Deliciously Debauched by the Rake(2)

By: Ann Lethbridge

“I always liked that about you,” she said with a quick laugh and hoped he couldn’t hear the brittleness beneath the light airy sound. “Your quick understanding.”

He moved closer, looking down into her eyes. The shadowy room would keep him from seeing the truth. She hoped. “I will not allow this, Elizabeth.”

The growl in his deep voice, the note of possession, struck a chord low in her belly. Jealousy. It got to her every time. Not that John ever had reason for jealousy. Until now.

She forced her smile to brighten and raised a brow. “I filled the terms of our contract long ago, Lord Radthorn. You have no hold over me. Or I over you.” She touched his cheek, glad of the kidskin guarding against his warmth, the feel of his skin, yet it still cost her to touch him. Cost her more pain. More sense of loss. “I’m sorry if this comes as a surprise.”

“Grandmother,” he said. “She said something. How dare she?” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I never should have taken you there.”

“No,” she said coolly. “You should not have.” The hopes for great grandchildren the dear old dowager had expressed with such a look of longing in her face and not a smidgeon of malice had brought Elizabeth up short. Made her look at her life. And the deeper she looked, the more she realized the wrong she was doing. She and John had become too easy with each other. Too comfortable. A man in his position had duties. And he deserved to find love. And a woman he could marry.

Sadly, she could not be that woman. Not with her tarnished reputation. Their time together had been wonderful, and she had known all this from the start. Over time she’d just forgotten. They’d been so happy.

She’d even thought about having his child. Making them a family. It wouldn’t be fair. Not to him or the children. So this must be done.

“You took me to a family party.” The laugh came a little easier. A little harder. The perfect note for one such as she. “The height of dullness. Boring. You have become boring.”

He recoiled from her cold words, looking at her as if he no longer recognized her, confusion filling his face. “I’ve always treated you with respect, if that is what you mean. If you find that dull—” his voice became hard “—then there is no more to be said. When you find a suitable candidate for your bed, do not hesitate to request a letter of reference, should one be required.”

If her gentle reasonable John was lashing out, then she had hurt him deeply. Her heart longed to offer comfort. She must not. It would be better for them both if he stayed angry. “You are generous to a fault, as always,” she said with calm practicality, retrieving her overnight valise from the floor. “But it will not be required. I will be staying with Miss Barnhurst until my plans are finalized. You can expect her footman to call for the luggage sometime tomorrow.”

The door knocker banged.

“My carriage,” she said calmly.

John, looking grim, opened the door and bowed her out.

“No need to see me off,” she said, praying he wouldn’t insist. The tears welling in her throat might not remain dammed for much longer.

It would be a disaster if he saw tears.

John stared into his glass of brandy. “I still can’t believe it.”

Lord Robert Mountford, sitting opposite shook his head. “How long is it you have been together?”

John thought back to the first time he met her. A beautiful young widow, with golden hair and the joy of life in her bright blue eyes. She’d rented a box at the opera. As good as put a sign over her head. Destitute widow available to the right man. Word had rippled through the ranks of the male members of the ton, bachelors and husbands alike. But he’d won her. They’d liked each other on sight. He’d seduced her not with riches, for he was by no means the wealthiest male knocking at her door, but with the respect she’d so clearly deserved. Despite her being three years older than him, he’d wooed her into his bed. She’d been his goddess.

Was she right? Had he really become dull and boring? “Five years.” He remembered the day as if it was yesterday when he’d taken her to that small house on the edge of town and made his offer of a carte blanche. She’d flung her arms around his neck and kissed him. You would have thought he’d offered her the moon.

“It is probably time you married and got yourself an heir, anyway,” Robert said, staring moodily into his glass.

“Since when did you concern yourself with family duties?” he said pointedly. “What are your plans now? Not returning to the family fold, I assume?”

Robert’s expression turned grim. “Not a chance. I thought I’d go to America.”

Also By Ann Lethbridge

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