Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(29) by Lorraine Heath
But she made him feel not quite so lonely. So he wanted her to stay, if only for a while, and then he would let her go.
Evelyn was horrified by what she saw. People in bedraggled clothing hovering near small fires. Children so thin that their eyes were enormous in their fragile faces. Barefoot children in the chilly night. Dirty. Filth everywhere. The rancid stink made her want to gag.
Rafe walked through the narrow alleyway—with poorly constructed buildings squatting on either side—as though he owned it all, as though he weren’t bothered in the least.
“Where are we?” she asked.
“These poor, wretched people.” She wasn’t completely innocent. She knew of the impoverished. Her father had mentioned them once. Had said something needed to be done. Apparently nothing had.
Rafe stopped walking, looked to the side. She followed his gaze toward the dark alcove. She could barely make out the shadow of a woman flattened against the wall, a man rocking against her, grunting. Surely they weren’t—
“Can’t you stop him from treating her like that?” she asked.
“I would if she were struggling against him, but she’s not. It’s her choice.” He turned about and began escorting her back the way they’d come. “He’ll probably give her a coin, or part of his meal, or maybe warmth through the night.”
“Is that what it’s like?” she asked quietly. “Being bedded.”
“For some. Not with me.”
Not against a wall, but in a bed. With him over her, rocking, grunting. Once Geoffrey had shown her his dogs “making puppies.” She’d been too young to truly understand.
Rafe stopped walking again, and she dreaded knowing what he was going to show her this time.
“Do you see that gent standing against the wall over there, watching us?”
Gent? He reminded her of a mouse the cat had once brought her from the stables. He was hunched over as though he didn’t want to be seen, or perhaps he carried invisible burdens. Still, she nodded.
“He’ll give you a hundred quid for your jewelry. But don’t let anyone see him handing it over to you. They’ll try to take it after you walk away. In that building over there—” He nodded toward a place that had a single lantern hanging by the door. “—you can get a bed for the night for a couple of pence. You’ll share it with others, of course. Hopefully none of them will have lice.”
She jerked her gaze up to him. “You’re leaving me here?”
“If you wish to be free of me. Last night you stayed because of fate, because of the flip of a coin. Tonight, if you climb back into the carriage with me, I want you to do it because you truly understand it is the better option. It does not come without a price. I know that. Even if I take you to a less seedy part of London and leave you there, eventually I fear fate will lead you here.”
She looked around, trying to envision herself in this squalor.
“I am not fool enough to believe you will be happy with me,” he said, “but I do have hope that you can be content during the short time you will be with me.”
Hope. She had never considered him to be a man who would hope, who would voice that word. Her mother had been a mistress, and an earl had fallen in love with her. Would this man come to love her? She very much doubted it.
She would not be happy in the rookeries, of that she was certain. She would not be content. She would be cold, hungry, and dirty. And very much alone.
She angled her chin haughtily. “I’m not certain why you felt compelled to bring me here. I gave you my answer last night.”
“I must have misunderstood. I thought you were having doubts.”
Tightening her fingers on his arm, she shook her head.
He led her back to the carriage. After he had handed her up, he said something to the footman, then climbed in and took his place opposite her. He tugged on his waistcoat as though it had become askew.
“Why are we not leaving?” she asked.
“My footman is spreading around a few coins.”
She suspected it was a good many more than a few. Eventually, the carriage bolted off, thank goodness. It was awful of her, but she felt the need for a bath.
“I’m surprised we weren’t attacked,” she said.
“They know me there.”
“Because of your kindness?”
He chuckled low. “No. Because it is where I lived for many years during that time when I was lost, as Madame so romantically put it.”
She tried not to look surprised. She wondered if she would ever be as skilled as he was at revealing so little. “Why were you here? Why didn’t you leave, like your brothers?”
“Because they didn’t take me with them.” She heard the bitterness in his voice. “I was only ten. Our uncle wished to possess the dukedom, but three heirs stood in his way. So off we went until we were old enough to reclaim what was ours.”
She wanted to wrap her arms around the boy he’d been. As innocent and trusting as she had been until yesterday evening, he must have been more so. A duke’s legitimate son. He would have been pampered by all. “That’s the reason you know what it is to be me.”
“I don’t know what it is to be you, Eve. I know what it is to be where you are. To be without anyone or anything. To be hungry, to be cold, to be unsheltered. I know what it is to do things that you’d have rather not done, but you do it because you must. You come to accept it. To live with it. In time, perhaps to even admire yourself a bit. That you survived when no one thought you would.” He cleared his throat as though punishing it for speaking such revealing words, and turned his attention back to the window. “I’m glad you didn’t stay there.”
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