Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(37) by Lorraine Heath
“I should think after everything we’ve shared that you could call me Sterling.”
As much as it hurt, she said, “We are not equal.”
They traveled the remainder of the journey in silence, which confirmed that she had the right of it. No matter what feelings might begin to blossom between them, their places in society, as determined by their birth, would always serve to separate them.
Once they arrived, he walked her up the stairs to her flat.
“Thank you for sharing the evening with me, Miss Darling. Your little hellion is now quite safe from being arrested.”
She took her key from her reticule and unlocked her door. Glancing over her shoulder at him, she said, “Quite honestly, Your Grace, I suspect he was always safe from that fate.”
Before he could confirm or deny the truth of her words, she slipped inside and closed the door behind her. It was long moments before she heard his tread on the stairs, very long moments when she almost opened the door and invited him in.
He’d given her an extraordinary gift tonight. Her feelings toward him had deepened. If anything more had happened, she wasn’t certain how she would have managed to close the door on him.
As she prepared for bed, her skin felt more sensitive. Before she got into bed, she reached into the pocket of the dress she’d been wearing at the Great Exhibition and removed the handkerchief that she still needed to wash and iron. She crawled into bed, turned out the lamp, and rolled to her side, pressing the handkerchief against her nose, inhaling Greystone’s scent. It was no doubt the closest she’d ever come to being with him through the night.
Sadly, as comforting as it was, it wasn’t enough.
“Your Grace, how splendid of you to visit,” Lord Millbank said as he strolled into the parlor where Sterling was waiting to be announced.
“I say, I’ve been wanting to catch up with you to hear about your travels. Please, have a seat, make yourself comfortable, and tell me everything. I have a servant fetching tea—”
“I fear this isn’t a social call.”
Millbank brushed what little hair he had back over his balding pate. “No?”
“No. I attended the opera last night.”
“Ghastly business that. I do believe it was designed by women to torment men.”
“Be that as it may, your daughter was also in attendance.”
“Which one?” He narrowed his eyes as though he didn’t quite trust Sterling to know his daughters.
“Ah, yes, she was no doubt there with Mr. Marcus Langdon. I do believe he fancies her, but if you have an interest”—he winked—“she should be back any time from making her morning calls. Her mother would be most delighted to accompany you as you take Charlotte on a turn about the garden.”
“My interest in your daughter stems only from the fact that she insulted the lady on my arm, which is no different from insulting me. I do not take kindly to insults.”
His eyes widened. “Of course not. I don’t know what Charlotte was thinking.”
“Please inform her that should our paths cross again, she is not to approach me.”
He bobbed his head. “I’ll have a word with her. Yes, thank you.”
“Good day, Millbank.”
He’d taken three steps toward the door before Millbank asked, “Might I inquire as to who the lady was?”
Sterling didn’t stop or look back as he said, “All that matters is that she is my lady.”
Which—he mused later in his coach as he traveled back to his residence—were rather bold words, considering that Frannie had indicated he wasn’t to call on her again. He would have to do what he could to change her opinion on that matter, because he fully intended to finish what he’d only begun last night.
When he arrived home, he was surprised to find Catherine and her husband awaiting him in the library. He could tell by their stern expressions they hadn’t come to make a social call. Unfortunately for Sterling, Claybourne had taken up a post near the window with his arms crossed over his chest, as though he were there to provide support for Catherine regarding whatever matter she’d come to address. She stood in front of his desk. In her usual style, she got straight to the heart of things.
“Sterling, I’ve heard a rumor that you were seen accompanying Frannie to the opera last night.”
Taking the chair behind his desk in a negligent pose as though he couldn’t be bothered, Sterling looked at Catherine, which meant losing sight of Claybourne. Damnation. Without repositioning himself he couldn’t keep both within his sight, and distancing himself so he could properly see them would seem odd. He was fairly certain that his father had never told his sister about the condition that his father had deemed “an embarrassment and disgrace on the family heritage,” as though Sterling had purposely taken measures to diminish his vision. He was like a horse wearing blinders. Why would he wish that disadvantage upon himself?
“Shouldn’t you be in the country by now?”
“The estate manor was involved in a fire. Until the repairs are completed, we’re staying in London.”
“Ah, that’s right.” He turned his head to the side to give Claybourne a raised brow. “Avendale died in that fire, as I recall. What I can’t understand is the reason he would visit you in the first place. It was no secret that he did not believe you were the true heir to the Claybourne title, and advocated for it to be given to Marcus Langdon.”
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