Mellie Harlowe apparently was the type of woman to succumb to tears. Addison had been wrong about that. He hadn’t seen the tears himself, but when he awakened following his fever, her eyes were red and swollen, and when she spoke, her voice had sounded choked and somber. The relief etched on her face made something inside of him shift. For a brief moment she’d lost the detached expression that kept everyone else at a distance. Addison already knew that much more lurked beneath her stony exterior than she wanted him to see. She’d shown him kindness and caring beyond measure. Helping him had been the right thing to do and that had been a large part of her motivation. Mellie would never turn away a person in need.
But her despondent eyes made him wonder if he had become more than a moral obligation to her and when exactly caring for him had begun to take its emotional toll.
He couldn’t pinpoint when it had changed. Everything in his mind was a blur. He could only recall small bits of the past week, but according to Mellie, he’d been on the brink of death and his body had somehow found the strength to fight its way back. Currently, he felt as if he’d been sleeping for an eternity, and for the most part, Mellie had let him, sensing that he needed rest more than he needed food or comfort or company.
It wasn’t until that morning that he’d finally managed to give himself an insufficient bath, a lousy shave, and stuff his legs into the mended pair of breeches he’d been wearing when Mellie had rescued him. They, along with his once stark white linen shirt, now stained with faded brown patches of blood around the hem, fit him far more loosely than they had before his accident. Addison had to hold his trousers up while he ambled his way to the stiff looking chair Mellie had dragged before the hearth, but he was glad to be clothed again for the first time in more than a fortnight.
His body still had some mending to do before he’d truly feel like himself again. But his mind felt alert, and for that he was grateful. As well as optimistic that he might be able to get Mellie engaged in a conversation, and relieve the dreadful boredom that had descended upon him since he’d woken up.
“I feel a bit more human again now that I’ve shaved. Look good, don’t I?” He said, slanting a cocky grin in Mellie’s direction. It had no impact. She stared back at him blankly. Addison knew he was far from his usual dashing self, but he’d never failed at charming a lady with his smile. Mellie was impervious to it.
“I wouldn’t know. I can hardly see you.”
Of course, he’d momentarily forgotten about her eyesight. “Put on a pair of spectacles then. Come and check me out.” She only had seventy-five pairs of them, he thought, glancing around for the nearest one. He absently picked a pair up, carelessly flipped them around in circle, then let them dangle from his forefinger.
Mellie plucked the spectacles away and set them aside. “Sorry to tell you, but they do not help me see that much better.”
He furrowed his brows in confusion. “Whatever do you mean? That is exactly what spectacles are for. And I have seen you wear them.”
For the first time since he’d arrived, there was no fire burning in the giant hearth that divided the rectangular cottage. He could see straight through the opening of it to the other side. Whatever was on the other side had become a strange curiosity to him. He wondered what was over there. Mellie’s bedroom he guessed. Not that it offered much privacy, but it was the only other place she could have been sleeping.
At that very moment, Mellie was on the other side of the hearth bending over and offering him a nice view of her backside, clad in another pair of tight fitting breeches. His cock stirred, awakening from its long sleep.
Addison averted his eyes. Short of stuffing a pillow in his lap, which would draw attention on its own, there was no way he could hide a full blown erection from Mellie, who was the most observant person he’d ever met. If a half-second glance at her rear had that level of impact on his senses, he figured it was safe to assume that his body was finally on the mend.
“None of the pairs I have are quite right for me. I only collect them when I find them. Lost ones and such.” She appeared back around this side of the hearth and slid down the stone surface onto the flimsy thing she called a stool. “I’ve never had a pair made specifically for me.”
When he got out of there he would find her the perfect pair and buy her one in every style, so she never had to beg for her sight again.
“I manage well enough,” she continued, as if reading his mind. “I’m quite familiar with my belongings and rarely need them in here. Outdoors, I need precision when hunting and protection from the sun. That is where I need them most.”
“What do you see, then, when you look on a person?” He was endlessly curious to know exactly how she saw him.
