Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(20) by Lorraine Heath
The heat swarmed her face again and raced down her neck.
“You’ll have to forgive me, Miss Darling, but I enjoy bringing that flush to your cheeks. I’d have not thought someone raised on the streets would blush so easily.”
“It’s been a good many years since I’ve been on the streets, and I was quite young when I left.”
“But the street never leaves you completely, does it? That’s what all this is about, isn’t it?” He swept his arm in a wide circle to encompass all the land that now belonged to her.
She was impressed that he’d accurately read how terribly important her plans were. “You’re quite right. The home for boys is only the beginning.” She pointed to the west. “Over there I plan to build a dormitory for girls. As we acquire more orphans, we’ll build an infirmary and a school. We’ll be using rooms in the present building for those services now, but eventually we’ll outgrow everything, which in a way is not how I wish it was. I wish there were no orphans. I wish there were no lost children.”
“Why have you made them your cause?”
She wasn’t certain if he was truly interested or simply striving to prolong their walk about the grounds. But if she’d learned anything it was to embrace opportunity when it presented itself, and if she could make one duke see things her way, she’d be one step closer to victory. After all, he would sit in the House of Lords, as would Luke. Her orphans would have at least two voices.
“I suppose it’s because my most trusted friends are orphans. If not for Feagan, they’d have no doubt lived—and in all likelihood died—on the streets.”
“Are you not an orphan then?”
How was she to answer that? Was it better to have been abandoned or to have a disreputable father? Why did she care what he thought of her or who her family might be? Perhaps because he could trace his ancestors back for generations. He’d known who his parents were and who their parents had been. Just as Luke had within his home portraits of those who had come before him, so she suspected Greystone did as well.
“Quite honestly I don’t know if I was an orphan or stolen—that does happen, you know? Kidsmen stealing children because they think they’ll suit whatever nefarious purpose they have in mind. Even Feagan, as good as he was at providing food and shelter, kept us because of what we could do for him.
“If you’re not part of the streets, you can’t comprehend how many lost children there are. Even some who aren’t orphans have the most horrid parents. It’s a world of filth and fear, and a child might do anything to escape it. They’ll believe promises that are made never intending to be filled. They go to gaol, prison. They’re transported to penal colonies. With my endeavors I can help change a child’s path, and I can’t help but believe that in many ways Britain will be better for it.”
As usual, she’d become so impassioned with her vision that she was nearly breathless. They ceased walking, and he eased in front of her. She noticed that he’d done that before, faced her so he could look at her directly. She liked that, interpreted it as a sign that he had no qualms about looking a person in the eye when talking.
“It’s quite admirable what you’re doing.”
“I’m not doing it for personal praise. I don’t give a bloody damn if credit for my work goes to someone else. I care about only the children.”
“And here I feared I was competing with some other man for your attention. Inspector Swindler perhaps.”
“Jim and I are merely friends.”
“I’m not certain he realizes that.”
Of course he did. Didn’t he? But Jim wasn’t the reason she’d finally come to terms with the answer she had to give the duke.
“My answer is no…to your question. The one—”
“I can easily determine which question as it’s the only one I’ve asked and you’re the only one of whom I’ve asked it.” He didn’t seem angry, but she did detect deep disappointment in his voice. “You’ll have to forgive me, Miss Darling, but I’m not certain how a night in my arms will steal away from you anything you wish to accomplish.”
“A girl on the streets thinks nothing of lying with a man. I’m from the streets, but I like to think I’m no longer on them.”
He bowed his head. “I insulted you with my offer.”
“Strangely, no. I was quite flattered, but when I lie with a man, I want it to be because he wants me for more than one night.”
“That could be arranged.”
She couldn’t explain why he charmed her or why she took such delight in his wicked banter. Even Luke, who had once proposed marriage to her, had never indicated that he actually desired her. Greystone desired her. He didn’t love her. Quite possibly he held no affection whatsoever for her. But he wanted her. To be wanted was something she’d never before experienced.
“You’re quite charming, Your Grace, but in the end, I don’t think we’d suit.”
“If Claybourne wasn’t striding toward us, I might try to convince you otherwise with another kiss—but as I insisted he marry Catherine after seeing them kiss, I suspect he might not be completely understanding regarding any passion that I couldn’t keep tethered.”
Whether he’d intended it or not, he’d confirmed that marriage would never be an option for them. He wanted her body but not her heart, and while she thought that she should have been insulted, she wasn’t. She was a realist, not a dreamer, and she understood they came from disparate worlds.
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