Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(8) by Lorraine Heath
“So you’re here for your Season.”
“No, I…no. I can’t afford a Season. I simply came to London in order to see it.”
“This cousin won’t help you?”
“My family troubled her once”—she shook her head—“things didn’t go well for my sister. I’ll not take advantage of my cousin again. May we speak of something else?”
The sudden impatience in her voice alerted him that he was dangerously close to interrogating her. Usually he was more subtle, but suddenly with her he wanted to know everything and know it quickly, and not only because of duty. She was courageous, and perhaps a bit reckless, to travel alone. Yet he admired her determination not to require companionship in order to do as she wished. “My apologies for bringing up a sore subject.”
The tenseness in her face eased. “You had no way of knowing.”
And just as quickly the tension returned, her body stiffening, her steps faltering. He followed the direction of her gaze and watched as Rockberry loped along on his black mount. When Swindler looked back at her, she’d grown pale and all the sparkle had left her eyes, leaving behind deep pain and sorrow.
“Miss Watkins? Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m sorry…I…I’m sorry.”
He glanced back in the direction Rockberry had gone. “Are you familiar with Lord Rockberry?”
Suspicion quickly lurked in Miss Watkins’s eyes. “How do you know him? Do you consider him a friend?” she asked.
He knew he needed to play the next bit very carefully. “I know him because I have friends who move about in his circles, and on occasion I’m unfortunate enough to be invited to their gatherings. As for his being a friend, no. Quite honestly, between you and me, I don’t much like the fellow.”
“I don’t fancy him either.”
“Then perhaps we should walk on, before he notices us and prances over. You’re a lovely woman, and from what I understand he can’t resist lovely women.” And while he knew Rockberry had danced with her sister, knew Miss Watkins was spending her time observing Rockberry, Swindler couldn’t let on that he knew any of those specifics. He had to keep his focus on his plan to entice her into revealing all to him, without letting on that he knew even the slightest bit regarding what she was about.
Another tantalizing blush crept up her cheeks before she nodded. Swindler wasn’t certain he knew any woman who blushed as easily or as becomingly, but then most of the women of his acquaintance were hardened by life, and had learned long ago not to give away the slightest hint of their feelings. He thought Miss Watkins might be the first genuine person to cross his path. Completely guileless. Whatever mischief possessed her to follow Rockberry could lead to no harm other than annoyance. It wasn’t in her nature to be ruthless or calculating. She was following a lord around, irritating him. Why couldn’t Sir David realize that Miss Watkins was harmless? She would soon tire of plaguing Rockberry. No one was in danger here, and Swindler had more important matters to which he should attend. This assignment was petty foolishness.
Still, Swindler turned in a direction that would take him and Miss Watkins away from Rockberry and provide the marquess with only a view of their backs. Swindler didn’t trust Rockberry to have the good sense not to approach them and reveal his purpose. While Rockberry’s doing so would bring the assignment to a swift end, Swindler wanted its end to come on his terms.
“So how did you come to know Rockberry?” he asked after several moments of silence, when he was certain they were past being noticed by the odious man. She shook her head. “I don’t know him personally. I’ve never met him.”
“But you know of him?”
She nodded, and he could see she was distressed.
“Miss Watkins, if he’s harmed you in any way, I shall—”
“No, not me. My sister. He trifled with Elisabeth, so I was curious about him. Shortly after I arrived in London, I asked someone to point him out to me.” She paused for a moment, as though wanting to take care with her words, with what she revealed, and it occurred to him that perhaps they were both playacting. Unfortunately for her, he was the master and would eventually discern whatever it was she wished to hide, while she’d learn very little about him. He was fairly certain he knew the answer already. Rockberry had undoubtedly ruined her sister, and Elisabeth had flung herself from the cliff rather than live with the shame of it. She who was to marry well and help her sister have her own Season had failed miserably. As for Eleanor, perhaps she was striving to discover if Rockberry was worth her sister’s affection. Whatever her reasons, he found himself intrigued by the challenge she presented. He quickly grew bored with women who gave too much, too easily, and while it was her motives, her plans, that he sought, he saw no reason that the quest couldn’t be enjoyable for them both.
“I…I’m sorry, Mr. Swindler,” she finally said. “I’ve had quite enough of the park. I must return to my lodgings. Thank you ever so much for the map. I shall put it to good use, I assure you.”
“Will you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you home? I can see you’re upset. I’d like to ensure you arrive safely.”
She blinked as though his words were not what she’d expected, or perhaps not what she wanted. At last she nodded.
As they walked on in silence, she was very much aware of Mr. Swindler’s gaze riveted on her. She wondered what he was thinking, if he was as unexpectedly drawn to her as she was to him. She’d been surprised by that, by how his presence in the park had affected her. His features were strong, almost craggy, like her beloved jagged coastline, which could appear beautiful one moment and deadly dangerous the next.
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