In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(12) by Lorraine Heath
“If I may be so bold, my lady, I’m not certain his physician would agree with that action.
It may do more harm than good.”
Then Catherine might have her father’s death on her conscience. Avendale’s she could live with, but her father’s—
She sighed. “Ask his physician the next time he comes to check on the duke.”
“Yes, my lady.”
It seemed as though Catherine could do so little to make her father comfortable.
“I’ll be visiting with my father for the next hour,” Catherine told her. “Take some time for yourself.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
Catherine sat in the chair and took her father’s hand. He moved his head only slightly to look at her. He awkwardly rubbed the ring she’d begun wearing on her right hand.
“I’ve taken to wearing Mother’s wedding ring. Is that all right?”
He made a sound deep in his throat. Taking a linen handkerchief from a stack on the bedside table, she wiped the spittle from the corner of his mouth.
“I wish you could tell me what you wanted.” She brushed her fingers through his thinning silver hair. “I hope you’re not in pain.”
With a sigh, she sat back and lifted a book from the bedside table. “Let’s see what sort of trouble Oliver and the Artful Dodger are going to get into today, shall we?”
“Expected to be collecting from you sooner,” Jack said as he welcomed Luke into their establishment that evening.
“I went away for a bit.”
Three days to be exact. The worst part was when he returned from the brink of despair, when the liquor had served its purpose and its effect began fading. His head hurt, his stomach roiled, and he felt like bloody hell. It was a strange thing for a man such as he, a man who’d done the things he’d done, to be hit with a bit of conscience. It was always worse at night, when he faced his own demons alone. All that would change once he married Frannie. She’d distract him from his somber musings. She’d bring light into his darkness. She’d be his salvation.
“Into a bottle?” Jack asked.
“I don’t see that it’s any of your concern.”
Jack shrugged. “It’s not. I just wondered if I should send another case of my finest Irish whiskey round to your residence.”
Luke hated admitting his weakness, even to Jack. “Yes, see to it. Tonight if possible.”
“Consider it done.”
Luke was well aware of Jack studying him. He also knew his friend wouldn’t ask what had prompted his latest fall, so Luke was surprised when he heard himself blurt, “I had a visit from Lady Catherine Mabry.”
Jack furrowed his brow. “Mabry?”
“Daughter to the Duke of Greystone.”
One of Jack’s eyebrows shot up. “My, my. Aren’t we keeping distinguished company of a sudden?”
“She wanted me to kill someone.”
His other brow shot up. “Who’s the unlucky bloke?”
“She wouldn’t say.”
“I assume you declined to do her bidding.”
“You assume correctly.”
“Were you bothered that she had little doubt you could carry out her request?”
He was bothered by the fact that she thought he would carry it out. With no explanation, no justification as though he was a man accustomed to washing blood off his hands. But he wasn’t going to confess all that to Jack so he held his silence.
Jack slapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t be troubled, my friend. They’re no better than we are; the only difference is we know it, recognize our faults, and readily admit to having them.”
“I’m supposed to be one of them, Jack.” But he’d never felt comfortable around them, never felt as though he belonged.
“But we both know you’re not.”
Jack was the only one who knew the truth of Luke’s deceptions, knew he’d pretended to recall what the old gent wanted him to.
“No, I’m not.”
“Don’t know why you feel so damned guilty about it.”
“I grew fond of the old gent. It didn’t seem quite right to deceive him.”
The old gent had loved Luke because he’d thought Luke was his grandson. It was one thing to fool someone into giving him a coin so his stomach wouldn’t ache when he went to sleep that night. It wasn’t quite as easy to swallow the notion that he had tricked someone into giving him his heart.
“You made him happy, Luke. It’s not often that we’re able to do something that causes a person to die as the old gent did, content and satisfied, knowing that his kingdom was safe in your hands—and believing that in your hands it rightfully belonged. Draw some comfort in that.”
He tried. He really did. “I’m taking Frannie out for a while.”
Jack grinned cockily, but then everything about him was cocky and self-assured. He’d even swaggered when they were in prison, as though it were all a grand joke, when Luke had never been more terrified in his entire life.
“Finally going to do it, huh?” Jack asked.
“I think you’ve made enough money off me.”
“I’ll never have enough, but you’re right. I’m tired of collecting on this wager. It’s grown boring. Go make her—and yourself—happy.”
That was Luke’s plan as he strode through the establishment, briefly acknowledging those of his acquaintance, until he made his way to the back where he knew he’d find Frannie. She did her good works during the daylight hours, but at night she saw to Jack’s books. She was sitting at the desk, with her hair pinned up in a no-nonsense type of bun.
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