Stella left the guest room, suddenly anxious seeing Beckworth in a domestic setting. She tugged at a lock of hair. It was still damp but at least it was under control. She almost felt human again.
Beckworth was at the table, a mug in front of him which she assumed was filled with ale. He was speaking with Eleanor about fencing or gates, maybe both. He’d gotten a bath as well. His hair was clean and pulled back in a queue. His shirt was open at the neck, and the sleeves were rolled up to his elbows.
He’d never looked so appetizing. Good grief, Stella. That wasn’t the right word. Or maybe it was. She couldn’t take her eyes off him, and suddenly she pictured him in those turquoise breeches and jacket with matching paisley waistcoat they’d laughed about on the ship to France.
He stopped talking when he caught sight of her. She felt the blush race up her neck and burn her cheeks when he gave her a slow perusal followed by a warm smile. Light danced in his eyes, but there was something else—something more dangerous. Her heart beat faster.
“I knew there was a woman underneath all that dirt.” Eleanor broke the spell, and when Stella turned her gaze to the woman, she noted the twitch of the woman’s lips. She evidently didn’t miss whatever that moment was between her and Beckworth.
“I feel human anyway. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to put a bath together. I think I’m ten pounds lighter after washing off two weeks of dirt.” Instead of sitting at the table, she leaned against the kitchen counter, keeping much needed space between her and Beckworth. He hadn’t shaved his whiskers, and it gave him a roguish look that wasn’t helping. This would be a great time for one of his witty words of wisdom, anything that would make the room not seem so small.
“You should have seen what Beckworth looked like the time Captain Murphy was captured by that horrible Dugan. Three months without a shave and rarely a bath so he could sneak around without being noticed.” She filled a coffee pot with water and then crushed the beans before slipping them in.
When Stella glanced at Beckworth, he was still grinning, but he seemed more jovial. Had he noticed Eleanor smashing the beans as Stella had suggested she did? She had to smile, and when he lifted a second pot from the hearth, she almost purred with delight.
The last ten minutes all but disappeared. She stormed to the table, unsure how she’d missed the intoxicating aroma. He was already pouring.
Eleanor chortled. “He said you had a penchant for coffee. More than AJ so I thought it best to get another pot brewing. He also mentioned you’d had more stew in the last couple of weeks than a person should, so I have lamb, potatoes, and carrots warming up. And I just made some rolls.
“It smells fantastic. Is there something I can help with?” The coffee was hot enough, and she slurped it down like water after a trek across the desert. She poured another cup, then carried it with her to where Eleanor was making something that might be meat pies.
“You don’t need to fuss. You need to rest. Besides, I haven’t had guests in weeks, and will be just as happy to have someone to talk to other than myself.”
“You wouldn’t have to worry about that if you’d move to Waverly.” Beckworth leaned back and draped an arm over the chair next to him. “Just until this issue with the stones is over.”
Stella paused with the cup halfway to her mouth. “Where’s Sebastian?”
Beckworth nodded toward the back of the house. “Fast asleep on Eleanor’s bed. He wanted to help with the food preparation, but Eleanor made him take a rest. I just checked on him, and he’s fast asleep. I’ll wake him when it’s time to eat.”
“Good. Maire would kill me if anything happens to him. She must be freaking out.”
“She was when I left the monastery to search for you. But Lando should put everyone’s mind at ease.”
Out of nowhere, she had to sit down. Her cup hit the table with a clatter. She made it to the sofa before dropping onto the cushioned seat, bending over to let her head fall between her knees.
Beckworth was there in a flash, his hand rubbing her back. “What is it? Are you sick?”
She rocked back and forth as the enormity of the last few days washed over her. What the hell had she done, acting like some comic book hero? She could have been killed, or worse, on that ship. Her guards might have been bumbling fools, but whoever was leading the group wouldn’t have been.
A few minutes later, a mug was pushed under her nose.
“Drink this. All of it. No questions.” Eleanor shoved the mug into her hands.
The first whiff was enough to tell her it was whiskey, and she drained the mug without question. Her eyes watered, and her throat burned like it was on fire. “I’ve had smoother,” she managed to croak out.
The mug was whisked out of her hands then pressed back into them seconds later.
“This one is for sipping. When you’re done with that, you can have your coffee.” Eleanor returned to the kitchen.
Through all of it, Beckworth had stroked her back like she was a spooked alley cat. He stopped, but when she glanced at him, his brows were furrowed, and he wasn’t grinning anymore.