Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(14) by Lorraine Heath
He’d been quite surprised when he’d arrived and discovered the coach being readied for the duchess’s hasty retreat. It had been a long time since the devil had possessed him, and he was not in the habit of frightening women, but he’d not been able to refrain from settling himself in the coach and awaiting her arrival. Unfortunately, he’d not taken into account that she’d have her son with her. Irritating her was one thing. Terrorizing the child was another matter entirely. He didn’t hold with the notion of harming children. They lost their innocence all too soon as it was.
Damnation, he should just let her take the lad to the country. Simply pretend he was the guardian. He’d spent a good deal of his youth pretending one thing or another in order to swindle someone out of something. When he picked pockets, he’d often dressed in fancy stolen clothes so when he walked among wealthy folks he appeared to belong with them—someone’s child just meandering about. All of Feagan’s children were skilled at mimicking their surroundings, appearing to fit in, even when they didn’t.
Was Beckwith going to check up on him, make sure he saw to his duties? Not bloody likely. He’d survived the delivering of his message, seen that the proper forms were signed. He’d earned his coin. Jack certainly had no plans to give him any more. He was out of their lives. At least until the time came for him to hand over the final item. Its value immeasurable. The words echoed through Jack’s mind as though sung by a chorus of angels. All of this and then something more.
He glanced at the clock on the mantel, and then shifted his attention to a table where an assortment of clocks was arranged. The duchess had been reading to her son for almost an hour. What in the hell was she reading? One of Dickens’s novels?
Then a horrid thought took hold. She was a clever wench, as she’d proven by sizing him up rightly enough. He’d cut off one avenue of escape. Perhaps she’d found another.
“Damnation!” he rasped as he surged to his feet, spilling good whiskey on his favorite waistcoat. He cursed the waste, and then downed the remaining contents of the glass before storming out of the library.
A footman lounging against the wall in the hallway came to attention, fear of reprisal over his lack of discipline evident in his expression. Jack cared little about how straight a man could stand. He cared only that a man furnished results and was there when needed.
“Have you seen the duchess since she went upstairs?” Jack demanded.
He cursed again. Escape was definitely a possibility. Jack remembered seeing enormous trees near the house. She could open a window, leap across to one, and shimmy down it with no trouble at all. Jack had done that often enough when he’d lived at Claybourne’s. The old gent had forbidden them to visit with Feagan if they slept beneath his roof. Jack had always assumed what the old gent didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. And he’d refused to totally abandon Feagan. So he’d straddled both worlds. In many ways, he still did.
He rushed up the stairs, taking them two at a time. No other servants were about. He strode to the nursery, opened the door, and paused…
She had escaped—they both had, she and her son—into slumber. Jack’s stomach knotted as the vague memory of sleeping nestled against his mother fought to become more vivid. He didn’t want to think about her tonight, didn’t want to consider everything a mother might sacrifice for her child, didn’t want to wonder about what the duchess might sacrifice. Her devotion to her son had taken him by surprise. He’d somehow always assumed the aristocracy was above emotion. It wasn’t often he misjudged a situation or people. But in this instance, he may have.
He glanced quickly around the room. The nanny was asleep on a small bed on the far side. He didn’t know if that was common practice or just another example of the overprotective nature of the boy’s mother. He wasn’t familiar with a great deal concerning the particulars of a household. Lovingdon had set him a daunting task. He was baffled by his determination to see it through. He gave his attention back to the duchess.
She was sitting up on the bed, her head at an awkward angle, the open book on her lap. The boy was curled on his side, sucking on his thumb, snoring softly. One of his mother’s hands rested on his head, her fingers lost in his blond curls, as though she could protect him with so simple a touch.
Yes, he should let them go. What did he know about boys? Oh, he’d protected a few in his time and had the scars to show for it, not all of them visible. But he was accustomed to teaching boys how to survive when they had no one to protect them. Several boys worked at his club: running errands, fetching drinks for gentlemen, carrying their chips for them. Jack wondered if Lovingdon had observed the confidence growing in the lads he hired. They were always fearful, not trusting their good fortune, suspicious of his motives when he first took them in. But in time they came around: began to walk with a swagger, speak without hesitating, understood their worth. Was that the reason Lovingdon had come to the club and not partaken of its offerings—to watch, to learn, to decide who could best prepare his son for the world?
A scoundrel like Jack Dodger?
If the boy were a street urchin, perhaps. But the son of a lord? Jack hardly knew where to begin. So why had he not accepted the easy way out of his dilemma when the duchess had offered it to him? Take everything and let them go. It made no sense to force them to stay, and yet he was reluctant to release them.
Jack shifted his attention back to the lady in question. In repose she possessed an unexpected, ethereal beauty, as all her worries faded away while she drifted into dreams. He wondered briefly what it was like to dream. He never did. Possibly because he so seldom slept. He was obsessed with obtaining all the wealth he could, burning the midnight oil as often as possible. He knew the true value of money. It protected a person from having to do things he didn’t want to do.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online