Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(32) by Lorraine Heath
“Because you’re blind, man. You live in this little world of yours and don’t look beyond it. The man employs lads to take care of things for him. They gather our chips or fetch us a drink. Then he has his boot-boys. I’ve heard he has a pair of boots for every day of the week and has a lad for each pair.”
“That seems a strange thing to do—to have that many boys around. Doesn’t seem natural.”
“There’s nothing natural about Jack Dodger, I tell you. But now that I think on it, he does seem to have a peculiar interest in boys. Of course, this isn’t the sort of thing you talk to a lady about. I suppose I should have a word with the solicitor.”
“Have you evidence that Dodger has wronged any of these lads?”
Edmund held his tongue, but Rupert could see all the calculations going through his little mind. Edmund tended to bully people. Rupert’s strength rested in persuasion. He possessed the devil’s own tongue.
“I’d be careful of starting a rumor you cannot prove,” he warned softly.
Edmund leaned forward. “Ah, but you see, there’s the beauty. Perhaps I can’t prove it, but then he can’t disprove it. And in the court of rumors, who is going to be believed? A titled gentleman or a purveyor of sin?”
He’d wanted to take possession of her mouth with a fierceness that astounded him. Leaning over her in the parlor, Jack had momentarily forgotten why he’d gotten up and gone over to her to begin with. Briarwood had completely slipped his mind, and all he’d been able to do was absorb her fragrance, lose himself in the gold of her eyes, ponder what it would take to make her rapid breaths come more quickly, and anticipate knowing the taste of her when he ravaged her mouth. But acting on his desires would have given her expectations he wasn’t prepared to meet. He suspected the prim and proper duchess was not a woman who dallied with a man she had an aversion to marrying.
So he’d delivered his conclusions and walked away.
But she’d haunted him for the remainder of the afternoon while he sat in the library and met with the different men who were responsible for overseeing various properties: entailed and not. They handed over their books with grim expressions. He assured each that his services would be retained unless Jack discovered flaws in the recordkeeping.
By the time the evening shadows crept into the room, his head ached, his neck and shoulders were stiff, and his stomach was grumbling. He was anticipating opening his finest bottle of claret and sitting down to a well-prepared meal. If breakfast had been any indication, the duke had hired an excellent cook.
The door opened and Brittles walked in on his irritatingly silent feet. “Dinner is served, sir.”
He followed the butler to what he assumed was the family dining room. When they arrived, Jack discovered two footmen standing at the ready, but the table set for only one. He didn’t like to admit the disappointment that slammed into him with the realization he’d be dining alone. “Isn’t the duchess eating?”
“She’s dining with the young duke in the nursery, sir.”
“I see.” He took his seat, watched as wine was poured and a dish was set before him. He took a sip of his wine. “Does the young duke always dine at this time of night?”
“No, sir,” Brittles said, standing nearby. “He usually dines earlier.”
The duchess had no doubt wanted to make certain she was otherwise occupied during Jack’s dinner hour. Jack was growing weary of these games. He stood up, grabbed his wineglass and bottle, and headed for the doorway.
“Is dinner not to your satisfaction, sir?”
“It’s fine,” Jack called back. The company, however, was not. He stumbled to a stop. Company? When had he ever required company during his meals? Then again, when was the last time he’d eaten at a table? He usually took his meals at his desk. A slab of meat, a potato, enough to stave off the hunger while he plotted ways to increase his revenue. But he couldn’t return to the table now without looking like a madman. Besides, he and the duchess needed to discuss a few things. Might as well do it in the nursery.
He took the stairs two at a time. The wine sloshed over the rim of the glass. He stopped momentarily to drain the contents, then continued up. He strode down the hallway and opened the door to the day nursery.
Everyone gaped as though Satan had unexpectedly arrived. Jack had always relished his tarnished reputation, but suddenly it was becoming quite bothersome.
“I didn’t realize we were dining upstairs,” he said laconically. “I would have been here sooner.”
The young duke sat at the head of the table, his mother beside him. His nanny, who gave Jack a coquettish smile, sat at the other end.
“We’re dining here,” the duchess said. “You’re not. Your dinner is being served in the dining room.”
“It seemed a bit rude to deny you my company,” he said as he took a seat at the table more suited to children than adults. His knees knocked up against it. He poured more wine into his glass, then looked at the nanny. “Be a good girl and fetch me a plate.”
She stood up and curtsied. “Of course, sir, with pleasure.”
She left him with the impression she’d be agreeable to far more than that if he required it. But he had no interest in her or any woman who expected more than coins from him.
Once the chicken and vegetables were set before him, he dug in with relish. “There are some matters we need to discuss.”
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