Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(43) by Lorraine Heath
“What are you doing?” he rasped.
She swallowed the tight ball suddenly lodged in her throat. “You-you were sleeping. I thought to make you more comfortable.”
He lowered his gaze to her mouth and she realized it had been so very long since she’d been this close to a man, so very, very long since her lips had been so near to being kissed. She recognized the passion flaring in his eyes. Her heart thudded, her knees weakened, and she thought she was in danger of finding herself sprawled in his lap. She fully expected him to draw her nearer, to place that perfectly shaped mouth, those full lips on hers—
Lifting his free hand, he cradled her cheek. His palm was much rougher than Lovingdon’s had been. Rougher and larger. He skimmed his thumb over her lips, before lifting his gaze back to hers. “Careful, Duchess,” he said in a gruff voice. “I’m not a man who settles for only a kiss.”
Humiliation slammed into her, and she feared he saw in her eyes what she saw reflected in his. Desire. Desire that must go unsatisfied, that must be left to burn itself out, lest she find herself burning for all eternity. She had too much pride to admit he’d accurately guessed what she wanted and was too cowardly to reach for. To protect herself, she chose to be stern. “Unhand me, sir.”
Abruptly he released her. Her balance was off. She started to fall and he grabbed her waist with both hands. With great difficulty in retaining her dignity, she righted herself and stepped back, brushing her hands over her skirt.
He cocked his head to the side. “What are you doing here, Olivia? Trying to steal my ledger?”
“I’m not the thief here, sir.”
“No, you’re not. So what did you want?”
She felt so terribly silly. “Brittles said you had yet to eat, so I brought you something.”
He gave her a look that made her think he was considering devouring her. She spun on her heel and went to the desk, moving the tray closer to the chair on the other side. “It’s lamb and potatoes. You really should eat.”
She cleared her throat. “I prepared the tray myself.”
“I haven’t servants to prepare trays?”
“You’re making this so blasted difficult.”
Jack studied her, tried not to think about how his hands had spanned her waist. He didn’t want to remember how he’d awoken to find her hovering over him. How close her lips had been to his, how with the slightest of movements he could have known the taste of her. He was not in the habit of denying himself pleasures, but she was dangerous in ways he didn’t care to examine.
“Are you trying to make amends?” he asked.
She looked over her shoulder at him. “I’m trying to be a bit more pleasant.”
“Pleasant, is it?” He got out of the chair, went to the table in the corner, and lifted the top from a decanter. “Would you care to join me?”
“No, thank you. You do like your spirits, don’t you?”
“Been drinking gin since I was eight. See no reason to stop now.” He walked to the desk and removed the lid covering the plate. The delicious aromas hit him, and only then did he realize he was famished. He took his chair.
“Brittles said you didn’t eat yesterday afternoon. Do you often work without taking the time to eat?” she asked.
“I can’t stand hovering females. Either sit down or leave.”
To his immense surprise and pleasure, she sat. “You didn’t answer my question.”
He cut off a bit of lamb and popped it into his mouth, savoring the flavor. “I work during most meals. Time not working is time spent not making money.”
“You care a good deal about money.”
“I care only about money.”
“Is that the reason you agreed to the terms of the will?”
He chewed, swallowed. “Yes.” He tapped the knife against the plate. “Why are you here?” He waved his hand over the plate. “Why this?”
Glancing down at her hands, balled in her lap, she shifted in her chair before lifting her gaze back to him. “I may have judged you unfairly. In every situation, I have thought the worst. I thought the inspector was here to arrest you. I thought your bookkeeper was a prostitute. I thought you’d done something to hurt Henry. I’m trying to apologize and I’m not very good at it.”
“Don’t apologize often?”
“I’m not often wrong.”
In a heartbeat, she’d gone from contrite to haughty. He preferred her that way, displaying her steel rather than her softness. But even with the steel, she possessed an uncommon beauty. It hadn’t been entirely noticeable when he’d first met her. It was as though with each moment’s passing, he noticed more things about her and those in turn enhanced her beauty. She had the faintest dusting of freckles across her cheeks, and he imagined her playing outside without benefit of a hat or parasol. He imagined her first Season and all the gentlemen who would have swarmed around her.
“Why did you marry him?” he asked.
She glanced at her hands again, as though she kept the answer hidden there. “My father wished it.”
“Lovingdon was considerably older than you.”
She nodded, lifting her gaze to his. “But he was my father’s friend. He needed an heir for his respected title. And I was a dutiful daughter. I did as my father wanted. In my world, Mr. Dodger, daughters tend to obey their fathers.”
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