In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(21) by Lorraine Heath
“A dozen or so. It changed, depending on who was caught and who was recruited.”
“She’s one of us as well.”
“You’ve had a very different upbringing than most lords.”
“Is that where you learned to kill?”
“No, it’s where I learned to steal.”
“To pick pockets?”
“I was more prone to fleecing. Jack was the pickpocket.”
“Do you miss it?”
“What? Living on the streets? Being filthy, cold, and hungry? No. Never.”
She wished she could see him more clearly in the shadows. She knew she shouldn’t be intrigued by him, and yet she was. While she’d accused him of bullying Frannie, he’d not really been unkind or forceful with her. He’d only dared to let his frustration show.
That more than anything reinforced to her his strong feelings for the woman. He guarded his emotions so carefully, but around Frannie he’d revealed them.
“I deduced that you don’t believe you’re the true heir to Claybourne. Forgive me for my naiveté, but why let the previous earl believe you were?”
He slipped his finger beneath the curtain, moved it aside slightly, and gazed out. She wondered if he was trying to determine their location. Or perhaps he was searching for an answer to her question.
“They were going to hang me,” he said quietly, releasing the curtain. It fluttered back into place.
Her stomach knotted at the thought of him facing the gallows. “I can understand that under the circumstances, anyone would have done the same, pretended to be someone he wasn’t. But once you were free, why not run back to where you belonged? You stole the title and all that came with it.”
“It was more than trying to save my neck,” he said quietly, almost as though he was lost in the moment. “Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do anything, believe anything in order to acquire it?”
“I would think our present arrangement would confirm that indeed I have.”
“No, I’m talking about wanting something more badly than that, wanting it with such yearning that you would be willing to deceive yourself in order to acquire it. That was how the old gent was. I saw in his eyes how desperate he was to find his grandson, how desperate he was that I be that child—”
“And you took advantage.”
“That is one way to look upon it—and I readily admit that there are nights when I view my actions in that way.”
“How else could you look at it?”
“I gave him what all of us want and few of us acquire: our deepest desires. There was nothing he wanted more than to once again have in his life the son of his first-born. And so I became what he wanted.”
“There is that odd honesty in you again. You make it sound almost noble.”
“No, not noble. Not in the least. He provided me with an opportunity to live, and I snatched it as quickly and as humbly as I could. I wish I had been his grandson. He showered me with love that rightfully belonged to another, and that I was never comfortable with.”
“The love he gave you was yours. Even if he thought you were another, what he felt for you came about because he came to care for you.”
“He cared for me only because he believed I was his grandson. If he believed otherwise, I have little doubt that he’d have slipped the noose around my neck himself. After all, I killed his remaining son.”
A son who had a son: Marcus Langdon. The man who should be earl. Catherine knew him, because he, rather than his notorious cousin, was often invited to balls as though people were preparing him for the day he’d assume his rightful place. But they’d obviously underestimated the present earl.
“I must admit to being confused by your confessions. They don’t paint you in a very favorable light, and I can’t help but wonder if you’re telling me these things because you don’t want me to like you.”
“I don’t know why I tell you these things. Perhaps because only a soul as dark as mine could ask of me what you have.”
“I am nothing like you, my lord.”
“Are you not? My hand shall do the deed, but it does it at your bidding. You will share the guilt, Lady Catherine. Be certain your conscience can stand the weight of it.”
“It can.” At least she thought it could. She hoped it could. She hated that she doubted.
But she didn’t see that any other recourse was available to her. “While your pretending to be the earl’s grandson saved your neck, it also came at a very costly price. Because now, as a lord, you’ve having difficulty acquiring what you want: Frannie.”
“I’m impressed by your astuteness, Lady Catherine. I’ve never been overly impressed with ladies of the nobility.”
“How many do you know well?”
“Obviously not nearly enough. Are you telling me that they’re all as intriguing as you?”
Her heart gave a strange stutter, and she wondered if a woman could die from a man’s attentions. It irritated her that she was pleased that he found her intriguing.
“I believe women are vastly underestimated. After all, we’ve been known, on more than one occasion, to rule an empire.”
“You seem to think very highly of your gender.”
“Indeed I do.”
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