Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(45) by Lorraine Heath
He stood exactly where he was. No one ordered him about. No one.
Opening the door slightly, she spoke to the servant on the other side. When she turned back into the room, she pressed her lips together and pointed toward the sitting area. “Sit!”
She walked to the washbasin, picked up a cloth, and dipped it into the water. He looked at the sitting area, looked at her. Where was the harm? He wasn’t following an order. He wanted to sit. That was the reason that he ambled over and dropped into a stuffed high-backed chair.
As she strolled toward him, he watched the movements of her nightdress in fascination. He caught glimpses of the outline of her legs. He wanted to run his hands over her thighs, then send his lips on the same journey.
She knelt before him, lifted the cloth. “This will suffice until the ice arrives. The water was cool.”
“I can do it,” he said, reaching for it.
She yanked it back and glared at him. “I’ll do it.” She waited a heartbeat. “Please. You’ve done so much for me, and I’ve done nothing for you. I can give you this small courtesy.”
It had been so very long. He didn’t know how to accept kindness graciously. It was the reason that Tristan’s gift had nearly unmanned him.
He didn’t answer, but neither did he object or pull away when she very gently touched the cloth to his cheek. He watched her instead: the concern in her eyes, the tiny furrow between her brows, her concentration—as though if she didn’t do it just right, she would cause irreparable harm.
“I don’t understand men fighting,” she said quietly. “Did you get the better of him?”
He experienced a strange swelling of pride in his chest. “I felled him.”
“Why would you hurt a friend?”
“He’s not a friend. He works for me. He got in a good jab or two.”
She sighed. Another knock sounded on the door. “Hold this in place.”
Another order. As she got up to answer the door, he realized he was going to have to have words with her about this ordering him about business. He wouldn’t tolerate it. But when she returned, took the cloth from him, and placed ice shavings in it, he said not a word. As she gently laid it against his cheek, he thought he’d never felt anything so sublime.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. “I could have the cook prepare something.”
“No, I’ve eaten.” He wasn’t accustomed to having someone asking after his welfare. It was unsettling.
“Why would a gambling den need a boxing room?” she asked, her eyes focused on her task. She was positioned in such a way that from time to time, with an intake of a breath or an adjustment in her posture, one of her breasts brushed against his arm. It was almost his undoing. His mouth went dry. It would be so easy to roll out of the chair onto her, take her to the floor, lift the hem of her nightdress—
No, he’d not lift it. He’d rip it asunder. He wanted to see her in all her naked glory, and he had no doubt that she would be glorious.
“Men have frustrations,” he said, finding himself being tied up into knots at that moment with those very frustrations. “They need a place to work it off, so I have a room where they can box or wrestle. And sometimes—” He stopped. He wanted her comfortable with him. Not knowing the truth about him.
She peered up at him. “Sometimes . . . ?”
“I take men there and teach them a lesson.”
The cold ice left his face as she sat back on her heels. “What sort of lesson?”
“Things that belong to me are not to be abused.”
Her brow furrowed. “What sort of things?”
Why had he started down this path? Perhaps because he needed her to know some of the worst things about him, so she wouldn’t care whether he’d eaten or was hungry or had a bruise forming on his cheek. He didn’t want to fall into the allure of being tended. “The women who work for me—some do so on their back. Their choice,” he added quickly. “They plied their trade on the streets, but in my place they have it better. They’re clean, the rooms are clean, the customers who visit them are clean. But from time to time those gents can forget where they are and get a bit rough. When they hurt one of the girls, I hurt them back.”
She blinked. “You personally?”
“Yes, me personally. There’s nothing more frightening than facing a man who doesn’t give a bloody damn.”
Something soft touched her eyes. It made him want to squirm. He despised discussing any aspect of his life. He shouldn’t have come in here to look in on her.
“You told me that you would make Geoffrey regret the manner in which he’d treated me. Are you going to do it in that room?” she asked.
“No, I have something else in mind for him.”
“I haven’t worked out all the particulars yet. I’ll let you know when I do.” Rafe had long ago learned that the best revenge didn’t involve physical pain. Hurts healed. The memory of agony diminished over time. Better to arrange something that was a constant reminder of failings or misjudgments.
“Thank you for that, for seeing that Geoffrey will have regrets.”
The gratitude in her eyes almost had him asking her to make him promise her something else. No one had ever looked at him like that. He was accustomed to instilling fear, but for the first time in his life, he thought there might be something stronger than fear. He wasn’t certain what it was, but it scared the bloody hell out of him.
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