Read Beneath a Waning Moon: A Duo of Gothic Romances Online

Authors: Elizabeth Hunter,Grace Draven

Tags: #Gothic romance

Beneath a Waning Moon: A Duo of Gothic Romances (7 page)

He held a cool cloth to her head as Mrs. Porter eased her back.

“Wait here,” she said. “I’ll clear the room and bring the onions.”

Her fevered eyes shifted to Tom. “And thus begins the romance of marriage,” she wheezed. “It all begins with onions.” She reached out and tried to smooth away the groove between his eyebrows. “Careful now. You’ll look an old man too soon, husband.”

“The doctor said it was likely the stress of the wedding and all,” Tom said. “We should a’ just run away, Josie.”

“It’s not your fault I fainted walking out of the church.”

“No, but it’ll give the papers something to write about.” He pressed her hand to his freshly shaved cheek. “The poor Shaw heiress overcome by the idea of her wedding night with the scandalous Murphy brother.”

Her rasping laughs turned into coughs. She closed her eyes again and focused on relaxing her chest. In. Out.

“Have you ever felt,” she wheezed out, “as if you were trying to breathe through water?”

“Jaysus,” he swore. “Don’t do this to me, sweet girl. Give me a little longer, eh?”

She blinked her eyes open and lifted a hand to the corner of his eyes where the skin was creased with age and worry. “Your eyes are all red, Tom.”

He blinked and looked away. “Must be all the smoke. And worrying about you.”

“I told you…” She traced a fingertip around his stern mouth. “I’m not going to get better.”

“And I told you I was marrying you. And I did, wife.”

She smiled. “That’s right. We’re married.”

“We are.”

“I like you so much, Tom. Far… more than I could have imagined. So unfair—”

Another coughing fit took her, and Tom helped her sit up, rubbing her back and placing the cool cloth at the nape of her neck.

“Tell me what to do,” he whispered. “Anything.”

“There’s nothing… The onions will help,” she rasped when the cough had passed.

Mrs. Porter bustled in, a smelly poultice in her hands and a stern look on her face.

“Mr. Murphy, sir, I must insist you clear your brother and sister-in-law from the room. The less company the better for Miss Shaw. I’m in no danger of infection, you see. I had it as a child and recovered. But the rest of you could be at risk.”

“I’ll clear them out,” he growled. “But then I’m coming back to sit with
Mrs. Murphy
, so don’t you bar the door.”

She pursed her lips. “As you like.”

The door closed a few moments later, and Mrs. Porter opened up Josephine’s gown, carefully placing the steaming poultice on her chest. It was so hot she felt as if her skin would peel off.

“Oh, the smell,” she groaned. “What horrid thing did you add this time, Louisa?”

“Smells like clear breathing is what it smells like. And the Murphys’ cook had garlic. She said it might help.”

“Well, it certainly”—Josephine coughed some more—“smells vile enough to be medicinal.”

Mrs. Porter sat silently for a few more moments while Josephine breathed in the onion fumes.

“I think I heard them mention the house in Bray.”

“Bray would be nice,” she wheezed. “Take… you and Tom.”

“And his valet, of course. Young man by the name of Henry. Seems a nice boy, and Mr. Murphy said he was good driver too.”

The house at Bray was hers. Father had put it in her name years before. Josephine found she liked the idea of sharing the simple house with Tom. They’d planned to travel to Wicklow for their honeymoon, but Bray would be far more relaxing.

She felt herself slipping to sleep as her breathing eased. “Tell Tom…”

“What, dear?”

“See him in my dreams.”

Mrs. Porter brushed Josephine’s hair back from her damp forehead. “Course you will, lovey. Rest now.”

But when she dreamed, Josephine was steeped in nightmares. Tom was there, but his eyes were
 
bloodred and his skin ice-cold. He took her in his arms and kissed her, but when she pulled away, her mouth was bleeding and a childish voice whispered:

Are you afraid to die?

