Lady Folbroke's Delicious Deception (4 page)

BOOK: Lady Folbroke's Delicious Deception
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‘And you do not.’ She shook him off, sitting up straighter, angered by his weakness and her own.

Adrian gave a sharp laugh, and it was honest mirth, as though he had not expected to be matched in wit by a doxy. He gave a sniff at his coat, as though
gauging his own unpleasantness. ‘Once I get out of these clothes, you will find I am not so bad.’

Although she doubted the fact, she nodded. It would be better to hold her temper for just a little while, for there was much that needed to be said, and she had no wish to do it in front of this rough audience. If she could get him to leave the place willingly, it would achieve her ends, and would be easier for both of them when difficult revelations had to be made.

He cocked his head to the side, not acknowledging her agreement, and so she said, ‘Of course, Adrian. Lead the way.’

He pushed her bottom and slid her out of his lap, then stood and reached for his stick. And she noticed with a grim certainty that he did not lean upon the cane for support, nor swagger with it, as though it was a mere ornament. Instead, he used it to part the crowd around the table, letting it tap idly along the ground as he walked. And instead of going towards the front door and freedom, he walked farther into the tavern, towards the stairs at the back of the room.

Emily pulled on his sleeve and said through clenched teeth, ‘My lord, did you not wish to leave this place?’

He took her arm, pulling her along with him. ‘I have let space here. It is easier, after a long night of play.’ He kissed her again, thrusting his tongue once deep into her mouth, until her mind went blank. ‘And much closer.’ When they reached the steps he put his
hand on the rail, sheltering her body between his and the wall. As they started to climb, she turned back to Hendricks, who still sat by the door, giving him a helpless look and hoping that he had some wisdom or explanation to offer.

Instead, he gave a small shrug in answer, as though to tell her that this was her plan, not his. He would wait upon her orders to decide the next action.

So she shook her head and held up a staying hand, hoping that he would understand that she meant to follow Adrian, at least for now. There was no point in explaining her identity to him in this crush. It would be embarrassing enough when they were alone.

It was then she saw a body breaking from the throng below, running for the stairs. An angry loser from the gaming table had waited until Adrian’s back was turned and was coming after them, his arm raised in threat.

Her husband cocked his head at the sound of running footsteps on the treads behind them; without a word, he switched his stick to his other hand, turned and brought the thing down on the head of his adversary. Then he gave a shove backwards with it, knocking the other man off balance and sending him down the stairs.

‘Idiot,’ he muttered. ‘I shall take my play elsewhere, if this is how they wish to behave here. What he thought to accomplish by that, I have no idea. He should know damn well that I am blind, not deaf.’

Chapter Four
 

‘B
lind?’ She should not have been surprised, for it had been obvious as she’d sat with him that he could not read the cards in his hand, nor recognise his own wife, though she sat in his lap.

He smiled, not the least bit bothered by it. ‘Not totally. Not yet, at least. I can see shapes. And light and dark. And enough of you to know that you are a more attractive companion than that blighter I just knocked down the stairs. But I fear that cards are quite beyond my scope.’

‘But how?’

‘You are a curious one, aren’t you?’ He climbed the rest of the stairs with her, opening the door at their head and leading her down the gloomy corridor behind it. ‘It is a family condition, aggravated by a war injury. There was a flash, you see. And I was too close. Without that, I might have lasted a good long
time with these tired old eyes. A lifetime, perhaps. Or perhaps not. Not all the men of my family have the problem. I understand that it can take some time before the world begins to go dark.’

‘But I never knew.’ And his family had lived beside hers for generations.

‘A blind man?’ He smiled, and turned suddenly, pushing her against the wall and pinning her hands above her head with his ebony walking stick. Then he kissed her again, more ardently than he had at any point in their brief time together. His lips were on her mouth, her cheeks, her chin, her throat. And she felt the delicious loss of control she’d felt when he kissed her below stairs, and nothing had mattered but the moment they were sharing. He sagged against her so that he could suck and bite at the tops of her breasts, where they were exposed above the neckline of her gown, as though he could not wait a moment longer to bare them, and take the nipples between his lips. It made her moan in frustration, arching her back, struggling against the wood that held her in place and kept her from giving herself to him. It did not matter that he could not see who he was kissing. It was Adrian, and he wanted her. And, at last, she would have him the way she’d always imagined, the way she had wanted him for as long as she’d known the reason for kissing.

