Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(16) by Lorraine Heath
He started to answer, realized his throat had knotted, and cleared it. “No.”
“It’s wonderful. You should learn.”
“I suppose it’s very much like taking a bath.”
She laughed. “It’s so much more. Elisabeth would only run through the waves, but there is a cove near our home where the water is calm, and I would often swim across it. I have not been there since she died. It was where my father found her.” She shook her head. “My apologies. I didn’t mean to get maudlin and ruin this lovely afternoon.”
”It’s quite all right. I know how difficult it is when you lose someone you love. Even now I often think of my father.”
“Has there been anyone else whom you’ve loved in your life?”
“No.” He wouldn’t tell her about Frannie. His feelings for Frannie, once tender and precious, were for him alone. “Have you ever loved a gent?”
She shook her head. “No.” Lifting her hand, she flicked water at him. “We’re getting very personal here, Mr. Swindler.”
“It’s more interesting than talk of your home. Where is it, by the way?” he prodded, arching his brow, giving her only a glimpse of a teasing smile. She seemed to give it a moment of thought, as though she couldn’t remember. Or perhaps she simply hadn’t expected the question. “It’s to the north, near the sea, as I mentioned. My father’s estate is small, but lovely. I’m comfortable there.”
“To whom will it go now that he has died? I hope you don’t have a horrid distant male cousin or uncle who will toss you out.” Or worse yet, use her for his own gain. Perhaps there was more to her having no one to show her about London than she claimed. She shook her head. “The land was not entailed. So the cottage is mine. His title was not hereditary. It was given to him for services rendered to the Crown. Unfortunately it came with nothing except the title, but my father was not one to complain.”
“You don’t strike me as one to complain either.”
She gave him another impish smile. “I can be stubborn when I set my mind to it.”
He couldn’t see her as stubborn either, although he had to admit that her present course contained a bit of recklessness. What did she truly mean to accomplish by following Rockberry around?
“A cottage by the sea seems like a worthy dowry. Have you an interest in marrying a lord?”
“I suspect they’d have no interest in me.”
He stopped rowing. He dared to skim his gloved fingers along her cheek, cursing the cloth that prevented his skin from touching hers. Her eyes widened slightly, and then darkened, and he wondered if she was imagining what he was: his hands trailing over more than just her cheek. He quickly grabbed the oar before he lost all sense of propriety. “I believe they’d show a great deal of interest if they were to make your acquaintance.”
“But that shall never happen.”
“I could make it happen.”
She seemed as stunned by his words as he was. Whatever had possessed him to make that declaration? He had no desire to see her within the arms of another man, but neither did he wish for her to waste her time in London seeking some sort of petty revenge against Rockberry. Truly, what could she accomplish other than irritating the man? He wasn’t worth her time or attention, and it annoyed Swindler that she was giving Rockberry both.
Seeing her again, he was more convinced that his original assessment of her held true: she was no danger to Rockberry. The man was no doubt reacting to his own guilt over his abhorrent behavior toward her sister. He should be flogged. Swindler was of a mind to flog him. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d meted out justice to those who the law considered beyond reach. Was that the reason Sir David had set him this task: not so much to see to the lady, but to the gentleman?
“I didn’t…come here for a Season,” she finally stammered.
“Why did you come here, then?”
“To put a face to a name, to see London, to…what time is it?”
“Judging by the sun, nearly five.”
She seemed stunned by his words. “Do you not possess a watch?”
His answer was succinct, to the point, as though he wanted to let the matter drop, and she wondered at the story there. She began to put her glove back on. “Did you bring me on this outing to ensure that I wasn’t at the park at half past five?”
“What is to be gained by torturing yourself with the presence of Rockberry in the park?”
“I’m not sure. Every time I see him, it is like a dagger to the heart.”
“I fear I’ve effectively ruined your afternoon.”
Her smile was soft but reassuring. “Not at all. Rather, I think you’ve managed to convince me that I should enjoy London while I’m here. But it is getting late. I should probably return to my lodgings.”
He winked at her. “If I can determine how to get us back to shore.”
She laughed lightly. “Thank you for the pleasant afternoon, Mr. Swindler. It seems I’m once again in your debt.”
“May I call upon you again tomorrow?”
She gave him a demure smile. “I’d like that very much.”
After another day in her company, Swindler still didn’t quite trust her not to slip out and follow Rockberry. So after escorting her to her door, he’d ridden the carriage around the corner, hopped out, and ordered the driver to return to Claybourne’s. He then took up his post outside Miss Watkins’s lodgings.
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