Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(89) by Lorraine Heath
“What exactly are we looking for?” Swindler asked.
“A bedchamber.” His voice rasped along his nerve endings.
“Upstairs, I’d say.”
With a nod, Jack bounded up the stairs. Swindler followed. The lamp Swindler carried cast an eerie glow, chasing back shadows, revealing things bit by bit. Nothing looked particularly familiar.
Then they reached the upstairs hallway. There were only four doors. Jack opened the second on the right.
And he was five years old again. Missing his mother, but excited at the prospect of having a bed to sleep in. It was winter. There was a fire in the hearth and it was so nice and toasty. His mother had begun to talk a lot about going to a place called heaven. He decided this had to be it.
“Let’s take a bath, shall we?”
Jack squeezed his eyes closed against the memories. Had Stanford met his mother when she was a servant in the Lovingdon household? He fought to remember—
She was holding Jack’s hand, late at night in the rookeries—
She turned, curtsied. “Mr. Stanford.”
“What have you here?”
“My son, Jack.”
“Jack? Jack? Are you all right?”
Jack opened his eyes at Swindler’s urging and walked farther into the room. “They talked. I couldn’t hear the words. We went to a tavern, ate this wonderful pie with meat in it. They kept talking. All the while he held her hand.”
“What are you talking about?” Swindler asked.
Jack shook his head. He couldn’t explain the unexplainable, but he remembered that when they left, Stanford gave Jack’s mother the coin purse and she’d given Jack the locket. Then Stanford had brought him here.
Jack walked to the fireplace, bent down, and looked up the flue that had served as his escape tunnel. He’d worked to get the coals off the hearth, burned his feet and hands going up. That had been his first lesson in what a person would do if he wanted something badly enough. He’d been willing to suffer anything to get out.
He spun around and looked back at the bed with the four posts decorated with elaborate vines carved into them. His stomach roiled with memories of what had happened there.
Walking back to Swindler, Jack took the lamp from him and tossed it onto the bed. Flames erupted over the counterpane.
“Good God, have you gone mad?” Swindler asked.
Jack was already on his way through the door. “We have to find Stanford.”
They returned to the club—not as quickly as Jack would have preferred since Swindler insisted on alerting the fire brigade so they had an opportunity to prevent the flames from spreading beyond Stanford’s residence. Jack took some comfort in knowing at least the bed was destroyed.
“You do realize that I can’t arrest him,” Swindler said now as they sat in Jack’s office.
“Sodomy is against the law.”
“But I have no one to testify.”
Swindler looked away as though suddenly very uncomfortable. Jack supposed it was one thing to have suspicions, another to have confirmation.
“We should probably just handle it ourselves,” Swindler said quietly. “It’s not as though we haven’t done that before. I’m sure there’s someone scheduled for a hanging who doesn’t deserve it.”
“You’d switch prisoners? You don’t think anyone would notice?”
“You could beat him until he was unrecognizable. I’m certain you’d find some satisfaction in that.”
Jack nodded. “I would indeed.”
The door suddenly opened and Thomas Lark, one of the older boys who helped out in the gaming room, rushed in.
“Thomas, you’re supposed to knock,” Jack said.
“Yes, sir, I know, but this was just delivered by a gent who said it was of the utmost importance.”
Jack snatched the envelope Thomas extended. Inside he found a message that caused his heart to thunder.
Please return to the residence immediately. A dire situation has arisen and you’re desperately needed.
Your faithful servant,
“Thank God you’ve arrived sir,” Brittles said in a rush as soon as Jack walked into the residence, Swindler at his side.
“What’s the trouble, man?”
“It’s the duchess, sir. She’s gone missing.”
“Is that all? She was going to take Henry to the country. I’m assuming she couldn’t wait until the morning to be rid of me—”
“No, sir, Henry’s here.”
Everything in Jack stilled. “She’d not leave Henry.”
“Exactly, sir. She and her son were walking in the garden when someone apparently came out of the shadows, according to the young duke. He escaped, but by the time we realized what he was trying to tell us—he was stammering something fierce, sir—the duchess was gone.”
“Where’s Henry now?”
“In the day nursery, sir.”
Jack bounded up the stairs, aware of Swindler and Brittles following behind him. For the first time, Brittles’s steps were not silent. Jack took no comfort in that.
He barged into the day nursery. Ida was sitting in a rocker, Henry in her lap holding his dog. Henry scrambled out of Ida’s lap, Pippin leaping to the floor. Before Jack could react, Henry had rushed across the short distance separating them and wound his arms tightly around Jack’s legs.
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