Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(63) by Lorraine Heath
“—he fell backward. I reached for him, but he was already tumbling, and I heard this awful, awful sound, like a huge egg cracking…and then he just lay there.”
Jack suddenly looked blurry, and she realized she was looking at him through a veil of tears. “So you see, it was my fault.”
He worked his handkerchief free of her death grip and very tenderly—with more tenderness than she would have given him credit for possessing—wiped at her tears.
“No, it wasn’t,” he said quietly. “It was an accident.”
“It was all so silly. He didn’t even want to go to the dinner party, but it was with the queen. She and the prince were celebrating the success of the Great Exhibition. You probably are unaware, but you don’t turn down an invitation from the queen.”
Through her continuing tears, she saw a corner of his mouth hike up. “I suspect etiquette involving royalty is something I shall never need to know.”
She released a small laugh, a hiccup. “Probably not.” She hiccupped again. “Do you want to hear something ludicrous?”
“I could use a laugh.”
Since he’d stopped wiping her tears, she snatched his handkerchief and gathered up those that remained. “It’s silly now, but when the will was read, I thought you were my punishment. I thought maybe Lovingdon had somehow known I’d be responsible for his demise and so he left this ridiculous will to punish me.”
“I’m sure it must have felt like it at the time.”
“It was just so unexpected. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for what he did leave me, but I’d had high hopes he’d leave me the residence. I know it’s much too large for a dower house, but when I moved in, it was so gloomy. He never let the light in. His staff was a quarter of the size it should have been. Much of the house went untended. I changed all that. To be honest, I felt betrayed that he’d given it to you, and then to name you—a known scoundrel—as guardian of our precious Henry…it was simply too much to bear. I fear I took all my disappointments and frustrations out on you. I’m sorry for that.”
“You apologize far too much, Livy. You had every right to be angry. My reaction wasn’t particularly charming either.”
“I just don’t know what he was thinking. I suppose we’ll never know.” She sighed. “I miss him, but not as much as I probably should. I was very lonely. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been the good daughter. I wish I’d rebelled and run off with someone of my choosing. The gardener perhaps.”
“You were in love with the gardener?”
She laughed lightly, because he sounded so appalled. She’d never envisioned Jack being horrified by anything. “I was only giving a ridiculous example. There wasn’t anyone else really.” She clutched her hands, studied them. “You were correct, by the way. Lovingdon was concise in all matters. But I don’t regret marrying him. When I look at Henry, I’m thankful. I just wish I hadn’t killed him.”
“You didn’t. If anything he killed himself with his clumsiness.”
She shook her head. “I’ll always feel guilty. If I’d loved him more deeply or not coddled Henry so much…I know I coddle him. But I have to put my love somewhere.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I suspect,” he said quietly, “based upon what we now know of Helen that you did hear Henry cry out.”
If he thought to make her feel better…
“You’re trying to absolve me of my guilt, which I truly appreciate, but unfortunately it only serves to show I was not only a terrible wife but a horrible mother.”
“You can’t blame yourself for not knowing about Helen. People who take their pleasure in harming children are very skilled at hiding it.”
“Did the person who hurt you hide it?”
“Yes, I believe he did.”
She didn’t press for more details, although she dearly wanted to know everything about him. She took a last swipe at her eyes before handing him back his handkerchief. “Are you going to tell your friend from Scotland Yard?”
“You didn’t kill him, Livy. We can ask Swindler’s opinion if you like, but he’ll tell you the same thing I have.”
She slowly rose. “They say confession is good for the soul. I actually do feel somewhat better. Thank you…Jack.”
“My pleasure, Livy.”
He made no move to return to the house. His gaze dropped to her lips, and she wondered if he was thinking of other pleasures.
“The morning you came into the dressing room—” he began.
“I didn’t realize you were in there,” she interrupted, anxious to stop him before he said too much.
“I’d thought perhaps you were coming to pay me what I was owed.”
“I don’t believe I owe you anything.” She was breathless and feeling warm again. “You accepted the challenge, and it came with limitations.”
“Then we are once again at odds.”
“It would seem that we are.”
He gave her a seductive smile. “Strange that it doesn’t seem that way.”
Before she could counter his claim, he extended his arm. It was a truce of sorts, she realized.
As they walked back to the house, it occurred to her that the more time she spent in his company, the more dangerous to her heart he was becoming.
He was by nature a patient man. He was also a cautious one, but of late he’d grown bored.
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