In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(3) by Lorraine Heath
Most likely he’d find Jack inside. The man gave fewer hours to sleep than Claybourne did. But what if it wasn’t Jack? Claybourne could get this bothersome matter over with.
So he walked down the hallway, peered around the door frame…
And there was Frannie. Lovely Frannie. Her red hair pulled back and tucked neatly into a tight bun, the dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks barely visible beneath the glow from the lamp on the desk behind which she sat, diligently marking numbers in a column. Her dress had a high collar, every button, all the way up to her chin, securely in place. The long sleeves left only her hands visible. Her delicate brow was pleated. When she became his wife, she’d have no worries.
She glanced up, released a tiny squeak, jerked back, and pressed a hand to her chest.
“Dear God, Luke! You gave me quite a start. How long have you been standing there spying on me?”
“Not nearly long enough,” he said laconically, striding into the room with a confidence he didn’t quite feel. He set the bowl on the desk. “For you and your children’s home.”
The home was a small place she was in the process of establishing with hopes of making life easier for orphans. She looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Are these ill-gotten gains?”
Snatching up the bowl, she smiled at him. The impish upward curve of her lips hit him as it always did, like a powerful punch to the gut. “Then I shall take them gladly and do good works with them to absolve you of your sins.”
Her voice held a bit of teasing, but a sadness marred her eyes.
“No one can absolve me of my sins, Frannie, you know that.” With a wave of his hand to stop her from even attempting to argue with him on the matter, he sat in the thickly padded chair in front of her desk. “You’re up rather late.”
“The amount of work necessary to keep track of Jack’s finances is unbelievable. His profits are astounding.”
“He’s always said if you wish to die rich, invest in vice.”
“Well, he shall no doubt die rich, and in a way that’s rather sad. He should spend the money on something that brings him pleasure.”
“I think he finds his pleasure in taking money from rich blokes.” His accent dipped at the end to reveal his street origins. It was always so easy to slip around Frannie, because they shared the same origins.
“But is he happy?” she asked.
“Are any of us?”
Tears welled in her eyes—
She held up her hand. “It’s all right. I’m in one of my moods is all, and while I can’t claim to be happy, I do believe I’m content.”
Now was the perfect opportunity to promise her unending happiness. But her office suddenly seemed like such a ghastly unromantic place. Whatever had he been thinking to consider asking her here? The setting for the proposal should be as memorable as the proposal itself.
Tomorrow. He would ask her tomorrow. Clearing his throat, he came to his feet. “Well, it’s rather late. I’d best be off.”
She gave him another impish smile. “It was kind of you to stop by and visit.” She touched the copper bowl containing his winnings. “I thank you for your contribution.”
“I’d give you more—legitimate funds—if you’d take them.”
“You’ve done more than enough for me, Luke.”
Again, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to tell her that he’d not done nearly as much as he planned to do for her. But the words lodged in his throat. Why was he always so damned tongue-tied around her when it came to speaking from his heart? Was it because, as he feared, he truly had no heart, just a black hole that reflected the darkness of his soul?
Telling her anything at all should come easily. After all, they knew the worst of each other’s lives. Why was that so much easier to share than what should be the best?
He took a step back. “I’ll probably see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll let you know then exactly how I plan to use this money you’ve given me.”
“Use it however it pleases you, Frannie. It comes with no attachments. You owe me no explanations.”
“You’ve never been comfortable around orphans, have you?”
“Whatever are you about? All my best friends are orphans.”
“Feagan’s merry little band of ne’er-do-wells. We’re an odd assortment, aren’t we?”
“Only because we overcame the circumstances of our youths and are all quite
“We have your grandfather to thank for our change in fortunes. He lifted us all up when he lifted you.”
“If he was my grandfather.”
“How can you still doubt it?”
He almost told her the truth, but he didn’t think she’d approve of the lie he was certain he was living. He gave her what he hoped was one of his more charming smiles. “Good night, Frannie. Sweet dreams.”
As for himself, he had only nightmares when he drifted into slumber.
He strode from the room before she could pester him for more answers. His former life was an area that he didn’t relish reliving. Sometimes it struck him as strange that he wanted to marry someone who was so ensconced in his past. With her at his side, he’d never be able to run from it, but perhaps he could better face it.
He was nearly to the front door when he heard, “You owe me five quid, Luke.”
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