Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(39) by Lorraine Heath
“She’s not of the nobility, Sterling.”
“I’m well aware of that, Catherine. You needn’t worry. I have very strict requirements when it comes to a wife, and Miss Darling doesn’t suit.” For his own sake. He didn’t want to see the disappointment in her lovely green eyes, as he’d seen in Angelina’s when the truth of Sterling’s situation came out. No, he needed a wife for whom he wouldn’t care if she went on her merry way.
“I just don’t want to see you—or her—get hurt. Frannie”—she glanced back at her husband briefly—“Claybourne first asked for her hand in marriage. She refused him. One of her reasons being that she had no desire to be part and parcel of the aristocracy.”
Sterling narrowed his eyes. “Do not ever think for one moment that he settled for you, Catherine. It’s obvious he adores you.”
She bestowed on him a radiant smile, reached out, and squeezed his arm. “I’m well aware of that, Sterling. I just felt the need to share with you what I knew. While you might not be considering her for a wife, I know that sometimes feelings can overcome all rational thought. I think the world of Frannie, but I also truly believe that if you pursue anything other than a platonic relationship with her you may both be miserable.”
“Your concerns are duly noted.”
She rose up on her toes and gave him a kiss on the cheek before going to join her husband. As they left, Sterling wondered if they’d expressed their concerns to Frannie. He doubted it. He was the one doing the pursuing, so they’d brought him a clear message. Stop the pursuit…or else.
He dropped back into his chair and, with a shaking hand, reached for the glass of whiskey that Claybourne had poured for him. He downed it in one long swallow. Leaning back, he closed his eyes and worked to control the tremors going through him. Not because of the dire threats Claybourne had made, but because of what he’d revealed about the man he’d killed and what that man had done to Frannie.
It had happened years ago, and she’d been a child—she’d been a child!
Coming out of his chair with such force that it nearly toppled over, he searched frantically for something to pound his fist into. He settled for grabbing a vase he’d brought back from China and hurling it into the hearth.
“Oh, God.” Dropping into a chair, he buried his face in his hands. “Oh, Frannie, sweet Frannie.” He wanted to hold her. Her innocence stolen. He thought of the wonder in her eyes, the tears as he’s brought her pleasure…
He wanted to change her past, but even as he thought it, he realized it was her very past that had shaped her into a woman who fascinated him. Sweetness and steely determination. Even as he accepted that he couldn’t have even one night with her, he realized he wanted a thousand.
Sterling sat in his library, no lamps lit, only the fire in the hearth to provide any semblance of light. It had been nearly a week since the opera. He’d sent Frannie flowers, but had included no note. He hadn’t known what to say. She’d grown up in a world of violence that he couldn’t truly comprehend. Oh, he had troubles, but their lives were so very different that they couldn’t compare.
He should quit London, go to the country. Attend to his estates, make an appearance at a country party or two, look over the ladies…
He shoved himself out of his chair. It was after midnight. He was going to Dodger’s. Lose some money and think about Frannie counting it.
He strode into the hallway and staggered to a stop. Damnation. The lamps had been put out. Whose idea was that? He was about to return to the library where he could use a bellpull to wake the butler to light the damn place and ready a carriage, when he heard someone creeping around.
Knowing the hallway would be clear as long as he walked down the center, he strode as quickly and quietly as he could to the foyer. The thumping grew louder as he rounded the corner—
Based on the size of the person and the timbre of his voice, he was a child, silhouetted by a lantern that was covered on three sides and cast light in only one direction. With an uncanny speed that reminded Sterling of Charley Byerly, the imp darted off, and Sterling rushed after him. “You there! Halt! Wedgeworth! We’ve a thief in the residence!”
The little bugger dropped his lantern, extinguishing the flame, but from the area of the kitchen, pale light emerged to push back the shadows. The cook, thank God, must have heard Sterling’s cry for help and the commotion that followed. She barged out carrying a lamp and a rolling pin, her wide girth effectively blocking the doorway.
The boy screamed, turned, and began running an erratic path down the hallway, dodging from side to side as though he thought he could maneuver his way around Sterling with a few fancy steps. Engaging in his own darting around, Sterling managed to grab hold of the back of a jacket and soon found himself holding nothing but discarded clothing. Slippery bugger!
Sterling charged after him, determined not to let him escape.
“Jenkins got him, Your Grace!” Wedgeworth’s voice echoed through the residence.
With the cook providing the light, Sterling walked briskly in the direction from which Wedgeworth’s voice had come. He found him back in the hallway leading to the library. A footman wearing only trousers, his hair rumpled, was holding the squirming lad.
“We’ll send ’round for a constable,” Wedgeworth said.
“No,” Sterling answered sternly. “I have something else in mind for our little thief.”
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