Rescued By a Lady's Love (Lords of Honor, #3)(4)

By: Christi Caldwell

“George,” a curt voice sounded from down the corridor. A hated voice. A hateful voice. The one to have issued warnings, that in being inside this hallowed home, Lily ignored. “Wherever are you? Sir Henry is to arrive shortly with the gift for tonight’s b—” The Duchess of Blackthorne gasped. “What is the meaning of this?” she hissed.

Lily looked blankly past George’s shoulder as the elegant, silver-haired Duchess of Blackthorne swept over in a flurry of silk skirts.

“I am handling this, Mother,” he bit out.

“Are you?” With a pointed look for the hovering footman, she snapped. “The same way you handled her in Carlisle?” Then the Duchess returned her attention to Lily. “You,” she seethed. “You were warned...”

“By you,” she bit out. Where did she find the courage to toss those words at this unfeeling duchess?

The woman flared her eyes and then as swift as it had come, all hint of emotion was gone. “This is the girl who is writing you notes.”

This time, when George looked to Lily there was a bored curiosity. “Ah.”

Ah. That was what he would say? Nothing more than a single, affirmative utterance that was not even a word?

“She is your vicar’s daughter,” his mother snapped, impatience adding a frosty bite to the revelation.

Hope stirred in her breast. Hope he would remember. That he would see past her downtrodden appearance and his mother’s disapproval to the woman who had given her virtue on the pledge of his love.

He flicked a detached gaze over her and brushed an imagined speck off his sleeve. “I thought you said you would deal with her.” I am that dust. I am that insignificant to him. She struggled to hear past the blood rushing in her ears. His mother’s words came as if down a long, empty hall.

“ you see why you do not make village girls your whores? They get ideas beyond their station...”

Her heart cracked and with her throat working, she looked from mother to son. “George,” she pleaded again, taking a step closer.

He looked to her again with disdain seeping from his eyes. “What in blazes are you doing here?”

Her breath caught. Her lower lip trembled and she hated it. Hated it because it was a telltale sign of her weakness and despair. But more, she hated herself for having been so foolishly naïve. Regardless of his lofty title as duke, he’d taken her virginity and she expected, nay demanded, more.

Lily searched for words. His face remained a smooth, unaffected mask. She searched for a hint of warmth. How could she have been so deceived? How? “I gave myself to you.” Her voice cracked and she buried that sound in her trembling fingertips. But once, in a moment of madness, she was swayed by the skillful words on his lips.

The duchess’ shocked gasp split the quiet.

Ignoring the exclamation, Lily continued. “I love...loved you, and you promised me...” Her voice broke and a dratted sheen of tears filled her eyes. For her reservations that day in the Carlisle countryside, he’d promised to give her his name in love.

“This is your lesson on what happens when you bed the village girls,” his mother snapped. “After you are wed, then you may bed whomever you wish, but by God behave with some discretion until then.” She spared a lethal glance for the two stone-faced servants. “If a word is said about any of this, I’ll turn you out without a reference and ruin you so that employment will not even exist for you within Newgate itself.”

Feeling a player in a farcical drama, Lily looked blankly to the white-faced footman. He gulped and hastily dropped his eyes to the floor.

“Surely you did not believe I would marry you?” At the ugly laugh that spilled past George’s lips, nausea churned in her belly.

She stared, stricken, his words blasting through the foolish love she’d carried. “Yes,” she whispered. “I did.” I am going to be vomit.

Lily gagged and the duke stumbled away from her. “Egads, do not go casting your evening meal at my feet.”

If she could muster the proper ability to formulate a sentence she’d point out that she’d not eaten a meal in more than a day. With the precious coin handed her by her father, she’d preserved those coins with greater care than she’d guarded her own virginity. “You cannot simply turn me away.” A denial screamed around her mind, even as panic threatened to cut off her airflow.

His mother threw her hands up. “By God, give her coins and be done with her. You have your meeting with Holdsworth and then the betrothal ball. Imagine the scandal if a single guest arrives to find your whore here?” She seethed and the sneer on her lips transformed the regal woman into a harsh, ugly figure that matched her soul. “Lady Barbara’s father will never allow the match under such dubious beginnings.”