Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(47) by Lorraine Heath
“A pity. There is some lovely country. Perhaps I can share a bit of it with you before you—we—return to London.”
“For pity’s sake!” Eleanor burst out, coming to her feet. “Can we stop with the politeness?
He means to see us hanged, Emma. I for one have no desire to show him anything.”
Tossing her napkin on the table, she strode from the room, very much mimicking the storm thrashing about outside. Watching her leave, Emma couldn’t help but feel a bit of gladness to have some more time alone with James.
She cleared her throat. “You must forgive her. She’s not been herself lately.”
“How is it that you’re so calm? Do you think to use your wiles to convince me to overlook your transgressions?”
“No, I’m done lying to you. Quite honestly, facing up to what we did will be a bit of a relief. I’ve not slept at all since we left London. Barely eaten. I don’t regret that he’s dead. But there are moments when I regret that we’re the ones who did him in. Do you have any regrets, James?”
He rose from his chair and came to kneel beside her. His lovely green eyes held compassion as he cradled her face and touched his thumbs to the tears on her cheeks, which she had not even realized she’d begun to shed. “They have guided my life, Emma.”
His lips touched hers, so gently, so sweetly. The passion had always seemed to roar through them as though they’d both known their time together was short, and once passed would be gone forever. Now it was banked, but she could still feel the embers of desire fighting not to die, striving to flame as hot and as high as they’d once burned. When he pulled away, he said, “I want to read Elisabeth’s journal.”
For a wonderful moment she’d thought—hoped—that he’d forgotten he was a policeman with a duty. But she suspected his duties were never far from his mind, just as her sins were never far from hers. Wiping away her remaining tears, she nodded. “I’ll fetch it for you.”
She couldn’t have been more surprised when he helped her clear away the table. As she washed the dishes, he dried them.
“I’m not accustomed to a gentleman in the kitchen,” she said. “My father always left the table and went to his study to enjoy a bit of brandy with his pipe.”
“I don’t trust that your sister didn’t pour laudanum into all the liquor. As for the pipe, there’s enough bad air in London. Don’t need more in my lungs. I like the smell of the air here.”
She smiled. “Wait until the storm passes. It’s really quite lovely then.”
As though he didn’t want to contemplate what would happen when the storm passed, he said, “When I lived with Feagan, we all had our chores. Mine was to wash the dishes. Most of the lads didn’t care one way or another, but I can’t stand the smell of rancid food.”
“Can hardly blame you there.”
“It reminded me too much of the smell of Newgate when I went to visit my father before they hanged him.” His voice was somber, and she heard in it the stirring of unpleasant memories.
“You sound as though you still miss him.”
“Every day. A little over twenty years now.” She handed him the last dish. “It’s good, really, not to forget. Sometimes it’s as though Elisabeth is still with me. I’ll get the journal for you now. Meet me in the parlor.”
Eleanor refused to leave her bedchamber. Emma didn’t mind. It left her alone in the parlor with James. She had brought him the journal, explaining that the pertinent parts began last June when Elisabeth arrived in London. In a fashion typical of his thoroughness, which she was only beginning to recognize, he opened the journal to the first page and began there. Strangely, she wasn’t impatient with his reading. Judging by how long it was before he turned the page, he wasn’t a fast reader. If he intended to read the entire journal before leaving, then she and Eleanor would have a few additional days of freedom to put matters to right. They had to make arrangements for someone to take the few animals they had. There was also the matter of the house. They could lock it up, but eventually it would need to go to someone. Or perhaps they should sell it. They would need money for a solicitor, and those with money also fared better in gaol.
While he read, Emma saw to her needlework. James had lit the fire in the hearth before she arrived, so the room was nice and warm. Apparently deciding that Eleanor hadn’t tampered with all the liquor in the house, he had helped himself to her father’s brandy. A half-filled glass rested on the table beside the chair in which he sat. Emma sat in a chair on the other side of the small table so they shared a lamp. She was near enough to catch his fragrance, to hear the crackle of the paper as he turned the page.
These moments were like the ones she’d dreamed about when she imagined her life in later years, when she thought of herself married and with children. But the years that awaited her would have no moments like this in them. Her mouth grew dry and her tongue seemed unwilling to cooperate. “Do you suppose there is any chance they’ll transport us rather than hang us?”
He looked up from the journal, his face unreadable. “Is that what you’d prefer?”
She wanted to swallow but the dryness continued. “I don’t know. I should think any life at all is preferable over death, even a harsh life.”
“It’s more than harsh. It’s brutal.”
She nodded. She’d never known anyone who’d been transported. In truth, the only person she knew who’d ever been to gaol or prison was James—and she’d seen what they had done to his back when he was a child. She couldn’t imagine how much harsher the punishment would be for an adult.
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