“People are blurs. Shapes. I need to get very close to something in order to see the finer details.” Then, understanding the direction of his thoughts, she added, “I have not been close enough to you to determine anything other than your black hair and amber eyes.”
“You’ve been tending to me for a fortnight. Are you telling me that all this time you haven’t stollen a glance at my face?” Had she even been tempted to do so?
Mellie shrugged. “I know that you have a face. That seemed to be enough.”
They laughed together, but Addison could barely comprehend that she was not curious to know what he looked like. It was another thing he’d taken for granted, apparently. If he’d had difficulty seeing faces, he wondered if he would be so accustomed to it that he would shrug it off, as she did. Or if he would seek people out in order to examine them. He supposed that as a Duke, people would likely let him do so if he asked. The same could not be said for Mellie.
“That is the gold standard, then,” Addison quipped. “He must have a face. You have no concern for beauty?”
“What need have I of that?”
Only to see what I see, he thought. Because she was perhaps the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes on.
“Tis’ a benefit, if you ask me.” Mellie continued, unprompted, “You have a nose, that I believe is narrow, but I could not tell you if it was pointed or crooked in some way.”
“So, you do have a care for beauty.”
She pursed her lips in thought before replying. “I only meant that without beauty, people would be more free to judge others on the basis of their character.”
“And that is how you have judged me, of course. On the basis of my character.”
Mellie hadn’t caught the hint of sarcasm in his voice before she answered. “Of course.”
“If by ‘character’ you mean ‘title’, then I might agree with you.” Addison kept his rebuttal light in nature, only meaning to tease her. To get a little rise out of her. It was too much fun to do otherwise.
But Mellie was catching on and she replied with a sly smile. “Fair enough. You have an acerbic tongue, Addison, and I have judged you based on the words you’ve spoken. I suppose that does lead back to your features, for all of my opinions about you are based on your mouth.
Addison’s lips twitched. “My mouth?” He wondered what exactly she thought of his mouth. For he knew what he thought of hers. He couldn’t resist asking, “What about my mouth, Mellie?”
She easily recognized the subtle redirection. The drop in his tone of voice. That he was not asking about the things his mouth had said, but rather the shape of it.
Her tongue darted out and swept across her own lips before answering. “Your lips are pink,” she said sweetly. “They remind me of a pale rose. And I imagine they are rather full, since I can make them out at all.”
“You’ve imagined my lips?”
Admittedly, Addison was attempting to flirt with her. Barely attempting, considering he hardly had the wherewithal to do anything seductive in his current state. So, he hadn’t expected what happened next.
A fierce blush stole over her neck and face and completely transformed her appearance from that of a fierce winter princess into a precious porcelain doll. Suddenly she seemed fragile and feminine and sensual in a way she hadn’t appeared before. Addison felt a swift burst of something flutter through his chest. Not unlike that electric shock her fingers set off on his skin whenever she touched him, only this emanated straight from his heart.
“When one cannot see, it gives them the liberty to invent whatever image they wish.”
“And what has your mind invented about me?”
Mellie cocked her head to the side thoughtfully, giving him a good once over, as if her sight were not impaired at all. Addison almost regretted asking the question, for he felt like a specimen under a microscope. But at the same time, he wanted too badly to know what she would say, so he remained quiet while she considered the question.
At length Mellie finally answered, “Your nose is turned up, with overly large nostrils that flare every time something riles you, which is quite often.”
He couldn’t help but chuckle. “What else?”
“As I said, you must have full lips, but knowing that doesn’t stop me from imagining them thin and stern, always pressed together in a severe, straight line.”
Addison deflated. Of all the ways to imagine his lips, that was the worst of them all. He didn’t like to think of himself as stern, even though he knew that on some level he was. “You envision me as a man who looks down his nose at others in perpetual disapproval?”
She shrugged as if that summation didn’t make him feel like she was twisting a knife into his abdomen. It hurt. “I’ll have you know, the ladies rather think I’m handsome.” He defended, although that she believed he was ugly was not the bit that bothered him.
