Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(4) by Lorraine Heath
He was right, of course. She wasn’t exactly proper. She hadn’t had a coming out, a Season, and certainly not a presentation to the queen. She’d never attended any balls, although she’d often fantasized about doing so and capturing some handsome lord’s fancy. But she’d not been saddened by her lack of a social life, because her father had always had a way of making her forget exactly what she was.
Geoffrey now carried the weight of her nonexistent place in Society on his shoulders. At least he wasn’t striving to foist her off on some common man—a merchant or a tradesman or even a servant. He was seeking to find her a lord to marry. He was attempting to secure for her what her father had failed to accomplish: a place in Society.
That he was doing it so abruptly and soon . . . well, she would be grateful that he was doing it at all. She didn’t think she would be able to carry off being flirtatious this evening, but she could be charming.
In memory of her father, of his great love for her, she would assist Geoffrey as much as possible in securing herself a fine husband.
The invitation came because of a debt owed. Owed to him. All debts were owed to him, while he owed no man anything. Not his friendship, not his loyalty, not his kindness. And certainly not his hard-earned coin.
But the Earl of Wortham, a man of little worth, Rafe Easton thought snidely, did owe him a good deal of coin, which was the reason that he was allowed into the earl’s magnificent library. He wondered briefly how long it would be before it was stripped of all the former owner’s prized possessions. He had left his son with little, and what remained had been quickly gambled away in Rafe’s club.
The man wanted his credit extended, and so for tonight he pretended a friendship with the Rakehell Club’s owner.
Drinking fine Scotch that the earl could scarce afford, Rafe lounged insolently in a chair near the fireplace while the other lords mingled about, chuckled, chatted, and downed far too much liquor. They were a randy lot. He could sense their eagerness and anticipation hovering thickly about the room.
The young earl had a sister, although he didn’t recognize her as such. No, more precisely, she was his father’s daughter, born on the wrong side of the blanket. But on his father’s deathbed, he’d given his word that he would see to her care, and that was what tonight’s gathering was about.
Finding someone willing to see to her care.
Wortham swore she was a virgin, and that knowledge had some of the lords salivating, while others had sent their excuses. Rafe didn’t give a whit one way or the other. He did not bother with mistresses. They tended to cling, to desire baubles, to lead a man down a merry path, only to eventually grow weary of the bed in which they slept and seek another.
He didn’t do anything that even reeked of permanence because anything that hinted at forever could be snatched away, could leave him, would leave him. Even his gaming establishment—he took no pride in it. It was simply a means to coins in his pockets. It could be taken away and he could walk from it without looking back, without a measure of regret. He had nothing in his life that meant anything at all to him, that would cause him the least hurt if he should lose it. His emotions ran on a perfected even keel, and he liked it that way. Every decision he made was based on cold calculations.
He was here tonight to watch these lords make fools of themselves as they vied for the lady’s attention, to measure their weaknesses, and to discover means of exploiting them.
He’d heard that his brothers had been invited. That was a waste of ink on paper. They were both married and so disgustingly devoted to their wives that he couldn’t see either of them straying, not even an inch. But then what did he truly know about his siblings?
They’d finally returned to England two years later than they’d promised. Tristan a few months earlier than Sebastian. Rafe’s man had been waiting and ensured they made their way to the gaming hell. Rafe had greeted their arrival with little more than a glass of whiskey. He’d provided them with rooms and food until they’d secured Sebastian’s place as duke. He’d seen little of them since.
His choice. They invited him to join them: for dinners, country visits, and Christmas. He declined. He didn’t need them cluttering his life. He liked things exactly as they were. He was his own man, responsible to no one beyond himself.
From somewhere down a hallway, a clock began to chime the hour of nine. Conversations ceased. The lords stilled, their gazes riveted on the door. Sipping his Scotch, Rafe watched through half-lowered lids as the door opened. He caught sight of a purple hem and then—
He nearly choked on the golden liquid, as he fought not to give any reaction at all.
He suddenly had an acute understanding of why Adam was so quick to fall from grace when confronted with the temptation that was Eve. Wortham’s sister was the most exquisite creature Rafe had ever seen. Her hair, a shade that rivaled the sun in brilliance, was piled up to reveal a long graceful neck that sloped down to alabaster shoulders that begged for a man’s lips to make their home there. She was neither short nor tall, but somewhere roughly in the middle. He wasn’t exactly certain where her head might land against his body. The curve of his shoulder perhaps. She was not particularly voluptuous, but she contained an elegance that drew the eye and spoke of still waters that could very well drown a man if he were of a mind to go exploring within their depths.
Which he wasn’t. He was content to appreciate the surface. It told him all he needed—all he desired—to know.
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