Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(41) by Lorraine Heath
“Henry can sit on my lap. I will fight you tooth and nail if need be, but I will not let you take him without me.”
Something shifted in his eyes as though he’d welcome the challenge. She wasn’t altogether certain it would end in fisticuffs, but the thought of them wrestling—
“All right, let’s go, then. Be quick about it. I haven’t all day.”
Grabbing Henry’s hand, Olivia wondered what she was getting herself into.
Henry sat on his mother’s lap. He’d always liked riding in the brougham with his father because the front of it was a window that made it very easy to see everything. He could observe the world and it was all so fascinating.
Although the carriage did seem very small with Mr. Dodger sitting in it. He wondered if his mother had realized how much room Mr. Dodger would take up and how crowded they’d be. He could feel the tension in his mother. She was barely breathing. It was what Henry did when he got frightened at night—he lay in bed, barely breathing, as though somehow bad things couldn’t find him if he didn’t breathe.
He wondered if his mother was afraid of Mr. Dodger. He wondered if he should be afraid of him. Mr. Dodger had told him he wouldn’t burn him, had told Miss Tuppin he didn’t care if Henry sucked on his thumb. That had made Henry feel better, but it had also made him want to stop sucking on his thumb, so he was keeping it tucked tightly behind his fingers to prevent his putting it in his mouth.
Mr. Dodger didn’t wear a top hat like Henry’s father had done. But he wore a nice black jacket. And his waistcoat was a dark green with gold buttons, not the purple one he’d worn yesterday.
He looked tired. Once he yawned without covering his mouth, which had made Henry’s mother sniff. Even Henry knew a gentleman was supposed to put his hand over his mouth when he yawned. After his mother made her sound of displeasure, Mr. Dodger had winked at Henry as though they were sharing a secret. It made Henry think that Mr. Dodger knew the rule about yawning, too, but thought it would be more fun to make Henry’s mother sniff. While he didn’t think his mother liked Mr. Dodger, he thought maybe Mr. Dodger liked her.
The carriage pulled into a cobbled drive, and Henry could see a large residence looming before them.
“That’s Lord Chesney’s residence,” his mother said. “It’s far too early in the day for a social call.”
“We’re not here for a social call,” Mr. Dodger said.
“Why are we here?” his mother asked.
“Because the young duke needs to see him.”
Mr. Dodger was looking forward, but it seemed to Henry that he was suddenly happy. He noticed just the smallest shift in the shape of his mouth as though he might have the tiniest of smiles.
“Because the earl’s bitch recently had a litter of puppies.”
Henry thought his heart was going to leap out of his chest. “Puppies?”
Mr. Dodger looked at him and winked again. “Promised you one, didn’t I?”
Henry didn’t see his hand move, but suddenly he was extending a card toward Henry. “Your calling card.”
“That’s the duke’s,” his mother said.
“Yes, I found them in a desk drawer. They rightfully belong to your son now, as he’s the duke.”
Henry’s mother blinked several times, the way she did when she was trying not to cry.
The carriage came to a stop. The footman hopped down, opened the door, and unfolded the steps. Mr. Dodger climbed out. Henry scrambled out after him. Mr. Dodger looked back into the carriage and extended his hand. “Coming, Duchess?”
She looked at Mr. Dodger, then looked at Henry and gave him a sad smile. “I’m in mourning. It wouldn’t be proper. Be a gentleman, Henry.”
Henry nodded and looked up at Mr. Dodger. He was a little afraid and wanted to take Mr. Dodger’s hand, but Mr. Dodger didn’t look at all frightened. He patted Henry’s shoulder, which was almost as comforting as taking his hand. “Come along, lad.”
Henry followed Mr. Dodger up the steps and into the house. A butler approached.
“Show him your card,” Mr. Dodger said.
Henry did as he was told. The butler put it on a silver plate and walked away. Henry fought very hard to stand perfectly still, as still as Mr. Dodger. He wanted to hop and jump around and clap his hands. He was getting a puppy.
It seemed forever before a fellow with a large, round belly appeared. “Ah, Your Grace. Mr. Dodger here informed me that you’re in want of a puppy.”
He smiled. “I’m Chesney. Sorry about your father. Good man. Very good man.”
Henry was sure he was supposed to say something—
“Thank you, Lord Chesney,” Mr. Dodger said. “The duke appreciates your sentiments.”
“But you’re more interested in my dogs, aren’t you, lad?”
Henry nodded quickly.
“Come on, then, I have a special room for my collies. I treat them royally…”
As he led them through the house, Lord Chesney continued to talk, telling Henry all about the dogs’ history, but Henry barely paid attention. All he cared about was the fact that he was going to have a dog.
Finally, they came to a small room. In a corner on a mound of pillows and blankets was a large white-and-brown dog. Around her three puppies tumbled.
“Go ahead, Your Grace, play with them. See which one suits you.”
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