“As we’ve been over, I wouldn’t be able to say either way.”
“Come find out.” Addison baited her. Her eyes flew to his. For someone who couldn’t see, she knew exactly how to ensnare him with her eyes. He’d known she was daring, but Addison had not expected her to get up immediately and walk the few feet over to stand before his chair.
She lingered at the edge of it for a moment. “I would need to get very close.”
He swallowed. “By all means.”
Addison thought she would just lean over him. But she stepped closer, pressed her knee against one of his and shoved it over, so he was splayed wide. His heart picked up a few beats as she moved between his legs, her thighs brushing the inside of his. Up high. So near to his cock, which currently had a mind of its own. He wanted to groan.
He gripped the arms of the chair, his knuckles stretched and white. She leaned down, her hands skimmed past him, between his elbows and the sides of his abdomen, seeking out the armrests he’d been covering.
Slowly she bent over him, and Addison rested his head back on the edge of the chair behind him, as she came closer and closer. So close that at any other time he’d have been certain she meant to kiss him.
Her eyes roved over his features. Examining him at her own leisurely pace. If he’d felt like a specimen before, he felt caged now. Cornered by his own impudent command.
Her breath fanned gently over his face in little sporadic puffs, caressing his lips, the spot just below his nose, his chin, his cheeks. He willed himself not to react. Not to anticipate. Not to lick his own God damned lips. Or to seize her mouth with his, which he had the mad desire to do.
“I knew they would be full, even though I didn’t believe it,” she said at last. A fleeting smile graced her lips. “But I was wrong about them being stern.” Pleasure swam through him. He did not want her to think of him as stern. He wanted to show her how softly he could mold his lips to hers.
Then, she traced a finger along the top edge of his upper lip. His lungs froze, incapable of drawing a single breath. He felt the silken pad of her finger sweep gently across his lower lip, before trailing down his chin. He almost moaned aloud from the pleasure of it.
His hands twisted into tight fists as he fought with himself not to grab her. To pull her against him and press his tongue into that dainty mouth of hers.
Yes, little dove. Touch me. Those were the words that echoed through his mind. Touch me, touch me, touch me. Maybe if she was the one to touch him, he might maintain some shred of control, before the sheer desperation to feel her took over.
“Your lips were dry and chapped those first few days.”
“Were they?” He whispered in a low strangled voice.
“I applied balm to keep them from cracking.”
So long as he lived, he would never forgive his own senseless mind for not filing that into his permanent memories. “They are not dry anymore,” he said, aching to prove to her exactly how supple they could be.
But she’d moved on to his nose. Thank god, because he’d been half a second away from kissing her. “Another surprise, your nostrils aren’t flared at all. Your nose is straight and well-formed.”
He released a strained and breathy laugh. He’d never given his nose more than a passing thought, but now he doubted that he’d ever be able to look at his own reflection again without recalling the way Mellie looked leaning over him right then. That and his proximity to her lips and how desperately he wanted her to lean up and lick them.
Right when he had almost given into the temptation again, she lifted her gaze to his and every last one of his salacious thoughts drifted behind something else. Not gone, but overshadowed by something far more potent.
Mellie’s crystal blue eyes had latched on to something deep inside of him and tugged it open. Something he’d apparently locked away. That he didn’t know he possessed. Or how to name it. Thousands of tiny pulses flared over his body. Like a chemical reaction. Some sort of electrical stimuli brought on by nothing but her eyes and the expression on her face, which made him feel as if he were being discovered for the very first time.
“Your eyes remind me of fire,” she whispered.
Because they were smoldering for her. Only the smallest of spaces existed between their mouths. All he had to do was lift his head and he could devour her lips the way her eyes devoured his soul.
“I can give you my appraisal now.” She said, suddenly pushing away and stepping back from him.
Addison cleared his throat. “By all means.”
“You are quite beautiful. Elegant. One might say that you look like a Duke.”
Beautiful? Addison shoved himself off the chair with more strength than he thought he’d be capable of. “I need to get some fresh air.”