He gave a slight buck of his hips so she could feel what their kisses had done to him. And she felt her own wet heat rising in response at the memories of
hardness and length and welcome penetration, and the panting eagerness to be so possessed.

And then he said in a voice that was not nearly flustered enough, ‘It is only the eyes that are the problem. The rest of me is quite healthy, I assure you. Once we snuff the candles, you will find me much like any other man.’

Like any other man?
For her, there had never been another. But what was happening to him was so common he was barely affected by it. Her eyes flew open and she stared past his shoulder, aware of their shabby surroundings and remembering the reason that she had come looking for him. He had treated her abominably since the day they had married. And now, after a few kisses she had forgotten it all, willing to be used in a public hallway like one of his whores. ‘Let go of me. This instant. Release my arms, you beast, or I shall scream to bring down the roof.’ She struggled against his lips, against his body and against the stick that stayed her hands.

He stepped back and lowered his cane, a slight puzzled frown upon his face. ‘Are you sure? There is a private room just down the hall. The door locks, and only I have the key. We will be all alone, with no fear of interruption.’ He paused, and then his lips twitched into a coaxing smile. ‘I can give you the guinea I promised. There is more than enough from the table tonight. You should know for you saw it. I can tell money well enough, one coin from another,’ he assured hurriedly, as though assuming this might
be the problem. ‘They feel differently in weight and size. And as for the rest of it?’ He stepped close again. And when she did not pull away he dipped his head and began to kiss her again, slowly working his way down her throat to settle on the hollow of her shoulder. Then he moved just enough so his lips were no longer touching her, then spoke and let his breath do the teasing. ‘I have been assured that the reliance on other senses has made me an unusually observant lover. I particularly value touch in these moments, and use it to good advantage. And taste.’ He licked with just the lip of his tongue, as though he were sampling her flavour.

Emily gave another dizzy shudder; she could swear that she felt that single lick to the very core of her body, making her imagine he was kissing her in a place that was most unlikely and very improper. And she wondered, would he be shocked if she suggested such a thing?

Or had he been doing that, and worse? He had been assured of his prowess, had he?
Assured by whom?
She buried her fingers in his hair, trying to pull him away, focusing on the last three years, the doubt, the loneliness, the anger. Had he been going blind, even from the first? Had he known when they married? Had he hurried to marry a foolish woman who was oblivious to his disability?

And what had he been doing since he left her?

Adrian gave a small grunt of pain from the tugging on his hair and lifted his face as if to gaze at her, but
in the same sidelong way he looked at everything that told her he could not really see. ‘The coin I offered is still yours, for services rendered at the gaming table. But now that we are above—’ he gave a small shrug ‘—if you do not think it sufficient, I am open to discussion on the subject.’

She balled her fist and gave him a clout upon the ear. ‘I am not a whore, you cloth-brained drunkard. And even if I was, I would not lie with you for all the money in the world.’

The blow did not faze him at all. And the insults made him laugh. But he released her with a bow. ‘Then I apologise for my mistake, though I can hardly be blamed for it. If you are not a whore, then what are you doing in a place such as this?’

It was a fair question, and even she did not know the whole answer to it. At last she said, ‘I was searching for someone.’ She stared at him, willing him to recognise her. ‘For my husband.’

‘And I assume, since you are alone here with me that you did not find him?’

‘No, I did not.’ For the man before her, although right in appearance, was as far away from the man she’d thought she married as was possible. A little bit of her anger gave way to disappointment. And then she felt the growing heat of embarrassment. If he was already amused, how hard would he laugh to realise that he had wasted kisses on his own wife?

