Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(26) by Lorraine Heath
But he had been angry, so very angry that Eve was feeling as though she was less than she was, that she appeared to be on the verge of tears. But she had been strong enough not to shed them, and that had made him want to take a lash to himself.
Finally, to his immense relief, he caught sight of a sweet shop. He opened the door as two ladies were coming out. He tipped his hat and as soon as they were through, he charged inside. Some little imp of a girl was standing beside an older scruffy-looking lad, holding his hand, trying to decide what she wanted. He could see a penny clutched in the boy’s grip. A penny’s worth of candy. How long was this going to take?
Children. He would never have any. Didn’t want them, wouldn’t know what to do with them. Still, this girl drew his attention, a blue ribbon holding her blond tangled hair from her face while it flowed down her back. He imagined Eve at that age. Had she ever held her brother’s hand, had he ever looked out for her? Why had her father not arranged to see that Eve was properly taken care of after his death? Surely he was not blind to the fact that his son was lacking in character.
Perhaps he thought leaving her to her brother’s care would force the man to grow up, to assume responsibility, to learn to put someone before himself. Instead, he’d followed his nature and selfishly rid himself of her as soon as possible in a way that profited him, selling off her things. He wished she’d asked for more than a portrait and a horse, because he’d have acquired the whole blasted house if she’d wanted it. Not because he cared for her, but because it would have been the right thing to do. It had been a long time since he’d wanted to do anything simply because it was the right thing to do.
Last year sometime. When Tristan had needed his help to locate the man everyone thought should marry Anne. And two years before that when he’d attended balls that he didn’t want to attend, in order to ensure Sebastian’s rightful place in Society. And since then he’d cared only about what he wanted. Maybe he wasn’t that different from Wortham. The thought sickened him—that he might have anything in common with that scapegrace.
The child was sucking on her finger now and dancing on the tips of her toes. The clerk behind the counter gave him an I’ll-be-with-you-in-a-moment look that truly meant I may never be with you.
“Come on, Lizzie. Pick sumfink,” the lad said.
Yes, Lizzie, Rafe thought. Pick something.
“Dunno. They’re all so pretty.”
The clerk sighed, pursed his lips. “May I help you, sir?”
“A dozen peppermint humbugs.”
As the clerk scooped the light and dark brown striped hard candies into a sack, Rafe’s mouth began to water. He’d gone too long without the indulgence. As soon as the clerk handed over the sack, Rafe dug out one of the hard nuggets, popped it into his mouth, and savored the sweetness.
The girl looked up at him with wide blue eyes, not the shade of Eve’s, but still a color that would draw men to her as she got older. He extended the bag toward her. “Here, you may have the rest.”
The boy pulled her nearer to his side, and put his arm protectively around her narrow shoulders. “We dun know ye. Wot ye be wantin’?”
Street children then, old enough to already have learned not to trust. It was a hard lesson, one Rafe had not excelled at quite quickly enough. He’d innocently taken food offered by a fellow named Dimmick, and before he knew it he became one of Dimmick’s lackeys, doing what he was ordered to do because the man’s punishments generally involved mutilation of some sort.
“Nothing, lad. I simply misjudged how hungry I was. The clerk can’t take them back once he’s handed them over. I’m not of a mood to toss them in the garbage bin. Do you want them or not?”
He could see the boy struggling, the fingers of the hand not holding the coin twitching. He wanted to reach for the offering, but he feared the price.
“I loike Wellington sticks,” the lass said. “They’re pretty.”
Their red, blue, and yellow stripes were colorful, but then most hard candy was brightly colored. Rafe had been intrigued by it all as a lad. He would sit for hours sucking on one after another.
“A dozen Wellington sticks,” Rafe told the clerk.
“Very good, sir.” He pulled the lid off a jar. With each stick he removed, the girl’s eyes brightened further.
When the sack was full, the clerk held it out. Rafe took it and offered it to the girl. She lacked her brother’s reserve. She snatched it with tiny hands. With an arched brow, Rafe again offered the humbugs to lad.
He skewed up his mouth, grabbed the bag and the girl’s hand, and darted for the door. Suddenly the girl was back, her scrawny arms wrapped tightly around his leg. His breath caught as he stiffened, fighting not to kick her off, not to send her flying across the shop, through the large window that looked out on the street. She couldn’t weigh more than a feather and yet he was immobilized as though heavy metal chains had been wrapped about him. The world began to retreat as darkness hovered at the edge of his vision. He ran his tongue over the hard candy in his mouth and concentrated on the sugar. Sweet, sweet sugar.
“Come on, Lizzie!” the boy yelled.
Yes, go, Lizzie, for God’s sake, go.
She released her stranglehold and raced out the door, followed by the lad.
Rafe forced out a long slow breath, fought to calm his racing heart as mortification threatened to swamp him. How could a mere slip of a girl unman him so?
“So is that it for you today, then, sir?”
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