Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(18) by Lorraine Heath
He wasn’t going to eat quickly, but he was very nervous and it felt like he had swallowed the ball his father would sometimes toss to him. It was because of the man. The man who had been in the coach. The man who had come for his mother last night. He was in the nursery now, walking around, looking at things. Every once in a while he would peer over at Henry, and when he did, the ball lodged in Henry’s throat would grow larger.
“How long have you been his nanny?” the man asked.
“Since shortly after he was born, milord, I mean…sir,” Henry’s nanny answered, with a quick curtsy.
Henry’s mother called her Helen; Henry was supposed to call her Miss Tuppin. But he always stammered when he tried to say her name, and she would rap his knuckles with a little stick she carried in her skirt pocket, so he never called her by name unless he absolutely had to.
She only whacked him when no one was around. He knew it was because she cared about him, and the fact that he wasn’t a good boy was their secret. She didn’t want to smack him, but he left her no choice. He didn’t understand that, either. He knew only that he didn’t want his mother to know he did things that earned him a smack. She thought he was a good boy, and even though it was a lie, he wanted her to keep thinking it so she would love him.
“So this is the day nursery?” the man asked.
“And where he was sleeping last night?”
“The night nursery, sir.”
“When does Lord Henry move to a proper bedroom?”
“He’s not Lord Henry, sir. Never was actually. He was Lord Ashleigh. Of course, now he’s the duke. His Grace.”
“Quite right. And when does His Grace move to a proper bedroom?”
“When he’s eight.”
“There are rules even for childhood, I see.”
“Yes, sir.” Miss Tuppin looked over at Henry. “We don’t always like them, but we must follow them.”
“Do you like rules, Henry?” the man asked.
Henry dropped his gaze to his nanny’s skirt pocket, the one where she kept the stick that he was to tell no one about, and shook his head.
The man laughed. “Good lad. I think we’ll get along.”
The man was tall, like Henry’s father had been. They were all supposed to wear black now that Henry’s father had died, but the man was wearing a dark purple waistcoat. Henry wondered if he should tell the man about that rule.
The man pulled out a chair, turned it around, and straddled the seat, folding his arms over the backrest. Henry had never seen anyone sit like that. He was certain it was the wrong way to sit, but Miss Tuppin didn’t whack the man. Maybe she was afraid of him.
“Do you know who I am, Henry?”
Henry nodded, then shook his head. He sort of knew. The man upset his mother, but he’d also lifted Henry’s mother into his arms with a great deal of care. And he’d looked at her as though he liked her as much as Henry did.
“My name is Jack Dodger. You may call me Jack.”
“Sir, I don’t mean to interfere, but that’s not proper and he’ll develop bad habits,” Miss Tuppin said. “He should call you ‘Mr. Dodger.’ And if I might be so bold, you should call him ‘Your Grace.’”
“You’ll find, sweets, I’m not one for rules and have quite a few bad habits of my own.” He looked at Henry the entire time he spoke. “You and I have that in common. I don’t like rules either. Your father asked me to serve as your guardian. Do you know what a guardian is?”
Henry shook his head.
“It’s the person who protects you. If anyone ever hurts you, all you have to do is tell me and I will see to it that the person never harms you again.”
Henry shifted his gaze to Miss Tuppin. Her mouth was set in the hard line it always was when she whacked him. He looked back at Jack.
“I’m sorry your father died,” Jack said.
“Is your f-father dead?”
“Probably. The truth is, Henry, I never knew my father. So, you see, we have something else in common. Neither of us has a father.”
“Will he c-come back?”
Jack arched a brow. “Who? Your father?”
Jack suddenly looked sad. “No, lad, he won’t. But he’s asked me to take care of you, so if there’s anything you need—” He started to rise.
“A puppy!” Henry blurted.
The man stopped. “You need a puppy?”
Henry nodded quickly.
Jack winked at him. “We’ll see about that.”
He walked out of the room. Henry looked at Miss Tuppin. Her gaze was on the door, and she was chewing her bottom lip like she was thinking about something very hard.
“Eat your porridge, Henry.”
Even though the porridge was slimy, he did as he was told, because her hand had slipped into her pocket.
Olivia stretched beneath the covers. She still had a headache, her throat had become raw, and her eyes felt gritty. The laudanum had helped her sleep, but it had failed to relieve her of the symptoms of mourning. She wondered how long they would linger.
Then the lethargy wore off and she remembered the horror of discovering the terms of her husband’s will. She sat up abruptly and held her aching head. Her hair tumbled around her. When had she loosened it? Had she gone to bed without braiding it? Then her gaze fell on her hairpins, lined up neatly on the bedside table.
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