‘I should have recognised that you were a lady of breeding earlier by the tone of your voice.’ He
sighed, and tapped his forehead with the head of his cane. ‘Perhaps the gin has finally addled my brains. But when you came upstairs with me, I was under the impression …’ He cleared his throat and grinned, allowing her to fill in the rest.

‘You might not be able to see where you gamble, but I have the misfortune of two good eyes. I foolishly blundered into a place that was not safe for me. You came to my rescue, and I thought that, unlike the other men here, if I got you alone it would be possible to reason with you. Which I am doing, now.’ Though he could not appreciate the fact, she reached to straighten her hair and clothing, trying to erase the signs of her earlier compliance.

‘Well. Never mind what I assumed.’ He gave another little clearing of the throat. ‘The less spoken of that the better. I was wrong, and I am sorry if I have given offence. If there is a way I can be of assistance, then, please, tell me.’ It was as if, with a few sentences, he thought to regain his honour and pretend the last few minutes had not occurred.

Emily did not know whether to be angry, or impressed by the transformation. From beneath them, she could hear the men in the tavern growing louder, angrier and possibly more dangerous. Perhaps now was not the best time to tell her husband what she thought of his behaviour, and his quick about-face turn on the subject of her virtue. ‘If you wish to help me, then take me away from here. It is a bad place,
full of violent, drunken men. Is there some back stairway that we can use to escape?’

He shook his head. ‘The only way out is to go back the way we came.’

‘You allowed us to be trapped upstairs?’ This was certainly not the sharp military strategy she had expected from a former officer of his Majesty’s army. ‘Whatever were you thinking to take a room here? You might be able to fight them tonight, but some day the ruffians you gamble with will catch you unawares and make an end to you.’

He shrugged and fumbled to pat her on the arm. ‘Of course, my dear. I fully expect that to be the truth.’

She stared at him in amazement, and then realised that her shocked expression was useless as a way to covey her emotions. ‘Then why are you here?’

‘Because soon, the last of my vision will go, and I will be of no use to the world. Better to go out doing things that I enjoy, than to put a bullet in my head at the first sign of trouble. That is the way, in my family. My father died on horseback.’ He grinned. ‘Or just off it, actually. A snapped spine and a crushed body. But he loved to ride. And up till the end, he was sailing over jumps that he could no longer see. My grandfather was a crack shot. Until the day he missed, at least.’ He grinned as though it were a point of admiration. ‘Killed in a duel. Over a woman, of course.’

And hadn’t that been what she had always known
about her husband and his family? But her brother had assured her that Adrian was
wild like all the Folbrokes. But with a good heart, Emily. A very good heart.

‘And you?’

‘I am a soldier,’ he added. ‘And well used to drinking and gaming in rough company. If the night ends in a scrap? I like nothing better. When the odds are bad, it gets the blood flowing in the veins.’ He seemed to swell a little at the thought as though readying himself for battle.

‘And now, because of your foolish desire for self-destruction, I will end my night at the mercy of the gang below.’

He stilled, and then something in him straightened, as though he could cast off the inebriate as easily as throwing off his coat. And for a moment, in the dark, he was the dashing young man who had gone off to war, only to return and break her heart. Then he smiled. It was the old smile, too, unclouded by gin or lust. Brave. Beautiful. And a little sad. ‘Have I not proved to you already that I am still capable of taking care of myself, and you as well? Or is another demonstration in order?’

Although he could not see, he looked at her with such intensity that the pain inside her did not seem to matter. There was something in that gaze and that smile that said any action he might take was likely to be a great adventure, and that it would be his pleasure to share it with her. It made her heart flutter in the
way it used to, before he had married her, and before she had learned what a mistake it was all likely to be.

‘Perhaps it would be better if we wait in the room you mentioned, until it is safe to depart.’ She could hear her nerve failing again, and her voice becoming weak. The old hesitant Emily was returning with her husband’s gain in sobriety.

BOOK: Lady Folbroke's Delicious Deception
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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