He was nearly a head taller than she and certainly the most handsome man she had ever stood so close to, with his shirt of close-woven linen and waistcoat of brocaded silk. The whisker shadow of the night before that had scratched her chin had gone; his cheeks were smooth and high-boned, his jaw firm. “You seem remarkably comfortable with all of this.”
“I was at war, Miss Caulfield. There is little that can discomfit me now.”
But that was not the entire truth. He was not at ease as he seemed to study her features now.
“As you can see, I have knowledge that can help you find the murderer,” she said.
“What suggested to you that I have any intention of pursuing such a course?”
“Of course you have, or you would not have brought the body here and bribed the servants to keep it a secret from everybody else.”
“I did not bribe them.”
“You must have. I would have. After you tell the prince, I suppose he will summon the local law to investigate. When it arrives, let me help.”
“I cannot in good conscience allow that.”
“Then allow it in bad conscience.”
“You must allow me to help.”
“And yet I will not, despite my wish to please you.”
“You don’t wish to please me. You wish to thwart me.”
“You are correct. In this at least.” His gaze slipped to her shoulder, then her arms she was hugging to her waist, passing over her breasts as though they were not there. “Your lips are blue. You must retire to the warmth of your bedchamber. I will instruct Monsieur Brazil to send up a maid to build your fire again.”
“Aren’t you concerned that the murderer might realize we have discovered the body and will know that I know about it, and will come after me?”
That muscle twitched in his jaw again, but she did not know if humor or pique inspired it. “Yes.”
“If you keep me close, he won’t be able to get to me easily.”
“Interesting choice of words from the woman who vowed not two hours ago that she would not in this life come close to me again.”
“To solve the mystery of the murderer,” she said, her tongue abruptly dry, “of course.”
“Ah.” A smile caught at the corner of his mouth, the dent peeking out. “Of course.”
“I have plenty to recommend me to this investigation that the local police will appreciate.”
“An expertise in deaths involving medieval armor, perhaps?”
“A female body.”
That stalled him. Again his gaze dropped but this time it more than grazed over her breasts; it lingered. “I will admit I am not seeing how that makes you an expert investigator to murder.” He lifted his eyes to hers. They were decidedly dark and not entirely focused. The night before, his eyes had looked like this when his body atop hers had become aroused.
“I can speak to the women at this party in a manner in which I suspect you cannot. In regular conversation that seems like gossip I can encourage them to reveal information that could be valuable to discovering why this man was murdered and stuffed into a suit of armor. I will investigate this murder whether you or the local police wish me to or not.”
There was a stillness about his contemplation of her that at once made her breathe more deeply and unnerved her.
“You have me against the wall, it seems,” he finally said.
“The moment I have cause for concern over your safety, I will remove you to the village.”
“You will do no such thing. You haven’t the right. I may not actually be a lady, but I am a guest of the prince—”
“Who will do as I advise.” He seemed entirely confident of this.
Suspicion prickled at Ravenna. “Who is to say you are not the murderer, and now that you know I have useful information you won’t dispatch me too?”
“None but me.”
She glanced into the darkness where the butler had disappeared, then back at the tall, dark man who had subdued her quite effectively in a stable the previous night. “This is the part where you pull out the bloodstained dagger, isn’t it?”
“Why wouldn’t I have done it earlier, before Monsieur Brazil knew of your involvement?”
“No doubt you only thought of it at this moment.”
“It seems I am carelessly shortsighted.”
“You are not the murderer?”
“Go to bed.” He grasped her fingers and tucked them around the lamp handle. For a moment his large, strong hand encompassed hers, and she thought that no man who murdered another could possibly have such a marvelously warm, gentle touch. Then he released her. “The prince will call the party together after breakfast. If you truly intend to assist in this—”
“You must have your wits about you.”
“I always have my wits about me.”
“I think I am coming to see that.”
“You haven’t dispatched me because you know you need my help.”
“Do I?” He took a half step closer. “Or perhaps I have not yet dispatched you because, as depraved as I am, when I look at your lips I can feel your body beneath mine in the straw. If I were to do away with you now, that scenario could never be repeated.” …