Authors: Laura Landon
“I have to be,” he answered. “I have to make up for all your doubts.”
“Those aren’t doubts, Rafe. I’m simply realistic where you’re anything but.”
“Do you know what your problem is, Hannah?”
“Trust. You don’t trust me.”
“Trust has nothing to do with this, Rafe. I’d trust you with my life. I just don’t want to be responsible for yours.”
“It’s not your
you’re unwilling to trust me with. It’s your
. You aren’t brave enough to trust me with your future.”
“That’s because I can see what
are unwilling to face.”
“If you think your reputation will make me hate you, or your past will be a stumbling block for me, you’re wrong.”
“I’m a prostitute, Rafe. A whore.”
He stopped. The expression on his face died, and some of the ruddy color left. “You
a prostitute?” he asked. “Or you
“Does it matter?”
He sat upright. “Of course it matters. It matters a great deal.”
Hannah turned to look out onto the gentle waters streaming by. It was so peaceful here. So calm. She tucked her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her
,” she answered. “I
a prostitute. For several years I sold my body to the man who paid me to offer him my favors.”
“Then that’s in your past. That has nothing to do with who you are now.”
“It has everything to do with who I am. I am Madam Genevieve. I own one of the most well-known, expensive brothels in London. I cater to the most elite group of men Society has to offer. And my girls get paid well for what they do.”
“You don’t need Madam Genevieve’s. You can give it up, walk away from it.”
“No, I can’t.”
“You can. This can be your life, helping these children. Teaching them, training them. Finding positions for them.”
“You don’t understand.”
He ignored her. It was as if he couldn’t see what was right in front of him. Or that he didn’t want to see the whole picture.
“I can’t give up Madam Genevieve’s.”
“It means that much to you?”
“It means that much to the children.”
“How can a brothel mean anything to innocent children? I thought that was the life you were trying to save them from. I assumed that would be the last place you would want them to go.”
Hannah bounded to her feet. How could he even think such a thing? “They will never go to the brothel. They will never work at Madam Genevieve’s. We don’t train them for that. And we never will.”
He rose to face her on even ground. “Then why is Madam Genevieve’s so important to you?”
“Where do you think we get the money to feed and clothe the children? Where do you think we get the money to pay the bills to keep from losing Coventry Cottage?”
The expression on Rafe’s face changed. He stared at her for several long seconds before he spoke. “Why didn’t I realize that?” He grasped her by the shoulders and pulled her close to him. “I should have known from the start that Madam Genevieve’s provides the income you need for your children.”
Every instinct told her to step out of his grasp, but she couldn’t. She wanted to be close to him. She wanted him to hold her next to him. She wanted someone to lean against. She wanted Rafe.
Instead of pulling away from him, she wrapped her arms around his waist. She pressed her cheek to his chest. She listened to the steady pounding of his heart as he held her, and she thought how comforting the sound was.
He tilted her chin upward, then lowered his head to kiss her. Bending her to his will wasn’t difficult. He was an expert at getting her to comply. He was an expert at encouraging her to return his kisses. She was, after all, hungry for the passion he stirred within her. She was eager to experience the emotions he brought to the forefront.
She was desperate to feel the joining of their bodies every time his lips touched hers.
For several long minutes, they kissed beneath the bright sunlight. Each encounter was more intense than the last.
She had fallen in love with him. She’d come to care for him more than she thought it was possible for her to care for anyone. And he loved her in return.
She knew it with the same certainty that she knew the sun would rise every morning in the east. And that it would set each evening in the west. Even if he’d never declared his feelings, she’d have known what he felt for her by his actions. From the way he guarded and protected her. From his attempt to make himself a part of her life. And the reasons she loved him were too numerous to mention.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him like a drowning man clutching the rope thrown to save him. Except she was the one who needed saving. She was drowning in the depths of her feelings for him. And no rope anyone could toss her was long enough or strong enough to save her.
“We need to talk,” he gasped when he lifted his mouth from hers. “I refuse to give you up, Hannah. Don’t ask me to.”
Hannah placed the palm of her hand against his cheek. Not only didn’t she want to ask him to give her up. She wasn’t sure she was strong enough to ask.
he weeks since the picnic flew by, and Hannah knew it was time she returned to London. She’d never been away from Madam Genevieve’s this long, but the time she spent with the children—and with Rafe—away from the troubles with Skinner had been blissful. But it was time to return.
Dalia had sent two girls during the last two weeks. They’d rescued them from Skinner’s grasp, but Dalia wrote that it was getting more difficult all the time. Skinner had hired more men to protect his property, which was what he considered the young girls he stole from the streets. She wrote that not only was it more difficult to rescue the girls, but it was more dangerous. The conflict with Skinner had turned into a war. Even though the girls from Madam Genevieve’s were accompanied by several bodyguards, problems arose at a steady pace.
Delores had been injured while saving the last girl, and Marjorie had been attacked on a previous attempt. Marjorie had been severely injured and required a doctor’s attention.
