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Page 30


Adelaide had explained that these things happened under the covers, in the dark. Once in a while.

Well, maybe Adelaide hadn’t specified that, but India had inferred it.

Feather observed no such restrictions: in another engraving, he was depicted on a riverbank, and when he did appear in a bed, he had a woman nestled on each side, just like the Greek statuary now residing in the attic.

At that point, India turned back and began reading the actual story. She only came to herself thirty minutes later, when the light was slanting low through the library windows. Pushing her hair behind her ears, she realized that her fingers were trembling.

It was an interesting book, she told herself. Merely interesting. She closed it, willing herself to forget the images inside. It was just that the engravings looked so, well, erotic . . . and the women didn’t appear to be shy or ashamed. They appeared to be very jolly.

Eager, even.

Though how could they possibly be? It wasn’t physically possible. But there was that picture of the table, with the woman’s head hanging off the edge, her hair sweeping the floor. That had to be ecstasy on her face.

It was hard to tell. India opened to the page again and turned it upside down, the better to examine the woman’s face.

Her mouth was open. Was she in extreme pain, or was she experiencing pleasure?

She was mulling this over when a noise broke her concentration and she looked up. Thorn stood in the doorway, regarding her. She slammed the book shut and scrambled to her feet, feeling like a child caught sneaking bonbons. “What on earth are you doing here? You aren’t due for two days!”

Thorn raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t answer my last two letters. I thought I’d better make sure you hadn’t collapsed with exhaustion.”

“Of course I haven’t,” India said, dropping her arm so the book was hidden by the folds of her skirt.

“I’ve been at the factory all day, so I stopped by on my way back to London.” He looked around at the stacks. “Tell me you’re not trying to organize these books.”

India cleared her throat. “Just in a general way, by subject. I’ll put the literature in one section, histories in another.”

“I suppose the library is one good thing that comes from owning a country estate.” He walked over to the table and picked up a book on animal husbandry. “I can send out the books I have sitting around in London. They’ve outgrown the bookshelves in my library and are stacked against the walls, much to my housekeeper’s dissatisfaction.”

India casually slid Remarkable Amours on top of a stack of books describing travel. Thorn picked a book from another stack, and looked at its spine. “Are these all books of sermons?”

“I’m afraid so,” India said. “That stack and the one over there, and all those on the far table.”

“Jupp never fails to surprise. Get rid of those, will you? That will leave space for my London books.”

India nodded. “What books do you enjoy?”

“Anything I can get my hands on, though not sermons. What else is in here?”

The naughty books came to India’s mind, but she had no idea how to refer to them. “Let’s see . . . There is a short stack of grammar books, two of Greek grammar and three of German.”

Thorn turned up the lamps fixed to the walls, and another on the mantelpiece. “I suppose I can give those to Rose. She’s such a solemn little thing that she’ll probably work through them in a matter of a week.”

“I found a couple of children’s books that she might like. I put them in the dower house.”

“We’ve already made two trips to Hatchard’s bookshop,” he remarked casually, returning to the table and picking up a travel narrative.

India felt her insides clench. If he glanced at the next stack . . .

“I didn’t think that you would conduct such errands yourself,” she said, edging closer to the questionable volume and leaning her hip against the table. In a moment, she would nonchalantly pick up the entire stack and carry it over to a shelf.

“Rose’s governesses have barely stayed in the house long enough to unpack. But from now on, Twink can take her to the bookshop. You know, you could have simply piled these books onto the shelves.” He laughed at the expression on her face. “I gather you’re a perfectionist.”

“I wouldn’t be very good at this profession if I weren’t.”

“It’s odd to hear a lady speak about a profession,” he said, turning over yet another book.

“You must not talk to many,” she said tartly. “You are surrounded by women who work very hard at various enterprises.”

“But they aren’t ladies,” he said, with perfect truth. He turned his head and looked at her from under his lashes. “And even more than not being ladies, they aren’t daughters of marquesses.”

“There’s nothing about my father’s title that renders me incapable of work.”

“Clearly that’s the case. But don’t pretend that you’re not unusual, India.” He’d reached the bottom of the stack of books. “This is the third book about Italy. I’m starting to think that Jupp bought that Cellini in his travels.”

“In fact, I think those books came from a bookshop,” she said. “I found only twenty or thirty books here, so I had to add to your library.”

Thorn looked up with a bark of laughter. “You bought some poor bugger’s books to make it look as if I had ancestors who knew how to read?”

“No one is trying to disguise the provenance of the house and your ownership of it,” she objected.

He snorted.

“We are simply demonstrating that you are a man of discernment,” India told him.

Before she could stop him Thorn leaned over and picked up Feather’s book. He turned the pages, an entirely wicked grin on his lips. “I see that I am very discerning indeed. You are showing unexpected depths, India.”

“Thanks to Lord Jupp, you have many such volumes in your new collection,” she muttered, gesturing toward the stack on the floor. She could feel color rising in her cheeks again.

“Damn,” Thorn said, turning the pages. “This is an adventuresome little volume.”

“I threw a couple of them in the bin,” India said defiantly.

“Good.”

She hesitated, then: “Aren’t you curious about what they were?”

“There’s sickness in the world, India. I saw some of it as a boy, more as a man . . . I don’t want it in my house, or anywhere near Rose.”

India loved the way he was protecting Rose, so she smiled at him, a wide smile. Unguarded. Unusual for her.

He frowned. “India.”

“Yes?”

“No wonder all those men are scrabbling at your feet to marry you. You could seduce a saint with that smile.” He looked back at the book and turned another page. “Did you enjoy Mr. Feather’s undertakings?”

“I merely glanced at the volume.”

His mouth quirked. “I stood in that doorway for a good five minutes before you saw me. I was squinting, but it looked to me as if this was the picture you found most fascinating.”

At that, heat flooded her body. Propriety demanded that she run from the room, but she remained where she was.

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