Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(31) by Lorraine Heath
“Why do you suppose women do that?” she asked quietly. “Settle for being a lover instead of a wife?”
“Because sometimes it’s the only way to have someone in your life, when circumstances dictate marriage be based on something other than love.”
Slowly, she brought her gaze back to bear on him. “Have you ever loved a woman?”
“I suppose you’re referring to something other than the brotherly love I feel for Catherine.” It was now his turn to gaze out the window. “Once. I thought I did. But my affection for her turned so swiftly to dislike that I’m no longer certain.”
“I told her the truth.”
He gave his attention back to her. “About me, Miss Darling. In spite of my rank and wealth, I shall make an unsatisfactory husband. So consider yourself fortunate that there is no hope for a marriage between us.”
Her brow pleated. “What is your failing?”
“Miss Darling, I have every intention of seducing you, and I have enough skill at seduction to know that revealing my failings is not the way to go.”
“I suppose I should be forthright and reveal that I have no intention of being seduced.”
“I so enjoy a challenge, Miss Darling.”
“I shall keep that in mind, Your Grace.”
“Are you nervous about coming to my residence later for dinner?” he asked.
She shook her head, met his gaze. “No.”
“I’m not sure I’ve ever met a woman who meets my gaze as often as you do.”
“A man’s eyes can tell you a great deal. If he is quick to anger, if he’s the vengeful sort. If he’s proud. The proud ones are the best for fleecing.”
“I’d have thought they’d be the worst.”
“They don’t usually report that they’ve had their pockets picked. They fear it will make them appear the fool. So they simply replace whatever it is you took.”
“You say that with a certain amount of pride, as though you believe stealing is honorable.”
“I can’t deny that I’ve always taken a certain satisfaction in being so very skilled at what I did. I was the only one of Feagan’s brood not to see a stint in prison.”
“Your eyes, no doubt. I suspect even if you’d been caught you could have persuaded a judge to let you go.”
“I’ve been told they’re my finest physical attribute.”
“Told? Surely you own a mirror.”
“I don’t often gaze into it, and certainly I don’t linger there.”
Fascinating. He’d never known a woman who didn’t take up residence in front of a looking glass. “Why have you an aversion to gazing in the mirror?”
“Because within a mirror I can’t avoid looking into my own eyes. The life I’ve lived is reflected in my eyes and there are parts of it that I wish to forget.”
“Yet, it has made you the fascinating woman you are.”
And he was fascinated with every aspect of her. Perhaps he would prolong the moment of taking her to his bed simply so he could have more moments like these, but even as he thought through that strategy, he knew he wanted her too desperately to wait for very long before having her.
The coach rolled to a stop in front of the Royal Italian Opera. When he’d left England, it was the Covent Garden Theater. It seemed nothing remained the same. The footman opened the door, Sterling stepped out, then handed Miss Darling down.
“Have you ever attended the opera?” he asked as he offered her his arm.
“The previous Earl of Claybourne brought me once. I thought it was quite amazing, the costumes, the performers, and their singing was not to be believed.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” He led her into the lobby, wondering why he hadn’t remembered what a crush it was as people waited to take their seats. He regretted that for a while he would have to concentrate on his surroundings rather than her. “I abhor the opera.”
She stopped walking, forcing him to do the same. With any luck they could stand there until most people had gone in search of their seats.
“Then why did we come?” she asked.
“Because it was the only thing I could think of that I thought you might possibly agree to.”
He couldn’t tell if she was flattered or incensed.
“Luke’s grandfather couldn’t stand it either. We left halfway through the performance. I’ve half a mind to make you sit through it all,” she said, a saucy grin falling into place.
“If it would please you, I shall accept my punishment without complaint and even applaud when it is over, although I must confess that having you near will make it bearable.”
“You’re well practiced when it comes to flattering a lady.”
“I must admit that I excel at the gentlemanly art. However, do not make the mistake of thinking that I don’t mean the words I speak.”
“You must want what you…want very much to sit through opera.”
“Quite honestly, Miss Darling, taking the picnic this afternoon with you was the most enjoyable time I’ve had since returning to England. I wished only to extend it, so here we are.”
He had no idea if his words pleased her, because something just beyond them caught her attention and she smiled. He turned in the direction and saw Marcus Langdon—Claybourne’s cousin and once heir to the title—bearing down on them with Lady Charlotte Somner, daughter to the Earl of Millbank, at his side. The man favored Claybourne very little. Sterling suspected it had to do with him having a childhood of ease, while Claybourne had grown up in the criminal world.
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