London during the Napoleonic Wars…
Nathan thought she looked absolutely terrified. But there was the slightest softness around her mouth that made him doubt the validity of his observation. It was not terror. It was unwanted curiosity he saw masking her features.
She wanted to see what he was going to do next, and he was not leaving tonight without seeing what her face really looked like. He wanted the rice powder off of her skin. He wanted to see Eleanora Quinton for what she really looked like. He wanted to see her.
He gripped her shoulder first, and she did not flinch. She did not move at all under his touch. He swiped the wet rag along the line of her jaw, making a streak in the rice powder. He unearthed the curve of her cheek, the line of her nose, the soft angle of her jaw. The scar running from her eyebrow to the corner of her jaw became paler as the powder was wiped clean from it. He pulled the rag across her forehead, his fingertips inadvertently brushing the softness of her hair. Finished, he tipped her face up with a hand under her chin and studied her face in the lantern light.
The scar was more pronounced now, but it was not sinister or revolting. If anything, he simply wondered what had caused it. He traced it with a single fingertip, running his finger down the side of her face. He watched her. He watched the breath slowly slip from her slightly open mouth, saw the rise and fall of her chest. He felt the tightening in his stomach as he drank in the nearness of her.
And she had freckles. He could not have been more delighted. They dusted her nose and sprayed her cheeks, adding just a touch of color to her pale face. There were dark smudges under her eyes, making them look rather sunken, skeleton like, and he let his fingers run across her skin to one of the bruised patches. She blinked when his fingers came close to her eye, but she did not move. His gaze fell to her lips. They had taken on color and dimension without all the powder surrounding them, dimming them beyond recognition. He let his fingers drift down, running along her jaw to cup her chin once more.
And then he stepped back.
Cold air rushed between them, and he ardently wished he had stepped closer instead of back. It had already been a long and trying night, and from what he knew of Nora and what he had discovered of her this night, he knew she had already been through enough. Her emotions must have been straining even if she did not visibly show it on her person. He needed to give her some room, so she could adjust to his being there. Being in her life.
When he had started out that night, he had not thought it would end like this. He had been going out to complete an objective for the War Office. That was all. A rather typical day for him, but a rather typical end it was not. He knew he was not going to forget Eleanora Quinton, and he knew he was not going to let her slip from his life.