Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(3) by Lorraine Heath
“Is that the reason you’re hovering near the window as though at any moment you intend to leap through it?”
“Into the storm?” He glanced quickly toward where the rain pattered against the glass. The clouds were so dark and heavy that although it was morning, it almost appeared to be night, and night had become his enemy. “It’s a rather dreary day.”
“I don’t find it dreary at all. It’s the most wonderful day of my life.”
Recognizing that he was acting the curmudgeon, he offered a bit of repentance in his tone along with the truth of his words. “I suspect it will be the first of many wonderful days for you.”
“I know you don’t approve of Claybourne as my choice for a husband, and that, like many, you hold his singular past against him, but I hope that over time you’ll come to know him as I do and appreciate his finer qualities.”
Not likely, but he had no plans to further dim her joy with the truth of the matter. As though recognizing that he had no intention of commenting, she said, “I suppose you’ll be turning your attention toward securing a wife now that you’ve returned from your world travels.”
“Eventually. We’re in mourning. I didn’t expect this affair to be quite so lavish.”
“It’s hardly lavish. A few more guests than might be appropriate, but they’ll ease Claybourne’s way into the thick of Society after years of walking along its edge. Besides, men are never held to the strictures of mourning as diligently as women. You could attend a ball tonight and no one would chastise you.”
“Ah, the power that comes with the dukedom.”
“Was there anyone you thought about while you were away?” Catherine offered.
“Playing matchmaker already? Surely you’re planning to take some sort of wedding trip.”
“No, we have some matters to attend to in London.”
“Still I suspect your husband will expect to have your undivided attentions for a while. I’m perfectly capable of securing a wife without troubling you.”
“It would be no trouble.” She squeezed his arm. “I’ve missed you, Sterling. I’m truly glad you’re here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to join Claybourne, so you may make your toast.”
As she walked away, her words sparked his guilt, but he tamped down the uncomfortable emotion. He wanted to be anywhere other than where he was. He drank his champagne, signaled to a footman, and took another glass. Would this affair never come to an end?
Catherine sidled up against her husband, and the man gazed down on her with obvious adoration. Why should he not adore her? She was the daughter of a duke, her lineage the very best British aristocracy had to offer. She understood her place in the world and fit well within it. Sterling could no longer say the same for himself. The need to escape roared through him, and he lost the tether hold on his patience. He began lightly tapping his glass and the murmurings in the room quieted. He raised his flute. “To my sister, Catherine, the new Countess of Claybourne, and her very fortunate husband. May the sun always shine for you, my dear—even during the darkest of days.”
He downed the sparkling brew while a round of cheers and clapping echoed through the room. Claybourne and Catherine drank their champagne, then kissed briefly. People laughed, cheered again, and offered them well-wishes.
Sterling reached for another flute of champagne. Maybe if he swallowed enough, he could drown the pain of knowing that he would never possess what the newly married couple obviously did: true love and happiness.
He was the most dangerous man in the room.
Frannie Darling realized she was giving the man standing by the window considerable credit, given that she was surrounded by those who had no qualms about breaking the law when it suited their purpose. But while her friends were dangerous to everyone around them except her, this man was dangerous to only her.
She knew it in the way she knew how to judge which pockets were ripe for the picking before she ever slipped her hand inside to take what they held. She knew it in the way she knew a column of numbers had been incorrectly tallied before she ever set about to add the numbers together. She knew it just as she knew that within this room filled with people there were only three with whom she now truly belonged: Jack, Jim, and Bill.
Only recently had she discovered that Luke had always doubted he was the true Earl of Claybourne. But lately, circumstances had arisen that convinced him of the truth, so he no longer questioned his inheritance of the title. He moved confidently about the room, comfortable in his skin, no longer fearing that he was living in someone else’s.
She couldn’t admit to feeling as at ease. This world was not hers. It was so incredibly large, so incredibly important. Her small world paled in comparison, but she was content there. Perhaps it was her discomfort with the surroundings that made her notice him—the man standing by the window who appeared as though he wanted to escape all this politeness as badly as she did. She knew who he was. Catherine’s brother. The newly anointed Duke of Greystone.
A few times she thought she’d noticed him eyeing her. She’d tried to surreptitiously observe him in return. His skin was a golden bronze, as though he was a man who worshipped the outdoors. His hair, a dark blond, had been tamed for the occasion, not a single strand out of place, and yet she could imagine it being whipped by the wind as he galloped over the same roads that Marco Polo may have explored. Greystone was an adventurer, a man who knew no fear. When others had spoken with him earlier, his stance had reflected politeness, perhaps tolerance, but also impatience, as though he dearly wished to be off on another quest for excitement.
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