Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(17) by Lorraine Heath
“Fair? I will be ruined.”
“You were ruined the moment you were born.”
Her stomach lurched at the truth of his words. Her father had protected her from the gossip and rumors, and in doing so, he’d given her false expectations. She thought she would marry a lord, and now she was discovering she wasn’t worthy of a guttersnipe.
Studying this man, she saw no kindness in his features, no compassion, no sympathy. Yet he had come after her, had carried her through the rain. Because he thought he owned her, or was it because as he’d said, he knew what it was to be where she was? But how could that be when he was the third son of a duke?
“I’ll have your answer now,” he said.
“You won’t even allow me the kindness of sleeping on it?”
“I told you last night that I am not kind.”
But she could see that he was strong, implacable, confident. If she could learn from him to be the same, perhaps no one would ever be able to take advantage of her again. It made her stomach roil to realize that all the men last night had been contemplating entertaining themselves at her expense. Their lascivious gazes made a great deal more sense. She suspected that one or two of them would have already had her on her back by now.
“If I say no?”
“I’ll have the servants return your damp clothes so you are free to take your leave.”
And go where? Do what?
“You’ve only given me the illusion of choice,” she said.
This time, she couldn’t mistake the appreciation that lit his eyes. “I knew you were a woman of keen intelligence.”
“You promise to help me ensure that Geoffrey regrets what he did?”
“I have a talent for making men regret what they’ve done.”
She wasn’t quite certain that it was a talent to be boasted about, but she had little doubt that he was a man of his word. He could have taken her already. He could have barged in here and had his way with her. For all her bravado about fighting him, she knew he could conquer her, quite easily if he set his mind to it. That he hadn’t already told her a good deal about his character, when it came to women at least.
“I suppose this arrangement will begin tonight.”
“Not tonight. It’s late. You’re undoubtedly tired. I’ll give you a few days to become accustomed to the notion, to become more comfortable with me. I don’t want you dreading what is to happen between us. But make no mistake that if you spend tonight here, you will spend other nights in my bed.”
She heard a cold ruthlessness in his voice. A gambling hell owner. A man to whom Geoffrey owed a debt. A man who had sat alone the night before, that all the other lords watched warily from a good distance away.
“Have you a coin?” she asked.
He furrowed his brow. “A coin?”
Her stomach gathering into little knots, she nodded. “It’s something my father taught me, when I had a difficult decision to make, and wasn’t quite certain which way to go. I flip a coin.”
She thought she saw the barest twitch in his lips. “You’re going to allow chance to decide so grave a matter?”
“You should appreciate that—being a gambling house owner.”
“Fate is seldom a friend.”
“At this moment, it may be the only friend I have. A coin?”
He took a long breath, studied her, looked as though he might comment further, but finally reached into a small pocket at the waist of his trousers, removed a silver coin, and offered it to her.
Taking it, she skimmed her thumb over Victoria’s profile, inhaled deeply, tossed it, and let it fall to the carpet. “Heads,” she said quietly. “I stay.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You’re supposed to announce before you flip what you’re associating with each side.”
“My father taught me that I didn’t have to do it like that.”
“Not much of a gambler, your father.”
She shook her head. He never spoke of gambling. “A fortunate thing, as he gambled on Geoffrey seeing after my welfare. A rather unfortunate wager.”
Leaning over, he snatched up the coin and slipped it back into his pocket. “That remains to be seen. You stand to gain a great deal.”
“But at an unconscionable cost.”
“Still, you agree to the terms?”
As much as she didn’t want to, she nodded. She had decided her course, she would see it through.
Stepping forward, standing in front of her, he held out his hand. His large, long-fingered, ungloved hand. She must have somehow managed to swallow a bird because there was intense fluttering just behind her breastbone. “You said you wouldn’t bed me tonight.” Her voice sounded small, fearful. She hated it.
“I’m not. I’m merely going to help you to your feet.”
She placed her hand in his. Hers seemed so tiny, and when he closed his fingers around it, she was incredibly aware that he could easily break her with very little effort. She was surprised by the coarseness of his flesh. These were not the hands of a gentleman. He drew her up, then expertly moved her arm behind her back, somehow snagging her other wrist until both were held within his firm grasp. With his free hand, he cradled her face, stroked her cheek with his thumb.
“You will learn to do things as I like them done,” he said softly, in a voice that promised pleasures. His eyes captured and held hers, and she thought that even if he wasn’t holding her, she’d not have been able to break away. “I have particular needs. The first is that you are to never wrap your arms around me.”
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