Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(7) by Lorraine Heath
He hated the false words he uttered. It had never bothered him before to fool someone into revealing what he needed revealed. But then he feared he wanted more from her than was practical. He wanted her on his arm. He wanted her rising up on her toes as he lowered his head to meet her lips in a passionate kiss. He wanted her sharing his bed, whispering wicked words in his ear—even as he doubted her vocabulary included the vulgar words about which he was thinking. But he could teach her. He suspected she was a quick study. But more, he yearned to have her sitting beside him before a fire, listening as he recounted his day, offering words of solace when he bore witness to the brutality and inhumanity of man. It was the last of these that made his desire for her impractical, because the horrors he encountered had no place in her safe world or her innocent mind.
He gave himself a hard mental shake. Whatever was wrong with him to have such fanciful thoughts? It was unlike him to think in such poetic terms. He was a realist. Practical.
“I truly have no idea how I shall ever repay your kindness,” she said.
“Perhaps you’d be so kind as to take a turn about the park with me.”
She glanced quickly around, and he wondered if she was searching for Rockberry or striving to ensure that no one she knew would see her with Swindler. “I don’t suppose it’ll do my reputation any harm. After all, you can’t take advantage here.”
She was innocent. Why ever did she think women required chaperones? A man would always take advantage if the opportunity to do so presented itself. Especially when the lady was as enticing as she was.
He gallantly offered his arm. When her small gloved hand lighted upon it, he felt the touch clear to the souls of his feet. As part of his attempt to gain her trust, he’d dressed the part of a gentleman: gloves, hat, a fine jacket, waistcoat, and cravat. He preferred clothes a bit more plain, but he always dressed better when his mark was a woman. Women seemed to appreciate a man who was well turned out. And he needed every advantage he could muster. Next to her, he felt like a clumsy clod, rather than Scotland Yard’s most brilliant and accomplished detective.
“You seem to have recovered very well from the ordeal you faced last night,” Swindler said, striving to keep his mind on the task at hand rather than his fanciful musings.
“Yes, quite. Thanks entirely to your efforts.”
“No lingering ill effects?”
“No, not even a bruise. It was frightfully silly of me to go out so late. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking. I shall certainly take more care in the future.”
“I’m relieved to hear that. Have you been in London long?” Swindler asked.
“What gives you the impression I didn’t grow up within the city?”
Tilting his head, he gave her a wry smile. “You became lost.”
She blushed, her cheeks turning the most becoming shade of rose. “Oh, yes. Quite. I’ve been in town for only a week.”
“Was there something in particular that brought you to London?”
She shook her head. “I wanted to see it.” She looked up at the sky as though searching for answers. “My sister visited last year. She was quite enamored with the sights. So I thought I’d come this summer.”
“A shame she didn’t come with you. Perhaps you’d have not gotten lost.”
She brought her gaze back around to him. “She passed recently.”
Setting his face to give no clue that the information was not new to him, he placed his hand over hers where it rested on his arm. When he squeezed her hand, he meant to impart comfort, possibly the first honest gesture toward her. “My condolences on your loss.”
He noted her hesitation before she revealed, “Our home is near the sea. She wandered…wandered too near the cliffs and fell to her death.”
An untimely end, indeed. Recalling Rockberry’s words, he wondered what role the man had played in the girl’s demise. He was tempted to confess everything to Miss Watkins and simply ask her what her true business was, and why she was following Rockberry. Instead, he continued on with the ruse, concerned that she might shy away from him if she suspected he was here because of duty. “Again, my condolences on your loss.”
She lifted a delicate shoulder. “My father took ill shortly afterward and passed as well. It’s been a very trying few months.”
“So you came to London.”
She smiled softly. “My sister spoke of all the wonders. She kept a journal. I read it after she died, and became quite envious of all she’d seen, and so here I am.”
“A woman traveling alone? You’re quite bold.”
“You flatter me, sir, but on this matter I have little choice. I have no aunts to accompany me, and no coins with which to hire a companion. And my mother is long gone. Elisabeth came first and I came last. Unfortunately, I believe I was too much for my mother.”
“Were you and your sister close in age, then?”
She gave him a warm smile. “Only minutes separated us.”
They were twins. No wonder Rockberry had been unsettled by the woman following him and suspected she was a ghost. “I hope you won’t consider me too inquisitive, but I wonder why you didn’t come to London with your sister last year.”
“My father could afford to send only one of us. Elisabeth was the older, if only by a few minutes. She had her coming out. A distant cousin provided her with an introduction to society. It was Father’s hope that she’d secure a fine match and then I’d have my turn.”
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