Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(35) by Lorraine Heath
It pleased him that she saw what he’d attempted to capture: the essence of the beast. “It’s little wonder he’s called the king of the jungle. When he roars, my God. It doesn’t matter where you are, a chill races down your spine. And to see him—there is an immense amount of pride about him.”
“I thought the same of you when I first saw you at the wedding reception.” She peered at him, a slight flush on her face. “You carry yourself with a great deal of confidence that Luke is only just now beginning to exhibit. You don’t question the deference owed to you.”
“Not to me, to my title.”
“But you are the title now, are you not?”
He gave a short nod of acquiescence. He’d never questioned that he’d one day hold the title, but now he wondered if she would be more amenable to his holding her if he weren’t titled.
“You know who your family is,” she said, “from whom you come through the generations. You must appreciate the legacy that’s been handed to you. For me, it’s as though there were no one before me.”
He couldn’t imagine not knowing his ancestry. How empty would it feel to believe you’d sprung forth from nothing?
“There must be a Darling family to whom you might belong. Your inspector could surely make inquiries.”
Her self-deprecating laughter touched his heart. She was enticingly without guile or arrogance. “No. I have absolutely no idea of my true name. I was simply called Frannie darling, as an endearment, and I thought Frannie Darling must be my name. It’s quite easy for people to move about London, take a different name, and begin over. When Feagan took in a child, he always changed the child’s name in an effort to protect him, to give him a new start.”
Placing his arm on the back of the sofa, he trailed his finger along the creamy skin of her bare shoulder. Now he had an inkling of what treasures those drab clothes of hers hid. “So you know nothing at all about your ancestry?”
“Nothing. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse. Luke is the son of nobility. Jim’s father was hanged. We know only that Jack’s mother sold him. So were my parents upstanding citizens and was I stolen? Or were they the dregs of society? I don’t know.”
Had he been considering anything permanent with her—which he wasn’t, but if he had been—her words would have caused him to reconsider. It was the nature of the nobility to wed the nobility, to wed those with whom a person shared a common heritage, along with an understanding and appreciation for one’s place. He didn’t necessarily consider himself better, but he stood on the shoulders of those who’d come before him, and their deeds assured him special privileges and required of him certain duties and behavior. Expectations were never in short supply.
“Do you want to know?” he asked.
“I suppose it depends on the answer.”
“Which answer would you prefer?”
“I’m not really sure. Both leave a lot to be desired.” As though she wished to leave the subject of her past behind, she returned her attention to the sketch pad and turned the page to reveal a small monkey.
Discussion of his travels had suddenly become incredibly boring. He wanted to continue to discuss her, because he wanted to know every aspect of her life. But more than that, he wanted to see her smile again, so he accepted her wish to steer the conversation onto safer and less exciting ground. “This little fellow adopted us, sat on my shoulder from time to time.”
“You’re very skilled at capturing images.”
He’d always been observant of the world around him, had always enjoyed sketching what he saw. He assumed that his pastime was one of the reasons he’d begun to notice a shift in his world. It came upon him gradually, but eventually he became aware that the scope of what he was seeing was diminishing.
“I’ve always enjoyed drawing.” He skimmed his finger along her collarbone. “I should think I’d find a great deal of pleasure in drawing you.”
“I’m not certain I’d fancy posing for a portrait.”
“Perhaps I can convince you otherwise, during my quest to convince you of other things.” He circled his hand around her neck. Her green eyes widened slightly before narrowing provocatively. He’d promised to behave this evening, but he asked the impossible of himself. He’d judged her lacking in innocence, but now and then he caught glimpses of it: in her smile, in a hesitant flirtation. She was a combination of survival and goodness, daring and inventing her own rules when those that existed didn’t suit her. With his thumb, he stroked the soft underside of her chin, felt her pulse quicken. “I would like to amend our plans for the evening.”
She sounded breathless and her pulse tripled its rhythm. Fear didn’t enter her eyes, but anticipation did, encouraging him to continue. “The opera, dinner…and a kiss.”
She gave an almost imperceptible nod. Any other man might have missed it, but he was accustomed to scrutinizing the world around him, to hoarding the tiniest bits and pieces of it for the day when it would all be lost to him.
He’d intended to go gently, but her enticing gown had caused provocative images to flit through his mind for most of the evening, so when his mouth settled over hers, it was with purpose. It was strange, the way his own heart sped up when she welcomed him. During his travels, he must have taken a thousand women into his arms, or at the very least a hundred. Exotic women. Women of every country on which he’d set foot, yet he’d wanted none of them with the ferocity that he desired this one. As he swept his tongue through her mouth, he thought no one had ever tasted as sweet, no one had ever been as hot. Easing away from her lips, he tasted her throat, heard her moan, was aware of her head dropping back to give him easier access. He nibbled his way to her ear. “I want to let your hair down.”
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