The Brazen Bride(8)

By: Stephanie Laurens

Linnet winced at the gasp that exploded from the stranger’s lips—saw his body go lax, boneless, and knew he was unconscious again.

“Damn! I didn’t get a chance to ask who he was.” Leaning against the side of the mattress, she peered into his face. “But what caused that?”

Muriel, too, was frowning. “Did you check for head wounds?”

“There weren’t any … well, not to see.” Linnet knelt beside him and reached for his head. “But his hair is so thick, perhaps …” Infinitely gently, she took his skull between her hands. Fingers spread, she searched, felt.… “Oh, my God! There’s a huge contusion.” Drawing back her hand, she studied her fingertips. “Blood, so the skin’s broken.”

The observation led to another round of careful tending, of warm water in basins, towels, salves, and eventually stacks of bandages as between them she and Muriel cleansed, then dried, padded and bandaged the wound. “Looks like he was hit over the head with a spar.”

In order to properly pad the area so that, once bandaged, their patient would be able to turn on the pillows without excruciating pain, they had to get Edgar and John to come and hold him upright, taking extra care not to dislodge the bandages around his chest and abdomen.

Examining the wound, Edgar opined, “Hard head, he must have, to have survived that.”

John nodded. “Lucky beggar all around, what with that slash and the shipwreck and storm. Charmed life, you might say.”

Linnet thanked them and let them go back to their dinners. Muriel, too; after closing the door behind her aunt, Linnet turned back into the room. Folding her arms, gripping her elbows, she halted by the bed and stared down at her patient.

He’d been a fighting man—in one or other of the services at one time was her guess. He had numerous scars—small and old, most of them—scattered over his body. A charmed, life? Not in the literal sense. But she really, really wanted to know who he was.

Given her position in this corner of the world, she needed to know who he was.

Retreating to the armchair by the window, she sat and watched him for a while. When he showed no signs of stirring, let alone waking and doing something stupid like trying to get up, she rose and went downstairs. To finish her dinner and organize another round of hot bricks.

Three hours later, Linnet stood once more by her bed, arms folded, and frowned at her comatose fallen angel. By the dim light thrown by the lamp she’d left on the small table nearby, she studied his face and struggled to tamp down her concern.

His color wasn’t bad, but his face was tanned, so that might be misleading. His breathing, however, was deep and even, and his pulse, when she’d checked it mere minutes ago, had been steady and strong.

Yet he showed no signs of waking.

After his ill-advised excursion, he’d lapsed back into unconsciousness, if anything deeper than before. Bad enough, but what was truly worrying was his still chilled flesh. Even the spots that should by now have warmed remained icy cold.

At least she now knew his eyes were dark blue. So dark she’d originally thought they were black, but then he’d looked directly into her eyes and she’d seen the blue flames in the darkness.

So he was a fallen angel with black hair and midnight eyes—and despite the four changes of hot bricks they’d applied, he was still too damned cold for her comfort. Too unresponsive, too close to death. And she couldn’t shake the absolute conviction that it was, somehow, vitally important that he lived. That, somehow, it was up to her to ensure he did.

It was ridiculous, but it felt as if this were some God-sent, test. She rescued people all the time—it was what she did, a part of her role. So could she rescue a fallen angel?

She paced, scowled, and paced some more while about her the house, her house, her home, slid into comfortable slumber. Edgar and John both helped about the manor house; after dinner, after the usual sitting and chatting in the parlor—tonight mostly speculating about the wreck and their survivor—the pair had retired to the cottage they shared with Vincent, the head stableman, and Bright, the gardener. Mrs. Pennyweather, the cook, and Molly and Prue, the two maids-of-all-work, would by now be snug in their beds in the staff quarters on the ground floor.

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