Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(37) by Lorraine Heath
The following morning, as unprecedented weariness settled over him, Jack realized he should have slept after he and Frannie returned to his club. Instead he’d dealt with a lord who had been accused of cheating at hazard and spent considerable time explaining to one of his girls that he couldn’t kill a man because he’d grown tired of bringing her favors. Then he had a short conversation with the Earl of Chesney that might offer a solution to one of his problems. Swindler had stopped by to inform Jack that all he’d discovered about the cousins so far was that they led very private lives—and that, he believed, was cause for him to scrutinize them more closely. Swindler liked a good puzzle. Whatever the cousins were hiding, he’d discover it. But the majority of Jack’s night had been spent studying plans to increase his profits.
As he’d told Frannie, he’d slept little since the reading of the will, so exhaustion claimed him when he walked into his residence and was greeted with chaos. He heard scrapings as though furniture was being moved around, and various voices were calling, “Henry! Your Grace! Young Master!”
The lad had no doubt created some sort of stir. Jack wouldn’t have thought him capable of much more than sitting quietly and behaving. Good for him. It was natural for a boy to create mischief now and then.
Jack had just started up the stairs when he spied the duchess hurrying down them.
“Oh, thank God, you’re here at last,” she said on a rush.
He grinned at her. “Finally starting to appreciate me, are you?”
“No, you buffoon, Henry is gone.”
Jack wanted his bed, not to play a child’s game of hide and seek. “What do you mean he’s gone?”
“He’s disappeared. When his nanny woke up this morning, he wasn’t in his bed. No one has seen him. We thought perhaps you’d taken him. Did you?” She spoke quickly as though desperate to make her point so he could provide the answer she sought. Now he could see that worry clouded her eyes.
“Then where is he? Has he been stolen, do you think? Is it as you suspected? He’s in danger?”
He grabbed her shoulders. “Calm down, Olivia.”
She broke free of his grasp and nearly tumbled down the stairs. “I don’t want to calm down! I want to find my son! What if…what if he’s been harmed?” she wailed.
“Who would harm him?”
“You seemed to think someone would.”
He rubbed his chin. “Yes, yes, yes.” He had thought the lad might be in some danger, but how could anyone have gotten the boy out from under the watchful eye of his nanny? Well, not so watchful, apparently. But still, he thought it unlikely that someone had crept into the house, taken Henry, and crept out. “Where have you looked?”
“Everywhere. Is this one of your sick pranks, one of the ways you think to bring me to heel?”
“I’ve not been here for hours. How could this be my doing?”
“I haven’t the foggiest, but I have no doubt that you could be responsible.”
He’d had enough of her suspicions. He started up the stairs.
“Where are you going?” she called after him. She was panting as though she’d been rushing around and was suddenly unable to catch a breath. She always seemed in control. It unnerved him to see her in a panic.
“To my chambers to splash a bit of water on my face and get my senses back so I can deal with this situation.”
He recognized the echo of her rapid footsteps as she followed him. Amazing how much about her was beginning to become familiar. The sound of her steps, her fragrance.
“You didn’t take him with you when you left?”
“Of course not.” He reached the landing. “Maybe he headed to the Great Exhibition. He wanted to go, didn’t he?”
“He wouldn’t strike out on his own. He wouldn’t even know where to go.”
“He’s a boy, Duchess. He doesn’t need to know the path to adventure. He simply needs to recognize that it awaits.”
He opened the door to his bedchamber.
“But what if he’s been stolen?” she asked. It sounded as though she was skirting the edge of hysteria. He knew the only comfort she’d welcome involved the finding of her son.
“We’ll send for Swindler. The man can follow clues blindfolded.”
He walked into his room, surprised that she followed him inside. Obviously her panic took precedence over proper behavior. If apprehension hadn’t been rolling off of her in waves, he might have teased her about it.
He was walking to the stand that held the porcelain basin when he heard a bump in the wardrobe that he passed. Had they looked everywhere? Or had they only looked where they’d expected the boy to be?
Jack jerked open the wardrobe door. The boy lunged out like a wild thing.
“N-no! I w-won’t l-let you! I d-didn’t m-mean t-to!”
Jack instinctively caught the boy, wrapping his arms around him, trying to still his ferocious thrashing. He was in his nightclothes, fighting like a tiger. Lost in intense fear, he was tenacious. “Hold on there, lad.”
“Let him go. What have you done to him? Let him go!” the duchess screamed.
Jack ducked. What the devil was she hitting him with? He felt the skin split in his cheek. He cursed soundly, dodged another whap!, and released the boy, who promptly kicked his shin.
Wasn’t this all just bloody wonderful.
Breathing heavily, he backed up yet another step to get beyond reach of the offending weapon—he could see now that she was holding a cast-iron poker—and her wrath. The boy was blubbering that he was sorry. With hate in her eyes directed at Jack, and the poker still at the ready, the duchess had one arm wrapped protectively around her son.
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