Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(16) by Lorraine Heath
Of late, it seemed he was forever going more slowly. It wasn’t a luxury he had when it came to the lovely Miss Darling. He needed to take a wife while he could still give the impression that his vision was not a problem—which meant in turn that he needed to satisfy this craving he had to taste and relish every sensual aspect of Frannie Darling.
Sterling had not expected the long line of wagons that his driver had recklessly swerved around in order to gain entrance through the gate of the orphanage. He’d not expected this home for children on the outskirts of London to be so monstrously large, reflecting such exquisite architecture. He’d not expected all the people scurrying around, hauling furniture inside.
As his driver brought the coach to a halt, suddenly Sterling very much did not want to be here. Crowds, blast it all, when he could not easily see those who surrounded him, had become the bane of his existence.
The footman promptly opened the door. Sterling was about to tell him to instruct the driver to return home when he spotted Catherine, and—damnation—she spotted him. The joy on her face at the sight of him only served to add to his unease.
“Sterling, you came!”
As she hurried over, Sterling realized he had no choice now except to endure a few moments with all these people and this activity. As he agilely leaped out, he turned his head to see that his footmen had already disembarked from their carriage and were standing at attention waiting for their orders. He’d thought Miss Darling would be so grateful for his generosity in offering his own servants—
Stupid. Why did he feel this insane need to impress a woman of the streets? It should be enough that he wanted her. Most women whom he desired were flattered by his attention. They required no more of him than that.
Catherine came to a stop in front of him. While she was appropriately wearing black, still mourning the loss of their father, her dress looked as though it might have once been worn by a washerwoman. Dirt smudged her nose and one cheek, and her hair was in danger of toppling from its pins at any moment. He didn’t know if he’d ever seen her look happier.
“I brought servants to assist,” he said gruffly.
“I can see that. Frannie will be absolutely delighted. Come inside, so I can let her know you’re here.”
“You told her to expect me?” What if he’d changed his mind? Would she have been disappointed?
“No, of course not. But she is a bookkeeper and she keeps tally of everything, so she’ll want to know you’ve come to help.”
Catherine was babbling about all the work that needed to be done as she guided him toward the entrance. He could see now why Catherine wanted her money to go to this endeavor. The upkeep would be monstrous. Miss Darling would certainly be in need of financing for her enterprise. Bookkeepers didn’t receive an exorbitant salary.
As they walked through the door into the building, Claybourne was striding out. He came to an abrupt halt. “Your Grace, what an unexpected surprise.”
“By its very nature a surprise is unexpected,” Sterling said, annoyed that Claybourne appeared so comfortable in these surroundings, while he felt decidedly out of his element.
“You have me there. You can put your jacket in the corner office, roll up your sleeves—”
“I brought servants.”
“Frannie will be pleased with the extra hands.”
“Where is she?” Catherine asked.
“Last I saw her was upstairs. She should be down momentarily.”
“I want to let her know Sterling is here.”
Claybourne narrowed his eyes. “She’s very precious to us, you know.”
Another warning? Did he not know that one had already been delivered? “As my sister is to me,” he replied.
Catherine sighed. “I don’t know why the two of you must always act distrustful of each other.”
Perhaps because they knew how men thought. Sterling was growing weary of the encounter. He should simply leave. He lifted his gaze to the stairs and suddenly, nothing else mattered. She was there, standing halfway down, Swindler halting and glancing back up as though they’d been walking down together and she’d come to an unexpected stop.
His memory of her didn’t do her justice. What he had considered vibrant had been nothing more than washed-out images. In person, her hair was a deeper red, and he knew her eyes would be a more alluring green. Her dress, buttoned clear to her chin, left everything to a man’s imagination, fueling it, making him wonder if what he envisioned could truly exist in the flesh. He thought nothing would be more satisfying than undoing each of those buttons at his leisure and discovering the treasures they kept hidden.
Swindler said something to her—but not before giving Sterling a condescending once-over—and she jerked her attention to Swindler and smiled. The slow movement of her lips was enough to almost bring Sterling to his knees. What in God’s name was wrong with him? She wasn’t even bestowing her charms on him, but he was enchanted all the same.
Miss Darling began to walk down the stairs. Swindler joined her, his gaze shifting between Miss Darling and Sterling as though he could see the strange bond that joined them. Sterling already knew he didn’t approve of it. He was simply grateful that no evidence of his bruised eye remained.
“Your Grace,” Miss Darling said with a slight curtsy as she came to stand in front of him.
Like Catherine, she had a smudge of dirt on her cheek, and he clamped his hands behind his back to stop himself from reaching out to rub it away. It didn’t detract from her perfection. In some ways, it enhanced it.
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