Duke Goes Rogue(3)

By: Eva Devon

“I don’t have coal.”

“Nonsense,” he scoffed. “I see coal in your box.”

She swallowed her acrimony. She’d been saving that little coal for the brutal turn in the weather she knew was coming. Winter would blast the bay very soon and the chill that had penetrated the cottage’s stone walls would soon be as wicked as a glacier.

Even so, she had no choice. So, she forced a smile and nodded.

As Mr. Jonas busied himself with the fireplace, she poured two glasses of wine. Though he would never know, she purposefully did not use the beautiful Venetian glasses that had been her mother’s pride and joy. Instead, she chose two plain clay goblets.

Bracing herself for unpleasant conversation, she turned and handed a cup to Mr. Jonas who had done a rather admirable job of setting a hearty blaze.

It was exceptionally irritating, the bright, blazing light.

He smiled, allowing his fingertips to brush her hand as he took his glass.

“You need looking after,” he said. “You’re getting too thin and you’ve clearly not enough funds to keep you in fuel for your fire.”

Then why had he insisted on lighting one now? She wanted to demand an answer. Only, she had an inkling as to why. If he could make her use her precious resources, she’d be more and more at his mercy.

Who was she fooling? She already was completely at his mercy. She wasn’t a newborn lamb. She had an idea where this evening was headed.

If he evicted her, she still didn’t have the funds to pay him. . . And she had nowhere to keep her mother and father’s things. Where would she put them? How would she manage? Would she have to sell everything and have no memory left of the years she and her family had traveled, collecting pieces for their small home?

“I’ll manage, Mr. Jonas,” she said tersely.

He took a gurgling drink. Red wine glistened on his lips. “You won’t. Not without help.”

“I’m looking for a paying position,” she said with forced cheer. “Have you heard of any?”

“What sort?” he asked carefully.

For some strange reason, her stomach tightened and she felt a trifle sick. All her life, she’d seen the way that men and women treated their interactions like business dealings. Somehow, she’d always managed to avoid that. But it seemed that time had come to an end.

The strange note in his voice revealed what she already knew. Mr. Jonas wanted her body.

Men had, in the past, looked at her. She’d become accustomed to it. It seemed the nature of life. Men looking at ladies, whether the ladies liked it or not.

Still, she felt a discomfort creep into her bones. Dread. That’s what it was. As if some inevitable and deeply unpleasant storm was brewing.

“I would be exceptional at bookkeeping. I’m also a superior correspondent and organizer,” she said with forced cheer. “My parents provided me an excellent education.”

Which was true. Over the years, both her very educated parents and the people who had traveled on their ship had contributed towards her knowledge. Before her mother’s illness, they’d even had money for tutors.

“Oh,” he laughed. “I do not think a lass of your good looks shall have to ruin her eyes with such endeavors.”

The comment, meant as a compliment, sent a shiver of revulsion down her spine. It was a common thought that a lady was only worth what her looks dictated. But she knew she could be so much more than a decoration. She needed to be.

Her family had taught her that.

The life she’d had so far had left her with that expectation.

She studied the wine in her cup. While drinking it was tempting, the very fact that it had come from Mr. Jonas made it repellent. Carefully, she pushed the cup onto the table before the fire. “I should still like to find employment.”

The anger burning deep in her heart towards the injustices of the world also compelled her to find work. Work that would allow her to help people.

“I would be happy to take care of you.”

“How kind,” she drawled, her heart suddenly pounding and her mouth drying as the repercussions of his words drove home her fears. “But that is too generous.”

“You would, of course, take care of me in turn,” he pointed out unapologetically.