Beyond Scandal and Desire(2)

By: Lorraine Heath


He knocked briskly on the door. The youth of the woman who opened it shocked him. She was not at all what he’d expected, but then he could very well have the wrong residence. “I’m in search of the Widow Trewlove.”

“You have found her.” Her dark eyes dipped to the burden he carried, her face impassive as though she, too, could not acknowledge what was about to transpire. “Will you be paying by the month, or am I to take in your bastard completely?”

Her voice held no accusation, no condemnation. He almost imagined he heard a bit of sympathy, of kindness, in it.

“Completely.”

“Fifteen pounds.”

He knew the amount. He’d read her advert carefully a hundred times during the passing months while he awaited the arrival. Widows taking in children born out of wedlock was a common enough practice. One of his friends farmed out all his illegitimate whelps. With a single payment one never had to think of them again. Or at least that was the theory. He doubted he’d ever forget this one.

Mrs. Trewlove took the child and cradled it in her arms as though it were something precious. Meeting his gaze, she held out her hand. He dropped the heavy pouch into her waiting palm, his stomach queasy as she closed her fingers around the blood money.

“I’m paying ten times what you ask. I don’t want it to suffer.”

“Never you fret. I’ll take proper care of your by-blow.” Turning, she went inside and closed the door quietly behind her.

Spinning on his heel, he hurried back to the coach, leaped inside and pounded the ceiling. As the conveyance took off at a fast clip, he let the tears fall and acknowledged himself for the monster he was.

He could only hope his actions tonight would help to restore his love’s sanity, would return her to him as she’d once been.

Although he doubted that he, himself, would ever again be able to look at his reflection in a mirror.





Chapter 1





London

1871



Mick Trewlove was intimately familiar with Cremorne Gardens, but as a rule he limited his visits to the later hours when loose women could be had cheaply, cutthroats abounded, decadence flourished, men well into their cups were willing to spill secrets, and those who had once slighted him could be paid back in full.

But wandering along the path this early into the night—as twilight was beginning to settle in and full darkness was but a whispered promise of seduction—made his skin itch and his well-tailored clothing feel far too tight. Decent folk meandered about enjoying the evening’s innocent entertainments, some taking pleasure in doing little more than leisurely strolling through the gardens that the Thames kept lush and green. He couldn’t imagine having so few cares, of being so relaxed that his laughter would easily fill the air. Although in all fairness, he wasn’t known for laughing—at least not with joy. His harsh bark tended to make people wary, especially when it was directed at them. With good reason. It was usually a signal that he was on the verge of claiming his retribution.

“Why are we following that couple?”

He’d always known the young beauty on his arm was no fool, but he’d hoped finally satisfying her curiosity about the gardens would have distracted her from his purpose. “I know not of what you speak.”

“Liar.” With one arm entwined around his, she slapped him with her free hand. He hadn’t given any thought to the fact that, in escorting her publicly, she might undermine his hard-earned reputation for being the unforgiving sort. Although he doubted any of his acquaintances were here at this early hour. “An assortment of people have passed in front of us, and you’ve not even given them a withering glance. When someone gets in our way, you stiffen and hurry around them as though they’re an obstruction to your goals. You’ve totally ignored the jugglers and tumblers no matter how hard they strive to catch your attention. I’ve deduced your reason for bringing me here was not as a gift for my birthday—as you claimed—but because you decided you would be less noticeable with a woman on your arm.”

“You’re but a girl, pet.”

“I’m ten and seven. Old enough to marry.”

“You’re not marrying.”