Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(11) by Lorraine Heath
“I am. I fear I’ve had to terminate your membership at Dodger’s. You’ll need to seek your pleasures elsewhere.”
“Gentlemen, if I truly want something, you do not have it within your power to stop me from obtaining it.”
The pain that ricocheted through his face was almost as fierce as the pain bouncing through his skull when he hit the floor. He hadn’t seen Swindler move, and he certainly hadn’t seen his fist coming at him from the side—his Achilles’ heel. Swindler was suddenly kneeling beside him. With his mammoth hand latched on to Sterling’s shirt, he jerked him upright until he was almost sitting.
“If you hurt her, I’ll kill you.”
“I appreciate a man who doesn’t mince words.”
Swindler released his hold, and Sterling once again made painful contact with the floor. Swindler stood up and stormed from the room, the tread of his heavy footsteps reverberating through the floor.
Dodger knelt beside Sterling. “Greystone, you have to understand we come from the streets. When Frannie was a young girl, we weren’t able to stop someone from hurting her very badly. The four of us swore an oath that we’d die before we let anyone harm her again. It’s a vow we will keep.”
Sterling lay where he was long after Dodger left. He had been correct about one thing: they did love her.
Unfortunately, he found little consolation in being correct, but he was more determined than ever to have her.
After making the last needed notation in the ledger, Frannie blew softly on the ink to hasten its drying. The numbers were astonishing. Having been in Jack Dodger’s employ for ten years now—and his partner for five—she should be accustomed to how much money men frittered away on games of chance.
“The house always wins in the end, Frannie,” Jack had told her when she’d initially questioned his wisdom in opening a gambling establishment. “And the end is all that matters.”
With a sigh, she set aside her gold-nibbed pen—a gift from Jack, who enjoyed fine things and knew she’d never spend so senselessly on herself—and carefully closed the book so as not to smear the ink. Jack liked everything neat and tidy. But then, so did she. She was fairly certain it was because they’d grown up in squalor.
Her office was sparsely decorated. The desk, a couple of chairs, a couch where she sometimes took a quick rest, and shelves that housed the ledgers that provided a history of the establishment.
It was almost two in the morning. Although she was tired, the late hours worked well for her. Working on the accounts at night left her free to see after the children’s home she planned to open soon. The furniture was scheduled to arrive early the next week. Now all she needed was to hire employees. But that was a task for tomorrow. For tonight she had a few more matters to attend to before she could retire.
Opening the ledger with member accounts, she began making notations regarding whose memberships were coming due. When her lower back began to ache, she straightened, yawned, and stretched—
A large figure loomed in the doorway.
With a self-conscious laugh, she assumed a more decorous position.
“Don’t let me stop you from relaxing,” Jim said as he took a step into the room. His brown jacket wasn’t fancy, but it suited his unassuming demeanor. His dark brown hair was thick, his eyes green. From appearances, he seemed non-threatening and in many ways simple. In truth, she considered him far cleverer and more dangerous than any of them.
“I was simply taking a moment before I studied the customer accounts,” she said.
“You do keep odd hours.”
“No more odd than you. Are you working now?”
“Jack had asked me to check on some personal matters for him regarding this inheritance he’s come into. I was just reporting what I found. Thought while I was here that I’d stop by to see how you were doing.”
“I’m doing well, Jim.”
Nodding, he stuck his hands in his coat pockets, then took them out. “Has anyone been bothering you?”
That’s an odd question.
“Were you thinking of someone in particular?” she asked.
“No, simply curious.” He took a step forward, and then as though concerned that he might frighten her, he took a step back. “I just wanted you to know that I’m available if you need anything.”
“I may need some help rounding up orphans when the time comes.”
“That goes without saying. I’ve been keeping a list of boys going into prison, when they’ll be getting out. The younger ones, the ones who can be turned around, I’ll be picking up. I’ll bring them to you.”
She gave him a soft smile. “That means everything to me, Jim. The furniture should arrive next week. Will you be free to help?”
“Thank you. I’m feeling a tad guilty that on the streets are children who need a home, and I have the means to provide one, but am still arranging matters.”
“It’s a lot you’re taking on, Frannie.”
“But it’s something I want to do—terribly. I’ve thought about it for so long, planned it, and now it’s about to happen at last. I’ll send a missive ’round to your flat when I have the day and time.”
“Splendid.” He smiled brightly—which was something Jim rarely did. “I look forward to helping you.” He made a motion to tip his hat, must have realized he wasn’t wearing one, and gave an awkward sort of slight bow. “See you soon, then.”
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