Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(5) by Lorraine Heath
“You should visit sometime,” he said darkly, his warm, whiskey-scented breath wafting over her cheek.
“Visit my world of depravity. I would do all in my power to welcome you properly. You might even find it to your liking.”
His voice was as powerful as a caress, stirring her to imagine that his welcome would involve his mouth, his hands—
It was evident in his eyes, the wicked things he would do to her, things she’d never imagined with Lovingdon. She should slap him again, she knew she should, but all she seemed capable of doing was trembling with something akin to…God help her…Was she feeling desire? It wasn’t possible. It was only that it had been so very long since she’d felt a man’s touch. Once he had his heir, Lovingdon had made it plain he didn’t hold with the notion a spare was needed. One son was all he required. In that regard, she and Lovingdon had been well matched. They both put duty above all else. Regretfully, she’d come to discover that duty was a lonely taskmaster.
“Have you ever sinned, Duchess?” Jack Dodger asked in that strangely rough voice that hinted at passion barely tethered.
Only in my dreams hovered on the tip of her tongue. She wondered if Jack Dodger had fulfilled other women’s fantasies. She had no doubt he was fully capable—
A harsh clearing of a throat caused them both to jump. She saw irritation flash across Jack Dodger’s face as he moved back and slid his uncompromising gaze toward Mr. Beckwith. For a heartbeat, it appeared the solicitor was fighting not to retreat. He cleared his throat again, as though his courage resided in the deep rumble. “I believe, Mr. Dodger, your behavior toward the duchess is not at all warranted and certainly not what the duke envisioned when he named you in his will.”
“I didn’t think you knew what he envisioned.”
“I know he respected his wife, sir, and he would be very disappointed if you didn’t do the same.”
“The man is dead. I suspect he’s not likely to be disappointed in anything anymore.”
“You, sir, are despicable,” Olivia snapped before Mr. Beckwith could give him a proper tongue-lashing. “Have you no respect for my late husband?”
He turned toward her and she suddenly wished she’d kept silent. She truly didn’t want to spar with him. She couldn’t determine how to attain the high ground. Where he was concerned, she suspected it was impossible. He would always somehow manage to drag those around him into the gutter with him.
“I respect only those who have earned my respect. And they are few in number.”
“I can well imagine what a person must do in order to earn your respect.”
Some unidentifiable emotion—remorse?—shifted in his eyes. “Actually, Duchess, I suspect you can’t.” He turned on his heel and strode toward the door.
Dare she hope he was taking his leave, and in so doing, turning his back on this ridiculous first will?
“Where are you going?” Olivia called out.
“I want to have a look around, determine what all I’ll gain by suffering through your presence.” He stormed from the room without a backward glance.
With a gasp of indignation, Olivia hurried after him. This house was hers—hers—until he agreed to the terms of the will. Whatever she could do to dissuade him from consenting, she would do. She’d show him who was willing to do anything.
Although she did have to give him credit for being correct about one thing: somehow, without her noticing, her husband had gone stark, raving mad.
Considering Mr. Dodger’s reputation, Charles Beckwith was inclined to follow the couple, but the duke had left specific instructions that he was not to interfere as they settled their differences. Only a fool would have expected the duchess to serenely accept so ludicrous a choice for guardian, and the duke had not been known for being a fool.
With a sigh, Beckwith leaned back in his chair to await their return and began to mentally prepare himself for the next round with Jack Dodger. He knew it had the potential to be challenging. He had to carry out the duke’s wishes without compromising his own integrity.
He was not in the habit of questioning those who paid so handsomely for his services, but he did wonder if the duke had truly understood the ramifications of his actions. To Charles Beckwith, they seemed to serve but one purpose: to pave the way for disaster.
Ignoring the widow following at a rapid clip, Jack Dodger strode briskly through the hallways and rooms, searching for anything familiar, anything that might signal he’d been in this residence before. He’d learned long ago nothing came easy, and this entire situation seemed far too easy. Well, except for dealing with the widow. She was the very definition of the type of woman he avoided at all costs. Judging him through a kaleidoscope of righteous indignation, she was so damned passionate about his being so damned unworthy. It didn’t matter that she was right. Her belief in his unsuitability irritated the devil out of him, and he preferred holding the devil close. It was the only way to ensure he was never again taken advantage of, never again hurt, never again left to live with regrets.
The duchess had certainly not taken well to the news delivered by the solicitor. The fire of anger burning in her eyes had hit him like a punch to the gut, and he’d wanted to nurture it into a blaze of passion—
He knew better than to lash out at women, knew better than to reveal anything at all about his thoughts or feelings. Somehow the widow had forced him to throw caution to the wind. He’d begun to lose the upper hand in this game of…what? What in God’s name was going on here?
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