Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(22) by Lorraine Heath
“No, I grew up far more in the rookeries than I did at Claybourne’s. It’s a myth that age is determined by years. I didn’t stay at Claybourne’s all that long. A few years. When Jack Dodger and Frannie left, so did I.”
“Who are they?” She enjoyed listening to him talk. Wanted to know every detail of his life, even when she wasn’t willing to share hers.
“Jack Dodger, a scoundrel of the highest order. A very wealthy one at that. He owns Dodger’s Drawing Room. A very exclusive gentlemen’s club.”
Where Rockberry was a member. He’d gone there twice now since she’d arrived in London. James paused to study her, and she wondered what he was searching for—if he knew she was well acquainted with Dodger’s and what it represented.
“And Frannie…she recently became the Duchess of Greystone,” James finally continued. She heard deep abiding affection in his voice when he spoke of Frannie. A spark of jealousy flared, and she fought valiantly to tamp it down. What right did she have to experience such a reaction to a name, to a woman who could be more to him that she ever could? “She’s special to you.”
She wished she could have taken the words back. What was it about this night that made it perfect for slipping beneath the surface of whatever was developing between them? Why was she even asking all these questions when she knew he would never have a permanent place in her life?
“She was—is—special to all of us. She’s always been like a little mother. When we were no longer children, she sought out other orphans, built a children’s home for them. Oversees it. Plans to build another.”
“And is a duchess. It’s almost like a fairy tale isn’t it? A daughter of the streets becoming a duchess.”
“I suppose your father had hoped that for you and your sister. A titled gentleman.”
She imagined she heard more in his words, in his inflection—a reminder that he himself was not titled. And while she knew her father had wanted her to marry a man with a title, she only said, “I think he wanted us to marry well, and for my father, I believe that meant marrying a man who would make us happy.”
“What would make you happy, Eleanor?”
Happiness was fleeting, she was discovering. A few hours ago she’d been overflowing with it, and now it was seeping out of her just like the air that had escaped from the balloon so they could return to earth. The nearer they traveled to her lodgings, the more reality began to shove aside dreams and possibilities.
“This evening made me very happy, James.”
She was aware of him scrutinizing her as they passed beneath the streetlamps, and she knew that he intuitively understood what she hadn’t said. They settled back into silence as though they both knew they were destined to make choices that would leave them each alone. When the driver pulled the carriage to a stop in front of her lodgings, the groom climbed down and opened the door, handing her down. James joined her and walked her to the front door.
“How long will you be in London?” he asked.
“I’m not certain.”
“If I were to bring the carriage back ’round two tomorrow, would you grant me the pleasure of going on a picnic with me?”
She smiled warmly. “I would.”
Lifting her hand, he pressed a kiss to her knuckles, and in spite of the gloves, she felt the heat of his mouth through the cloth. “Tomorrow, then.”
Taking her key, he unlocked the door and stood on the stoop until she closed the door. As she walked up the stairs, she thought her step should have been light. Instead, it was weighted down with guilt and deception. And she wondered when the time came, how she would ever walk away from him.
Swindler was not a man who often made mistakes, but when he did they were large and regrettable. During the past week, he’d arranged a series of outings for Eleanor and accompanied her on each one: Madame Tussaud’s, an opera, picnic in the gardens, another visit to Cremorne for the fireworks that so delighted her. He began each day with the best of intentions—to deduce her purpose regarding Lord Rockberry—but he became protective of his time with her. He didn’t want to discern her purpose where Rockberry was concerned.
Swindler was more interested in learning all he could about the lady herself, and his mind was further occupied in striving to determine how to have private moments alone with her in order to secure another kiss. He’d thought to seduce her, and he was the one being seduced. But the time had come when he needed to face his responsibilities. Before he did, however, he wanted to give Eleanor one lasting gift, a night she’d long remember, even if she came to despise him afterward.
It was the very reason that he’d come to the home of the Duke and Duchess of Greystone, who he knew had returned from their wedding trip several days prior to his arrival.
Standing in the elaborate entry hallway, Swindler turned at the calling of his name and looked up the grand sweeping staircase that Frannie was descending. He’d expected this moment of seeing her for the first time after her marriage to Greystone to be awkward, for his heart to give the little pull it always did when his gaze lit upon her, knowing she would never be his. But his heart didn’t begin to ache for wanting, his chest didn’t tighten. He had none of the usual reactions that often accompanied him when he was in her presence. He felt gladness at seeing her, but nothing more. No longing, no yearning, no desire for anything beyond friendship. She looked as she always did: beautifully elegant, with her vibrant red hair pinned up and her face aglow with joy. Her dress, however, was finer than anything she’d worn when she worked as a bookkeeper at Dodger’s gentlemen’s club. Her green dress was silk and lace, befitting a duchess.
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