Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(22) by Lorraine Heath
Looking up, he gave her a cocky grin. “I am when it suits me.”
She wanted to scream at the word games he played. She was accustomed to dealing with gentlemen, not scoundrels who changed their tune when the music no longer suited them. “You can’t break your promise to him.”
“Make up your mind. Do you want him to have the dog or not?”
“I don’t want him to have the dog, but it would be far worse if you were to break your promise to him. Trust is a fragile thing, and you would teach him that a promise means nothing.”
“Usually it doesn’t.”
“Perhaps in your world, Mr. Dodger, but not in ours.”
The man was missing the point entirely. Why was she even wasting her breath arguing with him? Like all men, he would do what he had determined he wanted to do. “May we move on?”
“By all means. To what precisely did you have in mind?”
“I was supposed to meet you in the library last night—”
“So you were. You promised.”
“I did not promise,” she snapped.
“You said you would. In my world, when a person says something, the promise is implied.”
Oh, her head was throbbing and she had a strong need to return to bed and bury herself beneath the covers. “You’ve made your point. I fell asleep. I apologize.”
“Do you always take laudanum before bed?”
“How did you know I did?”
“I smelled it on your breath.”
Cold dread raced through her veins with the implication of that statement. “This morning I awoke in, well, not in my bed and I don’t remember how I got there. Did you—” Squirming, she glanced around at the servants. While they didn’t appear to be paying attention, she knew none of them were deaf. She leaned forward with the hope of Dodger hearing her while she spoke in a low voice, but the table was so incredibly long. Why did they even need a table this long in this particular room? It wasn’t as though they often had guests.
“Did I…?” he prompted.
She glanced around again. “May we dismiss the servants?”
“I don’t believe there’s a need. As I understand it, they are forbidden by some sort of servant code to discuss our matters, even amongst themselves.”
“Yes, well—” She looked around again.
“When you failed to show as promised, I went searching for you.”
“I see. I assume you found me.”
He gave her a slow grin. “I did. You asked me not to go into your bedchamber. I saw no choice except to take you into mine.”
He said it as though he’d done something for which he should be admired. She had little doubt carrying women into his bedchamber was an everyday—every night—occurrence.
“Did you take liberties?” she snapped.
“Trust me, Duchess: if I had, you’d remember.”
The sudden intensity of his gaze was unnerving and gave her the distinct impression that he was envisioning himself in her bed, doing things with her body that would be far more memorable than anything she’d ever experienced with Lovingdon. It was unsettling enough to think of Jack Dodger holding her in his arms, against his chest, laying her on his bed, removing the hairpins—because now she had little doubt he was the culprit responsible for her loosened hair—but to contemplate his crawling between the sheets with her…
She dropped her gaze to the food on her plate to hide her shame that she longed to know what his deft fingers might accomplish.
“After depositing you on the bed, I went to my club. Ask Brittles. He had my coach, or what I thought was my coach, readied for me.”
She looked over at the butler. Even though he was not supposed to be eavesdropping on the conversation, he gave her a curt nod. She forced herself to meet Dodger’s gaze. “It really wasn’t necessary to take me to a bed.”
“The one you were in was quite cramped. I know many a woman who would have been grateful for my considerations.”
“I’ve no doubt you do,” she snapped. “I’m not one of them.” She rubbed her brow. “I apologize. I’m not normally quite so difficult.” She didn’t consider herself difficult at all, but she doubted he’d believe that statement. “The past few days have been incredibly trying, Mr.—”
She swallowed. She didn’t want to accept the familiarity that he was offering, but she was so weary of battling him. “Jack.”
“There. Now, that wasn’t so difficult was it?” He came to his feet. “As the past few days have been so trying, I suggest you enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and when you’re done, come to the library and we’ll discuss this unusual situation that your deceased husband has placed us in.”
She watched in astonishment as he picked up his black book and walked out of the room. She could hardly fathom that a part of her actually regretted his leaving, but it was only because she was now alone, with nothing but her own thoughts for company.
And what strange thoughts they were. For a moment, when she’d walked in, it was almost as though she’d seen her late husband there, greeting her. It was a trick of the morning light, pouring in through the windows. She wasn’t accustomed to so much light in this room. Lovingdon had always preferred to keep the world out. From what she’d been able to discern, before he’d married her, he’d never allowed a single drapery to be parted or a shade to be lifted. It had been a somber house, reflecting its owner’s melancholy mood. He’d even asked her to restrict her desire for allowing in the sunshine to rooms he didn’t frequent.
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