Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(29) by Lorraine Heath
Olivia felt the warmth flush her cheeks at the chastisement in his voice. “I merely visited my sister-in-law. She’s only recently widowed herself, and I thought she could offer me some advice on dealing with the wretched sorrow.”
“Of course, forgive me for my presumption. I can only imagine how difficult all of this has been for you—”
I suspect you truly have no idea.
“—and allow me to again offer my condolences on your loss. Your husband is now at rest in the family crypt.”
“I appreciate all you’ve done. I can think of no way to repay you your kindness.”
“Think nothing of it. I promised Lovingdon I’d keep an eye on you, don’t you know?”
Olivia couldn’t prevent a fissure of unease from traveling through her. It was a woman’s lot in life to answer to her husband, and suddenly she had far too many men hovering around her, making demands, and voicing expectations.
A maid brought in the tea service. Once she left, Olivia and Briarwood took their chairs in a small sitting area with a narrow table between them. Briarwood was not as lean as her husband had been, and the chair groaned beneath his bulk.
“When did Lovingdon ask you to look after me?” Olivia asked quietly as she poured them tea.
“I can’t remember exactly. You know how it is. Men ask each other for favors all the time, never really expecting they’ll be collected. I came here as soon as I returned to London. I wanted to make certain everything was in order. The will was read last night, was it not?”
Olivia’s hand jerked and the cup rattled on the saucer as her gaze jumped to his. She could see her husband in his expressive green eyes. Lovingdon’s eyes had been the same pale green, carried the same look of regret. When Lovingdon smiled, the joy never lit his eyes. It was almost as though he’d lived his life in mourning. She wished he’d confided in her, but like so many in the aristocracy, theirs was not a marriage of the hearts.
She waited until Lord Briarwood had taken the cup from her to speak. “Yes, yes, it was.”
“Who did he name as guardian?”
She lifted her own cup, took a quick sip. “Who would you have thought?”
He grinned as though they’d been sharing a secret and could now tell the world. “I’d have thought he’d name me. We never spoke about the specifics, but I seem the most logical, being family and all—and the next in line. I want you to know that I consider it an honor to watch over both the young duke and you.”
His presumption left her with a foul taste she couldn’t explain. She was certain he had no ill will toward Henry, and yet she was bothered by his audacity—to assume so much. She was letting Dodger influence her. She’d have never been suspicious if he hadn’t planted the seeds of doubt in her mind. “My lord, I truly appreciate your sentiments, more than you realize. Unfortunately, my husband named Jack Dodger as guardian.”
Briarwood looked as though she’d jabbed him with a fireplace poker. “The Jack Dodger?”
Clearly baffled by the turn of events, he stared at her as though she’d been responsible for them. “What would compel Dodger to give a care about a lord’s son?”
“I’m afraid I can’t even begin to guess, but Lovingdon secured his interest by leaving him all his non-entailed possessions.” Because Briarwood was next in line, she thought he had a right to know. If he’d not been seeing to her husband’s remains, she was fairly certain he’d have been in attendance last night.
Shaking his head, he studied his teacup as though trying to memorize the pattern of the flowers that surrounded the delicate bone china. Then he lifted his gaze to hers. “Dodger must have blackmailed him.”
“Blackmailed him? Whatever are you talking about?”
“He must have threatened Lovingdon with exposing him for some misbehavior or some such.”
Olivia pondered the possibilities. She couldn’t imagine Lovingdon misbehaving. Considering Dodger’s outburst earlier, it was obvious he was as perplexed as anyone regarding the conditions of the will.
“We’ll contest the will,” Briarwood suddenly announced emphatically, as though no other conclusion could be drawn and she’d agree with him. “It might create a scandal, but I can’t see that we have any other choice. Having Dodger as guardian is taking a quick route to disaster. I daresay, your son will be tainted, his respectability questioned.”
“Mr. Beckwith said the will couldn’t be challenged.”
“Of course he said that. Less work for him that way.”
“And less expense for you,” a deep voice rumbled.
Olivia screeched, jumped, and upset her teacup, pouring hot tea over her skirts. Fortunately, she had enough petticoats that she was saved from any serious injury. She set her saucer and cup aside, grabbed a linen napkin, and began blotting the tea and wiping it from her hands. The man had the infuriating habit of appearing where he wasn’t expected. “I don’t recall inviting you into the parlor, Mr. Dodger.”
He held out his hands in the irritating manner that she was coming to recognize preceded irritating words. “I don’t require an invitation as it’s now my parlor. Afternoon, milord.”
Briarwood had come to his feet, his eyes narrowed as though he trusted Dodger as little as Olivia did. “Dodger,” he finally said.
“You’re acquainted?” Olivia asked, stopping her frantic patting.
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