Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(57) by Lorraine Heath
It was only when she eased her feet over his in order to achieve a little more height that he realized she, too, was barefoot. How was it that something as simple and tiny as her bare soles could shoot sparks of desire through him? How was it that he could easily imagine laying her down on the cool grass, wrapping his fingers around her bare ankle and sliding his hand up her calf, over her knee, and along her thigh?
Only a few hours had passed since he’d taken her in his bed, yet at that moment he was as randy as a callow youth who had yet to experience his first woman. Pulling back from the kiss, he saw the yearning in her deep blue eyes and he realized, somewhat startled, that they matched the sea in the distance. She belonged here with her bare feet, her sea blue eyes, her gentleness. Even as his thoughts traveled that path, he remembered that she could be as fierce and as deadly as the storm. He’d underestimated her determination where justice was concerned once—he wouldn’t do it again.
He slid his hand down her arm and laced his fingers through hers until their palms touched. He’d never considered how sensual it could be to hold a lady’s hand intimately. If not for the weight of what remained before them, he might have felt carefree and lighthearted. Instead he wished they might have today forever and that tomorrow might never arrive. She was the one who tugged on his hand and prompted them to begin walking back toward the house. He thought he could grow accustomed to this place, to having her near. Even with so innocent a musing, guilt and regret battled within him. London was where he belonged, fighting for the rights of the innocent.
“The roads will be muddy,” she said quietly, as though she knew in which direction his mind wandered. “It would be best to delay our journey until they’ve dried.”
She peered up at him, her lips forming a mischievous grin that made him want to lean down and kiss her again. “Twenty, thirty years.”
The wind carried his laughter toward the road that would lead them to the village, and from there back to London. He sobered. “I wish it could be so, Emma.”
“But you’re a man of honor, a man of the law. It’s one of the things I admire about you, that you believe in justice. But I don’t see why Eleanor and I must both pay for one act. Spare her. Take me and leave her here. She already suffers greatly for what she did.”
He stopped walking and touched her cheek. Was there anyone as courageous, as unselfish, as these two sisters, each willing to take the complete responsibility for Rockberry’s death and to pay the ultimate price? He knew they weren’t a threat to anyone else. Their actions had been motivated by grief and horror over what the marquess had done to their sister. Swindler had often released boys from gaol or failed to arrest them when their crimes were petty. But murder?
“Eleanor asked the same of me, to leave you behind. But it’s not a simple matter, Emma. If there is only one of you, how do I explain my vouching for you? My word, my reputation, will come into question. My position with Scotland Yard will be in jeopardy.”
“Then don’t take either of us.”
“I’ve never not been able to solve a crime.”
“So it’s your pride that drives you?”
Her words pounded into him. He’d never considered himself prideful. His work was altruistic. It brought him a sense of satisfaction to do for others what he’d been too terrified to do for his father—provide evidence that he wasn’t the guilty party. “No, my efforts protect the innocent. I risk losing my ability to ensure it is the guilty who pay and not the innocent. I’ve spent my life striving to atone for my father’s death. I can’t turn my back on it or dishonor it now—no matter how much I wish matters were different.”
With a small nod, she moved away from his touch as easily as shadows retreated when touched by the sun. He sensed no anger in her. Disappointment, perhaps. Grudging acceptance of his decision.
They began walking again, but were no longer holding hands. He felt the absence of her touch like a huge, aching chasm in his chest. How could he make her understand that if he wasn’t with Scotland Yard, he’d have no purpose in his life? As justified as he considered the death of Rockberry—the man was a beast—Swindler could see only two choices if he wanted to save her: let the murder go unsolved or allow only Eleanor to pay the price. And only Eleanor paying the price brought its own complications, as he’d already explained to Emma. He was also almost certain it would cost him Emma. She’d not forgive him for arresting her sister and not her. Truth be told, he could see Emma marching into police headquarters and claiming she’d done the deed. The sisters would work together to confuse the courts—or they’d accept their punishment.
After reading Elisabeth’s journal, something else had begun nagging at Swindler. Business remained undone. Finishing it might bring salvation for both ladies, but the dangers couldn’t be overlooked.
“In her journal, Elisabeth mentioned silver filigree that Rockberry placed around her neck.”
Emma peered over at him, and in her eyes he saw that she didn’t want to discuss the particulars of what had transpired between her sister and Rockberry. But in the jut of her chin, he recognized her determination not to retreat from what could well turn into unpleasant discourse.
“Do you know if she kept it? Have you seen it?”
She flushed. How easily she was embarrassed, even after the incredible intimacy they’d shared. He wondered if Elisabeth had been as quick to blush. Had Rockberry taken delight in it?
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