THE next time she woke, Tom was carrying her. She took a breath and realized the horrid onions had done their job and her breathing had eased. She pressed her cheek into Tom’s shoulder, amazed by his strength.

“You’re not even breathing heavily,” she murmured.

“Are you awake then?”

“Hmmm.” She burrowed into his shoulder. “Are we in Bray already?”

“We’ve just arrived.”

“How long did I sleep?”

“Your fever broke around noon today, Mrs. Porter said. We both slept until late afternoon, then I decided we’d better get started. You woke a little in the carriage, but not for long. No coughing.”

“Oh good.” She took another easy breath. Ah, the wondrous onions. Vile, but effective. “I feel like a damsel in a novel with you carrying me like this.”

A laugh rumbled in his chest. “Just to the house.”

“No, no,” she murmured. “You must carry me up to the top of a tower and ravish me. Or perhaps carry me over a hill as we run from bandits.”

“I’m afraid there will be no ravishing until your strength is back.” His voice wore a smile. He almost sounded as if he was laughing. “What an imagination you have, Josie.”

“You have no idea.”

“Are you a good one for stories? I love a good story.”

“You might say that.”

She felt him jostle her feet a bit as he maneuvered her through the small entry hall. The sea air nipped her too-long nose, and she could still feel the edge of the fever, but she didn’t care. She felt as romantic as a heroine in one of her Gothic tales.

Which, being Gothic, didn’t bode well for her long-term health.

She started to laugh out loud.

“What’s so funny?” Tom asked. “Am I too clumsy for you?”

“Not at all. It strikes me that I am the sick maiden who is going to an isolated country house with the mysterious man who swept her off her feet and threatened to ravage her. This would make an excellent novel.”

“Do you think so?” Tom leaned down and played with her, snapping his teeth at the tip of her nose. “Never fear, Josie, my girl. If I’m a monster, I’m a proper sort of one.”

“Oh dear,” she sighed. “A proper sort of monster? How very disappointing.”

Chapter Five

TOM WOKE FOR THE NIGHT, his face already turned toward the door where Henry was chattering on to himself about some letters that had arrived from Dublin. The lad must have heard him move because he turned and gave Tom a silent nod that everything was well as he continued the one-sided conversation designed to give the illusion that Tom had been awake for hours.

“No sir, Mr. Murphy. I got them off to the post today, but there was nothing yet to bring to you.” The lad paused. “Yes, sir. I’ll check in the morning. Would you like to prepare for dinner, sir?”

Tom cleared his throat and said, “Yes, Henry. Please ask Mrs. Murphy to join me for a drink if she’s feeling up to it tonight.”

“Yes, sir.”

Stepping closer to the side of the bed where Henry had already laid out a set of evening clothes, the lad leaned down and said, “Nothing unusual today, sir.”

“Has my wife slept at all?”

“Yes, sir. Believe she woke for breakfast, then was locked in her room awhile with something or other. Slept this afternoon.”

“No coughing?”

“Not that I heard, sir.”

“Thank you, Henry.”

“Did you need help getting dressed, Mr. Murphy?”

Tom waved him away, and Henry slipped out of the room.

It was one thing to plan to marry a human and conceal his immortal nature; it was quite another thing to accomplish it. Especially while traveling. The house he’d intended to rent in Wicklow was owned by immortals and had a staff who was fully aware of their secrets. But when Josie’s doctor had suggested the seaside, he and Anne had quickly cobbled together a plan for Bray.

For the hundredth time since they’d arrived, Tom thanked the gods for Henry Flynn. The boy had been born to a couple who’d worked for Tom almost as long as he’d been a vampire. The lad had known about immortals since he was a child. Had never been terrified and had always known what it was to keep secrets.

Tom supposed every vampire had families like the Flynns. Or they did if they were lucky.

He kept his own chamber in Bray, which fortunately had very heavy drapes. And while he normally lay solitary in his secure day-chamber in his Dublin house, in the Bray house, Henry needed access to his rooms to maintain the illusion of humanity. The boy was trustworthy. That didn’t mean Tom didn’t help his loyalty along with a touch of amnis at times.

