Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(43) by Lorraine Heath
Lady Anne revealed her mettle by reaching across and squeezing her husband’s arm. “I fear we must be off.”
Lord Tristan closed his eyes, released a long slow breath. When he opened them, they were once again filled with the teasing glint. “Whether you like it or not, you’re part of the family. I hope you’ll change your mind and join us on the boat.” He settled his hat on his dark head. “Pleasure, Miss Chambers.”
Then he and his lady were trotting away as though no dark clouds had been in danger of forming.
“Don’t say anything,” Rafe muttered before turning his horse about and sending it into a lope, back in the direction from which they’d come.
She almost didn’t follow. Only she knew what it was to feel as though she wasn’t wanted. As much as her father had spoiled her, Geoffrey had never embraced her presence. So she urged her mare into a trot, grateful when he slowed his horse to a walk and allowed her to catch up. He was breathing heavier than his gelding. Her father had never spoken harshly to her, had never shown her anger. She didn’t know how to respond to it, how to diffuse it.
“I didn’t much like him,” she finally said.
He jerked his gaze over to her, his brow furrowed deeply. She wondered what he would do if she reached across and smoothed it out. Although considering the distance between them, she’d probably topple from the saddle before she reached him.
“Lord Tristan,” she clarified in case he had doubts.
A corner of his mouth eased up. “You’re loyal, I’ll give you that. But I don’t dislike him.”
“Then why not go on his boat?”
“Ship.” His lips hitched up higher. For a moment she thought he might laugh, but the hint of a smile disappeared. “I’m not like them. Tristan and Sebastian. Sebastian, the duke, he fought in the Crimea. Was gravely wounded trying to save someone. Tristan sailed the seas. I’ve heard he rescued a boy from sharks. They’re good men and I’m not. We have little in common. They’ve moved back into Society, while I inhabit the darkest corners farthest from it.” He kicked his horse into a quick trot that made it impossible to carry on a conversation.
Still she followed, curious about these dark corners of his, silently questioning why he would prefer them, and wondering if a time would come when they would swallow her up as well.
He took the first punch because he deserved it.
He’d seen Eve’s face alight with Tristan’s invitation, and he knew within the depths of his soul that it was probably the first one that she’d ever received from a noble. Her father, for all his love for her, had kept her in a gilded cage, one so beautiful and filled with such kindnesses that she’d not even realized it surrounded her.
And Rafe was going to deny her the pleasure of accepting it because if he spent time in his brothers’ company, he had little doubt that they would see into his dark soul and know the things he’d done in order to survive.
He ducked as Mick took his next swing. Then he delivered a quick jab to his man’s ribs.
“You’re in a foul mood,” Mick quipped.
If only he knew the half of it. As soon as he’d seen Eve delivered safely to the residence, he’d taken himself to his club to spare her his presence. In the boxing room, he was stripped to the waist. It was the one place where he didn’t have to hide his aversion to wearing clothing. If only he could remove his trousers as well, he’d be in paradise.
Bouncing on the balls of his bare feet, Rafe danced around Mick. He was angry at himself for revealing to Eve that his brothers were good men and he wasn’t. It was something he acknowledged in the darkest recesses of his soul, but he’d never voiced it aloud. He’d been so proud of his accomplishments, so proud of what he’d obtained.
He’d planned to show them both . . .
Instead, they had shown him that they were men of honor, that they had not turned their backs on their heritage, that they had done nothing to bring shame to the family name. While he had managed to commit one offense after another.
He didn’t think about his sins, didn’t let them get past the wall to his conscience. Under the same circumstances, he’d do it all again.
He swung out at Mick, missed, and the bastard took advantage to land a blow to Rafe’s midsection that nearly doubled him over.
“You’re off tonight,” Mick said.
Rafe straightened, lifted his fisted hands. He never spoke of his past, he didn’t confide, he didn’t trust anyone to look beyond their own self-interests. It was the world in which he’d grown to manhood, one in which to survive, he never looked beyond his own needs, wants, desires. Finding himself concerned about what Eve might want unsettled him. He didn’t want to keep her in a gilded cage, but taking her away from it meant moving about in circles where he was far from comfortable. “Do you ever think about how we came to be here?”
He swung. Mick ducked and scurried back. “You’ve heard the rumors, too, then.”
Mick jabbed, Rafe blocked with his right and delivered a solid punch with his left. Mick staggered before regaining his balance and saying, “That Dimmick’s not dead.”
Dimmick, previous owner of the Rakehell Club, Rafe’s mentor as well as his tormentor. A more vile creature had yet to be born. The man had supposedly jumped from Tower Bridge a few years back, although the bloated remains that washed up along the shores of the River Thames were hardly recognizable. It was the distinctive ring that Dimmick always wore on his left hand that had been used to identify him.
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