Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(39) by Lorraine Heath
Staring at the broken vase, he thought of the boys who worked for him, of the night he’d almost killed a man in his club because he’d touched one of the boys in a way that no man should ever touch a boy. Had Lovingdon been there that night? Did he know that protecting young boys was Jack’s weakness?
“Could it be that simple?” he asked himself in a low whisper.
The door to the dressing room opened. For a second, Jack had expected to see the duchess coming from the room, and much to his chagrin, he’d felt a momentary surge of anticipation. But it was his manservant, Stiles. Jack had met him briefly the day before. He wasn’t much taller than the duchess, and he was up in years. But he still stood proud.
“The duchess said you were in need of some attention and a bath,” he said formally.
He bowed his head slightly. “You’re cut, sir.”
Jack again touched his tender cheek. His fingers came away with barely a speck of blood. “It’s fine.”
“I could send for a physician—”
“I said it’s fine. If you wish to stay in my employ, you won’t make me repeat myself.”
“Yes, sir. I have the maids bringing up the hot water now. The bath should be ready shortly.”
“Good. I’ll want one prepared every morning after I arrive and every evening before I leave.”
“As you wish, sir.”
“And when I take clothes off, I don’t wear them again until they’ve been washed and pressed.”
Jack had never had a manservant. He wasn’t certain he wanted one now. “I’m not a duke. I understand that your status might slip if you serve me. If you wish to leave, I’ll provide a good reference.”
The man tilted his head in acquiescence, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Thank you, sir, but I have served the duke from the time he was a young man. I’m comfortable in this household and change does not suit me. I prefer to stay if you have no objections.”
“Fair enough. I packed some clothes. They’re in the coach. Have a footman bring them up.”
“Yes, sir. Will there be anything else?”
“After my clothes are brought up, lay out something for me, then leave. I plan to sleep for a bit and I can dress myself.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Tell me, Stiles, did you ever disagree with the duke?”
The wrinkles in his face shifted as he smiled. “On occasion, sir. He had an atrocious lack of good judgment when it came to coordinating colors. Sometimes he would look like a randy peacock.”
“That won’t be a problem in dressing me. Everything I wear is black or white, except for my waistcoats.”
“Yes, sir. I did notice that you seemed to have quite the flair when it came to your waistcoats.”
Jack heard no censure in his voice. He thought the two of them might get along. “You miss him?”
“Very much so, sir.”
“Tell me, Stiles, did the other servants accept my becoming their master as well as you have?”
“I believe they’re reserving judgment, sir.”
“A pity the duchess couldn’t have done the same,” Jack mumbled. Then he waved Stiles off. “See to your business, while I see to my bath.”
Stiles quit the room. Jack went into the dressing room. His gaze immediately went to the other door, the door that led into Olivia’s bedchamber. She wouldn’t be there now; she’d be with Henry in the nursery. Maybe she’d even sleep in there now that he had no nanny.
Removing his jacket, he wondered if she’d bathed in that copper tub, imagined her lounging back, the heated water steaming her cheeks and throat, causing her hair to curl around her face. He imagined the water lapping at her breasts, her stomach, her hips, her thighs. He imagined her sitting with her knees serving as small islands in the middle of the tub.
He groaned with his body’s reaction to the erotic images bombarding him. Damned good thing he’d instructed his manservant to leave. He didn’t need to be parading about when his body was standing at full attention.
He removed the remainder of his clothes, stepped into the tub, and sank beneath the water. It was lovely. Absolutely bloody lovely.
Resting his head against the back of the tub, he closed his eyes. He wondered if he’d return to this house every morning to find some crisis afoot. He was going to have to find some time to spend with the boy. He supposed he should talk to Luke, find out what sorts of things a child of the nobility should know. Jack could teach him how to hide—
He chuckled with a mixture of pride and admiration. The boy had done a fairly good job of that himself. He was also more courageous than Jack had originally given him credit for—to hide so close to the lair of the one he feared. Yes, there was more to the boy than Jack had first realized. He still needed nurturing to become a man, but even with his stammering, he had a good start. If his mother would just give him leave to let go of her skirts.
His mother. Lord, when she was angry, she was something to behold. Jack slid down further in the tub. Not since he was a boy had he had anyone wash him, though he could certainly imagine her gliding the cloth over him. But as she wasn’t here, he’d have to do it himself. Pity.
He released a long sigh. He seemed unable to stay angry with her for long. He admired her tenacity when it came to protecting her son. He thought she was probably a woman capable of great love. He’d be content if she’d simply give him the benefit of the doubt from time to time.
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