Cora removed the irritating sling and made for the kitchen.
Herappetite had returned in full force, and she longed for
something more solidthan her current diet of watery soup
and clotted-cream porridge. But as herappetite increased,
her sleep had fallen victim to nightmares of the past
onceshe had stopped taking the laudanum. As much as she
hated the opiate, shelonged for a full night's rest.
She rubbed her exhausted head and trudged through the sun-
brightenedhouse, experimentally flexing her hand and
rotating her wrist. Needles of painshot up her arm and,
after so many days of idleness, her muscles felt leadenand
She performed the exercise a few more times, shrugging off
thediscomfort. Regaining strength in her arm was just one
more obstacle toovercome. She had lost count of how many of
those she had encountered since herfirst introduction to
As she headed for food that she could actually cut with her
teeth,she passed the library door and heard a muffled
expletive. Retracing her steps,Cora peered into the room.
At first she thought the room empty, until her gazelowered
and was greeted by a man's well-shaped bottom clad in fawn-
"Come out from under there you insufferable fur ball." Guy
made aquick grab for something beneath the burgundy chaise
Cora raised an eyebrow, amused to see the Earl of Helsford
in suchan undignified position. "Why don't you try using
some of your legendary charmto coax your friend out?"
He jerked up, smacking his head on the chaise. "Ow!"
Rubbing hishead, he sat back on his heels and sent her a
you'll-pay-for-that look, anexpression she hadn't seen in a
very long time—and one she keenly missed.
"Do not scowl at me," she admonished, ignoring the ache in
herheart. "I had nothing to do with your current
"Sneaking up on me doesn't count for culpability?"
Cora stepped closer to investigate. What would tempt Guy to
get downon his hands and knees? As she bent forward, a
delicate gray face with largegreen eyes peeked out to
She shifted her attention to Guy. "How on earth did the
littlecreature get in here?"
"How should I know," he grumbled. "But it's going back to
whereverit came from."
She watched the poor kitten inch closer. "Don't be silly.
If I can'tfind its mother, I'll care for it."
"The fur ball's not staying in this house."
"Are you afraid the kitten will bother your aunt's birds?"
Duringone of her exploratory circuits, Cora had found a
large brass-wired cage sittingatop a pedestal in the far
corner of Aunt Phoebe's rose-colored drawing room. Inside,a
pair of small yellow birds flapped about their enclosure,
tipping theirlittle heads from side to side at her
approach. When they realized she wishedthem no harm, they
had extended their feathered throats and began to sing
toher… at least that's how Cora interpreted their action.
Guy's jaw firmed. "No, I'm not worried about the birds. If
anything,I might let the kitten loose inside the cage just
to shut them up."
"You'll do no such thing." She watched the kitten edge
closer toGuy's boot. "What's your aversion, then? We
harbored many barnyard cats in thepast."
His eyes narrowed. "It's a damned ankle-biter."
"You heard me," he said. "The little baggage thinks it's
great funto attack my ankles while I'm sitting here. I now
have some very decorativeclaw and fang marks on my new
Cora waved her hand in the direction of Guy's black
Hessians. "Letme see."
Hiking his foot up on the chaise, he pointed to the
offending marksaround the ankle area. "There."
Sure enough, little gouge marks punctured the expensive
She pointed to the top of his high boot. "I suspect your
tassel ismore temptation than the little one could bear."
Her lips twitched.
"You find this amusing, my dear?" He dropped his foot to
"Not at all." She couldn't remember the last time she had
felt unfeignedamusement. But the gouge marks, the kitten,
and Guy's expression—
"I don't think you would find it entertaining if it were
your poorankles being attacked by ten tiny needles and a
set of butcher-sharpened fangs."
"No. No, you're quite right." She struggled to keep the
quiver fromher voice.
Picking up a quill from the desk, she knelt down.
Uncomfortable withher nearness, the gray kitten wedged
itself deeper into the shadows but keptits unblinking green
eyes on her. Kinship for the trapped animal clamped
Cora wriggled the quill once, twice, and, on the third
time, thekitten pounced on the white feather, biting and
slapping it into submission..Inch by inch, she moved the
quill out of its reach, coaxing the intent kittenfrom its
She reached out and smoothed her hand over its delicate
back, theplush coat more luxurious than any fur muff she
had ever owned. When it showedno sign of attacking her
hand, she scooped the wide-eyed kitten into her armsand,
before long, a rumbling tempest sprang to life inside its
small body.Needles bit into the backs of Cora's eyes at the
"Damnation," Guy said.
Cora tilted her head up and caught Guy's lopsided smile,
and then athoughtful expression transfigured his features.
"It appears you have made a friend."
"Force and intimidation can sometimes have the opposite
result ofits intended effect. Patience might prove a more
effective means of gettingone's way."
His midnight eyes bore into hers. "So it would seem."
For several excruciating seconds, he studied her. The
intensity ofhis scrutiny made her feel gauche and exposed.
She wanted to pull the curtainof her hair over her eyes.
But her long locks were gone, and she had learnedlong ago
not to show such weakness.
He glanced at the kitten, breaking their eye contact. "Be
sure tothrow that menace outside when you're done coddling
it." He turned on his heeland left, his gentle tone belying
his harsh words and abrupt exit.
For a long time after his departure, Cora stared at the
opendoorway, absently rubbing her thumb along the downy
coat under the kitten'sneck, wondering what she had
revealed to Guy's considering gaze.