In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(13) by Lorraine Heath
She wore her usual non-enticing clothing and yet he was enticed, as always.
“Good evening, Frannie.”
She glanced up, without being startled this time. He’d no doubt caught her before she’d immersed herself fully in the numbers.
“I expected you to come by sooner for an accounting of how I spent your donation.”
“I was occupied with other business. Besides, I told you that you didn’t owe me an accounting. I was wondering, however, if you might be willing to take a ride with me in the coach.”
“I just thought it would be nice to get away from Jack’s books for a while. There’s no fog yet and London at night can be quite breathtaking. I’d like to share it with you.”
“You sound so mysterious.”
“We’ve not had much time together of late, and I always enjoy your company, as you well know.”
“I could show you the children’s home. The building is almost completed.”
“I’d like that.”
As she stood, she gave him the same sweet smile that always warmed him. He snatched her shawl from the hat rack near the door and draped it around her shoulders. Then he extended his arm. Shyly, she placed her hand on his forearm. Neither spoke a word until they reached his coach and the footman opened the door. She halted as Luke was assisting her inside. Her smile bright, she looked back over her shoulder at him. “It’s filled with flowers.”
“Yes, I thought they’d bring you pleasure.”
“They must have cost you a fortune.”
He heard the gentle scolding in her voice. She didn’t believe in frivolous spending, and her attitude only served to diminish his pleasure at giving her a gift.
“I can well afford it, Frannie.”
“You’re far too generous, Luke.”
Sometimes he didn’t think he was generous enough. She climbed inside, and he
followed, sitting opposite her, the fragrance of the flowers almost nauseating. An abundance of bouquets were arranged on either side of her. He’d have his footman carry them to her living quarters when they returned.
As the coach rolled along the street, the dim light of the lantern inside allowed him to have a shadowy view of her. He always took such delight in watching her, and the confines of the conveyance created an intimacy that he’d not been able to achieve while she sat at her desk with her ledgers before her. Leaning forward, he took her bare hands in his. While he knew it was improper for his bare skin to touch hers, it somehow seemed appropriate at this moment. He’d memorized Shakespeare’s twenty-ninth sonnet to recite to her, but he suddenly felt that he should rely on his own words, as inadequate as they might be. “Frannie, I adore you. I always have. Will you honor me by becoming my wife?”
Her smile withered, her fingers tightened around his. She shook her head jerkily. “Luke, I can’t,” she whispered hoarsely, and he heard the terror in her voice.
He closed his hands more firmly around hers. “Frannie—”
“Frannie, allow me to finish.”
“I know your only experience”—how to say it without terrifying her more—“with a man was nothing short of brutal, but I assure you that in my bed you’ll find nothing except tenderness. I will be as gentle as a man can possibly be. I will never force you, nor will I rush you. I’ll wait until you’re ready. It will be good between us, Frannie. I swear to you.”
He saw tears brimming in her eyes. “Please don’t cry, sweetheart.”
She lifted his hands and pressed her lips to his knuckles. “I know you would never harm me, Luke, but you are a lord and I”—she released a bitter laugh—“I don’t even know my real name. Do you think there is actually a family somewhere in London named Darling who has no idea what happened to their daughter? I’m Frannie Darling because that’s how Feagan referred to me. ‘Frannie, darling, rub my feet.’ ‘Frannie, darling, fetch me a cuppa gin.’ And so when your grandfather asked me my name, I said Frannie Darling. I was a child. What did I know?”
“I don’t care about your origins,” he said roughly.
“You know who your family is. I have no idea, and a lady who becomes a peer should know.”
He could confess to her that he didn’t know who his family was any more than she did hers, but to know of his deceit wouldn’t endear him to her. If anything it could cause him to lose her completely. While she’d always known he harbored doubts about the old gent, she’d never known that his doubts were justified, that he’d done all in his power to convince the old gent he was his grandson. She’d never known that he’d lied, deceived, tricked the old gent into seeing what he wanted to see. Death waiting in the shadows was a powerful motivator, but even then he didn’t think she’d forgive him for taking so much that didn’t belong to him. But he was spoiled now from having. He didn’t want to give it back. He wouldn’t give it back.
“Frannie, don’t think of yourself as becoming a peer. Think of yourself as becoming my wife. That’s all that matters to me.”
“How can you say that, Luke? Good Lord, you sit in the House of Lords. The
responsibility that comes with your position is overwhelming. And it falls to the wife to know all manner of etiquette and rules. When we have people over for dinner—”
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