’s wrist slid down, his lids lifted, and he gazed at the bed canopy above him.
Jack stared at the ceiling.
Frances did not dare move, hardly dared to breathe. The slightest movement would draw his attention to her. She held her breath and hoped he would drift off back to sleep.
He would be furious she had invaded his home, his privacy, his grief.
How had she ever thought coming here had been a sensible thing to do? Arriving alone at a gentleman’s house was the height of folly. As she stared at him, her reasons suddenly seemed specious indeed. His well-being was not her concern and never would be.
Her thigh muscles ached from holding her in such an awkward position against the door. Skin prickling with unease, heart thundering against her ribs, she waited. Oh, dear Lord, she was going to collapse to the floor if he did not shut his eyes soon. Her thighs burned and trembled. She had to breathe—
His hand flopped to the mattress, his head rolled on the pillow, and his wide, vacant gaze slowly focused on her. “Why, Lady Rathmere…”
Through the thunder of blood in her ears, his voice reached her as if from a great distance.
His brows drew together. “What the blazes are you doing here?”
Frances struggled upright and took a step away from the door. “To, er…see you got home safely. After last night. You know. You were drunk and probably don’t remember.” Frances shook out her skirts and tugged the jacket of her riding habit into place without looking in his direction. Her face burned and prickled as blood suffused her skin.
He sank back against the pillows, a fingertip pressed to each temple.
Clearly he had a monstrous headache. Her mouth twitched. There was a God after all. If she simply opened the door and retreated, he might not notice until too late.
Her hand closed on the door knob.
She glanced over her shoulder and sucked in a shocked breath. His hollowed cheeks, tangled hair, and shadowed eyes spoke of sleepless nights, misery, and deprivation. With a huge effort, he pushed to his feet and stood there swaying as if a huge wind roared through the room.
Her breath caught uncomfortably in her throat and forced her to swallow. Her gaze skimmed over his brown skin, traced the strong tendons of his throat, lingered on the spreading collarbones, and glimpsed the strong muscled chest revealed by the crumpled shirt falling away from his shoulder.
Frances coughed and looked away. She had visited museums and galleries and marvelled at works of art depicting man in extremis, but now, when the real thing stood before her, she did not know what to say or do. Cold white marble was all very well, but gleaming brown skin was much more shocking.
“What the devil are you doing here?” He hitched the drooping shirt back onto his shoulder, swayed, and grasped the bed post to prevent toppling onto the mattress. “Well?”
He scowled at her. No statue she had ever seen looked as angry as he did at this moment. Frances blinked, cleared her throat, and turned to the door once again.
His eyes narrowed. When he took a step toward her, Frances bit back a wheeze of fright and wrenched the door open.
Reluctance by Jen Black available now from http://museituppublishing.com