The Brazen Bride(5)

By: Stephanie Laurens

The boys heaved, pushed, propped. As soon as they had the man angled up and steady, Linnet ducked down, close to the heavy body, peered beneath to trace and follow the wound—then exhaled the breath she hadn’t realized she’d held. Easing back, she nodded. “Let him down.”

“Will he be all right?” Chester asked.

She couldn’t yet promise. “The wound is less deep over his stomach—no real danger. He was lucky.” A scenario was taking shape in her mind—a picture of how the man had received such a wound. It should have been a killing, or at least incapacitating, slash. He’d escaped death by less than an inch, just before his ship had wrecked.

“But he’s still not really breathing,” Brandon said.

And she still wasn’t sure if he was alive. Linnet checked for a pulse in the man’s wrist, then in his strong throat. There was none she could detect, nor any discernible rise and fall of his chest, but all that could be due to being close to frozen. There was no help for it; shuffling nearer, with one hand she brushed back the fall of black hair hiding his face, bent close, focused—and stopped breathing.

He was startlingly, heartbreakingly, breathtakingly beautiful. His face, all clean, angular lines and sculpted planes, embodied the very essence of masculine beauty—there was not a soft note anywhere. Combined with the muscled hardness of his body, that face promised virility, passion, and direct, unadorned, unadulterated sin.

Such a face did not belong to a man given to sweetness, but to action, command, and demand.

Chiseled lips, firm and fine, sent a seductive shiver down her spine. The line of his jaw made her fingertips throb. He had winged black brows, a wide forehead, and lashes so black and thick and long she was instantly jealous.

She’d frozen.

The boys shifted uneasily, watching, waiting for her verdict. As usual her instincts had been right. This man was—would be—dangerous. To her peace of mind, if nothing else.

Men like this—who looked like he did, who had bodies like his—led women into sin.

And into stupidity.

Dragging in a breath, she forced her eyes to stop drinking him in, forced her mind to stop mentally swooning. She hesitated, needing to get nearer—and too rattled to lightly risk it.

Maintaining her current, already too-close distance, she held her fingers beneath his nose. And felt nothing.

Turning her hand, she held the sensitive skin on the inside of her wrist close, but could detect not the smallest waft of air.

Lips thinning, mentally muttering an imprecation against fallen angels, she leaned down, close, in—angled her cheek so that it was a whisker away from his lips …

And felt the merest brush of air, a breath, an exhalation.

She eased back, straightening on her knees, and stared at the man’s face. Then she turned to the wound in his side, checked again. And yes, that was blood, not just seepage. “He’s alive.”

Chester whooped. The other two grinned.

She didn’t. Getting back to her feet, she looked down at trouble. “We need to get him up to the house.”

“Oof! He’s so damned heavy!” Easing the stranger’s shoulders down—resisting the urge to just drop him—Linnet settled him against her pillows. Of course, he had to have her bed; it was the only one in the house long enough, big enough, and, very likely, strong enough to be sure of supporting him.

Stepping back, she planted her hands on her hips and all but glared at him, unconscious though he was.

Muriel tucked the covers in on the bed’s other side. “Now to thaw him out. I’ll send the children up with the hot bricks.”

Linnet nodded, her gaze locked on the comatose figure in her bed. She heard Muriel go out, the door shutting behind her. Folding her arms, Linnet swapped her glare for a scowl, as she battled to wrench her mind and her senses from their preoccupation with the body in her bed—with the idea of all that muscle, naked, washed, dried, and with his wound stitched, salved, and well-bound, denting her mattress.

She’d seen more naked men, of all descriptions, than she could count—inevitable given a childhood spent largely on her father’s ship. It certainly wasn’t any degree of novelty, nor attack of missish sensibility, that had left her nerves fluttering, jittery, her breathing tight and shallow, her stomach feeling peculiarly hollow. She would have said, and been certain of it, that seeing another naked male would barely register—would have no effect on her, make no real impression.

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