A Lady by Midnight / Page 27

Page 27


Loading...


“Devious woman. You’re going to regret this.”


“I doubt that.” She lowered the dog once again, letting him lick Thorne’s side now, just beneath his lowest rib. He seized and gasped.


“Very well,” he finally growled. “Very well. You win. Just get him off me.”


“You’ll tell me everything?”


“Yes.”


Victory surged in Kate’s breast. “I knew you’d surrender.”


“I’m not asking mercy for me,” he panted, staring up at the ceiling. “Just for the dog. With all that oil, you’ll make him sick.”


She smiled to herself, knowing she’d found his Achilles’ heel. “I knew you cared about him.”


She brought Badger close to her chest and praised him extravagantly before setting him on the floor. Then she gave Thorne her full attention. Oh, the look on his face was murderous.


She said, “I’m listening.”


“Release me from these bindings first.”


“When you’re fuming at me so darkly? I may be brave, but I’m not stupid.” She reached for the tea. “But I will offer you some of this.”


She moved close to the head of the bed and raised the mug to his lips, putting one hand behind his head to help him drink. As he lowered his head to the pillow, she swept her fingers through his bed-mussed hair, taming it. “Go on.”


He sighed. “Yes, I knew you as a child. You were just a little thing when we saw each other last. Four years old, perhaps. I was older. Ten or eleven. Our mothers—”


At the word “mothers,” a lump rose in her throat.


“Our mothers?” She clasped his good hand. “You must tell me everything. Everything, Thorne.”


He sighed reluctantly. “I’ll tell you more. I swear it. But release me first. The tale warrants a bit of dignity.”


She considered. “All right.”


From the table, she retrieved the knife. With careful sawing motions, she cut loose each of the bands of linen holding him to the bed. Some of the bindings she’d wrapped over his breeches-clad legs. Others cinched against the bare skin of his chest and abdomen. To lift and cut them, she had to run her hands along his warm, oiled skin. She tried to maintain a businesslike demeanor, but it was difficult.


When she had the last binding cut, he propped his good elbow under him and slowly curled to a sitting position. A sleeping giant coming awake.


His boots hit the floor with twin thuds. She’d never bothered to try removing them.


He rubbed his squared, unshaven jaw, then pushed a hand through his hair. His gaze dropped to his bare, oil-coated chest. “Have you a sponge or damp cloth?”


She handed him a moistened towel from the bedside table.


He accepted it with his left hand and dragged the square of fabric over his throat and then around to his nape. As he tilted his head to either side, Kate stared at his sculpted shoulders, transfixed by the limber stretch of his tendons and the defined contours between each muscle. There was nothing soft on him, anywhere.


And then there were those intriguing tattoos.


When he dropped his hand and began to swab his chest, Kate’s mouth went dry. She looked away, suddenly conscious that she’d been staring.


A shirt. She really ought to find him a shirt. A narrow cupboard near the turret’s entry seemed to serve as his closet. It was where she’d hung his red officer’s coat last night, once the danger had passed. She went to it now and found him a freshly laundered shirt of soft linen.


He discarded the damp towel, and she averted her eyes as she handed him the shirt. After a few moments she looked back. He’d managed to get his head through the wide, open collar and his good arm into the left sleeve. But she could tell he was struggling with his wounded side.


She went to him. “Let me help.”


He flinched away. “I’ll manage.”


Chastened, she let him be. “Well. I’m glad to see you survived the ordeal with your stubborn pride intact. I’ll take Badger out for a few minutes.”


The morning was chill and wet with dew, and she hurried Badger about his business, not wanting to risk an encounter with another snake.


When she returned, she found Thorne seated at the table with an open flask. His hair was damp and combed. He’d put on a coat.


“Would’ve shaved and donned a neckcloth, but . . .” He nodded at his right arm, dangling limp and useless at his side.


“Don’t be silly.” She sat with him and propped an elbow on the table. “There’s no need. I can’t imagine how I look at the moment.”


“Lovely.” He spoke the word without equivocation. His intense gaze caught hers. “You are lovely, always.” He reached out to catch a stray lock of her hair. “Her hair curled like this, but it wasn’t so dark.”


“Where was this?” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Where did we live?”


“Southwark, as I’ve told you. Near the prison. The neighborhood was rough and very dangerous.”


“And you called me Katie then.”


He nodded. “Everyone did.”


“What did I call you?”


His chest rose and fell slowly. “You called me Samuel.”


Samuel.


The name struck a chime inside her. Memories heeded the summons, crowding the periphery of her mind. If she tried to look straight at them, they vanished. But she could sense that they were there, waiting—misty and dark.


“Our mothers took rooms in the same house,” he said.


“But you told me your mother turned whore.”


His mouth set in a hard line. “She did.”


Oh no. Kate’s breath caught painfully. The implications were too horrible to contemplate. “Is my . . . Could she still be living?”


Solemnly, he shook his head. “No. She died. That’s when you went to the school.”


