“I have been considering it, yes,” she told him, not wanting to mention her fortune. “I have thought about devoting my life to the faith and I–”
“But why should you want to go there?” He was sitting up a little straighter now, his hand finding hers as it rested on the chair, and his fingers tightening upon her own. Dinah felt herself react inwardly, her heart clamoring with a wild fury an
d her mouth going dry, but she tried her best not to show it. Instead, she simply nodded and tried to explain.
“I have not wanted to marry, as you well know. I have not found any gentleman eager of my company, and I myself have not found anyone who might fit the role of husband.”
Lord Whitehaven frowned. “Lord Irving is interested in you, is he not? And what precisely is wrong with him?”
Dinah pursed her lips and tried to explain. “Lord Irving exhorts no feelings within me,” she said, looking away and a little embarrassed. “I feel nothing for him. In fact, I find his manner rather overwhelming and am disinclined to be in his company.”
A look of understanding dawned on Lord Whitehaven’s face, but still his fingers remained caught between hers, holding on as though they might never part from her again.
“I therefore do not think that I shall ever be inclined to marry,” she continued, aware that she was speaking at a much quicker pace now, as if she wanted to have her explanations given to him as soon as possible “So why should I not consider a convent?” Suddenly, Dinah found herself disinclined to speak to him about the letter she had just received. It was too soon, too sudden, she told herself. Besides which, there was a part of her that wanted to discover what he truly felt of her thoughts of becoming a nun.
Lord Whitehaven shook his head, sighing grievously as though she had harmed him. “It is because I have been unwelcoming towards you that you now seek to leave the estate in such a manner?” he asked, his eyes lifting to her face and searching them fervently. “Has my manner pushed you to this decision?”
“It may have done,” Dinah answered truthfully, seeing him wince. “But I have also considered that given my lack of desire to marry then a convent may very well be an excellent choice.”
“But I do not want you to go there.”
Dinah’s breath caught in her chest, her heart furious in its rhythm as she looked up into Lord Whitehaven’s eyes. There was no mockery in his words, no sense that he was teasing her or trying to pretend that he felt more than he did. Instead, it felt as though he had swept her up into his warm embrace once more, holding her close as if he might never let her go.
“I do not want you to go,” he said again, his voice now a little hoarse. “Say that you will not seek to join a convent, Dinah. I could not imagine seeing you so rarely, for I do not think that I would be a welcome visitor, given my reputation and my dark, blackening sins.”
Closing her eyes, Dinah let out a long breath and set her shoulders. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him that she would not go, that she would, in fact, seek out another future for herself, but something prevented her from doing so.
“I would do anything I could to convince you not to become a nun, although I should, mayhap, be congratulating you on your passion and your devotion,” Lord Whitehaven continued in a broken voice. “I am not that sort of gentleman, Dinah. I speak what is within my heart without consideration of what one ought to do.” Leaning down to her, he reached out and, for a moment, Dinah thought he might brush his fingers down her cheek, only for him to hesitate, mutter something under his breath, and sit back. His hand loosened from hers and was pulled slowly back onto his lap.
The sound of footsteps coming towards the door had Dinah rising to her feet at once, her face coloring with both embarrassment and the knowledge that Lord Whitehaven had pulled away from her when they had been on the very cusp of something more extraordinary than she had ever felt before. The rap on the door came as no surprise, and the tea tray was brought in almost at once. Silence fell between Dinah and Lord Whitehaven as the maid set the things out, quietly asking Lord Whitehaven if he wanted anything before departing again. Dinah looked down at the tea tray dispassionately, her heart beginning to ache with a pain that she did not understand. Lord Whitehaven was not the sort of gentleman that she ought to have any sort of consideration for, and yet the urge to be more to him than she was at present still grew steadily.
“I will give it all up, you know.”
Lord Whitehaven was not looking at her and his voice was so quiet that she had to strain to hear him.
“What do you mean?” she asked, sitting down carefully and reaching to pour the tea – not because she wanted a cup but rather so that it would give her something to do whilst Lord Whitehaven spoke.
“I would give up the gambling in its entirety, Dinah, if you were to agree not to join the convent.”
Her head lifted sharply, her hand shaking as she set down the teapot.
“I mean every word,” he told her quietly. “I would give it all up for you, should you agree.”
It was one of the most beautiful things anyone had ever said to her and, for a few moments, Dinah was forced to hold back her tears. Whilst Lady Whitehaven and her cousins had been welcoming and loving, and whilst they had put up with a good deal of what Dinah knew now had been a very difficult attitude from herself, she had never had anything of such importance offered her. It told her that Lord Whitehaven truly did wish for her to remain and that, in his own way, he was trying to show her that he was honest in his intentions.
“Tell me, Dinah, if you will stay.” Lord Whitehaven rose to his feet, coming a little closer to where she sat. “If I swear to you that I shall never gamble again, along with all that such a decision entails, then will you stay here? You will not seek out a convent?” His hand rested on her shoulder, sending a tingle down her arm as Dinah struggled to deal with her overwhelming emotions. “Tell me, Dinah. I must know.”
His expression was one of utter torment, his voice begging her to stay. She could not refuse him now, especially when she herself had been questioning whether or not becoming a nun was the right choice for her. With her letter in her pocket and the promise of enough money to keep her settled and contented for the remainder of her days, Dinah knew precisely what she was to do.
“It is a very generous offer,” she replied throatily. “You would truly be willing to give up your gambling entirely? That would also mean that your love of liquor would–”
“Anything,” he grated, swiping the air with his hand in a decisive motion. “I would do anything required of me if it was to keep you from joining a convent and remaining so far from us all. You may not believe it, Dinah, but you are as important to this family as any other. My mother views you as another one of her daughters, my sisters see you as a sister of their own. And I…” He trailed off, his eyes lingering on her with such a gentleness in his expression that Dinah was drawn towards him, feeling herself rising to her feet so that she might stand near to him, without being certain as to why she was doing so or what she expected from it.
“I consider you much too important to lose you from my life,” he finished, his breath whispering across her cheek. “I am darkness and you the light. Surely you must see how valuable you are, Dinah?”
She swallowed hard, wanting desperately to reach out and touch him, to take his hand or to step into his embrace as she had done before. The atmosphere was beautifully tense, sending her stomach roiling but in a most delightful, expectant fashion.