Hannah was needed in London. She just wondered how she would manage leaving without Rafe insisting that he accompany her.
“You’ve been terribly preoccupied as of late,” Rafe said as they walked through one of the Cottage’s many gardens.
This was Hannah’s favorite time of the day. The evening meal was over, and the children had retired for the night. She and Rafe made a habit of walking out-of-doors as the sun set, then they sat in the moonlight and talked.
Hannah had never been so happy in her life.
“Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?” he asked when he led her to one of the gazebos that overlooked a quiet pond.
Hannah leaned her head against his shoulder. “I have a favor to ask of you.”
“And you’re afraid I’ll refuse you?”
He separated himself from her and grasped her by the shoulders. “You should know by now that there’s nothing I won’t do for you, Hannah. All you need do is ask. If I have it in my power to do it, I will.”
“You don’t know how glad I am to hear that,” she said on a sigh, then placed her head back against his chest.
“Name it. What favor do you need?”
“I need to return to London. It’s time I went back to Madam Genevieve’s. I’ve never been absent this long.”
Rafe chuckled. Hannah heard the laughter from deep inside his chest.
“And you were afraid I wouldn’t want to leave? I admit I love it here and would be happy to spend the rest of my life here. But I knew you’d have to go back eventually. And it isn’t as if we’ll never return. It won’t be long and we’ll be able to come back.”
“That’s not what I’m asking from you.”
He paused. “Then what is it?”
“I don’t want you to come with me. I want you to stay here and help Rosie.”
“No, Hannah. I’m—”
“I need you to stay. I need you to teach the children. They love you. You have a gift that very few possess. You have a calling, and this is where you’re most needed.”
“I won’t let you go alone. I know things are getting more dangerous in London. The last girl who was brought here sobbed with terror when she related what had happened when Marjorie rescued her from the streets. She still has nightmares because of how severely Marjorie was beaten.” He turned and held her shoulders firmly. “I won’t let you go alone. You won’t be safe.”
“I’m the only one who will be safe,” she said softly. “Skinner won’t dare hurt me. He’ll have every brothel owner up in arms. Even the ones who have not joined us in our attempt to bring Skinner down will have no choice. So far, he’s focusing on the people who work for me. He intends to frighten them until they leave him alone. But that will never happen.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because everyone knows if we don’t stand up to Skinner now, he’ll control every brothel on this side of London. And no one wants to work for Skinner. His girls are terrified of him.”
“Then why don’t they leave him?”
Hannah smiled. This was a question only someone completely unfamiliar with a man like Skinner would ask. “A few have tried,” she answered. “Their bodies either washed
ashore on the Thames, or were discovered mutilated in an alley near Skinner’s brothel.”
Rafe’s hands fell away from her shoulders. “I can’t let you go,” he said with more force than earlier. “I can’t risk that something will happen to you.”
“I told you. Nothing will happen to me. I’m off-limits where Skinner is concerned.”
Rafe sat back on the bench and stared out onto the still water in the pond. “So you want me to remain here while you go to London?”
“Yes. I need to know that everything is running smoothly here while I’m gone. And I don’t trust anyone to do that more than I trust you.”
For several long minutes they sat in silence, neither speaking. Neither moving. Finally, Rafe broke the silence.
“How long will you be gone?”
“Perhaps a month. No longer.”
Rafe held her close, then leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “If I can help you more by staying here, then I’ll stay.”
Hannah tipped her head upward and looked into Rafe’s face. Oh, how she loved him. She never thought it was possible to love anyone this much. She skimmed her hands up his chest and wrapped her arms around his neck. Then she brought his head down and kissed him.
She knew she was playing a dangerous game. The differences between them were staggering, and yet Rafe somehow seemed to adapt to them. He had overlooked so much that she wondered when they would find the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. She wondered
when she would ask one thing too much from him and he wouldn’t be able to grant it—or overlook it.
She kissed him with all the passion she possessed, because she knew that day would eventually come.
There were only so many demands she could make of him.
The smells and sounds of the city grew stronger as she neared London. Hannah pulled back the window curtain to judge how close she was to home. Except this time it didn’t feel like home. Today she felt as if she’d left the life she was born to live and was entering a place she no longer wanted to be.
She breathed a deep sigh. It was Rafe’s fault she felt like this. If he hadn’t let her glimpse a life so different from the one she was used to living, she wouldn’t realize how much she wanted something more.
Hannah swayed with the carriage as it rumbled over the cobblestone streets and leaned back against her seat. She remembered the look on his face when she left. He didn’t want her to go. He was worried about her. But she couldn’t stay any longer. She was needed in London. Dalia had sent another message saying things were getting worse.
She leaned to the side and lifted the curtain. They were almost home. It wouldn’t be long now. Soon she’d be back to her old life and the time she’d spent at Coventry Cottage and with Rafe would seem like a dream.
The carriage slowed, then stopped, and Humphrey opened the door and lowered the steps.
“Glad I am to see you, Miss Genevieve. Things are getting worse by the day.”