Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(71) by Lorraine Heath
Catherine glowed with the radiance of a woman madly in love with her husband.
Olivia felt a spark of envy. She couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than being married to a man you loved—unless it was being married to a man who also loved you.
She watched Jack loping over the lawn. He possessed an athleticism she’d expected. She was quite mesmerized watching him, and hoped her company didn’t notice how he garnered her attention.
He caught Henry and with a joyous laugh lifted him over his head. Henry guffawed with delight and Olivia smiled. She’d grown up in and married into a very staid household. She’d never questioned the quiet, the reserve, the constant proper behavior. Only now was she beginning to realize that laughter was as intoxicating as brandy.
She also realized she had an opportunity here to learn more about Jack without bombarding him with questions that he’d astutely avoid answering.
“I know this is entirely inappropriate, since I’m in mourning and shouldn’t be issuing invitations”—she glanced, embarrassed, at Catherine—“but would you and Claybourne care to dine with us tonight?”
“As I’m in mourning as well, it would be entirely inappropriate for me to accept.”
“Of course. I’m so—”
With a twinkle in her blue eyes, Catherine reached across and took her hand. “I would be absolutely delighted. To be quite honest, I find all our rules regarding mourning to be rubbish.”
Olivia released a short burst of laughter. It seemed Claybourne had been as bad an influence on Catherine as Jack was on Olivia.
“I have an even more inappropriate notion. As we’re all friends, and the dinner will be small and private, let’s dispense with the mourning attire, shall we?” Catherine asked.
“Are you certain?”
“Who will know except us? And quite honestly, I’m so dreadfully tired of black.”
Olivia smiled. “All right then.”
Jack could hardly believe that Olivia had invited Luke and Catherine to dine with them.
“It’s not as though I sent a gilded invitation,” she said petulantly when he’d given her a questioning stare.
It seemed the little duchess wasn’t opposed to dispensing with proper etiquette as long as it was her idea. Now that she was fully recovered, he’d work to convince her it was her notion to come to his bed. He was looking forward to the challenge, although his patience had been sorely tested as he waited for her to regain her strength. He should be considered for sainthood, considering the forbearance he’d shown.
“So what are you drinking?” Jack asked Luke.
He and Catherine had only just arrived. They’d returned home to prepare for the evening. Jack felt rather underdressed next to Luke in his dinner attire. He had never invested in formal evening clothes because he wasn’t invited to balls or dinners, which suited him just fine. He was a curiosity, but one preferred from a distance.
Catherine wore an emerald green gown. Olivia was likely to go into a conniption when she walked in and saw Catherine out of her mourning clothes. He smiled at the thought of at last not being the only one on the receiving end of Livy’s scathing rebukes.
“Whatever you’re having,” Luke said. “I know you serve only the finest.”
Jack glanced at Catherine. “Countess?”
“None, thank you.”
Luke reached for her hand and brought it to his mouth, placing a kiss on her fingers. The man looked so ridiculously besotted. Jack would never let a woman have a hold on him like that.
“Not everything is agreeable to her these days,” Luke said.
Jack poured port into two goblets. “You might have Graves take a look at her, make certain she’s not coming down with whatever Olivia had. Nasty stuff, that.”
“Have you not told him?” Catherine asked.
“I knew you didn’t want people to know, not yet, anyway.”
“What? What have I missed here?” Jack asked.
“She’s with child,” Luke said, and Jack was surprised the buttons didn’t pop off Luke’s waistcoat.
“How can you know already? You’ve only just married…ah.” That explained the quiet, hasty marriage taking place before she was out of mourning. He raised his glass. “My congratulations to you both.”
“What are we celebrating?”
Jack turned toward Olivia and froze.
Gliding into the room, smiling shyly, she wore a violet gown, and just as he’d predicted, she looked ravishing. Her throat, shoulders, and the barest hint of her bosom were revealed. Her hair was pinned up in an elaborate style with ringlets bouncing on one side.
As though suddenly uncomfortable, she averted her gaze from his. “Don’t look so shocked. Catherine and I thought for an evening amongst friends, there was no harm in our putting aside our mourning clothes.”
“No”—Jack cleared his throat to make it so he didn’t sound as though he were strangling—“no harm in it at all. You look lovely.” The words were grossly inadequate. He didn’t possess Luke’s societal charms. The women Jack associated with didn’t need fancy words, but dear God, Olivia deserved them. Every one that his feeble brain could dredge up.
She blushed becomingly. “Thank you. I remembered you’d asked me about violet. Anyway, it appears we’re celebrating.”
“Yes.” Jack handed her his goblet and poured himself another one. He tipped his head toward Luke. “You do the honors.”
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