Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(56) by Lorraine Heath
Christ! Surely she wasn’t contemplating joining Elisabeth at the bottom of the sea. Snatching up his trousers and pulling them on, he selfishly thought she couldn’t possibly be considering leaving him—not after what they’d shared last night, after he made her smile and laugh, after he brought her pleasure, after she brought him pleasure more intense than anything he’d ever experienced. Yes, she’d left him before, back in London, but now things were different. She’d left him because of her shame and secrets. She’d left him because she thought she had no choice if she wanted to escape the gallows. Now she knew differently. He grabbed his shirt, pulling it over his head as he rushed out the door and down the stairs, nearly losing his balance and tumbling in the process. Taking a quick second to get his shirt situated, he carried on and burst through the door to the outside as though her life—and his—
depended on it. He ignored the pain as his bare feet encountered tiny rocks and thorns. Afraid of startling her, of causing her to tumble over the edge, he didn’t call out to her. When he was near enough to see that she wasn’t teetering at the edge as he’d first feared, he slowed his gait and fought to regain his dignity. A bit difficult to do when his feet were bare and his shirt unbuttoned.
He was surprised that his feet pounding the earth in order that he could reach her quickly hadn’t caused it to tremble and alert her to his presence. Or perhaps she simply wasn’t yet ready to face him. Whatever the reason, as he came to stand beside her, she continued to stare out at the whitecapped sea as though it contained answers.
“Emma,” he said quietly, wanting desperately to reach for her, to draw her farther back from the edge.
“Sometimes when I stand here I can hear her laughter.”
She nodded. “I yelled at her, you know.”
“It’s not a crime to yell.”
She rolled her eyes toward the sky as though she sought salvation. “She wouldn’t tell us what happened in London. We only knew she returned home with no marriage prospects. Father had no money with which to send Eleanor and I. Selfishly, selfishly, I wanted to go so desperately, to find a husband and have children, to be a wife and a mother. I screamed at Elisabeth, told her she’d been a disappointment to us all. I had the audacity to tell her that if Father had sent me, I would have snagged a husband who could ensure that my sisters had a Season and were well looked after. I wanted a Season so frightfully badly, so stupidly. I think my words may have caused her to kill herself.”
“No, Emma.” His arms were around her before he’d given it any thought. Turning her, he drew her into his body, pressed her face to his chest. “I read her journal. Nothing you said caused her death. Nothing you could have said would have stopped it. Rockberry is the sole blame here.”
She tilted her head back to look at him, her delicate brow furrowed. “Had I been a better sist—”
He touched his finger to her lips before she could finish. “You mustn’t think that way. Had I been a better son…you see? Nothing is to be gained.” Although he had spent a good many years wondering how differently things might have been if he’d not taken the watch, if he had been a better son. Only now, while holding this woman close, trying to ease her pain, did a bit of his ease as well. Guilt and regret had taken the joy from his life. This woman returned it all to him. It broke his heart that she suffered, that she felt guilt and remorse.
“When I read Elisabeth’s words, read what happened to her, at first I couldn’t believe them,” Emma said. “I thought surely they were a story she’d created or a rumor she’d heard about something happening in London. I wept when I finally faced the reality of them. How could someone in Lord Rockberry’s position be as vile as all that? He trifled with her. Broke her heart, broke her spirit, and in the end broke her body.”
“I’ve known people from all walks of life—from the beggar on the street corner to those who have dined in the presence of the queen. At all levels, I’ve seen people behave in ways that have turned my stomach. But at all levels, I’ve also seen people to be admired. Feagan was a thief, took me in, taught me to be a thief. I would have died for him. Claybourne, a lord with blood on his hands. I admire no man more than I admire him. Even Jack Dodger, scoundrel that he is, takes boys in off the street and gives them a job, keeps them out of trouble. Society is made up of good and bad, Emma. You cannot judge any portion of it based on a few.”
She gave him a soft smile. “I think you would have liked Elisabeth.”
“I know I would have.” Grateful for her smile and the easing of sorrow in her eyes, he tweaked her nose. “But not more than I like you.”
She released a bubble of laughter, and everything within him finally relaxed. “May we move away from the edge now?”
Her smile grew. “Do you not like the cliffs?”
“I don’t like being so close to them, no.”
“They’re perfectly safe.” Sadness suddenly contorted her features. “Unless you don’t want them to be.”
He couldn’t ask her not to think about her sister, especially as there was unfinished business, but he suspected he could distract Emma for a time, especially as he’d already gone far too long without kissing her. Even as he took her mouth, even as she offered it, he was grateful that she wasn’t the one who’d been charged with going to London last Season to secure a husband and a future for her sisters. The thought of Rockberry touching so much as a hair on her head caused Swindler’s blood to scald. It seemed Emma wasn’t the only one unable to stop thinking about her sister.
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