In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(4) by Lorraine Heath
Coming to an abrupt halt, he turned and watched as Jack Dodger swaggered toward him, a confident grin on his darkly rugged face.
“You don’t know that,” Luke said when Jack stopped in front of him.
“So you did ask Frannie to marry you?”
With a sigh, Luke removed his wallet from inside his jacket and handed Jack the requested amount. “I never should have told you my intentions.”
“No, you never should have accepted the wager that you’d actually do it.” Jack tucked away the money. “Did you want to take one of my girls home with you tonight”—he winked—“for a bit of comfort?”
Luke cursed Jack soundly for tempting him, cursed himself for finding it so difficult to resist temptation. He’d never availed himself of one of Jack’s girls.
“I’m not going to let Frannie see me walking out with one of your girls.”
“I’ll send her ’round the back. Frannie’ll never know.”
“You don’t think your girls talk?”
“They’re very discreet. I insist on it.”
Luke considered, then shook his head. “No, I’ll not risk causing her to doubt my affection.”
“Are you saying you’ve been celibate all these years?”
“Of course not, but like your girls, I am extremely discreet.” Dodger’s was not the only place to offer female companionship. Besides, Frannie was less likely to hear of Luke’s liaisons if he sought them out elsewhere. For a few years, he’d even had a mistress, but they had parted ways when Luke had decided that it was time to ask Frannie to be his wife.
“For God’s sake, Frannie works here. She knows men have urges.”
“I’m not going to have her wonder about mine. You might understand if you had someone you favored.”
“I prefer my women bought. Ensures no misunderstandings.”
And in Luke’s experience, no real passion.
“So shall we make the usual wager for tomorrow?” Jack asked.
“By all means.”
“It’s been almost a year since you set yourself this task. I don’t relish getting rich off my friends, so take care of the matter tomorrow, will you?”
“If you don’t relish it then stop making the blasted wagers!”
“You know I have a weakness where wagering is concerned.” A corner of his mouth hitched up. “And I can seldom beat you at cards.”
“Tomorrow. I’ll ask her tomorrow,” Luke said with renewed conviction.
Jack clapped him on the shoulder. “Bring another fiver just in case.”
It was all Luke could do to not punch that knowing smirk off Jack’s face. But just as Frannie owed Luke, so he owed Jack a debt he could never repay.
Luke strode out of the building into the fog-shrouded night. His bones immediately began to ache, a reminder from too many nights sleeping in the cold. Now he kept the rooms of his residences unbearably warm simply because he could. Having spent his youth without many comforts, he indulged in all of them now. He’d developed a reputation for being eccentric and extravagant, for spending foolishly. But he could well afford to spend however he damned well pleased. Being in partnership with Jack ensured it.
Yes, investing in the vices paid handsomely.
Before he reached his coach, his liveried footman opened the door with a slight bow.
“Home straightaway,” Luke said, as he climbed inside.
The door closed, and Luke sat back against the plush seat. The well-sprung coach lurched forward. Gazing out the window, Luke could see little save the gray swirling mist. He didn’t care for it much as it had a permanent place in his dreams.
Not that he dreamed often. In order to dream, one needed to sleep, and Luke seldom slept for any great length of time. He wasn’t certain any of them did. Feagan’s children.
They were bound together by the things they’d done. Things the nobility could never comprehend being desperate enough to do.
It was one of the many reasons that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with his place in the world. Shortly after the old gent’s demise, Luke had attended a ball to publicly take his place as the new Earl of Claybourne, and a hush had descended over the crowd as soon as he’d been announced at the top of the stairs. He’d sauntered through the room, daring anyone to question his presence. No one had been able to meet his gaze.
An image flittered at the edge of his memory. One young lady had not only dared to hold his gaze, but had fairly challenged him. He wasn’t certain why, but he thought of her on occasion. She was nothing like Frannie. Standing there in her elegant evening gown, with every strand of her blond hair tucked perfectly into place, she appeared spoiled and pampered. It was one of the reasons he abhorred the idea that he was now part of the aristocracy. They knew nothing of suffering. They knew nothing of the humiliation of scrounging for morsels of food. They weren’t familiar with the sharp bite of the cane when begging didn’t bring in enough coins or slipping hands into pockets didn’t acquire enough handkerchiefs. They didn’t know the fear of being caught. Even children were sent to prison, sometimes transported on great hulking ships to Australia or New Zealand, and on rare occasions, hanged.
The coach came to a halt, the door opened, and Luke alighted. He always felt a tad guilty upon first arriving at his London residence. Two dozen families could live there comfortably. Instead it was only he and two dozen servants. Of course, that would change once he married Frannie. Children would roam these hallways soon afterward.
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