Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2) - Lisa Kleypas Page 0,1

presence, his flesh filling with heat, his heartbeat swift and violent.

From one of the rooms attached to the foyer, the tappity-tap of typewriting machines stuttered into silence.

It was madness for Helen to have come here unescorted. Her reputation would be destroyed. She had to be removed from the foyer and sent home before anyone realized whom she was.

But first Rhys had to find out what she wanted. Although she was sheltered and innocent, she wasn’t a fool. She wouldn’t have taken such an enormous risk without good reason.

He glanced at Mrs. Fernsby. “My guest will be leaving soon. In the meantime, make certain we’re not disturbed.”

“Yes, sir.”

His gaze returned to Helen.

“Come,” he said gruffly, and led the way to his office.

She accompanied him wordlessly, her skirts rustling as they brushed the sides of the hallway. Her garments were outdated and slightly shabby, the look of gentility fallen on hard times. Was that why she was here? Was the Ravenel family’s need for money so desperate that she had changed her mind about lowering herself to become his wife?

By God, Rhys thought with grim anticipation, he would love for her to beg him to take her back. He wouldn’t, of course, but he’d give her a taste of the torment he had endured for the past week. Anyone who had ever dared to cross him would have assured her that there would be no forgiveness or mercy afterward.

They entered his office, a spacious and quiet place with wide double-glazed windows and thick, soft carpeting. In the center of the room, a walnut pedestal desk had been piled with stacks of correspondence and files.

After closing the door, Rhys went to his desk, picked up an hourglass and upended it in a deliberate gesture. The sand would drain to the lower chamber in precisely fifteen minutes. He felt the need to make the point that they were in his world now, where time mattered, and he was in control.

He turned to Helen with a mocking lift of his brows. “I was told last week that you—”

But his voice died away as Helen pushed back her veil and stared at him with the patient, tender gravity that had devastated him from the first. Her eyes were the silver-blue of clouds drifting through moonlight. The fine, straight locks of her hair, the palest shade of blonde, had been pulled back neatly into a chignon, but a glinting wisp had slid free of the jet combs and dangled in front of her left ear.

Damn her, damn her for being so beautiful.

“Forgive me,” Helen said, her gaze fastened to his. “This was the first opportunity I could find to come to you.”

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“There are things I need to discuss with you.” She cast a timid glance at a nearby chair. “Please, if you wouldn’t mind . . .”

“Aye, be seated.” But Rhys made no move to help her. Since Helen would never regard him as a gentleman, he’d be damned if he would act like one. He half-sat, half-leaned against his desk, folding his arms across his chest. “You don’t have much time,” he said stonily, giving a short nod toward the hourglass. “You’d better make use of it.”

Helen sat in the chair, arranged her skirts, and removed her gloves with deft tugs at the fingertips.

Rhys’s mouth went dry at the sight of her delicate fingers emerging from the black gloves. She had played the piano for him at Eversby Priory, her family’s estate. He had been fascinated by the agility of her hands, darting and swooping over the keys like small white birds. For some reason she was still wearing the betrothal ring he’d given her, the flawless rose-cut diamond catching briefly on the glove.

After pushing back her veil so that it fell down her back in a dark mist of fabric, Helen dared to meet his gaze for a charged moment. Soft color infused her cheeks. “Mr. Winterborne, I didn’t ask my sister-in-law to visit you last week. I wasn’t feeling well at the time, but had I known what Kathleen intended—”

“She said you were ill.”

“My head ached, that was all—”

“It seems I was the cause.”

“Kathleen made far too much of it—”

“According to her, you said you never wanted to see me again.”

Her blush deepened to brilliant rose. “I wish she hadn’t repeated that,” she exclaimed, looking vexed and ashamed. “I didn’t mean it. My head was splitting, and I was trying to make sense of what had happened the day before. When