Chapter 6

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Alexander Fane, 11th Earl of Westmorland, had not felt a woman's touch in longer than he could remember. Alex did not trust women, nor did he much like them, but he didn't care for most men either.  There were few people of either gender who could hold his interest. The late Baron de Clifford had been an exception, a deceptively clever man with a sharp wit and quick mind.

By gads, how he missed the man.

Alex wasn't blind to his own faults. He was ornery, impatient and often distracted, with little tolerance for the inanities of polite conversation. But though he was neither charming nor particularly kind, whenever he'd wanted a woman, he'd had one. He was self-aware enough to know women thought him handsome—or had, anyway. If any of his previous lovers saw him now, they'd run away screaming.

Perhaps because it had been so long, the chaste touch of Evelyn Remmington's palm against his ruined skin felt unbearably intimate. He closed his eyes for the briefest of seconds and let himself enjoy the skin-to-skin contact before she dropped her hand in disgust.

Yet Mrs. Evelyn Remmington did not flinch at the strange texture of his metal flesh. Instead, her fingers traced over his skin in an exploratory dance, her large brown eyes wide with curiosity. He registered a flicker of surprise at the light calluses on the pads of her fingers – a rarity for a woman of her means and station – but it was quickly forgotten, lost in prickling sensation. 

"Can you feel my hand?" she asked as her fingers wandered from his cheekbone to his jawline.

A strange woman, Mrs. Remmington. He couldn't decide if she was brave or foolish. "Yes. The sensory nerves are still working, though everything's a bit muted."

"Fascinating," she said, continuing to stroke his face in an almost clinical fashion. "It somehow manages to feel like steel and skin at once. Cool and smooth yet still soft and supple."

He couldn't bear a moment more of her touching him there, on his blighted skin. "Enough," he growled, stepping back out of her reach. The warmth of her hand still lingered.

Mrs. Remmington's cheeks grew rosy in the glow of the firelight. He'd embarrassed her. "I'm sorry, my lord. I didn't mean to manhandle you."

That surprised a snort out of him. Manhandling indeed. "Never fear, madam. I've survived worse."

Her flush deepened, spreading down her neck and disappearing into her décolletage. Idly, he wondered how far the blush extended, then ruthlessly suppressed the thought. Why had it even entered his mind? He remembered feeling an unwanted jolt of attraction the first evening they met, when she'd been accompanied by her toad of a husband. She hadn't been beautiful, exactly, but she was striking in a way that stole a man's attention and held it. When her eyes met his, there was no mistaking the sharp glint of intelligence there. It was that spark that made him want her in his bed.

But the years had not been kind to her. She must have lost a stone or more, and the weight loss didn't flatter her. Her face was pinched, all angles and sharp edges. Her dress hung off her like a sack, the modest neckline revealing a jutting clavicle and the delicate bones of her sternum. She looked brittle, like she'd break beneath his touch. What little remained of the man he used to be felt a tinge of remorse.

The man he was now was as cold as the steel slowly encasing his body.

"Why come to me?" he asked her abruptly. "Surely there are others you could have gone to for help."

She gave him a flat look. "None that I trust."

"So you would rather put your trust in a virtual stranger?" he asked, incredulous.

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