In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(14) by Lorraine Heath
“We won’t have dinners.”
“And when I’m presented to the queen? Do you know how I am to dress? Do you know what behavior I must and must not exhibit?”
“You could learn. The old gent gave you lessons. He hired tutors.”
“They taught me to read, write, cipher, and speak properly. But dear God, Luke, your grandfather never expected me to become a peer. He saw that I was taught to serve, not to be served.
“Please don’t ask this of me. I owe you everything. You saved my life.” Tears rolled along her cheeks. “But please don’t ask this of me. Please don’t ask me to step into your world. The very thought of it terrifies me. It would be such a lonely place.”
The very reason he wanted her there. Because he was so damned lonely. There were times when he thought he’d die of the loneliness, times when he could imagine no worse hell than to be caught between two worlds. To live in one, but belong in the other.
“Please, Luke, I don’t want to hurt you, but I can’t marry you. I simply can’t. It will destroy me.”
“You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.”
“But I’m not as strong as you. I could never do the things you’ve done.”
Sometimes, he thought that he’d have been better off letting them drop the noose around his neck.
“Is there nothing I can say to sway you?” he asked.
Slowly she shook her head.
With a sigh, he released her hands, leaned back, and gazed out the window. The fog was rolling in. It somehow seemed symbolic. “I hope you don’t mind if I’d rather not go see your children’s home.”
“I’m so frightfully sorry—”
“Don’t, Frannie, don’t keep apologizing. It only makes matters worse.”
“I do love you, you know,” she said softly.
Which only served to make everything all the more unbearable.
Luke lined up his little soldiers, grateful for the bottles of whiskey that Jack had seen delivered tonight as promised. Then Luke sat in his chair and began gulping the contents of the first bottle.
Frannie had refused him and cut him to the core by doing it. He’d put off asking her to marry him not because he’d thought she’d deny him, but because he couldn’t quite convince himself that he was deserving of her—that he was deserving of any woman.
But to have her refuse him because she feared this life…Had living here been that hard on her?
The old gent had taken her and a few of Feagan’s lads in when he’d discovered Luke sneaking them into the house to feed them and give them a warm place for the night.
He’d watched them closely, not quite trusting them. He’d hired tutors. He’d seen that they were taught proper behavior.
So what was Frannie afraid of? What did she think she didn’t know? Or was there more to her refusal than he wanted to accept? Was it the darkness that resided within him that she couldn’t live with and she was simply too kind to admit it?
Luke tossed the empty bottle aside. He reached for another and something beneath the far chair caught his eye. He stood and the room spun. Dropping to his knees, he crawled to the chair, reached beneath it, and folded his fingers around the object. Turning, he put his back against the chair and studied the clasp.
Lady Catherine’s clasp. It must have fallen from her pelisse. One of his servants wasn’t taking as much care with the floor as she should, but he wasn’t particularly upset about her shoddy work. He felt the smallest movement of his mouth as though a smile were forming as he remembered Catherine’s bravado, remembered her surprise that he knew her name.
Oh, yes, he’d known who she was. He’d uncovered that little truth the first night he’d set eyes on her. Even the most loyal of servants favored their pockets over their masters.
Offering a few coins, he’d found someone willing to hide in the bushes, peer through the window with him, and identify the lady Luke pointed out.
He’d not been surprised to find her in his library. He’d been surprised only that it had taken her so long to make an appearance. That night at the ball he’d felt an immediate attraction, the intensity greater than any he’d experienced before or since.
He’d always assumed that if he’d first met Frannie as a young woman, his attraction for her would have hit him as hard, if not harder. But they were children when they’d first been introduced and they’d grown into affection.
He rubbed his thumb over the clasp. Catherine was different. Catherine was—
He heard the laughter echoing around him, only vaguely aware that he was responsible for the sound.
Catherine was the answer to his acquiring what he wanted more than anything else.
Very deliberately and carefully, Catherine dipped the gold nub of her pen into the inkwell. Her father wouldn’t be pleased by her actions, but she didn’t see that she had any choice.
My dearest brother,
I hope my letter finds you well—
I hope it finds you at all, she thought wearily.
—and enjoying your travels.
However, I have desperate need of you at home.
Her hand was shaking when she again dipped into the inkwell. She had Sterling’s traveling schedule, but she had no idea if he was following it diligently. Still she didn’t see that she had much choice except to try to get in touch with him. But then the doubts surfaced.
How could she even consider asking of her brother what she’d asked of Claybourne? He didn’t possess Claybourne’s dark soul. Her brother was kind and generous. She loved him dearly—except for the fact that being several years older he seemed to be of the opinion that his was the only one of any importance. That attitude had no doubt led to the row with her father, bless him.
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