Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(22) by Lorraine Heath
“You’re too generous by half with that assessment.” Wilson Mabry personified the seven deadly sins.
The two gentlemen who had joined him turned their attention toward the dance area.
“My sister’s not yet spoken for,” Canton said quietly. “I’m sure my father wouldn’t oppose your suit.”
“I like your sister, Canton. Therefore, she’s not on my list of considerations.”
Canton jerked his head around and gave Sterling an odd, questioning look. Sterling shrugged. “I know myself better than any man and I have no doubt that I’m poor husband material. I suspect your sister will want at least affection—if not love—in her marriage. I’m unable to accommodate such whimsy. I’m in search of a wife who is content to see to her duty without complaining and will expect no more of me than I can give.”
“Lady Annabelle Lawrence might suit you then,” Milner offered. “From what I’ve heard she hasn’t an affectionate bone in her body.” He visibly shuddered. “Cold as ice, from what I understand. Wants a husband who won’t interfere with her life.”
“Which one is she?”
“There,” Milner nodded toward the dance floor. “Dancing with Deerfield.”
Sterling spotted the couple right off. Lady Annabelle had an air of entitlement about her. It might work in his favor after he had his heirs, but until then, life could very well be miserable. She was certainly beautiful, with her black hair—
A flash of red passed before his vision, and the attractive Annabelle was forgotten as he desperately searched the crowd…
He gave himself a mental shake. She wouldn’t be here. Frannie Darling didn’t move about in his circles—although on occasion he wandered through hers.
“Want an introduction?” Canton asked.
“Not at the moment, thank you. I’m going to step out for some fresh air.”
As soon as he walked onto the terrace, he realized the foolishness of coming out here. It was always more difficult to make out things clearly in the dark. Carefully, he made his way over to the edge of the terrace. Closing his fingers around the railing, he took a deep breath.
Red hair. It hadn’t even been as vibrant as hers. No one’s was as vibrant as Frannie Darling’s.
He could have any woman in London, yet she was the only one he wanted. She haunted not only his dreams, but every waking moment as well.
He’d come here tonight hoping to distract himself from this fierce need he had to see her, but with just one glimpse of red, she was again taking possession of every thought in his head. Strangely, when he thought of Miss Darling, it wasn’t so much the pleasure he would derive from her but that he might give to her that occupied his thoughts. How he would use his hands and mouth to stir her passions, how he would cause desire to burn through her, how her voice would sound when she cried out his name.
This was insanity. If he could but see her one more time, kiss her once more, then perhaps he could move on with his life.
“’ere! ’e’s over ’ere!”
Frannie quickened her step, striving to keep up with the boy who’d grabbed her hand on the street and pulled her into the alleyway. She’d been almost finished making her nightly rounds at the rookeries, searching for children in need of what she had to offer when the lad had approached her.
“You the red angel what takes boys to a better place?” he’d asked, no doubt referring to the shade of her hair. She wore it loose and wild when she came to this area of London because she knew it distinguished her from others.
She’d been gratified to know that she was developing a reputation for helping the children. Thus far, she’d managed to take in only eight, but word was apparently spreading that she provided a safe haven. “I am. Do you want to come with me?”
“Nah, but Mick…I think ’e’s dyin’.”
As Frannie now knelt beside the child curled on his side, she feared his friend might be correct. He was battered and bruised, fevered and trembling.
“Can ye ’elp ’im?” his friend asked.
“Yes.” Or at least William Graves could. How would the poor and indigent feel to know that the man who treated their ills and never asked for payment also served as a physician to the queen? Twisting around, Frannie grabbed the older boy’s arm. “But I won’t help him unless you come with me as well.”
“Can’t do that. Sykes’ll kill me.”
She wasn’t surprised to discover that Sykes was his kidsman. Both lads fit his requirements: small and wiry. She also recognized his handiwork as exhibited on the hurt boy. “What did your friend do wrong?” she asked.
The lad shifted uncomfortably. “Didn’t steal enough naps.”
Handkerchiefs. The boy hadn’t met his daily quota. Sykes had probably charged him with being lazy and had decided that nearly killing him would motivate the others. He placed no value on the lives of children. She suspected he placed no value on anyone’s life save his own.
“I won’t let Sykes harm you. I swear it.”
Shaking his head, the boy wiggled out of her grip and was racing into the darkness before she could stop him. With extreme tenderness, she lifted the hurt boy into her arms. With Bill’s help, she’d save him.
Then she’d return to the rookeries to search for more boys—in particular those who worked for Sykes. If she couldn’t stop his brutality, she’d seek to move beyond his reach as many boys as possible.
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