She grabbed his shoulders and forced him to look at her. “There will be no talk of that. Killing yourself is not the answer and you are never to think of it again, do you hear me? You’re our brother and Maris and I love you, no matter if you’ve made an admittedly dreadful mistake. We’ll think of a way out. I’ll think of a way out. There has to be a reasonable solution.”
Since then, Julianna had thought of little else, putting her mind and ingenuity to the test. She’d come up with a plan, an appeal she hoped would satisfy all parties. Of course, it assumed a bit of forbearance on the financier’s part. Harry said the man was remorseless when it came to business, and Pendragon’s nickname didn’t offer much reassurance otherwise. But surely even the coldest of men had some faint spark of compassion buried deep inside them. Now she had only to see if she could reach it.
Gripping her reticule tightly, she strode forward like a knight prepared to challenge a beast in its lair.
The last door to the left stood open. She didn’t knock, just slipped inside. After all, she was expected.
Paneled in dark wood, the room was shadowy but warm, a fire burning hot and red in an immense fireplace built into the center of the wall to the right.
How atmospheric, she thought. How appropriate for a dragon.
A log snapped, blazing ash roaring upward into the flue, half-startling her as she proceeded deeper into the room. Shelves heavily laden with books lined the walls, while thick woolen carpets woven with exotic Chinese symbols covered the floor, bathing the space in a cascade of browns and reds.
A branch of lighted candles stood on the corner of a massive mahogany desk at the far end of the room; watery winter sunlight making an ineffectual attempt to shine through the pair of tall, double-hung windows beyond.
A man sat behind the desk, writing something in a thick, leather-bound ledger. As she approached, he set down his pen and looked up. It was only then that she saw him clearly.
Perhaps the notion revealed a measure of prejudice on her part, but she’d been ready to encounter ugliness and severity, picturing him as some sour, cruel-lipped old man, shriveled by age and the callous nature of his profession.
Instead, the sight of him drove the air from her lungs. Rugged and very nearly beautiful, he possessed an aura of pure masculine power. Its impact shot like an energy bolt straight through to her toes. And he was by no means old—far from it. In his early thirties, if she guessed correctly, he was fit and in his prime.
His features were refined, even elegant, with a straight nose and strong, square chin. Long dimples creased the bronzed skin of his angular cheeks, intriguing slashes that framed a firm yet winsome mouth. His hair was brown, but not an ordinary brown—as rich and decadent as the chocolate that arrived each morning on her breakfast tray. He kept it short, trimmed in the current fashion, a few tendrils left to droop invitingly over his high forehead.
Yet for all his beauty, his eyes were what sent a shiver rippling over her skin. Bright and penetrating, they were the same translucent green as cool river water on a new spring day. Eyes of power and insight. Eyes of deep intellect. Eyes that seemed as if they could reach inside a person and pierce clean through to the soul. She wondered if this was how Archangel Gabriel had appeared on the eve of the Fall—dangerous, deadly, and sinfully appealing.
Watching him rise to his feet made her pulse quicken, his lean height complementing the impressive width of his shoulders and the narrowness of his hips. Dressed in a conservative shade of blue, he wore the well-tailored clothing of a gentleman. Everything about his appearance, from pristine cravat to polished Hessians, spoke of tasteful, understated elegance.
He quirked a single dark brow at her bold perusal, his own curiosity about her undisguised. “Lady Hawthorne, I presume?”
His words startled her out of whatever trance she had apparently fallen into, abruptly recalling her to her purpose.
“Yes,” she replied. “And I assume you are Mr. Rafe Pendragon, the man who makes loans.”
“Among other investments and financial dealings, yes. I see you are a woman who likes to get straight to the point, but first, why don’t you allow me to take your cloak?”
Julianna realized she had been so mesmerized by him that she’d forgotten she still wore her pelisse. Now that she recalled it, she also became aware of how warm she had grown, perspiration beginning to dampen her collar. With a nod, she reached up and unfastened the garment’s clasp.
