The Brazen Bride(6)

By: Stephanie Laurens

Instead … there was a naked fallen angel in her bed, and her pulse was still hammering.

Of course, after Edgar, John, and the other men had arrived on the beach and carried the stranger up to the house, to her bedroom, then heaved him onto her bed, she’d had to help Muriel tend him. Had to help her aunt peel off his clothes, uncovering all that solid, muscled flesh. Had to help bathe and dry him, then stitch and bind his wound. It was hardly surprising if she still felt hot after all that exertion.

She hoped her aunt put the uncharacteristic flush in her cheeks down to that.

Between them, she and Muriel had stitched and bandaged thoroughly. As he thawed and his blood started to flow normally, he’d bleed as usual; his immersion in icy water had been an advantage in that respect. They hadn’t been able to put a nightshirt on him; not even one of her father’s would fit, and the difficulty in manhandling the stranger’s heavy arms and body … Muriel had fetched extra blankets instead.

“Here’s the bricks.” Will pushed the door open with his shoulder and came in, bearing two flannel-wrapped bricks that had been heated on the kitchen hearth.

The others—Brandon, at thirteen nearly as tall as Will, Jennifer, twelve, Gillyflower, eight, and Chester—followed Will in, each carrying at least one brick.

Lifting the down-filled quilt, Linnet took each brick and, nestled it on the sheet covering the stranger’s body, working her way around so that eventually he lay cradled in a heated horseshoe that ran from his chest down and around his very large feet. Once the last brick had been set in place, she tucked the quilt in.

Stepping back, she looked down at their patient. “That’s the best we can do. Now we wait.”

The children stayed for a little while, but when the man showed no hint of stirring, they drifted out. Linnet remained.

Restless, wary, strangely on her guard, she had no idea what it was about the man that kept her pacing the floor, her eyes, almost always, trained on his fallen angel face while inwardly, silently, she willed him to live.

Every now and then, she would pause beside the bed and lay a hand across his brow.

It remained icy cold.

Deathly cold.

Despite all they’d done, it was entirely possible he would never wake, much less recover.

Why, in this instance, a stranger’s life mattered so much she couldn’t fathom, but she wanted him to live. Actively and continually willed him to live.

To have a fallen angel fall into her life only to die before she even learned the color of his eyes was simply unacceptable. Fallen angels did not fall from the sky—or get washed up in her cove—every day; she’d never laid eyes on a man like him, awake or comatose, in all her twenty-six years, and she wanted, yearned, to learn more.

A dangerous want, perhaps, but when had she ever shied away from danger?

The afternoon waned, but brought no change in her patient. As evening closed in, she sighed. The children came up with another set of warmed bricks. She helped them switch the hot bricks for the cool, then, with the children clattering down the stairs, eager for their dinner, she drew the curtains over the window, checked the man one more time, and headed for the door.

Her gaze fell on the objects she’d left on the tallboy by the door. She paused, glanced back at the figure so still in her bed, then picked up the three items—the only things other than his clothes he’d been carrying.

The dirk—a fine piece, far finer than one would expect a sailor to own.

The saber—definitely a cavalryman’s sword, well used and lovingly honed.

She’d get the boys to polish both blades. The saber’s scabbard might yet be salvageable.

The third object, the wooden cylinder, was the most curious. As Will had guessed, the man had been carrying it wrapped in oilskins in a leather sling; with him unable to shrug the sling off, they’d had to cut the shoulder straps to remove it. The wood was foreign; she thought it was rosewood. The brass fittings that held the wooden strips together, and locked one end closed, smacked of somewhere far away, some alien shore.

Gathering all three items, Linnet glanced back at her bed, at the dark head on her pillows, silent and still, then she turned, went out of the door, and closed it quietly behind her.

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