Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(25) by Lorraine Heath
“Of course, I’m home, man. I’m sitting right here.”
Before Brittles could respond, the duchess cleared her throat and stepped into the fray. “Saying you’re not at home is a polite way to inform someone you don’t wish to see him.”
“Didn’t think they lied in your polite world.”
“They’re not rude in my world.”
Jack wanted to argue further, but he didn’t want to keep Swindler waiting. He’d take the matter up with the duchess later. He suspected they were going to spend a good deal of their time arguing about what each of them considered proper. He gave his attention back to the butler. “Of course, I’ll see him.”
As soon as the butler had left the room, the duchess advanced. “What have you done?”
“I chose not to lie and tell him I wasn’t home. I thought you’d applaud my honesty.”
“No, I mean, why is an inspector from Scotland Yard here? Did you rob someone? Kill someone?” She took another step nearer. “What have you done that would require Scotland Yard to come to this household? If you’re arrested—”
Before she could finish delivering what Jack was certain was going to be a dire threat that involved her running off to tell Beckwith, the door was once again opened. This time James Swindler strode into the room. It had always irritated Jack that Swindler had the uncanny knack to give the impression he belonged, regardless of the surroundings. He’d probably look comfortable strolling through Buckingham Palace.
He wore a beige wool jacket, cream-colored waistcoat, and a dark green cravat that brought out the green hue of his eyes, causing them to become his most striking feature. He often dressed plainly in order not to be noticed. Today wasn’t one of those occasions.
Olivia was studying Swindler as though trying to decide if he was the lesser of the two evils presently occupying the library. Because he knew Swindler would demonstrate impeccable manners, Jack brought himself to his feet, suddenly not in the mood to be found lacking. “Duchess, allow me the honor of introducing James Swindler, from Scotland Yard.”
“Swindler,” Jack said, “allow me to introduce the Duchess of Lovingdon. Recent widow.” And royal pain in my backside.
Swindler bowed, no doubt impressing the widow with his courtly graces. It was surprising that a man as tall and broad wasn’t clumsy. He had an inch or two on Jack in height as well as in the width of his shoulders. “Your Grace,” he greeted her formally, irritating Jack in the process, for reasons he failed to understand. What did he care if the widow was charmed?
Swindler turned his razor-sharp green gaze to Jack. “Your missive said it was urgent.”
“You sent for him?” the duchess asked.
Jack took a great deal of satisfaction in her shocked expression. “Sorry, Duchess. You’ll be disappointed to learn he’s not going to cart me away. And now that the formalities are over with, Swindler, do you want whiskey or gin?” He walked to the table where he’d had his lovely bottles of indulgences set up. No ticking.
“It’s not even noon yet, Jack,” Swindler said.
“For a man who doesn’t live his life by a timepiece, there is never an inappropriate time for indulging,” Jack said, pouring whiskey into a glass for himself.
“Unlike you, I do sleep,” Swindler said. “I’ll pass.”
“Suit yourself.” He strode back to his desk. “You can leave us now, Duchess.”
He was halfway into his chair when she said, “As I oversee your household, I believe it imperative that I remain.”
Her words stilled him, left him hovering over the chair. Not because they stunned him, but because she looked so incredibly pleased with herself, as though she thought she’d achieved some measure of victory over him. As much as it pained him to admit it, he rather liked it when she appeared pleased—not that he had any plans to work toward keeping her in that particular state. He dropped into his chair and took a slow sip of his whiskey. “Am I to assume you chose managing my household over—”
“Yes, quite,” she responded quickly before giving her attention to Swindler. It grated that she dismissed Jack so readily, and it occurred to him she wanted to stay because Swindler interested her. He wondered how she’d feel about marrying a commoner.
“Perhaps you’d care for some tea, Inspector,” she said.
“That’d be lovely, thank you.”
She glided elegantly to the far door, and Jack realized he’d not given nearly enough time to studying her backside. She had a narrow back. He wondered how much of the flare of her hips he could attribute to petticoats. Why didn’t women wear clothing that gave a truer sense of their form?
“Tea,” Jack muttered irritably, knowing Olivia ws too far away to hear. “When did you start drinking tea?”
“It’s a distraction when I have to question ladies who’d rather not be questioned.”
“I wouldn’t think you’d want to be distracted.”
“Not me. Them. They get comfortable serving their tea and tell me things they might not otherwise.”
His tactic made a great deal of sense. Little wonder that even with Scotland Yard’s less than sterling reputation, Swindler was known for getting the job done. Jack was certain the man could make a good deal more money if he went into business for himself investigating private matters. But unlike Jack, Swindler seemed to have little interest in wealth.
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