Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(41) by Lorraine Heath
As she grew unbearably hot with her thoughts, she wished they hadn’t put a warming brick in the coach. Pressing her cheek against the glass, she welcomed the coolness against her skin. She didn’t want to arrive with her cheeks flushed. All of a sudden she didn’t want to arrive at all. What if she no longer had the strength to resist him?
But it was too late. The coach came to a halt, and she realized that they were going to take her in through the front, not usher her in through the servants’ door as though her arrival was to be kept secret. Did this action mean that he held respect for her? Or did he care so little for her reputation that he didn’t care who saw her coming into his residence long past midnight?
The coach door clicked open and the footman held out his hand. Shoring up her resolve, she placed her hand in his and allowed him to help her out of the coach.
After the footman opened the door, Frannie preceded him inside. The butler was apparently awaiting her arrival. He bowed slightly. “Miss Darling, His Grace is waiting for you in the library. If you’ll be so good as to follow me?”
Surprised by the number of servants still about at this time of night, she nodded and followed him down the wide hallway. A footman opened the door to the library. Inside the massive room, a movement near the far window caught her attention, and there he was. Greystone.
For the span of a heartbeat, as she crossed over to him, she thought she saw pleasure in his face at her arrival, but it quickly vanished. She indulged in the luxury of feasting her eyes on him. She’d never seen him absent a waistcoat and jacket. His shoulders were broad, even without the outer layers of clothing. She remembered clutching them in the throes of passion, how powerful they had felt beneath her fingers. His mussed hair made him appear much younger, and she felt a sudden burst of jealousy hoping that his fingers—and not a lady’s—were responsible for the dishevelment.
“Would you care for some refreshment?” he asked, so damned formally that her heart lurched. Was this the man who had swallowed her cries of pleasure?
“I don’t believe so. Thank you.” She wasn’t opposed to spirits, had drunk with the lads many a time, but she wanted to keep her head about her for this encounter. Something between them had shifted, and not in the direction she’d hoped. “Your missive said—”
“We’ll get to that in a moment. Please, sit down.” He indicated two chairs near the window. They were no doubt safer than a sofa, but in all honesty, she was no longer certain she wanted safe. She took the one farthest from him. He promptly sat in the one left vacant.
“How have you been? I’m assuming since you arrived so quickly, they found you at Dodger’s.”
With the flatness of his tone, they might as well have been strangers. She fought to sound just as disaffected by his nearness. “Yes, I was working on the books. I usually go to the orphanage during the day. I have staff there at all hours.” Why was she rambling about inconsequential matters when more important ones preyed on her mind? “I haven’t seen you at Dodger’s of late.”
“I thought it best to stay away.”
She almost asked him why—why now, when he hadn’t before. The ease that had existed between them was no longer there, had been replaced with stiff politeness. “I received your flowers.”
“I don’t recall sending them with a message.”
“You didn’t, but who else would send me flowers?”
“I hope you enjoyed them.”
“Very much. Thank you.” Why was it so awkward? Why were they so formal?
“Oh, your watch.” Removing it from her pocket, she held it out to him.
He took it from her, dangled it in front of his face, and studied it. “It was my father’s. A gift from my mother, I believe. As I recall, she was rather fond of being a duchess.”
“I can’t imagine.”
He shifted his gaze to her. “Being a duchess?”
“Having a fondness for the position. I daresay, I don’t envy those of you in the nobility. I can think of nothing worse than living your life.”
“And I can think of nothing worse than living yours.”
Why did his gaze roam over her as though he was searching for some evidence…?
Oh, God, her stomach churned, because she knew what the difference was. He looked at her as Feagan’s lads did: as though she might shatter, as though she shouldn’t be touched. Although his perusal was so much worse, because she was fairly certain he regretted the time they’d spent together, the intimacy they’d shared. “Claybourne told you,” she said quietly, knowing he was the one affected as much by that horrible time as her. “About the unfortunate incident in my youth.”
“Unfortunate incident? That’s how you refer—” He shoved himself out of the chair, grabbed a porcelain figurine, stormed over to the fireplace, and hurled into the hearth. Its shattering echoed obscenely loudly through the quiet library. Bowing his head and gripping the mantel, he stared down at the destruction.
She rose from the chair and walked over to where he stood. “Sterling, it’s all right.”
He spun around, and her heart nearly broke at the anguish reflected on his face. “All right? I swear to God that if he wasn’t already dead, I’d kill him.”
Trembling with the evidence of his raw emotion, she reached up and placed her hand against his bristly cheek. Laying his hand over hers, he turned his mouth into her palm and kissed it. “It’s all right, Sterling. It was a long time ago.”
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