Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(55) by Lorraine Heath
Olivia nodded. She was miserable, so very miserable.
“Think about how lovely it’ll be when you get out,” Jack said.
Olivia jerked her head up and down. “Will you hold me again? You’re so comfortable and warm.” She released a half laugh. “Silly to want to be warm when that’s what got me here in the first place.”
“When you get out, you’re going to have some warm soup,” he said. “You don’t eat enough.”
“How w-would you know?”
“I’ve carried you three times now and you’re a wisp of a woman.”
She was certain he’d managed to insult her, but she really didn’t care.
“It’s h-hurting.” She grabbed the edges of the tub.
“Here.” He slipped his hand beneath hers. “Squeeze my hand.”
“I m-might b-break b-bones.”
“It’s not like they won’t mend. Come on, squeeze.”
She did, squeezing his hand, squeezing her eyes shut, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing. “T-talk to me.”
“About what?” he asked.
“Your childhood. T-tell me a story. Your thumb.”
“Why is everyone so fascinated with my thumb?”
“W-hat did you s-steal?”
Tenderly he brushed some hair back from her face. “Nothing.”
“You were innocent?”
“Of that particular crime, yes. But I was guilty enough of others that I took the punishment as my due.”
“Here, Your Grace,” the nurse said, pressing a rolled cloth to Olivia’s mouth. “You need to clamp down on this, before you bite your tongue.”
She did as told then ground out a muffled, “Talk.”
He sighed as though he had no more patience for her, but then he said, “It was Claybourne. He tried to steal a block of cheese. You always want to steal something small that you can slip in your pocket or easily hand off to someone else without being seen. But he stupidly wanted the cheese. I went back and tried to break the grocer’s hold on him, and all I managed to do was get myself caught. It was the only time I got caught, by the way.”
He sounded so proud of that achievement. She nodded, urging him to go on. When he spoke, she could lose herself in his gravelly voice and almost forget the agony she was in.
“I was ten. We were sentenced to three months in prison. When we were released, we returned to our life on the street, a bit wiser and a bit more careful. Frannie was our little mother. She’s younger than most of us, but she tended our scrapes. And I think you’ve had enough of this bath.”
“Another minute,” the nurse said.
Olivia hated her, hated Jack for hiring her.
“She’s turning blue,” he said. “She’s had enough.”
“She’s had enough,” he said in that irritating voice that signaled he thought he was master. She hated it.
She loved it as one arm went beneath her knees, the other behind her shoulders, then he lifted her out with a grunt. Perhaps she wasn’t so light after all.
He set her on a chair. “Grab the towels.”
“I’ll see to her, sir,” the nurse said.
Jack stepped back and Olivia saw that his shirt was almost as soaked as she was.
“I’m going to my club,” he said. “Send word if I’m needed.”
Olivia almost reminded him that she needed him to hold her, to warm her, but the cloth was still in her mouth and she was afraid if she removed it, she’d bite off her tongue. The nurse was trying to help her out of her nightgown, and she was fairly certain she’d be warm again soon. But still she couldn’t deny the disappointment that it wasn’t Jack who was going to be warming her.
As Jack tore off his wet clothes, he was determined to leave the residence as quickly as possible. He’d not promised Olivia that he’d hold her, but he couldn’t get her request out of his mind. He reminded himself that she was sick, delirious, possibly not even aware of what she was saying. The very last thing she probably wanted was to be held by him.
Jerking on his dry clothes, he could see her shivering in the tub. Forcing her to stay in the frigid water had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. Chill bumps had erupted over her skin. Her dark nipples had hardened. He knew they were dark because they’d been almost visible through her drenched nightgown. Thank God, she was too ill to notice he was well aware of every aspect of her soaked state.
As soon as she’d started thrashing, he’d wanted to take her back to bed. But he’d promised Henry she wouldn’t die and if the nurse thought a cold soak was needed, a cold soak she’d get. He rubbed his brow. Whatever had possessed him to make such a promise?
He jerked open his door and stormed into the hallway—
“D-did she die?”
Jack swung around. Henry stood there in his nightshirt, appearing so small and afraid, his eyes huge.
“No, lad.” He walked over and crouched in front of him. “She’s going to get well. Where’s your nanny?”
“Sleeping.” Henry looked at the door, peered back at Jack.
“You can’t see her yet, lad. Do you want to sit outside her room for a bit?”
He bobbed his head.
Jack sat on the floor with his back to the wall. Henry crawled onto his lap, pressing his face to Jack’s chest. “She’ll be all right, lad. She’ll be all right.”
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