Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(54) by Lorraine Heath
It had been a mistake to come here, to think she could have him again and then blithely walk away to face whatever the future held.
“Don’t think about tomorrow,” he said quietly.
“How is that you always know what’s on my mind?”
He didn’t answer with words. He simply gave her a tender smile and pressed a kiss to her forehead before again positioning himself so he could see her more clearly.
“I told you about the watch I stole,” he said.
She nodded, wanting to caution him that now was not the time for remorse, even as she wanted him to unburden his sorrows. As long as she was able, she would provide him with what strength she could.
“The irony is that I stole it because my father didn’t have one. And it was his birthday.”
She saw him blink back the tears. That the memory could bring this large, strong man to tears tore into her heart. “Oh, James.”
He shook his head as though to shake off his morose musings. “I told you the story only so you’d understand how important justice is to me. It was a damned watch. It’s value not worth my father’s life. A year in prison perhaps, a few lashes of the whip, but not his life. And Rockberry’s life is not worth yours. I’ll not let you”—he touched his thumb to her lips—”or Eleanor be hanged.”
“You can’t control the courts.”
“Don’t underestimate my influence. I’m not saying you won’t have to account for your actions, but I swear I’ll not see you hanged.”
She fought to give him a reassuring smile. She wanted to believe him. She truly did. But he was not God. He was not king. He was not nobility. He was an inspector with Scotland Yard. The son of a man who’d been hanged for thievery, regardless of his innocence. He was simply a man, even if he was the man she loved.
When Emma awoke, her first thought was that she’d slept, amazingly a deep dreamless sleep. Her second was that she was alone in the bed, but not alone in the room. She sensed his presence before she located him sitting in a chair by the window, the lamp nearby providing him with sufficient light to read the journal in his lap. Although only his profile was visible to her, she could detect the deep furrow in his brow as he absorbed her sister’s account of her life and time in London. With his elbow perched on the arm of the chair, providing support, he held his chin, his forefinger stroking just below his lower lip, a lip she had an urgent desire to nibble upon.
Beyond the window the dark of night still hovered. The storm was dying down, the rain a softer patter, the wind a quieter moan.
Emma studied James as he read. He’d drawn on his trousers. Pity that. She’d never considered herself a woman who would prefer a man in all his naked glory, but James was indeed a fine specimen. He made her feel tiny, yet strong. She had power over him. He desired her. She couldn’t stop the small smile from forming. He could distinguish her from Eleanor. No one else had ever been able to tell the three sisters apart. She supposed it was odd to take such delight in his ability, but it made her feel special. Their entire life all three sisters had struggled to be seen as individuals. People thought they should wear the same clothes, should strive to be identical, but they each possessed their little quirks, their small differences, and in some cases large ones. Eleanor was headstrong, quick to anger, quick to act. Emma analyzed far too much. Elisabeth had been far too adventuresome. It was the reason their father had decided she would be the first to brave London. What a catastrophe that had been. Yet it had put into place a series of events through which she’d met James. If not for the fact that it had cost Elisabeth her life, she might have been grateful. Guiltily, a small part of her was glad for James—but the price had been so dear.
As though suddenly aware of her thoughts, he set the journal aside, rose to his feet and strode toward the bed, shucking his trousers as he neared, revealing all of his masculine glory. The smile he bestowed upon her as he slid into bed beside her caused her heart to trip over itself.
“I thought you’d never wake up,” he growled, before taking her in his arms and making her ever so thankful she had.
June 15, 1851
Tonight Cousin Gertrude escorted me to my first ball. I’m not quite certain how she is related to us, but I daresay Father could have given me as grand an introduction into society as she did. I don’t wish to besmirch her efforts, but I swear she knows not a soul of any importance. How she enticed Lady Chesney into inviting us is beyond me. But invitations were extended and we accepted. I spent the first hour sitting with Cousin while gents eyed me from a distance—not quite sure what to make of me, I’m certain.
Finally, well into the second hour, our hostess introduced Mr. Samuel Bentley and he asked for the honor of a dance. He was not the sort to turn heads, but many heads did turn as he led me onto the dance floor. He was the fourth son of a viscount, desperate enough for funds to ask straightaway what sort of dowry my father was bestowing upon me. He laughed at the amount, then apologized for his rudeness. He assured me that I would have a time of it securing a husband.
I did not doubt his words as I spent another hour becoming further acquainted with my chair. To my shame, I even cursed Father for sending me to London. I was ill prepared for flirtation or exuding confidence. I was the country lass stumbling about in a strange place of unencumbered sophistication and confidence.
I begged of Cousin to allow us to leave, but she wouldn’t hear of it. I suspected she was enthralled with the gaiety, that it was as new to her as it was to me. And then he approached. I’d never seen a man so handsome, a man so charming. The Marquess of Rockberry. He led me into a waltz, and the most boring night of my life suddenly became the most memorable—in the blink of an eye.
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