Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(86) by Lorraine Heath
“What are you doing?” she asked breathily, her arms wrapped around his shoulders. “We’ll be called in to dinner soon.”
“I have a hunger for something else,” he growled. “I think I’ll inform Brittles we’re not dining this evening. We shall eat in bed later. How does that sound?”
A rap sounded on the door. She released a tiny screech, shoved him so hard while sliding off the desk that he nearly stumbled over his feet to land on his backside. He grabbed her waist to steady them both.
“Relax,” he ordered.
“Who can it be? It’s too early for dinner.”
“I haven’t a clue.” He released her, watching in amusement as she righted herself, but even righted she looked like a woman who had been in the midst of being ravished. He decided for her comfort not to mention that. How things had changed since that first night when he’d taken delight in unsettling her.
She licked her lips and angled her chin. “All right.”
Jack turned to the door. “Come in.”
Brittles opened the door. “Lord Briarwood—”
“I’ve been made to wait long enough,” the man roared as he barged into the room before Brittles could make the proper announcement.
Brittles appeared alarmed. Jack waved him off. With a nod, Brittles retreated, closing the door behind him.
Briarwood sneered at Olivia. “I should have known he’d turn you into his whore.”
Jack’s fist landed on Briarwood’s jaw with a satisfying thud that sent the man sprawling over the carpet. “I’d watch my tongue if I were you.”
Rubbing his jaw, Briarwood glared up at him. “Yes, I’m well aware of your reputation for guarding those who work for you.”
“You say that as though it’s a fault,” Olivia snapped.
“He is a scoundrel, his morals questionable.” He staggered to his feet and barreled around Jack until he was standing directly in front of Olivia. “He seeks to bring everyone down to his level. Look at you. You are in mourning, and you look as though you should be walking the streets.”
“You will stop those accusations now,” Jack demanded. “Or you’ll feel the power of my fist again.”
“That’s the way of it with you, isn’t it?” Briarwood didn’t attempt to hide his scorn. “Barbaric. You don’t know the first thing about being civilized.”
“I believe the fact you still have your teeth is an indication that I do,” Jack ground out.
Briarwood turned back to Olivia. “Are you aware he keeps boys at his gaming club?”
“As a matter of fact I am. He provides them with employment and a safe haven. An admirable undertaking.”
“It’s not natural for a man to have such interest in boys.”
“What are you saying?” Olivia asked.
“I’m concerned for Henry’s welfare. Rumors abound that Dodger molests them.”
“Rumors, I have no doubt that can be laid at your door,” Jack said. “You should leave—”
“He’s never harmed Henry,” Olivia cut in.
“Would you know if he did?”
She looked at Jack, and he felt the weight of doubt in her gaze, knew she was remembering how she’d not known that Helen had harmed her son.
She nodded jerkily. “Yes, I would know if he hurt him, and I know he would not.”
The conviction in her words eased the tightness around Jack’s chest.
“You’ll not turn her against me, Briarwood. Whatever you hope to accomplish with these false accusations—”
“The boy is not safe here. Stanford agrees with me.”
“Rupert Stanford?” Olivia asked.
“Yes. My cousin and I are appalled we’re being investigated by Scotland Yard. The inspector will find nothing untoward regarding either of us. The same cannot be said of you, sir. The duchess here is proof.” He turned back to Olivia. “Look at what he has done to you.”
Jack grabbed Briarwood’s arm. “You’re leaving.”
Olivia held up her hand. “Wait. Let him have his say.”
“He has nothing of any importance—”
“Then let me hear it.”
Briarwood jerked free, straightened his jacket, while Jack struggled between insisting he leave and giving Livy an opportunity to prove…what? That she believed him over Briarwood? On the other hand, he needed to know what he was fighting.
“He has caused you to forget your place,” Briarwood said. “You are in mourning, yet you wear red. You are not married to him, yet I can see where his roughened jaw has abraded your skin. If he can turn you, a woman of such high morals, to his sinful ways, imagine what he’ll do to an impressionable lad. All I care about is your son, that he be raised to be a proper lord. I can achieve that end for you. And if you will not support me in this endeavor, I will go to the courts, I will go to Parliament. By God, I will go to the queen. But I cannot in all good conscience stand by and allow this devil—”
“I don’t think you have a choice,” Jack stated calmly.
Both Livy and Briarwood jerked their heads around to look at him.
“You can spout all the good intentions in the world and all your concerns for Henry’s righteous upbringing that you want, Briarwood, but you and I both know at the heart of the matter rests finances. I will not be blackmailed.”
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