The Duke's Perfect Wife


Page 54




Ian had stepped off the boat. Beth ran to him, despite the mud, and Ian swept her up into a warm embrace. Everyone surrounded them and began talking at once. Demanding to know where Ian had run off to. Why had he worried everyone so? Thank God Hart had found him.
The Romany piled off the boat, children, goats, dogs, men, and women, and trudged to the middle of the rainy field to start setting up tents. Cameron seemed to find this in no way unusual. He began talking to a man with a pipe, and Daniel and Angelo joined them, along with Eleanor's father. Daniel started helping the Romany men stretch canvas over the tents, and the children ran inside them. Sinclair handed Eleanor the umbrella and moved to assist.
Last to leave the boat was a black-clad older lady. Hart assisted her across to the bank, but he did not get off with her.
What was he doing? Hart stood back, like the king Eleanor had thought of, or better still, a general, watching everyone, waiting to direct them if necessary. He kept his eyes on his brothers, formidable giants with their wives never far from their sides. They all looked happy-Beth, Isabella, and Ainsley laughing at their Mackenzie men but gazing at said men with deep love.
"He needs you."
Eleanor jumped at Ian's voice in her ear. He was beside her, his keen gaze on her, while Beth stood not far away chattering with the older Romany woman.
"Who does?" Eleanor asked Ian. "Hart?" She peered through the rain at the stubborn duke leaning on the rail of the tied-up boat. "Hart Mackenzie needs no one."
Ian's whiskey-colored eyes were dark under the umbrella's shadow. "You're wrong," he said. He turned and trudged away, back through the rain to Beth.
He needs you.
Hart did look so alone. He was watching the family he'd done everything in the world to keep safe, but watching. Not part of them.
Eleanor lifted her already muddy skirt and picked her way down the slope to the bank, mindful of Sinclair's words about slipping. Hart watched her come-she could feel his gaze on her all the way down the field-but he didn't leave the boat to meet her.
Not until she'd reached the canal boat did Hart step to the rail, snatch the umbrella that threatened to turn inside out in the wind, toss it aside, and haul Eleanor across the foot of water between them.
Eleanor landed against him. Hart was soaking wet, his coat open, wet strands of hair against his unshaven face. From behind those strands, his eyes were amber and sharp, alive.
"What are you doing?" Eleanor asked, still angry. "Are you going to weigh anchor and float us away?"
"Angelo's mother asked me to look after the boat. They've come to watch Cameron and Angelo train the horses."
"She meant for you to have one of the staff do it, surely."
"No, she meant me." Hart gazed into the strengthening rain, which obscured the tents on the hill. "Dukes and errand boys are all the same to her. But it doesn't matter. It's quiet here."
Quiet was one thing Hart Mackenzie did not have an abundance of, and Eleanor knew that when he returned to London, he'd have even less.
"Shall I go, then? Leave you in peace looking after your canal boat?"
"No." The answer was abrupt, swift. Hart's hand, heavy and strong, landed on hers. "You're all wet. Let's go inside. I want to show you the boat."
He half guided, half pulled her down the few stairs to the cabin door. Hart wrenched open the swollen wooden door, towed Eleanor through, and shut it again.
The sound of rain turned to a hollow drumming on the roof and a pattering against the windowpanes. This, coupled with the quiet hiss of coals in the little corner stove, was soothing. Eleanor understood Hart's reluctance to leave.
"I've never been on a canal boat before," she said, looking around in delight.
The Romany might be itinerants, but their home was cozy. The tiny stove gave off good heat. Pots and pans hung above the stove, scrubbed gleaming clean, and bunks at the far end were piled with colorful quilts and blankets. The bench that ran along one wall under the windows held embroidered cushions she recognized as Ainsley's work.
"I thought you'd like it," Hart said.
"I take it you had no run-ins with assassins on your jaunt?"
"No."
Just the one word, when she'd been worried to death. "I am speaking lightly of it, because, Hart, I was so scared…" She trailed off, her hands balling. She wanted to fling her arms around him, and at the same time, she wanted to beat her fists against his chest. To stop herself from doing either, she folded her arms across her stomach.
She felt Hart's warmth as he came to her, smelled the wet linen of his shirt and damp wool of his coat. Hart slid off the coat and set it aside, then he cupped her elbows with his big hands and drew her against him.
The kiss, when it came, was hungry. No teasing, no playing, no cajoling. A desperate kiss that wanted her.
He needs you.
Eleanor pressed her hands against his wet shirt, feeling his heart racing beneath her touch. His skin was too cold, his mouth, hot as flame.
She pushed at his shirt, the buttons already loose. "You need this off. You'll catch your death."
Hart impatiently shrugged off the shirt and let it fall to the floor. He was bare beneath, no flannels covering his bronzed, tight skin.
He pulled her into the circle of warmth near the stove and drew her up to him again, thumbs opening her mouth. His next kiss was even more fierce, more desperate.Source: www_Novel12_Com