Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(15) by Lorraine Heath
Usually. He didn’t particularly want to serve as the lad’s guardian, and if the boy wasn’t sucking his thumb, if he hadn’t screamed louder than his mother, Jack might not have questioned the need for him to remain. A boy shouldn’t be that frightened. No one should. What had caused him to have fears? And how did Jack begin to give him the confidence he required to honor his title? With late night talks before a coal fire, while gin warmed his belly and a pipe warmed his lungs? He didn’t think the duchess would approve of that—which made the idea worth considering. Pricking her temper could become his latest vice. She irritated him for reasons he didn’t understand. He was aware of her in ways he’d never been with other women.
The duchess was crammed into the small child’s bed, her shoes resting nearby. Although she wore stockings, he could see that she had small, delicate feet. They made her seem vulnerable, and he had a sudden irrational urge to protect her. He could well imagine she’d object to that notion. She’d probably purposely remained there until she fell asleep, hoping to avoid another encounter with Jack. Silly woman. Eventually everyone had to face the devil and give him his due.
Tomorrow she’d learn that lesson; for tonight, he’d let her rest in innocence—but not in this bed. Waking up after an uncomfortable night would only serve to keep her out of sorts and make her more difficult to deal with, and she was difficult enough. He doubted they’d ever agree on anything.
With care he slid his arms beneath her, one at her shoulders and the other at her knees. His back would no doubt protest the abuse, but when he lifted her, he discovered she was as light as his own touch when he slipped his hand into another man’s pocket in order to relieve him of his possessions. She made a little mewling sound as her head rolled into the nook of his shoulder. A scent wafted up that he recognized: laudanum. Maybe she slept no easier at night than he did.
Jack looked back at the boy, who was staring up at him. He mustered a smile, winked, and said in a low voice, “Go back to sleep. I’ll hold the monsters at bay tonight.”
The boy closed his eyes. Jack walked from the room and down the hallway to the door that led into the duchess’s bedchamber.
Please don’t go into my bedchamber.
He released a rough curse. What did he care about her wants and desires? What was she hiding in there? Her not wanting him to see it made him want to all the more. And why shouldn’t he? The residence was his, which meant that legally her room was his. He had every right to open that door—
He cursed again and walked to the door that led into the master’s bedchamber, a room that had once belonged to her husband and now belonged to Jack.
Bending his knees slightly, he managed to reach the knob, turn it, and shove open the door. The room was cast in shadows. The light from the lamps in the hallway and coming in through the window—from the gas lamps that lined the front drive—provided him with enough illumination to make out the silhouette of the large bed. He walked over to it and very gently laid her down.
She whimpered and mumbled, “I’m sorry. Forgive me.”
Jack crouched down. “For what, Duchess?”
Her response was only a soft breathing. One hand rested near her hip, the other curled on the pillow. She’d removed her widow’s cap—a silly bit of frippery—and he had a clearer idea regarding her hair. It was not as brown as he’d originally deduced but more a shade of auburn. A bit of the devil visited him again. Using deft fingers and the light touch of a pickpocket, he located a hairpin. Very gingerly, he pulled it out. Then found another and another and another, until her hair was free of its constraints, thick and heavy in his hand. Soft and silken. He rubbed several strands between his fingers. He didn’t know why he felt this overwhelming compulsion to know the texture of her hair.
And to know something more.
He lowered his face to the curve of her neck and slowly inhaled the heady fragrance of her perfume. The scent was stronger there, as though a secret spot rested just behind her ear. Where else might she seek to tease a man? For she would tease—of that, Jack had no doubt.
Unfolding his body, he stared down on her. He wondered how many nights she might have lain in this bed, replete and sated. Had the duke held her afterward? The women Jack had bedded didn’t require any special care, but he thought it would be different with a woman who wasn’t bought. She’d expect more when coins didn’t fill her palm. She’d require courtesies that filled her heart.
He backed up a step. There was something very pleasing about the sight of a woman in bed, especially when it was now his bed. For all the women he’d pleasured and been pleasured by, he’d never watched one sleep. Even in slumber, a woman was seductive and alluring.
He spun on his heel and headed for the door, refusing to be seduced, even by one as lovely as the Duchess of Lovingdon.
Jack strode into his gentlemen’s club and relished the sights, smells, and sounds. The well-dressed men at the gambling tables. The rich aroma of good whiskey and expensive cigars. The clack of dice and the click of wooden chips. Piano music wafted from another room, where his girls danced with the gents, sometimes ushering them off to a corner for an enticing kiss, sometimes leaving the room for something a bit more illicit. Jack paid the girls well for entertaining the gents with dance and conversation within that room. Anything they earned on the other side of those doors was theirs and theirs alone. He didn’t provide whores, but neither did he judge if a girl wanted more—as long as it was her choice. Everyone knew Jack Dodger didn’t look the other way if his employees were mistreated.
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