Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(31) by Lorraine Heath
She swallowed back her need to lash out at him. “He thought it would be he.”
“He thought, or he hoped?”
“What difference does it make?”
“What would he have gained?”
“Not everyone is like you, Mr. Dodger. They do things because they are the right things to do, not because something personal is to be gained.”
He slowly unfolded his body and in his movements, she saw power leashed. He prowled toward her, his face set in an unreadable mask. She desperately wanted to decipher his thoughts, his intentions. She didn’t want to retreat, but suddenly weak legs gave her no choice. She sank into the chair, pressing back as she had last night in the coach. He placed his hands on both arms of the chair and leaned in, effectively trapping her.
It was an odd time to realize he had the longest eyelashes she’d ever seen on a man. Thick and spiky without an ounce of delicateness to them, but still so incredibly alluring. She wondered if they tickled a woman’s face when he kissed her.
“Are you aware he is in considerable debt? Not only to me. If he were guardian, he’d not only be responsible for the welfare of your son but his estates as well. A very desperate man might think nothing of using those estates for his own gain.”
“A man such as yourself?” she threw at him, her breathing labored, as though she’d just finished playing a game of tag with Henry.
“I’m not desperate, Duchess. Yes, I’m greedy. Yes, I want to die smothered in gold coins. Yes”—he held up his hand so she could see the horrid brand—“I have stolen in the past. But I’ve found a man can gain more wealth through legitimate means, and he never has to look over his shoulder while doing it. And perhaps your husband’s choice of guardian was as simple as that. If you need someone to guard the coffers, you want someone who doesn’t need what the coffers hold.”
Abruptly he pushed back and started walking toward the door.
“Do you truly think that’s the reason he chose you?” she called out after him.
He stopped and faced her. “No. I just know that’s the reason he didn’t choose Briarwood.”
“Your assumption only works if Lovingdon placed as high a regard on money as you do.”
“In the end, Duchess, the only thing anyone cares about is money.”
Watching him leave with a confident swagger, she fought to squelch the tremors that his nearness had wrought. For one insane moment, she’d thought he was going to lower those fascinating lips to hers.
For one shameful moment, she’d hoped he would.
“What the devil was Lovingdon thinking?”
Rupert Stanford watched as his cousin agitatedly paced his library. As he was prone to do, Edmund had arrived without announcement or invitation. He had the unfortunate habit of releasing flying spittle when speaking with such forcefulness. Rupert did wish Edmund would sit so his maid-of-all-work would have more success at cleaning things up when his cousin left. Rupert had an aversion to filth.
“Jack Dodger, you say?”
Edmund came to an abrupt halt. “Yes, Jack Dodger. The Jack Dodger.”
“I’m not familiar with him.”
“How can you not be? He owns a gambling establishment, Dodger’s Drawing Room. He refers to it as an exclusive gentlemen’s club, but everyone knows what goes on inside.”
Rupert sipped his brandy, fighting off the urge to go wash his hands. The presence of his cousin always made him feel as though he needed a good scrubbing. “Gambling is not my vice. I’ve never been there.”
“Now I might never be able to go back. He’s canceling my credit, blast him, simply because I let my temper get the better of me. How else was I to react, I ask you? I couldn’t let the insult go unanswered. He insinuated we’d kill the boy to acquire the titles.”
“It’s not the titles you want.”
“No, dammit.” Edmund finally dropped into a chair. “I was depending on Lovingdon appointing me to serve as guardian, to oversee…” His voice trailed off as though he was reluctant to admit what he coveted.
“His finances,” Rupert finished for him. “So some of his wealth could miraculously, perhaps accidentally, become yours.”
Edmund glared at him. They might have nothing in common, might possess different addictions, but they knew each other well. Or at least Rupert knew Edmund as well as any man, but he’d taken great care to ensure Edmund didn’t know everything about him. Edmund enjoyed living above his station. Rupert preferred living below it.
“I’d not have stolen from him—merely borrowed,” Edmund said glumly.
“You’ve been playing that game for so long, I think you’ve forgotten that to borrow means you must return it at some point.”
Edmund tossed back his brandy in a single gulp. What a waste of fine liquor—on several levels.
“How old is Henry now?” Rupert asked, maintaining an air of boredom. “I’ve not kept in touch with the family.”
“Five. And you didn’t even bother to attend the funeral. That seemed rather odd, even from you.”
“I fear I was not Lovingdon’s favorite cousin. That honor fell to you.”
“Which is the very reason I thought he’d appoint me guardian. What was Lovingdon thinking?” he repeated. “Jack Dodger is likely to have the lad working in his establishment.”
“When he’s older? I can’t see that happening.”
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