“Hell, you look awful,” Dautry said, by way of greeting.
She smiled at him. “Why, thank you. How very kind of you to point it out.”
“Show me around the place and then we’ll go to the inn for supper, because you are about to fall over. Did you sleep last night?”
“Certainly,” she said, trying to remember whether she had. She’d been making yet more lists and had been surprised by the dawn. The day had been frantic as the last of the walls was replastered, the kitchen’s new slate floor was laid, the privies cleaned . . . All of that had to be completed before the new furniture could be brought in.
Dautry walked through the rooms so quickly that India had difficulty keeping up. “Looks good,” he announced when he had seen all the plastering and the new floor in the kitchen. “We need some chairs and tables.”
India explained about the tradesmen who would be arriving on the morrow with carts of furniture, rugs, and smaller objects. “I hope to be able to furnish the servants’ quarters and the bedrooms from what they bring.”
He nodded. “Supper,” he said, taking her arm.
She was tall for a woman, but he was taller. And very solid.
“I really must go to bed,” she said, feeling instinctively that the less time she spent with her employer, the better.
There was something disturbing about him, and the feeling was all the more intense after their exchange of letters. A taut awareness between them made her skin prickle.
“Supper, followed by bed,” he stated.
They left the house, but she came to an abrupt halt next to his carriage. “I can’t leave; my coachman won’t know where I am.”
“Where the hell is he?”
“In the stables, of course.”
Dautry jerked his head at his groom, who trotted away. “You’re in this house alone? Where’s your maid? And your coachman is in the stables?”
“I don’t make people work all night long,” she said indignantly. Then she remembered the first night and added, “At least not without paying them a great deal of money.”
“You should not be in the house alone,” Dautry said. Without warning he slid his arm behind her knees and lifted her.
India started to protest, but in one clean motion he tossed her onto the carriage seat. He jumped in, swung the door shut, and thumped the ceiling.
Their eyes kept tangling in an embarrassing way, so India tried looking out the window. The cows looked as sleepy as she did.
“You ought to have footmen guarding you at all times,” Dautry said. “I’ll send a couple of mine out from London tomorrow.”
“There’s no need,” she said, feeling dizzy. “My maid is with me all day, and once the servants’ quarters are furnished, I shall be able to hire proper staff. The registry service is sending candidates tomorrow afternoon.”
As soon as they reached the inn, she could go to bed. Meanwhile, she kept her backbone straight with pure force of will.
In a smooth blur of movement, Dautry moved to sit beside her. He propped himself in the corner, yanked her against his chest, and ordered, “Sleep.”
She immediately tried to sit up again. “This is quite improper! And besides, I don’t nap.”
“Stuff propriety,” he said, sounding impatient. “I don’t want to marry you, Lady X, and you don’t want to marry me, so who the hell will ever know—or care?”
“I never nap,” India repeated.
“Don’t nap, in that case.” But he didn’t loosen the arm holding her against him.
It would be undignified to continue to struggle. And every bone and muscle in her body was grateful to not be sitting upright.
Dautry didn’t seem uncomfortable. “Since I saw you last, Rose and I have been getting to know each other. She has added the study of French verbs in the imperfect tense to her Greek. Last night she walked round and round my library, reciting them in that odd voice of hers: ‘Nous venions, vous veniez.’ ”
India could hear his heart beating quite slowly, like a melody played on a piano far away, in another part of the house. The carriage rocked gently beneath them. “I have no idea what that means,” she admitted.
“No Frenchman would understand her either. She has an appalling accent; she sounds like an old dowager butchering the language. I’ve promised her a tutor, but I can already tell it won’t make any difference. I haven’t been able to find a governess I like yet, and she’s peeved at me.”
India was thinking about that as she drifted off to sleep.
When she woke, she was still lying down, no longer in the carriage but in a room with windows open to an evening breeze. The far-off rhythm of Dautry’s heartbeat was still there, under her ear. And there was a light pressure on her back from his warm hand simply resting there.
Her heart pulsed momentarily with loneliness, because she couldn’t remember anyone ever before putting a hand on her while she slept.
She sat up, peered at him, and said, “Hello.” They seemed to be in a room at the Horn & Stag, and something had happened to her hair; it was tumbling past her shoulders.
“I like your hair,” he said.
“It’s my mother’s,” India said, in a voice husky with sleep. “There’s too much of it.”
“You could stuff a pillow with it someday.”
She chose not to respond to that absurdity. “What are you reading?”
“A book about Leonardo’s inventions.”
India had no idea who Leonardo was, but she didn’t feel up to asking. The expression in Dautry’s eyes as he watched her rearrange her hair made her want to ask him what he was thinking—and run away to her room, both at the same time. Absurd.
She took a deep breath and twisted all her hair around itself. Most of her hairpins seemed to be mysteriously missing.
“I pulled them out in the carriage,” Dautry said, watching her fruitlessly pat her head.
“Why on earth did you do that?”
“I was bored.” He took a pin from his waistcoat pocket and gave it to her. “Do you know, I think I could make a better hairpin, one that bent in the middle.”
India didn’t see how that would improve the design, but it seemed impolite to say so, especially after he’d presumably carried her inside. “I must apologize, Mr. Dautry, for falling asleep in such an unladylike manner.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’re to address me as Thorn, remember? I already issued a command to that effect. I’m tired of ‘Lady X.’ I shall call you India, as your godmother does. ‘Lady X’ sounds like a woman with a repertoire of exotic sexual services to offer. You haven’t, have you?”
She gave him a look. “If you’ll excuse me, I will retire to my chamber. I will, of course, continue to inform you of my progress.”
“You haven’t said much about progress,” he observed. “Instead, you’ve sent me bills so large that I could have wallpapered half the East End.” He reached over and tugged on the bell.
The innkeeper immediately opened the door. “We’re ready for supper,” Thorn told him. The man bowed and withdrew again.
“I couldn’t,” India said, just as her hair uncurled and fell down her back again. Though it was true that her stomach felt as if it were pressing against her backbone.