In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(80) by Lorraine Heath
“It’s all right, Frannie,” Jack said. “I’m sure he has a good reason for punching the bloke who saved his arse on more than one occasion.”
Luke took a step forward, taking satisfaction in Jack’s flinching. “You found me hiding behind that garbage in the alley, because you followed me. You followed me from where my parents were attacked. All these years, you knew the truth. You knew I was the old gent’s grandson, but you held your silence because to do otherwise would reveal your part in the murder of my parents. You knew my torment and yet you left me to suffer with my doubts. I should bloody well kill you.”
It was as though a veil had dropped from Jack’s eyes. Luke saw the truth there, saw that what he’d remembered was exactly what had taken place.
“Please do,” Jack snarled. “By all means. Ever since that night we were in gaol and I offered myself up to those blighters so they’d spare you, I’ve prayed for death. So do it.
You killed your uncle. So kill your friend! I bloody well dare you!”
Luke was suddenly aware of the cane in his hand, the sword unsheathed. He’d not remembered bringing it with him, but it would serve him well now. He took another step forward, felt a hand squeezing his arm, looked back—
Catherine. With tears swimming in her blue eyes. “You’re not a murderer.”
“I killed my uncle. Let there be no doubt.”
“He took a young girl’s innocence. But you are not a murderer.”
He pointed at Jack. “He led us to the alley. He was the urchin who claimed his mother was dying. He’s the one—”
“I’ll not let you give up the last bit of your soul. I will stand in front of you if I must.”
But it was enough that she stood beside him. He looked back at Jack. “What did he pay you?”
Jack just glowered at him.
“Damn you! Answer me.”
To his surprise, Jack didn’t avert his gaze in shame. “Sixpence.”
Luke slammed his eyes closed.
“I didn’t know what he had planned,” Jack said quietly. “You have to believe that, Luke, I didn’t know.”
Luke opened his eyes. He’d been blind with rage, and only now did everything around him come into focus. Chesney and Milner staring at him, mouths agape. Other lords and common gentlemen—vice made them equal.
Frannie staring up at him as though she didn’t know him.
“Did you know what he’d done?” Luke asked quietly.
She slowly shook her head.
Catherine clinging to his arm as though she alone had the power to stop him from doing something rash and irrevocable. Catherine, dressed in the clothing of a servant, her hair askew. Catherine who’d not stayed in the coach as he’d ordered. Catherine standing in the midst of a gaming hell.
What had he been thinking to come here first? What had she been thinking to follow him inside? Was there a chance in hell that no one would recognize her?
He felt a need to do something, to say something, to bring this moment to a deserving end. But there was nothing inside him, nothing except grief and loss. The past twenty-five years of his life had been filled with lies. And the truth offered no comfort.
It terrified Catherine how quiet Luke was in the coach. He’d walked out of Dodger’s without another word being spoken. She sat beside him, holding his hand, a hand that was so cold it was as though he’d died.
“You shouldn’t be alone tonight,” she said.
“I am who I’m supposed to be, and suddenly, inexplicably, I feel so unworthy. I have been an imposter all these years, but not in the way I thought.”
“You’ve not been an imposter.”
“I thought I was a scoundrel masquerading as a lord; instead I was a lord masquerading as a scoundrel. I thought I was one of them, I thought I was one of Feagan’s children. I thought we had the streets in common.”
Her heart was breaking for him. “You did. For a while you did.”
He looked at her with a gentleness in his eyes that she’d feared had been lost forever.
“Do you think there is any chance that any of the nobles in Dodger’s tonight did not recognize you?”
She sighed. “A small chance perhaps.”
“You shouldn’t have tried to stop me, Catherine. Your reputation is not worth the scandal that will erupt.”
“Let’s see. My father lies at death’s door, my brother is traipsing around the world. I have no husband, no children. My reputation matters only to me, and you mean a great deal more to me than it.”
He cupped her face, brushed his lips over hers. The passion between them had cooled, as it should have. When all of this was behind him, he’d once again return to Frannie’s side. She had no doubt of that.
“We need to get you home,” he said quietly. “And I need to determine what I’m to do about Avendale.” They’d left him in his cellar prison at Luke’s estate until everything could be arranged. Luke sighed deeply. “I’d have never thought that remembering would bring with it far more trouble than forgetting.”
Catherine was drained as she slowly made her way up the stairs toward her bedchamber.
She wanted desperately to see her father, but she didn’t want him to see her dressed like a servant, looking as though she’d spent a few days being ravished. Which she had, but still. He didn’t need to know that.
Jenny prepared the bath and Catherine sank into the steaming water. She was sore and miserable. And that was the good news. While nothing would remain of her reputation, she would deal with that problem later. Right now, her main concern was Claybourne.
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