Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(64) by Lorraine Heath
Being in the gaming hell when he knew he’d not be welcomed if his purpose was discovered was quite…thrilling.
The hazard tables did not interest him. Nor did the tables where various card games were played. The room that contained the women was boring. And he’d never taken any pleasure from spirits.
But the boys. They were another matter entirely.
No one noticed if a child went missing in the rookeries.
But here they might notice.
Especially if that damned inspector Swindler was nosing around.
The key was to take his time, to determine which was the right boy, and then to make his move.
Olivia knew she needed to get up and begin her day. Instead, she indulged herself and stayed where she was, listening as Jack took his morning bath. In the four days since her illness, she was very much aware of Jack watching her intently, as though trying to judge her readiness to face something. It made her a bit uneasy. Maybe he’d told Swindler about her confession and she was going to find herself carted off to Scotland Yard. Every morning Jack asked after her health, wanted to know how strong she felt, and put her through an inquisition somewhat similar to what she envisioned Graves had endured. She found herself sympathizing with the man. Anxious to determine why Jack was so concerned with her health, yesterday morning she’d answered, “I feel as healthy as I was before I took ill.”
All he’d said was, “Glad to hear it.”
Which made her wonder if she’d opened herself up to his attempts to lure her into his bed. He’d exhibited particularly good behavior since their walk in the garden. They enjoyed dinner together in the evenings. Their relationship had taken a definite turn toward the pleasant, and she was finding it difficult to recall why she’d ever objected to his being guardian.
When all grew quiet in the dressing room, she stayed where she was for a bit longer, trying not to imagine him dressing his enticing body. Of course, the more she tried not to imagine it, the more she did.
A sudden sharp rap on her door startled her. She’d barely sat up before the dressing room door burst open and Jack walked into her room. Gasping, she clutched the covers to her chest. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve been putting this off until you were recovered enough to join us and the appropriate day rolled around. Henry wants to go to the Great Exhibition.”
“I know he does, but—”
“We’re going today. We’d like you to join us. It’s shilling day, a day designed specifically for the lower classes, so the upper classes—snobs that they are and I forgive them this one instance because it works to our advantage—don’t have to breathe the same air that the lower classes do. The people who will be in attendance today aren’t ones you normally associate with, so you’re not likely to be recognized.” He tossed a bundle onto the bed. “To reassure you further, I brought you those clothes. They’ll ensure that you don’t stand out. We leave in half an hour.”
Before she issued another objection, he closed the door. She reached for the bundle, loosened the knot in the string, and unfolded the scruffy-looking clothes: a jacket, a shirt, trousers, shoes, and a cap. Was he insinuating she should dress as a boy?
Snatching up the trousers, she scrambled out of bed and headed to the door to confront him. It was entirely inappropriate—
But not as inappropriate as kissing him.
Did one bit of bad behavior excuse another? She staggered to a stop and clutched the garment. It was clean, just a bit tattered. Jack, who bathed twice a day and—she’d heard from her laundress—had his clothes washed more often than a normal man should, had provided her with clean clothes. She held the trousers against her waist, letting the legs dangle down to her feet. They were long enough, appeared to be wide enough.
She didn’t want to think about how closely he must have studied her to accurately judge the clothes that would fit her. She didn’t know whether to be unsettled or flattered, to thank him or take him to task. She had little doubt he was expecting the latter, was possibly waiting on the other side of that door, his arguments at the ready.
Weighing her choices, she took a tentative step back. Truth be told, she wanted to see the Great Exhibition as much as Henry. But to dress like a boy…
A bubble of laughter escaped and she slapped her hand over her mouth. Just the thought made her feel carefree and young and adventuresome. Where was the harm? Who would know?
She ran the arguments through her mind. The problem would be her hair. It might work if she braided it tightly, pinned it up, put on the cap, and brought it down low.
“No, I can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t.”
“Why not?” a little voice that didn’t quite sound like hers asked. It was deep inside her mind. Maybe she was going insane. It was bad enough to talk to herself, but then to answer back was total lunacy.
A rap sounded on the door leading into the dressing room. “You ready?” a deep voice asked.
“Get decent. I’m coming in.”
The blackguard opened the door, peered around it, and studied her. “Come on, Livy, you know you want to.”
Feeling uncharacteristically vulnerable with him in her bedchamber, she put one bare foot on top of the other.
“Who will you hurt if you go?” Jack asked. He stepped out from behind the door, leaned against the wall, and crossed his arms over his chest as though offering her a challenge.
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