Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(17) by Lorraine Heath
He bowed. “Miss Darling. I’ve brought six footmen to assist you in your endeavors.”
“How very kind of you.” She turned slightly. “Have you been introduced to Inspector Swindler from Scotland Yard?”
“We’ve met,” he said curtly.
Her brow furrowed slightly as she glanced suspiciously between the two men. “I see. Would you care for a tour, Your Grace?”
“I would be most interested, thank you.” And perhaps they could dispense with some of the damned formality.
“Jim, will you see to giving his footmen instructions?” she asked.
“Maybe I should stay with you.” While his words were to her, he was still scrutinizing Sterling as though he considered him some reprobate.
“We’ll be fine. The more quickly people are put to work, the sooner we’ll be done and I can start moving in orphans.” She touched Swindler’s arm, and Sterling had an irrational urge to snatch her hand away. He didn’t want her touching others, he wanted her touching him. “Please.”
Swindler nodded. “I can never refuse you, you know that.” Then he walked off, his shoulder clipping Sterling’s as he walked by. Sterling should have anticipated that bit of bravado was coming. Instead he’d been watching Miss Darling, so he continued to give the impression he’d chosen to ignore the unspoken warning.
“We should get back to work,” Catherine said, slipping her arm through Claybourne’s and leading him away.
Sterling hadn’t seen enough of Catherine with her husband to judge their relationship, but it seemed she wasn’t averse to giving a few orders—and Claybourne had no qualms about following them. Once they were beyond hearing, Miss Darling said, “The upstairs is rather boring. It’s only bedchambers.”
“I’ve never found bedchambers to be boring.”
She blushed and glanced down at the floor, and he wished he’d bitten his tongue before speaking. He’d obviously embarrassed her. Working in Dodger’s where women often provided men with companionship, she had to possess a keen understanding of what transpired between a man and woman. He wondered if she was remembering his proposition.
“But I suppose they are very much all alike,” he said, and her gaze shot up to his, her brow furrowed as though she was trying to determine if he was referring to her familiarity with bedchambers or his. “Where would you suggest we start?”
“If you’ll follow me,” she said and led him down a hallway.
She opened the door to a room with shelves lining the wall.
“The library, I presume,” he said quietly. “I’ve a fondness for libraries.”
Blushing becomingly, she strolled to a large window that overlooked a garden. He could see several gardeners toiling. Miss Darling was apparently determined to make this orphan asylum resemble a home as much as possible. He considered closing the door, but he supposed considering the looks Claybourne and the inspector had given him that he needed to take care not to offend or give the wrong impression. Besides, if he did close it, he might find himself deciding that gentlemanly behavior was no longer warranted. Now that he was back in her presence, he wanted her all the more.
“I’m quite surprised you’re here,” she said softly. She faced him. “I suppose you came for an answer.”
“Truthfully, I’m not certain why I came.” He ambled over to the window and allowed his gaze to fall on her. “That’s a lie. I know exactly why I’m here. I wanted to see you again.”
“I’m at Dodger’s every night. I see to his books, as you know.”
“But I imagine if I were to go into the hallways barred from customers that I might meet resistance. Tell me, Miss Darling, where do you live?”
“I have an apartment at the back of Dodger’s.”
He’d heard Dodger provided rooms for some of his employees. She had to be spending every farthing she’d ever earned on this enterprise. He looked at the gardeners hard at work, digging and arranging. “I’d not expected something so…elaborate. The land, the building…they cannot have come cheap. How will you maintain them?”
“We have benefactors. Luke in particular is very generous. Perhaps you’d care to make a donation, Your Grace.”
The devil was in her bright green eyes as she gave him an impish grin. Sunlight, which had been absent the last time they stood together in front of a window, poured over her. She had a faint sprinkling of freckles across her delicate upturned nose. He wanted to loosen the top two buttons of her blouse, just to catch a glimpse of the column of her throat. He wanted one night with her, but he wanted no moment rushed. “How much would please you, Miss Darling?”
She licked the lips that he had tasted and desperately wished to taste again. “We’re talking about a contribution to the orphanage, aren’t we?”
“It would come with no strings, no expectations of receiving anything in return?”
“It seems it should come with something. A smile, perhaps. What is a smile worth to you?”
Disappointment washed over her features, and he wondered how she could have possibly taken offense.
“It’s wrong to place a price on things that should never carry a price,” she said.
“Everything carries a price, Miss Darling. I would think that being raised as you were that you’d be aware of that.”
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