Margaret McPhee

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Unlacing the Inncoent Miss



Put them on, Miss Meadowfield, or I will do it for you.’

There was little choice. She sat herself down on the bed, careful to keep her feet tucked beneath the length of her skirt, and pulled the stockings and boots close to its hem. Beneath the cold blast of Wolf’s scrutiny she tried to slip one stocking on to her foot beneath the cover of her skirt, steeling herself not to wince.

Wolf caught a glimpse of a white material strip dangling from Rosalind Meadowfield’s foot and knew instantly what it was. He bent and caught hold of her left ankle and, pushing back the curtain of skirt, revealed the truth. He knew then why she had taken so long to ready herself. The loose winding of the makeshift bandage only partially covered her foot, the rest that had yet to be wound lay long and limp, its edges ragged. The ball of her foot and toes were still exposed, and what he saw there made his chest tighten.

The skin was rubbed raw, its cleansed blisters weeping afresh. He lifted the hem of her skirt, saw the torn petticoat and her right foot fully bound.

‘You should have told me,’ he said, and the knowledge that he had misread her made his voice too harsh.

She pulled her foot from his grasp and fixed her skirts back down into place.

‘It is none of your concern, sir.’ Indignation blazed in her eyes before she looked away. Her movements were jerky, her hands trembling as she grabbed a boot and started to pull it roughly on to her foot using the strength of her defiance against the pain.

His hands moved to possess hers, stilling their action.

She gasped. ‘How dare?’ You have no right to touch me!’

The pale gaze slid to hers. ‘We have already been through this, but I’ll remind you, as you seem to have forgotten. Until we reach London, you are under my control – completely and absolutely.’

She glared at him. Her heart was racing, and it seemed that the skin on her ankles still tingled where his fingers had touched.

‘Your feet are cut to ribbons.’ He grabbed up one of her boots and, turning it over, looked at the thin soles with its holes and tears, before throwing it back down.

‘As I have already said, sir, it is none of your concern.’

‘You still do not realize do you? What do I have to do to make you understand?’

Rosalind’s heart was beating fit to burst, and her stomach was a small tight ball of fear. She could feel the warm press of his fingers around hers as he took her hands again.

‘Mr Wolversley.’ His name sounded hoarse in the aridity of her throat.

‘You will tell me the next time you are injured or hurt.’ It was not a question, but an assertion.

‘What does it matter? You are taking me to Evedon. Why would you care about a few cuts on my feet?’

He did not reply at once, so that the tension that lay between them seemed to Rosalind to wind unbearably tight. ‘Evedon wants you in one piece,’ he said finally.
Why else indeed, he thought grimly, yet the sight of her wounded feet tore at him.

Her hands fluttered and struggled within his, seeking an escape, but he firmed his grip slightly, holding her until the movement ceased. ‘Miss Meadowfield,’ he said more softly. His eyes met hers. And he saw that she was embarrassed and angry and afraid.

‘Two thin dressings placed over the raw patches will give better protection, and keep the binding thin and firm. Too thick and they will make your boots press all the tighter; too loose and they will chafe the skin all the more.’ He spoke calmly, matter of factly, as if he were not kneeling on the floor with her hands within his and her feet and ankles are before him.

She watched him with the wariness of a trapped animal.

He released her hands then, took hold of her left foot and began to unwind the binding.

‘Sir! What on earth do you think you are doing?’ Her eyes were wide with shock, their colour a gold-flecked green in the daylight.

‘I’m binding your feet so that you ill make it through his day with some degree of comfort.’

‘But…!’ Her cheeks were scalded pink, and she pulled her foot away.

‘Do you wish to be unable to walk by the end of this day?’ he demanded. ‘It is of little concern to me, for, whether it is Campbell or Kempster or myself that must carry you, our journey shall not be delayed.’

‘You cannot carry me,’ she whispered in a scandalized tone.
‘Can I not?’

The silence stretched between them.

‘So what is it to be, Miss Meadowfield? Shall I bind your feet or not?’

He saw the hard swallow, the deep in-breath to her lungs. She raised her head and focused her gaze upon the corner of the room. ‘Very well, sir.’

Wolf’s touch was gentle for so fierce a man. His hand moved with a confidence assurance, undoing that which had taken her so long to put in place. And when he inspected her feet, bare and sore, it was all she could do not to pull them from his gaze and hide them once more beneath her skirts. Yet he laid the dressings and bound them in place so expertly that she found his touch both calming and compulsive. She knew it was wrong to feel like that. She should be wishing for the mortification to end. Instead, it was as if something else had taken over her body. His touch was soothing and pleasurable. She knew she should not look, but she could not help herself. Her eyes moved to the strong hands that worked upon her feet.

His fingers were tanned beside the pallor of her ankles, his skin roughened in contrast to her smoothness and, for all their days on the road, his nails were short and clean. He worked deftly, and when he touched her, her skin tingled. She watched those hands first on one foot and then the other, and everything in his movement was gentle yet with a strength and competence that were undeniable. He knew what he was doing. At last he tucked the end of the binding in and she thought he was finished, but he was not. He lifted her stocking.

Rosalind’s heart gave a somersault. She knew she should draw her foot back, but it was as if she were entranced. She just sat there with her foot in his hand, and waited, waited, her breath holding tight in her lungs, her blood thrumming with anticipation.

Slowly, carefully, he eased her foot into the silken case of her stocking, so that the binding was not dislodged. The silk pooled around her ankle, his fingers resting above it on the nakedness of her skin. And still she sat, unable to move, as if cast as a statue, her lower leg exposed before him.

He hesitated.

A breath in, and out.

Her skin burned beneath the touch of his fingers. She moved her eyes to his, but his focus was fixed upon her ankle, at where his hands cupped around her leg.

He was still, unnaturally so, and tense; she could feel it even through the feather-light touch of his hands. Slowly, as if against his will, he raised his gaze to hers.

His eyes smouldered a deep smoky grey, and they were filled not with anger or loathing or mockery, but with shock and with something that she had never seen in any man’s eyes. She looked and could not look away. Something in her seemed to open, some need that she did not understand. She felt his thumb flicker against her skin, an infinitesimal movement – so small as to barely move at all, and yet a caress all the same.

And still their gazes held, locked, caught in some strange new world in which only the two of them existed. She could not move, could not breathe. The pulse in her throat throbbed, her heart thumping wildly, her blood rushing madly. She was acutely conscious of where his hand lingered and of his very proximity. Her skin burned beneath his touch.

She gasped as she felt the caress of his fingers against the skin of her calf.

His face came nearer.

Rosalind leaned towards him, the tiniest motion, but enough.

His mouth moved closer so that she could feel the warmth of his breath upon her cheek.

‘Wolf,’ she whispered, and not once did the intensity of their gaze waver.

His lips parted.

She closed her eyes...”

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