His Housekeeper's Christmas Wish(5)

By: Louise Allen

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 ‘Mmm?’ Citrus cologne, starched linen... She was being lifted again by Lord Weybourn. It seemed natural to turn her head into his shoulder, inhale the interesting masculine scent of him.

 ‘You will get a crick in your neck in that corner, little nun. And we’re becoming noisy. There’s a nice quiet room just here, you can rest.’

 That sounded so good. ‘Sister Clare...’

 ‘I remember. Sister Clare, down at the canal dock. Boat to Ostend in the morning.’

 What is all this nonsense the sisters tell us about men? Anyone would think they were all ravening beasts... These four are kind and reliable and safe. And the mattress was soft when he laid her down and the covers so warm and light. ‘Thank you,’ Tess murmured as she drifted off again.

 ‘My pleasure, little nun.’ Then the door closed and all was quiet.

                       Chapter Two

 Tess swum up out of sleep, deliciously warm and with a definite need for the chamber pot. Too much tea. ‘Ouch!’ Her ankle gave a stab of pain as she hopped across to the screen in the corner, made herself comfortable and then hopped back. It was still light, so she could not have slept long. In fact, it was very light. She pulled aside the curtain and stared out at a corner of the inn yard with a maid bustling past with a basket of laundry and a stable boy lugging a bucket of water. It was unmistakably morning.

 She hobbled to the door, flung it open. The four men were still around the table. The dice player and the blond icicle were playing cards with the air of gamblers who could continue for another twelve hours if necessary. Mr Rivers was pouring ale into a tankard with one hand while holding a bread roll bulging with ham in the other. And Lord Weybourn, who she now realised was the most unreliable, infuriating man—regardless of her pulse quickening simply at the sight of him—was fast asleep, his chair tipped on its back legs against a pillar, his booted feet on the table amidst a litter of playing cards.

 The fact that he was managing to sleep without snoring, with his mouth mostly closed and his clothing unrumpled, only added fuel to the fire.

 ‘Lord Weybourn!’

 ‘Humph?’ He jerked awake and Tess winced at the thump his head made against the pillar. ‘Ouch.’

 The other men stood up. ‘Miss Ellery. Good morning. Did you sleep well?’ Mr Rivers asked.

 ‘I told him. I told him I had to be down at the canal port. I told him the boat left very early this morning.’ She jerked her head towards Lord Weybourn, too cross to look at him.

 ‘It is early morning.’ He got to his feet and she could not help but notice that he did not look as though he had slept in his clothes. He was as sleek and self-possessed as a panther. What she looked like she shuddered to think.

 Tess batted an errant lock of hair out of her eyes. ‘What time is it?’

 The blond icicle glanced at the mantelshelf clock. ‘Just past nine.’

 ‘That isn’t early, that is almost half the morning gone.’ Tess hopped to the nearest chair and sat down. ‘I have missed the boat.’

 ‘You can buy a ticket on the next one. They are frequent enough,’ the viscount said, stealing Mr Rivers’s unguarded tankard. The ale slid down in a long swallow, making his Adam’s apple move. His neck was strapped with muscle.

 ‘I do not have any money,’ Tess said through gritted teeth, averting her eyes from so much blatant masculinity. If she knew any swear words this would be an excellent opportunity to use them. But she did not. Strange that she had never felt the lack before. ‘I have a ticket for the boat that left at four o’clock. It arrives in Ostend with just enough time to catch the ship across the Channel. The ship that I have another ticket for. I have tickets, useless tickets. I have no money and I cannot go back to the convent and ask for more. I cannot afford to repay it,’ she added bleakly.

 ‘Ah. No money?’ Lord Weybourn said with that faint, infuriating smile. ‘I understand your agitation.’

 ‘I am not agitated.’ Agitation was not permitted in the convent. ‘I am annoyed. You knocked me down, my lord. You brought me here and let me sleep. You promised to wake me in time for the boat. Therefore this is now your problem to resolve.’ She folded her hands in her lap, straightened her back and gave him the look that Mother Superior employed to extract the admission of sins, major and minor. Words were usually not necessary.

 She should have known he would have an answer. ‘Simple. Grant and I are going to Ostend by carriage later today. You come with us and I will buy you a boat ticket when we get there.’

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