Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(23) by Lorraine Heath
During the week following the ball, Sterling had lost an unconscionable amount of money at the gaming tables, hoping to catch a glimpse of Miss Darling—with absolutely no luck at either spying her or winning back his stakes.
Tonight was no exception. Sterling had purchased his chips on credit. Dodger’s was civilized in that regard. At the end of the month a statement of accounts owed would be sent out. Considering Jack Dodger’s reputation, Sterling doubted anyone ever reneged on settling accounts, but if he did, Sterling wondered if Miss Darling would attempt to collect. As bookkeeper, perhaps she’d come around herself . It would provide him an opportunity to see her which sitting here attempting to make sense of his cards wasn’t. His mind wasn’t focused on playing as his dwindling stack of chips testified.
With his limited vision, he knew that she might well walk right past him and he’d not notice her until it was too late. Numerous times he’d considered attempting to access the offices, but he’d seen Dodger use a key often enough to know the door leading to them was always locked. He knew the apartment she had was accessible through stairs on the outside and had considered waiting for her in the alleyway, but she’d given him her answer. He should respect it and get on with his own matters.
But the fervor with which she’d spoken about her orphans haunted him. Was there anything in life that he cared about so passionately? He cared for his title, to be sure. The estates were a source of pride. But nothing consumed him, not in the manner in which Frannie Darling was consumed with aiding orphans.
Sterling was accustomed to ladies discussing light-hearted matters such as dressmakers and hats. Miss Darling, he suspected, had no time or patience for such frivolity. She was passionate about everything that mattered to her.
He wanted to matter to her.
He’d continued to make his servants available to her each day until they reported that all the furniture had been arranged to her satisfaction. She’d sent him a polite note thanking him for lending her such fine workers.
He’d sent her five hundred pounds. She’d written him promising to put it to good use.
Each letter was precise, unemotional, indicating she’d moved on with her life—as should he.
He became aware of an unsettling sensation that he’d felt on more than one occasion. Glancing at his cards, he asked, “Are there peepholes at this place?”
“Good Lord,” the Earl of Chesney muttered as he gave his cards another glance. “They’re all over the place.”
“Do they overlook this area?”
“Mmm. The curtained balconies above. From what I hear, only accessible from the back rooms, which are only accessible to Dodger.”
And his bookkeeper.
Sterling lifted his gaze to a shadowed balcony in the far corner. How could he have not noticed it before? It was too far away, too shadowy to make out clearly, but somehow, he knew—
Frannie jerked back from the small opening she’d been peering through. Damnation, she was fairly certain he’d spotted her spying on him, because she’d felt his gaze as though he were standing in the balcony with her, trailing his finger along her throat.
Tonight he certainly looked sharp in his dark green jacket, black waistcoat, and soft gray trousers. Had he spent his evening in the company of a lady before coming here? She didn’t like thinking of him being with someone other than her, which was rather silly on her part. He was a duke. Eventually he would marry someone other than her. All he wanted from her was one night. She had little doubt it would be a night filled with charming words and sensual touches and blistering kisses. It would be a night that might leave her longing for more. Was it better to have one night and forever wish for another or to always wonder what that one night might have been like?
She’d known so many of Feagan’s lads, but not one had ever caused desire to curl within her. She’d thought when she gave Greystone her answer that she could walk away and never think about him again. Instead, she found herself wondering if she’d made a mistake.
If she had, would she find the courage to admit it not only to herself, but to him?
The gin palace was raucous, but as Feagan sat in a dark corner sipping his gin, he appreciated the rowdy and boisterous activities. He grew lonely in his quiet dwelling now that his children had left him, but he wasn’t of a mind to try to replace them. Too much work involved in training them to be effective thieves. He managed quite well on his own to obtain what he needed to get by. His requirements for a good life were few: a bit of gin—rum when fortune smiled on him—good tobacco for his pipe, enough clothes to shelter his aching bones from the cold, warm stew on occasion, and a roof to keep out the rain. Yes, indeed, he considered himself a most fortunate man.
A huge hulking shadow blocked his view. He lifted his gaze. The only thing Feagan feared now stood before him. “Mr. Sykes, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Sykes pulled out a chair, dropped into it, and leaned forward. “You need to have a word with your gel. She’s messing with my business.”
“Aye. She’s coming into the rookeries and taking my apprentices. You, yourself, know how much work is involved in training one.”
Feagan sipped his gin. His Frannie had always had a kind heart. He suspected she’d been the reason that most of his lads had stayed with him, and the reason many had left after she did.
“I don’t see ’ow I can ’elp ye. I ain’t seen her since she left with that damned lord.”
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