Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(14) by Lorraine Heath
“It would indeed, so relax and enjoy your tour of London.” While he fully intended to enjoy every facet of her.
While he avoided Hyde Park, Swindler ordered the driver to take them through other parks. He found it increasingly difficult to keep his eyes off Miss Watkins as she took in the sights. Her face revealed such exquisite pleasure, her lips continually curling into a smile, her deep blue eyes sparkling with delight.
As a rule, Swindler was not one to talk overmuch, but Miss Watkins was fascinated with everything, and she had the occasional question.
Had he toured Madame Tussaud’s?
Was the inside of Westminster Abbey as impressive as the outside?
He’d finally ordered the driver to stop at a spot near a river where rowboats were rented. After a couple of false starts—it had taken him a few attempts to get the gist of handling the oars—they were now gliding seamlessly along. A few other couples were in nearby boats. It occurred to Swindler that he’d never taken time to simply enjoy London. In his youth, he’d struggled to survive. As he got older, he’d struggled to learn. As a man, he’d become obsessed with his occupation, with being the very best at what he did. It seemed odd to suddenly find himself doing little more than gazing at the woman in the boat with him. She’d opened her pink parasol so it could provide some shade against the late afternoon sun. She appeared serene, as though she’d left her troubles on the bank of the river.
Yet Swindler couldn’t seem to stop himself from imagining Rockberry with her sister, watching her, enjoying her fascination with everything. “Your sister. Did you look exactly alike?” He regretted his words as soon as they left his mouth and she grew somber.
“Exactly. But it was more than our features. Our mannerisms, our interests, were the same. No one could tell us apart, not even our father.”
So Rockberry had seen precisely what he himself saw when he looked at the lady. And Rockberry had taken advantage of the girl. Unfortunately, Swindler could understand that as well, because he was finding it very difficult to be near Miss Watkins and not touch her, not lean over and kiss her.
“It’s funny you should ask me about Elisabeth,” she said, her attention on the sunlight dappling the leaves above. “I was just sitting here lamenting that a gentleman had never taken Elisabeth rowing. Or at least she didn’t write of it in her journal. It’s quite pleasant.”
“I must agree. I’ve never before been rowing.”
She gave him an impish grin. “I gathered, but you mastered it quickly enough.”
“I tend to be a quick study. Growing up on the streets, I learned that the child who survived was the one who adapted swiftly to the unexpected.”
Her tongue darted out to touch her upper lip, and his gut clenched. He wondered what those sweet lips tasted of. “You mentioned that you were borrowing Lord Claybourne’s carriage and also that you sometimes move about in upper circles. How is it you know the nobility if you grew up on the streets?”
“Are you at all familiar with Lord Claybourne’s story?”
“No, my father never felt comfortable around the aristocracy. I think because his finances were never comparable to most. He always looked exactly as he was: an impoverished lord. He didn’t mingle with the other lords. So I fear I don’t know Lord Claybourne.”
“Just as well. He has—or had—a scandalous reputation. It’s settled down a bit since he married Lady Catherine, sister to the Duke of Greystone, but you probably don’t know her either.” Especially as Catherine had indicated that she didn’t know Eleanor. “Be that as it may, Claybourne lived on the streets as I did. His parents were murdered and he was lost for a while.”
“Yes, it was. Dreadfully so. Although you won’t hear him complain about it. Gave him a life unlike that of any other lord. We lived with a kidsman who went by the name of Feagan. Through him we learned to excel at thievery. When Claybourne was fourteen, he ran into a bit of trouble and was arrested.” He didn’t see the need to reveal that the trouble had involved his murdering a man. “As a result, he came to the attention of the Earl of Claybourne, who declared him his long lost grandson. When he took in his grandson, he took in his friends as well. So for a time I lived in St. James and was taught how to give the appearance of being a gentleman.”
“You chose your words so carefully, Mr. Swindler. ‘Appearance’ of being one? Do you not consider yourself a gentleman?”
He grinned. “Only when it suits my purpose. Often I’m more a scoundrel than gentleman, Miss Watkins.”
The heat in his eyes caused her heart to gallop. Oh, she was treading on very dangerous ground here, and well she knew it.
“Is that what you were doing out so late at Cremorne? Scoundreling?”
His rich, dark laughter echoed around them. She thought it was as wondrous a sound as the sea roaring onto shore. If she wasn’t careful, she feared she might find herself being even more taken with him.
“Is that even a word?” he asked.
“I’m simply trying to determine if it was providence or simply dumb luck that brought you to my rescue.”
“Does it truly matter how our paths crossed?”
She smiled at him. “No, I suppose not. Tell me something else about yourself, Mr. Swindler.”
Something else? He was suddenly at a loss for words. He couldn’t tell her about the Whitechapel murder.
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