Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(30) by Lorraine Heath
Dodger grinned with a touch of malice. “I told you, Duchess, I’m familiar with the aristocracy.” He sat in a nearby chair, slouching back slightly, placing his ankle on his knee. She’d never seen a man sit in such an impolite manner. “Have a seat, Briarwood. We can discuss all the reasons why we don’t want to do as you suggest.”
To her surprise, her husband’s cousin did sit. But his back was straight, his posture excellent. Breeding was so important. She could only begin to fathom the difficulties Henry would face if he was taught behavior by Dodger. His peers would laugh at him, insult him, and afford him no respect.
“Now, as I see it,” Dodger drawled, “we have three reasons not to take this matter to the courts: the expense, because you will have to hire a solicitor; the terrible scandal that will be created, because something of this nature is certain to incite gossip; and the fact that the matter can be easily rectified if you but marry the duchess.”
“M-marry her?” Briarwood stammered, clearly shocked by the notion.
“Yes, did she not mention that? I forfeit guardianship when she marries a man willing to take over the role. So, you see? You merely have to wed her—”
“I’m in mourning, Mr. Dodger,” she repeated for what seemed like the thousandth time, through clenched teeth. How was it that the man failed to grasp so simple a concept?
“The ceremony itself could be handled very discreetly with a special license. Just as Lord Claybourne arranged his marriage while his new bride was mourning the loss of her father. Then off to the country you go. In two years, you return to London with tales of your insatiable love, and all is forgiven. Ladies excuse all manner of indiscretion when love is at its core.”
“I’m not going off to the country—”
“I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“I want to be rid of you.”
“Marriage achieves that end.”
“I have no desire to marry Lord Briarwood.” She jerked her gaze to Briarwood. “My apologies, my lord. I’m certain you were not considering marriage, but I am only newly widowed.” And if she ever married again, she hoped duty wouldn’t be involved. On the other hand, Dodger was correct. Marriage would effectively get him out of her life. She cleared her throat. “I hope I didn’t offend you if you were consider—”
“No, I-I’d not entertained the notion. That’s not to say I wouldn’t, only that I hadn’t considered it up until this moment.” He shifted his gaze to Dodger. “I believe you’ve effectively distracted us with this marriage nonsense. How did you manage to convince my cousin to name you guardian?”
“I can take no credit for convincing him of anything. As to the reason he named me guardian, I haven’t a clue. However, I have an inspector from Scotland Yard making inquiries. Do you know of any threats that might have been made?”
Briarwood seemed more shocked by that news than by the notion of marrying her. “Threats? What sort of threats?”
“Threats to kill the lad.”
“Why would anyone kill him?”
“To acquire his titles.”
“As I’m first in line for the titles, I suppose that puts me first in line as your suspect. Has it failed your notice that I already have a title?”
“Viscount. Hardly the highest of ranks. And it is but one, while young Henry has three.”
“Mine is a higher rank than you possess. And one is sufficient for me.”
“I’d have thought you a man of more ambition.”
Briarwood leaped to his feet, none too agilely. “I resent the implication, sir, that I would greedily clamor for more and use illicit means to take that which does not rightfully belong to me. I shall be on my way.” He bowed slightly toward Olivia. “Good day, Your Grace. If you have need of me, please do not hesitate to send word.”
She rose to her feet. “My lord, I apologize for Mr. Dodger—”
“Don’t be daft, Olivia,” Dodger rudely interrupted. “You can’t apologize for something that’s not your doing. Besides, my behavior requires no apology.”
“We’re certain to disagree on that matter. And I may apologize if I wish,” but Lord Briarwood was already heading for the door.
Jack Dodger twisted around in his chair and called out, “By the by, Briarwood—”
Lord Briarwood stopped and looked back, his eyes fairly fuming.
“—you are correct,” Dodger continued. “If any misfortune befalls young Henry, you will be the first one Scotland Yard interrogates.”
“Then I have no worries. The lad is safe from me. I’m not certain I can assure you that you’re safe from me. I’ve never liked you.”
Dodger had the audacity to smile. “Then do be sure to bring money with you tonight. You’ll find your credit at Dodger’s has been canceled.”
Briarwood’s face grew a blotchy red and his eyes fairly bugged out of his head. “Devil take you.”
Dodger laughed in a velvety soft manner that seemed to hint he was as amused with himself as with Briarwood. “He did that long ago, so he’s no longer a threat to me. And I suspect you aren’t either.”
Briarwood swore harshly and stormed from the room.
Olivia was shaking with outrage. “You provoked him on purpose.”
Jack Dodger was still sprawled in the chair. With his thumb, he rubbed the underside of his jaw. “Why would he want to be guardian? That is the reason he came to see you, is it not? To find out who had been given the great honor of overseeing your son’s journey into manhood?”
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