In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(57) by Lorraine Heath
Catherine seemed oblivious to the fact that she was being watched. Jim had been there for a while, until Luke arrived with Frannie. Then they’d taken over, striving to determine who was following Catherine. It was possible the man couldn’t afford admittance. Frannie was observant, her gaze wandering, measuring people, looking for an easy target. Not that she’d take advantage. They’d stopped fleecing when the old gent had taken them in off the street. But habits born in childhood were difficult to break.
His attention kept drifting back to Catherine and her delightful smile. He’d probably never have another day with her such as this one. Their relationship would once again become confined to the shadows.
It was where people such as he and Frannie belonged, while Catherine Mabry walked in the light.
Luke sat at the desk in his study, the taste of whiskey still bitter on his tongue, his gaze focused on the invitation resting in front of him.
It had been more than a week since his visit to the Great Exhibition, a week during which Catherine had seemed to distance herself from him. They rarely spoke in the coach anymore. Their meetings didn’t reflect awkwardness or unfriendliness, but he did sense a strain in their relationship. He suspected it had more to do with the kiss in the library then their tour of the Crystal Palace. She’d been pleasant enough there, probably because she’d felt safe with the crowds and the lack of shadows.
He knew no lessons would take place this evening. Frannie had seemed quite relieved at the prospect of a night without learning the intricacies of his aristocratic life. By now, shouldn’t she be more at ease with the notion of becoming his wife? He’d always envisioned his life with her, living in this house, sharing the small and mundane details of his day. He saw them with children. He saw himself, at long last, being happy.
He was so damned tired of being alone, of snatching moments with his friends around a gaming table, of knowing they were no more comfortable in his world than he was.
None of them were like Catherine, comfortable with dinners, balls, and morning calls.
They didn’t carry themselves with the cool confidence that she did. They didn’t challenge him at every turn. They’d stopped considering him their equal when he’d stepped onto the pedestal of the nobility. It was subtle, the discomfort they each exhibited around him.
Jack, always reminding him that he wasn’t the rightful heir.
Jim, always doing Luke’s bidding, regardless of the hour, as though it were Luke’s right to expect a man to live his life inconveniently to please him.
Bill, never failing to come when called, taking care of business, then leaving. Never lingering for a sip of whiskey, never sharing the burdens he must surely carry as a purveyor of life and death.
And Frannie, terrified of becoming his wife, not because of the intimacies they’d share, but because of the daily struggles they’d face, because of the damned balls they might be required to attend.
Catherine’s invitation sat there, mocking him, mocking his life, daring him to show his face—
He poured more whiskey into the glass, brought it to his lips, inhaled the sweet aroma of courage…and slowly set the glass back down. He picked up the invitation and ran his finger over the lettering. Had she experienced discomfort when writing it? Did she want him there that badly?
He thought of the night they’d played cards.
Obviously, my lord, you don’t know what I’m thinking.
But he knew what she was thinking when she’d written his name across her fine invitation: that he wouldn’t show.
Perhaps he would call her bluff.
Perhaps tonight, he would make her regret that she’d ever made a midnight visit to his library.
Catherine had known Claybourne wouldn’t come, but still as the clock ticked toward midnight, she was disappointed. It was so terribly difficult to attend this ball and not reveal how much she loathed her host. He seemed so pleasant. No one could see the monster that lived within his skin.
Even Winnie gave nothing away, keeping a stiff upper lip, and pretending that all was right with the world. Sometimes Catherine was as angry with Winnie as she was with Avendale.
But she smiled and laughed and flirted with all the gentlemen who danced with her, not revealing to any of them that he was not the one she longed to waltz with. Just once, she wanted to be held within the circle of Claybourne’s arms and hold his gaze while her feet whispered over the dance floor. Just once, she wished he would look at her the way he looked at Frannie. The depth of adoration that he showered on Frannie was
something that every woman should have at least once in her life.
He might be a scoundrel, with many faults, but he had a heart far more giving than some of the men she’d spoken with tonight.
She glanced at her dance card. The next three dances weren’t taken. She was relieved, having grown weary of pretending to enjoy herself. She was too worried about Winnie, too worried that Avendale might find fault with the evening, but all seemed to be going along splendidly. Even her hand was better. Her father’s physician had removed the stitches. The scar wasn’t too unsightly. Since she always wore gloves in public, few people would ever see it.
But she welcomed a small reprieve from being hostess. She was walking toward the doors that would lead onto the terrace when Winnie stopped her.
“Where are you going?”
“For a bit of cool air. Would you care to join me?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m basking in Avendale’s praise. He’s ever so pleased with how things are going this evening.”
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