“Yes, through that door. The house is plumbed. There’s cold water pumped directly from a well to the bathtub, and I have cans of hot water ready on the cookstove.” She tucked the watch back into his waistcoat. Straightening, she glanced over his na**d torso with covert interest. “They sent your things from the main house this morning, along with some breakfast. Are you hungry?”
Harry had never been so ravenous. But he wanted to wash and shave, and put on fresh clothes. He felt out of his element, needing to recapture a measure of his usual equanimity. “I’ll wash first.”
“Very well.” She turned to go to the kitchen.
“Poppy—” He waited until she glanced back at him. “Last night . . .” he forced himself to ask, “. . . after what we . . . was it all right?”
Comprehending his concern, Poppy’s expression cleared. “Not all right.” She paused only a second before adding, “It was wonderful.” And she smiled at him.
Harry entered the cottage kitchen area, which was essentially a portion of the main room, with a small cast-iron cookstove, a cupboard, a hearth, and a pine table that served both as workstation and dining surface. Poppy had set out a feast of hot tea, boiled eggs, Oxford sausages, and massive pasties—thick flaky crusts wrapped around fillings.
“These are a Stony Cross specialty,” Poppy said, gesturing to a plate bearing two hefty baked loaves. “One side is filled with meat and sage, and the other side is filled with fruit. It’s an entire meal. You start with the savory end, and . . .” Her voice faded as she glanced up at Harry, who was clean and dressed and freshly shaven.
He looked the same as always, and yet intrinsically different. His eyes were clear and unshadowed, the green irises brighter than hawthorn leaves. Every hint of tension had vanished from his face. It seemed as if he had been replaced by a Harry from a much earlier time in his life, before he’d mastered the art of hiding every thought and emotion. He was so devastating that Poppy felt hot flutters of attraction in her stomach, and her knees lost all their starch.
Harry glanced down at the oversized pastry with a crooked grin. “Which end do I start with?”
“I have no idea,” she replied. “The only way to find out is to take a bite.”
His hands went to her waist, and he turned her gently to face him. “I think I’ll start with you.”
As his mouth lowered to hers, she yielded easily, her lips parting. He drew in the taste of her, delighting in her response. The casual kiss deepened, altered into something patient and deeply hungering . . . heat opening into more heat, a kiss with the layered merosity of exotic flowers. Eventually Harry lifted his mouth, his hands coming to her face as if he were cupping water to drink. He had a unique way of touching, she thought dazedly, his fingers gentle and artful, sensitive to nuance.
“Your lips are swollen,” he whispered, the tip of his thumb brushing the corner of her mouth.
Poppy pressed her cheek against one of his palms. “We’ve had many kisses to make up for.”
“More than kisses,” he said, and the look in those vivid eyes brought a heartbeat into her throat. “As a matter of fact—”
“Eat, or you’ll starve,” she said, trying to push him into a chair. He was so much larger, so solid, that the idea of compelling him to do anything was laughable. But he yielded to the urging of her hands, and sat, and began to peel an egg.
After Harry had consumed an entire pastie, two eggs, an orange, and a mug of tea, they went for a walk. At Poppy’s urging, he left off his coat and waistcoat, a state of undress that could have gotten him arrested in certain parts of London. He even left the top buttons of his shirt undone and rolled up his sleeves. Charmed by Poppy’s eagerness, he took her hand and let her tug him outside.
They went across a field to a nearby wood, where a broad, leaf-carpeted path cut through the forest. The massive yews and furrowed oaks tangled their boughs in a dense roof, but the depth of shade was pierced by blades of sunlight. It was a place of abundant life, plants growing on plants. Pale green lichen frosted the oak branches, while tresses of woodbine dangled to the ground.
After Harry’s ears had adjusted to the absence of city clamor, he became aware of new sounds . . . a rippling chorus of birdcalls, leaf rustlings, the burble of a nearby brook, and a rasp like a nail being drawn along the teeth of a comb.
“Cicadas,” Poppy said. “This is the only place you’ll see them in England. They’re usually found only in the tropics. Only a male cicada makes that noise—it’s said to be a mating song.”
“How do you know he’s not commenting on the weather?”
Sending him a provocative sideways glance, Poppy murmured, “Well, mating is rather a male preoccupation, isn’t it?”
Harry smiled. “If there’s a more interesting subject,” he said, “I have yet to discover it.”
The air was sweet, spiced heavily with woodbine and sun-heated leaves and flowers he didn’t recognize. As they went deeper into the wood, it seemed they had left the world far behind them.
“I talked with Catherine,” Poppy said.
Harry glanced at her alertly.
“She told me why you came to England,” Poppy continued. “And she told me that she’s your half sister.”
Harry focused on the path before them. “Does the rest of the family know?”
“Only Amelia and Cam and I.”