That Perfect Someone Page 30

She couldn"t help but blush. Talking about setting up this new part of their charade, however innocent it actually was, wasn"t the same as actually doing it.

But seeing her blush, he rolled his eyes at her and said, “Don"t be silly. The whole point of this is letting him think we"re having fun in here. Now laugh.” She sighed. “I can"t just laugh for no reason, especially after what you just told me.”

“Then let me help you.”

She was positive that no bit of humor, however silly, would get rid of the sadness she was feeling because of what she"d learned about his horrid childhood. But she hadn"t anticipated Richard"s tickling her. He did just that, pulling her to the bed, pushing her down on it, and tickling her all over. She succumbed immediately. She did some shrieking, too. She"d had no idea she was so ticklish. But she was also laughing and was quite out of breath by the time he stopped.

He leaned beside her, his elbow bent so he could rest his head in his hand. He looked quite satisfied with her performance, was giving her a pleased smile. He had such a sensual mouth.

When he looked like this, his green eyes flashing, his lips curled just so, she felt wildly attracted to him.

She stared at his mouth, hoping he"d kiss her. He didn"t. Without looking at her chest, he gallantly pulled her robe back over her breasts. That was a potent reminder that he"d said he wouldn"t touch her. So she pushed all carnal thoughts away and tried to relax. But as she"d guessed, it wasn"t easy with him this close to her.

She tried to distract herself by running a finger down the bridge of his nose over the slight bump. “So this is the break I made?”

“Yes, scarred me for life, you did.”

“Nonsense, it adds character to your face. You were too pretty without it.”

“Are you insulting me already?”

He didn"t sound serious, but she still said, “You call my telling you that you"re handsome an insult?”

His tone got huffy. “You couldn"t have used that word instead?” She giggled, teasing him, “Well, when you were a boy, you were pretty. Really you were.” He did some teasing of his own. “You were waiting for me tonight, dressed so scantily, weren"t you?”

She gasped. “Of course not.”

“Because if you were, I would have come up much sooner. You"re sure? We don"t have to sleep here like strangers, you know.”

Was he teasing, or was that a hopeful look in his eyes now? But she couldn"t bring herself to encourage him, even if she had just been thinking about his kissing her. Making love with him once had been an impulsive act, and she"d been quite carried away by passion. But to consciously decide to—she just couldn"t do it.

“I"m sure,” she said.

But he continued to stare at her, and she was suddenly holding her breath. “I"m not so sure you’re sure.” He leaned in closer, then ended with a husky challenge whispered against her lips: “Prove it.”

Her eyes flared just before his mouth captured hers in the kiss she"d been longing for. His arm drew her flush with his body. She heard a groan—whose? She clung to him tightly, tasted him deeply. Prove it? In a moment she would, just another moment… . No, she wouldn"t. How could she not want this when it felt so right? But how could she allow it when it really wasn"t right? It would be awkward in the morning, might even ruin the charade.

With her last bit of will, she pulled her head back. “Richard, what are you doing?” He stared at her hard for the longest moment before he mumbled, “Driving myself crazy.” Then with an aggravated sigh, he added, “Strangers it is then, and I think we better get some sleep.”

He sat up to remove his boots. Her feet were already bare. Then he stood up and removed his shirt as he walked around to the other side of the bed. She held her breath, watching him.

But all he did was pull the covers down on that side and nod for her to get under them on her side. Small details, such as being found under the covers in the morning. But that allowed him to keep his pants on, and she wasn"t about to remove her robe, which could be assumed to be part of her nightgown as long as she was half-covered.

He hit his pillow a few times before he put his head on it, turned on his side away from her, and said simply, “G"night, Jewels.”

“Night,” she mumbled.

So easy for him! He"d probably be asleep in minutes. It was fairly warm in the room, so he"d only drawn the sheet up to his hips, which gave her a view of the entire breadth of his back. She couldn"t take her eyes off him. Could she change her mind before he fell asleep?

Why did she have to be sensible!? It wasn"t as if they hadn"t made love before. She wanted to feel his hands on her body again.

He got out of bed abruptly, as if he could read her thoughts. She blushed, but didn"t try to pretend she was already asleep. However, he didn"t glance down to see that she was still wide-awake, merely marched to one of the windows to open it. Some cool air filtered in, enough to make her snuggle deeper under the covers.

He stood in front of the window for a few moments. She turned on her side away from him before he returned to the bed. He snuffed out the dim lamp on his side before he got back in bed. No wonder she"d been unable to take her eyes off him! At least now the room was truly dark.

She moved about, trying to find a position that would lure her to sleep. Her knee accidentally touched his arse. She groaned and knew she ought to apologize. She hoped he was asleep and hadn"t even noticed.

He was quick to dash that hope. “Dammit, Jewels, I"m holding on by a thin thread here.” But then he apologized, “I"m sorry. We"ll laugh about this tomorrow—or at some point in the next century!”

His brief attempt at humor didn"t help. Thirty minutes later, she knew the darkness wasn"t helping to lull her asleep either. He was still only a foot from her, and she couldn"t get him out of her mind. So she was still wide-awake when the coach rumbled up the drive to the front of the house.

She sat up and would have gone to the window to see who was arriving at that hour of the night, but Richard beat her to it. “Bloody hell, what a wasted performance,” he said with a drawn-out sigh. “Father isn"t in his room. He hasn"t even been in the house.”

“Where would he have gone?”

“To find a London newspaper to see if banns really were posted, would be my guess.

Damned old man can"t just take us at our word.”

“I should return to my room.”

“Stay where you are.”

“I"m really too tired now to go through all that laughter again.”

“So am I.” He turned away from the window with a slight grin. “But I still want the maid to find us here in the morning and report it to him.”

