In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(22) by Lorraine Heath
“Shouldn’t you be married by now?”
It seemed an odd change in topic. Why was everyone so concerned with her marital status? “There is no law as to when one must marry.”
“Why have you not?”
“Obviously I’ve not yet found any man worthy of me.”
He chuckled. “Heaven help the man who does think he’s worthy.”
“I am not as bad as all that.”
“I think as a wife you will be a challenge to any man.”
“You don’t think Frannie will be a challenge?”
“Of course not. Not once we overcome this obstacle.”
“Is that truly what you want? Someone who never offers you a challenge? I think it would be rather boring.”
“I’ve had enough challenges in my life, Lady Catherine. I welcome a marriage without them.”
“Of course. Forgive me. It is not for me to judge what you seek in marriage.”
Yet, she couldn’t help but think about the reason Frannie had given her for not wanting to marry Claybourne.
“I owe him everything, and he owes me nothing. I’m accustomed to dealing with numbers and keeping everything balanced. It seems to me that our marriage would be incredibly lopsided. It doesn’t seem like a pleasant way to live, and in time, I fear we would regret it and eventually lose whatever affection we hold for each other.”
I owe him everything.
I’m not doing for her anything I’ve not done for her before.
Catherine couldn’t help but think that the man Claybourne had killed was somehow tied in with Frannie. Would she ever know the whole story? Did she wish to know it? If his actions were truly justified, would she begin to see him in a favorable light? Would she begin to question her own plans involving him?
He was a man that at least one person felt she owed everything. Frannie hadn’t used the word lightly. She truly felt she owed Claybourne everything. Catherine couldn’t imagine being that much in debt to anyone. Oddly, she wanted to reach across the short distance separating Claybourne from her, take his hand in hers, and plead with him to tell her every sordid detail of his past.
Why was it the more time she spent in his company, the more he intrigued her?
Thankfully the coach came to a halt before she could carry through on what she was certain would be a rash decision. Did she truly want to know his past? Wouldn’t the arrangement be better served if they kept their distance, were more strangers than friends?
The door opened, and she made a move toward it.
“Allow me to go first,” Claybourne said.
“There’s no need for you to escort me.”
He stepped out, then assisted her in alighting from the coach. He walked with her until they reached the gate that led to the garden and the path used by those delivering goods to the residence.
She placed her hand on the latch. “Good night, my lord. I’ll see you tomorrow at midnight.”
She froze. His voice held a roughness, a seriousness that almost terrified her, and an informality that was equally frightening. She thought she should look at him, but she was afraid of what she might see, what he might say. So she waited, barely breathing.
“This person you want dispensed with, is it because he…did he force his attentions—his body—on you?”
She dared to look over her shoulder at him. Dark and formidable, he stood there in the shadows.
“You don’t have to tell me the details, but if he took your virtue against your will, you have but to give me his name now, tonight, and your portion of our arrangement will be concluded, and I shall immediately see to mine.”
Her throat tightened painfully with the realization of what he was asking and what he was offering. Surely he was not as noble as all that. “Are you saying you’d not require me to teach Frannie before you took care of the matter?”
How easy it would be to just say yes. To have the matter taken care of expeditiously and quickly. She would never see him again. And if she’d not witnessed his odd honesty, if she’d not begun to question her opinion of him, if she’d not begun to realize that he possessed a moral code that was to be admired, she might have taken advantage of his offer. But the truth was that she selfishly didn’t want this moment to be the last she ever saw of him.
Earlier he’d spoken about wanting something so desperately as to be willing to do, to believe, anything in order to obtain it. He felt that way about Frannie. She was his deepest desire, marriage to her the dream he wanted realized. And he was willing to give it up, for Catherine—who meant nothing to him—if she’d been wronged.
Claybourne quite simply fascinated her. She’d never known a man who seemed quite so complex, a man who seemed to have so many varying facets to him. He was not all evil.
Nor was he all good. It was an immensely captivating combination.
“My virtue remains intact.”
He seemed to wilt just a bit as though he’d been preparing himself for the blow of learning that she’d been harmed.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, my lord.”
He bowed slightly. “Tomorrow.”
She went in through the gate and closed it quietly behind her. She didn’t wish to acknowledge how his concern had touched her.
Claybourne was far more dangerous than she realized. Whether a sinner or a saint, he held her interest as no other man ever had.
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