In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(85) by Lorraine Heath
The coach door opened. Claybourne climbed out, then extended his hand to her.
For the last time, she placed her hand in his, felt his strong fingers close over hers. For the last time, she stepped out, inhaling the masculine scent that was his alone. For the last time they walked side by side to the gate, speaking not a word, as though too much remained to be said and so little time remained to say it.
She cleared her throat. “I’ll arrange a tea for Frannie, begin introducing her into society.”
He nodded. She swallowed. “So we’re in agreement there’ll be no more evening
He nodded. She extended her hand. “Then, thank you, my lord. Our arrangement has been…gratifying—”
Grabbing her hand, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her, almost savagely, as though this moment was as painful for him as it was for her. Of their own accord, her arms wound around his neck. She didn’t want to let him go. She didn’t want another woman in his bed, in his life, in his heart.
She almost told him that she’d do anything, anything he wanted if he’d only choose her, but she loved him too much not to grant him the fulfillment of his dreams—and Frannie, not Catherine, was part of those dreams.
He broke away, stepped back, breathing harshly in the pre-dawn stillness. “Our bargain is complete. Nothing else is required of you.”
He spun on his heel and strode to the coach. She stood as she was while the driver cracked the whip, setting the horses into motion, and the coach rumbled by. When she could no longer see it, she opened the gate and walked inside.
After closing the gate behind her, the pain of lost love overtook her and she dropped to the cool grass and wept.
Nothing else is required of you.
He was mistaken there. One more thing was required of her: to survive the breaking of her heart.
It was a lovely day for sitting in the garden, and Catherine took advantage of it, having her father brought down and settled in a chaise longue while she sat in a chair beside him.
It had been nearly a month since Catherine had stood in the pre-dawn with Claybourne and watched as Avendale boarded what was certain to be a ship bound for hell. She should have slept well, knowing that Winnie and Whit were safe for all time. It wasn’t guilt that kept her from peaceful slumber. It was worrying over her father, whose health was diminishing rapidly now.
And it was longing for Claybourne to be there to ease the burden that was weighing on her.
Catherine scoured the papers every morning searching for the announcement of
Claybourne’s betrothal to Miss Frannie Darling, but she had yet to see it. No matter. It would come, and when it did, it would be like a knife through her heart.
One morning she’d told her father the tale of the Earl of Claybourne. He’d seemed as entertained by the story as he was by Oliver Twist. As feeble as he seemed, she suspected he was well aware that Claybourne was the man she’d been silly enough to fall in love with. But she saw no condemnation in his eyes.
The focus of her life had narrowed to her father, enjoying his company as much as possible during what she was certain were his final days. She’d written to her brother, beseeching him to return home. Lord only knew if the letter would find him in time.
Now she read the final words of Oliver Twist and very gently closed the book. She smiled at her father. “So Oliver found a home. I’m glad of it.”
He blinked slowly. She combed her fingers through his hair. “My heart did go out to the Artful Dodger, though. I was sorry he was transported. I hear it’s a very harsh life, although I suspect there are those who deserve it.”
His gaze shifted past her, and his eyes seemed to fill with gladness. She glanced over her shoulder where he looked, halfway expecting to see Sterling there. Instead, she saw a beautiful white lily.
“Where did that come from? I’d not realized the gardener had planted lilies. It’s rather late in the season for one to bloom.” She turned her attention back to her father. “Would you like me to pluck it for you, bring it nearer so you might enjoy it a bit more? I know they’re your favorite.”
He gave her a very small nod. She rose, leaned over, and kissed his cheek. “I love you, Papa. I’ll be right back.”
She walked to the table where she kept her slender cutters. She was often nipping off blossoms to share with her father. In a way she hated to cut the lily, knowing it would wither that much sooner, but she was willing to do whatever would bring her father joy.
“I do believe this is the most perfect lily I’ve ever seen,” she said, turning back to her father. Her heart caught, tears welled in her eyes. Even from this distance she knew. And she was left to wonder if it was truly the lily that had caught his eye or if he had seen something more divine.
She walked back to where he was, kissed his cheek again, and knelt beside him. “If I’d known you were going to leave, I’d have not left you to take that final step alone. Sleep in peace, Papa. Your journey is done, and I have a feeling mine is just beginning.”
Luke thought he’d always known the comings and goings in London, but since the night he’d gone to Dodger’s and confronted Jack, it seemed he was privy to a good deal more.
Fitzsimmons had to purchase a larger bowl for the table in the entry hallway, a bowl large enough to hold all the invitations that Luke was suddenly receiving: to balls, dinners, and afternoon recitals—as though he cared whether or not a man’s daughter could play the pianoforte. People acknowledged him on the streets now. Women asked his opinion on the selections they were considering in the shops if he happened to be in there perusing possible gifts for Frannie.
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