Close-up of kissing“Please. Take me home,” she murmured.

Home. Pallinsburn. The two were one and the same in her heart.

Lord Bowles wrapped one arm around her and held her tight. “Whatever happens, I’ll take care of you.”

She melted into him and closed her eyes, aware of Khan’s ambling gait and her husband’s steady heart beat against her ear. Tonight she’d shut away the world for a while.

No Reinhard Wolf.

No one to remind her she was nearly penniless.

Or that she was alone in the world. A true orphan, despite her sham of a marriage.

Tonight, someone cherished her enough to help her and ask nothing in return. She buried her nose in Lord Bowles’s neck cloth, the cambric warm with his scent. Strength and a little horse. She’d treasure his unique smell; treasure him for however long this lasted.

Her chin quivered. Why didn’t things work out for her? Was a little good will too much to ask for?

Eyes stinging, she sniffled. No answer came save the River Tweed’s gentle rush as they crossed the bridge. Time moved on and soon enough so would she — the truth of her circumstances.

Stone-like weight lodged in her chest. Their ride back to Pallinsburn could go on forever, but Lord Bowles squeezed her.

“We’re home.”

She lifted her head, eyeing the sandstone barn bathed in moonlight. “Indeed we are.”

Lord Bowles dismounted. She was ready to slide down on her own.

“Wait,” he commanded. “Let me help you.”

Strong hands gripped her waist, guiding her off Khan. Her feet hit the ground and gloved-hands slid higher up her ribs, the friction whisper-sweet on wool. He stopped under her breasts.

An ache wove between them, heavy and unsaid.

A man could woo a woman as much with words as without them. If he had the skill. Her new husband’s eyes shined with tenderness, the effect more enticing than his even features.

Noses inches apart, the tip of his hat brushed her hood. “Good night.”

“Thank you, milord. For everything.”

He took the reins and led Khan to the barn.

Was this another facet of their friendship? A gentleman’s compassion for her plight, but he’d bide his time and seek a quiet annulment in a fortnight, counting his favor done.

Loneliness and lust mixed inside her, a potent combination for a woman with nothing left to lose. She pushed inside the cottage and found her way to the kitchen’s green cabinet. Pallinsburn had won her heart, a labor of love to clean and set right.

How long she’d stay was uncertain.

How she’d stay was hers to decide.