Kate blinked, staring unfocused at a groove on the tabletop. Rage built within her, swift and sudden. She wanted to scold, scream, cry, pound something with her fists. She had never known this sort of raw, helpless anger, and she didn’t know just what it might cause her to do.


“I’m sorry, Katie. The truth isn’t pleasant.”


“No, it’s not. It’s not pleasant. But it’s my truth.” She pushed back from the table and punched to her feet. “My life. I can’t believe you kept this from me.”


He rubbed his face with one hand.


“Let me be certain I understand this,” she went on. “When you arrived in Spindle Cove last summer, are you telling me that you recognized me at once?”


“Yes.”


“By this.” She touched her birthmark.


“Yes.”


“So you immediately knew me as an acquaintance from your childhood. And in the present, you found me . . .” She churned the air with her hand. “ ‘Fetching enough’ was how you once phrased it.”


“More than fetching.”


“How much more?” She stood and flung her arms wide, taunting him. “Pretty? Beautiful? Rapturously stunning beyond all words and comprehension?”


“The third,” he shot back. “Something like that third. When you’re not flapping like an outraged chicken, I sometimes think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.”


She let her arms drop.


After an awkward pause, she said, “I’m not, you realize. I’m not even the most beautiful woman in Spindle Cove.”


He held up a hand. “Let’s just go back to desirable. I found you very desirable.”


“Fine. So you recognized me and found me desirable.”


“Very.”


“Yet rather than speak to me about any of this, you decided to intimidate and avoid me for an entire year. When you knew I thought myself to be an abandoned orphan. When you must have understood how desperate I was for any connection to my past. How could you do that to me?”


“Because it was best. Your dim memories are a blessing. We lived in a place most would wish to forget. I didn’t want to inflict that unpleasantness on you now.”


“That was not your choice to make!” She gestured angrily toward the unseen ocean beyond the castle walls. “I can’t believe this. You would have left for America, having never said a word. Leaving me to wonder forever.”


As he looked on, she paced back and forth. Badger chased the flounce of her skirt from one end of the room to the other.


“If the Gramercys hadn’t found that painting and come looking for—” A horrid thought struck her. “Oh, God. Were they looking for me? Did my mother look like the portrait? Did she wear a pendant of deep blue stone?”


“I can’t say. My memories of her aren’t a great deal more reliable than yours. When I saw her, she was usually made up with rouge and kohl. Later on, pale with illness. Ellie Rose was—”


“Ellie Rose.” Kate took a pouncing step in his direction. “My mother’s name was Ellie Rose?”


“That’s what she went by. I don’t think it was her real name.”


Ellie Rose. Could she have been the same woman as Elinor Marie, or was she some other unfortunate soul?


Oh, Lord.


Who was Kate? The daughter of a marquess? The child of a whore?


Both?


She crumpled to the floor, numb everywhere. Badger pounced in her lap, as though he’d won whatever game they were playing. She ignored him. Not even puppy kisses could make this moment better.


Out of habit, her fingers went to the mark at her temple. A child of shame, Miss Paringham had called her. A child of shame who ought to live ashamed.


Be brave, my Katie.


At her loneliest, most despairing moments, that voice had given her hope. She couldn’t abandon that hope now. Someone, somewhere had loved her. Even if that someone had been a fallen woman, and that somewhere had been a seedy brothel—it didn’t change the essence of love.


Thorne said, “Do you see? This is why I tried to protect you from the truth. Leave the past forgotten, Katie. Look at your life now. All you’ve accomplished, all the friendships you’ve made. You’ve found a family to accept you.”


The Gramercys.


“Oh God,” she breathed. “I have to tell them.”


“No.” Thorne tapped the table with his good fist. “You can’t tell them anything of this.”


“But I must! Can’t you see? This could be the link. If Ellie Rose was Elinor . . . then they would know for certain I’m Simon’s daughter.”


“Aye, and they’d know for certain that you spent your first four years in a bawdy house. They’d cast you out. They’d want nothing to do with you then.”


Kate shook her head. “The Gramercys would never do that. Family above everything. That’s what they always say. They’ve weathered many a scandal.”


“There’s high-class scandal, and then there’s this. It’s not the same.”


She knew he was right. It wasn’t the same. If her mother had been an elite courtesan, then maybe the scandal wouldn’t be too much. But coming from a low-class Southwark brothel?


Nevertheless . . .


“I owe the Gramercys the truth. I can’t let them accept me into their family if there’s a chance it’s all a mistake.”


A new thought struck her. She caught and seized it.


She rose to her feet. “Maybe you’re mistaken, Thorne. Have you thought of that? So you knew a little girl with a birthmark once. But that was twenty years ago. You can’t be sure it was me.”


“What about the song, Katie?”


She crossed her arms and lifted her chin. “The song is just a silly little song. What of it?”


Never mind that in all her years at Margate, all her years of music instruction, she’d never met another soul who knew it.


Prev Next
Loading...