Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(54) by Lorraine Heath
“Dear Lord, she’s on fire.”
Which meant her confession was probably the result of delirium. It could have been spawned by a dream, a nightmare, a hidden wish for her older husband to die so she could marry a younger man.
He scoffed. The last was unlikely. She was in a position now to marry a younger man and she rebuffed Jack’s attempts to match her up with one. Of course, the fact she didn’t seem to want to marry didn’t mean she didn’t want to be free of her husband. But to kill him? She didn’t seem the bloodthirsty type.
Colleen reached for the bellpull.
“What are you doing?” Jack asked.
“I’m going to have to put her in a cold bath. I’ve got to get the fever down.”
He nodded. “Get it ready. I’ll put her in the tub.”
“That’s not proper.”
“Modesty be damned. She’s not in any condition to walk on her own. You’re not strong enough to carry her. And I’m certainly not going to let one of the male servants do it. I’m paying your wages, you’ll do as I say. Get the bath ready.”
A few minutes later, a flurry of activity commenced as maids scurried around, bringing up water and ice under the careful eye of Brittles. Jack wondered if the butler slept in his clothes, as he always seemed ready to tend to any situation that arose. Perhaps it was only that they were all concerned about the duchess and keeping vigil in their respective parts of the residence.
Jack removed his jacket and turned to toss it on a nearby chair. It was then that he noticed the flash of blond curls at the doorway. Rolling up his sleeves as he went, he walked into the hallway. Young Henry was squatting beside the door, his back pressed to the wall, holding his puppy close, fear evident in his eyes.
He’d obviously heard the commotion and was expecting the worst. Jack assumed all the rushing about might have also occurred the night the duke died.
Jack crouched in front of the boy. “She’s going to be all right, lad.”
“C-can I see her?”
“It’s best if you don’t, not right now at least. She’d never forgive me if you got sick as well.” Jack barely had a second to ponder why he was concerned with the notion that he might do something for which she wouldn’t forgive him.
“What if she d-dies?”
“She won’t, lad. I promise you that, and Jack Dodger is a man who keeps his promises. Ask anyone.”
Jack grinned. “No one you know, fortunately.” He patted the boy’s shoulder. “Now go back to bed, so I can see to your mum.”
With a nod, the boy got to his feet and started scuffling back to his room. His nanny was waiting for him at the door. She hugged Henry when he reached her, and Jack felt more confident that he’d selected the right woman for the boy. He unfolded his body and went back into the duchess’s bedchamber.
“It’s ready,” Colleen said.
He quickly unbuttoned his waistcoat and tossed it onto the jacket. His cravat followed. He walked to the bed and threw back the covers. Olivia was modestly dressed, with her nightgown bunched around her knees. He lifted her into his arms and carried her into the dressing room. He hesitated. No welcoming steam rose from the water. Ice bobbed along its surface. He was familiar with the unpleasantness of a cold bath. It had been years since he’d been dunked in cold water at the prison and scrubbed unmercifully, but it wasn’t an experience easily forgotten.
“Sir, it’s for her own good,” Colleen said quietly.
As though Jack were a man who cared about the comfort of others, which he surely was not.
“Right.” He walked to the tub, took a deep breath as though he was the one being submerged, and lowered her into the water.
Olivia jerked awake with a start. She’d been surrounded by warmth, comfort, safety, and suddenly she was being lowered into freezing water. It was cold, so very cold. Chunks of ice clacked together. She screeched, thrashed, clawed, fought to get free, even as her body sank beneath the water and her drenched nightgown floated around her.
Someone grabbed her wrists, held them in place with one hand as strong as iron, while the other hand grabbed the back of her head. “Olivia. Olivia! Do you want to frighten Henry?”
She stilled, staring at Jack. At that moment she hated him. “I-i-it’s cold.”
He released her wrists and cradled her face. His hand was warm, so warm. She wanted to curl her entire body into it.
“I know, but we’ve got to get your fever down, sweetheart,” he said.
Shivering, she nodded. He dropped to the floor, sitting beside the tub as though being in the dressing room while she was in there was proper. It wasn’t and she wanted him to leave, but more, she wanted him to stay.
“Think about something else,” he ordered.
“The clocks. Do you like clocks?”
She nodded, her teeth clattering.
“I’ll buy you a clock for every minute you stay in the tub.”
“I d-don’t like them th-that much.”
He laughed, a deep resonate sound.
“I’m glad s-someone’s having fun,” she stammered.
She glanced around the room. The only other person was the nurse. What was her name? It danced at the edge of her mind.
The nurse lowered herself to the other side of the tub. “Only a couple of minutes, Your Grace.”
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