Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(9) by Lorraine Heath
“You speak as though this is an elaborate game.”
Beckwith smiled knowingly. “Who am I to judge?”
Jack glanced around the room. He’d only ever seen more books in Claybourne’s library. If he read one book every day for as long as he lived, he’d never get to them all. The leather-bound books alone were worth a fortune.
Jack returned his attention to the man sitting calmly at the desk. Nothing seemed to unsettle him. He was a man who took his power from those he served. “In the second will, what does he leave to the widow?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
“Damn it, man, at least tell me if it favors her more than the first.” Which Jack had thought were pitiful leavings to a wife, truth be told. Even for the hoyden who’d been traipsing along behind him.
“What does it matter?” Beckwith asked.
Jack rubbed his thumb along the line of his jaw. He’d not let the keys to a kingdom far grander than anything he presently owned slip through his fingers. He picked up the leather-bound ledger that Beckwith had given him earlier and bestowed upon the man the infamous cocky grin for which Jack was so well known.
“How do I signify that I accept the terms of the will?”
With the fog swirling around him, Jack walked along the quiet street. He’d taken a hansom cab to the duke’s residence. He could find another to take back to his place, only he no longer needed it. He had a carriage and horses. He had a residence and servants and doubts. With misgivings, he’d signed the document Beckwith had laid before him. In spite of his attempts to question and convince himself otherwise, he’d known from the moment Beckwith read the terms of the will that he’d not walk away from everything he’d been given.
He’d not expected the duchess to be gracious when told the news he’d accepted the terms. Surprising him, she’d simply nodded at Mr. Beckwith and said, “The servants will need to be informed.”
She’d called them into the foyer. With Jack standing at the bottom of the stairs, she stood partway up, with all the regal bearing of a queen. He thought he now knew what a warrior looked like at the end of the day when the hard-fought battle had not gone his way, when he had to look into the eyes of those he’d sent onto the battlefield and convince them that honor was to be found in simply surviving. She’d been elegant and eloquent as she explained the residence was now Jack’s and that they all served at his pleasure.
Not one word had been uttered by the staff. Jack imagined they’d have questions aplenty once the shock wore off. But he’d been content to leave them and the duchess while he adjusted to his change in fortune in solitude.
While he admitted that he didn’t consider himself the best choice to serve as guardian to her beloved and overprotected son, he could certainly think of worse. Perhaps the duke himself had fallen into that category.
Jack often walked along streets with grand houses, trying to remember what he’d thought he’d never forget. The first fancy house in which he’d lived—he’d been five. The man had promised his mother he’d take good care of Jack. She’d seemed to know him and trust him. Maybe he’d been one of her customers.
All Jack remembered was that the man had fed him and bathed him and put him to bed. Crawled beneath the covers with him…done things…
Jack quickened his steps as though he were five again, running away.
The man had wept afterward, said he was sorry, promised to never do it again…
Jack detoured by a towering elm and pounded his fist into the trunk, relished the bite of the hard bark, and felt the pain ricochet up his arm. He didn’t want to go there again, didn’t want to return to being frightened and hurting. And ashamed.
Although he’d run away, a terrified cadence to his steps, he’d thought he’d always remember where that house had been. But London had changed in twenty-eight years. Jack couldn’t even remember what the man looked like. He hadn’t thought about him in ages, but now he wondered…
What would guilt cause a man to do? Would he seek out and leave everything to a boy he’d abused? Was Lovingdon the man who’d bought him? What did it matter now? He was dead. He’d left Jack a fortune. What did it matter if it was a fortune steeped in guilt and regret? Jack had only ever cared about accumulating the coins that ensured no one would ever buy him again. Now, no one ever would.
“Tell me what you know of the Duke of Lovingdon,” Jack demanded. He’d been desperate for the taste of whiskey on his tongue, and since he was in the neighborhood, he’d stopped at Luke’s residence. It had been only a week since Luke’s hastily arranged marriage, and the couple did not seem inclined to take a wedding trip.
Sitting across from Jack, near the window that looked out on an impressive garden when it wasn’t draped in darkness, Luke took a sip of whiskey. He’d dispensed with his jacket, and his shirt was unbuttoned at his throat. His dark hair appeared to have been fingered recently, and Jack suspected it wasn’t Luke who’d done the fingering. Yet, in spite of his dishevelment, he had the look of a man in control, a man who knew his place in the world and was finally comfortable with it. Jack didn’t like to admit it, but Lucian Langdon wore the title of earl well.
“He was well respected in the House of Lords,” Luke said solemnly. “When he spoke, people listened. His passing leaves shoes that will be difficult to fill.”
“So you thought he was a decent-enough chap?”
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