Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(10) by Lorraine Heath
Luke shrugged. “Seemed to be. I only spoke to him on a few occasions. Politics mostly. Advised me that I always needed to know why I felt the way I did about certain issues. He was prone to asking why of the younger lords. Insisted we not be sheep.”
“What of his wife?”
Luke shook his head. “We should probably ask Catherine. She’s much more familiar with the ladies of the aristocracy than I am. Until recently, I didn’t walk in their circles.”
Catherine, his wife, was the daughter of the Duke of Greystone. He’d passed away recently, and her brother—who had been absent during her father’s long illness—had returned to London and inherited the titles. It seemed of late the lords were dropping like flies. Jack wondered if Catherine’s father would have approved of her marrying the “Devil Earl.”
“Catherine doesn’t fancy me. She won’t help,” Jack said.
“Catherine has a generous heart. She’ll always help someone in need.” Luke leaned forward. “What’s going on, Jack? From the moment you left at nineteen, you’ve always avoided coming to my residence unless absolutely necessary—as though you feared you’d catch the pox—and yet here you are, just as I was retiring for the evening.”
Reaching for the decanter on the table between them, Jack poured more whiskey into his glass. He downed the contents in one long swallow, relishing the burning sensation along his throat that eventually swirled through his blood. The problem with erecting walls was that climbing over them when he needed help was so difficult. “Lovingdon left all his non-entailed properties and assets to me.”
Luke stared at him as though he’d stood and removed his clothing.
“My reaction was quite similar,” Jack said laconically. If the widow hadn’t turned to stone as well at the news, he might have thought he’d misunderstood the conditions of the will.
“Why would he do that?”
Jack shook his head. “That seems to be the question of the evening, and I haven’t the foggiest idea as to the answer.”
“Did you even know the man?”
“Barely. I met him once in the garden here. I think he was visiting your grandfather. He came into the club a time or two.”
“Did he owe you a gambling debt?”
Jack poured more whiskey, took another long swallow. “As far as I know, he never gambled, drank, or whored. He simply observed. Some people are like that: voyeurs of sin. I never thought anything of it.”
Luke held up his hands. “Just like that, he left you everything?”
“Well, he did include one minor stipulation, hardly worth mentioning. I’m to serve as guardian of his five-year-old son.”
Luke’s eyes widened as he dropped back in the chair. “Why in God’s name would he entrust the care of his son to you?”
“I appreciate the faith. Sorry to have delayed your retiring for the evening.” Jack came to his feet. His and Luke’s friendship had been strained of late. Where once they’d trusted each other with their very lives, now distance brought on by regret and secrets revealed separated them. He shouldn’t have bothered to come, but the streets had made them brothers. As loath as Jack was to admit he needed anyone, he was suddenly desperate to have someone believe in him.
“No, you misunderstood. I have every confidence you would serve as a fine guardian. Lord knows, when we were boys, you saved my arse often enough. But why would Lovingdon leave the care of his son to a man he doesn’t know other than in passing?”
Jack slowly shook his head. “I’m as baffled as you are.”
“How did his widow take the news?”
He rubbed his cheek, remembering the sting of her slap. “Not well, not well at all, I’m afraid.” He heard a light footfall and turned toward the door.
Catherine stood inside the doorway. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude. I didn’t realize you had company. I was simply wondering what was keeping you.”
From my bed were the words Jack thought were left unspoken. Catherine Langdon, Countess of Claybourne, was a beautiful woman. Her hair, the color of moonbeams, had already been let down for the night. For some reason, it made him wonder what the widow’s hair looked like when it was loosened, what it might feel like to comb his fingers through it.
“Please join us,” Luke said now. “Jack has some questions he’d like to ask you.”
No, I don’t, Jack thought irritatingly. You have some questions you want me to ask her.
But he stayed as he was because to leave would give the impression he was unsettled by her, and while that assessment might be true, he had no desire for her to realize it. She had too much influence over Luke as it was. No reason to give her leave to think she could control another man.
Jack watched as she floated gracefully into the room and sat in the chair Luke had vacated. Luke perched himself on its arm, his fingers immediately going to Catherine’s tresses as though he couldn’t be near her without touching her. It had been a strange thing to watch his friend fall under her spell. Luke would do anything for her—kill if need be. Jack couldn’t imagine loving a woman that much, couldn’t imagine loving a woman at all. Love made a person vulnerable, and he had no intention of ever being placed in a position such as that again.
“Jack has encountered an unusual situation here,” Luke began. “It seems Lovingdon has bequeathed to him all his non-entailed properties, in exchange for which Jack is to serve as guardian of his son.”
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