Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(26) by Lorraine Heath
He slammed down the lid and shoved his arms into his shirt, before jerking it down over his head and shoulders, welcoming the knowledge that with the material in place, the ugliness was once again hidden. “They’re nothing.”
“They must have hurt terribly.”
“For a short time, yes,” he gritted out.
“But the pain long remembered, I should think.”
Shoring himself up to ignore the pity in her eyes, he gazed over at her. She was sitting up, clutching the blanket high at her throat with both hands, as though that could protect her from him. Her eyes were wide damp saucers. Damnation but he never flaunted his scars and he hated that she’d seen them. “I believe that’s the point, Princess.”
He was angry at her, furious in fact, judging by the tautness in his features. And so profoundly proud, standing there so magnificently, almost rebelliously, trying to show that the scars didn’t matter, that they were nothing. She wished she hadn’t seen how terribly he’d been hurt. But she had and she couldn’t undo what she’d seen. She felt sicker in her stomach now than she had during the worst part of the storm.
He’d been a lad when he’d gone to sea, seeking adventure, not much younger than Mouse. Had he been as slender, as vulnerable? Had he been near that age when he felt the bite of the whip? Had he screamed? Had he cried? Had he begged them to stop?
“How can men do that to another?” she asked.
“It’s standard practice on a ship when someone isn’t behaving . . . quite properly,” he bit out.
“Do you take the lash to your men?”
“No, but then none were forced aboard my ship against their wishes. They share in the bounty. They work together because it adds coins to their pockets.”
“You said you went to sea for adventure. Were you forced—”
“No,” he interrupted before she could finish her question.
A knock sounded, and relief washed over his face as though the disturbance would bring a natural end to this conversation, which he obviously loathed. She watched as he strode across the room, his hair freely grazing over his wide shoulders. She wondered what he would say if she offered to take a brush to it, to sift her fingers through it, to provide comfort to him as he had to her. He opened the door and Mouse scurried in with his rocking gait. On the desk, he set a tray with a teapot and some cups on it.
“Mr. Peterson thought ye be needin’ this.”
“She gonna be a’right?”
“Should be. Just a bit of seasickness.” He placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. It seemed a tender gesture, even though he was guiding the lad out of the room. Had anyone placed a kind hand on the captain’s shoulder or brow after the flesh on his back had been ripped apart?
When they were again alone, he returned to the desk and poured some tea into a cup, then added a splash of amber liquid to it.
She settled back against the pillows, ever conscious of keeping the blanket high.
“This should help settle your stomach a bit,” he said as he handed her the cup and saucer. The china seemed incredibly delicate in his large paw.
As for himself, he poured a generous helping of spirits into a glass before pulling over a chair and sitting beside the bed.
She supposed as things were settling down that Martha could rejoin her now, but she didn’t suggest it on the off chance that she was sleeping. She didn’t want to disturb her. More, she wasn’t quite ready for him to leave. She took a sip, recognized the flavor, and smiled. “Brandy.”
“Your indulgence of choice, I believe.”
“Only because it was the easiest bottle to swipe from my father’s liquor cabinet.” She studied him more closely. He appeared older now than he had before, and she realized fighting the storm had taken a toll on him. She missed his ready smile and teasing.
His eyes contained a distance, as though he were looking inward rather than outward, and she wondered where his thoughts traveled, if he was thinking about the pain he’d endured when they whipped him or how he battled the sea or . . .
She knew so little about him, knew it was foolish to want to know more. Once they were again in England, she would never see him again. They would take diverging paths, hers leading her to ballrooms and his returning him to the sea.
She wanted to talk, but the brandy was having its way with her, swirling warmth and lethargy through her bones. She supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised, considering that nothing remained in her stomach to absorb it, to halt its progress.
After finishing off the tea in one long unladylike swallow, she set aside the cup and saucer on the table beside the bed. Then she snuggled beneath the blankets, slipped her hands between her cheek and pillow, and watched Jack. He didn’t quite look like a Jack to her. His lids were half lowered, his glass empty, and she wondered if he was feeling as languid as she. “Why did they whip you?” To her surprise, the words came out slowly, slightly slurred.
“I won’t discuss my back, Anne.”
The anger was still in his voice and he studied his glass as though it were far more interesting than her. She didn’t know why that stung.
“Where did you grow up?” she asked.
Finally, he shifted his gaze over to her. “On the sea.”
She smiled, or at least she thought she did. Her mouth definitely moved. “Before that.”
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