Prue blew out the candle, sinking the summer house into darkness. On the second floor of the house, a window showed light, and a shadow moved back and forth on the curtains. Whoever was inside was pacing the floor.
“Madame’s room,” Prue said. “Bother the woman. How am I going to get back to my room?”
“Sleep here,” David suggested. “I’ll wake you in time to get back into the house before the servants are about.”
The knack of waking at whatever time he chose had come in handy many times. And he could do with a few hours sleep himself. He’d sleep better if Prue was close. Though he’d sleep better if she hadn’t agreed so quickly that they were friends. Only friends.
Prue hesitated, but then turned and made her cautious way back across the dark room to the chest to recover the blankets. He helped her spread them across the bed. Working by touch, he couldn’t help but brush up against her several times. Each time, she stiffened and moved away.
Even when they lay side by side under the blankets, she kept herself apart.
He forced himself to keep the hurt from his voice, and speak calmly.
“Sleep, Mist. I’ll wake you with the dawn.”
“Goodnight, David,” she answered, her voice sounding small, even humble. “David; we are just friends, are we not?”
Just friends. So many answers crowded his mind, tangling into one another on their way to his tongue that he said nothing. And, as the silence stretched, he heard her breathing change. She was asleep.
He moved a little closer, close enough to sense the shape of her without any part of him touching any part of her. The only possible answer was suddenly clear. Just friends. If that was all she was prepared to offer, then he’d take it. For five months there had been a Prue-shaped hole in his life, and much though he wanted her back as his lover; much though her rejection clawed at his vitals; being near her, talking to her, working with her was better than living with the emptiness.
“Yes, Prue,” he whispered. “Just friends.”
During the night, they drifted together. The cold, Prue told herself. It was the cold that had them spooned together, sharing body heat in the cocoon of blankets.
He didn’t want her. “We are just friends?” she’d asked him, hoping he would say they were far more than that. She thought he wasn’t going to answer. She’d schooled her breathing to the rhythms of sleep, afraid that if she said anything more she would beg. And long after she had asked the question, he finally answered. Just friends.
“Prue?” he murmured in her ear now. “Prue, it’s almost morning.”
He was moving away from her, leaving a void of cold all down her back.
She rolled over, looking after him as he slipped from under the covers and began pulling on the boots he’d discarded the night before.
He was so handsome. Shorter than both his half-brothers, and dark where they were fair. The straight brows and the firm chin were the same shape. His broad shoulders flexed as he tugged the boots into place. It crossed her mind that she’d now seen the naked torsos of all three brothers.
She had a sudden vision of David’s naked back and small firm buttocks moving away from her across their bedroom on the island. Her mouth went dry at the thought.
She clambered past him out of the bed. She needed to get these ridiculous longings under control. However much David desired her when they were isolated, he didn’t want her now. Why would he, after all? She knew she was nothing special. Here, in London, David had access to women more beautiful, more witty, more cultured, more in every way.
At least he still wanted her friendship.
It would have to be enough.
Prue had slipped out of her gown last night, before lying down to sleep. In the dark, she’d thought nothing of it. Now, the pallid light of dawn filtering through the canvas meant she was dressing in front of him. No. He wasn’t watching. He had crossed the room and was examining his coat.
Confirmation, if confirmation had been needed, that he no longer saw her as a woman. Just friends. Right.
“Today, perhaps I will be able to investigate the book room,” she said as she stepped into the gown, forcing her voice to sound cheerful.
“Can I help?” he asked. “With your lacing, I mean.”
No! A thousand times no. When he’d touched her accidentally several times last night, she had nearly disgraced herself. She shuddered at a picture of herself at his feet, clinging to his knees and begging him not to spurn her. “No, thank you.” She managed to keep her voice steady. “I can manage. It laces at the front.”