The carriage came to a stop and he burst from it, racing up the steps and into his home with his precious burden.
"Preston! Mrs. Lindsay!" he shouted as he carried her up the stairs. He moved quickly down the hallway to his bedroom, flung open the door, and laid her gently upon the bed. He undid the heavy silver clasp of her cloak and stripped the soaking-wet garment off her, tossing it into a heap on the floor. Then he turned her over and quickly began to undo the fastenings at the back of her gown.
"Yes, Mr. Barrett?" said his butler from the doorway.
"Build up the fire," ordered Nathan abruptly as he turned the girl over again and yanked her gown down to her waist. Her wet chemise clung tightly to her skin.
"May I be of assistance, Mr. Barrett?" asked Mrs. Lindsay, his housekeeper.
"Make some hot tea laced with brandy," instructed Nathan. "And bring more blankets in here--as many as you can find." He grabbed hold of the girl's wet skirts and with one strong pull had her dress on the floor with her cloak, leaving her only in her wet chemise and twisted petticoats. He tugged the ribbon of her chemise and began to ease the transparent garment up.
Mrs. Lindsay hesitated. "Perhaps, sir, it would be better if I attended to the young lady," she suggested delicately.
Nathan stopped, his hands just at the girl's breasts. A wave of irritation hit him. He could see Mrs. Lindsay's point, but he was extremely reluctant to let anyone else attend to the girl. Once again he was struck by an odd feeling of possessiveness, that somehow this girl was his, and therefore only he should look after her. It was ridiculous, of course, and most unseemly now that there was another woman present who could finish undressing her.
"Put her in something warm," he muttered as he turned and left the room.
He quickly changed into dry clothes and returned some ten minutes later. The fire was blazing in the hearth and the unconscious girl was lying beneath a mound of blankets on his bed, dressed in a white nightgown. She was pale and beautiful against the linen of the sheets, her damp hair spread around her like dark, wild waves cascading over the soft pillows. He sat down beside her and gently caressed her cheek with the back of his fingers, overwhelmed by her beauty. She had almost managed to extinguish her life tonight, he reflected furiously. What could possibly make an exquisite creature like this want to kill herself? he wondered. And by what strange force did he come to be there at that exact moment?
She stirred slightly and her eyes flickered open. Her expression immediately became wary and fearful, and she tried to shrink from his touch. He quickly withdrew his hand.
"It's all right," he assured her. "You have nothing to fear."
She stared at him a moment, her eyes dark, haunted, afraid. "Why?" she finally whispered. "Why did you save me?" She pulled her gaze away from him. "How could you be so cruel?" Her voice was ragged with pain and accusation.
A feeling of complete bewilderment swept through him. "I could not stand by and let you drown," he told her, almost apologetically. "I had to do something."
She turned to him once more. Her eyes were hard and glittering with tears. "I wanted to die," she informed him, her voice deadly calm. "You had no right to stop me."
He found himself suddenly angry with her. "Rest assured, I did not plan to end my evening by jumping into a freezing river after some silly girl who was acting out a dramatic finale to her life," he announced brusquely. She turned away from him, and he was immediately sorry for speaking to her so sharply. "I believe there were enough deaths in Boston tonight," he continued, his tone gentler. "We did not need to add yours to the list."
She shook her head slowly and closed her eyes, clearly exhausted. For a long time the room was silent, except for the steady sound of her breathing and the occasional snap of the fire. When he was certain she finally slept, he added another log to the hearth and doused the candle by her bed. As he drew the door closed behind him he thought he heard her stir.
"There will be other nights," she assured him softly through the darkness.