Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(10) by Lorraine Heath
He snapped himself free of the dreams that had begun to haunt him ever since his encounter with Miss Watkins in the park and took the tumbler Claybourne offered. “Thank you.”
Claybourne sat on the sofa beside his wife, stretching his arm across her shoulders, so his fingers could casually stroke her bare arm. Swindler doubted he’d have been as informal were his guest a lord. Or perhaps he would have if their friendship had been woven in the squalor that was the rookeries.
“You had some questions to ask of Catherine,” Claybourne prodded. Swindler took a sip of the whiskey, relishing the taste and the burn. He felt his muscles begin to relax. They’d been tense ever since he’d escorted Miss Watkins to her lodgings. Last night he’d been surprised to discover that she was not staying in one of the better parts of London. As his own lodgings were not that far from hers, he was well aware of what the accommodations offered. They were adequate but nothing fancy.
“Yes. I’m curious about a Miss Elisabeth Watkins. She was the daughter of a viscount.”
“Watkins?” Catherine’s delicate brow pleated. “I believe I’ve heard mention of a Viscount Watkins, but I fear I know very little about him. Sterling might, although I suspect it unlikely. Of course, he’s not due to return to London for another few days.”
Swindler appreciated what she wasn’t saying—that the man was in the South of France making love with his new wife, with Frannie. What surprised Swindler was that the thought of her with another man didn’t bring with it the usual sense of loss. Since his encounter with Miss Watkins this afternoon, she had been the one to occupy his mind, as though no one else mattered.
“I’ll be content with anything you know,” Swindler assured her, hoping to gather a few more morsels about Miss Watkins in his endeavors to learn about her father.
“If he’s the man I’m thinking of, he rarely comes to London. Doesn’t even have a residence in town.”
Had word not even passed through the ranks that he’d died?
“Elisabeth apparently had her coming out last Season,” Swindler told her. Catherine distractedly patted Claybourne’s thigh. “I fear I was far too caught up in my own affairs last Season to give much attention to someone’s coming out. I’m sorry.”
Claybourne’s hand ceased its stroking and closed around her upper arm, offering strength and comfort. It was last Season that their lives had all become irrevocably entwined.
“You might inquire of Jack’s wife,” Catherine continued. “Before Olivia went into mourning, she may have met Miss Watkins earlier in the Season.”
The widowed Duchess of Lovingdon created something of a scandal by marrying before the proper period of mourning had passed—an even greater scandal by her selection of a husband—Jack Dodger. Wealthy though he might be, he owned an exclusive gentlemen’s club that was almost as infamous as he.
“Apparently Elisabeth caught Lord Rockberry’s fancy,” Swindler offered, hoping to prod some memory. Surely they’d not been free of gossip.
Catherine grimaced. “He fancies himself quite the catch, but I’ve never known him to offer for anyone. Did he take advantage of her?”
“Why would you think that?”
“If her father is as I’ve heard, without two pennies to rub together, it’s unlikely she’d come with a substantial dowry. She could be desperate enough to believe a cad’s promises. I fear not all gentlemen are in fact ‘gentlemen.’”
Rockberry certainly fell into the category of not a gentleman. “Elisabeth apparently met a tragic end. Her sister, Eleanor, is in London. She’s been following Rockberry around town. I suspect she holds him responsible in some manner, and he has the mien of a man harboring dark secrets and guilt.”
Since Swindler possessed the same mien, he recognized it when he saw it in others.
“Oh, poor girls,” Catherine said. “Elisabeth and Eleanor. Who is acting as Eleanor’s benefactor to introduce her to Society?”
“She’s not here for Society, but rather to poke sticks at Rockberry.”
“That’s very dangerous indeed. Rockberry won’t tolerate that for long. Perhaps I should speak with her.”
Swindler shouldn’t have been surprised by her offer. Her nature to help those in trouble had brought her into Claybourne’s life. He didn’t know quite how to respond. He knew only that whatever Miss Watkins needed, he wished to be the person to provide it. “It’s probably too soon to involve you. I’ve spoken with her. I don’t believe she’s a true threat. She may irritate Rockberry, but I don’t think she’s capable of inflicting any lasting harm.”
“Don’t take offense, Jim, but I suspect you underestimate the determination of aristocratic ladies when they’ve decided to take matters into their own hands.”
“Stubborn more like,” Claybourne grumbled, and she jabbed him in the ribs. Rather than get angry with her, Claybourne gave her a heated look that even Swindler could interpret as meaning she’d pay dearly for it later in their bedchamber. He didn’t want to think about the bed he’d sleep in alone tonight. He could seek out company, but he thought anyone other than Miss Watkins would leave him unsatisfied. Not that he had any plans to lure her into his bed. She was, after all, a lady—but that didn’t mean he hadn’t already given a great deal of thought to the pleasure he’d experience in having her there. He could well imagine her hands skimming over his bare chest, her mouth nibbling—
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