Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(32) by Lorraine Heath
With his silver eyes reflecting as much merriment as his smile, Marcus Langdon approached and bowed low. “Your Grace.”
“Mr. Langdon. Lady Charlotte.”
Lady Charlotte beamed up at him. “Your Grace.”
“And Miss Darling.” Mr. Langdon took Miss Darling’s hand and brought it up for a kiss. “What a pleasure to see you both here.” He turned toward the lady at his side. “Lady Charlotte, allow me to introduce Miss Frannie Darling.”
Lady Charlotte didn’t acknowledge the introduction. Rather, she gave her full attention to Sterling, her smile growing brighter. “Your Grace, I can’t tell you how lovely it is to see you here. You must join us for dinner some evening and regale us with tales of your travels.”
Langdon appeared flummoxed by his lady’s rude behavior. “Lady Charlotte, you’re familiar with my cousin, the Earl of Claybourne. Miss Darling is one of his dearest friends.”
“So, she’s one of those people, is she?”
Before Sterling could champion the lady at his side, she said, “And which people are those, Lady Charlotte? Those who care about the poor and indigent of our society? Those who see the criminal justice system as anything except just?”
“Those who carry the dirt of the streets on their skirts. If you’ll excuse me, I need to visit the ladies’ toilette. Standing here has made me feel dreadfully unclean.” With that, she spun on her heel and marched away.
“Oh, my goodness,” Langdon stammered. “My sincerest apologies, Miss Darling, Your Grace, I had no idea—”
Miss Darling touched his arm. “Don’t concern yourself, Mr. Langdon. It’s unfortunate that some have a very low opinion of me, but I assure you I don’t lose sleep over it.”
“But still, my cousin—”
“Shan’t hear of this incident from me.”
He nodded, seemingly relieved, and Sterling realized he might have had concerns about dealing with Claybourne’s wrath. Having suffered through a visit from Dodger and Swindler, Sterling hardly blamed him.
“You’re most gracious, Miss Darling,” Langdon said.
“I’m nothing of the sort. You can’t be held responsible for another’s actions. Enjoy the opera.”
“You as well.” He nodded at Sterling. “Your Grace.”
Then he walked away to find the rather unpleasant Lady Charlotte, who, Sterling thought, would find herself falling out of favor with Mr. Langdon. A pity for her, as Sterling had heard the rumors that Langdon was now employed by his cousin at a very advantageous salary.
“Do you get that often?” Sterling asked quietly, turning his attention back to Miss Darling.
“No. Because I stay away from the aristocracy as much as possible.”
“We don’t all behave as abominably.”
“Not all, no. But a good many. May we find our seats now?”
“Would you rather leave?”
“Absolutely not. I may be bloodied, but I can still carry a sword.”
“You’re quite remarkable, Miss Darling. I’m quite honored to be with you tonight.” Extending his arm, he welcomed the feel of hers entwined with his.
“We’ll see how you feel tomorrow, when rumors have had a chance to spread.”
“You’re quite the cynic when it comes to the aristocracy.”
“No, simply a realist.”
Her words jarred him. Had he not said the same to Catherine?
He escorted her toward the stairs, grateful to realize that with her on one side of him, navigating the other was not nearly as difficult. “At my sister’s wedding, when your friends circled around you, that’s what they were seeking to protect you from, the unkind regard of others in attendance.”
After they’d found their way to his box and taken their seats, she said, “When I was much younger and lived in Claybourne’s residence, Luke’s grandfather arranged an afternoon tea in the garden with a few of the girls my age. They arrived in coaches and carriages and they were so beautiful. Their laughter was soft and sweet, so very different from the harsh laugher in the rookeries. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to be like them.’
“They hurt me that day without touching me. They taught me that words can slice like a knife. They wanted to know about life in the rookeries, and I made the mistake of telling them that I slept with Luke and Jack and Jim. And sometimes at night, I still slept with Luke. They made it into something ugly. It was really rather innocent. To lie in the circle of someone’s arms while you sleep can be very, very nice. But I never slept with them again. Never told them why. Those girls took that from me. And I let them.”
While she recited the facts without emotion, still he knew she must have experienced a world of hurt. She possessed a kindness that went beyond anything he’d ever experienced before. He couldn’t imagine her intentionally bringing harm to another person. He was ashamed to admit that he knew several acquaintances would see her as a bit of sport.
“Tell me who they are and I shall see that matters are put to right,” he told her.
She gave him a whimsical smile. “It was long ago, Your Grace. And I do not hold a grudge. Although I must admit that sometimes, I miss having someone to sleep with.”
Reaching out, Sterling trailed his gloved finger along her bare arm. “We could remedy that. Tonight if you like.”
“I suspect, Your Grace, that you want to do a good deal more than sleep.”
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