Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(65) by Lorraine Heath
He wasn’t dressed in his usual tailor-made clothes. The brown tweed coat wasn’t fitted to him. It was a little large and made him look common. She’d never realized before how uncommon he appeared. It occurred to her now that if she hadn’t been aware of his background, when he was properly dressed, she might have mistaken him for an aristocrat. He had that air of entitlement about him. It wasn’t very well hidden with his drab clothing. It seemed odd not to see him with his splash of color.
“Who will it hurt if you don’t go?” he asked, as though giving up on her answering his earlier question.
She looked at the clothes strewn on the bed.
“Years from now, Henry’ll be talking about his memories of the Great Exhibition. Don’t you want them to include you?” Jack asked.
“That’s not fair. Besides, what if someone does recognize me?”
“No one looks in the faces of the poor. Wearing those clothes, you’ll look like a pauper.”
“Then how did I obtain coin for admittance?”
He sighed. “No one will ask. Come on, Livy, for once in your life, do something that you shouldn’t.”
She almost reminded him that she’d kissed him, but as he’d not alluded to the encounter once since their walk in the garden, she suspected that he either wanted to forget it or had decided it really meant nothing at all. She tried not to be disappointed with that conclusion.
He tempted her, made it seem so easy to slip off her pedestal of high moral standing. Yet what he was asking of her was not terribly awful. It would be so nice to leave the house and do something with Henry. “I suppose there are worse things I could do.”
“With a man in your bedroom and you in your nightgown”—he winked—“what I’m suggesting isn’t nearly wicked enough.”
Before he’d kissed her, she might have thought he was being offensive, but now she thought he was merely teasing, trying to make her laugh, to see the silliness of her dilemma.
“If I go to hell for this—”
“I’ll be there as well. I’ll dance with you,” he promised.
Something in his tone of voice, his gaze, made her think that this time he wasn’t teasing, and she had an absurd desire to weep. It had to be the lingering effects of her illness, or perhaps it was simply that he recognized she feared being alone.
If she thought too much about what Jack was asking of her, she might take the coward’s way. Instead, she jutted up her chin and waved her hand. “Go on with you now. I have to get ready.”
He gave her a quick flash of a grin before disappearing behind the door and closing it. Oh, she wished he hadn’t done that, given her that beam of pleasure. It brought such an unheralded thrill to her heart. It was a wondrous feeling to bring a man joy, to know he wanted to be with her.
Happiness. She was experiencing happiness beyond anything she’d ever known.
Reaching for the bellpull, she couldn’t recall a single moment in her life when she’d ever been so excited.
The clothes were a mistake, a dreadful mistake, because Jack was forced to admire the lovely shape of her bottom as they stood in line waiting to enter the Crystal Palace. She must have had her maid bind her breasts, because she was as flat as a board in that shirt. Or maybe it was the way the jacket hung over it. The too-short jacket that let him see her trouser-clad bum.
They looked like three mates searching for adventure. Or at least she and Henry looked like lads. Jack looked more like their father. Felt like it too. He felt old and cynical. He’d never before minded his harsh outlook on life, except now it made him feel ancient, while she and Henry were filled with wonder, and they hadn’t even gotten into the building yet.
He’d never seen her eyes filled with such merriment. Every now and then she’d bend down and talk to Henry, while pointing out something. As much as he knew he shouldn’t, Jack wanted her to share it with him, to touch his arm, rise up on her toes, and whisper her delights in his ear.
Even when she was dressed in ill-fitting clothes, she was delectable. But she also still looked like someone from a higher station in life. He could put dirt on her cheeks and mud on the end of her cute little nose and she still wouldn’t look as though she belonged in the quagmire that had been Jack’s life. If someone bumped into her the way he’d just knocked into Jack, she’d either apologize or do that little sniff she did when she was displeased. She wouldn’t shove—
Searching the pocket of his coat, he glanced around quickly. Not a thief in sight. “Bloody hell.”
“’ere now, mate, watch yer language. Got a lady ’ere.”
Jack jerked around to the man who’d spoken. He was considerably older, his wife unattractive—but blast it, he looked like he cared for her, that they really were a couple.
“What’s wrong?” someone croaked.
He slowly turned his head to Olivia.
“What’s wrong?” she repeated in a voice that he guessed she thought mimicked that of a lad, when in truth it didn’t come anywhere close. If it weren’t for the fact they were striving not to be noticed, he might have teased her about it.
“Got my pocket picked.” A hell of a thing to have to confess.
“What was in it?” she asked, concern returning her voice to normal, which earned her an eyebrow raise from both the gent behind them and his lady fair.
“A locket that contained a picture of my mum.”
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