Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(38) by Lorraine Heath
“What did you do to him?” she demanded to know.
Jack touched the back of his hand to his aching cheek, brought it away, and stared at the blood.
“I’m s-sorry,” the boy cried, tears streaking his cheeks. “I-I w-won’t do it again. I p-promise.”
“What are you on about, boy?”
Jack heard a sound in the doorway. The nanny had arrived, concern clearly etched in her features, but he wasn’t certain it was for the boy. He thought it more likely it was for herself, because she’d lost track of the lad. What was her name? Hazel? Harriet? Helen? Helen, that was it.
“I’ll take him, Your Grace,” she said, reaching for the boy.
“No, you won’t,” Jack said sharply, and everyone stared at him. At least they’d stopped their yelling. “Not until I understand what’s going on here.”
“It’s obvious he’s terrified of you,” the duchess snapped.
“I can see he’s frightened,” Jack stated calmly, when he felt anything except calm. “What did you do wrong, lad?”
The boy vigorously shook his head.
“What do you think I’m going to do to you?”
The boy shook his head again.
“Leave him be,” his mother stated, turning toward the door, her arms wrapped around the boy.
“No.” The threat of some sort of retribution must have been clear in his voice because she stopped and glanced back at him. “You seem to forget that I’m his guardian. I will have the answer to my questions if we have to stand here all day.”
He remembered how Swindler had crouched before the duchess the day before and while it went against Jack’s instincts to cower before anyone, he crouched, putting himself on eye level with the lad, trying to be as non-threatening as possible. “Are you afraid of me?”
The boy nodded.
The boy looked up at his mother, looked at his nanny.
“Don’t look to them for the answer, boy, look to yourself. What do you think I’m going to do to you?”
The boy began to study his toes.
“Do you remember what I told you yesterday morning? That your father asked me to protect you? I didn’t know your father well, Henry, but I know he cared for you very much and I do not take lightly the request he has made of me. I told you I’d never let anyone hurt you. So why are you afraid of me?”
He watched as the boy swallowed. His lower lip quivered. “You-you’ll b-burn my th-thumb.”
“Why would I do that?”
“B-because I f-forgot and-and sucked it w-when I-I was s-sleeping.”
So he’d awakened, discovered his thumb in his mouth, and went into hiding. The picture was beginning to take shape. “Who told you I’d burn your thumb if you stuck it in your mouth?”
“My nanny,” he whispered as though he were bearing the weight of a heavy secret.
With his gaze on the nanny, who looked as though all the blood had drained from her face, Jack slowly unfolded his body. “I’ll not be used to terrorize children into behaving. You’re let go. Pack your things and be gone within the hour.”
“But, sir, I saw no other choice. He’s the young duke now. He shouldn’t suck his thumb.”
“It’s his thumb. I don’t give a damn if he sucks it until he’s a grown man. Pack your things.”
Helen looked to the duchess. “Your Grace, have pity.”
The duchess opened her mouth—
“Disagree with me on this and you can pack your bags as well,” Jack stated in a firm voice that left no room for argument.
She looked at him, and for the first time, no anger or hatred was reflected in her eyes. Only horror and a deep sorrow at what they’d discovered. She turned back to the nanny. “He’s right. What you did was monstrously wrong, unfair to Mr. Dodger, and unbearably cruel to my son. I can neither forgive you nor speak in your defense. I fear Mr. Dodger was too generous in giving you an hour. I want you gone in half that time.”
The nanny released a hideous sob before turning and fleeing down the hallway.
Jack lowered his gaze to the boy. “I will never hurt you. Do you understand?”
The boy blinked, nodded.
“You’re bleeding,” the duchess said.
“I’ve bled before. Now, I want a bath, so get the hell out.”
“Get out,” he ground out through clenched teeth, interrupting whatever the hell the duchess was going to say. “Because you, Duchess, I’m likely to hurt.”
She ushered the boy out, reached back to grab the knob, and stilled. “I wasn’t going to disagree with your decision to dismiss Helen—even before you threatened me.”
Did she think that confession would ease his temper? Before he could think of an appropriate response, she quietly closed the door.
Jack tore at his cravat. It wasn’t enough. He strode to a small table beside the couch in the sitting area. He picked up a vase and slammed it into the hearth, shattering it into a thousand pieces. It didn’t make him feel any better.
He’d garnered the low opinion of men for years. Why was he so bothered that a silly duchess thought him capable of harming her son? Her opinion didn’t matter. She was nothing to him. He didn’t care what she thought. At every turn she expected the worst. What had her husband been thinking, to name Jack guardian?
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online