Sara pulled herself up, gasping for breath. Water sluiced down her body, her hair sticking to her neck. She gripped the side of the tub, her body shaking from the freezing water, using her free hand to wipe the water trailing down her face.
She had to stop. Constantly thinking about it wasn’t helping her. The water would help. The freezing water would help her to stop thinking about Mr. Grant. It had worked before and it would work now.
It had to.
She couldn’t keep thinking about Mr. Grant and his chilly blue eyes that warmed to hot springs right before he kissed her. And his lips were anything but cold—hot bricks had been pressed against her mouth, skillfully used to send her own temperature skyrocketing.
And in the shop, when his tongue touched her ear . . .
Sara covered her face. How could she have enjoyed such a thing? Why would he even think of doing that? Mr. Pomeroy would never consider doing something like it.
The thought of the vicar sent more waves of confusion over her. How could she be thinking of Mr. Grant and his tongue when it was the vicar she should be thinking about? She shouldn’t be wondering about why he was dreaming about her and she shouldn’t be secretly anticipating when he appeared in hers.
You are shameless, girl!
Sara plunged herself under the freezing water again, but Mr. Grant still persisted in her thoughts.
Goddamnit! His clatter of his cane on the floor ricocheted off the library walls when he threw it at the sofa. He had meant for it to land quietly on the cushions, but as with everything else in his life at this present moment, he bloody well made a mess of it all.
Nathan turned on his good heel and strode to the window. He pressed his fists against either wall beside the frame and leaned toward the glass. Inches away from resting his forehead on it, he pushed himself away with a growl and stalked over to the fireplace. He put his elbow on the mantle and stared into the cold hearth. Nothing but a pile of gray ashes that Sawyer had not cleaned up; it did not provide him with what he sought.
On that, he turned again and went to the liquor cabinet. He had threatened Sawyer with his life if the decanters were left empty and the man had yet to disappoint. The amber brandy splashed into the crystal tumbler and he lifted the glass to his lips, downing the spirit. He poured himself another one and took a generous swallow.
What in God’s bloody name was I thinking? Accosting a respectable, unmarried young woman in public? Nathan shook his head in disgust.
What the hell had he become? Had his years in Parliament corrupted him so much that he no longer had the common courtesy and respect a gentleman shows others? If his grandmother saw him now, she would turn from him in shame after giving him a well-deserved slap on the head.
More brandy slid down his throat, a bit more slowly this time. What did it say about him that even knowing what he did was wrong he did not regret feeling her body against his again? Feeling her nicely rounded backside against his groin had him counting in Latin to save himself embarrassment in the middle of the mercantile.
He hadn’t planned on approaching her at all, didn’t even know she was in town when he happened to see her through the window. Before he even realized what he was doing, he was standing beside her, goading her into conversation.
The snap of anger in her eyes aroused him even now.
Nathan tossed back the rest of the brandy and poured himself his third. His mouth twisted; his third in less than ten minutes. He put the stopper back into the decanter and turned, his eyes falling on his favorite chair to lounge in, the one in which he had held Sara and kissed her for the first time.
He wished he remembered it more. Perhaps that was why he had been so intent on provoking her today—he wanted to replace the blurry sensations with more substantive ones. Every single touch in the mercantile had set his nerves on fire, as though it was the first time he had ever done so. Her ear had tasted so sweet on his tongue and if she hadn’t moved away from him, he would have indulged in another lick.
He knew she had sat on his lap. He knew he had run his fingers through her hair. He knew he had kissed her and had kissed her deeply. He knew his tongue had been in her mouth.
But he had been too damned drunk to remember any of it clearly enough to enjoy the memory. And he knew that it would easy to blame it on that bloody letter, but it wasn’t the letter that had poured his drinks or lifted the glass to his lips.
He looked down at the glass in his hands. His third at a pace that would make university students stand up and cheer. A scowl curled down his mouth.
This had all been his decision. The escape from London, the drinking, the misanthropic behavior. It didn’t matter what had prompted him toward the decision; the truth remained that it was his decision and his alone.
And he didn’t like himself anymore.
That realization startled him into dropping his tumbler on the floor. Brandy splashed his boots and trousers, but he barely noticed. He couldn’t even pinpoint when he had begun to dislike who he had become, but he did not doubt the veracity of the sentiment.
His mind started racing. Had it begun with his first bribe? His first broken political promise? The first time a disgruntled constituent spat on him?
The drinking. The foul language. The volatile temper. The unreliability. The running from all he knew. The accosting of an innocent young woman. All his charges added up, increasing his guilt.
Nathan shook his head to stop the flurry. It didn’t matter when it had started; what mattered was that he was at the point where he no longer someone he could like, someone his grandmother would be proud of.
Bloody hell, what was he going to do? The first thing he could do would be to stay away from the spirits.
The second thing would be to stay away from Miss Sara Collins. No matter how tempting she was, no matter how good she felt against his body, no matter how much he wanted to kiss her again.
He would stay away from her. And let that goddamned bloody vicar have her.