Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(53) by Lorraine Heath
He didn’t want her first time to be in his den of iniquity, or in his carriage, or in the streets. He wanted her in a bed, properly—or as properly as it could be with a man who had an aversion to being held.
He wondered how Sebastian would feel if he knew the truth of workhouses. He hadn’t then, of that Rafe was certain, but perhaps he did now. Articles had been written about the deplorable conditions, the brutality and cruelty of the owners. Mr. and Mrs. Finch had been particularly ruthless. Their workhouse had been overflowing. Boys slept on pallets on the floor in a locked room. No candles, no light save for what the moon and stars provided.
Sebastian had told him to tell no one who he was, but he was a lord and lords did not sleep on the floor. So the second night he’d demanded a bed.
Mrs. Finch had dragged him to a tiny room. It contained a bed. A hard wooden bed with no mattress, no ticking. And they’d tied him down to it.
Rafe pressed a balled fist to the glass, fighting back the memories, the sense of hopelessness, the fear that he would be left there to die. It was only one of their punishment rooms, but it did its job. The next night, he didn’t ask for a bed.
He slept wedged between two other boys.
A sound at the doorway had him glancing over his shoulder. Mick strutted in, his swollen and bruised jaw stirring guilt within Rafe, but then considering how swollen and tender his eye was, the guilt quickly diminished.
“A message was just delivered for you,” Mick said, holding out an envelope.
Rafe took it. He didn’t recognize the handwriting of flowing script that was his name. It wasn’t from anyone who’d written him before.
“Your coachman delivered it,” Mick said as though he could see the confusion Rafe was experiencing, despite knowing he’d not moved a muscle. He was skilled at never revealing a reaction.
Now, with the knowledge that Eve might have penned him a note, he said flatly, “That’ll be all.”
Not until he was alone did he trace his finger over the elaborate curls and swirls. She had fine penmanship, while his was fairly atrocious. He was more comfortable writing with his left hand—“The mark of the devil,” Mrs. Finch had declared before she ordered his left arm tied behind his back during lessons in the evening. He’d never mastered writing with his right and when he’d made his way to London, he reverted back to what came more naturally—in applying pen to paper at least.
He opened the envelope, removed the small folded sheet of paper.
Miss Evelyn Chambers
Requests the Honor of Your Presence
For Dinner Tonight.
He couldn’t help but smile at her formality. Did she fear he might put in another long absence? Did she crave his company?
What an insane thought. No one craved his company. He never went out of his way to be pleasant. He didn’t give quarter, he didn’t care about anyone else’s needs save his own.
He studied the script again, imagined the slow movement of her hand as she worked to make each letter precise, the crease that would form in her brow as she sought to select each word, so as not to give the impression that she was inviting him for anything more than a sampling of the fare. She would bombard him with questions all evening, no doubt, killing desire, striving to delay the inevitable.
The hell of it was he yearned for the sound of her voice almost as much as he craved the heat of her flesh. The way her lilting speech tipped up and down as though she feared the answer to the question, but was compelled to ask anyway. Sometimes he wanted to tell her, say aloud the things of which he’d never spoken. How, as soon as Sebastian and Tristan were out of sight, Mrs. Finch had grabbed Rafe by the collar and dragged him into a room. With the help of her husband who’d held him down, she’d shaved his head so he wouldn’t get lice, then stripped him of his clothes and ordered him into a tub of water. Standing there before her, trying to shield his most vulnerable parts from her sight, he’d refused, demanded she return his clothes.
Then the cane had come out.
Whack! Against his shins.
Whack! Shoulders. Whack! Back. Whack! Buttocks.
No one had ever struck him before. He was a lord, the son of a duke. He was not to be touched.
The only way to escape her menacing swinging arm had been to climb into the tub. So he’d climbed. The water had been frigid, and he’d almost immediately shriveled up, begun shaking. Then she’d attacked him with a hard bristled brush, scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing until he’d feared she’d remove every inch of his skin.
When it was all over, when he was dry, she’d handed him his trousers along with a shirt and jacket made of rough cloth that was patched in places and didn’t fit properly. It wasn’t until he was living on the streets of London that he understood she’d taken his shirt, jacket, and waistcoat because the buttons were valuable. She’d no doubt removed them and sold them. Then sold the clothing as well. What did it matter if they came without buttons? The material was the finest. Buttons could always be bought—perhaps not as fancy as what had been there originally, but serviceable.
But at the workhouse, he’d still had lessons to learn and had spent the remainder of the night locked in a room with other boys who were sleeping. Rafe had merely curled into a tight ball, trying to gauge exactly how quickly time would pass before he saw his brothers again.
The next morning after a meal of milk porridge—all meals were milk porridge—he’d been led to a shed with several other boys and charged with picking apart old ropes, down to the smallest fibers. The tinier they were, the more likely they were to cut into fingers as they were pulled. Hands bled, but none of the boys complained.
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