Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(58) by Lorraine Heath
“Were you good at dodging?”
“The very best.”
Oh, the audacity, but Olivia held her tongue because she didn’t want to make them aware of her presence. She was fascinated, watching them. Henry hadn’t stammered once.
“Will you teach me?” Henry asked.
Jack seemed to consider that. “I don’t think it’s a skill that a lord would ever need, but I see no harm in it.”
“No.” Jack chuckled. “When your mother’s strong enough to sit in the garden. You’d best go to sleep now. If your mum finds out that I’ve been letting you stay up this late, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Henry laughed. Olivia couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard so sweet a sound. He wiggled until he was lying down. The lump beside him wriggled and the puppy’s nose because visible. It snuggled against Henry’s side.
“Close your eyes and I’ll read a bit more until you go to sleep,” Jack said.
Henry obeyed, but then, he usually did. Still, there was something about the way he looked at Jack, the way he responded so quickly, the camaraderie that seemed to have developed…her son’s reaction could almost be considered hero worship.
What had transpired while she’d been ill?
She heard Jack’s voice carrying on with the story. She crept down the hallway to her room, grateful to have been undetected. She hardly knew what to make of all this.
In some ways, it seemed terribly wrong that Jack would usurp her position and give so much attention to Henry…and in other ways, it seemed so terribly right.
The next morning, Olivia awoke to sounds coming from the dressing room. No doubt they were preparing a bath for Jack. An image jumped into her mind, an image that she’d been struggling not to remember. Jack Dodger stark naked. She couldn’t have chosen a more opportune moment to swoon. Oddly, it left her with a bit of dignity. If she’d spun on her heel and left the room, Jack would have laughed at her retreat. And if she’d stayed, staring him down and trying to shame him into leaving, they’d probably still be standing there. Or worse, she might have invited herself into his bed.
The dressing room grew quiet, and she imagined Jack sitting in the copper tub, warm water lapping at his body. She had an unusual desire to go into the room, lather her hands with soap, and stroke them slowly over his chest and shoulders. Along his back and down his arms. He appealed to her in ways he shouldn’t, made her desire uncivilized behavior. She’d always been good, and suddenly she found herself wondering what harm would come of her being bad.
Olivia was startled from her misbegotten musings. She’d forgotten about the nurse.
Colleen smiled warmly and pressed her hand to Olivia’s forehead. “The fever hasn’t returned. As soon as Mr. Dodger is finished with his bath, I’ll have one prepared for you.”
Olivia could do little more than nod at the thought of crawling into the tub after Jack had used it.
“I don’t think my services will be required any longer,” Colleen said, reaching for the bellpull.
“I appreciate your seeing after me. It must take a great deal of courage to put your own health at risk, caring for others.”
“I like to help. And I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Graves. Rumors are Mr. Dodger is building him a hospital. I’m hoping to work there.”
Jack was building a hospital? The man was a source of constant discoveries. “I don’t know if it’ll have any influence, but I’ll put in a good word.”
Colleen curtsied. “Thank you, Your Grace. You’re most kind.”
Olivia didn’t feel kind. She felt put upon waiting for Jack to finish with his bathing. But then he had so very much to bathe, she supposed it was understandable that it would take him a while. While he may have been equal in height to Lovingdon, he was considerably broader; yet, not an inch of him had gone to fat. He was taut and lean. She’d only ever seen the naked male form as a statue and even then modesty prevented her from allowing her gaze to linger overlong. She’d had a devil of a time tearing her gaze from Jack.
Her maid soon joined her. Colleen left. Olivia didn’t know how Maggie knew the dressing room was finally available. But at long last, his bath was dumped and hers was prepared. It was heaven to sit in warm water, to allow it to ease away the lingering aches in her muscles. She felt so weak, but she didn’t think her strength would return by lounging about.
She felt a bit more like herself once she was dressed. She looked at the black dress in the mirror, and for the first time since she’d become a widow, she wished desperately that she could wear something with a little color. Black didn’t warm her features. Jack was correct about that, but it hurt that he’d felt the necessity to bring it up.
“Shall I bring you a tray?” Maggie asked.
Olivia shook her head. “No. I shall go downstairs for breakfast. I’m quite famished. I fear you’d be bringing me trays all morning.”
Besides, it was time to face the devil, and she hoped she could do it without imagining him without his clothes.
While her usual ritual included visiting with Henry first thing in the morning, she decided she needed to have nourishment first. His anticipated enthusiasm was likely to knock her over if she didn’t have her strength back. Going down the stairs, she held firmly to the banister, each step seeming to steal her breath. By the time she reached the foyer, all she wanted was to return to bed. She took a moment to gather her strength, then straightened her shoulders and strolled to the breakfast dining room.
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