Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(9) by Lorraine Heath
She could imagine him standing on the deck of a ship, legs akimbo. His muscles strained the fabric of his jacket. In spite of his largeness, there was a gentleness, about him, almost a playfulness. Yet he also possessed a darker side. Now and then she caught a glimpse of it in his eyes. She thought it should have frightened her. Instead she was intrigued. If anyone had asked her, even a year ago, what she would do if she ever was granted the opportunity to visit London, she would have innocently—and perhaps all too naively—answered that she intended to attend glorious balls, fabulous dinners, and an occasional opera. She might have even mentioned that she hoped to fall in love. Twelve months earlier—no, as little as nine months earlier—she had believed that London was the place where the daughter of an inconsequential viscount could find happiness, could achieve the realization of her dreams for a loving husband, a good marriage, and contentment. She had thought the nobility was to be admired, had not considered that some among them were hideously dangerous. That some, like the Marquess of Rockberry, would find enjoyment luring young women into the fires of hell. With the reading of her sister’s journal, her life and her reason for coming to London had taken a drastic turn.
The lodging house came into view. It was modest, her two rooms small, but comfortable.
“Thank you for escorting me home,” she said.
“It was my pleasure.” He gave her a grin that could have been teasing, could have been warning. “I do hope you won’t wander the streets alone tonight. I would be sorely aggrieved if anything untoward were to happen to you.”
“I plan to retire early,” she assured him.
“I’m glad to hear it. I shall look forward to seeing you at the park tomorrow, perhaps a bit earlier. Say around two?”
His startling green eyes wandered slowly over her as though they provided him with the means to see inside her soul. Their shade reminded her of the verdant grass in the middle of summer, and how often she’d run barefoot across it as a child. But she saw no softness in his gaze, nothing to tickle the souls of her feet. It was imperative that she not become lost in those eyes. She wondered how many women had. They were his most striking feature. Through them, she could almost see the cleverness of his mind. He gave the impression that he was relaxed, at ease, and yet she could fairly see the wheels turning.
With her cheeks growing warm, she wished her purpose in coming to London was different. She tried not to think that if she’d been the first to come to the city, she would not have made Elisabeth’s mistakes. She’d even tossed Elisabeth’s failings in her face—before discovering the journal and coming to understand all that her sister had endured. She shouldn’t enjoy a man’s attentions now, but she seemed unable to help herself. “An earlier outing would be most welcome. I shall probably be there, yes.”
“Until tomorrow, then.” He tipped his hat and began to walk away. She hurried up the steps and opened the door using the key that Mrs. Potter, her landlady, had given her. She walked into the entryway and was immediately greeted by the fragrance of furniture wax and fresh flowers.
Mrs. Potter bustled out of the parlor, wiping her hands on the hem of her apron. Her black hair had begun to turn into silver, her face had lost the firmness of youth. She had a penchant for gazing out windows, an even greater one for inciting gossip. “That’s him, Miss Watkins, the man I told you about, the one who’s been making inquiries about you.”
“Is he?” She’d suspected as much when Mrs. Potter described him.
“He gave me a crown not to tell you, but my loyalty is to my tenants, especially as you’re alone. Is he a suitor?”
“If I’m fortunate, yes. You will let me know if you see him about anymore, won’t you?”
“Oh, most assuredly.”
“Thank you.” She went up the stairs. Inside her corner room, she walked to the window and peered between the draperies. She didn’t see Mr. Swindler. She wondered if he’d walked on or circled back to watch her room from some vantage point. She was fairly convinced now that he was Rockberry’s man, sent to keep an eye on her. If he meant more harm than that, surely he’d have already seen to it.
She removed from her reticule the map Mr. Swindler had given her. Clever man to devise so sweet an excuse for approaching her. But still, she had no plans to underestimate him. In the light of day she’d been surprised by his height and the breadth of his shoulders. But it was more than his size that was so dangerous. It was what she’d seen in his face. He looked to be a man who could kill someone simply by wishing him dead. He was not one to be deceived, and yet she planned to do exactly that—deceive him. Deceive him into befriending her, into wanting her, until he would do anything to protect her—even fall on his own sword.
I hate to be a bother.”
“Good Lord, Jim,” Lucian Langdon, the Earl of Claybourne, said as he poured whiskey into two tumblers. “I’ve bothered you often enough.”
“You’re a lord, it’s your right.”
Claybourne scowled at him. They’d grown up on the streets together, working for Feagan, until it was discovered that Luke was the lost heir to a title. Swindler had never felt quite comfortable around the aristocracy, but then he felt comfortable around few. He was a skeptic at best when it came to someone else’s good intentions. No doubt a result of his father’s good intentions leaving him with a wounded soul that still, after all these years, refused to heal. Claybourne handed a goblet of wine to his wife, Catherine. She was a lovely woman. Her blond hair almost reminded Swindler of Eleanor Watkins’s, although Miss Watkins’s made him think of moonbeams woven together. He imagined her hair would be soft but catch on his rough fingers. He imagined those same fingers abrading her delicate skin as he brought her pleasure. To spare her any discomfort, on her most sensitive flesh, he would use his mouth, his tongue—
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