“I saw you.”
She shook her head. “Not for years. You thought I was Anna, too.”
“You could own your life beyond these walls,” he argued. “You do not have to play this part.”
“But I like this part. Here, I am free. It is Georgiana who must scrape and bow and beg for acceptance. Here, I take what I want. Here, I am beholden to none.”
“None but your master.”
Except she was the master. She did not reply.
He misread the silence. “That’s why you seek a husband. What happened?” he asked. “Has Chase tossed you aside?”
She pulled away from him, needing the distance between them to return her sanity. To take her next steps. To craft her careful lies. “He hasn’t tossed me aside.”
His brows snapped together. “He cannot expect your husband to share you.”
The words stung, even as they should not. She’d lived all of this life in the shadows of The Fallen Angel masquerading as a whore. She’d convinced hundreds of London’s aristocrats that she was an expert in pleasure. That she’d sold herself to their most powerful leader. She dressed the part, with heaving bosom and painted face. She’d taught herself to move, to act, to be the part.
And somehow, when this man acknowledged the reputation she had worked so hard to cultivate, the façade she had built with care and conviction, she hated it. Perhaps it was because he knew more of her truth than most, and still, he believed the lies.
Or perhaps it was because he made her wish she did not have the lies to tell.
No. She was falling victim to the hero in him, to the way he’d leapt to her aid only minutes earlier.
She caught her breath at the thought.
Only once he knew the truth. Her other identity. Her other life.
Anger flared alongside disappointment and something akin to shame. “You wouldn’t have saved me.”
It took him a moment to follow the change in topic. “I —”
“Don’t lie to me,” she said, one hand flying up as if to stop the words on his lips. “Don’t insult me.”
“I came after Pottle,” he said, raising his own hand, brandishing knuckles that would be sore in the morning. “I did save you.”
“Because you knew the truth of my birth. If I’d been Anna alone… just a woman with a centuries-old profession. Just a painted whore —”
He stopped her. “Don’t speak like that.”
“Oh,” she scoffed. “Do I offend?”
He ran his bruised hand through blond locks. “Christ, Georgiana.”
“Don’t call me that.”
He laughed, the sound humorless. “What should I call you? Anna? A false name to go with your false hair and your false face and your false…” He trailed off, one hand indicating her bodice, padded and cinched to make her ordinary bosom look extraordinary.
“I am not certain that you should call me anything at this point,” she said, and she meant it.
“It is too late for that. We are together in this. Bound by word and greed.”
“I think you mean deed.”
“I know precisely what I mean.”
They faced each other in the dim light, and Georgiana could sense his anger and frustration, matched by her own. How strange was this moment? Born of his protection of one half of her because of the existence of the other?
It was mad. A wicked web that could not be unwoven.
At least, not without ruining everything for which she’d worked.
He seemed to understand her thoughts. “I would have stepped in,” he insisted. “I would have done the same.”
She shook her head. “I wish I could believe you.”
He took her shoulders. Met her gaze, serious in the dim light. “You should. I would have stepped in.”
Her heart pounded. “Why?”
He could have said a dozen things. But she did not expect: “Because I need you.”
There was a little twinge of sadness at the words, so cool and collected. He needed her, but not in the way men needed women – impassioned and desperate. Not that she should care.
“Need me for what?”
“I want Lady Tremley to receive invitation to the ladies’ side of the club. I want the information she offers for entry. And for that information, you get your payment.”
She should have been grateful for the change of topic. For the movement to safer ground. She wasn’t. She heard the frustration in her words when she said, “You mean Chase gets his payment.”
He smiled. “No, I mean you.”
Her eyes went wide. “Me.”
“I get my information, you get Viscount Langley. My papers, at your disposal. Or, at Georgiana’s disposal, at least.”
Tit for tat.
Understanding flooded through her – understanding and respect for this man who so easily manipulated every situation to suit himself. Her match in power and prestige.
He raised a brow. “Don’t make me say it.”
She lifted her chin. “I think I shall.”
He did not waver. “Or I shall tell the world your secrets.”
She narrowed her gaze on him. “Chase may not care.”
“Then you shall have to make him care.” He started to push past her and she hated the movement. Hated that he was leaving her. She wished he would stay, this man who seemed to see so much. “You need my power,” he said quietly. “Your daughter needs it.”
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