In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(23) by Lorraine Heath
Frannie Darling stepped out of Dodger’s Drawing Room—the elegant name she’d
suggested for something rather inelegant at its core, as though pretty words could make sin acceptable—and walked toward the stairs that led to the small flat where she lived. It was still part of Dodger’s, but the outside entrance at least made her feel as though she were stepping away from the dregs and into a better life.
Not that she didn’t have the means to live in a fancier dwelling. She did. Feagan’s lads treated her as an equal, and she shared in the profits from their ventures. She could live in a palace if she wanted, but the money she earned was never for her. Others were far more deserving.
As she made her way up the stairs, she smelled the familiar richly scented tobacco. It was a much more pleasant aroma than it had been when they were children. Jack could afford the very finest customized tobacco now.
Yet still he packed it into the long clay pipe he’d begun using when he was a lad of eight. It wasn’t unusual for Feagan’s lads to smoke and drink spirits at a young age. Kept them warm. The pipe was part of Jack’s past, a reminder of what he’d been before Luke’s grandfather had offered them a chance at a better life. They’d all brought something with them.
Jack had stayed in the residence in St. James’s only long enough to learn what he needed in order to gain what he wanted. He’d never been happy living with the Earl of Claybourne. But then as far as Frannie knew, he’d never been truly happy anywhere—
except for the slight contentment he seemed to have with Feagan. Jack had been the most skilled of their little band, always bringing in the most coins and handkerchiefs, always sitting by the fire with Feagan—Feagan drinking his gin, Jack drinking gin and smoking his pipe—both of them whispering late into the night. As far as Frannie knew, Jack’s was the only opinion Feagan ever sought.
“’Ello, Frannie,” he said as she reached the landing. Outside the gaming hell, he was never the businessman he was indoors. Still, he was astute. Always looking for the angle that would give him more than he held.
“Dodger.” In their youth, he’d been Dodger more often than Jack. He’d been skilled at dodging the hands that wanted to grab him when the target realized his pockets were being picked. It was usually the other thief who clumsily tipped off their intended prey.
They’d all scatter when that happened.
Only once had Jack gone back to try to help a thief who wasn’t quite as nimble. He’d gone back for Luke. It had been the only time Jack had ever been caught.
“Lovely evening tonight,” she said.
“Oh, yeah, the fog is bloody luvely. Think there’s anywhere in England where they don’t have fog?”
“Would you move if there was?”
“Not likely. I doubt there’s a city anywhere where I can make more money.”
“There’s more to life than coin.”
“Not for me there’s not.”
Sighing, she looked out at the fog. It was like life, preventing her from seeing what was beyond reach. She wasn’t unhappy. She simply felt that something important was missing from her life.
Jack puffed on his pipe, and they stood in silence for a while. She always enjoyed Jack’s company even if they weren’t talking. As a matter of fact, she usually enjoyed it most when they weren’t. He had the uncanny knack of knowing what she was thinking.
“Why didn’t you tell him the truth, Frannie, instead of making up all those silly excuses?” he asked after a while, his voice low as though he thought Luke might be waiting around a corner listening.
“I couldn’t, Jack. I didn’t want to hurt him. Not after all he’s done for me.”
“Not hurt him? All you’ve done is prolong the matter. And now he’s brought a bloody stranger into our midst to teach you what you already know.”
Her chest tightened painfully. “I know I’ve made a mess of things. I do love him, but I don’t want to marry him. I don’t want to be a countess. I just want to do what I want to do.”
“He won’t stop you from doing that.”
“Oh, I know that well enough, but it won’t be the same. Oh, God, maybe I should just marry him, be done with the worry over hurting him, but I don’t think he’d be really happy with me. Sometimes having the dream makes you more content than having the reality.”
“That doesn’t make a bloody bit of sense.”
“I heard about your blasted wagers. Why did you keep encouraging him to ask me when you knew how I felt?” she asked, almost as disappointed with him as she was with herself.
“Because he needs to know the truth, and it needs to come from you. He won’t believe it from anyone else.”
He puffed, she sulked.
“He likes her,” Jack said, his voice low.
Frannie felt an unfamiliar prick of…what? Jealousy?
“Who? Lady Catherine?”
Nodding, he puffed on his pipe again. “Warned me to stay clear of her. It wasn’t an idle threat either. Damned near had me trembling in my shoes the way he came after me.”
She wasn’t quite certain how she felt about that. She should be relieved, but a part of her mourned the prospect of losing a portion of Luke’s heart. She’d held it all for so long, and yet she knew she couldn’t hold it forever. It wasn’t fair to him. As much as she cared for him, what she felt was the love of a sister for a brother, not a woman for a man.
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