Beauty Tempts the Beast (Sins for All Seasons #6) - Lorraine Heath

Prologue

London

Early November 1840

The frantic knocking woke Ettie Trewlove from her first restful sleep in days. Her three lads, each only a few months old, were at various stages of teething, which made them a grumpy lot, but tonight for some inexplicable reason they were sleeping like angels.

The rapping continued. With no hope of it stopping unless answered, she tossed back the covers and climbed out of her bed. After turning up the flame in the lamp on the bedside table, she carried it with her to light the way as she passed by her dear boys, smiling at them snuggled against each other in the small crib. They’d soon be outgrowing it, and she’d have to make other accommodations for them.

Shuffling to the door, she opened it a crack and peered out, surprised to see a woman, a little younger than her own twenty years, standing there, a blanketed bundle cradled tightly in her arms. Until tonight, only men had made the deliveries.

“Are you Ettie Trewlove, the woman who takes in bairns born out of wedlock and sees them well cared for?” Hope and fear wove themselves through her thick Scottish brogue.

Ettie nodded. A baby farmer by trade, for a few pounds each, she took in by-blows no one wanted, sparing their mums the shame and challenges their presence would have brought them. “Aye.”

“Will you take my lad? I’ve only a few shillings to leave with you, but you won’t have to keep him long.” With her wide, dark eyes, she glanced around quickly. “Just until it’s safe. And then I’ll be back for him.”

A few shillings would see him fed for only a couple of weeks, and she had three others in need of food. Still, she set the lamp on the table beside the door, opened it wider, and held out her arms. “Aye, I’ll take him.”

The young woman eased aside the blanket and pressed a kiss to the sleeping babe’s cheek.

“What the devil did you do to him?” Ettie asked in dismay.

The stranger jerked up her head, held her gaze. “Nothing. He was born this way. But he’s a good boy, will give you no trouble a’tall. Please don’t turn him away. You’re my last hope for protecting him from those who wish him harm.”

Ettie knew some people believed children born out of wedlock were born in sin and should be denied breath.

“I don’t blame babes for things that aren’t their fault.” If she did, she wouldn’t have found herself with three born on the wrong side of the blanket. Now four. She wiggled her fingers. “Hand him over.”

Taking care not to wake him, the lass—the lamplight caught her fully, showing her to be more girl than grown—gently placed the lad in Ettie’s waiting arms. “Promise me you’ll love him like he was your own.”

“’Tis the only way I know how to love a wee one.”

With a tremulous smile, she pressed the coins into Ettie’s palm. “Thank you.”

Turning away, she took three steps before glancing back over her shoulder, tears now glistening in her eyes. “His name is Benedict. I will come back for him.”

The words were spoken with fierce conviction, and Ettie wasn’t certain who the lass was trying to convince: Ettie or herself.

The young woman darted into the thick fog and quickly disappeared into the shrouded darkness.

And Ettie Trewlove kept her promise. She raised the lad as though he were her own and loved him as only a mother could.

Chapter 1

Whitechapel

December 1873

The woman didn’t belong here.

Not at the Mermaid and Unicorn, not serving spirits.

Sitting at a small table near the back of his sister’s tavern, Benedict Trewlove—known throughout Whitechapel as Beast—knew that assessment to be true with absolute conviction, just as he knew he’d never planned to be a brothel owner.

But when he was seventeen, working the docks, with fists the size of ham hocks, sixteen-year-old Sally Greene had asked him to look out for her as she plied her wares on the streets. A gang boss was extorting protection money from her. She’d decided Beast wouldn’t insist on taking most of her earnings like Three-Fingered Bill. She’d been correct.

Beast hadn’t wanted any payment at all, but from time to time he’d found extra coins tucked here and there in his clothing. Sally was skilled not only at lifting her skirts but at picking pockets as well, often doing both at the same time. He suspected it had gone against the grain for her to be stuffing coins into pockets. But he never embarrassed her by