Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(90) by Lorraine Heath
“I d-did wh-what you t-taught me, sir. I d-dodged away,” Henry said, his words muffled, his face pressed against Jack’s thigh.
Jack crouched, hugging Henry tightly. “You were a good boy, Henry.”
“I think h-he t-took Mummy.” Henry leaned back, tears coursing down his cheeks. “You should have t-taught Mummy how to dodge.”
“Yes, I should have. Do you know who took her?”
Henry bobbed his head quickly. “Cousin Rupert. Father told me t-to n-never go any-anywhere with Cousin R-Rupert.”
Had Lovingdon known what Jack now did? Was Rupert Stanford the one Jack was supposed to protect Henry against? It all made sense, if Lovingdon had seen how Jack protected the boys who worked for him. Couldn’t he have left a bloody message?
“Did he hurt you?” Jack asked.
Henry shook his head emphatically. “But when I ran off, I heard Mummy scream. I think he might have hit her. I shouldn’t have r-run.”
“No, you did the right thing, because now I only have to worry about your mum and not you.”
“You’ll save her?”
“Absolutely.” Although he hadn’t a bloody clue where to start. Thank goodness, Swindler was there.
“Sir, I don’t mean to interrupt,” Brittles said, holding out an envelope with Jack’s name on it. “This was delivered a short while ago.”
Jack snatched it from him and tore into the envelope. The missive was short and to the point.
I have the duchess. Bring me one hundred thousand pounds by dawn or she dies. We’ll be waiting at the top floor, far corner.
Jack knew the address written at the bottom of the note. It was in the rookeries.
“Where are we?” Olivia asked.
She was sitting on the floor in a shadowed corner, her hands tied behind her. She was fighting not to be terrified. She’d taken a blow to the head and woken up here. Her mouth tasted of laudanum and her thoughts were fuzzy. She wanted to go to sleep but she knew there was a reason she shouldn’t.
“The rookeries.” The hoarse whisper came from another dark corner, near the window, the man’s silhouette swallowed by the gloom. A solitary lantern was no help against it. It served to illuminate her more than him. “It’s easier to handle improper things here. I’ve instructed Mr. Dodger to bring me a hundred thousand pounds or you’ll die.”
Olivia heard in his voice that he was deadly serious. A fissure of dread threatened to overwhelm her.
“If he doesn’t deliver, I’ll carry out my promise, then I’ll return for your son.”
“Not Henry.” She remembered Henry had been with her. “Where is he?”
“The little bugger eluded me.”
Relief swamped her. She had a vague recollection of him darting away. Jack wouldn’t part with his precious money for Olivia, but she had no doubt that he would protect Henry.
“Dodger won’t come,” she said.
She released a bitter laugh, fighting to control it so she didn’t sound hysterical. “You’ve asked him for money. It’s the one thing with which he will not part.”
“Then that will be most unfortunate for you.”
Suddenly he moved quickly, crouching before her. She felt something eerily cold against the underside of her chin. “Is that a pistol?” she whispered.
“It is indeed, and I’m very accurate. I’ve given him until dawn.”
Then, to her astonishment, she recognized him. “Stanford? Rupert Stanford?”
“I’m surprised you remember me. Your husband did not welcome me in his home very often.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because your son’s guardian has been making inquiries about me and things are coming to light that I wished to remain in the dark. I need to make a hasty departure and I haven’t the funds needed to do so.”
“So you kidnapped me?”
“I saw the way he looked at you when he brought you to Dodger’s. You see, I, too, was in the shadows. He has some lovely boys working for him, but he and his staff watch them as though they were the Crown Jewels. And they all have so much confidence that they aren’t easily swayed. But I’m certain wherever I go that I can find what I need.”
“Dear God, you’re a monster.”
“Yes, yes, I am.”
He moved away. She swung out her legs as best she could, hoping to trip him up but he easily sidestepped. “Careful, Duchess. I’m not in the habit of hurting ladies, but I can always make an exception.”
Jack knew the rookeries like the back of his hand. A lot of evil men lived there. A lot of good men too. With the satchel filled with a hundred thousand pounds gripped tightly in one hand, a lantern in the other, he walked among the detritus of society, fearing no evil because he carried a knife in his boot, a pistol in his pocket, and—in the hand holding the satchel—a walking stick that came apart to reveal a sword.
The abductor had said to come alone. He’d said nothing about coming unarmed—which made Jack think Rupert Stanford was only marginally familiar with the rookeries. Obviously he knew it well enough to identify a meeting place, but not well enough to know that many of the people there were armed. Or maybe he knew little of Jack, thought he wouldn’t have a clue regarding the destination to which he was walking.
Jack wasn’t a fool. He thought it unlikely Stanford would let Olivia or Jack live once he had his money.
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