...Carter’s voice at the door startled her, and she reached for her slippers. “Yes?”
“Master Roby is sleeping. Will you retire?” The butler moved further into the room, holding his head at an odd angle. He’d wrenched himself lifting Brewster from the foyer floor, refusing to wait for the footman to aid him.
Stubborn, kindly old fool.
“Go to bed, Carter. And be sure to apply some liniment to your neck.”
He withdrew, leaving her alone in her private parlor with the doctor. Brewster looked deeply asleep, but surely he could not be at ease fully dressed as he was. Dared she? He was her guest, after all—it was her duty to make him comfortable. He would assume it had been the work of Carter or the footman. And when might she again get the chance to lay hands upon such a pretty man, so young and dark and fine? Never. Never, ever. If it be a sin, then let it be the last of its kind.
She began by removing his boots, which required significant struggle. Then she set to work unbuttoning his waistcoat and loosening the collection of linen wrapped about his throat. He slept on, with nary the twitch of an eyelid, throughout the ordeal.
When she finished, she stood back and surveyed her work. His mouth had grown slack, his lips parted as if for a kiss. His hands had fallen away to better reveal the contours of his form. The firelight did much to enhance that prominent feature to which her eyes were drawn, again and again…
“…thick as a young tree limb!”
“…had his draperies trimmed…”
She clasped her arms about her, struggling to ignore the heat flashing at her temples, her palms, and elsewhere. She’d acted in error. The wicked ember within her needed no further fuel. What she required now was penance, icy and harsh, to quench the flame.
She took herself away, out of the parlor and up the stairs. After carrying the ewer and rag from the room where Roby slept to another nearby chamber, she undressed and stood naked before an open window. The damp wind raised gooseflesh on her skin. Again and again she splashed herself with water from the ewer, and scrubbed at her breasts and belly with the rag ’til her jaw ached from clenching against the icy sting. When the ewer stood empty, she knelt in the puddle, folded her hands on the windowsill, and made the old plea—forgiveness for herself, mercy for Roby. Feeling only partially chastened, she drew a muslin dressing gown over her dripping body and left the room on bare, numb feet.
She would tend to her guest—see to the fire, slip a pillow beneath his head, and leave a draught of wine within reach. And if she could accomplish these things without allowing shameful thoughts and impulses to intrude, then perhaps Heaven would spare her son...