Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(17) by Lorraine Heath
“We always have a profitable night. You’re going to die a wealthy man, Jack.”
Her voice contained a sadness that he didn’t miss. He knew she objected to the importance he placed on money. He grinned. “Wealthier than I’d anticipated. The Duke of Lovingdon left me a fortune.”
Her green eyes widened. “Why?”
“Bloody hell if I know.” His fingers dug into the leather of the chair. “Did you ever speak to him?”
“Why would I?”
“He visited here on occasion.”
“You know I avoid the gaming area as much as possible.” Fine liquor made their customers friendlier than they might have been otherwise and caused them to misjudge their own appeal. The gaming area was not the place for a lady who wished to avoid the advances of men.
“He was also an acquaintance of Luke’s grandfather. I vaguely remember meeting him at the Claybourne residence, showing him the locket.”
The locket contained a miniature of his mother. The night she’d sold him, she’d given it to him with the admonishment, “Never forget that I loved you, Jack.”
Loved. He’d never known what he’d done to lose her love. In time, he’d stopped trying to figure it out. He’d put all his mental abilities toward surviving.
The day he’d met Lovingdon, he’d been in Claybourne’s garden, studying his mother’s features as drawn on the miniature, trying to determine if she would be disappointed in him if he didn’t take advantage of all that the earl was offering him. He’d hated being in that fancy house. It had reminded him of another…
Jack shook his head. “It’s not important. I thought perhaps you’d spoken with him at Claybourne’s.”
“Not that I recall.”
“I don’t suppose it matters. What’s important is for you to know I agreed to serve as guardian of his heir, so I may not be around as much as usual.”
“That seems to be the question everyone’s asking, and again, I haven’t a bloody clue.”
“I think you’ll make a remarkable guardian.”
Jack laughed. In spite of being raised on the streets, Frannie possessed a bit of innocence when it came to Feagan’s lads. She always believed some goodness resided in them, even when it was buried so deeply they couldn’t find it themselves.
“Are you going to tell Luke about your change in fortune?” Frannie asked.
“I already did. I saw him earlier.” He squinted. “I don’t think he’s quite forgiven me for my part in his parents’ death.” It had been only two months since Luke had learned the truth of that fateful day twenty-five years ago, a day that had changed all their lives.
“It’s not your fault. You were only a child. You didn’t know what the man had planned when he paid you to lure the family into the alley.”
That’s what Jack had claimed, and it wasn’t entirely a lie. He hadn’t known specifics, but he knew evil when it stared at him. He’d ignored his suspicions because he’d wanted the sixpence. He lived with the regret every day. He hoped the same wouldn’t be true of the bargain he’d struck tonight. He slapped the top of the chair. “I’d best get to my business, make sure all matters have been taken care of so I’m free in the morning to oversee arrangements regarding my new possessions.”
“I suppose congratulations are in order,” Frannie said softly.
Jack couldn’t shake off an ominous sense of foreboding. “Condolences, most like.” He winked at her. “’Night, Frannie.”
He strode down the hallway, stopped in his office to gather up his tobacco and pipe, and continued on to the door that led outside. He stepped into the night. The fog had grown thicker, hampering visibility. He wondered if he’d find fog in the country. He might have to eventually look over his ward’s estates. Might prove interesting. London was all he knew, but he knew it very well.
Leaning against the wall, he stuffed his clay pipe, struck a match, lit the tobacco, and began puffing until the tantalizing aroma was swirling through him. It was a much richer blend than he’d had as a lad. Still, it took him back to a time when life had been simple, reduced to collecting a certain number of handkerchiefs per day. Jack hadn’t been content with the silk. He’d preferred watches, jewelry, and other sparkly items that brought a fair price from fences. He didn’t always take his stash to Feagan. He developed his own contacts. If Luke’s grandfather hadn’t taken him in, he had little doubt he’d have become a kidsman with his own den of thieves that would have eventually rivaled Feagan’s for notoriety. That had been his goal, anyway. To become the most famous, to be the one about whom ballads were sung and stories were written.
He’d planned to teach boys in the artful ways of thievery. And now he was supposed to train a lad to be honest and upstanding, to sit in the House of Lords and help to govern a nation.
Henry Sidney Stanford, the seventh Duke of Lovingdon, knew his porridge was growing cold—and he detested cold porridge because it became all slimy going down his throat—but he was afraid if he tried to eat he might choke and die.
Of late, he was very much concerned with dying.
He didn’t really understand it. He knew only that his father had died so they’d put him in a nice box, like his nanny did the toys he no longer played with. And he hadn’t seen his father since. But his nanny had warned him that if he ate too quickly, he could choke and die.
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