Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(15) by Lorraine Heath
The aristocracy’s fondness for gossip was astounding. That he and his brothers were often the center of the gossip was beyond the pale. Why anyone cared what they did was outside his comprehension, but care they apparently did. Ever since the brothers disappeared on a cold wintry night in the year of our Lord, 1844. Rumors abounded regarding what had truly happened to them. When they returned to Society, the gossip worsened. They were viewed as barbaric, just because Rafe had held a pistol on a servant who had refused to announce their arrival at their uncle’s ball, and Sebastian had very nearly choked their uncle to death when he’d first clapped eyes on him. It had not helped matters that several months later their uncle died mysteriously.
So it was with certainty that Rafe knew a good many people were well aware he had taken on a mistress. Which meant, by God, that she would serve as his mistress. Whether she wanted to or not. Whether he wanted her to or not.
He was not a man known to waver when it came to decision making. He set his course, traveled it, and Lord have mercy on anyone who sought to block his path or prevent him from reaching his destination.
He didn’t know how long he stared into the fire arguing with himself, convincing himself that the arrangement regarding Evelyn—a name that didn’t roll easily off his tongue—had been made, and that he would follow it through, regardless of cost, when the rap on the door brought his scathing diatribe up short.
“The lady has finished her bath, sir. She is presently drinking tea.” Laurence spoke through the door. Every servant knew that no one was admitted into Rafe’s chamber. No one. They thought him eccentric. If they knew the truth, they would believe him mad.
“Very well, that’s all,” he replied before shoving himself away from the mantel. He had a blinding headache. He combed his fingers through his unruly hair. It was dry, so he must have been waiting for her to be ready to receive him for some time now. When he was lost in thought, minutes could slip away without him realizing it. He didn’t allow clocks to govern his life. He did what he needed to do when he needed to do it.
Now he needed to speak with her, make sure they came to an understanding regarding this situation.
He didn’t bother to ring for his valet. No need to dress formally. Trousers, loose shirt was about all he’d need.
He glanced at the door that separated his room from hers. He wouldn’t use it tonight. For her sake he would enter through the hallway, but after their discussion, she would understand that no barrier had the power to keep him from her.
The room was warm, the fire crackling, and yet sitting in front of the fireplace, Evelyn felt as though she were carved from ice. Her own clothes a sodden mess, she wore one of the maids’ nightdress and dressing gown. She had soaked in a tub of hot water for what had seemed like hours. Her hair was washed and braided. She curled one bare foot over the other. She should strive to determine what she was to do about this unfortunate circumstance, but she seemed incapable of managing little more than staring at the yellow and orange flames.
Geoffrey’s strange behavior in the carriage, his cryptic words—she was quite amazed that he had been able to meet and hold her gaze at least once. If she sought to destroy the very fabric of his being, she’d not be able to face him.
A mistress, not a wife. That was what she was to become, what he expected for her future, what he sought to give her. Not love, not a family, not a place in Society. It was not to be tolerated.
What were her options? Literally, all she possessed were the clothes on her back. Well, the clothes she’d been wearing on her back earlier. The clothes she now wore were not hers. She wore them only because of the kindness of servants.
She heard the door click open, without a knock, without warning. She might have assumed it was a servant, but the very air in the room seemed to shift and change as though a mighty gale had suddenly swept through it. The fine hairs on the nape of her neck and arms rose. The footsteps were almost silent, and yet she knew to whom they belonged. Breathing became a chore, but she forced herself to do it because she refused to swoon. It was bad enough that he had witnessed her unconscionably weak and falling apart.
She concentrated on the fire. But even it seemed to have grown smaller in submission.
“Here, you’ll find this will warm you more efficiently than tea.”
A large hand holding a thick tumbler came into her field of vision, very nearly kissing her nose. Long, thick, powerful fingers. She imagined they could wrap easily around her neck and choke the life from her body. Inhaling, she recognized the scent.
“Do you think Scotch is the remedy for all ills?”
“You’d be surprised by the answers you can find in the bottom of a bottle. Take it.”
It was not an invitation, so much as a command. As much as she didn’t want to obey, she knew she needed to pick her battles. Keeping her hands steady, she set the teacup and saucer on the small table beside the chair, then took the offered glass.
She’d ignored the contents earlier in the evening when he’d given her a tumbler. This time she took a small sip. It burned, but he was right. It also warmed as it went down, the heat spreading out to her fingertips.
He moved away, placed himself by the fireplace, rested his forearm on the mantel. She wondered if he was as cold as she after their journey in the rain. His hair was much curlier now, as though he’d not bothered to tame it. His white shirt was loosely fitting, buttoned only to midchest. Black trousers fit snuggly over his legs. His boots were polished to a shine, and she thought he would see his reflection in them if he glanced down.
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