In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(74) by Lorraine Heath
He dropped a quick kiss on her lips. “I’ll see you at dinner.”
Then he strode from the room, praying that Avendale would make his appearance soon, before Luke went mad with wanting Catherine again.
The rain began near dusk, the wind whipping off the moors, the thunder rumbling.
In the library, Luke stood at the window, his hip against the windowsill, gazing out on the darkness, the land occasionally illuminated by the flashes of lightning.
Catherine sat in a nearby chair, a book in her lap. She’d read the same passage three times now and still hadn’t a clear understanding of what Jane Austen was trying to say. It wasn’t a complicated point. She simply couldn’t concentrate.
“I’ve been pondering something you told me once,” Claybourne said quietly.
Catherine welcomed the opportunity for conversation and closed the book. “And what was that?”
Claybourne was studying something beyond the window. “You said that the first Earl of Claybourne had earned the right to pass the estates and title on to his heirs.”
“I have a vague recollection—”
He turned from the window. “When we return to London, I’m going to appear before the House of Lords and denounce my claim to Claybourne.”
Slowly coming to her feet, Catherine felt as though all the air had been forced from her lungs. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I’m weary of living a lie. Because a time existed when I didn’t fully appreciate what I’d been handed—I saw only my life not the legacy behind the title. All of this truly belongs to Marcus Langdon, and I shall see that he comes to have it.”
She saw so many problems and difficulties with his plan that she hardly knew where to begin.
“They’ll hang you.”
“I doubt it. The witness to my crime died several years ago. What evidence do they have? Besides, I can well afford to pay the sharpest legal mind in all of England to defend me if it comes to that.”
“But Marcus Langdon—he isn’t you.”
He chuckled low. “Yes, that’s quite the point.”
She took a step nearer. “No, I mean, I truly can’t see him as the Earl of Claybourne. You seem so well suited to the role.”
“That, too, is the point, Catherine. It’s been a role that I’ve played. I’ve been playacting all these years.”
But she knew his reasons encompassed more than he’d revealed. His being the Earl of Claybourne was preventing him from obtaining the one thing he truly wanted: Frannie.
She took a step nearer, felt the tears sting her eyes. Reaching out she touched his cheek.
“You are a remarkable man, Lucian Langdon. Frannie is incredibly lucky to have your affections.”
“I’m not doing this for Frannie. I’m doing it because of you. When I see my reflection in your eyes, I don’t want to see it tainted by deception and as long as I’m the Earl of Claybourne, I’m not a man worthy of any woman.”
“I know of no man more worthy.” Stretching up on her toes, she kissed him, unable to believe how deeply she loved him. She wanted to do more than kiss him. She wanted to show him that he’d managed to claim not only her body, but her heart and soul.
She wondered how much time remained to them before the devil would appear. She drew back from the kiss. “When do you think he’ll come?”
She saw regret in his eyes, knew he understood what she was asking, what she wanted.
“It could be any time now.”
“How long will we wait before we decide he’s not coming?”
“How can you be so certain?”
He gave her an indulgent smile, which might have pricked her temper before she knew him well enough to know that he wasn’t mocking her curiosity, but rather he was amused by her interest, perhaps even a bit impressed that she’d care. “I’ve played cards with him for a number of years. I know how the man thinks.”
“You misjudged me when we played cards.”
His smile disappeared. “He can’t be that good at hiding the sort of man he is.”
“Did you know he beat his wife?”
He shook his head. “No, but he hates to lose. He especially hates to lose to me. He shall come here to reclaim his wife. I have no doubt.”
“What will you do when he arrives?”
“I’m not going to kill him if that’s what’s you’re wondering.” He took her hand, kissed it, then began stroking his thumb over the scar on her palm. “It’s not an easy thing to live with the death of a man on your conscience, even when you know he deserved it. You see his face when you close your eyes to sleep—and there are times you won’t sleep because you don’t want to see his face.”
“Then how shall you ensure that he’ll leave Winnie in peace?”
“By making certain he understands that she is under my protection, and if he ever touches her again, I will kill him. Without remorse. Without regret. Without mercy.”
A shiver raced up her spine, caused her scalp to prickle. She nodded.
“He’s a bully,” he said quietly. “It usually takes only standing up to him to make him back down.”
With her free hand, she skimmed his hair off his brow. “But what if he threatens you?”
He pressed a kiss to her palm. “I have my guardian angel.”
The library door opened, and the butler walked in. “My lord, the Duke of Avendale has come to call.”
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