Margaret McPhee


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A Dark and Brooding Gentleman

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"
Hunter was sitting silently in his chair by the window, his eyes staring blindly out at the dark-enveloped moor when he heard the noise from the hallway outside his study. The waning half moon was hidden under a small streak of cloud and the black-velvet sky was lit only by a sprinkling of stars, bright and twinkly as diamonds. His head turned, listening, but otherwise he did not move. His senses sharpened. And even though he had been drinking he was instantly alert.

Someone was out there, he could feel their presence. A maidservant on her way down to the kitchens? A footman returning to bed following a tryst? Or another intruder, like the ones who had tried before? He set the brandy glass down and quietly withdrew the pistol from the botom right-hand drawer of his desk, then turned the chair back to face the moor so that he would not be seen from the doorway; he waited, and he listened.

He listened to the light pad of footsteps across the stone flags towards his door.

He listened as the handle slowly turned and the door quietly opened, then closed again. Within the small diamond-shaped lead-lined panes he saw the reflection of a bright flicker of candlelight. The soft even tread of small feet moved towards the desk behind him. He waited until he heard the clunk of the brass candlestick being set down upon the wooden surface of the desk behind him, then he cocked the pistol and swivelled his chair round to face the intruder.

She was standing with her back to him, looking over his desk.

'Miss Allardyce.'

She started round to face him, gave a small shriek and stumbled back against the desk. Her mouth worked, but no words sounded.

He rose to his feet.

Her gaze dropped to the pistol.

He made it safe and lowered it.

'Mr Hunter,' she said and he could hear the shock in her voice and see it in every nuance of her face, of her body and the way she was gripping at the desk behind her. 'I had no idea that you were in here.'

'Evidently not.' He let his gaze wander from the long thick auburn braid of hair that hung over her shoulder, down across the bodice of the cotton nightdress which, though prim and plain and patched in places, did not quite hide the figure beneath. His gaze dropped lower to the little bare toes that peeped from beneath its hem, before lifting once more to those golden brown eyes. And something of the woman seemed to call to him so that, just as when he had first looked at her upon the moor, an overwhelming desire surged through him."

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