Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(36) by Lorraine Heath
She’d known Jack for a good many years. He’d always been as an older brother might be, looking out for her, making certain no one ever harmed her or hurt her feelings. It was one of the reasons she’d been so surprised this evening when he’d purposely led the duchess to believe something improper was afoot. It made her wonder why he cared what the duchess’s opinion of him was and why he wanted it to be unflattering. While she’d never known him to be afraid of anything, she was well aware he studiously avoided any entanglements that might involve the heart.
He never spoke of his past, his origins, or his mother, but Feagan had once told her that Jack’s mother had sold him. “Imagine how ye’d feel if someone ye loved put a value on ye,” Feagan had said. Frannie couldn’t imagine it.
She also believed that something horrible had happened to Jack when he was in prison with Luke. Before he spent time in prison, Jack had laughed often, and when he did, Feagan’s children laughed with him. But when he returned to Feagan after his incarceration, his laughter had changed. It no longer contained even a sprinkling of joy.
She’d asked him about it once, but he’d refused to talk about what he called the dark times. Luke, too, was silent on the matter; but when the two of them looked at each other, Frannie knew that whatever had transpired affected them both, brought them together and separated them from everyone else.
Jack had erected walls, and in some ways, she thought he was still in prison—one of his own making, but a prison just the same.
She also wondered what his true feelings were regarding the duchess. He’d been sitting on the couch nonchalantly as though he hadn’t a care in the world, but when a knock sounded on the door, he’d looked up, and she’d seen a trace of anticipation cross his face, revealed for only a heartbeat and quickly shuttered. He’d had less success disguising the disappointment that registered on his face when only a serving girl came in with biscuits and tea. Frannie had a feeling he’d been hoping the duchess had decided to join them. Not that he’d ever admit it. He gave nothing away that would make him seem vulnerable.
With a yawn, she stretched her arms and arched her back to ease the kinks out of it. She’d been scouring the books for more than two hours now.
As though accurately judging that she was calling it a night, Jack got up, walked to the desk, and sat on the corner. “What do you think?”
“Not too shabby. But you’re right. The money isn’t being invested as wisely as it might be.”
“I suppose I could invest it in Dodger’s.”
“I don’t think your widow would approve.”
“She’s not my widow.”
She wasn’t entirely convinced of that assessment. “You’re not very nice to her.”
“I’m as nice as she deserves.”
“But wouldn’t it be better to be nicer than she deserves? Then she might come to like you.”
“I’ve never cared what anyone’s opinion of me is. You’re well aware of that.”
Ah, the man did have a stubborn streak in him. “Her life has taken a drastic turn. I can’t imagine the strength it would take to go on after losing one’s husband.”
He drummed his fingers on the desk as though he was losing patience with her. “I’ve tried to be cordial.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “I pray that encounter in the entry hallway was not your being cordial.”
“She finds fault with me at every turn and I take exception to her opinion.”
“Frannie.” He held up his hand. “I will deal with the widow on my terms as I see fit.”
“Fine. Be stubborn.” She slammed the book closed. “I’m tired. I’ll take this book with me. I want to study it a bit more closely.”
He shifted off the desk and dropped into the chair across from her. “We’ll have to purchase her a house.”
“What’s wrong with this one?”
“You have no need of it. You’ve told me on numerous occasions you’ll never marry or have children.”
“That’s beside the point.”
“Why did you want her to think we were going to do something naughty in here?”
“She thinks the worst of me. Might as well meet her expectations.”
“So you do care what she thinks.”
“Don’t be daft, Frannie. It doesn’t suit you.”
“You’re most disagreeable.”
He rubbed his brow. “I’m sorry. I’m tired. I’ve slept very little since last night, but it’s a small price to pay. What do you think of the residence?”
“I think it’s very lovely.” She eased forward and propped her chin in her palms, her elbows on the desk. “Feagan always said you’d go farther than any of us.”
Jack glanced around. “But I didn’t bring myself to this, so it doesn’t count as my achievement.”
“Most would just take their good fortune and be glad of it.”
“I don’t trust good fortune that comes so easily. There is always a price to be paid, Frannie. Always.” He gave her a cocky grin. “I want to know the price before I have to pay it.”
“You’ve had a harsh life, Jack. Maybe it’s simply your turn to have some good.”
“If only life were that fair.” He abruptly came to his feet. “Come on, then, let’s get back to the club. For us the night is still young.”
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