Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(25) by Lorraine Heath
Swindler had known Frannie would win Eleanor over. To the lad who’d delivered the message, he simply said, “Tell her I’ll see to it.”
He then sent word to Claybourne that he needed to borrow his carriage for the night, knowing full well that Claybourne would use his coach to arrive at the ball. He always escorted his wife around in the coach, because it was grander and worthy of the lady he loved. Swindler then took great care in preparing himself for the evening. While he’d have preferred that his friends leave him behind, he’d known they wouldn’t and that sooner or later he would be invited to one of their grand social events. So, months ago, he’d visited one of the better tailors in London.
Now he stood before the mirror admiring the cut of the black swallow-tailed jacket, hunter green silk brocade waistcoat, pleated white shirt, and white cravat. He wasn’t quite as roughlooking as usual. If he was honest with himself, he’d have to admit he looked quite elegant. He’d fit in nicely with the lords who’d be strutting about. He didn’t want to admit that he cared how Eleanor viewed him, that he didn’t want to be seen as lacking in her eyes. He had little doubt that her dance card would fill up within minutes of her walking into the ballroom. Frannie was providing her with an opportunity to be seen, to be informally introduced into society. If she caught some young man’s fancy, it might be enough to turn her attention away from Rockberry. It was only as Swindler’s hands began to ache that he looked down and realized that he’d balled them up into tight, punishing fists. He didn’t want to think about her in the arms of another man, waltzing with him, smiling up at him, bestowing her smiles upon him, charming him with her laughter. While her father’s title hadn’t been hereditary, she was still part of the aristocracy. She had every right to expect some lord’s son to favor her—a second son, a third son, even a tenth son of a second son would be more worthy of her than Swindler. But the reality regarding his lack of a position didn’t stop him from wanting her. He’d sought to gain her trust in order to learn why she was obsessed with Rockberry and what she hoped to accomplish by shadowing him, and all he had managed to do was come to desire Eleanor as he’d never desired any woman—not even Frannie. He wanted Eleanor in his bed, his body pounding into hers, her cries echoing around him. He wanted the woman who smelled of roses and wasn’t afraid to shower him with seductive smiles. He jerked on his white gloves, understanding the wisdom in wearing them. If his bare skin were to touch hers, he wasn’t certain he’d be able to control himself. He was growing damned tired of his duty, of this assignment. He’d learned nothing of any value to Scotland Yard. He knew only that each moment spent in Eleanor’s presence was both heaven and hell. Perhaps tonight he’d put duty aside, put his own needs, wants, and desires first. In so doing, perhaps he’d discover if the young lady was as aware of him as a man as he was of her as a woman. And finally gain what he’d been searching for all along: the reason behind her interest in Rockberry.
Once he had that, perhaps he could give her another reason to stay in London.
It was the most exquisite gown to ever touch her skin. Even the two gowns her father had paid handsomely to have made for Elisabeth paled in comparison. As she stared at her reflection in the cheval glass, with her hair pinned up and adorned with a diamond tipped hairpin her father had given her, she thought she’d never looked more beautiful.
Vanity was a tool of the devil, she knew that well enough, but she seemed unable to help herself. If it wasn’t for the fact that tears would ruin the entire affect, she would have wept. She’d wanted desperately to have a Season, to attend a ball. She wasn’t deserving of this night and yet she couldn’t turn away from it.
She picked up the small matching purse that she’d found in the box. It seemed the duchess had thought of everything. Little wonder James thought so highly of her, referred to her as a little mother.
James. She never should have begun to think of him as anything other than Mr. Swindler. James created a sense of intimacy that should have been forbidden between them, and yet it seemed so right. She couldn’t explain what she was feeling where he was concerned. Intrigued, charmed, infatuated. She longed for his kisses and his touch. Elisabeth had written about wantonness that had led to her downfall.
And now she feared she was traveling the same path.
Before she could convince herself that she should stay in tonight, she hurried out of her rooms. At the top of the stairs she heard a deep masculine voice floating up. She would have recognized it anywhere, from a thousand miles away. Her body went languid, because she knew he’d come for her.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs, his gaze shot past Mrs. Potter to settle on her. His eyes darkened and his nostrils flared. She could see the deep satisfaction reflected in his eyes, along with a bit of possessiveness. Any other woman might have taken offense, might have resented the implication that she belonged to him—but how could she resent what she knew was true, at least for tonight?
He was so remarkably handsome in his black swallowtail jacket. Looking at him dressed as he was, no one would question his origins, no one would even consider for a single moment that he wasn’t a gentleman of the highest order. He possessed such confidence. He might have been disgusted by his origins, but tonight they were nowhere to be seen. Standing before her was a man who’d risen from the gutter, and nothing on earth would ever send him back to the filth. And judging by the heat smoldering in his beautiful green eyes, he wanted her desperately. She couldn’t deny that she wanted him in equal measure.
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