Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(59) by Lorraine Heath
The sight that greeted her took the last of her strength. Jack sat at the head of the table, fully clothed, his vest a deep blue. He was, of course, studying his ledger, which seemed to be his preferred reading material. But that wasn’t what caused her to freeze in mid-step.
It was the sight of her son sitting beside him. Henry also had a black ledger beside his plate, which seemed odd as he had yet to learn to read. Whenever Jack turned the page in his ledger, Henry would turn one in his. It was both charming and disconcerting. If her son was so willing and eager to mimic such an innocent act, would he do the same of one not quite so innocent? She wasn’t even certain she could hold herself up as an example of proper behavior.
Every now and then, a thump sounded. Henry’s legs were too short for his feet to touch the floor and he would swing his legs and kick the underside of the chair. Olivia was amazed that Jack seemed not to be bothered by the constant knocking—especially as he had found fault with her ticking clocks. She’d have thought him to be a man with little patience when it came to dealing with children, yet he seemed to have an abundance of it—at least where Henry was concerned.
She wasn’t aware of making a sound, but suddenly Jack lifted his head and gave her the wicked smile she’d come to recognize as always preceding something certain to gain her ire.
He came to his feet. “Why, Olivia, what a pleasant surprise.”
After sharing the intimacy of his kiss, not to mention seeing him in the altogether, she was surprised his greeting was so cavalier. Was he going to pretend nothing untoward had passed between them?
Before she could decide what to make of this unexpected turn, Henry hopped out of his chair. “Mummy!”
He raced across the dining room and flung his body against her legs. If he hadn’t also wound his arms around her, she might have toppled. As it was, he managed to give her some support. She lowered herself to her knees and hugged him close. He smelled of a recent bath, and he felt so sturdy—or perhaps it was just that she was so unsteady. She drew him back and studied him. “My word, I think you’ve grown.”
Not in inches so much as in confidence.
He held his thumb up. “I don’t s-suck it anymore.”
“You are a big boy, then, aren’t you?”
“Come on, now. Your mum needs to eat, lots and lots.”
She hadn’t heard Jack approach, but his hand was suddenly beneath her elbow, guiding her back to her feet.
His dark eyes were scrutinizing her, and she wasn’t certain he was pleased with what he saw. “Why don’t you take your chair? I’ll prepare you a plate.”
“Sit by me,” Henry said enthusiastically.
Before she could comment that her proper place was at the foot of the table, Jack said, “No one in this room cares.”
Oh, but she cared. She cared what he thought. Did he still feel he was owed? Or in light of her illness had he decided to grant her a reprieve?
Henry took her hand and led her to the chair as though Jack’s comment had settled the matter. Once they were seated, Henry said, “We were w-worried about you.”
Henry perhaps, but she doubted Jack was. Still, she saw little point in crushing him with the truth. “Were you?”
He nodded. “We sat by your room for hours and hours. Even at night.”
“We? You mean you and Mr. Dodger?”
He nodded again, smiled, and whispered, “It’s our secret.”
A plate appeared before Olivia, causing her to jump slightly.
“I obviously forgot to explain what a secret was,” Jack said, low, near her ear, and she shivered in response. He walked away from her and resumed his place at the head of the table. “You should have told me you weren’t feeling well before you collapsed.”
It seemed he was going to behave as though the brandy, the kiss, and their encounter in the dressing room had not happened. She would do the same, because suddenly she was a jumble of emotions. Did she want his regard or did she not? She honestly didn’t know. “I thought it was grief. I appreciate all the trouble you went to in order to ensure my survival.”
“Purely selfish, I assure you.”
“Because you need me to oversee your household?”
“Because I need you to marry. Men tend to frown at the notion of marrying someone who isn’t breathing.”
He sounded so overburdened, but at least since he still had plans to marry her off, she was reassured that he’d lost interest in luring her into his bed. She was torn between relief and disappointment. “As we’ve discussed previously, what you need, Mr. Dodger, is not necessarily what I want.”
“Have I ever told you that I enjoy a challenge?”
She glanced over at him. His dark eyes held a warning gleam as he smoothly said, “Perhaps I shall work to convince you that what I need is precisely what you want.”
Olivia felt a fissure of anticipation. He might not have lost interest after all.
Olivia sat on a chaise longue near the garden watching as Henry tried to teach his puppy to fetch a stick, although it was his nanny who was doing the fetching while the dog continually ignored Henry’s pleas and simply rooted around in the grass. It was an unusually warm afternoon, and the sunlight felt lovely on Olivia’s face.
Jack had left the residence earlier, and while she’d normally use the time to pretend the residence was hers, it wasn’t quite as appealing as it had once been to imagine him out of their lives. Did he truly intend to still marry her off? Or was a good deal of what he said that seemed so uncaring designed to protect himself because he did care so much?
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