Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(44) by Lorraine Heath
Moving back, he watched as she removed the lad’s scruffy shoes which—when his black-soled feet were revealed—were much too large. As though reading Sterling’s thoughts, she reached into a shoe and pulled out crumpled newspaper. She shrugged as though to signify that at least he had shoes.
She left his clothing in place and brought a blanket over him. Once again she touched the boy’s hair, then leaned down and bussed a quick kiss over his temple. “Sweet dreams.”
The boy muttered something indecipherable and promptly began to snore.
With a tilting of her head, she led Sterling back into the corridor. “Whenever I come here at night, I always take a walk through. I’d like it very much if you’d accompany me.”
As it would prolong his time with her, he nodded. She lifted a lamp from a nearby table and directed him toward the stairs.
“Do you come here every night?” he asked as he followed her up.
“Not often. Depends how late I work on Dodger’s books. I’ll usually stay at my apartment there and come here during the day to check up on things, visit with the children”—she glanced over her shoulder at him and smiled—“and look over the books. It seems I’m forever looking over books.”
They reached the landing and he could see all the doors were open. She walked through the first one. Inside, two boys were sprawled on separate beds. Two small chests were at the foot of each bed, chests which he imagined contained their possessions. Leaning over, she gave first one boy and then the other a kiss. Neither stirred, and Sterling imagined they were accustomed to receiving angel kisses while they slept.
She went through the same ritual in each room. Eventually, feeling utterly useless, he took the lamp from her so that he could at least contribute in some way. Besides, he was able to direct the light so it shone more on her than the children, giving him a clearer portrait of her. She possessed no pretense. She didn’t put on airs. She truly cared about these children, was seeking to provide them with a better life. Children she’d not given birth to. How much more might she love her own children? Or was her ability to love infinite?
The number of children astonished him.
“Where do you find them?” he asked, when she’d delivered her last kiss and they were walking down the stairs.
“Mostly they find me. While Sykes might call me the very devil, there are others who refer to me as an angel. Word passes along the street that here they will find sanctuary and no harm will come to them. Some don’t trust it. Others are to a point that they feel they have nothing to lose. And of course, Jim knows who has been arrested. He’ll bring children here after they’ve suffered their punishment.”
Of course. The inspector from Scotland Yard. Sterling had never thought he’d find himself competing with a commoner for the affections of…God help him. A commoner. Not that he found anything about Frannie Darling to be the least bit common.
Leaving the lamp on an entryway table, he went outside, grateful that she accompanied him. Every moment in her company left him wanting one more.
“I didn’t notice the little scamp who tried to steal from me at the Great Exhibition. Charley wasn’t it?” he asked.
She smiled warmly. “Charley Byerly, yes. I managed to find a decent family willing to take him in.”
“God help them.”
“He’s not as bad as all that. I managed to find time to visit him just the other day. He’s adjusting quite well actually.”
“So in addition to everything else you’re doing, you’re striving to find them homes?”
“You’re remarkable. May I escort you back to Dodger’s?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’m going to stay with Jimmy. He’ll be frightened when he awakens in these strange surroundings.”
He didn’t want to leave her here, but he knew she’d not appreciate if he insisted that she leave. “Then forgive me an indulgence.”
Not giving her the opportunity to fully comprehend the meaning of his words, he took her into his arms and lowered his mouth to hers. She released a low moan, but no objection. He kissed her more gently than he had in the library when desperation had clung to him. He wanted more from her than he could have, more than he deserved. She wanted him to desire her, and by God, he did, with a fierceness that was almost terrifying.
Drawing back, he clamped his hand beneath her chin. “Much remains unresolved between us, but never think for a single moment that I don’t desire you. Sleep well, Frannie.”
Later, leaning back in his coach, Sterling slipped his thumb into his waistcoat pocket and smiled. His pocket watch was missing. Her taking of it was an invitation, if he’d ever received one. He was looking forward to accepting.
Sitting in a chair beside the bed with the lamp turned low, Frannie watched as Jimmy slept. Poor lad. She was familiar enough with Sykes to know that Jimmy would worry about retribution if he didn’t return to his mentor. Sykes had been a bully as a lad, a monster as an adult. He cared for no one save himself, and while Frannie had not seen him since she was twelve, she walked the rookeries often enough in her search for orphans to hear stories about him.
She slipped her hand into her pocket and withdrew Greystone’s watch. She wanted to see him again, and she hoped that by taking his watch she’d sent him the message. A message he would understand.
He might never realize how deeply it touched her that he’d sent for her instead of a constable. If only she could get others to do the same. If these children never had to experience gaol or prison or any sort of punishment. If only her work could make a difference.
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