“Ash?” She tilted her head. “Is that for Dashlane?”
“No,” he swallowed. “My father has nothing to do with that nickname.” Or perhaps he had everything to do with that nickname. The other women his mother had lived with had given it to him because he’d slept so close t
o the fire to keep warm during the long, cold winter nights.
“I’ve a new bargain to propose to you,” she said softly. Cordelia moved closer to him, placing a hand on his crossed arms. She peered up at him. “I’ve told you my most intimate secret tonight, the one I’ve never even told my sisters. The one I hope no one ever knows.”
His brows rose. “I see.” He did. Being plain was her big worry?
“You can tell me yours, if you wish. I won’t judge. I’ll keep them for you.”
He drew back, drawing in a sharp inhale. “No.” She didn’t understand the first thing about what she asked. A woman like this, sheltered, loved, couldn’t possibly understand the darkness of his past.
“I can help you, if you let me.” Her other hand came to his waist.
The words actually rushed to his lips. Just once, wouldn’t it be nice to share his father’s cruelty, the loss of his mother, the darkness of growing up in the ash. But if he told her…she’d push him away, or worse, she could use it against him. He looked away, not quite believing the words, but he needed a reason to push her away. Because he could never have her for his own.
Cordelia woke to the sound of birds chirping out her window. Sitting up in bed, she realized the sun was high in the sky already.
Her body flushed with heat as she thought about all she’d done with Dashlane the night before. What she’d told him about herself, what he’d shared with her…how they’d touched.
Her fingers came to her lips. She’d asked for an experience, a chance to know what she might be missing, and she’d gotten it.
Which had really created far more problems than the kiss had solved. First, if she were honest, she only wanted another. Her fingers slid down her chin. But she couldn’t have one. She’d meant every word about wanting to be a musician. And somehow, kissing him, feeling that passion, it made music itch in her fingers, buzz in her brain.
But she also wanted to know more about him. There were hints of dark mystery about him and a hurt that truly made her want to wrap him in her arms and hold him close. He’d given her a great gift and somehow, it bound them.
She rose from the bed and dressed, planning to go down to breakfast, but she turned right rather than left and headed to her pianoforte instead.
Music was singing her in veins, thrumming to the beat of that kiss, and she needed to let it out before she ate.
She burst into the music room, heading straight for her bench and settled herself down, playing one of her favorite concertos. Her body swayed to the music as her fingers flew across the keys. Was it her imagination or did every note sound crisper this morning? The highs held more passion, the lows more despair.
By the time she finished, she was gasping for breath, a bead of sweat on her brow as her head dipped down, her chin resting on her chest.
“That was stunning,” Ash said.
She jumped from the bench swallowing a scream. What was he doing here? “You frightened me.”
“Sorry, sweetheart.” He smiled from the other side of the settee, and tossing one arm over the top, she realized he was still in his formal jacket.
“Did you...did you sleep on the settee last night?”
He winced. “I’m afraid so. Though to be fair, I’m relatively certain your father suggested I stay.” He rubbed his head. “It turns out, I am afflicted with what I warned you to avoid. A terrible headache caused from too much alcohol.”
Her eyebrows rose. “You were drinking with my father?”
He shrugged. “I believe so.”
“You’re a rake after all.” And she rose from the bench, taking his arm. “Come on. Let’s get you some breakfast.”
He shook his head. “I’ll get some at the inn. We don’t want anyone seeing us together this morning. But I might need your help finding my way out.”
Her hands came to her hips. “Just so we’re clear. Bringing you to breakfast is more suspicious than attempting to sneak you out?”
He winced. “You make an excellent point.”