A few sandwiches forced down, her caffeine levels topped up, her hair combed and her face washed, Nell felt a lot more like herself and able to cope…so long as she didn’t think of that kiss.
Luiz returned forty-five minutes later.
He had been to his grandmother’s sick room to explain he would be away for the rest of the day.
It was soon clear that his plan had gone even better than he had anticipated. His grandmother had been more animated than he had seen her in many weeks.
Listening to her talk about his English bride, and the grandchildren she looked forward to living long enough to see born, made him wonder if extricating himself from this fake betrothal should the need arise might not be as simple as he had predicted.
It was a problem of his own making and, ironically, one he sincerely hoped he would have to face. But though the future was still uncertain and he could not allow himself to hope, one thing was clear: Nell Frost had Doña Elena’s stamp of approval. Nell Frost, who was nowhere to be seen.
Luiz looked at the disturbed tray, and glanced around the room seeing no immediate signs of the blonde English girl. Noticing that the double doors that led into the library were wide open, he strolled through them and almost immediately found her, perched on the top steps of one of the ladders that gave access to the topmost shelves that lined the room.
Lost in a book, she did not notice his entrance and Luiz did not immediately make her aware of his presence. Instead he paused—she made an aesthetically pleasing picture, the sun filtering through the wooden shutters that covered the south-facing library windows revealing not only the golden highlights in her hair, but a great deal of the slender curves beneath the cotton dress that it rendered virtually transparent.
His response to the image was more earthy than aesthetic.
Irritated, he had to make a conscious effort to put his libido back in its box. There was a time and a place for such indulgences and this was neither… It seemed a good moment to remind himself that she was not even his type!
He liked tall, athletically built women and she barely reached his shoulder, he recalled as his glance slid down her slim bare legs.
His hooded lids came down. Not close to his type, he reminded himself.
‘A busman’s holiday?’
She jumped at the sound of his voice and slid the dusty tome balanced on her knee into the vacant space on the top shelf. She did it with the care such a rare treasure deserved, which gave her the time to gather the wits that had gone walkabout the moment she had heard his voice.
She cleared her throat and pitched her voice at a cool level, ignoring the shivery tremors in her stomach as she told him, ‘I was looking at your books.’ The book she had extracted had been the only one Nell felt able to touch without protective gloves and yet still would have been counted a gem in many collections.
Did he know, she wondered, just how many rare and precious books this room held?
‘Could you not have looked at them on ground level?’
Nell ignored the question. ‘Do you realise that there is no system here at all?’
His brows rose at the admonitory heat in her voice.
‘There are some incredibly rare books here.’
‘And it’s a great shame they belong to an unappreciative philistine?’
‘You said it.’
‘I believe my great-grandfather was something of a collector.’ Over the years he had suggested to his grandmother that the collection be catalogued, but she had considered the project a costly waste of money.
Nell’s indignation flared. That someone so uninformed should have access to such a treasure seemed sacrilege.
‘Well, he’ll be turning in his grave right now because the condition of some…’ She made a clicking noise of disapproval with her tongue and shook her head. ‘Actually it’s criminal. There are some incredibly rare—’
Luiz’s amused drawl cut across her animated protest. ‘I have rarely seen a woman display such passion for anything unless it is a designer handbag.’
Nell couldn’t let the sexist comment pass unchallenged. ‘Really, if the women you know only get excited by handbags it speaks volumes for your skill in bed, and,’ she added, thinking of her limited collection at home, ‘you probably know more about designer handbags than I do.’
Her satisfaction at delivering the cutting comeback lasted for the two seconds it took her brain to supply an image of tumbled sheets and entwined limbs, fair skin looking very pale against the dark.
It had been clearly a major error to introduce the subject of the bedroom when she was talking to this man. Nell squeezed her eyes tightly shut against the explicit mental images playing in her head.