He’d planted subtle suggestions not to question his odd sleeping patterns in all the household staff and, unfortunately, his new wife. He hated doing anything to touch her mind, but it was necessary. Josie was simply too intelligent to fool by human means.

And gods, she was so very human.

Tom thought he’d planned for everything. But he could never have prepared himself for the feeling of helplessness that struck him when Josie was having one of her coughing fits. Or the raw guilt when he was forced to leave her at daybreak instead of staying at her bedside.

Tom wasn’t used to feeling helpless. His relief at hearing she’d had another day with no breathing problems struck him as more profound than it should have been for a man who’d only met his wife two months before.

That made six days with no coughing since they’d come to the seaside. He’d promised himself to stay away from her for at least a week after her collapse following their wedding ceremony. Seven full days without coughing before he attempted more than a chaste kiss.

Oh, he’d have her, but Tom had to admit he’d been an insensitive fool. He’d not taken many lovers as an immortal. He found controlling his urges to be hard enough without adding in lust.

But Josie…

For once in his life, Tom had found a woman he enjoyed looking after. Maybe it was because she was so independent. Looking after her was a challenge. Her barely contained sensuality, a bonus. He still thought about their kiss in the carriage, though it did nothing to help his self-control.

His unexpected eagerness for matrimony and the anticipation of bedding his new wife had been all he’d been thinking of in the days leading up to the small church ceremony. She’d looked lovely in the church. In the back of Tom’s mind, he’d imagined Josie dressed in a medieval costume with a flowing train and her hair falling past her waist rather than the fashionable dress and pinned hair she wore. That’s what her dressing gown had reminded him of that first night in the garden.
No matter,
he’d thought. He’d have her hair down that very night and finally indulge his imagination.

But then came the horror of her collapse. The unexpected terror of her wracking coughs that simply
would not stop
. Tom had torn open her dress and corset in the carriage, which had helped, but it wasn’t enough. Then her fever spiked. Then more coughing. Her father had tears in his eyes, terrified he was losing his daughter, though the sensible Mrs. Porter simply barked instructions at his staff as soon as she arrived, accustomed to her mistress’s spells.

Tom finished tying his cravat, eager to see her again.

Six days. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Apparently his body still thought he was a boy of twenty, because even the thought of seeing Josie’s hair fall down her back caused a very ungentlemanlike reaction. He straightened his waistcoat in the mirror and left his room, nodding to the maid as she passed him in the hall, noting her downcast eyes and ghost of a curtsy.

He truly hated acting the gentleman.

Following the sweet sound of Josie’s voice, he headed toward the library where they usually enjoyed a drink before dinner. His wife was sitting by the fire, a book on her lap, interrogating poor Henry about his education.

“But you never went to school? Not even for a few years?”

“Not… exactly, Mrs. Murphy. See, Mr. Patrick Murphy always kept… Well, see, there was—”

“Tutors,” Tom said, rescuing Henry from the relentless curiosity of his wife. “My brother kept a tutor employed for all the servants’ children. There were enough to justify it, and that way the girls could take the same lessons as the boys, which Anne insists on.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to Josephine’s cool cheek, happy to smell less sickness and more of the gardenia-scented soap she preferred. “Good evening, wife.”

“Good evening.” Josie turned her head slightly, avoiding his gaze and the kiss he usually pressed to the corner of her mouth. “That’s very generous of him. It’s not many gentlemen who would keep tutors for their household staff.”

Tom straightened, feeling the slight turn as if she’d given him a physical push. “Henry, if you would excuse us.”

“Yes, sir.”

The lad fled the room, and Tom stood next to her. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

 
A flush in her cheeks. “Nothing, Tom. You’ll be happy to know I’m feeling well tonight. No coughing at all today. Did you accomplish everything you needed to for work?”

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