“Something the matter?”
Heat rushed into her cheeks and she snapped her head up to see Lucian entering with a tray of tea. He laid it down on the console table and began pouring himself a cup. Eleanor gaped like a fish. Had he heard her coarse language? Why was he bringing her tea? And what was he thinking coming in here looking like that?
Each breath grew more difficult the longer she looked. He perched himself against the table and languidly sipped his tea. The small cup reminded her of how fragile she had felt in his arms. Much like the china, his hands dwarfed her own tiny ones but she never feared he might break her. She had felt protected in those strong arms.
Eleanor snapped her gaze away from where he had divested himself of his cravat. His hair was damp, as was the front of his shirt. Unwittingly her gaze dropped again. Even the flesh at his collar had a sheen to it. Her fingers twitched and she forced her hands down into her lap to clench them together lest she give into the voice in her head that was screaming at her to touch that damp flesh.
“No...no...” she squeaked and coughed. “Nothing wrong. Have you been riding?” She groaned inwardly. What an inane question.
“Yes.” His gaze fixed on hers and the air around her grew thick and intense, as though she were caught in a storm.
“It is hardly the sort of weather for riding. Did you have something important to do?”
“Have you made much progress?”
“Pardon?” Eleanor stared at him for several moments before remembering what she was meant to be doing. “Oh, the books. Yes, though I am nowhere near done I’m afraid.”
“Will you not join me for some tea? You could do with a break.”
“I did just take a walk around the house,” she confessed. Though she longed for a warm cup, she did not think her legs would cooperate and moving closer to Lucian when he was dressed like that would be a mighty mistake. “You look...damp. Perhaps you should change?”
He lifted a shoulder and placed down the cup of tea to slip off his jacket and hang it over the back of one of the red leather chairs. Next came his waistcoat. Eleanor watched him undo each button, both horrified and fascinated. Good Lord, she hoped he stopped there. And she hoped he did not. To get a look at that wide chest...
She found herself fanning herself with a sheet of paper and had to slap it down. His lips twitched and she narrowed her gaze at him as he came to settle directly in front of her once more. The damp front of his shirt stuck to his chest and his movements had sent several drips of water trailing down his face and neck. Eleanor’s gaze followed those trails as they vanished under his shirt.
“I hope you do not mind my state of undress. I am not one for formality in my home.”
That proved it. He was toying with her. She was not sure what his intention in making her uncomfortable was, but she would not fall foul to his games.
“Not at all.” Her responding smile felt fragile but, regardless, she stood and walked over to help herself to tea.
“Allow me.” His fingers grazed hers as he took the teapot from her and poured. “You had two sugars, if I recall correctly.”
“How do you remember that?”“I remember many things about you.” Lucian dropped two sugars in her tea and poured the milk without spilling a drop, and without taking his gaze from hers.
In Victorian England, Little Ellie Browning swiftly discovered happily ever afters did not exist and rakes were simply rakes. When the man she had adored for years kissed her and left her heartbroken and she was forced to marry an elderly earl to save her reputation, she resolved to put any dreams of fairy tales aside.
Seven years later, the now widowed Eleanor, Countess of Hawthorne, has returned to England after years of travelling and is now part-owner of a cotton mill left to her by her late husband.
But the owner of the mill, and the very same handsome rake who hurt her years earlier, has no desire to let a woman interfere with his business, let alone little Ellie Browning—no matter how fascinating he finds her since her transformation from coltish scarecrow to almost graceful countess.
Lucian is still recovering from the after-effects of one of his mills succumbing to fire, and now he’s fighting to save the other in a tough economic climate. He doesn’t need this new distraction, especially when, after a series of accidents, it becomes clear someone wishes the mill to close and he has to find the culprit—fast.
With things heating up between Ellie and Lucian, it’s apparent that not only is the mill in peril—they are both at risk of getting burned...
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