Read Lorraine Heath - [Lost Lords of Pembrook 03] Online
Authors: Lord of Wicked Intentions
This book is dedicated on behalf of Sharon R.
To Kandy T.
Your generous spirit, your smiles, and the gift of your friendship have enriched my life. Thank you for always being there for me.
ord Rafe Easton waited, unmoving.
Perched on a boulder in the center of the abbey ruins, he was immune to the discomfort of the hard rock. The icy winds howled around him, the snow fell gently from the heavens, but he did not stir. He allowed no memories of happier times to intrude. He was not
his brothers’ return. He refused to anticipate it. He was merely awaiting their arrival.
Ten years earlier on this very night, they’d left him. As though he were rubbish, as though they weren’t brothers, as though they didn’t have the same blood coursing through their veins. They’d left him with the promise to meet up here on this particular night in order to gain revenge against the uncle who had meant them harm, the one who wanted the dukedom of Keswick. The one who had planned to kill them.
Rafe had found ample opportunities through the years to do in the blighter. He’d watched from the shadows while Lord David strutted about, and enjoyed the fruits of his misguided scheme. He knew he should feel unmitigated anger at the fool, but it was his brothers who garnered his wrath.
Especially Tristan, who had called him a baby. Then Sebastian for not seeking to reassure him that everything would be all right.
Rafe had been barely ten. Terrified beyond measure. They were four years older, blasted twins, who knew each other’s thoughts, each other’s fears, each other’s ambitions. He’d not heard a word from either of them since they’d abandoned him at the workhouse and ridden off together. Yes, he’d cried, blubbered, begged . . .
It shamed him now to think about his behavior on that horrid night. Since then he’d dammed up his tears, dammed up his emotions, dammed up his heart until he felt nothing.
He welcomed the numbness seeping through his body until it matched his soul, didn’t bother to extend his gloved hands toward the wildly dancing flames of the small fire. He would not even consider that they were not here because they were dead. They must see how well he’d done for himself. He hadn’t needed them. In all the passing years, he hadn’t required their assistance in order to survive. He certainly didn’t need them now.
At the workhouse food was short and punishment in abundance, particularly for a lad who wasn’t very agile. Admittedly, he’d been a bit of a roly-poly back then. He loved his sweets. They were his secret indulgence now, but not often. He would never again be slow to action. A number of men had learned how quick he was—and deadly.
Eventually he’d managed to escape the workhouse and made his way to London. He’d lived on the streets, scavenging and scrounging, until he’d fallen in with a fellow who knew all of London’s darkest secrets. Now they belonged to Rafe.
By the time the sun was easing over the horizon, the fire had long since turned to ash, the cold had made its home in the depths of his bones. He finally unfolded his body and made his way over the scattered debris until he reached the remnants of a window.
They’re not coming.
He should have known. He didn’t want to acknowledge the small kernel of disappointment that threatened to blossom into rage and hurt, and something that resembled loneliness. They meant nothing to him anymore. He wouldn’t allow them to mean anything.
He sincerely hoped they were writhing in hell.
His features set in a stoic mask, he spun away from the window, his greatcoat flaring out around his calves. He tugged hard on his finely crafted leather gloves, even though they were already perfectly positioned. “Wait here until they show.”
“For how long, sir?” his man asked from the corner in which he’d been standing guard through the night.
How long indeed? How long was long enough?
“Until they show,” he repeated.
“And if they don’t?”
He wouldn’t contemplate the possibility of that happening. He wouldn’t consider that they were indeed truly dead. That they would leave him totally, completely, absolutely alone. That they would deny him the ultimate pleasure of telling them he didn’t need them in his life. That they were nothing to him, less than nothing. Rubbish, just as he’d once been to them.
He strode to his horse and mounted it in one easy practiced movement. He urged his black gelding into a gallop, its hooves beating out a steady rhythm that caused the words to reverberate through his soul:
You’re alone. You’re alone. You’ll always be alone. You deserve to be alone. That’s why they left you behind.
lease don’t go. Please don’t leave me.
Evelyn Chambers merely thought the words. She didn’t say them. To do so would be most cruel. Her father had been in excruciating pain for some time now, slowly dwindling away until he was a mere shadow of the robust, boisterous Earl of Wortham whom she loved so terribly much.
Sitting in a chair beside his bed, she held his withered hand, one too weak to squeeze her own. So she did the squeezing, trying to impart with her touch what she could not bring herself to utter with words:
It’s all right to let go.
Because once he left her, she had no idea how she might manage. She shoved back the terrifying realization. She would not make his parting more difficult, but the truth was that she hadn’t a clue how she would survive without him. But she would face the uncertain future as best as she could. For now, her only concern was to bring him comfort.
He’d done little more than study her for hours now. It was late into the night. The bustle of the city had quieted. Only the most senior of the servants stood vigil outside the door, waiting for orders. A lamp burning on the bedside table illuminated his sallow complexion, his sunken eyes. With a slow blink, he turned his head slightly, focusing his attention somewhere near the foot of the bed. “Geoffrey?”
