Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(5) by Lorraine Heath
“Do we know why his lordship believes Miss Watkins would wish him ill?”
His superior’s gaze darted over to the corner. Swindler heard the impatient sigh before the voice rumbled from it. “Elisabeth Watkins had her coming out last Season. We danced on occasion. Nothing more.”
There was always more.
“Am I to assume then that it is Lady Elisabeth and Lady Eleanor?” Swindler asked.
“No, her father is merely a viscount. ’Tis Miss Eleanor Watkins.”
Merely? So the man in the corner with his higher rank possessed a superior attitude. Weary of this dance, Swindler spun around. He could see one outstretched leg and a wellmade boot polished to a shine that barely reached into the light. The remainder of the person was lost in the darkness, but still Swindler knew what the man looked like, as the trail had begun at his lordship’s residence. He was not terribly old. He was, however, terribly handsome, with the perfect alignment of features that caused poets to apply ink to paper and wax poetically about the wonders of love. Swindler was damned tempted to address him by name, but for some unknown reason games were being played, and Sir David was tolerating them—which meant that the man either had friends even more superior than Sir David or he’d witnessed Sir David doing something he shouldn’t. “If it was Elisabeth who caught your fancy last Season, why would Eleanor now wish you harm?”
Silence greeted his question.
“Your lordship, I cannot be of much assistance if you are anything less than forthright. I am not one to gossip. You could confess to enjoying the most depraved sexual acts—”
Even with the distance separating them, Swindler felt a ripple of tension emanating from the corner.
“—known to man, and I wouldn’t tell a soul.”
The silence thickened and lengthened. Was that what this was about, then? Some depravity that now haunted his lordship?
Rockberry finally cleared his throat. “Miss Elisabeth Watkins met with an untimely end. It’s quite possible her sister holds me responsible, which is ludicrous, as I was nowhere near the silly chit when she encountered her demise. Miss Eleanor Watkins has never confronted me. She doesn’t speak to me. She merely watches. Near a lamppost or from beside a tree in the park. I’ll be taking a stroll and I’ll have a sense of being spied upon. I glance back and there she is, watching…always watching. When I try to approach her to determine her purpose, she walks away, disappears in the crowd, and I’m left to wonder if I truly saw her at all. Because of her uncanny resemblance to Elisabeth, I was beginning to think Elisabeth had returned to haunt me. But as I said, we only danced, so I can determine no reason for this annoying game.”
With his repeated “we only danced,” Swindler wondered who his lordship was seeking to convince: Swindler or himself.
“So you’ll continue to follow her, Swindler, see what she’s about,” Sir David said sharply in a tone that meant he’d brook no further arguments on this matter. Swindler gave his attention back to his superior. He liked Sir David, admired him, but this matter was beyond the pale. “As I was forced to approach her, I assume you have no objection to my approaching her again.”
“Handle this matter however you deem best.”
Swindler heard the frustration and annoyance in Sir David’s voice. Sir David was no happier about this situation than he was. If Swindler had his way, he’d make the matter go away on the morrow.
The following afternoon Swindler discreetly
followed Miss Watkins from her lodgings to
Hyde Park. Holding a pink parasol over her left shoulder, she wore a dress of pale pink and a bonnet with matching ribbons. Her attire possessed a touch of innocence. He couldn’t fathom that she had it in for Lord Rockberry—regardless of how annoying he found the man. If the young lady was aware of Swindler’s presence, she gave no indication. As usual, the park was teeming with ladies and gentlemen parading their wares—their fine clothing, their haughtiness, their steadfast belief that they were better than the common man. Swindler had little tolerance for the upper crust—except when it involved his friends who were moving into the ranks of the nobility with alarming regularity. Several years back they had discovered that from birth Lucian Langdon had been destined to become the Earl of Claybourne. Last year Jack Dodger had taken a widowed duchess as his wife. And Frannie Darling, the only woman Swindler ever truly loved, had recently married the Duke of Greystone. Swindler was sincerely happy for her. He’d always been unselfish in regard to Frannie, but unselfishness came with a steep price. His father had taught him that hard lesson, and Swindler had been paying for it ever since.
While his friends didn’t lord their stations over him, neither did they move around in the same circles any longer. It was the way of things. He didn’t resent their rise from the gutter, but he also recognized that he would always be known as the son of a thief. He’d loved his father as he’d never since loved any other, save Frannie. Yet his father had left him with an incredible burden to bear. When he was a lad, some nights he’d wept beneath the weight of it. During others the fury had ruled him and he’d destroyed whatever came within his path. He’d lost track of the number of times when Frannie tended his hurts, gently wrapping his bleeding knuckles. His hands constantly ached from the abuse he’d delivered to them. His features had weathered the fights as well, leaving faint scars and a less than perfect profile in their wake. He wasn’t what he’d consider handsome, but he hoped there was at least strength in his countenance.
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