Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(79) by Lorraine Heath
She couldn’t blame him for his hesitancy. He’d been alone for so long now. But there could be so much more between them. She was certain of it. Yet it would require patience. He’d told her far more than she’d ever expected him to, but she was left with the notion that he had failed to reveal everything. “Please, come to my bed and let me tend to you.” Rising to her feet, she held out her hand and waited. She could see the indecision crossing his face as he warred with himself. Where would he seek his sanctuary? Here alone, or with her? She prayed he would choose her. Finally, he placed his hand in hers and came to his feet, sending the smallest spark of hope through her that more would eventually exist between them.
“Perhaps,” he muttered, “we’re both mad.”
Rafe awoke, momentarily disoriented by the silken sheet beneath his back and the velvety canopy above his head. He was as bare as a newborn babe, his wound uncovered. The stitches pulled when he rolled onto his hip. And there she was, turned on her side, a hand resting beneath her cheek, her long lashes lying gently against her skin. Her knees were drawn up, her nightgown having gathered at her calves. Her toes curled and unfurled as though she were dreaming of skipping over green fields. He inhaled her fragrance with each breath, watched her rhythmic breathing.
She’d left a lamp burning just low enough that he could see her clearly, and yet the shadows still formed a gossamer layer over her. He almost found himself envious of the shadows. He remembered how gentle her hands had been as she’d tended him, careful to touch him as little as possible. During that time as her hands had moved so tenderly over him, he’d experienced an unfamiliar sensation: of being loved. And the feelings he felt toward her had very nearly scared the bloody hell out of him. He’d wanted to ask her to never leave him. No, not ask. Plead. Beg.
She’d not been appalled by what she’d discovered in his sanctuary. She’d understood his aversion to clothing, had not thought him mad, had almost succeeded in convincing him that he had nothing of which to be ashamed. She was the most remarkable, kind, generous woman he’d ever known. And she was his.
Until he tired of her or she began to look elsewhere for protection. Not that anyone else could provide her with the security of which he was capable. As long as he was the one to call things off, she stood to acquire a great deal, would become an independent woman.
In the deepest recesses of his soul, the corners that he refused to acknowledge, he wished that the relationship between them was different, that she was here because she wished to be, not because of what she would gain. But then if not for the reality of their arrangement, she wouldn’t be here at all.
Opening her eyes, she gave him a soft smile that was nearly his undoing. “Hello there. How are you feeling?”
“As though I’ve had far too much cheap whiskey.”
“I doubt you know the taste of cheap whiskey.”
“I didn’t always have so much.” Once he’d had nothing at all. “Why didn’t you unlock the door when you found the key?”
She sighed, stretched like a cat that had just woken up in the sun. “Because it was something you wanted to hold secret, and I thought a mistress should respect your privacy.”
A mistress. Always that was between them. That she was here not by choice.
“Your wound is red.”
“I suspect it’ll be angry for a few days. I’m barely aware of it.”
“Only because you’ve suffered worse. I might have had a similar life if you hadn’t taken me in.”
He hadn’t taken her in. He’d offered her sanctuary, but at an incredible cost. He hadn’t considered it then, hadn’t thought of anything beyond his own wants and needs. When had he become such a selfish bastard, thinking only about himself? He was not the sort of man into which his father would have shaped him had he remained alive, had he been able to assert his influence. Sebastian and Rafe were closer to the lords that they all should have been. Of course they were older, had their father in their lives for more years. Still, he could not help but believe that his father would be disappointed in him.
She rose up on an elbow. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Thought you were sleeping.”
“Before I drifted off to sleep. What if I didn’t hold you, but just touched you? I dream about it all the time, you know? Stroking my hands over your shoulders and your back.”
He slammed his eyes closed and growled, “Eve, don’t.”
“You must think about it as well. Just light touches, as though we were waltzing.”
He swallowed hard, before he opened his eyes. “I’ll hurt you.”
“No, you won’t. I trust you.”
“You’re a fool.” Rolling from the bed, he was light-headed. He took a moment to regain his balance before walking to the window and gazing out. He should go to the bedchamber with the stripped bed, where he slept with no danger of getting tangled in sheets or blankets. He didn’t cry out in there, but he was loath to leave her.
He heard the hushed padding of her bare feet, didn’t look down when he sensed her presence beside him.
“Why are you so certain?” she asked softly.
He didn’t want to travel this path. It was as ghastly as listening to a boy die in the mines. But she needed to understand, even if it put her at risk of leaving him. His darker secret, the one that ate at his soul.
“I’d not been long in London. I scavenged for food, sought shelter wherever I could find it, usually in an alleyway, beside rubbish, in a dark corner. One night, I woke up to find a man holding me down, tearing at my clothes . . . he told me to stop fighting, that it wouldn’t be so bad if I’d stop struggling.”
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