Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(11) by Lorraine Heath
To her credit, the countess did little more than look up at her husband, a frown between her delicate arched brows, before turning her attention to Jack. “How might I help?”
Taking his seat again at her unexpected offer, Jack cleared his throat, hardly knowing where to begin. In dealing with the young widow, the more he knew about her, the more advantage he would have during any future encounters. His interest was as simple as that. Nothing more. “I was wondering what you could tell me about his wife.”
“Has he another?”
“No, of course not. I don’t know her well. Her father was the Duke of Avendale. I believe she was nineteen when she married Lovingdon. To be blunt, I think we were all a bit surprised that she’d marry someone considerably older. I don’t believe she was wanting for suitors. I suspect the marriage had more to do with her father’s wishes than hers.” She affectionately patted her husband’s thigh. “We’re not all fortunate to love the one we marry.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “Are you going to serve as the lad’s guardian?”
“He can offer you nothing you can possibly need,” Luke said.
“Need has nothing to do with my decision. As you’re well aware, I never turn my back on the opportunity to be wealthier than I am. Besides, now we’ll be neighbors. I’ve inherited his London residence.”
“But serving as guardian is a great deal of responsibility, Mr. Dodger,” Catherine said.
“I don’t think it’ll be as bad as all that. Besides, I’m only obligated until the widow marries and then the duty will fall to her new husband.”
“I know the duchess well enough to recognize she places duty above all else and adheres to the strictures of society religiously. She’ll honor her husband for the full two-year mourning period.”
“Then in two years and one day, I’ll have a bloke waiting for her on bended knee.”
“You’re going to arrange a marriage for her?” Catherine looked positively aghast by the notion.
Jack shrugged, knowing no matter what he did, Catherine would find fault with his plans. “I don’t see any reason not to. I’m not in mourning.”
Besides, how difficult could it be to find the duchess a new husband? And money could purchase a good many things, including forgiveness for violating the rules of etiquette. Society might require that a widow mourn for two years, but Jack didn’t see the need for her to mourn for more than a couple of weeks, if that.
A quiet ceremony and off to the country the happy little family could go. And Jack would have his lovely new residence all to himself.
“Wake up, darling,” Olivia whispered softly.
Henry blinked his eyes open. He’d taken his fair complexion, his blond hair from his father, but his eyes favored hers. He was such a curious lad, always studying the world around him, trying to discern how things worked. Lovingdon had spared his son little time, but then few fathers did. It was the way of things for fathers to leave their sons’ upbringing to others. Perhaps Lovingdon’s lack of involvement had convinced him that little thought needed to be given to the selection of a guardian—but even then, Olivia couldn’t justify his choice.
Pressing a kiss to Henry’s head, she inhaled the sweet, milky fragrance of the child. She could not possibly allow a criminal to raise him. The best way to avoid that was to get him as far away from Jack Dodger as possible.
“I need you to get up and get dressed. We’re going to the family estate in the country,” Olivia told him.
The country estate was part of the entailment. It belonged to Henry and would put him beyond the reach of his appointed guardian. Once she was away from this madness, Olivia would be able to think more clearly and find a way to ensure Mr. Dodger had no influence over Henry. He seemed to be a man fond of coins. Perhaps she could turn the funds from her trust over to him. She would do whatever was necessary—do without, make sacrifices—to ensure Henry had the proper guidance. Nothing was more important to her than her son.
She turned to his nanny. “Helen, please pack a few things for Henry and yourself. I’m having a coach brought ’round to the front. We dare not tarry.”
She could hardly believe the desperate measures to which Lovingdon’s death had brought her. He’d been only fifty-one. When she’d married him six years ago, he’d seemed so frightfully mature, but in death he’d suddenly seemed so terribly young, taken before his time. She’d hardly had a spare moment to think about him, about what life would be like without him. And if she had, she’d have certainly never envisioned it taking the turn it had tonight. Still, she had responsibilities and she would see to them as best she could. Duty did not have the luxury of taking time to mourn.
Once everything was ready and Henry was properly attired, Olivia took his hand and led him down the stairs. Her lady’s maid was waiting for her in the foyer.
“The footmen have loaded our things into the boot of the coach,” Maggie told Olivia.
They’d packed very little because a hasty retreat was required in order to gain an effective escape. Escape. Not a word she’d ever thought to associate with her life, but there she was, fleeing into the night as though she were a thief. If she weren’t so tired, perhaps she could think of another strategy, but at that moment she wanted only to be away from the madness. “Good. Let’s be off.”
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