Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(78) by Lorraine Heath
“I don’t want them mended. I gather them up occasionally. Take them to a poorhouse. They can mend them.”
If he wasn’t having the clothes repaired, then he was purchasing new. She supposed he didn’t want the servants or anyone else questioning how his clothing came to be so tattered. “Your tailor must absolutely adore you.”
He chuckled low, the sound vibrating against her hand where it rested against his throat. “He does.”
He was breathing less erratically. It appeared the bleeding had stopped. An intimacy was weaving around them, something deeper than anything they’d shared in bed. She was loath to bring an end to these moments. “People aren’t usually born feeling as though they’re smothering. What happened?”
He lowered their hands to his lap, hers cradled within his, her palm upturned. It was as though he were studying all the lines, searching for the answers, or perhaps merely the words to explain the unexplainable.
“I won’t tell,” she whispered. “I promise.”
His eyes slid closed, his voice raspy when he finally spoke. “Promises hold no sway, Evie. They can be broken.”
“Not mine,” she said with conviction.
He opened his eyes, but still didn’t look at her, his finger tracing over her palm. He released a long slow sigh. “My brothers left me at a workhouse. Horrid people owned it. But it costs money to manage a place like that, and the people inside certainly haven’t the means to pay. So they had an agreement with the owners of a nearby coal mine. Before the sun rose, we were woken up, fed our milk porridge, and marched off to the mines. We worked there until long after the sun set. It got to the point that when I did see the sun, it hurt my eyes.”
He trailed his finger over one line and then another as though he were etching his story on her palm.
“I was a coal bearer. I carried the coal that others dug up from deep in the pits. Backbreaking work. Sometimes I wondered if I’d ever be able to stand up straight again. Then one day several of us were gathering up our burdens, when someone shouted at us to run. I wasn’t very nimble. In spite of the fact that I’d lost weight, I wasn’t as slender as I would become. Not then. So I was slow. Another lad and myself. The ceiling and walls caved in on us. We were pinned there. In the dark. The lanterns had gone out.
“I was fortunate. My head, shoulders, and one of my arms were free. I started to try to dig myself out. Then I heard the other boy. In the pitch black, I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t find him. I could only hear his cries, his whimpers, then his silence. His silence was the loudest of all. As impossible as it seemed, it had echoed around the cavernous pit, through my mind, straight into my soul. I knew he was dead. And I was alone again, certain that death was going to claim me as well. I could find no air to breathe.”
She desperately wanted to wrap her arms around him. “But someone came and rescued you.”
“Eventually. I don’t know how long I was there. Hours, days, weeks. Perhaps only minutes. I knew only that the weight of the dirt and the coal and the beams would crush me, just as it had the other boy. I don’t even know his name. I don’t know why it didn’t flatten me. I was digging frantically when I wasn’t fighting off the rats who wanted a nibble.”
“Did they send you back there, to the pits?”
“Oh, yes, the next day. We had quotas you see, and there were always more children to be found. It was a few weeks before I managed to escape and make my way to London. As frightening as it was to be on my own, it was better than being in the pits.”
“I hate that you went through all of that.”
“The cave-in was the start of it I think, my aversion to being confined. Sometimes I lose my sense of calm. Before you were here, when I came to the residence, the first thing I did was come to this room to strip off my clothes and prowl through it until I regained my composure.”
Now he came to her room and stripped off his clothes. It was an improvement she supposed, but still she wanted to weep for the child he’d been, the one who thought death was coming for him, who had heard it snatch away another.
“You think you’ll lose your calm if I hold you?”
“I know I will. I struck out before at someone who tried to hold me.” He trailed a finger around her face. “I won’t risk hurting you.”
“You should have explained all this to me sooner so that I would have understood, could have helped you with it.”
He scoffed. “Explained what? That I would be naked all the time if it were acceptable? Even my servants aren’t allowed in here. It’s my dark secret. I share it with no one. I certainly had never planned for you to find out.” He angled his head, studied her. “Did I strike you?”
Gently, she touched her fingers to her cheek. “It’s more that I got in the way, I think.”
He slammed his eyes closed. “Ah, Eve.” When he opened his eyes, she saw the remorse and regret mirrored there. “I’ve tried to be so damned careful not to lose control.”
“It’s not as though you did it on purpose. You were locked in the throes of a nightmare.”
“Can you not see that I’m mad, that if I don’t keep a tight rein on myself, I risk becoming a barbarian?”
“I can see that you’re a man who’s battling demons. That’s not the same thing. And you don’t have to fight them alone. Let me help you.”
He shook his head. “I can’t.”
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