Rescued By a Lady's Love (Lords of Honor, #3)(5)

By: Christi Caldwell

Lady Barbara? Through the peculiar humming in her ears, Lily struggled to make sense of the odd jumble of words and names.

The betrothal ball?

Dutifully, the duke fished a small purse from his pocket and held it out.

Lily stared blankly at mother and son. Money. He would pay her like a whore in a tavern who’d served but one purpose. Cold iced over her heart.

He shook his hand and the coins within jangled.

She cocked her head.

He gave his fingers another shake. “Off you go.”

As her hand curled tightly, reflexively over the pouch, she went hot and then cold, sick with a dangerous blend of shame, agony, and fury. He was to be married. To a proper lady...and you are nothing but a whore. After all, whores took payment for the gift of their virtue.

She choked. How could she have ever believed herself in love with one such as him?

“See her out, Sutton,” the duke instructed. Without a backward glance, he wheeled around—and left.

Before Lily could move, the footman wrapped powerful hands about her forearms hard enough to raise bruises. She cried out, as he hauled her physically through the hall and to the foyer. Pulling against his punishing grip, the man only tightened his hold.

With Lily kicking her legs and flailing, the butler rushed forward and pulled the door open. Biting rain stung her face and sucked the breath from her lungs.

“Miss Bennett?” the duchess called out, staying the butler.

For a moment, hope kindled that there was a sliver of good in this woman and she would insist George do right by her. She glanced back. “Do not return to this household or I will see your family ruined.” The duchess peered past Lily. “Get her out, now.”

A gasp exploded from her, as the footman hurled her down the steps and into the street. Lily crashed hard on her hip, landing in a deep puddle. Tears smarted behind her eyes as the autumn rain soaked her modest cloak and her dress all the more.

Her valise followed behind her. It sailed through the air and fell open. The meager contents of her existence spilled into a thick puddle at her feet. She stared at the small wooden box made by her brother, Sheldon, two years earlier. It would be ruined. It would be spoiled by the rain if she did not have a care.

The door rattled from the force of Sutton slamming it and Lily continued to stare, dazed. An empty numbness dulled the agony of betrayal, leaving in its place the renewed terror.

Lightning lit the skies.

What will I do? Her breath came hard and fast. Her father’s warnings came rushing back, slapping her with the truth of her own naiveté and foolishness.

“Hello, miss.” She blinked. “Miss? Are you all right?”

All right? Her world had been ripped asunder. She’d been cast out of her family, betrayed by the man she’d given her virtue to and now had nothing but a handful of coins given her by her father and the duke. She would never be all right again.

“Miss?” he repeated.

Lily looked up at the kindly gentleman with thick, white whiskers and concern in his eyes. She shook her head, dazed. What did he want? And more, why was this stranger outside George’s home speaking to her even now?

“My name is Sir Henry.” He knelt beside her and made quick work of stuffing her entire life’s possessions into her satchel. With the valise in one hand, he held his other out. “Let me show you to my carriage.” He gestured behind him and she followed the slight movement to an elegant, black carriage. “It is too cold for you to remain in the street.”

By the cut of his elegant, black cloak and hat and by his very presence here alone, he was a member of the lofty ranks the Duke of Blackthorne kept. It marked his soul as black and evil, and yet...

“Come,” the older gentleman urged. “Let me help you.”

Help her? He wanted to help her? She peeled back her lip in a sneer. What did any of these powerful peers know of kindness? “I do not want your help.” Lightning cracked overhead, aching to make a liar of her.

Still, he remained, staring with gentle concern. “What other choice do you have, miss?”

She stilled and her gaze crept back to the front door through which she’d been summarily tossed. Fear curled inside her belly, once more.

“Miss?” the man repeated, as rain fell about them.

With nearly frozen fingers, she took his hand, and allowed him to help her upright. Wordlessly, she let him guide her to his carriage, help her inside, and climb in behind her. The man doffed his hat and beat it against his leg. “What is your name?”

Her words emerged faint and breathless. “L-Lillia—Lily,” she quickly substituted. She’d not give him more of her identity than that. After all, it was as much folly being in this stranger’s carriage than in giving herself to George. Then, desperation made people do desperate things. “I-I must go,” she said, forcing a thread of strength into her words. “It is not p-proper to be here.” Thunder rumbled and shook the carriage, as though mocking those words from a woman who’d shown up on a duke’s doorstep expecting marriage.