Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(26) by Lorraine Heath
“The tea will be here shortly,” the duchess said as she returned to their area of the library and sat in a nearby chair. “I shall work not to be intrusive.”
She suddenly looked like a young girl, sitting on the edge of her seat, thinking she might learn that Jack was in some sort of trouble. He had little doubt she’d like to see him dragged away in irons. He’d lived through that experience once. He’d rather die than go through it again. He indicated a chair across from him, and Swindler sat.
Jack leaned forward. “This residence belonged to the Duke of Lovingdon. He left it to me in his will. I want to know why.”
Swindler shifted his gaze to the duchess, studied her for a long moment, and then looked back at Jack. “Does she not know?”
“She was more stunned than I. I think the solicitor, a Mr. Beckwith, may know the reason, but he claims he’s not at liberty to tell me. I want you to go to his residence at midnight, kidnap him, take him someplace dark and dangerous, hang him up by his toes, and beat him until he decides he is at liberty to tell me.”
The duchess gasped and shot to her feet, righteous indignation shimmering off of her in undulating waves. “You can’t be serious. That’s barbaric. I won’t allow you to—”
“Your Grace.” To Jack’s disappointment Swindler interrupted her magnificent tirade. “Indeed he’s not serious.”
She released a tiny screech that was abruptly cut off as though she’d only just remembered she was a lady of quality. “You are despicable, sir.”
“Come now, Olivia, where’s your sense of humor?” Jack asked.
“It made a hasty departure when you entered my life.”
Jack couldn’t stop himself from grinning at the shot she’d fired. Damn, but he was beginning to enjoy her. She resumed sitting. How did she manage to sit so straight and stiff for so long?
“You see what she thinks of me?” Jack asked Swindler. “When you were announced, she thought you’d arrived to arrest me for some crime.”
“Can hardly blame her for that. You do have a reputation for, well, for not always having the respect for the law that you should.” Swindler held up his hand before Jack could protest. “But I’m short on time, so let’s get back to the matter at hand. Were you even acquainted with Lovingdon?”
“He came to the club on occasion.” Jack rubbed his thumb along his jaw. “But we hardly spoke.”
“When you get right down to it, what does the reason matter?” Swindler asked. “You never before cared where your fortunes came from. Why now?”
Jack slid his gaze to the duchess. Based on her stern features, she’d obviously not yet forgiven him for his earlier prank. In truth, he’d hoped to infuriate her enough that she’d leave. “Shouldn’t you be seeing to the tea?”
“I have every confidence it will be delivered as soon as it’s prepared.”
Damnation, he hadn’t expected her to be present while he spoke with Swindler. He considered insisting she leave, but that would only increase her suspicions of him. Besides, perhaps she needed to hear this. “All right then.” He tapped the desk, hoping he didn’t sound like an alarmist. “I’m to serve as guardian of his heir. I want to make sure this situation isn’t similar to Luke’s.”
Jack saw in Swindler’s eyes that he immediately caught the connection. Luke’s father had been murdered by Luke’s uncle in an attempt to gain the earldom. It was Luke’s uncle who had paid Jack sixpence to lure a family—Luke’s family—into an alley. He’d hired men to ambush them there. His actions had irrevocably changed all their lives.
“Have you reason to suspect—”
“The duke had no surviving brothers. However, Beckwith told me of two cousins”—Jack handed him a slip of paper—“the first is next in line, the other follows. I need you to find out everything you can about them.”
With a curt nod, Swindler tucked the paper inside his jacket.
The duchess again came to her feet. Could she not speak while sitting? “You’re going to investigate my husband’s family?”
“Something is amiss here, Duchess,” Jack told her honestly. “The duke said I was to protect Henry. Protect him from what? An overzealous mother? I hardly think that likely.”
She looked at him as though she thought he should take up residence at Bethlem Royal Hospital for the mentally ill. “So you think my husband’s cousins would murder my son to gain the title? Is that what you’re suggesting? My dear sir, that is the stuff of novels, not reality.”
“Tell that to the Earl of Claybourne.”
“I’d heard—” Blinking, she sat back down as though her knees had given out on her. “I thought it was only gossip. You know how people are. You don’t truly think Henry is in danger…?”
“I don’t know what else to think, Olivia.”
She was too distressed to notice the familiarity he’d used, or perhaps she no longer thought it important enough to warrant her wrath. Swindler, damn him, did notice and rubbed the side of his nose with his forefinger, a signal he’d developed in their youth to indicate when someone was giving too much of himself away. Swindler had been one of Feagan’s lads, the best at ferreting out information.
“Well,” Jack snapped, irritated that Swindler might mistakenly believe he cared more for the widow than he did. “What are you waiting for? You know what I need.”
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