Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(13) by Lorraine Heath
Challenging was an understatement. “You and I can compromise. Take everything. Say you are his guardian. Let Henry and I leave.”
“Unfortunately for you, Duchess, I’m a man of my word. I promised to see to the care and upbringing of the child, and so I shall. And I will do it here in London as that is where my business interests lie. Now, you are correct. Compromises need to be made and matters between us settled. I suggest we retire to the residence, where we may discuss them in more comfort.”
“It’s almost ten o’clock, long past a decent hour for visiting. Surely you’re not implying that you intend to stay in the residence.”
“It’s my residence. The child is my ward. So, yes, I will be moving in.”
He spoke so casually about something that was completely inappropriate. She had little doubt that he’d grown up accustomed to sleeping amongst strangers. “This is ludicrous. You and I are not related. We can’t live in the same residence.”
“You’re a widow, not a maiden. No chaperone is mandatory. Although I assume you have female servants who see to your numerous needs. Let them watch over you if you fear you’ll be tempted to come to my bed.”
Olivia gasped with indignation. “You pompous beast! I would never come to your bed.”
“And as I have no interest in coming to yours, I fail to see the problem. Besides, most of my business ventures require my attention at night, so more often than not I’ll be at my club. Nothing untoward will happen.”
Olivia refused to acknowledge the sting of rejection she’d felt when he admitted he had no interest in her. She didn’t want to appeal to him. Still, it was painful to realize a man who no doubt was in the habit of chasing many a skirt had no plans to chase hers. It had wounded her terribly when Lovingdon had never returned to her bed once she was with child. Perhaps men found her unappealing. She supposed she should take comfort in knowing she was safe from Jack Dodger. Instead she felt an overwhelming need to weep.
“I beg of you, for the love of God, let us go.”
He studied her thoughtfully, and she snatched onto her last remnant of hope that this ordeal would end in her favor. If he possessed only a shred of decency, it could be enough—
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“Why ever not?”
“I grow weary of repeating myself. Leaving is not in the boy’s best interest and I am his guardian. Now, you may either return to the residence like a proper lady—by walking—or over my shoulder. The choice is yours. But the time is now.”
“Toss me over your shoulder? As though I was a common doxy? You wouldn’t dare.”
“I’ve told you before, challenging me will only make me do it.” He reached for her—
She released a tiny screech, held Henry close, and pushed so hard against the back of the coach she was surprised she didn’t break it and find herself tumbling into the boot. “Enough. You’ve made your point. You’re a tyrant. I’m perfectly capable of taking myself to the house.”
“A pity.” He shifted on the seat. “I’ll carry the boy.”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
For the briefest of moments, it appeared she’d hurt his feelings. She didn’t know how that could even be possible when nothing except animosity existed between them.
“As you wish, Duchess,” he said, his mocking tone reverberating around them.
“Will you please quit calling me that?”
“It’s appropriate is it not?”
“Not the way you say it.”
“Perhaps you can teach me to say it properly and in exchange I can share with you some improper things,” he said in a low voice that caused her to tingle in places she’d never tingled. “We’ll discuss the possibilities in the library.”
“I have to read to Henry first. He can’t go to sleep without my reading to him.”
“That sounds like a ploy to put off the inevitable.”
“I’m offended you doubt my words. Still, ask any of the staff. They’ll confirm that I read to him every night. Not that I should need the staff’s confirmation.”
“I suppose you’re right. I should treat you as an equal.”
“An equal? You’re a commoner.”
“I was referring to the fact that we’re both thieves. Although I must admit to being more successful at it. I’d have not gotten caught.”
“I daresay you overestimate your abilities. At some point you did get caught. I noticed the mark upon your hand.”
“Yes, rather unfortunate business that. Lucky for you, they no longer brand criminals.”
She didn’t see the point in telling him once again that she was not a thief. How was she to have known he’d inherited the coach? She needed to take a look at his ledger or study her son’s more closely. “You’re incredibly irritating, Mr. Dodger.”
“It’s part of my charm. Meet me in the library when you’re finished reading to my ward.”
With that he leaped out of the coach, causing it to rock with his movements, and announced to the servants who were still standing about, “The duchess has decided to cancel her journey to the country. Please see that everything is put back where it belongs.”
Then he strode off into the darkness, leaving her on a spiraling descent into hell.
Lounging on a couch in the library, Jack drank his whiskey, grateful he’d had the foresight to bring a couple of bottles from Luke’s. He’d planned to return to his new residence to discuss the arrangements with the widow, and he’d decided they’d both need a good shot of the devil’s brew to fortify themselves for what was certain to be an arduous process of working out the particulars regarding the care of her son. He didn’t expect her to agree with anything he suggested.
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