Moving behind her, Pendragon lifted the fur-lined cloak from her shoulders. His actions were nothing but polite, his large hands careful not to touch her in any way. Yet he was too close, his physical presence unnerving, overwhelming.
Suddenly breathless, she took a hasty step forward.
“You must forgive Hannibal,” he said as he crossed to drape her pelisse neatly over the back of a chair. “He’s never been much for the refinements.”
Did he mean The Tree? So the brute had a name, did he?
“Then perhaps you ought to consider employing someone else to greet your front-door callers.”
An amused gleam shone in the financier’s gaze. “No doubt. But he has his uses.”
Yes, she thought, I can well imagine some of the uses to which he might be put. Such as frightening the supper out of imprudent youth like my brother.
“Would you care for a refreshment?” Pendragon asked. “Tea, perhaps? Or a sherry?”
Every syllable that came from his lips flowed with the warm richness of a fine red wine. He spoke like a gentleman, the cadence and intonation of his words bespeaking a life of culture and education. So what was he doing working for a living? Making loans and investments and trading on the Exchange?
She wondered at his upbringing. He was no ordinary middle-class Cit, that was for certain. If she had met him while shopping on Bond Street, she would have taken him for a gentleman. Might have inclined her head and granted him a polite smile as they passed. Clearly, he had the bearing to move easily among members of her class, even those who prided themselves on their elevated status and the innate superiority of their birth.
So who was he to be nearly a gentleman and yet not one? It was an intriguing mystery indeed.
Her curiosity almost got the better of her, questions stacking up like tiny dominoes on her tongue. Abruptly, she shook off the wild impulse to pry.
This is not a social call, she scolded herself. She’d come to rescue her family from the very brink of disaster—her dear brother and sister, who meant more to her than anything else in this world. She needed to focus on that fact and only that fact.
“No, thank you,” she said, refusing his offer of a drink. “I should prefer to discuss the reason for my visit here today.”
“Ah, yes, of course.” He walked behind his desk, then gestured a hand toward a chair on the opposite side. “Pray be seated and tell me why you have come.”
He remained standing while she arranged herself on the seat before he took his own. Silently, he waited for her to begin.
Her heart thumped, a familiar, half-sick rush of anxiety returning to twist uncomfortably in her stomach. She clutched her reticule and drew a breath, wondering how best to start.
“I am Lady Julianna Hawthorne,” she stated, her words dwindling to a rapid halt.
“I believe we’ve established that, my lady.”
She swallowed, her throat dry. Suddenly she wished she’d taken him up on that drink. Knowing she would lose her nerve if she didn’t get on with it, she compelled herself to speak. “I am told you’ve had business dealings with my brother, Harry Davies, the Earl of Allerton.”
His face remained impassive. “His lordship and I are acquainted, yes.”
“I understand he owes you a sum of money, a debt whose repayment is due very shortly.”
Pendragon inclined his regal head. “As you say.”
“Which is why I have come…to discuss the loan on Lord Allerton’s behalf.”
He raised a sardonic brow, censure darkening his gaze. “I take it he can’t pay and has importuned you to plead his case, has he? I had thought your brother possessed a bit more pride and sense than that.”
A flush rose in her cheeks, further heating her already warm skin. “His pride is very much intact, as are his faculties. Actually, Harry knows nothing of my visit today. If he did, he would be greatly displeased. But I felt compelled to meet with you nonetheless.”
She paused and lowered her voice to a confidential tone. “My brother is over-young, Mr. Pendragon, only twenty, and still learning how best to manage his affairs. Our father died a little more than a year ago, and I fear Harry wasn’t yet ready to assume the pressures and responsibilities that come with a noble title. But he is a fine young man, a good boy, who simply needs time to find his feet. I can assure you he has every intention of satisfying his obligations.”
“Then he ought to have used his head instead of foolishly squandering his money. What was it, gaming or women?”