Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(50) by Lorraine Heath
He touched her cheek with regret. “Sorry, Pru. It seems I’m not in the mood after all.”
He handed her the pouch. “That’s for the trouble.”
“Jack, I can’t take yer money for not doin’ nothin’.”
“You came to me. That was enough.”
“Is everythin’ all right? Ye don’t seem yerself.”
“Couldn’t be better. Go see to your customers.”
She gave a hapless shrug. “All right.”
She wasn’t devastated because he’d turned her away. Just as Prudence was business for Jack, so Jack was business for her. Nothing more.
His entire life had never involved anything more.
Olivia rolled over in bed and shielded her eyes from the sunlight creeping in through a part in the draperies. She remembered how unhappy her brother would be when he finally tumbled out of bed after a night at Dodger’s. Was this the curse of brandy? To leave her with an agonizing headache, a raw throat, and thoughts that swirled through her mind with the wispiness of fog?
With great effort, she turned her head to the side and looked at the clock ticking on her bedside table. The little cherubs decorating it greeted her as they always did each morning, causing her to smile. It was almost nine. She’d overslept. She was surprised Jack hadn’t come knocking on her door seeking company during breakfast. Perhaps he’d not yet returned from his nightly prowling.
Jack. The memories of his mouth having its way with hers assailed her. How would she face him? But face him she would. Last night was an aberration, the brandy loosening her morals. She’d avoid spirits in the future, and she’d make it perfectly clear that she’d avoid his bed. He was owed nothing. He’d accepted the dare of receiving only a kiss, and he would just have to live with it. She was certain he’d have no trouble whatsoever finding solace elsewhere. Why did that thought cause an ache near her heart?
Would he go to Frannie? Would she welcome him with open arms, give to him what Olivia was afraid to offer? Would Frannie know the delight of greeting the morning nestled within his arms?
With a lethargic sigh at her stupidity for tormenting herself, Olivia eased out of bed. The floor felt cool against the soles of her feet. Perhaps today she wouldn’t bother with shoes. She giggled at the thought of a duchess without shoes. Or she thought she giggled. She hadn’t heard any sound. What was wrong with her?
She staggered toward the door that led to the dressing room. Someone had moved the blasted thing. It seemed so far away of a sudden. Halfway there, she realized she’d forgotten to pull the bell for her maid. How could she get ready for the day without Maggie? Perhaps she’d go back to bed, sleep a bit more, and start the day over.
Instead, she opened the door to the dressing room. Steamy warmth greeted and comforted her, even though she was hot.
And growing hotter with embarrassment, shame, and awareness.
Standing in front of the mirror, lather on a portion of his face and a razor in his hand, was a man. Images darted in and out of her mind: slender back, broad shoulders. His buttocks—pale and rounded and firm. Long legs. Solid thighs. She was fascinated, watching his muscles ripple with his movements just before he stilled. She’d never seen anything quite so exquisite before.
He was naked—completely naked. Droplets had gathered on his back as though he’d toweled off but been unable to reach those few. She had an insane urge to pick up a towel and glide it over his skin, absorb the remnants of his bath.
“You bathed yesterday,” she rasped, the words sounding as though they came from a great distance.
Holding her gaze in the mirror, he said, “I bathe every morning.”
Apparently the man had no shame. Why was she not surprised? With a challenge in those dark eyes and a come-hither grin, he turned to face her. She was familiar with the shape of a man’s anatomy even though her husband had bedded her with propriety. He’d always worn a nightshirt. She’d felt, but never seen…and even if she’d seen, she didn’t think her husband had been quite that…enticing. It was the only word she could think of to describe what Jack Dodger so proudly displayed. Every facet of his being was little more than an invitation to indulge in wickedness.
“Oh, my word,” escaped from her mouth on a shaky breath.
Suddenly the room was spinning, black edges rushing toward the center of her vision, until she saw nothing at all.
His razor clattering in the bowl as he released it, Jack lunged for Olivia, somehow managing to grab her before she hit the floor. How was it that a woman once married could be so squeamish at the sight of a naked man?
But as he shifted her into his arms and her head lolled against his bare shoulder, he realized something else entirely might have been responsible for her swooning. “Good God, you’re burning up.”
Not weighted down by anything except her cotton nightgown, she was lighter than she’d been the first time he’d carried her.
He laid her on her bed. Reaching for the bellpull, he hesitated. How was he going to explain his lack of clothing if her maid responded quickly to the summons?
Grabbing a towel as he went through the dressing room and wiping the lather from his face, he hurried to his room. Jerking on his trousers and slipping into a shirt, he wondered if she’d been fighting an illness from the beginning. He didn’t like thinking he might have made a sick woman’s life miserable—or that he might even have been responsible for bringing on the illness. Last night she’d seemed fevered only by passion; surely he’d have noticed if she was ill.
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