True Pretenses: Deleted Scene #4

A follow-up to scene #3 from later in the book.


“You can’t come see me at night anymore. You’ll catch a chill.”

Ash’s jaw dropped. “What?”

“I enjoy risk. But some risks are necessary, and some aren’t.”

“I’m not going to catch a chill. I’m healthy as an ox.” He remembered saying the same thing to baby Rafe about gaol fever. Well, and it had been true then too.

“There are circles under your eyes.”

“I wouldn’t sleep even if I was in my room,” he said stubbornly. “Coming here is exercise and fresh air.”

She gave him a searching look. He could see the words forming behind her eyes even before she said, “Have you been eating enough?”

He’d always enjoyed being fussed over—not by Rafe, though, he hated to worry Rafe. Which meant it had been a while. “No,” he admitted.

She shook her head. “When we’re married, all that is going to change.”

He leaned in. “I can’t wait eleven days,” he whispered. “I love walking that stretch of road. Only in this direction, though.”

Miss Reeve leaned in too, her breath quickening. “It’s December and it’s wet. Oxen don’t stay outside at night in this weather either.”

Ash laid his hand in the small of her back, sweeping up her spine. He’d done that last night, on her naked skin. He knew she remembered, because she shivered.

“Would you want me to do it?” she asked. “Walk to town and back after midnight?”

“Of course not.”

“Then why are you arguing with me?”

He laughed. “Because I’m selfish. If you did it, I would worry, and that would be unpleasant for me. But I don’t worry about myself, and I want to see you.”

“Well, that’s honest at least.”

“I don’t worry because I know I can take it. I’ve slept on the street on colder nights than these.” Not anytime in the last twenty years, of course, but she didn’t need to know that.

She frowned, clearly wishing she could go back and fuss over him then too.

He’d wanted that so badly, those cold nights: someone to fetch him in out of the cold and wrap him in love and blankets. He’d known even then that it would never happen. It seemed to be happening now, and he’d walk across ice floes for ten minutes of it.

“Did you hear Jamie the other night? ‘Don’t fuss, Lydia’?”

He nodded.

“That’s what my father always said. As if it would have been unmanly in him to take precautions against pneumonia or a broken neck, and—I’m selfish too. I wish my father had chosen to spend another twenty years with me, instead of enjoying ten final minutes of fast riding.”

Oh. Oh, he hadn’t thought of that.


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