Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(63) by Lorraine Heath
“She might think twice about it. As you’re well aware, the guilt gnaws at her. And I’m not too shabby in a dangerous—”
Before she’d finished making her case, he snatched her up against him and began plundering her mouth as though it were the last opportunity that he’d ever have to taste her. They’d had few moments alone on the journey here. Perhaps that was the reason she welcomed his advance and clung to him almost with desperation. She didn’t want to consider that it was because their time together was quickly coming to a close.
After this little ruse to get to the others, she and Eleanor would still be held accountable for their role in the death of Rockberry. Whatever her punishment—death, transportation, or years in a women’s prison—James wouldn’t be there with her. He would remain in London, solving crimes, and eventually marrying. She didn’t want to think about another woman lying in his arms, but neither did she want to contemplate the lonely years ahead of him if he remained a bachelor. Or the lonely empty years she would face without his hands gliding over her back as they did now, his kiss stirring her passions.
She wished they could retire to his lodgings, lock the door, and never leave. She wanted to awaken in his bed surrounded by the musky fragrance of their lovemaking. She wanted to feel the heat of his body lying heavily over hers.
He dragged his hot, moist lips along her cheek before nibbling on her ear. “Don’t ask me to risk losing you,” he said in a tortured voice that caused her heart to ache and rejoice. She was truly precious to him. But as much as he meant to her, she couldn’t be so selfish as to willingly put her sister in harm’s way again. It was her turn to take the risk.
“Don’t ask me to risk losing another sister.”
He grew so still, the tension in his body a silent thrumming. When he released her, she felt as though something of monumental importance had shifted between them.
“You’d give up everything we might have so easily?” he asked.
“There’s nothing easy about this, but you must know that what we have is only temporary. As wonderful as it is, James, it will be taken from us whether we wish it or not.”
Even in the shadowy garden, the intensity of his stare was unnerving.
“You should retire now,” he said flatly. “Sleep well. You’ll need your wits about you when it happens.”
“You’ve decided, then—it’ll be me?” She didn’t know if the small tremor in her voice was fear or excitement.
He didn’t reply. He simply walked away, disappearing into the darkness.
When Swindler had sent his missive to his childhood mates, he’d sent one other.
He wasn’t surprised that Sir David had arrived before him, on the banks of the Thames beneath London Bridge. They’d met there many a night when Swindler was engaged in activities that required he not be identified with Scotland Yard. As usual, Sir David was smoking his pipe.
“So Swindler, you’ve returned to London. Why the secret meeting? Am I to assume you don’t have Rockberry’s murderer in hand?”
“It’s become rather complicated.”
“Fell for her, did you?”
It was difficult to admit, even to himself, that he’d fallen madly in love with Emma—
especially difficult when Emma insisted on protecting her sister at the expense of a future with him. He knew he was being selfish, but dammit, his entire adult life he’d sacrificed his own happiness for others. Just once, he wanted to put his own needs first. He explained everything to Sir David, sparing no details. Emma wasn’t there to be embarrassed by the truth or the sordid tale.
“Good God!” Sir David said when Swindler was finished. “Are you certain?”
“Yes, sir. The lady explained it all in her journal, then took her life. She had no reason to lie at that point.”
“And you think other nobles might be involved?”
“It’s possible. We’ll know more once we’ve set the trap. I’d like Scotland Yard involved—”
“No,” Sir David responded tartly before Swindler had finished outlining what he had in mind. “Not until we know who falls into your net.”
“Will you be falling into it, sir?”
The pipe fell from Sir David’s mouth as he spun around to face Swindler, the first time he’d looked at him directly since the meeting began. “I beg your pardon? Have you gone mad?”
“At the risk of appearing arrogant, I’m your best man. Yet you charged me with the simple task of following a lady through London. It was a waste of my talents.”
“On the contrary, Swindler, look what you’ve uncovered.”
“If you suspected this all along, why not tell me?”
Sir David reached down, picked up his pipe, and studied it. “Damnation. Can’t put that back in my mouth, now can I?” He tossed it into the river. “You’re not the only one who’s given orders, Swindler. Let’s just say that mine come from high up, very, very high up. We suspected Rockberry might be engaged in something unsavory when he first came to us. Why he didn’t just see to the matter himself is beyond me. Arrogant bastard expected us to see to it for him. Which I suppose, all in all, based upon your findings, was to the lady’s benefit in the end. Be that as it may, there have been rumors of this society. Nasty stuff that. Especially as Queen Victoria and her husband have a very strict moral code. People need to behave with a good deal more decorum.” He cleared his throat. “Forgive my rant. Carry on with your plans. When you know who all is involved, get word to me. Then we’ll decide how the matter is to be handled with the least amount of scandal and embarrassment.”
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