In the Brief Eternal Silence
now after being
fed is sleep, and that whatever answer you are looking for will be
there for you in the morning.”
    “No, Miss Murdock,” he shook his head. “I
will not be here in the morning and you need not make up a bed for
me. So you can quit worrying your head about that task. I feel I
have put you out quite enough for one night at any rate. Although I
am afraid I am going to have to put you out quite a bit more.”
    “I—It was no hardship,” she said. Her voice
was breathless and she blamed it on the fact that he had begun to
rub her hand with his thumb, the soft, hypnotic reassurance of a
mother rubbing a baby's back. And as a baby is lulled into sleep,
she felt as though she were being lulled into a spell that
consisted of nothing but that single moving thumb and those two
golden eyes. She gave a sharp pull on her hand, gaining abrupt
release and losing her balance. She reached behind to steady
herself and her palm came down on the still hot stove. “Ouch!” she
squeaked, and her injured hand flew to her mouth.
    St. James rose, banging his knee in his
haste. “Damn it, Miss Murdock. What did you think I was going to do
to make you burn yourself getting away?” He grabbed her wrist,
pulling her hand from her mouth.
    Miss Murdock, finding his question
unanswerable, her hand smarting, and herself feeling a good deal
foolish, lashed out in return. “What any young female would think
when a drunken scoundrel takes their hand and there is no proper
chaperone! I should slap you if it were not hurting so badly!”
    “You may slap me with the other hand, if it
should make you feel better,” he informed her. He studied her
injury. “I imagine it is quite painful.”
    “As if I needed you to determine that. Simply
allow me my hand back, and I will draw some water and soak it.”
    “No, Miss Murdock. You must use butter. My
grandmother has always said so.”
    “Then you may go fetch your grandmother's
butter, for I shan't waste any of mine.”
    He raised his head, and his gold eyes met her
angry brown ones. “Ah, the first challenge. Your way or mine? I
think you should learn now that it shall be mine.” He stepped to
the table, her wrist tight in his grasp, forcing her to step with
him. He moved the plate with the great pat of butter upon it to the
edge of the table and forced her hand into it. He pushed it down so
that she was unable to keep even her fingers from it, and when he
pulled her hand up, her hand print was imbedded in the butter.
    “You simply could not resist ruining the all
of it, could you?” she asked, furious.
    “Oh, but, Miss Murdock, when a lovely hand
such as your own is at stake, what is a mere pat of butter?”
    He released her wrist and she wrapped her
injury in a dishcloth. She wished to wash the butter from it, just
to spite him, but she could not see the sense in it, as it was on
there now and was soothing to some degree. Still turned from him,
she told him in a muted little voice. “You need more coffee, sir,
for if you see my hand as lovely, you are obviously still
    Which caused him to laugh, a full, rich laugh
that surprised her out of her crossness and had her looking at him
with stark curiosity, for she would have never dreamed from her
short acquaintance with him that he could be capable of such
laughter, free of sarcasm or rancor or jadedness.
    “I see,” he said at length, “that I shall
have my way, but that you shall always endeavor to have the last
    “Yes, milord. I can see how that is so, since
you are leaving, and I must ask to be excused now, and there will
be no further conversation between us, then I have managed to have
the last word,” she told him and turned to leave the kitchen.
    Her uninjured hand was at the door frame and
with one more step she would have been into the hallway when he
spoke. “You are mistaken if you think there will be no further
conversation between us.”
    She hesitated for just an instant, but it was
an instant

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