The word was barely a whisper, scratchy and rough, as though it had taken all his effort to form the syllables.
His son stood there, leaning against the bedpost, arms folded over his chest, his strikingly handsome face showing no emotion whatsoever. He might as well be one of the many porcelain dolls that the earl had given Evelyn when she was a mere slip of a girl.
“Promise me . . . you’ll see her . . . well taken care of.”
“I give you my word that she shall have all she deserves.”
For some reason which she could not fathom, a shiver coursed quickly up her spine. Geoffrey Litton, presently Viscount Litton, had never been cruel to her, but then neither had he ever been kind. He had, for the most part, simply ignored her. She thought it sad that they knew so little of each other, especially as now they would have only each other for comfort.
The earl nodded once, before giving her a weak smile, his eyes no longer glittering with the pride and joy that they usually did when he gazed on her. They simply appeared incredibly weary. “You’re as beautiful . . . as your mother.”
Tears prickled, threatened to roll down her cheeks. “You’ll see her soon. She’s waiting for you, you know?”
“It’s the only thing . . . makes leaving you not quite so painful—to see her again.” His gaze wandered to the canopy above his bed as his smile softened and a distant look came into his violet eyes, eyes she’d inherited. “Ah, how she did make me laugh. That’s the secret to love, Evelyn. Laughter. Remember that.”
With his words, he seemed to have regained his strength, and she considered that perhaps the physician had been wrong, that his leaving would not come tonight. Still, she couldn’t chance not letting him know how much he meant to her. Had always meant to her. He would have been within his rights to pretend she didn’t exist. Instead he had made her to feel like a treasured princess. “I shall remember every word you’ve ever spoken, every smile you ever gave me, every laugh we shared, everything about you. I love you so much, Papa.”
His tired gaze settled back on her. “You were always the light of my life.”
“As you were mine.”
Then the light was gone. One second it was there, the next it was simply gone.
“Father?” She pressed her lips to his hand, allowed the tears she’d been holding at bay so as not to upset him to silently scald her cheeks. Her chest felt as though a massive rock was pressing down on it.
“Go to your chambers, Evelyn.”
Snapping up her head, she twisted around and stared at Geoffrey. He’d not moved a muscle. He appeared no different. It was as though nothing at all had happened. As though death had not made a visit, as though everything in their lives had not suddenly changed for the worse. The clock on the mantel continued to tick. Someone should stop it. All clocks needed to be stopped. A house in mourning did not have ticking clocks. Suddenly, irrationally, it became very important to her that the blasted clocks cease their infernal ticking.
“Go to your chambers,” he repeated in a flat emotionless voice, “and wait there until I come for you.”
“I thought to help prepare him.” To wash him, to dress him in his finest clothes, to comb his hair, to give him the dignity in death that his illness had stolen from him during the final days of his life.
“The servants will see to it.”
“Then I would at least like another mo—”
“It’s Wortham now, and you will do as I command. Go to your room willingly, or I shall drag you there.”
She wanted to ask why he was being unkind, what she’d done to garner his lack of sympathy during this devastating moment, but she knew the answer. She’d been born.
She gazed at her father, so pale, so small, so fragile. His hand was lax in hers. She slipped hers from his, stood, and studied his quiet frail features. He hardly looked like himself. She did hope her mother would recognize him.
“Evelyn, you are testing my patience.”
With only the tiniest bit of rebellion, she delayed her parting, determined to have the few seconds she so desired. She combed her fingers through her father’s snowy white hair, then leaned over and pressed a kiss to the wrinkles that had begun to mar his forehead of late. “Good-bye, Father. Be at peace.”
I doubt that I shall ever be, now that you are gone. You were my safe harbor, and suddenly I feel as though I am cast out to sea, adrift.
Without looking at her half brother, she slowly wandered from the room. She’d never felt so lonely, so sad, so wretchedly alone.
week passed. She’d discovered rather quickly that leaving her bedchamber was not an option. He’d locked the blasted door.
Evelyn didn’t shout, cry, scream, pound her fists on the thick wood, or kick against it as she wanted. She maintained her dignity. She simply sat and waited, gazing out the window onto the glorious garden that continued to flourish. Should it not be draped in black? It seemed disrespectful for it to remain so brightly colored, but then she supposed it was simply demonstrating that the world carried on. Tears dried, hearts healed. Things would never again be as they were, but that didn’t mean that all wouldn’t be good.
Geoffrey had promised that he would see she was taken care of. She was not overly concerned, as promises were not to be broken, especially the ones made to someone who was dying. In spite of the fact that he did not seem to favor her in the least, he would provide for her.
But surely he didn’t intend to do it by holding her prisoner for the remainder of her life. Perhaps he simply wanted to spare her from seeing him grieve. He was such a proud man, so reserved. Much like his mother, he never revealed how he felt about anything.
