Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(91) by Lorraine Heath
There was just enough light that Jack could see the shadows keeping pace with him if he turned his head just so. Shadows had always served as his friends.
Tonight was no exception.
They effectively hid Luke and Swindler as they followed at a discreet distance. Graves and Frannie walked in the open, giving the impression they were a couple looking for a place for an illicit rendezvous. When Jack desperately needed them, Feagan’s brood had come through for him.
He reached the abandoned building, which looked as though a strong wind might blow it down. In foul weather people would take refuge here, but on a clear night it wasn’t worth the risk. It would be very difficult to go up to the third floor without being heard. He supposed that was the point.
He made his way carefully inside, the rats scurrying away. He knew they’d return. They always returned. Holding the lantern high, he glanced around. Even though he’d never been here before, everything was familiar. Little difference existed between one building and another there.
He started up the stairs. They creaked beneath his weight. No point in treading lightly. He hurried up them, his heart pounding.
He heard nothing. She could be gagged, she could be dead, she—
He staggered, the relief so great his legs nearly gave out on him when at the same time a surge of energy shot through him. He rushed up the stairs, barely stopping at the landing, simply charging down the hallway. He could see pale light easing out of one room. It could be a trick, so he slowed his step, angling the lantern to give him the best light.
She and Rupert Stanford. He could barely stand the thought of that bastard touching her, but he fought back the fury because he had to keep a clear head.
Jack walked slowly, cautiously. He peered into the room—
Livy was standing beside Stanford in the corner, near the window, and Jack wondered if he’d been looking out, watching for his approach. It didn’t matter. He’d have not seen anything.
As Jack stepped into the room he was hit with an odor. Anyone else probably would have considered it a fragrance. It was a rich scent, undoubtedly masculine, but it caused his stomach to roil as memories assaulted him. That scent crawling into bed with him when he was a boy, offering comfort before it hurt him.
He raised the lantern higher and saw the unholy gleam in the eyes that glittered at him—like those of a rat coming up out of the sewer. Everything in Jack went cold. He thought he’d prepared himself for this encounter, but suddenly he was five years old again, terrified, hurting, ashamed.
He fought to focus on the here and now. “Rupert Stanford.”
“You say that as though I know you.”
“We’ve met before. My mother was Emily Dawkins.”
“You’re Jack Dawkins?” Stanford released a bark of laughter. “It is a small world. You changed your name…how clever. I’ll do the same, now that my meddling cousin and your suspicious inspector have been uncovering my business.”
“Business? Taking advantage of young boys?”
He heard Livy’s sharp intake of breath at the revelation.
“My cousin has told me all about you, about the boys you keep. I think we’re very much alike—”
“I’m nothing like you,” Jack ground out. “I protect them.”
“As I did you. Your mother was dying, poor thing. I gave her a few coins to ease the way and took you in so she wasn’t burdened with worry. But then you had the audacity to escape. The only one ever to escape.”
Something in the man’s voice…Jack knew the longer he kept him talking the greater his advantage. He needed to give the others time to position themselves.
“The only one? Do the boys still live with you?” He’d seen no evidence of it.
“In my garden,” Stanford said wistfully.
“You killed them?”
“I’d love to stay and chat, but I really must be off.”
“You’re not taking Livy with you.”
“She’s my insurance. Set the satchel down and move across the room.”
Jack took two steps and released a shrill whistle. A crash sounded as the window was smashed.
Stanford glanced back, giving Jack the narrow space he was looking for, just enough that he could shoulder his way in, shove Livy aside, and take Stanford to the floor. He fought to wrench the pistol free of Stanford’s grasp, but the man, while older, was surprisingly strong and agile. They struggled, rolling over the floor. Jack tried to leverage himself—
An explosion rent the night as the pistol went off, and Jack felt the fire of its report burning his chest as warm blood seeped through his favorite red waistcoat.
Olivia had barely hit the floor before the pistol thundered and both men went completely still.
“Oh, God, oh, God. Jack.”
Suddenly someone came in through the window. Before she could scream, she heard, “It’s all right, it’s Swindler.”
The thud of heavy footsteps sounded outside in the hallway and two more large shadows burst into the room, followed by a smaller one. Frannie crossed over and took Olivia in her arms. “Are you all right?”
Olivia nodded and whispered. “Jack?”
Frannie began working on the knots in the rope securing Olivia’s hands.
“Jack,” Swindler said sternly.
Olivia watched as a man rose up. She recognized the form, would forever recognize that shape. “Jack?”
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