In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(88) by Lorraine Heath
“Claybourne can be quite charming when he sets his mind to it. And they are cousins, after all.”
“I’ve also heard that Mr. Langdon is seeing after some of Claybourne’s business interests, and his income for his services is more than five thousand a year.”
Yes, Catherine could see Claybourne being that generous.
“For a widow who is not supposed to be out and about, you’re certainly keeping up with the gossip,” she said wryly.
“I have visitors on occasion. Lady Charlotte stopped by just yesterday. She anticipates being betrothed before the Season is out.”
“I thought she wanted a titled husband.”
“I daresay she’ll settle for a wealthy one.”
Catherine laughed lightly, enjoying Winnie’s company immensely. She was almost as lively as she’d been when she was a younger woman and she and Catherine had their coming out.
“Is your brother settling in as duke?” Winnie asked.
“Oh, yes. Although I’d forgotten how serious he can be. He still hasn’t forgiven me for all the scandalous gossip I’ve caused, which makes him rather difficult to live with.”
“I can well imagine.”
“Can you?” She leaned across the table and took Winnie’s hand where it rested beside the teacup. “Then you’ll understand why I can’t stay.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“I’ve decided to go to America.”
“For a holiday?”
“No, for the rest of my life.”
Winnie appeared horrified. “No, you can’t. Whatever will I do without you here?”
“You’re stronger than you realize, Winnie, and you’ll come to know the truth of that much more quickly if I’m not here.”
“But America—it’s so far away. What will you do there?”
“I’m not certain. I suppose I shall have to find some sort of employment. Although Father did leave me a small bit of money that isn’t part of the entailment. If I invest and live frugally, I think I shall be able to manage.”
“Stay here. You can live with me. Two single women—”
“I can’t, Winnie.”
There were so many reasons. But only one that truly mattered. She squeezed Winnie’s hand. “I’m with child.”
Winnie’s eyes bugged, her jaw dropped. “Good God, no! Catherine, you’re not married.”
“Believe me, I’m well aware of that.” Still, she smiled, unable to contain her joy and excitement.
“Who’s the father? Oh, my God, it’s not Claybourne is it? Oh, it is.”
Winnie was asking questions and answering them without giving Catherine a chance to respond.
“And the blackguard won’t marry you?”
“He doesn’t know, and even if he did, he loves someone else.”
“It doesn’t matter who he loves. He brought this shame to you—”
“I don’t feel any shame, Winnie. I want this child, I want him desperately.”
“But he’ll be a bastard.”
She shook her head quickly. “No one need know. I shall wear my mother’s wedding ring. I shall tell people I’m a widow. My husband died tragically in a railway accident.
Lord knows we’ve had enough of those of late.”
“It seems you’ve thought this through.”
Every night, alone in her bed, yearning to have Claybourne beside her, she’d made plans for all she’d do to protect his son, to give him a kinder life than his father had experienced. She had no doubt whatsoever that she was carrying a boy.
She’d learned a great deal that night in Claybourne’s library, included in the inner circle of scoundrels as they’d planned how to arrange Avendale’s death. She now knew who to go to if any papers needed to be forged. She had little doubt she could obtain a false certificate of marriage as well as one of death. She nodded. “Yes, I have given it considerable thought and I’ll not be dissuaded.”
“I could never have your courage.”
“Oh, Winnie, I’m not so certain that it’s courage as much as it is love.” Love for her child, and love for his father.
Luke hadn’t seen Frannie since the night they’d arranged to send Avendale on his merry way. It was strange how seldom during these many weeks he’d thought of Frannie, how often he’d thought of Catherine. Bill had assured him that Catherine was fine, but Luke was still haunted by what had happened. After all she’d been through, why would she swoon at the sight of her brother? His return seemed insignificant when compared with the times she’d been in danger of losing her life.
It perplexed him, occupied his thoughts as he waited near the orphanage, waited for Frannie’s arrival. The building was completed. She’d sent him a note and asked him to meet her there. She wanted to take him on a tour of it. He supposed this moment, today, would provide the perfect opportunity to ask her to marry him. A children’s home was the fulfillment of a dream for her, and marriage to her had always been his fondest dream. It seemed appropriate that he propose today, here.
He spotted the hansom, watched as it came to a halt near the building. The driver helped Frannie climb out. Reaching them, Luke paid the driver. Neither he nor Frannie spoke until the hansom was headed away.
“You look lovely,” Luke said. And she did. There was a happiness, a joy to her. Being under Catherine’s tutelage had given her confidence, confidence to become his wife.
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