Dear God, he was so handsome!
Reluctantly, she lifted her gaze from his face and, for the first time, she looked at her surroundings. Her eyes widened in shocked awe at the glittering opulence of the green and gold room. Pale, apple green silk covered the walls and the windows and floated gracefully from the bed's canopy, held in place by shimmering golden cords and tassels. Even the cavernous fireplace at the far end of the room was of a wondrous green marble, adorned with golden birds mounted at the corners and ornate brass fittings. Two curved sofas upholstered in pale green watered silk faced each other in front of the fireplace, separated by a low oval table.
Her attention drifted back to the dark head resting near her hip, and she felt her spirits lift a little. She was obviously very fortunate, because her betrothed was not only startlingly handsome, but he was obviously extremely wealthy too. Moreover, he'd stayed with her all night, sleeping in that dreadfully uncomfortable position and never letting go of her hand; therefore, he must be very much in love with her.
He had obviously courted her and asked her to marry him. She closed her eyes tightly, searching for any recollection of him or of her past, but there was nothing except a black void. No woman could possibly forget being courted and loved by a man like this; it just wasn't possible. She'd remember it all in a minute, she told herself fiercely, fighting back a surge of panic so strong it made her feel nauseated. In her mind, she said things to herself that he must have said to her "Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife, Miss . . . ?" Miss who? Miss WHO?
"Stay calm!" Sheridan warned herself desperately. "Concentrate on other things . . . sweet things he must have said." Unaware that she was breathing faster and clutching his hand so hard that her nails were digging into it, she tried to think, to remember some of their times together. He would have treated her in a courtly manner as befitted a proper suitor. He'd have brought her flowers and told her that she was clever and charming and beautiful. She'd have to be all those things in order to have captured the heart of such a supremely eligible suitor…
She tried to think of something clever, but her mind went blank.
She tried to think of a charming phrase, and her mind remained blank. Trying to stay calm, she settled for thinking of her face. Her face…
She had no face.
SHE HAD NO FACE!
Some instinct or latent character trait was struggling to keep her calm, but terror was beginning to quake through her. She couldn't remember her name. She couldn't remember his name. SHE COULDN'T REMEMBER HER OWN FACE.
Stephen felt as if his hand had suddenly been clamped in a vise that was biting into his fingers, cutting off their blood supply. He tried to pull free of its painful grasp, but it held onto him. After three days without sleep, it took a supreme effort just to force his eyes open enough to peek between the heavy lids at whatever was causing his hand to go numb. Instead of finding a pitchfork buried in his fingers, he saw a woman lying in the bed beside him. Since that situation certainly wasn't unusual enough to startle him from his dazed stupor, he simply twisted his hand to free it a little so that he could go back to sleep. But because courtesy to the opposite sex had been drummed into his head since childhood, and because the woman had looked truly frantic, he managed to form a polite inquiry about her problem just as his eyes closed and he began sinking into a deep sleep. "What's wrong?"
Her voice shook with alarm. "I don't know what I look like!"
Stephen had known other women who were obsessed with their appearance, but this female's concern—in a dimly lit boudoir in the middle of the night—verged on the ridiculous. Given that, he didn't feel obliged to even open his eyes when she tightened her grip and frantically implored, "What do I look like?"
"Ravishing," he stated tonelessly. His entire body ached, which, he belatedly realized, was because she was in the bed and he wasn't. He was trying to muster the strength to ask her to move over, when he heard the unmistakable sound of stifled crying. Turning his head away from the sound, he wondered irritably what he had done to make her cry and resolved to have Wheaton send her a pretty trinket to atone for whatever it was—a ruby brooch, or something. The desire for an expensive piece of jewelry was, more often than not, the underlying cause of most feminine bouts of delicate tears. Even in his sleep, Stephen knew that.
Her crying promptly escalated to serious, anguished weeping, punctuated with gulped breaths and shuddering. Whatever he'd done to cause this outburst, it was far more than merely forgetting to compliment her gown or breaking an engagement for the theatre. This outburst was going to cost him a diamond necklace!
A convulsive sob shook her entire body along with the bedcovers.
And a matching bracelet.
Exhausted in body and spirit, he drifted deeper into slumber, reaching for the bliss of it, but something she'd said was holding him back, tugging at him. "I don't know how I look… don't know… don't know."
Stephen's eyes snapped open, and he jerked his head toward her. She'd turned her face away and covered her mouth with her left hand in an attempt to silence her cries, but shudders were still racking her body. Her eyes were closed, but tears were trickling steadily from beneath her long wet lashes and streaking down her pale cheeks. She was weeping her heart out, but she was fully conscious and lucid, and his relief at that outweighed his guilt over her tears.
"I wasn't awake enough to understand your question before," he said quickly. "I apologize."
Her body stiffened at the sound of his voice, and he saw the gallant struggle she made to bring herself under control before she turned her head on the pillow and looked at him.
"What's wrong?" he said carefully, gentling his voice to what he hoped was a soothing tone.
Sheridan swallowed, taken aback by how tired he still looked and how relieved. He must have been worried to death about her for days, she realized, feeling foolish and ungrateful for weeping like an infant over what in reality was little more than a temporary inconvenience. A bizarre, frightening inconvenience, to be sure, but it wasn't as if she'd been crippled or maimed or diagnosed with some deadly ailment. Guided by an instinctive desire to make the best of a difficult situation, she drew a shaky breath and gave him an apologetic smile. "I—It sounds absurd, but I don't know what I look like, and it—" she broke off, unwilling to distress him by telling him how frightening that was. "It's a trifling thing, really, but since you're already awake, could you just describe me a little?"