Griffin Stone:Duke Of Decadence(9)

By: Carole Mortimer

Bella appeared very pale and dignified as she remained standing in the doorway, her hair still wet from her bath, scraped back from her face and secured at her crown. She also looked somewhat nondescript in the overlarge pale blue gown borrowed from his housekeeper. It was the best Griffin had been able to do at such short notice, although he had instructed Mrs Harcourt to see about acquiring more suitable clothing for her as soon as was possible.

And if he was not mistaken, Bella had flinched the moment he’d spoken to her.

Unfortunately he knew that flinch too well; Felicity had also recoiled just so whenever he’d spoken to her, so much so that he’d eventually spoken to her as little as was possible between two people who were married to each other and often residing in the same house.

‘My feet are still too sore for me to wear the boots provided,’ Bella told him quietly, eyes downcast.

Griffin scowled slightly as he looked down at her stockinged feet. She gave all the appearance of a little girl playing dress up in those overly large clothes.

Or the waif and stray that she actually was.

He stood up impatiently from behind his desk. ‘They will heal quickly enough,’ he dismissed. ‘I asked if you are feeling refreshed after your bath,’ he questioned curtly, and then instantly cursed himself for that abruptness when Bella took a wary step back, her eyes wide blue pools of apprehension.

The fact that Griffin was accustomed to such a reaction did not make it any more pleasant for him to see it now surface in Bella. But perhaps it was to be expected, now that she was over her initial feelings of disorientation and shock in her surroundings, and had had the chance to fully observe her imposing host?

He leant back against the front of his desk in an effort to at least lessen his height. ‘Have you perhaps recalled something of what brought you to Shrawley Woods?’

Bella had been horrified when, after eating a very little of the breakfast brought up for her, she had undressed for her ablutions and seen for the first time the extent of her injuries to her body. She could only feel grateful that she’d seen fit to refuse the attendance of a maid before removing her nightgown as she stared at the naked reflection of her own body in the full-length mirror placed in the corner of the bedchamber.

She was literally covered in bruises. Some of them were obviously new, but others had faded to a sickly yellow and a dirty brown colour, and were possibly a week or so old. As for those strange abrasions, revealed when she removed the bandages from her wrist and her ankles...

How could she have come by such unsightly injuries?

She had staggered back to sit down heavily on the bed as her knees had threatened to buckle beneath her, her horrified gaze still fixed on her naked reflection in the mirror.

She had stared at her bedraggled reflection in utter bewilderment; her long dark hair had been tangled and dull about her shoulders, and there was a livid bruise on her left temple, which the Duke said she had sustained when she and his carriage had collided the night before.

But those other bruises on her body were so unsightly. Ugly!

She had realised then how stupid she had been to think that he had chosen the name Bella for her because he had thought her beautiful!

Instead it must have been his idea of a jest, a cruel joke at her expense.

‘No,’ she finally answered stiffly.

Griffin had issued instructions to all of the household staff, through Pelham, that knowledge of the female guest currently residing on the estate was not to be shared outside the house, and that any attempt to do so would result in an instant dismissal. No doubt the servants would do enough gossiping and speculating amongst themselves in that regard, without the necessity to spread the news far and wide!

Griffin, of course, if he was to solve the mystery, had no choice but to also make discreet enquiries in the immediate area for knowledge of a possible missing young lady. And he would have to do this alongside his research into the whereabouts of Harker. But he would carry out both missions with the subtlety he had learnt while gathering information secretly for the Crown. A subtlety that would no doubt surprise many who did not know that the Duke of Rotherham and his closest friends had long been engaged in such activities.

It would have been helpful if the maid who had taken up Bella’s breakfast, or any of the footmen who had later taken up her bath, had recognised Bella as belonging to the village or any of the larger households hereabouts. Unfortunately, Pelham had informed him a few minutes ago that that had not been the case.

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