Dinah sighed and buried her face in her hands, feeling the same sting of sadness catching her. The same sadness that came whenever she thought of never seeing him again. It had only come upon her the last few days. Previously, she had been delighted to be set apart from him, but now things had changed so very much that she was not at all certain what she felt for him at all. She was frustrated, confused, and sad over Lord Whitehaven. He had seemed so changed, only to lose himself in his vices all over again. But the regret in his eyes had told her more than he had ever said to her before.
When he had questioned what she must think of him now, Dinah had heard the shame in his voice and had felt her heart go out to him. The man w
as struggling with his own sense of self-worth, allowing his limp to be seen as a weakness in his own eyes. If he could only allow himself to believe that he was not looked down upon, that if he should only try, then a good few young ladies would wish to dance with him, then mayhap things would change for him entirely.
She looked up at once, dropping her hands to her lap and seeing the maid drop into a quick curtsy, clearly embarrassed at having disturbed Dinah at what was obviously a very private moment.
“Yes?” she asked, glad that her voice was not particularly hoarse. “What is it?”
“It is the master,” the maid said quickly. “He’s asked to speak to you, Miss Shepherd.”
Dinah’s stomach tightened. “I see,” she replied, trying to keep her voice as steady as she could. “Might I ask you what he wishes to speak to me about?”
The maid looked nonplussed, and Dinah cursed her foolishness. Of course the maid would not know such a thing, but in her nervousness, Dinah had asked something without thinking.
“Where is he?” she asked, folding up her letter and placing it in her pocket as she rose. “Is he still abed?”
The maid shook her head. “Lady Whitehaven has gone to take tea with a friend and so Lord Whitehaven has made his way to the library,” she said, a slight flush to her cheeks. “Should I bring you a tea tray, Miss Shepherd?”
Dinah nodded her thanks and moved toward the door, not wanting to keep Lord Whitehaven waiting. Her heart was racing, and she was certain that her own cheeks were a bright red, matching those of the maid. She did not know why she kept having such a strong reaction to the thought of being in Lord Whitehaven’s presence, particularly when he wanted to speak to her. Thinking of the letter in her pocket, Dinah wondered whether or not she ought to share her news with anyone in her family. Lady Whitehaven would need to know of it at some point, but her first reaction was to speak to Lord Whitehaven about it. Would he understand her plans to live alone? Or would he be entirely against them?
Having no further time to consider this, Dinah cleared her throat, put a small smile on her face, and stepped into the library. The day was bright and the drapes were pulled back, letting in beautiful sunlight into every corner of the room. Lord Whitehaven was sitting by the fireplace, even though there was no fire burning there today, with his eyes fixed on something Dinah could not quite make out. He did not turn towards her as she approached, although she was certain that he was aware of her presence. Walking into the room, she smiled tentatively as she reached him, watching his gaze and seeing that he was, in fact, staring at a bottle of the finest French brandy and an empty glass.
“I believe you wished to speak to me, Whitehaven,” she said, looking back at him and taking in his bruised face. “Are you all right?” His eye was still purple in places, with a good deal of green and yellow bruising about it. The injury to his head was covered by his dark hair flopping over it, but there was another large bruise to his cheek and a swelling to his jaw. Dinah knew that if he saw Lady Whitehaven any time soon, there would be no hiding that he had been badly beaten.
“I have been doing a great deal of thinking, Dinah,” Lord Whitehaven said, his tone low and his expression dark. “That there is a source of a good many of my problems.”
Dinah did not need to look at the brandy again to know what he meant. “It can be,” she said carefully, making sure not to say too much. “If one is not careful, I suppose.”
Lord Whitehaven looked up at her from his chair, his dark green eyes brooding. “What does the good book say about liquor, Dinah? Am I condemned simply by drinking it?”
She shook her head. “No, indeed not. It is just drunkenness that is warned against, Whitehaven.”
He snorted. “I can well understand why,” he muttered, passing a hand over his eyes. “Do you see the state of me still, Dinah? This is all my own doing because I drink too much and forget all sense. I lose my head and do ridiculously foolish things, and now I am in great debt.”
Dinah’s chest tightened as she stared at Lord Whitehaven, finally realizing what it was that had caused him to be so badly beaten.
“You are correct in your assertion,” Lord Whitehaven muttered, even though she had said nothing. “I owe money to a good many gentleman and one person, for some reason, had purchased all of my vowels, and it is to he that I now owe.”
“And you do not have the money?” Dinah asked, sinking down into a chair and watching Lord Whitehaven intently. “Is that what the trouble is?”
Lord Whitehaven let out a long, pained sigh. “This is where you will think all the worse of me, for what must be the twentieth time,” he told her, looking still at bottle of brandy. “Yes, I do have the money, but it is tied up with the solicitors and I must request it from them. It will take some days to retrieve all of it and, in doing so, I must then pull money from what was to be repairs to the tenants’ houses.” He lowered his head all the more, clearly ashamed of his behavior. “It has taken me years to ensure that the estate is profitable again, and I was so glad when the coffers began to improve that I fear I rather lost my head,” he muttered, his voice barely audible as he looked down at his lap rather than at her. “I have gambled every year when you and my sisters and my mother have been in London. I have gone to Bath to do so, and then this year, since there has only been you left, I thought to come to London to seek out the gambling dens here.” A groaned exclamation left his lips as he ran both hands over his face. “And not only that, I did not dare go back to Bath due to the debts I had run up but never paid. And now it seems that this one gentleman, whomever he may be, has found every single one of my debts and has paid for them all.”
Dinah pressed her lips together and laced her fingers. “And he was the one who beat you so violently?”
Lord Whitehaven shrugged, his head still low. “I do not know who is behind it,” he said hopelessly. “Nor do I understand why such a thing is occurring. I went last evening with some of the money I owed, but it was not accepted. That is why the servants knew of what had occurred to me, for the footman who came with me had the money and was thereafter forced to take it back here again.” Lifting his head, he set it back against the chair and regarded her hopelessly. “I wanted to tell you everything, Dinah, so you knew precisely why I have been so injured. And also so that you are fully aware of the depths of depravity in which I lie.” A mirthless smile crossed his face. “Perhaps you might pray for me.”
“Of course,” Dinah whispered, not quite sure what else she was to say. “I-I wish there was more I could do, but–”
“It is not your burden to carry,” he replied heavily. “It is mine. Therefore, Dinah, I need you not to have any concerns over me any longer. There is nothing that you can do nor say that will aid me in any way and, besides which….” He trailed off, perhaps struggling to compose himself. “Besides which, I do not deserve it.”
Dinah shook her head. “Grace and mercy are given freely, are they not?” she answered, coming close to him for fear that he would fall into an even deeper despondency if she did not. Crouching beside him with one hand resting on the arm of the chair in which he sat, she looked up into his face. “Therefore, that is what I offer you.” A sudden idea hit her, wanting to give him something he could cling to that would not have him refuse to allow her in his company any longer. “Have I ever told you, Whitehaven, that I have been lately considering what life must be like for a nun?”
“A nun?” This seemed to shock him greatly for he turned his head towards her, his dark emerald eyes glinting at her.