Home > Ruthless (The House of Rohan #1)(10)

Ruthless (The House of Rohan #1)(10)
Anne Stuart

She turned to look back at Reading. He had dark eyes, and he was watching her with curiosity and no pity whatsoever. “How long has your mother had the pox?”

“I don’t know,” she said, unable to pull her gaze away from him. For a penniless gentleman he was quite elegant, from his high cheekbones to the glossy boots he wore. The left side of his face had an almost unearthly beauty; the scar on the right had healed badly, turning that beauty into a travesty.

“A duel,” he said.

She blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“You’re wondering what caused the scar. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s what everyone thinks when they see me.”

“I’m not embarrassed…because in fact I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I was worried about my sister.”

“I stand humbled and corrected. Though in fact I’d prefer not to stand. I had no intention of riding in the coach with your mother casting up her accounts all over the place, so I rode, and I’m quite tired. However, I can’t sit down until you invite me to do so and sit down yourself, and since you don’t seem about to I thought I might offer a little hint.”

“Please, sit,” she said, rattled, taking the small, hard chair and leaving the more comfortable one near the fire for him.

He shook his head. “Not likely. Change seats and I will.”

“I’m fine where I am…” Before she realized what he was doing he’d tossed his hat onto the small table, clamped his gloved hands on her arms and lifted her, dropping her into the seat by the fire as if she weighed no more than a bird.

He must have thought as much. He frowned. “Have you been eating properly?”

She thought about the thin soup Nanny had managed to stretch for the week with the careful addition of more and more water, and her stomach knotted. “Of course,” she said.

“Because you don’t weigh more than a child.”

“How many children are you in the habit of picking up, Mr. Reading?” she responded. “Oh, I forgot, the devil sacrifices babies, does he not?”

“He doesn’t…” He stopped protesting. “You’re teasing me, are you, Miss Harriman?”

“Just a little bit,” she allowed. “I shouldn’t—things are hardly humorous right now, but since I’ve seen the difference between gossip and reality firsthand I have little doubt that the Comte de Giverney is nothing more than a self-indulgent hedonist.”

He took the seat across from her, and she held her breath, afraid it might not hold his firmly muscled weight. It creaked, but survived, at least for the moment. “As is his best friend,” he said, his voice less than reassuring.

“Really?” she said, her voice bright. “I’ve never seen a self-indulgent hedonist before. I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. You don’t look very dissipated to me. Maybe you haven’t been at it for a terribly long time.”

“Long enough,” he said beneath his breath.

There wasn’t much she could say to that. “Could you tell me where my sister is? Why didn’t she return with you?”

“Again, there’s the problem of the carriage.”

“Oh, dear. I forgot. Your poor carriage. We can’t afford to have it cleaned, but Jacobs and I can see to it.”

“It’s not my carriage. And Rohan has more than enough servants to deal with it. More than enough carriages for that matter.”

“Rohan?” she echoed.

“The King of Hell. The Comte de Giverney, the Viscount Rohan,” he clarified.

“The man who has my sister.”

“He’ll return her safe and unharmed. Francis doesn’t waste time with innocents. Unless your sister’s shabby clothes and stern manner hide a lurid background.”

It shouldn’t have bothered her, but she pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders, hiding some of her own shabbiness. Her only clothes were those passed down from Elinor, one stage closer to the ragbag, something this exquisitely attired gentleman had no doubt noted and inwardly mocked. “I’m afraid we’re living in straitened circumstances, Mr. Reading,” she said, lifting her head. “We’re awaiting word from our father, who will doubtless come to our aid, but in the meantime there is no denying that our fortunes have suffered of late.”

He said nothing more than, “Indeed.”

“I get the uneasy suspicion that you’re holding something back, Mr. Reading,” she said. “Or were you simply going to cast more aspersions on my threadbare wardrobe?”

“I’m afraid you’re so pretty that I hadn’t even noticed your wardrobe, Miss Harriman. Your sister doesn’t have the advantage of your beauty.”

“If that’s supposed to make me feel better it’s failed,” she said, finally getting angry. “My sister is very striking, and only shallow gentlemen would fail to realize that.”

“I’m very shallow, Miss Harriman. You enchant me. Your sister terrifies me.”

“Good,” she said. Then realized how it sounded. “I mean, good that my sister terrifies you, and I would certainly wish that I could do the same.”

He looked at her. “In fact, you do terrify me, Miss Harriman, for quite different reasons.”

“I can’t imagine why.”

His twisted smile was far from reassuring. “I think you would prefer I not mention it to you,” he murmured.

