Whatever this was between the two of them was only a temporary retreat from the real world.
She’d thought she’d been wrong when she’d imagined him a romantic and honorable hero. But she’d not misjudged him.
He was all of those things, even if he’d somehow managed to steal her heart.
“You’re not coming back,” she confirmed. “When you’re finished at the blacksmith’s.”
At this, he turned serious. “I can drive you if you’d like. I’m not in any hurry, really.”
“You should be. Your family is waiting for you. Besides, it wouldn’t be at all appropriate for me to arrive…” Delia shook her head at the hypocrisy of it all. “It’s easier this way.”
He nodded. “Use the chamber for as long as you need. It’s already paid for.”
Delia swallowed hard and searched his gaze. She would memorize his features—his high cheekbones, softend by unshaven whiskers—his mouth that looked hard, but she knew could be equally soft—and his eyes…
Eyes that would haunt her dreams forever.
“Thank you.” Her throat was thick with emotion. “For everything.”I love you. But of course, she’d never say that. He’d think she’d gone batty again.
She’d known him less than twenty-four hours.
“It was nothing.” Tightening his hands around hers, he leaned forward and kissed her one last time. Searching. Was he memorizing her as well?
And then it was over all too quickly.
What he’d done had not been nothing. It had been everything.
And it was going to have to last her forever.
Delia stepped back. “I’ll go to the shop, then,” she gulped. When she returned to the chamber, he would be gone. “Happy Christmas, Jack.”
Delia opened the door and stepped into the foyer. “Happy Christmas, Delia,” he said.
She allowed herself one last glance and then pulled the door closed behind her.
The roads werewet and muddy but passable, and Jack didn’t have all that far to go. Rather than ride inside the carriage, he’d chosen to sit beside his driver.
They’d taken to the road late in the afternoon since the blacksmith had required more time than expected.
Jack was tempted to return to the inn more than once—if only to ensure she’d found the mercantile easily enough and that she’d been able to send word to her employer.
He’d given her more than enough money to travel across all of England if necessary but would have felt better to deliver her himself. What if her employers turned her away? What if they didn’t treat her well?
He had done the right thing by not taking her innocence even though she’d been willing—more than willing. If he had followed through, he would have married her. He’d been accused of being a rogue, but he didn’t lack all sense of honor.
He’d nearly married once, shortly after reaching his majority. It had all been carefully arranged by his parents, and he’d even fancied himself a little in love.
However, two days before the wedding, his betrothed had eloped with the man Jack had considered his best friend. The mess had been more than enough to put him off the idea of marriage.
And he’d never looked back.
And yet, he couldn’t seem to dismiss the regret gnawing at him.
“Road could be worse,” Cyril commented, jolting Jack out of his thoughts. The drive leading up to thorn cliff Abbey was steep, and those unfamiliar with the route often found it daunting.
Jack and Cyril, however, had done the climb hundreds of times—in all manner of weather. Even so, as the mud thickened, Jack jumped off and trudged ahead to take hold of Reliable’s lead.
Even doing that summoned Delia to his thoughts. She’d been concerned about the horses in the cold.