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"Lord Hadleigh will wish to see me whether he is receiving or not. Kindly tell him that Miss Shelley is here." She stepped forward and the butler, caught off-guard, stepped back. "Thank you. I will wait in the salon, shall I?" She dumped her bag by the door.
The butler received her sodden cloak and then looked as though he might drop it, but in the face of her accent, her certainty and one lifted eyebrow, he ushered her into a reception room.
"I will inform his lordship of your arrival."
It had been too much to hope the man would offer such an unconventional arrival a cup of tea. Bella eyed the satin upholstery, decided not to sit on it in her damp skirts despite her shaking legs and tried to study the pictures on the wall.
She had hardly time realise she could not focus on the first when the butler returned. "His lordship will receive you in the study, Miss Shelley."
The room tilted a little. Rafe, at last. Please, God. Let me do this right. Let him have some shred of pity. "Thank you."
The study was on the north side of the house, deep in shadows. A fire flickered in the grate, the only light, a green-shaded reading lamp, was focused down onto papers on the desk. It illuminated the lines of Rafe"s jaw, the edge of his cheekbones, the glint of his eyes as he stood, but not much more.
So formal, so calm: he is concerned that the butler might come back. His voice seemed deeper, perhaps that was surprise at seeing her. He did not sound angry. That would come and she had tasted his anger, his fury at any attempt to thwart or contradict him.
"Rafe... My lord, I had to come." She stepped towards him but his left hand lifted, gestured towards a chair, and the firelight caught the flame of the familiar cabochon ruby on his ring. That hand, sliding slowly down over her breast, over the pale curve of her belly, down…
"Thank you, but no." It left him on his feet too, a shadowy figure behind the desk, but she was too strung up to sit. "You will be surprised to see me."
"Indeed." Still no anger. Perhaps this cool distance was worse: he did not seem to even know her.
Bella felt a fresh pang of apprehension, a wave of hot shame that she was in this position.
"When you … left me you made it clear you never wanted to see me again." Silly little sentimental fool… Clumsy country wench - the only thing you can do on your knees is pray… So easy, so gullible and not worth the effort. He had slapped her face when she began to weep.
Rafe shifted abruptly, then was still, remaining behind the desk. "And yet you are here."
She could not read the emotion in his voice. The shadows seemed to shift and sway. It was necessary to breathe, to be silent for a moment or two while she fought the nausea and the shame. He was going to make her spell it out, he was not going to offer her the slightest help to stammer out her demands.
She felt her knees trembling, but somehow she dare not sit down. Something dreadful was happening, just as her worst fears had told her, and she needed to be on her feet to face it. He was so cold, so distant. He is going to refuse. "I am with child. Our child, Rafe."
"I see." He sounded remarkably calm about it. She had expected anger, shouting. Only the flash of that ruby in the firelight showed any sign of movement.
"You promised me marriage or I would never have…never… I know what
you said when we parted but we must consider the baby now,
She could almost feel the emotion flowing from him in waves now, belying his
calm tone. But she could not decipher it, except to feel the
anger, rigidly suppressed. Perhaps it was her own fear and
humiliation she could feel. Bella pulled air down into her
lungs and took an unobtrusive grip on the back of the nearest
"You are certain that you are with child?" That deep, dispassionate voice unnerved her as much as his words. Rafe had always been laughing, or whispering or murmuring soft, heated endearments. Or at the end hurling cutting, sneering gibes. He had not sounded like this.
"Of course! Rafe - " She took a step towards him but his hand came up again and she froze. There was a silence. She could tell in the light of the reading lamp that Rafe had bowed his head as though in thought. Then he looked up. "And you came here thinking to marry Rafe Calne? That will not happen, child or no child."