She groaned. She wasn"t going to get a bit of sleep tonight, she was sure.

Chapter Thirty-nine

RICHARD WAS AWAKE long before the knock came at the door. What a hellish night. He"d hardly slept at all. Sharing a bed with Julia to strengthen the charade had seemed like such a good idea when it occurred to him. But he hadn"t taken into account what it would be like, having her luscious body next to him all night and being unable to touch it. He"d foolishly assumed he could keep his carnal urges at bay by concentrating on their unhappy past and the reason why they"d come to Willow Woods. More fool him.

He"d even reviewed in his mind every one of their prior vicious meetings. It didn"t help. She simply wasn"t that little monster anymore. She"d changed so much she was like a completely different person.

They could actually hold normal conversations without either of them getting angry. She laughed with him. She succumbed to his teasing. What a surprise and delight that had been!

And what could he say about her rescue of him? Had it been self-serving as he"d first thought?

Or was she simply possessed of enough compassion that she"d had to help him even though she hated him? Did she still hate him? He couldn"t even tell anymore.

Frankly, the changes in Julia amazed him—and enticed him. It had taken guts for her to come here to enact this charade after what his father had done. That was self-serving though.

The contract meant nothing to him when he lived in a different part of the world now and would marry whomever he pleased when he was damned ready to. But she needed to destroy the contract so she could get on with her life and marry someone else.

He shook that thought off when whoever was at the door knocked again, and he called out,

“Come in.”

Julia stirred beside him, but she didn"t awaken. Was she really that sound a sleeper? Or had she spent as hellish a night as he did? What an interesting thought, but he found it unrealistic.

She might have succumbed to passion on Malory"s ship, but she"d been highly emotional at the time, and he"d been a cad to take advantage of that.

But, damn, she looked stunning now, like a sleeping angel with that ash blond hair spread out around her pillow. Aside from his first sight of her when she"d been a howling five-year-old with splotchy cheeks, she"d been a beautiful child. He should have known she"d grow up to be a prime piece.

The opening door drew his eyes away from Julia. A young maid came in with a pitcher of fresh water. She halted immediately upon seeing him still abed, a hot blush climbing her cheeks.

Obviously embarrassed, she started to back out of the room. In case she hadn"t noticed Julia, he said, “Leave the water,” so she"d come farther into the room and see his sleeping companion. But really, how could anyone miss that bright splash of white-gold hair?

Annoyingly, the maid nodded, but kept her eyes glued to the floor as she hurried to the washstand, then hurried back to the door without once glancing in his direction again. He sighed. There was no help for it but to spell it out for the maid, otherwise that hellish night he"d just endured would have been for naught.

“There"s no need for embarrassment. We"re getting married in a matter of weeks!” he said before the door closed.

She had to have heard him, although she gave no indication. But he reminded himself they weren"t going to need weeks. He was fairly confident he could find the contract after a few days of searching. His father might have set up numerous locked hiding places in the house, but they were located in only two rooms, his father"s study and his bedroom. The only thing that worried him was that if he were his father, he wouldn"t keep the contract locked away.

Given the circumstances of their showing up so unexpectedly, he"d keep it on his person night and day. What a horrid thought.

Extremely annoyed now, he got out of bed and dressed. He walked to the bed to wake Julia, but stopped abruptly. He didn"t dare touch her when he could attribute some of his annoyance to still wanting her! That desire was riding him hard. He could have just nudged the side of the bed and said her name loudly to awaken her, but he wasn"t sure he could handle seeing her all warm and sleep-tousled, sitting up in bed in that revealing nightgown. He went downstairs for breakfast instead.

Unfortunately, his father was still at the table in the smaller breakfast room. After all these years, his gut shouldn"t twist up in Milton"s presence, but it still did. All those beatings in his youth had left a brutal mark. A hell of a thing, to associate a parent with pain—and nothing else.

“You"re late to this meal,” Milton said in disapproval as Richard took a seat across from him.

Richard stared at him. “Do I look like a child who needs to be told when to eat?”

“You look like the recalcitrant rebel you"ve always been.” Milton stared at the tail of hair Richard had allowed to fall over his shoulder. “Are you going to cut that for the wedding?”

“No, I"m not.”

“You"re going to embarrass this house—?”

“No one will give a damn what I look like, Father, and it"s not your decision, is it? Are we clear?”

Milton didn"t answer, possibly because of the servant who"d just arrived with a plate for Richard and set it down before him. Food predetermined. No choices to make. He grit his teeth, but then as quickly he relaxed his jaw. He was nitpicking. The food was tolerable and plentiful. At least his father didn"t skimp when it came to feeding himself and his family.

But Milton did seem to rub in that lack of choice as he admonished, “We eat at precisely eight in the morn, precisely at one in the afternoon, and precisely at seven in the evening. It allows the cook, who doesn"t have very many helpers, to plan her day accordingly.”

“Can"t imagine old Greta complaining about anything. She"s a wonderful cook and one of the few servants I remember fondly. And why haven"t I seen—?”

“I had to let Greta go. In fact, all of the old servants were fired long ago, replaced with young ones who don"t expect as much wage.”

From the expression on Milton"s face, Richard could see his father blamed him for that, because of the debt Richard had saddled him with. But Richard wasn"t going to discuss that again, if he could help it, when his father hadn"t resorted to the simple solution he"d wanted him to use—disowning him.

“"Fraid I"m not very fond of precisely, ” Richard said, then conceded, “If there"s no food around when I feel like eating, I"ll make do.”

“And where is your bride this morning?”

“Still asleep,” Richard said, and immediately had that alluring image of Julia again in his mind.

“She"s accustomed to the late hours of the London crowd, I suppose?” Milton asked disdainfully.

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