Lord Jeremy North's curse is to become a werewolf during every full moon, turning into a bloodthirsty monster that kills with no remorse. When he finds a woman nearly frozen upon his doorstep, his sense of honor compels him to help her, even at the risk he might kill her himself.
Lillian Merriweather hadn't planned to get caught in a blizzard while traveling the English countryside. Nor had she planned on finding refuge in a house full of secrets. But Lillian has secrets of her own. And what she's running from is not far behind...
"You have need to remove those clothes," he said, hesitantly.
Lillian watched him warily as he took another step toward the door. "If you can manage to undress yourself, I'll fetch you something you can wear." Without another word, he disappeared.
She stared after him, wondering why he had not summoned a maid to assist her. She looked at her hands which remained numb. It would be impossible for her to unbutton anything with her fingers motionless from the cold.
Shivering, she knew she needed to make the attempt. If he refused to send anyone to help her, which Lillian considered rude, then she would just have to resort to helping herself. In normal circumstances, she would be quite capable. Circumstances being what they were, however...
She let the blanket fall from her shoulders as she fumbled with the buttons on the front of her frock. Good thing they were in the front, for if they had been in the back as some of her other dresses, it would have been an impossibility to disrobe. Though, try as she might, her fingers refused the simple commands she gave them. It seemed an inordinate amount of time before she saw a shadow fall across her lap.
Lillian looked up to see him watching her. He had changed his robe into breeches and a hastily buttoned shirt. His feet, though, were bare.
"Forgive my dishabille," he said. "It is not often we receive visitors at these hours."
"I cannot expect you would," she said, smiling regretfully. She lifted her hands to him by way of explanation. "I am having a bit of difficulty. I'm afraid my hands are quite useless at the moment."
He stared intensely and she felt she had inconvenienced him in some way.
"If you might send a maid to assist me..."
"There is none."
"We have no maid at the moment, miss. In fact, there is no one at present save Amery and myself." He grimaced as he spoke, and she realized the quandary she had placed upon them.
"Oh," she muttered, truly at a loss for words of any kind. How unusual that he should be derelict of staff. She had noticed no neglect. The rooms she had occupied seemed well tended, and she could not imagine he and the man named Amery would do all the housework themselves.
He seemed to read her thoughts because he continued, "Once a month, I give my staff a paid holiday, and they return to their families or visit friends in the village. Amery is the only one who remains here to assist me. So you see, we are quite uncertain as to what to do with you."
Lillian nodded her understanding, looking again at the dreaded buttons that now appeared as steel manacles.
“You cannot remain in those wet clothes,” he added as an unnecessary reminder.
Her breath caught in her throat as the only possibility for their situation tumbled into her head. She glanced speculatively at him to see if he had come upon the same conclusion.
“You will catch your death of cold if we wait for your hands to thaw,” he added, as if he needed to convince himself. His face and tone became serious as he continued, “I offer you my assistance. I promise I am a gentleman above reproach. What occurs here will stay within this room and no further. No one ever need know how I helped you. Do you understand?”
She swallowed, her throat suddenly dry.
Then Lillian gave a solemn nod, casting her gaze to the floor. She felt beyond compromised, but what did that matter in her situation? In fact, it might improve her situation if she dealt with her problems in the correct manner. Her current dilemma needed to be seen to at once. The snow had crept through her cloak and soaked her dress. It clung cold and uncomfortable around her every curve. She knew, as did he, the thing must be removed.
He moved forward, closing the gap between them until he stood directly before her. Keeping her gaze lowered did nothing to benefit her. She saw his feet first, and she shivered. Other than her father, she had never seen a man’s bare feet before. She would have never considered such appendages appealing, but she had to admit she felt her breath hitch in her throat as she watched those strong, masculine feet step closer to her.
Then his hands filled her vision. Large hands, the backs, of which, lightly sprinkled with dark hair. He reached toward her chest, and she inhaled sharply as he began unclasping the buttons.
She shut her eyes at the sight of the man, a stranger no less, undressing her. Her body tensed, and Lillian held her breath determined not to notice his every movement. Tried to ignore the touch of his knuckles brushing against her breasts. However innocent his actions may be, she could not stop her nipples from tightening nor could she stop the sudden yearning that his hands might wander farther.
Her face flamed at her secret thoughts. Her body warmed, hotter than any fire. It felt as if her blood might boil at her sudden wanton wishes. She felt his breath on her face and inhaled softly, breathing in that intoxicating mixture of tobacco, brandy and pine.
She began to tremble but could not determine whether the cold affected her or his present actions.
"I find that I have never had the need of introductions with a lady while I disrobed her," he said, his voice soft and slightly amused. "Might I take the opportunity now? I am Lord Jeremy North."