Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(2) by Lorraine Heath
Sterling watched with interest as Claybourne now approached the small group and they welcomed him as one might a brother, with broad smiles and claps on the shoulder, handshakes and a bit of ribbing perhaps. No hug from the lady, simply a warm smile that spoke volumes. She admired him, she was overjoyed for him, she wished him well. But most of all, she loved him.
They were together then, the five of them. All products of the street, no doubt. Thieves, pickpockets, murderers, and only God knew what else bound them together. That realization should have quelled Sterling’s interest in the lady. Instead it only served to further captivate him.
Hearing the light, familiar footsteps, he mentally marked their approach, turning toward his sister only when she was near and it was obvious he was her destination. Her blond hair was swept up, her cheeks carried a slight flush from the joy of her wedding ceremony, and her blue eyes sparkled like the finest of jewels.
“Fascinated by them, are you?” she chided gently, and he realized his staring may have been not only rude, but also obvious, although he was fairly certain the other guests were taking note of the group as well.
He shouldn’t be surprised that so many of the aristocracy had made an appearance. News of the hastily arranged wedding between the “Devil Earl” and Catherine was the talk of London. The curious among the elite had filled the small chapel where the ceremony took place, and now they had been welcomed into Claybourne’s home. Even Marcus Langdon—who it was once believed would inherit the Claybourne title—was in attendance. It seemed that he had accepted his fate as the successor who would never be. Without a doubt, everyone was intrigued and scandal was certainly a whispered rumor away.
“I possess a mild curiosity, that’s all,” Sterling said laconically. “They’re not the sort who usually attend our functions. The woman. She stood with you at the altar.”
“Frannie. Yes, we’ve become very close. Had you bothered to attend the celebratory dinner we hosted last night or arrived at the church early enough this morning, I’d have made introductions.”
Ignoring her chastisement—he’d have not been comfortable at the dinner and she’d have not been comfortable having him there, when all was said and done—he turned over the name she’d given him. Frannie. He’d expected—or perhaps he’d only hoped for—something a bit more exotic, and yet it seemed to suit. “She dresses rather plainly.”
The drab blue dress she wore seemed almost as out of place as she did. He envisioned her in violet or scarlet, the silk sliding over her skin to pool at her bare feet.
“I’ve learned of late not to judge by appearances,” Catherine said.
He heard the censure in her voice because she was aware that he did judge by appearances and a person’s station in life. He recognized the elite—and then the others with whom he didn’t associate unless absolutely necessary. He’d never had a reason or a desire to associate with former criminals.
“Do they provide for her?” he asked.
“The gentlemen circling her. Are they related? How does she make her way?”
“Those are hardly appropriate inquiries.”
He gave her an intense stare. “Is she someone’s mistress, then?”
Although he couldn’t imagine Catherine associating with, much less including a woman of questionable morals in her wedding party, but if the woman was a friend of Claybourne’s from the streets—
Catherine scoffed. “Whatever gave you that notion? She’s a bookkeeper at Dodger’s Drawing Room.”
A polite name for an impolite place. It made the gentlemen’s club almost sound respectable, which Sterling assumed was the whole point. “Unusual.”
“I find it admirable. Not every woman is fortunate enough to have a father who provides for her.”
“Put away your claws, Catherine. I wasn’t insulting her, but you must admit that occupations for women are usually found within households, not within businesses.”
She touched his arm. “I’m sorry. I suppose I’m a bit protective of Claybourne’s friends. While you were away, they helped me out on occasion.”
So Sterling’s absence had forced her to turn to known reprobates. That must have pleased their father no end and provided him with yet one more reason to be disappointed in his heir—whom he viewed as a wastrel.
Sterling readily admitted that he’d lived a life of indulgence, seeing to his own pleasures above all else. He and his father had argued about Sterling’s choices. But his father had been unable to comprehend what it was like not to be in control. He didn’t know how one’s flesh prickled when fear took hold. He didn’t understand what it was like to gaze into the future and know that it would be nothing more than a dark and lonely place.
“I should introduce you,” Catherine said brightly, as though realizing that Sterling’s thoughts had begun to travel down bleak paths.
“Not necessary.” He didn’t think the gents would appreciate his edging into their territory.
“You’ve changed, Sterling.”
“So you’ve commented before. We all change, Catherine. I could say the same of you.”
“Not to the extent you have. You’ve become quite the cynic.”
“I’ve become a realist. Join your husband so I might make my toast and be done with this affair.”
A quick flash of pain passed over her eyes, eyes as blue as his. He grabbed her hand before she could walk away. “I apologize. I do wish you all the happiness you so rightly deserve, you know that. Having been away for a while, most of my time spent outdoors, I’m not quite as comfortable confined in a crowded room.” And moving through the maze of people without knocking up against someone had become a tedious chore. If he’d realized Catherine and Claybourne were going to open their doors to so many, he’d have said his good-bye at the church.
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