Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(40) by Lorraine Heath
Olivia didn’t want to think that at that very moment, Jack Dodger was in her dressing room…bathing. How would she climb into the tub and sink beneath the water knowing that his bare person had touched the same copper as hers? She should share a dressing room only with someone she knew well. While they wouldn’t be in the tub at the same time, it still seemed rather intimate and decadent.
And thinking about Jack Dodger’s bareness was not what she needed to be concentrating on. She needed to focus on finding Henry a new nanny.
Henry was nestled against her side as they sat on a settee beside the window in the day nursery. He’d tucked his thumb inside his hand and curled his fingers around it, as though determined not to suck on it. Yet if ever a time was right for sucking it, this morning seemed to be it.
She knew he needed to break his habit, but she could hardly fathom that Helen had used so cruel a means to try to stop him from slipping his thumb into his mouth. But as unsettled as she was by Helen’s actions, she was even more amazed by Dodger’s. Her opinion of him had shifted during those tense moments, shifted in his favor. She’d been on the receiving end of his blistering glare, but it had never burned as hotly as it had when he’d directed it at Helen. Olivia was surprised the young lady hadn’t burst into flames.
Olivia had feared Dodger would be as cutting with Henry as he was with her. She’d expected him to give no care to her son’s feelings. She’d expected him to be as harsh and unforgiving as he seemed to be with all things. He’d surprised her.
She’d judged Jack Dodger based on conversations she’d had with other ladies. They’d spoken of men coming home in the early hours reeking of drink and women—and Olivia had assumed Jack Dodger drank heavily and fornicated often. One lady had mentioned that her husband had sold her jewelry to acquire funds for his gambling habit—and Olivia had assumed Dodger spent an abundance of time at the gaming tables. He lounged while sitting, and she considered him slovenly. But he dressed impeccably and even now he was bathing.
She’d considered him mean-spirited, and yet he’d not fought back when she’d struck him with the poker. He’d simply moved beyond her reach, when she had little doubt he could have effectively wrestled her to the ground. As bluntly as he’d spoken to Henry to get to the root of the problem, he’d somehow managed to elicit the child’s confidence, and he had confessed everything.
She’d considered him unlikable, but the woman last night—Frannie Darling—had teased and cajoled and even slapped his shoulder playfully. She’d chastised him and he’d not retaliated. He’d taken it as his due.
She’d considered him a man who would do anything for a coin. Her son’s finances were now in his hands and he could surely divest him of everything—yet he’d indicated he wouldn’t. A ploy perhaps, to cause her to lower her guard. If she trusted him, then he could get away with a good deal more. If she trusted him, might she find herself enjoying his presence? No, never. The only thing they had in common was her son, and they disagreed on every aspect concerning him.
Well, almost every aspect. She did agree with Dodger that Helen had to be dismissed. It was an appalling bit of behavior on her part to use Dodger to frighten her son into behaving. How had she missed that Helen was capable of doing such a thing? Had she made other veiled threats to Henry?
He was such a quiet, good boy. Shy, to be sure, but Olivia had always assumed his stammering was responsible because it embarrassed him. Lovingdon hadn’t been concerned by it. “It’s the Lovingdon curse. He’ll grow out of it. I did.”
So Olivia tried not to worry about it. He was like his father in so many ways. He had his blond hair, but her amber eyes. He had long limbs and she knew eventually he would grow into his father’s height. But with Dodger as his guardian, she didn’t see how he would acquire his father’s dignity.
The door burst open, startling both her and Henry, and Dodger strode in with a confidence she didn’t think even Lovingdon had possessed.
“Henry, let’s go,” he said.
Henry started to ease away from her, but she drew him back. “Where are you taking him?”
“As I’m his guardian, I don’t have to explain my actions to you, but as you’re his mother and no doubt concerned about his welfare, I shall tell you. I’m taking him for a ride in my brougham.”
“I thought you were going to sleep.” After hearing something shatter, she’d had a quick word with Stiles after he’d left Dodger’s room to make certain everything was all right. He was going to have the remnants of a vase cleared away after Dodger awoke.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “I was, but I decided I needed to see to this matter instead.”
“What matter is that?”
She heard a deep purr like that of a large cat contemplating its next victim. “Olivia, you do try my patience. Come on, boy.”
Olivia could feel the tremor that went through Henry before he pulled away from her and got to his feet.
“I can’t let you take him anywhere without me,” she said as she rose. “I’ll come with you.”
“Shouldn’t you be interviewing nannies?”
“I’m going to have one of the chambermaids assume the role until I can gather some recommendations.”
He gave her an impatient glare. “I’ve had the brougham readied. I’m on a schedule today. I don’t have time to wait for the coach, and as you so kindly pointed out, my vehicle is more suited to two.”
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