Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(4) by Lorraine Heath
Mr. Dodger glared at her with eyes as black as his unredeemed soul. “I was thinking whiskey, gin, rum. All three if you have them.”
“We don’t keep spirits in the residence,” Olivia said sharply, her indignation suddenly very much alive.
“Of course you don’t.”
“I don’t appreciate your tone, sir.”
“As though I give a damn what you appreciate.”
Oh, the man was infuriating. Then he did the strangest thing. He slowly prowled the room, hungrily glancing around as if about to pluck and tuck everything into his pockets. Although now he no longer had a need to pilfer anything. It had all been handed to him on a silver platter.
After several long moments, he returned to the desk and stared intently at Mr. Beckwith. “Everything within this residence is mine?”
“Everything,” Mr. Beckwith said somberly, as though he felt the weight of that single word on Olivia’s heart. “On the condition that you—”
“Yes, yes, serve as the heir’s guardian. Unlike the duchess, I have no difficulty comprehending the simplest of terms when they’re laid out for me.”
She couldn’t let the insult pass, but for the life of her, she could think of no retort that might effectively put him in his place. She did feel like a dimwit. How could Lovingdon do this to her? More important—do this to their son? Did he care not at all what sort of man he would become?
Jack Dodger turned around slowly, looking at everything once more, as though he were feasting his eyes on a magnificent creation. “Was the duke a raving lunatic?”
The crack of Olivia’s palm hitting Jack Dodger’s cheek echoed through the room. Since she’d never in her life struck anyone, she hadn’t realized how much her palm would sting. It took everything within her not to yelp or give any indication that she’d probably hurt herself more than she’d harmed him. “My husband was only recently laid to rest and you speak of him with such disrespect. How dare you, sir!”
Jack Dodger presented her with a slow, calculating smile that caused her stomach to plummet clear down to her toes. “The duchess has spunk. Who’d have thought?”
She wanted to toss him out of the house, back into the streets from whence he’d come. She turned to Mr. Beckwith. “His language is vulgar, his manners are atrocious. I simply will not allow this man to be responsible for the upbringing of my son.”
“That’s easy enough to remedy, Duchess,” Jack Dodger drawled. “Find yourself another husband.”
“It seems to have failed your notice that I’m in mourning. I can’t accept suitors.”
“Then you don’t want me out of your life badly enough, Duchess. Trust me. There isn’t anything a person won’t do if he wants something badly enough.”
Every time the word Duchess slithered mockingly off his tongue, the fine hairs on the nape of her neck prickled and her palm itched to slap him again. Before she followed through on the barbaric urge, she forced herself to address the solicitor. “Mr. Beckwith—”
“I’m sorry, Your Grace, but there is no prospect for negotiation on this matter if Mr. Dodger agrees to serve as guardian.”
“Can you explain to me my husband’s thinking?”
“I have served the duke for many years, Your Grace. It has never been my place to question his decisions. He seldom revealed his reasoning, and I cannot know everything that influenced him, but I’m certain in this matter he did what he deemed best.”
If she’d not been raised to be a lady, she would shriek at the unfairness of it all.
“And if I don’t agree to the guardianship part?” Mr. Dodger asked.
A momentary spark of relief gave Olivia renewed hope that this hellish nightmare would come to a satisfactory end. Apparently the man had the good sense to have misgivings about accepting the responsibilities thrust upon him.
“The first will shall be nullified and a second shall come into play,” Mr. Beckwith said.
Olivia dared not ask, but she had to know. It seemed unlikely her husband could have made a worse choice than Jack Dodger, but if he was her husband’s first who would serve as his second? The devil himself? “Who is appointed as my son’s guardian in that will?”
“I am not at liberty to say,” Mr. Beckwith stated calmly. “Mr. Dodger’s decision must be made without any influence.”
“Without any influence? What do you call giving him everything? If that’s not influence, I daresay I don’t know what is.”
“I merely meant that your husband did not wish who would serve as guardian to influence Mr. Dodger’s decision.”
“But surely it is someone more appropriate, someone familiar with the strictures of society. What does Mr. Dodger know of the nobility, our duties and responsibilities?”
“I know a good deal, Duchess,” Mr. Dodger said. “After all, I am a longtime friend of the Earl of Claybourne.”
She spun around at the mention of Lucian Langdon. “Another criminal? A man who committed murder? How in God’s name is that supposed to reassure me? You can’t possibly believe you are qualified to guide my son along the proper path to manhood.”
“The proper path is often determined by where you’re standing.”
“What the devil does that mean? Yours is a world of decadence, Mr. Dodger. You—”
The words abruptly died in her throat. He was suddenly near, so very near, a heat burning in his eyes that could only have been ignited within the depths of hell, a heat that caused unwanted warmth to swirl through her core, that made her knees weaken, her palms dampen, and her mouth go dry.
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