Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(42) by Lorraine Heath
Henry sat on the floor and the puppies bounded over to him. He laughed. Lord Chesney crouched beside him. “Which one do you want?”
Henry looked up at Mr. Dodger.
“Don’t look to me, lad, look to yourself.”
Henry studied the puppies. It was so difficult to decide. What if he made a mistake?
“There’s no wrong answer, lad,” Mr. Dodger said quietly.
Henry snatched up the first puppy that had landed in his lap and hugged him close. “This one!”
“That one, it is,” Lord Chesney said with a laugh, standing up, his knees creaking as he went.
Henry glanced back at Mr. Dodger, who handed Lord Chesney a small pouch that jingled when it landed in his palm. As they were walking back to the carriage, holding his puppy close, Henry said, “He c-cost a lot.”
“Not really. I suspect in the end he’ll make me money.”
“Can you hold a confidence?”
Henry nodded even though he didn’t know what a confidence was.
Mr. Dodger grinned broadly. “When his pockets are full, Lord Chesney plays very loosely at the gaming tables. Tonight he’ll spend what I just gave him and then some, so it comes back into my coffers.”
Henry wasn’t exactly sure what Mr. Dodger was talking about. “Will he t-take the dog back then?”
“Hell no. The dog is yours.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome, lad.”
He knew his mother wouldn’t agree, but Henry thought Mr. Dodger was a very good guardian.
Olivia stood outside the library door waiting for her courage to return.
Henry adored his new puppy. He’d named it Pippin. She didn’t know where he’d gotten the name. But he already loved the animal so much, that it was as though they’d been made for each other.
She had one of the chambermaids watching Henry while she offered an olive branch—or in her situation, a meal.
As soon as they’d returned home, Dodger had gone to the library, no doubt to study the books further. He’d asked for no refreshments nor called for any of the servants.
It was early afternoon. As she thought of his assortment of bottles, she tried not to wonder if he’d indulged, if no one had heard from him because he was lying on the floor in a drunken stupor. She seemed unable to think about him without expecting the worst, and to her shame, she had to acknowledge her low opinion of him was unfounded.
Regardless of her trepidation it was time to confront him, time to put matters to right. She nodded at the footman. He opened the door. Taking a deep breath, she walked in, carrying the tray. Her heart thudded with the closing of the door. She’d expected Dodger to make some scathing comment and was surprised to find he wasn’t sitting at his desk but in a chair near the window.
Although sitting wasn’t the correct word. He was fairly sprawled in it, with one leg stretched out, the open ledger in his lap, his head at an awkward angle, his eyes closed. Yet even in slumber, he didn’t appear innocent.
As quietly as possible, she walked over the carpet and set the tray on the desk. Curiosity getting the better of her, she cautiously approached the man whom Lovingdon had deemed worthy of guarding his son. She was not yet ready to proclaim that he was the best selection, but she was willing to reluctantly admit he might not be the worst.
He really was in dire need of having his hair trimmed. She considered what it might be like to thread her fingers through his unruly curls. The disheveled strands should have given him the appearance of a child—but nothing about him reflected the innocence of youth. She suspected he hadn’t been innocent even when he was born.
His face contained a cragginess that remained, even in sleep, as though the harshness of his life never left him at peace. She wanted to reach out and ease the furrow between his brows. A strange thing to desire.
She felt a trifle wicked standing there, watching him without his knowing.
His hand flicked, and she almost screeched. It was resting on an open page of his ledger. Curled slightly, it revealed that horrible burn. She’d not given any thought to how much it had to have hurt, but had focused on what it represented. She couldn’t imagine him willingly holding out his hand to accept a brand. He would have fought. They would have had to hold him down. Her stomach roiled. Even if he’d stolen, did he deserve to be burned? Did anyone?
She lifted her gaze back to the welt on his cheek. It was red, inflamed. He hadn’t deserved that, either. He hadn’t deserved her wrath or mistrust.
What he did deserve, she decided, was undisturbed rest. She remembered how he’d expressed concern she’d wake up stiff if he’d left her in Henry’s bed. He was going to do the same, but she certainly couldn’t carry him to bed. Although she thought she could make him a bit more comfortable. If she just eased the ledger…
Iron clamped around her wrist, jerking her forward—
Releasing the tiniest of screeches, she halted her progress by shoving her hand against something hard—Jack Dodger’s chest. Her face was uncomfortably close to his, and for a moment she knew sheer terror, because in his eyes she saw reflected a savagery that she suspected existed only on battlefields. His breathing was harsh, his chest moving up and down beneath her fingers. Her knees had hit the chair, and to her mortification, she realized she’d somehow become wedged between his thighs.
She was afraid to move, afraid not to. He was looking at her as though he’d never seen her before, as though he was trying to determine how every aspect of her features had been formed.
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