Rescued By a Lady's Love (Lords of Honor, #3)(10)

By: Christi Caldwell

Her fingers shook, and to give the trembling digits purpose, Lily tossed the black velvet drape wide. Before being summoned by Sir Henry’s son just yesterday, she’d been tucked away in a cottage amidst abundant gardens and trees; a place that might as well have been a fairy’s meadow and not a place fit for a whore. Now she awaited word of her future. In a perfectly menacing show of nature’s fury, rain slanted a downward path from the skies.

Lightning cracked, illuminating the sky in an ominous display of blue and white, and she jumped as the rumble shook the foundation of the cottage. The ping of raindrops continued to hit the windowpane. Her pale visage reflected back and she touched one of the fat raindrops streaking down the lead panel like a crystal tear.

...It means the sky is crying, doesn’t it, Papa...?

...Don’t be silly, girl, the sky does not cry. Your whimsical nonsense will find you in trouble someday, Lilliana...

“Mr. Holdsworth will see you now.”

Even expecting that summons as she’d been, from her spot at the edge of the parlor, Lily released the curtain with alacrity and it snapped noisily into place. She spun to face the butler. A man of indeterminate years, he eyed her down his long nose.

Tipping her chin up, Lily started for the doorway. She’d long grown accustomed to that disdain. However, she’d been a desperate, cowering child years earlier. She was no longer that girl. Lily forced her legs into motion, then moved at a sedate pace, keeping a sizeable distance between her and the head of the household. The man shot a disgusted stare back in her direction. It would seem even servants had standards where whores were concerned. She turned down the hall and the butler drew them to a halt.

Without so much as a knock, he pushed the door open and motioned her inside. She took a step, but not before he leveled her with an ugly sneer.

Another splash of heat burned up her neck and set her cheeks ablaze. Setting her jaw at a mutinous angle, she strode past him and into the quiet office. The servant pulled the door closed behind her with an ominous click. Lily froze at the entrance of the parlor. Black bombazine lined the walls and covered the curtains giving the room a look of a life-size spider’s web of black thread. The mahogany Chippendale furniture with the angry lions lent that angry air of rapaciousness, reminding her how she had always detested her protector’s choice of furnishings in her own cottage. And at the center of that web was a tall, too-slender gentleman. With his wild mane of crimson Brutus curls and long sideburns, the man had the menacing look of one of those predatory creatures.

By the amusement in Mr. Lucas Holdsworth’s eyes, he’d noted her scrutiny. “Miss Benedict,” he greeted, stretching out those long, nasally syllables.

“Sir,” she said through tight lips.

With a casualness that set her teeth on edge, he propped his hip on the sideboard and studied her over the rim of his glass. “You are, indeed, as lovely in person as my father described,” he said without preamble.

Did he expect her gratitude for such compliments? Lily remained stonily silent.

The ghost of a smile played on his hard lips. “Shall I get to the heart of it?”

She inclined her head. “If you would.” For all the vile things she’d done, for the depraved life she’d lived warming Sir Henry’s bed, at last she would have her freedom. A giddy lightness filled her chest, muting the self-loathing, and fear, and contempt. Oh, those sentiments would always be there. She’d never be free of them, but she had survived and there was something to be said for living.

“You have nothing.”

And just like that, a gentleman had cut the legs out from under her somewhat steady world once more. Lily went still and attempted to pick her way through her confounded thoughts. “Mr. Holdsworth?” She managed to force that inquiry out.

“Nothing,” he said, the slow grin forming on his lips hinted at his twisted enjoyment. “You have nothing.”

Lily gave a slight shake of her head. What could he be saying? “Sir Henry settled funds upon me,” she said, her voice hollow. He’d promised her through the years; promised to see her cared for after he passed.

“No,” he said, inclining his head. “Perhaps he intended to settle funds upon you at some point. He did not, however, settle anything upon his death.” The man’s son took another sip. “You see, there is nothing to settle. There is nothing left of the estates and certainly nothing to give my father’s whore.”

No! Just another man’s lies. Lily fisted her hands hard enough that her nails drew blood on her palms to keep from indulging in the scream stuck in her throat. The room swayed and she shot out a hand. She found purchase at the edge of the leather button sofa she was standing near. There is nothing. There is nothing... His mocking words echoed around her protesting mind. Lily pressed her eyes closed. She could not have sold her body and soul for freedom, only to have nothing. What was it for then? Surviving? Is that what this has been these past six years?