His manhood lay against his leg, looking entirely different than it always had been in her presence. Like him, it was suspended in time.
India kept talking as she washed, softly telling Thorn stories of the more extraordinary households she’d seen.
Every so often she would stop and ladle a spoonful of water into his mouth, holding his head up so that some of it ran down his throat.
Just as she drew the sheet back to his waist, there was a tap at the door and Mrs. Stella appeared, followed by a footman with more hot water. She was clearly restored to her efficient self. “I ordered the ingredients you wanted, and I have Rose and Clara supervising as Cook bakes a special cake for the master.”
India smiled at her. “What a splendid idea. Thank you, Mrs. Stella.”
When the door was shut again, India turned her attention to Thorn’s hair. Blood and river water had dried it into a stiff helmet, so she washed it over and over. All the time she kept speaking to him in a low, soothing voice, though she occasionally stopped and begged him to wake up.
By the time she was satisfied that he was clean, the bed was completely soaked. She pulled the bell and supervised as footmen moved him into the connecting bedchamber, the one meant for the lady of the house. The irony of that did not escape her.
The evening wore on; the butler appeared and asked if she would like to join Messrs. Dusso, Bink, and Geordie for the meal. She declined, but stepped from the room to greet the gentlemen.
Mr. Bink pressed a brown bottle into her hands. “It’s Edison’s Magno-Electric Vitalizer,” he told her earnestly. “The best stuff in London. It’ll jolt him right awake. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll find some of them tablets they make for rousing one’s manhood. That’ll do it!”
India thanked him and hurried back to Thorn’s bedside. Something deep inside her believed that by talking she was mooring him to Earth, and that if she gave up and left him to silence, he might just drift away.
Late that night, exhausted, she began to slur her words and finally broke into tears.
She hated to cry. She had learned as a child that crying did nothing. You could cry for hours, but the house would still be dark and echoing when you stopped. Crying didn’t make you warmer, or less hungry.
But now the emotion welled up in her throat and she couldn’t stop. When she got enough control to speak again, the words that came were no longer soft and soothing.
“Why—why did you go into the river?” she demanded, her voice cracking. “You should never have risked your life when your father and Eleanor love you, when Rose loves you . . . when I love you!”
She choked again, appalled to find that she was almost shouting at him, when she should be coaxing him back to consciousness with loving kindness. But she’d used up all of the tender words she had.
“I love you,” she said again, her voice breaking on a sob, “but I hate you too, because this is the first time I told you so, and you aren’t even listening. I hate you for making me fall in love with you. I hate you for wanting to marry someone sweet and fluffy as a duckling instead of me.”
The worst of it was her own role in the drama: she had thrown away the only beautiful thing in her life. Even if Thorn wasn’t dying, he was finished with her. And he did deserve better than she.
She had lied to him in their most intimate moments. She had never truly trusted him with her most valuable truths: not with the fact she had never been with a man, nor with the fact that she, of all people, would never desert a child.
Loving him was an anguish that she felt in her entire body, as if two of her bones were grating against each other.
“You broke my heart,” she cried. “You broke—you broke my heart!”
To her utter horror, she realized that she was emphasizing her points by pounding on his chest. Not hard enough to hurt, but still, it was a sign of what an awful person she was.
“I know I’m not sw-sweet,” she cried, tears splashing on the sheet. “I suppose I lost all my sweetness when I was a child. But that doesn’t mean that love doesn’t hurt just as much. It doesn’t mean that I don’t need taking care of, as Lala does. Just because I am able to take care of myself doesn’t mean that I want to!” And with that, she sank down, her face on his chest, her body shaking with sobs.
She was weeping so hard that she scarcely heard a voice whisper, “India.”
But she did hear it.
She reared up, saw Thorn’s eyes were open, and screamed. “I love you,” she cried, her voice rough with tears. “Oh Thorn, I’ve been so frightened. But you came back!”
“I could hear you yelling, and after a while it seemed easier to open my eyes.” His voice was hoarse, but the corners of his lips curled up.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to lose my temper.”
“That’s you,” he said, his fingers curling around hers, eyes drifting shut again. “Love you.” His eyelashes lay on his cheeks again, but this time she knew he had been caught by sleep, and not something darker and nearer to death.
The next day India left Thorn’s side only to bathe and dress, and to see Rose just long enough to reassure her that her guardian was on the mend. Adelaide brought over clothing and wisely said nothing about the fact that even if Lady Rainsford kept her mouth shut about what happened at Starberry, India had now indisputably ruined her reputation, at least among the members of Thorn’s household.
After tea, Adelaide poked her head in the door and announced that she was taking Rose on a trip to Hyde Park, and that Thorn’s former mudlarks were a good group of men. Apparently they had saved his life by pounding on his chest until he threw up all the water he’d swallowed.
India scarcely listened. She was worried. Thorn hadn’t woken again. She could rouse him enough to drink water, but he seemed dazed and said nothing.
By now she had given up all pretense that she wasn’t acting precisely as a wife would. She spent the day hanging over Thorn’s bed, talking to him, coaxing him, haranguing him, bathing him.
As evening fell, she stripped to her chemise, lay down beside him, and put her head on his shoulder. Fear that he would never truly come back to life was growing in her heart.
She lay beside him for hours, fear steeling her limbs as if a stranger had taken over her body. Finally she fell asleep with her arm tight around his middle, as if she could hold him to this earth by touch alone.
When a warm mouth brushed hers, sliding off to caress her cheek, she just curled up, thinking she was dreaming.
But sometime later her eyes popped open and she found Thorn beside her, propped on his side. He had lost weight, which had only chiseled the dangerous male beauty that moved her as had no other man’s. There was nothing dangerous about the look in his eyes.
“I love you,” he said, the simple words dropping in the silence. “God in heaven, India. You saved my life.”
“Your mudlarks did that,” she said, her eyes filling. After a lifetime of suppressing tears, she had turned into a watering can. “Thorn,” she whispered, unable to say anything else.
He rolled partly on top of her. “India,” he whispered back.
She brought a hand up to touch his face. “Your hair is damp!”
“I know you tried to wake me by yelling,” he told her, eyes laughing. “But in the end, very unromantically, I woke because I needed a chamber pot. You were fast asleep, so I went through to my own bedchamber, where my man was rather shocked to see me walk through the door. I just had a quick bath.”