Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(13) by Lorraine Heath
She rolled over in the bed, brought her knees up and slipped her hand beneath her cheek. While brushing her hair, she’d had the sense that she was being watched, and she imagined it was James Swindler, yearning to be with her. Closing her eyes, she knew sleep wouldn’t arrive for a while, but she was in no hurry to drift off. If James Swindler occupied her thoughts long enough, perhaps he would inhabit her dreams and ward off the nightmares that frequented her on a regular basis.
Perhaps in her dreams he would even kiss her.
Dangerous, dangerous thoughts. Nothing more could exist between them, even if she wished it, because in the end, no matter what happened between them, he would despise her. She had a horrible, sinking feeling that she might despise herself as well.
It was deuced stupid for him to be so blasted nervous, Swindler told himself. He had inspected every inch of the carriage. It sported not a single scratch. The leather seat was thick and comfortable. The driver and groom, splendidly turned out in the noted Claybourne livery, were almost as well matched as the pair of grays.
Standing in front of Miss Watkins’s lodgings, he fought not to pace. He checked that his neckcloth was still properly in place and his buttons done up. He wore the same jacket and trousers as the day before, but his waistcoat was dark green brocade, his neckcloth a pale yellow. When he’d gone to Claybourne’s to retrieve the carriage, he’d allowed enough time so Claybourne’s manservant could trim his hair and nails, as well as shave him. He was not a man accustomed to uncertainty, nor was he generally taken with vanity, but both dogged his heels as the hour of his outing with Miss Watkins approached.
He’d considered waiting in the parlor but didn’t think he could manage to sit still. He had sent the groom around to make a discreet inquiry at the servants’ door, so he knew the lady had not yet left for the park. He asked the driver for the time for what must have been the tenth time in as many minutes. When had the afternoon begun to creep by?
The lady should be making her appearance at any—
The door echoed a resounding click, and he came to attention as though the queen were passing by.
With a startled gasp, Miss Watkins froze halfway onto the stoop. Then her face blossomed into a beautiful smile that caused Swindler’s chest to swell with satisfaction. He’d never in his life courted a woman, not even Frannie, because he’d known she would never return his feelings, that she favored Claybourne and Jack above him. Still, while he was not engaged in courtship at that moment, he thought he could definitely see the appeal in pleasing one woman above all others.
He’d always extended small courtesies to Frannie, and she’d always been appreciative, but he had always known that in spite of his best efforts, he’d never possess her heart. Miss Watkins, on the other hand—he didn’t want her heart, but he couldn’t explain this unheralded contentment that swept through him with her obvious pleasure. She was once again dressed in pale pink, her parasol in one hand, her reticule dangling from her wrist, her bonnet secured beneath her chin with a perfect pink bow. She was elegance and grace. Her father might have been merely a viscount, but she had undoubtedly been brought up to expect to walk among the aristocracy. He told himself that he needed to focus on his assignment, that she was so far above him as to be unreachable, but it was his own selfish desires that were causing him to want to make his discoveries about her pleasant for them both.
Her blue eyes took in the carriage, driver, groom, and horses before returning to linger on Swindler, as though she were taking in his full measure and discovering that he was not lacking in any regard. Finally closing the door behind her, she descended the steps and came to stand before him, her head tilted back so she could hold his gaze. “What a fine carriage you have, Mr. Swindler.”
“I must confess that I’ve merely borrowed it from a friend. The Earl of Claybourne. You’d mentioned that you wished to see London.” He opened the carriage door. “Shall we?”
She glanced in the direction of the park.
“It’ll be there tomorrow,” he said quietly, disappointed that she hesitated, knowing her thoughts were focused on Rockberry. He couldn’t deny the spark of jealousy that threatened to ignite into a full blaze. What if he’d misconstrued her interest in Rockberry? What if she wished to replace her sister’s role in his life—whatever that role, however misguided, had been?
She smiled at him, and the warmth and sincerity of it were enough to tamp down his own misguided feelings. For this small moment in time he’d won out over a lord. “Of course it will,”
she said. “How silly of me to give the park even a second’s thought when I have a lovely carriage at my disposal.” She placed her hand in his offered one and he assisted her up. Once he settled in beside her, he urged the driver on.
“I suppose if I knew anyone in London, my reputation would be thoroughly ruined with this little outing,” she said demurely.
“I’ve never quite understood this practice of chaperones. In the rookeries, where I grew up, girls came and went as they pleased.”
“And what of their reputations?”
He gave her a wry grin. “They came and went as well.” In spite of a thousand little voices in his head urging him against it, he wrapped his gloved hand around hers. “If you were moving about in Society and were known, I would have brought a chaperone. I can still procure one if you wish.”
He had little doubt that Catherine would accommodate his request. The familiar blush that he was coming to adore crept over Miss Watkins’s cheeks. “I don’t, not really. Besides, it would make things terribly crowded, wouldn’t it?”
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