Scandalous Desires(5)

By: Elizabeth Hoyt

Mind, the tales might’ve been lovely, but his belly had still ached with hunger, his back had still stung with pain when he’d woken in the morning.

“Yes,” Mrs. Hollingbrook said, her nose tilted proudly in the air, “I’ll come and live in this… this place. Just to take care of Mary Darling, nothing else.”

Oh, it was hard not to grin at those words, but he was strong, keeping his expression as solemn as a judge’s. “And what ‘else’ might ye be thinkin’ about?”

The color flew high into her pale cheeks, making her eyes sparkle. Making his cock twitch. “Nothing!”

“Yer sure now, Mrs. Hollingbrook?” He took a step closer, testing, watching for her to flee, for despite his enjoyment of this sparring, ’twas a serious matter that she stay beneath his roof. Her very life might depend upon it.

But she stood her ground, his little widow. “I’m quite certain, Mr. O’Connor—”

“Oh, do call me Mickey, please,” he murmured.

“Mister O’Connor.” Her eyes narrowed on him. “Despite what the rest of St. Giles thinks, you and I both know that my honor is quite intact, and I’ll thank you to remember that fact.”

She was a brave one, was Silence Hollingbrook. Her small chin outthrust, her hazel eyes steady, her pale lips trembling. Any other man might’ve felt a twinge of guilt, a trickle of remorse for the sweet innocence he’d taken and smashed to the ground like a fine china dish.

Any other man but he.

For Mick O’Connor had lost any vestige of guilt, remorse, or soul on a winter’s night sixteen years before.

So now he smiled, without any conscience at all, as he lied to the woman he’d hurt so cruelly. “Oh, I’ll be sure and remember, Mrs. Hollingbrook.”

She heard the mockery in his voice—her lips thinned—but she soldiered on. “You said that you’ll soon have your business tidied up.”

He tilted his head in interest, wondering what loophole she thought she’d found. “Aye?”

“And when you’re done with your… your enemies, then Mary Darling will no longer be in danger.”

He merely watched her now, waiting patiently.

She inhaled as if to fortify herself. “When that happens—when your enemies are defeated and Mary isn’t threatened anymore—I want to leave here.”

“O’ course,” he said at once.

“With Mary.”

Oh, now, but the lass wasn’t daft, was she? “She’s me own flesh and blood,” he said softly. “The only soul in London related to me—or at least the only one I’ll acknowledge. Will ye be partin’ a fond papa from his wee little one?”

“You’ve said you don’t love her.” Mrs. Hollingbrook ignored his pretty words. “I can provide a loving home for her, a wholesome, decent life.”

Well, and he’d already admitted to a lack of decency, now hadn’t he? The corner of his mouth curved, a bit too sharply. He glanced at the babe, playing with the furs from a chest. Her down-bent head was topped with hair the exact shade as his own—and his mam’s, come to think of it—and yet the sight didn’t cause anything to stir within his chest.

He looked back at Mrs. Hollingbrook. “When I say the danger’s past, when I say ye can go, then aye, ye may take the babe with ye.”

She sighed a bit. He had the feeling she didn’t like it, not at all—he’d not put a date on the day she could go—but she’d already made the bargain, hadn’t she?

“Very well. I shall have to return to the home to retrieve my things and Mary’s. We’ll come back here as soon as—”

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