Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(20) by Lorraine Heath
Her breath caught. She reread the words written on the first page. She released a furious screech just as Maggie walked into the room.
“Where’s Mr. Dodger?” she asked succinctly.
“He’s in the breakfast dining room.”
“Help me to get ready quickly. I have a few choice words for him.”
“The coach is my son’s!”
Jack looked up from the page he’d been reading in his ledger while enjoying a leisurely breakfast. The duchess had arrived and she was furious. And in her fury she was breathtakingly beautiful. How had he failed to miss that last night? Or was it simply that a good night’s rest had brought color to her cheeks and washed away her weariness? Mentally shaking himself free of her spell, he came to his feet. “Good morning, Olivia. Did you sleep well?”
“Don’t take that tone with me.”
“What? Cordiality? I’d have thought you’d appreciate it.”
“Innocence. Do not pretend to be innocent.” She marched toward him, tapping her ledger as she came. “You accused me of trying to steal from you, yet you knew good and well that the coach belonged to my son.”
“I fear I did not. It’s listed in my ledger.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “I don’t believe I will.”
“It’s listed on page one of this ledger. If you don’t show me yours, I shall assume you purposely lied and I shall so inform Mr. Beckwith who will no doubt reconsider whether or not to honor the first will.”
Jack would take her to court before he’d have the first will set aside now. “Show me yours…and I’ll show you mine,” he challenged in a low voice.
She studied him for a moment as though she should read something else into his words, and for the life of him, he wasn’t certain if she should or not. He wasn’t accustomed to flirting with women in order to lure them into his bed. He paid for the women he wanted. Nothing else was required of him except parting with his coins. With the duchess, he had the uncomfortable feeling something more was going on between them and that it could lead him down a path he didn’t wish to take.
As though making up her mind, she slapped the ledger on the table, turned back the cover, and placed her finger on the page. “There.”
Slowly he lowered his gaze from her triumphant expression to the words written so neatly. “Black coach with ducal crest. Ah, I see.”
“What precisely do you see?”
“A mistake, obviously. The duke put the conveyance in both ledgers.”
“Knowing my husband as I did, I think that entirely unlikely. Lovingdon was meticulous and precise when it came to all aspects of his life.”
“Including bedding his wife?”
Even as she glared at him, a rosy blush spread over her cheeks. Was she embarrassed by the question posed or the accuracy of his deduction?
“You provoke me on purpose to distract me. Any decent man wouldn’t ask such a question of a woman.”
“As we’ve already determined, I find ‘decent’ boring.”
He heard her foot tapping the floor and had the feeling she’d like to slap him again. Truth be told, he wished she would. He deserved it. Whatever had possessed him to pose such an intimate question? What did it matter how Lovingdon had treated his wife in bed? If Jack didn’t know better, he’d think he was feeling a spark of envy.
Her foot ceased its tapping. “I have shown you mine, now show me yours.”
“My ledger?” he asked.
“Of course, you dolt. What else would we be discussing?”
“I don’t know, Olivia, but I can think of more interesting things to show each other than our ledgers.”
“You duped me last night, sir. I would know the reason for it.”
With a sigh, he turned back the pages in his book and pointed. “There. Honest mistake.”
She glanced down. “Black brougham? How do you confuse a brougham with a coach? The brougham is smaller, seats only two—”
“I didn’t realize. I thought they were the same thing.”
“I don’t believe you’re that misinformed, but be that as it may, now that I know the coach is Henry’s, I can use it at any time without fear of being arrested for thievery.”
“Actually, you can’t. As Henry’s guardian, I am also guardian of all his possessions.”
“But Mr. Beckwith gave me the ledger,” she pointed out.
“So you’ll know what your son can expect to receive when he turns twenty-one, not because care of those items has been entrusted to you.”
He didn’t relish the defeat that caused her to sag. In truth, he knew she’d be a far better guardian over her son than he would. She’d fight to the death to protect him, while Jack would only fight until he was bloodied. His finances, however, were another matter entirely. Jack doubted she was well equipped to handle those. “You can’t win. I hold all the power.”
It seemed his words renewed her determination to best him. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “You are the most irritating man I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.”
“Then obviously you’ve not met many, Olivia.”
“I did not give you leave to address me with such familiarity.”
“Did you not? You instructed me not to address you by your title, which leaves only your name.”
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