Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(2) by Lorraine Heath
In spite of his questionable past and occupation, she could not fault the quality of his attire. It had obviously been sewn by the finest tailor in London, but the red brocade waistcoat beneath his black jacket was entirely inappropriate for this somber occasion: the reading of her late husband’s will.
Why Lovingdon had insisted the notorious Jack Dodger be in attendance was beyond the pale. How did he even know the blackguard? As far as she knew he’d never visited Dodger’s Drawing Room. However, her brother, the late Duke of Avendale, had frequented it quite often, providing her with the enviable opportunity to add greatly to the repertoire of scandalous tales circulated amongst the ladies.
But Lovingdon had been as pious as they came. The man hadn’t even kept liquor in the house, and to her knowledge, wine had never touched his lips. She knew the same could not be said of Jack Dodger’s. He had the fullest set of lips she’d ever seen on a man, a dark, dark red, as though they’d been soaked in fine wine, and she had little doubt they were accustomed to tasting all pleasures. His mouth was designed to lure the most virtuous of women toward forbidden passion. Why else would she find herself inappropriately wondering what it might be like to have him kiss her? She’d long ago stopped pondering the delight of kisses—perhaps because Lovingdon had been so dead-set against them. Yet there she was, imagining those lips playing over hers, enticing her in ways that Lovingdon never had.
Again she wondered why he had wanted Jack Dodger at the reading of his will.
Yet Mr. Beckwith, the duke’s solicitor, positioning his papers at the desk across from her, had insisted it was not only so, but that Olivia was to be in attendance as well. So there she was, as always, honoring her responsibilities, no matter how distasteful they might be. From the moment she was born, a devotion to duty had governed her life. It was the reason that, at nineteen, she’d married a man more than twenty-five years her senior—because her father had arranged the marriage, and a respectful daughter did not go against her father’s wishes, regardless of her own passionate yearnings.
Lovingdon had been honest from the beginning. Getting up in years, he was in dire need of an heir, and while marriage to him had not been all she’d hoped for, it was not as bad as it might have been. She’d earned his respect and had supreme reign over his household. And he’d given her a precious son, even if he’d been unable to give her his heart.
She was quite confident that Henry, as the legitimate heir, would inherit everything of importance. She had hopes the will would stipulate that the London residence was to become the dower house, because she loved it so. But it was rather grand, and usually the dower house was a smaller residence. Lovingdon, however, had never purchased any other London homes. If this residence was not left to her, then the decision regarding where she would reside in later years would rest with her son—when he was old enough to care about such things. But at present he was five and cared only that she read him a story before he went to sleep.
The solicitor finally folded his hands on top of the papers and lifted his gaze to his audience of two. His dark hair was peppered with silver. His blue eyes seemed larger because of his spectacles, and he gave the impression they allowed him to see a great deal more than the average man. “Mr. Dodger, I want to thank you for finding time in your busy schedule to be with us this evening,” he said solemnly, as befit the occasion.
“Let’s get on with it, shall we? I’ve a business to get back to.” Jack Dodger’s voice was rough, as though he spent a good deal of his time screaming until his throat was raw. Yet, it also reverberated with a pleasing quality Olivia couldn’t quite explain. She could imagine him whispering near a lady’s ear, tempting her toward disgraceful behavior.
“Yes, of course,” Mr. Beckwith said. He picked up a long sheaf of parchment. “The will contains quite a bit of legal terminology which, with your permission, I shall not bother to read.”
“Just tell me why the bloody hell I’m here, so I can go.”
Olivia gasped. Jack Dodger gave her a disdainful look, the first time he’d bothered to give her any attention at all since they’d been introduced and taken their seats.
“Good God, don’t look so appalled.”
Considering the manner in which he was suddenly studying her, Olivia had a strange desire to check her buttons and make certain they were all properly done up. “I must insist vulgar language not be used in my home. I can’t remain if you’re going to be blasphemous.”
“I don’t give a damn if you remain or not.”
“Mr. Dodger,” Mr. Beckwith interrupted emphatically, an edge to his voice indicating he, too, might have reservations about the present company, “the duke insisted you both be in attendance. I shall get to the matter at hand, posthaste, before your patience deteriorates any further.” He cleared his throat and began to read: “I, Sidney Augustus Stanford, Duke of Lovingdon, Marquess of Ashleigh, and Earl of Wyndmere, being of sound mind and body, do bequeath to my legitimate son and heir to my titles, Henry Sidney Stanford, all my entailed properties, as well as the assets and income derived from them.”
Olivia nodded with satisfaction. She’d expected as much. It was only a bit of formality to state so in the will.
“To my devoted wife, Olivia Grace Stanford, Duchess of Lovingdon, mother of my heir—”
Blinking back the tears stinging her eyes, she wished Jack Dodger wasn’t present to witness this portion of the reading. Her husband’s last words regarding her were private and personal.
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