Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(35) by Lorraine Heath
But at least thinking of him allowed her thoughts to wander away from Jack Dodger. She drew on her night wrap and left her room.
She was halfway down the stairs when she heard the feminine laughter drifting up from the foyer, followed by a deep rumble that she recognized as Dodger’s. After tossing and turning with unfulfilled desires for the past hour because of his innuendo, she wasn’t in the mood to tolerate his flirting with the maids or taking advantage of his position over them. If she was to go unsatisfied this night, he could as well.
Quickening her pace, she arrived in the foyer just as Dodger was dismissing Brittles, who promptly took his leave. A woman stood with Dodger, her hair a vibrant red that diminished all the colors in her proximity. Olivia didn’t know her, but she had no doubt regarding the type of woman he’d bring to the residence at such a late hour. She wouldn’t tolerate this sort of behavior. She simply wouldn’t. Especially in the bedchamber next to hers.
Dodger and the strumpet turned toward her. “Ah, Olivia, you’re up rather late, aren’t you?” he drawled.
She marched up to him. “I will not allow you to bring strange women into the house. You must take her elsewhere to sate your lust.”
He narrowed his dark eyes, and she watched as a muscle jumped in his jaw. “It’s my house, and she is here because I desire it. We’re going to take care of our business in the library.” He leaned toward her. “You’re even welcome to watch if you’d like. I’m sure you’ll find our exploits quite imaginative and entertaining.”
Before Olivia could offer a solid retort, the woman slapped his arm. “Jack, what mischief are you about?”
“Stay out of this, Frannie,” he growled, never taking his gaze from Olivia.
Olivia fought not to look away. An obvious familiarity existed between him and the woman, and she didn’t want to consider that she might be more than a prostitute he’d picked up off the streets for an evening’s entertainment, that she might be his mistress, someone who frequently warmed his bed. He possessed a magnetic virility her husband hadn’t, and she suspected it took frequent beddings to keep his lust in check. With those thoughts, she could feel heat swarming to her cheeks, knew she was blushing, because satisfaction touched his eyes.
What was she thinking to confront him? Olivia was playing with the devil. A dangerous thing to do when she didn’t know the rules of the game.
“You will apologize to my guest,” he said.
“Not now, Frannie.”
The single word came out as a command and to Olivia’s surprise, her nemesis obeyed it. He backed up, and while the taut muscles in his jaw didn’t slacken, the heat in his eyes cooled somewhat. “She owes you an apology.”
“She does not. What else is she to think when you bring a woman into the house this late at night?”
“She’s not to think you’re a whore.”
“Well your behavior upon our arrival didn’t help matters.” She stepped in front of him and curtsied slightly. “Your Grace, I’m Frannie Darling. His bookkeeper. He’s asked me to take a look at the books.”
“Frannie, your purpose here is not her concern.”
“Perhaps not, but you’re giving the impression I’m here for a very different and improper reason. I deserve better than that.”
He cursed harshly beneath his breath. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
His contriteness was sincere, and Olivia wondered if the woman meant more to him than he would ever acknowledge.
“However, I’m not the one who first insinuated you are anything other than what you are.”
“No, but you did nothing to correct the misunderstanding,” Miss Darling said, sounding quite hurt.
“I must apologize as well,” Olivia began. “I assumed the worst. I’m sorry.”
She smiled. “Most do where Jack is concerned. It’s a reputation he’s worked quite hard to shape.”
“Frannie—” he ground out.
“Oh, do be civil, or I’ll not look at your books.” She gave her attention back to Olivia. “As unlikely as it seems, considering his success, he’s terrible with numbers.”
“I’m not as bad as all that,” he grumbled.
When Miss Darling gave him a pointed glare, he muttered, “But I’m not as good as you. Can we get to work now?”
“Of course,” Miss Darling said. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Your Grace. And Jack is quite right. You’re more than welcome to join us.”
Olivia was suddenly very much aware she was in her nightclothes, hardly the proper attire for entertaining. “I shall have some refreshments prepared for you.”
“That would be lovely, thank you,” Miss Darling said.
Olivia watched as they walked down the hallway, Dodger seeming to be very careful to leave a discreet distance between him and Miss Darling. She realized Frannie Darling meant something special to him. She wondered what it would be like to have the attentions of a man as young, virile, and darkly dangerous as Jack Dodger.
Frannie Darling sat at the large mahogany desk in the grand library and studied the books and ledgers Jack had set before her with almost as much concentration as she studied him. He was lounging on a couch near the window, looking through a black ledger as though he were seeking an answer to a puzzle that baffled him.
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