Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(55) by Lorraine Heath
Devastation swept over her features. “I hadn’t thought of all that, all the myriad ways to which I’m already indebted to you.”
Turning away, she walked to the window, and he wanted to kick himself for not considering that she might have experienced a sense of control in her life when she’d penned her invitation to him that afternoon. With a few blunt words, he’d effectively managed to plunge her back into reality concerning her place in his life. He didn’t know what to say, how to make things right, how to return the smile to her face or the ease in her posture with which she had walked into the library.
“Evie, I’m—” Sorry. When had he ever apologized? But then he could hardly remember the last time that he’d been wrong.
She took a sip of the wine, held the glass with two hands as though she needed it to balance herself. “Of course, I know and understand that items are purchased, that nothing is free, but I never considered everything that must be bought.” She faced him. “It was just always there. Father provided it. He never spoke of paying for it. I never thought to ask how it all worked.” She sighed in frustration. “I’m not saying this properly. I understood that items were purchased. I just never contemplated precisely how much it might cost if I burned a log in the fireplace or used coal. The minutia, you see. I never considered the minutia. My God, I must owe you a fortune already.”
He tossed the paper onto the desk and walked over to where she stood. He inhaled her fragrance, glad that he was near enough to smell it. “Hardly a fortune, and I told you before that I’m not keeping tally. So if you need something, purchase it, or send Laurence or one of the servants out to fetch it.”
“So we’re talking an allowance here?”
“If you wish, if you’re more comfortable assigning a name to it.”
“For what amount?”
He couldn’t stop himself from grinning. “Now you’re talking like a mistress.”
“As you professed to have never had one, I’m not certain how you know that.”
“When men gamble, they do one of two things: they either grumble or they boast. And both are exaggerated. Nothing is as bad as they seem to make on that it is, and none of them excel at whatever they’re talking about to the extent that they would have one believe. But often the topics revolve around their wives or their mistresses.”
Reaching out, she touched a fold in his cravat, her fingers working to right what he wasn’t certain needed be righted. His gut tightened as though she’d gone further and actually removed the blasted neckcloth, in anticipation of removing everything.
“You didn’t answer my question regarding how much,” she said.
“As much as you like.”
She lifted her gaze to his, and he was grateful to see a bit of spark there. “I’ll put you in the poorhouse.”
“I think that highly unlikely. Shop all day every day if you wish.”
“You’re too generous.”
“Don’t mistake my spendthrift tendencies with generosity. A generous soul gives his last and only ha’penny to someone else. You saw my gaming establishment. Trust me when I tell you that as long as men believe that they have a chance of winning fortune rather than earning it, I shall never have a last and only ha’penny.”
She gave him a self-effacing smile. “Well, this is certainly not how I’d planned for the evening to go. All this talk of money. I’d hoped for the evening to be about us.”
Us. It had been years since that word had been part of his vocabulary. He almost told her that they should only think of him and his needs, but if that was part of tonight’s plans, he wouldn’t be standing there in a damned waistcoat, jacket, and cravat, feeling on the verge of suffocating. He’d done it for her. He was beginning to realize that he was doing a great deal for her. Giving her leave to spend as much as she wanted? He’d never been a spendthrift. His coins were too hard-earned. He certainly never did without anything he wanted, but what he wanted most was more coins.
Taking her empty glass, he set it aside. “Let’s go to dinner, shall we? I’ve been anticipating it ever since your invitation arrived.”
They ate in the sitting room that looked out on the garden. She’d had her father’s portrait removed earlier. She would have it returned tomorrow. But for tonight she wanted the intimacy of a smaller room. The dining room was too large, too formal, too cold.
Candles flickered. Servants brought in the food, one course after another. She barely touched anything, was aware of his constant gaze. Whether he was eating or sipping on his wine, he was looking at her.
She had clung to a vain gossamer hope that things between them would not progress, that she might become more of a companion than a mistress. Talking of inconsequential topics over dinner, reading to him as he’d asked that first morning. But the extent to which she was already in his debt astounded her. She’d given no thought to the small things.
“That’s how men lose fortunes, isn’t it? They lose a little bit at a time, hardly giving it any credence—then suddenly they look about them and everything is gone.”
He studied her over the rim of his wineglass. “Usually, yes.”
She could sense a tension building on the air, like a dark storm sweeping over the moors. She’d known when she penned her invitation where things tonight might eventually lead, that she would end up playing the part of seductress. It had been her intent to ease the loneliness she sensed in him, to give him more than he required, to be more than the bargain demanded.
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