Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(42) by Lorraine Heath
“You were a child.”
“But I’m not a child any longer.”
“If you’d told me, I’d have taken greater care.”
She shook her head. “You were the first to look at me as though I were desirable. Why would I want to lose that?”
In near desperation, he suddenly took her in his arms and slanted his mouth across hers. He tasted of brandy as he kissed her hungrily. A thrill shot through her. He still desired her. It was evident with every sweep of his tongue, every low groan that reverberated up through his chest, every press of his hands along her back. She yearned for him as she’d never longed for anything else. She didn’t care that he might not want her for always, he wanted her now.
She ran her hands over his shoulders, feeling the strength in him as his muscles bunched with his effort to hold her near. She wanted this, wanted him.
Drawing back, breathing harshly, he pressed his forehead against hers. “This is not the reason I sent for you.”
He glanced toward the doorway as though he were considering lifting her into his arms and carrying her through it. She realized with astounding certainty that she wouldn’t object. In his eyes, she could see him deliberating: did he remain a gentleman or did he take advantage of whatever reason had caused him to send for her?
She knew the moment that his noble character declared victory. A hint of regret mingled with loss briefly touched his eyes before acceptance took hold and he returned his gaze to hers.
“Make no mistake, Miss Darling. I still desire you as I’ve never desired another. But now is not the time.”
Determined not to reveal her own disappointment with his decision, she kept her voice steady when she reminded him, “Your missive said you had something that belonged to me.”
He traced his finger around her face as though he would memorize every aspect of it. “I believe it does. Come along. I’ll show you.”
Offering her his arm, he led her out of the library. They walked through numerous corridors until they reached the kitchen. Inside, stuffing a meat pie in his mouth at the servants’ table, was a boy who was more bone than skin.
Sterling watched as Frannie rushed over and crouched beside the boy. He couldn’t imagine the strength of purpose it had taken for her to put her past behind her. Yes, what had happened to her had occurred long ago, but still she had experienced it, lived through it. The more time he spent in her presence, the more she humbled him. Did she ever put her own wants and needs before others?
She combed her fingers through the boy’s long dark hair as though it probably wasn’t infested with lice. Someone—the cook or Jenkins—had scrubbed the boy’s face clean. It was pink and so damned pale.
With a thousand questions reflected in her green eyes, Frannie looked at Sterling.
“He broke into the residence,” he explained.
She returned her attention to the boy. “What’s your name?”
He stuffed more pie into his mouth, so much more that Sterling was surprised his cheeks didn’t burst.
“Poor thing,” Sterling’s cook said. “He’s been eating like that ever since I set food in front of him. That’s his third pie.”
“Chew your food, then answer the lady, lad,” Sterling ordered.
The boy swallowed. Sterling was surprised he didn’t choke.
“Jimmy,” he grumbled and shoved more food into his mouth.
“Who’s your kidsman?” Frannie asked.
The boy shook his head.
“I know you didn’t plan this burglary on your own.”
He simply shook his head again.
“Do you know Feagan?” she asked.
He bobbed his head.
“I used to be one of his crew. My name is Frannie Darling.”
The boy’s eyes widened in horror. “Sykes says ye be the very devil.”
Considering the sudden hard set of her jaw, Sterling assumed she knew this Sykes fellow and didn’t think much of him. Or perhaps she didn’t like being compared to the devil. Although, God help him, Sterling thought the same thing, in a more flattering way. She was dressed as plainly as he’d ever seen her, but the hour was late and her hair wasn’t quite as tidy as it might have been earlier. The back looked as though it was struggling against the weight of the heavy strands and might lose the battle at any moment and tumble down. He desperately wanted it to lose the battle. He wanted to bury his hands in it.
He wanted to loosen the buttons at her wrist and place his mouth on the pale flesh he’d find there. He wanted to feel her pulse quicken beneath his lips. He wanted her to be as tender with him as she was with this lad. He wanted to be as tender with her.
Frannie unfolded her body and strolled over to Sterling. He was acutely aware of the worry in her eyes, the delicate pleat between her brows. “What are you going to do with him?”
“Give him to you, I suppose.”
So much relief and gratitude filled her eyes that he wished he’d discovered a thousand boys in his residence.
“I would like to take him to the children’s home. Would you allow me to make use of your coach?”
“I’ll do better than that. I’ll accompany you.”
As his coach rumbled toward the outskirts of London, Sterling knew it was pointless to prolong his time with her. Her thoughts were not on him. They were on the young lad stretched out on the bench, the one whose head was in her lap while she slowly combed her fingers through his dirty hair. The boy was like a mongrel pup, filthy and ill cared for. He’d stuffed himself with so much food that he’d brought a good deal of it back up on the way to the coach. Sterling wanted to believe he was just a greedy little bastard, but he suspected he was quite simply starving. His arms were little more than sticks. Sterling wouldn’t have thought he could have carried his ink blotter out of the residence, but his pockets had told a different story.
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