She sipped the brandy and made a face. “Ugh.”
Had Harry not been so worried, he might have found some amusement in her reaction to the brandy, a heritage vintage that had been aged at least a hundred years. As she continued to sip the brandy, Harry pulled a chair beside the bed.
By the time Poppy had finished the brandy, some of the fine-grooved tension had gone from her face. “That actually helped a bit,” she said. “My ankle still hurts, but I don’t think I care as much.”
Harry took the glass from her and set it aside. “That’s good,” he said gently. “Would you mind if I left you again momentarily?”
“No, you’re only going to yell at the staff again, and they’re already doing their best. Stay with me.” She reached for his hand.
That mystifying feeling again . . . the sense of puzzle pieces fitting together. Such an innocent connection, one hand in another, and yet it was enormously satisfying.
“Harry?” The soft way she said his name caused the hair to rise pleasurably on his arms and the back of his neck.
“Yes, love?” he asked hoarsely.
“Would you . . . would you mind rubbing my back?”
Harry fought to conceal his reaction. “Of course,” he said, striving to keep his tone casual. “Can you turn to your side?” Reaching for her lower back, he found the little reefs of muscle on either side of her spine. Poppy pushed the pillows aside and lay flat on her stomach. He worked up to her upper shoulders, finding the knotted muscles.
A soft groan escaped her, and Harry paused.
“Yes, there,” she said, and the full-throated pleasure in her voice went straight to Harry’s groin. He continued to knead her back, his fingers coaxing and sure. Poppy sighed deeply. “I’m keeping you from your work.”
“I have nothing planned.”
“You always have at least ten things planned.”
“Nothing’s more important than you.”
“You almost sound sincere.”
“I am sincere. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because your work is more important to you than anything, even people.”
Annoyed, Harry held his tongue and continued to massage her.
“I’m sorry,” Poppy said after a minute. “I didn’t mean that. I don’t know why I said it.”
The words were an instant balm to Harry’s anger. “You’re hurting. And you’re tipsy. It’s all right.”
Mrs. Pennywhistle’s voice came from the threshold. “Here we are. Hopefully this will suffice until the doctor arrives.” She brought a tray laden with supplies, including rolled linen bandages, a pot of salve, and two or three large green leaves.
“What are these for?” Harry asked, picking up one of the leaves. He gave the housekeeper a questioning glance. “Cabbage?”
“It’s a very effective remedy,” the housekeeper explained. “It reduces swelling and makes bruises disappear. Only make certain to break the spine of the leaf and crush it a bit, then wrap it around the ankle before you tie the bandage.”
“I don’t want to smell like cabbage,” Poppy protested.
Harry gave her a severe glance. “I don’t give a damn what it smells like, if it will make you better.”
“That’s because you’re not the one who has to wear a vegetable leaf on your leg!”
But he had his way, of course, and Poppy reluctantly endured the poultice.
“There,” Harry said, tying off a neat bandage around it. He drew the hem of Poppy’s nightgown back over her knee. “Mrs. Pennywhistle, if you wouldn’t mind—”
“Yes, I’ll see if the doctor’s arrived,” the housekeeper said. “And I’ll have a brief talk with the housemaids. For some reason they’re piling the strangest assortment of objects near the doorway . . .”
The doctor had indeed arrived. Stoic soul that he was, he ignored Harry’s muttered comment that he hoped the doctor didn’t always take so long when there was a medical emergency, or half his patients would probably expire before he ever crossed the threshold.
After examining Poppy’s ankle, the doctor diagnosed a light sprain, and he prescribed cold compresses for the swelling. He left a bottle of tonic for the pain, a pot of liniment for the pulled muscle in her shoulder, and advised that above all Mrs. Rutledge must rest.
Were it not for her discomfort, Poppy would have actually enjoyed the rest of the day. Apparently Harry had decided that she should be waited on hand and foot. Chef Broussard sent up a tray of pastry, fresh fruit, and creamed eggs. Mrs. Pennywhistle brought a selection of cushions to make her more comfortable. Harry had dispatched a footman to the book-shop, and the servant had returned with an armload of new publications.
Soon thereafter, a maid brought Poppy a tray of neat boxes tied with ribbons. Opening them, Poppy discovered that one was filled with toffee, another with boiled sweets, and another with Turkish delight. Best of all, one box was filled with a new confection called “eating-chocolates” that had been all the rage at the London Exhibition.
“Where did these come from?” Poppy asked Harry when he returned to her room after a brief visit to the front offices.
“From the sweet shop.”
“No, these.” Poppy showed him the eating-chocolates. “No one can get them. The makers, Fellows and Son, have closed their shop while they move to a new location. The ladies at the philanthropic luncheon were talking about it.”