Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(46) by Lorraine Heath
“I’m not sure. I thought finding a book to read might help to lull me to sleep.”
“I’ve found that only works when it’s a dull book.”
She couldn’t imagine him reading a book for pleasure. She assumed he took his pleasures from more carnal avenues. Feeling her cheeks warm with that thought, she eased closer to the desk. “When do you sleep?”
“A few hours here and there. I’ve never required much.”
She glanced at the various ledgers strewn over the desk. “You certainly devote a lot of your time to your finances.”
“Actually, it’s your finances I’m studying.”
Surprised by his words, she jerked her head up. “Why would you care about my finances?”
“I suppose it has to do with my humble beginnings.”
She laughed. “I can’t see anything about you being humble.”
He didn’t seem offended. Instead he indicated the couch near the window. “Have a seat and I’ll explain to you what I’m thinking.”
It was late, she was in her nightgown, and they were alone in the library. She could barely envision anything more improper—unless they were alone in his bedchamber. Still she was hesitant to leave. She’d always been glad when Lovingdon spent a bit of time with her, but it was because his visits had offered a respite from loneliness. Jack was offering her nothing more, and she could no longer deny her curiosity regarding him. He was not at all as she’d originally envisioned. She had a desire to explore this newly discovered facet to him.
She strolled as nonchalantly as she could to the couch. Little tremors were dancing beneath her skin, and she hoped he couldn’t discern that she was nervous. Sitting, she watched as he moved lithely to the table in the corner and proceeded to splash the contents of one of his bottles into two glasses. He carried both snifters between the fingers of one hand while carrying the decanter in the other. After setting the decanter on a table beside the couch, he extended one of the snifters toward her. She hesitated—
“My finest brandy. Come on now, where’s the harm? You’ll not go to hell for a bit of indulging.”
“Does God whisper in your ear, offering those truths?”
He offered her his tantalizing grin. “The devil, more like.”
“That doesn’t surprise me at all. I suspect you’re good friends.”
“The very best. Now, drink up. It’ll help warm you.”
“I’m not cold.”
“Must you always be so observant?” She took the snifter from him and drank. The liquid burned her throat, her lungs, brought tears to her eyes.
He reached over and patted her back, the heat of his hand burning through the material of her clothing. What would it be like to have flesh upon flesh? She fought not to contemplate the possibilities.
“Careful now, brandy is meant to be savored, not gulped.”
She took a deep breath as the warmth settled in the pit of her stomach. She thought it was from the liquor, but perhaps it was merely his nearness. His presence was almost overpowering, as though he were larger than life. From the first night, she’d noticed that he dominated any room—any conveyance—he occupied. It was part of the reason he unsettled her. He was not a man ever to be ignored.
“I’d not expected you to appreciate fine things.” She fairly wheezed the words, which made him grin.
“I’ve long appreciated the finer things in life. Why do you think I’ve worked so hard to acquire them?”
He sat on the other end of the couch, stretching his legs out in front of him, laying one arm lazily along the back, his long fingers tantalizingly close to her shoulders, and suddenly the furniture seemed incredibly small, hardly suited for holding more than one person.
“When the ladies spoke of you, your penchant for hard work was never mentioned.”
She took a sip of brandy. Inhaling the fumes burned her nostrils, yet she found pleasantness in the sensation. She wondered what pleasures the other bottles held. “During afternoon tea, you’re often discussed.”
He chuckled as though unexpectedly amused. “What would the ladies say about me?”
“That you’re on familiar terms with the devil.”
“That I am.” He lifted his snifter in a salute and drank its contents.
She tried not to be mesmerized watching his throat work. He was not wearing his cravat, waistcoat, or jacket. He’d loosened the buttons at his neck. Considering that she had no desire to upset the camaraderie that was developing between them she decided not to complain about his slovenly dress, especially as he hardly looked slovenly. Even disheveled, he looked wickedly handsome.
“We were going to discuss my finances,” she reminded him.
“Ah, yes. Your finances. You may recall that your late husband placed money into a trust that will provide you with two thousand per annum.”
“Of course, I recall.”
“With a bit of careful investing, I believe I can arrange it so you make five thousand.”
“Per annum?” The words came out on a whisper of disbelief.
“Why would you do that?”
“Because it’ll make it easier to marry you off.” Snatching the decanter off the table, he reached across the short space separating them and refilled her glass.
She took a sip, studying him over the rim. The flavor of brandy was growing on her. “You seem quite obsessed with the notion of marrying me off.”
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