Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(62) by Lorraine Heath
At this moment. But what of the next? she wanted to ask. How many moments would she intrigue him? How many before he’d had his fill and would look for greener pastures—or in his case, she supposed, bluer water? Yet even as the doubts assailed her, she couldn’t deny the truth of what she was feeling. “I know I should be ashamed of my behavior and yet I can’t seem to regret it.”
“For which I’m incredibly grateful.”
She saw him flash a smile in the darkness. Or perhaps she only imagined seeing it. Still she knew it was there. In spite of all he’d suffered, he’d not lost the ability to smile, and that was part of his appeal. He didn’t mope about wishing that his life had taken different turns. Instead, he forged ahead on the path that had been set before him.
She wondered if that was part of the reason that her brothers and the other lords didn’t like him. They couldn’t force him to fit into their world, and they feared they’d find themselves lacking if faced with the challenges that had confronted him. He’d been a boy, younger than Mouse, metaphorically thrown to the sharks.
When they stepped out of the carriage she tried to imagine what it might have been like those many years ago. With her arm wrapped securely around his, as they walked among crates littering the dock, she asked, “Were you frightened?”
“When you were put on your first ship. Were you frightened?”
Occasional lanterns fought to hold the darkness at bay, and she could see the harsh lines of his face. How different they might have been with a less adventuresome life.
“Terrified,” he finally said in a clipped voice.
“And yet you went.”
“Because it was more frightening to stay.”
“You must have been so lonely.”
“It was long ago, Anne. Nothing is to be gained by revisiting it.”
“But I want to understand you.”
“I am as you see me.”
But he had been shaped by the past. She suspected it influenced him still.
“Still, I would like very much—”
Suddenly he shoved her away from him. She staggered back, her unceremonious landing softened by a pile of coiled rope. She stared up in horror as four men descended on Tristan like ravenous dogs. Screaming for help crossed her mind, but she feared she’d only distract him from his purpose and draw attention to herself. She glanced around for a weapon, but she saw nothing that she could use. All she had were her fists, her teeth, her feet. She could punch, claw, bite, kick but would she be more hindrance than help if she leapt into the fray?
Still she readied herself for the opportunity when she could strike.
Grunts, the sound of flesh slapping against flesh, harsh curses filled the air. She’d expected Tristan to go down, to be beaten. Instead, he remained standing, tossing a man one way, pounding a fist into another’s jaw, sending him spiraling back. A kick into the stomach. A duck. A swing. A hit. Dancing away. Charging.
Dear Lord, even when fighting, he was poetry in motion.
One man ran away. Another limped into the darkness. The other two lay sprawled on the dock.
Breathing harshly, Tristan knelt beside her and tenderly touched her cheek. “Are you all right?” he asked, as though she’d been the one caught in the fracas.
In the dim light, she could see a dark oozing along the side of his beloved face. “You’re bleeding.”
“It’s nothing. Are you hurt? Can you stand?”
“I’m perfectly fine.” Not so fine she realized as he slipped a hand beneath her elbow and helped her to her feet. Her knees were weak and she was trembling. She forced herself to remain standing when she dearly wanted to sit.
With his arm at her back, his hand clamped on her waist, he guided her along the creaking dock.
“Who were they?” she managed to ask.
“That much was obvious. But what did they want?”
“They mistook me for a gentleman and thought to rob us.”
“Sorry, Princess. I didn’t think to invite them to tea in order to determine their motives.”
The words stung but she knew his impatience had nothing to do with her. She wondered if she’d not been there if he might have finished them all off.
They reached his ship. Once aboard, they were met by a surprised Jenkins.
“Cap’n, wasn’t expectin’ you tonight.”
“Double the watch, then fetch us some warm water. We ran into some ruffians up to some mischief.” He leaned in and said something she couldn’t hear.
The sailor nodded perfunctorily. “Aye, Cap’n.”
Tristan led her down the stairs to his quarters. Once the door was closed behind them, she rounded on him. “What if they had killed you?”
He grinned. “That wasn’t likely to happen.”
“You’re not invincible.”
“No, but I’m quite good in a fight.” He strode over to the corner table where he housed his spirits and poured two generous glasses. He offered her one. “This’ll take the edge off.”
She downed a huge gulp, grateful for the burning in her eyes that covered the tears threatening to spill. “How can you be so calm?”
“I’ve been in my share of brawls, Anne. I can hold my own.”
She rolled her eyes at his arrogance. Did he not comprehend—
“You did quite well,” he added.
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