Her lady’s maid, Hazel, brought her meals, but spoke sparingly. She informed Evelyn that the earl had been laid to rest. Evelyn wished that the earl’s son had allowed her to see him one more time. What would it have hurt?
But she forgave him his inconsideration because she knew how difficult it must be for him to bury his father, take on the mantle of earl, and find himself charged with her welfare as well as that of the estates. Besides, he’d really done her an immense favor with his inconsideration as she was forced, for comfort’s sake, to rely on her memories of her father while he was alive, rather than holding the image of him in stillness within a casket. He would always remain vivid and vibrant in her mind. Tossing her in the air, laughing boisterously, wrapping his larger hand around her smaller one. Kneeling before her shortly after her mother died, and assuring her that everything would be all right. She had loved him more at that moment than she thought it possible to love anyone.
It was early afternoon, on the seventh day, when she heard a key turn in the lock. Too soon for tea. She rose from her pink velvet chair at the window as the door opened, and Geoffrey strode into the room dominated by pink frills and lace.
Unlike her, he did not appear to have lost weight as he mourned. His gray eyes were not shadowed by grief. His blond hair was combed back, every strand in place. His black jacket, waistcoat, and trousers were pressed. His white shirt and cravat pristine. Only the black armband signaled that he had lost a family member.
He bore so little resemblance to his father. He took after his mother. She had been a cold woman who had done little more than look at Evelyn as though she wished she would fade into nothing. When in her ladyship’s presence, Evelyn often wished she could make herself do exactly that: disappear.
“I’m having a few friends over this evening.” He marched to her armoire, opened the door, and began riffling through her gowns as though he owned them. “I shall expect you to entertain them.”
“We’re in mourning,” she reminded him, abhorred by the notion of his going about as though this was not a house that had suffered a recent loss.
He pulled out a gown of lush purple silk and held it up for his inspection. She wanted to snatch it from him. He couldn’t just come in here and start pawing through her things. Even if he was now the earl. “This should do nicely.”
He tossed it negligently onto the bed before making his way toward the door. “Be ready at nine.”
Aghast at his callousness, she drew back her shoulders and said as forcefully as possible, “Geoffrey, I’m not entertaining.”
He came to an abrupt halt, but he did not look over at her. Rather he kept his gaze focused on the hallway. “I’ve told you before. I’m Wortham now. Don’t make that mistake again.”
“I don’t understand why you’re behaving so—”
?” He spun around then and she saw the fury darkening his eyes, the hard set of his jawline. It took everything within her not to step back, not to give any indication that he frightened her. “You are his bastard. He brought you into this home, right beneath my mother’s nose, and flaunted the fact that he did not love her, but loved another woman. Do you think she died so young because of illness? No, she died of a broken heart. You are a constant reminder to me of all that she suffered. All I suffered. He didn’t love me either. Not once did he ever say that he loved me. Yet he poured those words over you as thick as honey.”
Her heart twisting for his pain, she took a step toward him before she recognized by his glower that her touch would only serve to worsen matters between them. Therefore, she filled her voice with all the empathy she could muster. “I’m so incredibly sorry for any hurt that you’ve suffered because of thoughtlessness.”
“I don’t want your apologies or sympathies. I gave him my word that I would see you well cared for. The first step in that endeavor is to introduce you to some lords. Tonight. So please make yourself presentable. Be charming. Flirtatious. Let them see that you are made of stern stuff, even when grieving. Convince them that you would be a satisfactory companion.”
“You intend to see me married off so quickly, even though I am in mourning? It’s not proper.”
“Proper? Dear girl, believe me, you are considered anything but proper. They will overlook the impropriety. Now then, be a good sport about it. If not for me, then for Father. If he can look down from above, he will be most pleased to know you shall never want for anything.”
With that, he strutted from the room and slammed the door in his wake. Hearing the grating of the key in the lock, she sank back into her chair. Her chest ached, her throat so thick with tears that she thought she might suffocate. She had lived such a blessed life, spoiled and pampered. She knew not all by-blows were fortunate enough to be treated as warmly and kindly as she’d been by her father.
She supposed she couldn’t blame Geoffrey—she couldn’t bring herself to think of him as Wortham, not yet. That name belonged with her father—for wanting to be rid of the burden of caring for her. He would be searching for his own wife soon. Best to see his father’s daughter well situated first and out of the household. She suspected once she left here, she would rarely see him—if at all.
He was right, of course. She wasn’t exactly proper. She hadn’t had a coming out, a Season, and certainly not a presentation to the queen. She’d never attended any balls, although she’d often fantasized about doing so and capturing some handsome lord’s fancy. But she’d not been saddened by her lack of a social life, because her father had always had a way of making her forget exactly what she was.
Geoffrey now carried the weight of her nonexistent place in Society on his shoulders. At least he wasn’t striving to foist her off on some common man—a merchant or a tradesman or even a servant. He was seeking to find her a lord to marry. He was attempting to secure for her what her father had failed to accomplish: a place in Society.