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t need to. I believe I should make certain your mother is settled.” He rose, and he suddenly seemed a great deal more alarming. He took her hand, so small in his large one, and pulled her to her feet, with such strength that she practically flew into his arms, only her presence of mind and his quick thinking preventing such an absolute disaster. He lifted her hand to his mouth, that twisted, scarred mouth, and kissed it. Leaving her to stare after him, momentarily distracted.

Elinor awoke in a dimly lit room deliciously warm for what seemed like the first time in years. Her stomach was pleasantly full, her feet didn’t pinch and for a few brief moments she felt almost…peaceful.

And then she opened her eyes and saw a man sleeping on the sofa across from her. And not just any man—King Rohan himself. Her quick intake of horrified breath was almost silent, but he opened one eye anyway, looking at her.

“Yes, you slept with the devil, Miss Harriman,” he drawled. “And lived to tell the tale.”

She sat up, shoving down the cover that someone had thoughtfully draped over her, then realized her shawl was gone as well, and during her sleep the threadbare bodice of her ancient dress had shredded just a little bit more, exposing too much of her chest. She needed a fichu as well as her shawl, but woven cloth was a scarcity and she’d thought the shawl would give her modest coverage. She was wrong.

She started to yank the cover back up, but he was closer than she realized, and his indolent pose was clearly just that, a pose. He caught the blanket before she could cover herself, tossing it to one side. “There’s no need to be excessively modest, Miss Harriman. You still err on the side of decency.”

“My shawl,” she said in a strangled voice. “It’s over on the chair.”

He glanced that way. “Is it? And why would you assume I’d be interested in waiting on you? Particularly when I don’t wish to have you cover up your surprisingly delightful charms.”

She started to get up, feeling desperate, and he simply pushed her back in the chair again. “All right, if you’re going to be tiresome,” he said, moving over to her discarded clothing and fetching her thin shawl. She could see the light through it, but it was better coverage than what she was wearing, and she snatched it from his hand, wrapping it around her shoulders and waist so that it stayed firmly in place. “That’s better,” she said, breathing a sigh of relief.

“Terrible. And it doesn’t change the fact that you spent the night sleeping with me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I had no idea you were there, and I’m not quite certain why you chose to fall asleep on such an uncomfortable piece of furniture. You’re in the midst of hosting an orgy—shouldn’t you have been frolicking with courtesans?”

“It’s a three-day revel, child. I seldom frolic until the second night. And besides, I’ve already…frolicked with any of my guests who interest me. You’re a novelty.”

“A novelty who shall remove herself forthwith,” she said. “I cannot believe I let myself fall asleep in such circumstances. Where is my mother?”

“Back home. I had Reading see to her, and since he has yet to return I’m assuming he’s had a bit of difficulty.”

“The poor man with the scar?”

Rohan laughed softly. “Oh, he would be distressed to hear you call him that. He thinks his scar makes him a very dangerous character. So tell me, Miss Harriman, what will he find when he arrives at your home? Besides your hapless, larcenous coachman.”

“No one.” Lydia was much better at opening her eyes wide and looking innocent, but Elinor gave it her best try.

“Don’t attempt to play games with me,” he said lazily. He strolled over to the window, looking out onto the early-morning landscape. “I’m a master at them. Who else resides in your household besides you and your mother?”

“My old nanny.”

“And who else?”

“No one.”

He turned his head. “You’re not an adept liar, Miss Harriman. If I remember correctly, Lady Caroline Harriman had two daughters.”

“My sister died.”

A faint smile touched his mouth. “If you’re going to continue lying you really need to do a better job of it, my pet. I’m certain I could find someone to teach you the fine points. It’s a useful skill.”

“I’m not lying.” She glanced toward the door. If she caught him off guard she could make her escape, and if she couldn’t find a carriage or a horse she could simply walk the five miles to Paris. Except that her tattered shoes were nowhere to be seen.

» Archangel's Heart (Guild Hunter #9) read online
» Filthy English (English #2) read online
» The Sea of Tranquility read online
» Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Chris read online
» A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5 read online
» Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) read online
» Forever Too Far (Rosemary Beach #3) read online
» Just One Day (Just One Day #1) read online
» You Were Mine (Rosemary Beach #9) read online
» Aftershock (Afterburn & Aftershock #2) read online
» Gone Girl read online
» The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns #2) read online
» Fall from India Place (On Dublin Street #4) read online
» Just One Year (Just One Day #2) read online
» The Millionaire's Indecent Proposal read online
» Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) read online
» The Demon Count (Demon Count #1) read online
» The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorn read online
» Warcross (Warcross #1) read online
» Kiro's Emily (Rosemary Beach #9.5) read online
» Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2) read online
» Moonshot read online
» Rush Too Far (Rosemary Beach #4) read online
» Baby for the Billionaire read online
» Kicking It read online