“Is there somewhere else you can sleep?” she asked with difficulty.
Harry shook his head. “The hotel is fully occupied,” he said gruffly.
She looked down at the book in her lap, remaining silent.
And Harry, who had never been less than perfectly articulate, grappled with words as if they were a wall of bricks tumbling over him. “Poppy . . . sooner or later . . . you’re going to have to let me . . .”
“I understand,” she murmured, her head bent.
Harry’s sanity began to dissolve in a rush of heat. He was going to take her, now, here. But as he started for her, he saw how tightly Poppy was gripping the book, the tips of her fingers white. She wouldn’t look at him.
She did not want him.
Why that mattered, he had no bloody idea.
But it did.
Somehow, with all his force of will, Harry mustered a cool tone. “Some other time, perhaps. I don’t have the patience to tutor you tonight.”
Leaving the bedroom, he went to the bathing room, to wash and douse himself with cold water. Repeatedly.
“Well?” Chef Broussard asked as Jake Valentine entered the kitchen the next morning.
Mrs. Pennywhistle and Chef Rupert, who were standing by the long table, looked at him expectantly.
“I told you it was a bad idea,” Jake said, glaring at the three of them. Sitting on a tall stool, he grabbed a warm croissant from a platter of pastries, and shoved half of it into his mouth.
“It didn’t work?” the housekeeper asked gingerly.
Jake shook his head, swallowing the croissant and gesturing for a cup of tea. Mrs. Pennywhistle poured a cup, dropped in a lump of sugar, and gave it to him.
“From what I could tell,” Jake growled, “Rutledge spent the night on the settee. I’ve never seen him in such a foul mood. He nearly took my head off when I brought him the managers’ reports.”
“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Pennywhistle murmured.
Broussard shook his head in disbelief. “What is the matter with you British?”
“He’s not British, he was born in America,” Jake snapped.
“Oh, yes,” Broussard said, recalling the indelicate fact. “Americans and romance. It’s like watching a bird try to fly with one wing.”
“What will we do now?” Chef Rupert asked in concern.
“Nothing,” Jake said. “Not only has our meddling not helped, it’s made the situation worse. They’re scarcely speaking to each other.”
Poppy went through the day in a state of gloom, unable to stop worrying about Michael, knowing there was nothing she could do for him. Although his unhappiness was not her fault—and given the same choices, she wouldn’t change anything she’d done—Poppy felt responsible all the same, as if by marrying Harry, she had assumed a portion of his guilt.
Except that Harry was incapable of feeling guilty about anything.
Poppy thought it would make things far less complicated if she could simply bring herself to hate Harry. But in spite of his innumerable flaws, something about him touched her, even now. His determined solitude . . . his refusal to make emotional connections to the people around him, or even to think of the hotel as his home . . . these things were alien to Poppy.
How in heaven’s name, when all she had ever wanted was someone to share affection and intimacy with, had she ended up with a man who was capable of neither? All Harry wanted was the use of her body, and the illusion of a marriage.
Well, she had much more to give than that. And he would have to take all of her or nothing.
In the evening, Harry came to the apartments to have dinner with Poppy. He informed her that, after the meal was concluded, he was going to meet with visitors in their apartment library room.
“A meeting with whom?” Poppy asked.
“Someone from the War Office. Sir Gerald Hubert.”
“May I ask what it is about?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
Staring into his inscrutable features, Poppy felt a chill of unease. “Am I to play hostess?” she asked.
“That won’t be necessary.”
The evening was cold and wet, rain striking in heavy sheets against the roof and windows, and washing the filth from the streets in muddy streams. The stilted dinner concluded, and a pair of maids cleared away the dishes and brought tea.
Stirring a spoonful of sugar into the dark liquid, Poppy stared at Harry thoughtfully. “What rank is Sir Gerald?”
“Assistant adjutant general.”
“What is he in charge of?”
“Financial administration, personnel management, provost services. He’s pushing for reforms to increase the army’s strength. Badly needed reforms, in light of the tensions between the Russians and the Turks.”
“If a war starts, will Britain be drawn into it?”
“Almost certainly. But it’s possible that diplomacy will resolve the issue before it comes to war.”
“Possible but not likely?”
Harry smiled cynically. “War is always more profitable than diplomacy.”
Poppy sipped her tea. “My brother-in-law Cam told me that you improved the design of the standard army rifle. And now the War Office is indebted to you.”
Harry shook his head to indicate that it had been nothing. “I scratched out a few ideas when the subject came up at a supper party.”
“Obviously the ideas turned out to be very effective,” Poppy said. “As most of your ideas are.”