Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(21) by Lorraine Heath
“If I’d had a father, he’d be Mr. Dodger. As I didn’t, there is no Mr. Dodger. You may call me Jack.”
Olivia couldn’t, she absolutely couldn’t pretend such familiarity with this man. And she didn’t believe for one second that he had truly believed a coach bearing the ducal crest was his property. He was extremely skilled at unsettling her. Snatching up her ledger, she spun on her heel and walked to the other end of the table, where she set down the book that was certain to drive her insane before Henry reached his majority. The notion of thumbing her nose at etiquette and marrying posthaste was becoming more appealing by the moment.
Needing to gather her wits about her before the next skirmish, she went to the sideboard and filled a plate with poached eggs, toast, and ham—even as she did so, disturbingly aware of Dodger’s gaze following her movements. Her stomach tightened into knots with the thought of spending her morning in his presence. Her headache returned with a vengeance, and it was all she could do to remain standing. She nodded at the footman standing near the sideboard before walking to the table, where a second footman pulled out the chair for her while the butler stood observing everything. Normally the servants’ presence didn’t bother her because she and her husband had seldom engaged in any discourse that didn’t concern the weather.
She feared the same would not be true of any subjects Mr. Dodger would introduce. Perhaps she would insist that all conversations focus on Henry and Henry alone.
Mr. Dodger took his seat with lithe movements that reminded her of a predator settling in to wait for the next opportunity to pounce on its prey. She was left with the impression that, while he’d turned his attention casually back to his ledger, nothing about him was as relaxed as it seemed. He was acutely aware of every aspect of his surroundings. It was common knowledge he’d survived a life on the streets. She imagined his survival had depended on acute senses. Lovingdon had always given the impression he was distracted while reading his newspaper. She had a feeling distractions were as foreign to Jack Dodger as the notion of adhering to society’s rules.
She took a sip of warm tea, gathering her resolve for the next confrontation. She didn’t particularly want it, but for the sake of her son, she had to make sure his guardian understood that children couldn’t be toyed with as adults were. “Mr. Dodger.”
“Please, Duchess. Jack.”
His mocking tone left the unmistakable impression he held no respect whatsoever for her title.
“If you insist on my using your first name, then I shall refrain from calling you anything at all. Perhaps you could offer me the same courtesy,” she suggested blandly.
“But I enjoy calling you something. Although I must confess you don’t strike me as an Olivia. Have you a pet name?” he asked.
“No. And speaking of pets, you promised my son a dog.”
He cocked his head, not bothering to hide his amusement. “Are you scolding me?”
“You didn’t discuss the matter with me.”
“I’m his guardian. I don’t have to discuss anything concerning your son with you.”
Oh, she bristled at his smugness. “Have you any concept at all regarding the amount of work required to see after a dog?”
“I’ve been to rat fights.”
Olivia thought she’d have been in danger of bringing up her breakfast if she’d eaten any of it. “Other than that topic being inappropriate for the breakfast table, what has it to do with dogs?”
“Dogs fight the rats. I’ve seen the care and attention the owners give their dogs. They treat them like royalty, so I have a good idea of what is involved in caring for the creatures.”
“And when it dies, how will my son deal with his broken heart?”
“I’ll get him another one.”
She released a deep sigh. “When you love something and lose it, it cannot be so easily replaced.”
She felt the weight of his gaze as he tapped the open page of that blasted ledger. “Is that how you feel about your husband?”
“I will not discuss my feelings with a man who will use them against me.” She held up her hands in order to cease this turn in the discussion. She would never reveal to him her feelings about anything. “You promised my son a dog. But you don’t know him. He’s an extremely sensitive child. I must insist in the future that you discuss with me any decisions you intend to make regarding Henry, before you discuss them with him.”
He studied her, and she was left with the uncomfortable sensation that he could easily discern her feelings without her having to voice them, that he was as skilled at plucking out a person’s emotions as he was at picking their pockets. “I hadn’t realized it would upset you. I won’t get him a dog.”
He returned his attention to the ledger, as though the matter were settled simply because he had deemed it so.
Olivia didn’t know whether to feel relief that there would be no dog or anger because he could so easily dismiss a promise he’d made to her son. When she’d brought up the matter, she wasn’t certain what she’d wanted the outcome to be—his acknowledging he didn’t know the first thing about taking care of her son, she supposed. Unlike most mothers, she didn’t want to be a bystander in her son’s life. She and Lovingdon had actually argued over the hiring of a nanny. While she understood that all children of the aristocracy were cared for by nannies, she didn’t quite agree with the notion. She wanted a more active role, and this man was threatening to remove her completely from Henry’s life. “Last night you said you were a man of your word.”
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