Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(44) by Lorraine Heath
Avoiding a punch to the jaw, Rafe feinted one way before dancing back to the other. “It would be like him to fake his own death, and then lay low for a while.”
Dear God, had it been six years since he’d coerced Dimmick into signing the Rakehell Club over to him? He’d been fourteen when he’d begun working for Dimmick. Three years later he’d become his most trusted henchman, breaking bones without remorse, threatening without compunction. “You have the conscience of a corpse,” Dimmick had once told him. “That’s why you’re so good at what you do.” He took his orders and carried them out, because he’d learned too late that Dimmick wasn’t the sort of man to whom he should be in debt.
“Dimmick always had patience.” His mantra had been that if you’re going to destroy a man, do it so you destroy him completely.
“If he is alive, he’s going to be coming after you.” Mick jabbed Rafe’s shoulder.
“If something happens to me, go see a solicitor named Beckwith. He has my will and the papers for this place. Upon my death, the Rakehell Club goes to you.”
Mick froze, stared at him, and Rafe—from a long ingrained habit of never failing to take advantage of a weakness—rammed his fist beneath Mick’s chin and sent him spiraling backward and to the floor.
Damn. That was going to end the sparring. He knelt beside the man who had scurried around behind him when he was younger, taking whatever scraps Rafe was of a mind to toss his way. Not many, but it was enough to keep Mick loyal. When Rafe had acquired the gaming hell, he’d offered Mick a place. It didn’t make them friends. Their only association was the business. Mick managed it, and looked out for things when Rafe wasn’t here. Which until recently had been seldom.
“Not that I’m planning for anything to happen to me,” he assured Mick when the glazed look left his eyes.
“Why would you leave it to me?”
“Who else would know how to manage it?”
“I can manage it without owning it. Surely there is someone better to leave it to.”
“If there is, I’ve yet to meet him. But as I said, I plan to be around for a good long while yet. Still, send out some runners, have them ferret around, see what they can learn. If Dimmick is alive, it’s to my advantage to get to him before he gets to me.”
“Wake up, wake up,” his mind whispered, but he didn’t dare say the words aloud. He wasn’t certain he wanted her to know that he was there, leaning against the bedpost at the foot of her bed, watching her sleep again. While he was away, he’d thought of the night before he left, when he’d observed her while she lay sleeping. Every night he wanted to be back here, his gaze honed in on her face, the sweet expression of it.
All the women he’d known intimately had been coarse and hard, shaped by life into something impossible to break. She could break. In all likelihood he would eventually destroy her, unless he found the strength to let her go.
He admired her stubbornness, enjoyed sparring words with her. He would think he was winning, and then she would slip in beneath him and deliver a quick jab that left him flummoxed. Sometimes, only a few times, when he was in her company, he caught shadowy glimpses of the man he might have become had fate been kinder. A man who deserved to have her for the remainder of his life.
Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled. “While you were away, I woke up every night expecting to see you standing there.”
He’d stayed awake every night, wanting to be here. Dangerous, so dangerous. She could become an addiction. He was well aware of what happened to men who could not get enough of gambling, liquor, or opium. He had to put a stop to his growing obsession with her, of wanting to be in her company.
“I missed you during dinner,” she said, and something in his chest clutched. Words, they were merely words. Something someone said when another person wasn’t about. She hadn’t meant that she’d truly missed him. She would have to care for him to yearn for his presence. She was here only because she was forced to remain. If he let her go, he’d never see her again.
That thought was intolerable.
She started shoving herself into a sitting position, stilled, and narrowed her eyes. “What happened to your face?”
He shrugged. “I was sparring.”
“You mean fighting?”
“For sport. I have a boxing room at the club.”
“Sport? Why do gentlemen find it entertaining to be hit?”
“Not to be hit. To do the pummeling.”
She rolled her eyes as though exasperated, jerked on the bellpull, threw back the covers, and scrambled out of bed.
“What are you doing?” he asked, alarmed by her actions. She wasn’t thinking of hugging him in comfort, was she?
“A man of your wealth no doubt has an icebox. We’re going to get you some ice for your wound.”
“It’s hardly a wound. Mick doesn’t have that hard of a punch.”
She stood before him, rose up on her toes, and studied his face as though it was a curiosity, something unusual that should be on display. She lifted her hand, he grabbed her wrist. She furrowed her brow. “It’s bruising and swelling.”
Releasing his hold on her, he gingerly touched his fingers to his tender cheek, near his eye. “It’s not that bad.”
A knock sounded at the door.
“Sit in a chair by the fire,” she ordered with authority before heading for the door.
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