Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(11) by Lorraine Heath
“Right, then,” he said, setting his tumbler aside and coming to his feet while he could still stand without embarrassing himself. “I’ll keep your offer in mind should I have any further dealings with Miss Watkins.”
Rising, Claybourne assisted Catherine from the sofa. “Please do,” she said.
“I’ll see you out,” Claybourne said as he bussed a quick kiss across Catherine’s cheek, giving her more promises for what might transpire later.
Swindler didn’t envy what his friend possessed, but for the first time he missed that he wasn’t in possession of it as well.
In the hallway, Claybourne said, “If you believe dangers are about, I would appreciate your not getting Catherine involved. My wife has the heart and courage of a lioness. I don’t know that my own heart could stand seeing her in harm’s way again.”
“I suspect Rockberry is more bark than bite. Otherwise, he’d have seen to the matter himself. As for Miss Watkins…I think she simply wishes to annoy him for a short time. Then I suppose she’ll return home.”
He wasn’t quite certain why he felt sorrow over that notion. It wasn’t as though anything could ever exist between them. She was the daughter of a viscount, for God’s sake. He the son of a thief.
“As you’re well aware, I’ve only recently become accepted by my peers,” Claybourne said. “I could make some discreet inquiries, see what’s what.”
“It’s probably best if I hold this matter as close to the vest as possible for now. I don’t doubt your ability to exhibit discretion, but as I’ve been assigned the task, I’ll handle the inquiries.”
“Scotland Yard is having you follow the girl around? You must be chafing at the bit to move on to more important matters.”
Strangely, after the encounter in the park, he wasn’t nearly as impatient with this duty as he had been the night before. “We are charged with preventing crime. Rockberry believes she aims to kill him.”
Remnants of regret washed over Claybourne’s face. He’d once killed a man who had hurt Frannie. “Maybe I should speak with the lady. Even when the murder is justified, it’s not easy to live with.”
“If you hadn’t killed him, I would have.”
Claybourne shook his head. “Still, your lady should know that vengeance comes at a high price.”
“I don’t think she has it in her to kill him.”
“I hope you’re right. If you’re not grumbling about the assignment, then the lady must be holding your interest.”
“I misjudged her upon first meeting her. It’s not a mistake I often make.”
“I’ve never known you to misjudge a person.”
But he had. Somehow he had.
Claybourne gave Swindler’s shoulder a firm, hard clap. “Just know we’re here if you need us.”
Not two minutes ago Claybourne had been asking him not to involve them, and now it seemed he’d reversed his stance. Swindler knew that if it came to it, they’d help him. Feagan’s children always stood together, even when their lives were lived apart.
“Actually, I do have a favor to ask.”
“Ask, and if it’s within my power it’s yours.”
“Could I borrow a carriage tomorrow? An open one if the day is sunny. Closed if it’s not.”
Claybourne grinned. “Putting out a bit of honey?”
Swindler shrugged. “If I must endure this assignment, I see no reason not to experience a bit of enjoyment while seeing to the task.”
Swindler was almost to the door of his lodging house when he turned around and started back up the street. He didn’t know why he was so restless tonight. Perhaps because even with Eleanor’s promise, he didn’t quite trust her to stay indoors. He knew he couldn’t keep watch over her twenty-four hours a day, but he didn’t want her following Rockberry either. Not when he knew he wouldn’t be around anyway. He didn’t trust the man not to take matters into his own hands and harm her.
It was nearly half past ten. As Swindler neared her lodging house, he saw her silhouette limned by the pale light spilling out through her window. Relief swamped him because she wasn’t stirring up trouble with Rockberry. He stopped and leaned against a tree in the shadows. It appeared she was brushing her hair. Good Lord, how long was it? Based on her movements, it had to reach past her waist. One hand glided the brush through the strands, while the other followed, smoothing them. He imagined the brush in his hand, the silk of her hair pooled in his lap as he sat behind her. Brushing, stroking. Gathering it up and burying his face in its abundant softness. There had been little enough softness in his life, and he’d always refrained from admitting how desperately he wanted it.
The women in his life never stayed for long, because he couldn’t give them what they wanted. He cared for them too much to pretend he loved them, but not enough to truly love them. Miss Watkins wouldn’t be in his life for long either. He would slowly earn her trust—
slowly because of a sudden he wasn’t in any hurry to be rid of her—and when she confided everything, he would convince her to leave Rockberry alone. Or perhaps, depending on the circumstances, he would see to the matter for her. But only after she believed that he cared for her would she open up to him. So convince her that he held a fondness for her, he would. It wouldn’t be much of a falsehood. He did feel a stirring of feelings for her, just not the depth of emotion a lady such as she deserved.
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