Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(33) by Lorraine Heath
“Must we discuss them here and now?” the duchess asked.
He took a bite of chicken, chewed thoughtfully. “By discussing matters now, I make the most use of my time. I eat while getting business taken care of.”
“I fear any discourse with you will greatly upset my digestion.”
“And you think I care about your digestion?”
“Truly, I think you care about nothing save yourself.”
“I’ll give you ten minutes.”
“To eat without conversation. Then your digestion be damned.”
“You are completely barbaric.”
She released a little growl and glared at him. He supposed he might need to take care in the future that she didn’t poison his food. He was pushing her, and devil take him, he couldn’t determine why.
“D-did it hurt?”
Jack shifted his attention to the boy, who was staring at his hand, no doubt the discolored skin on the inside of his thumb. It was quite hideous but Jack had always viewed being branded a thief as a badge of honor. His past had made him the man he was. He wasn’t ashamed of it. “Like the very devil.”
The boy’s eyes widened. They were the same golden hue as his mother’s. His light-colored hair, from what Jack remembered of Lovingdon, he’d taken from his father.
Suddenly Jack did feel ashamed of his past, for reasons he couldn’t fathom. “But it was a long time ago.”
The boy dropped his gaze to his plate, then hesitantly peered up at Jack.
“What is it, lad?”
“H-have you been to the Cr-crystal P-palace?”
“I haven’t. Have you?”
The boy shook his head, his eyes those of a beaten puppy, then he looked at his mother.
“Henry, I’m sorry, darling, but as I’ve explained, we can’t go.”
“Why can’t you?” Jack asked.
“I’m a widow in mourning. I can’t go out and about.”
“You seem to when it suits you. You went out this afternoon.”
“Very discreetly, to visit my sister-in-law, who is also a widow. I wasn’t gallivanting about.”
“Let his nanny take him.”
She arched a brow. “We can’t have it both ways. Either there are dangers or there are not. Besides, Henry is in mourning as well. It wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“You like to follow the rules.”
“Whether or not I like to is beside the point. I have certain expectations regarding behavior and I meet them.”
“So if my expectations were that you’d behave badly, then you’d do all in your power to meet them?”
“Don’t be silly. One doesn’t strive to behave badly.” She sighed. “I see no reason to prolong your presence at our dinner. What did you wish to discuss?”
If she’d been eating, he had a feeling she would have choked. She came to her feet in a rush of black crepe that he was surprised didn’t tip over the table, or at the very least, her chair. “May I see you in the hallway?”
“If you insist.”
In what he was coming to recognize as her self-righteous stride, she made her way around the table and headed for the door. He shifted around and watched her. He wondered what all she wore beneath those skirts. The ladies he’d been intimate with wore very little—when a man paid for services he didn’t want to be bothered with having to work to get to what he’d paid for. He had a feeling bedding the duchess would be a great deal of bother—but a journey that might be well worth the trouble.
She stopped at the door and looked over her shoulder. “Mr. Dodger.”
“Oh, right.” He came to his feet, sauntered to the door, and opened it for her.
She stepped through and spun around to face him before he’d closed the door fully behind him.
“Discussing your bedchamber is hardly appropriate in front of a five-year-old, impressionable boy,” she said.
“Does he not realize I sleep in a bedchamber?”
He actually heard the gnashing of her teeth. Her temper was so easily pricked. What sport Feagan’s lads would have had with her.
“I assumed your sleeping arrangements were not what you wished to discuss, but rather mine, from last night,” she said.
Leaning back against the wall, he crossed his arms over his chest and wondered what she found so offensive about bedchambers, what debauchery might have occurred in hers. “Actually, I wanted to discuss your husband’s wardrobe. I need his clothes removed. Give them to the servants. I believe that’s the usual practice, isn’t it? Oh, and just so you know, I have the sort of memory that can remember the smallest of details. Be certain it’s only the clothes that are removed.”
“There are some personal items, some things a father might pass on to his son.”
“If they’re listed in your son’s ledger, you have leave to take them.”
“You can’t possibly think Lovingdon listed every single item he possessed? Or that he truly meant for you to have everything within this residence. There are letters I wrote him, mementos I gave him. They mean nothing to you.”
“True, but they mean something to you. Therefore they have value.” He saw her temper flare, and before she could object, he said, “Consider their worth. We’ll negotiate. Meanwhile, I’m going to my club, but I intend to take up official residence here tomorrow.”
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