Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(53) by Lorraine Heath
“All right.” She set her face in a mask of determination, and his anticipation grew as he waited for her to reveal her scandalous story. “It was rather shameful, but I added a column of numbers incorrectly. Jack discovered it. I was mortified.”
“Numbers,” he stated flatly.
She smiled saucily. “I am the bookkeeper, after all, and as a rule the numbers don’t behave too badly.”
“So that’s the game you’re going to play. You keep your nose buried in ledgers and never peep through the peepholes? Is that what you’re claiming?”
“People are entitled to their privacy and their secrets.”
“That’s disappointing. I, on the other hand, have seen women dancing with hardly any clothes on at all.”
Now it was her turn to sit up. “Really?”
Nodding, he took a bite of his toast. “They can make their stomachs undulate as though they’re snakes. Very entertaining. You should consider inviting them over to work at Dodger’s. I suspect gentlemen would never leave.”
“It’s a thought.” Setting her plate aside, she brought her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. “I can’t even begin to imagine all the sights you’ve seen.”
“They were wondrous. My father didn’t agree with my decision to go. We argued about it. He told me if I left, he never wanted to see me again. He thought I was selfishly putting my wants above my duties. In a way I suppose I was. He told me I could always see the world later. He didn’t understand.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it—about never seeing you again.”
“I returned to England four months before he died. I went to visit him, when Catherine wasn’t there. He was infirm, had lost the ability to speak, but his nurse told me that he could communicate with his eyes. He refused to look at me. I believe he did mean it when he said he never wanted to see me again.”
Sterling’s father had also been ashamed by Sterling’s limitations, although he had no desire to share that facet of his tale with Frannie. Perhaps he was as ashamed as his father. She worked within the dark shadows of London, and there he might as well be blind for all the good his limited vision did him.
“At least you know who your father was,” she said.
“Yes, I suppose there is some comfort in that.”
She placed her chin on her knees. “So now that you’ve returned you’ll see to your duties.”
“Precisely. I shall have a boring wife, hopefully not boring children.”
She laughed, but it sounded rather forced, and he realized that under the circumstances, he probably shouldn’t discuss with her the kind of woman he wanted to marry. But she had demanded honesty. “I won’t make a good husband, Frannie.”
“I think you underestimate yourself there, but I expect nothing lasting from you, and rest assured that becoming a duchess has never been one of my dreams.”
“I thought all girls dreamed of marrying a duke.”
“Oh, no. I’d much rather marry a king,” she teased.
“I suspect Anne Boleyn felt the same.”
She laughed. He loved hearing her laugh. “Oh, you’re horrible.”
Grinning, he shrugged. “All right, then. Queen Frannie.”
“Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Truthfully, I don’t see myself getting married at all.”
“Will your orphans keep you content?”
“I believe so, yes.” She looked toward the window. “I should be out searching for more.”
“In this miserable weather? Surely, they’ll all be indoors.”
“If they have places to go.” She sighed wistfully. “It’s good reading weather, isn’t it? Do you read many books?”
“Not as many as I used to. Reading has begun to give me a headache of late.”
“Spectacles might help.”
They didn’t, but he didn’t want to follow this path. “I should probably look into it.”
“Do you enjoy Dickens?” she asked.
“I find his stories rather bleak.”
“I think he writes about that which he knows. Perhaps I’ll read to you this afternoon.”
“I’d enjoy that very much.”
She slid off the bed and began gathering up the empty dishes.
“Call for a servant,” he told her.
“I can do it easily enough.”
Reaching out, he grabbed her wrist. “Why do you do that, Frannie? Why do you seek to remind me that our stations in life are so different?”
“I’m not reminding you, I’m reminding myself to remain honest with you about who I am and what I am. The only time I’ve ever pretended to be what I wasn’t was when I wanted to fool someone into giving me something. Do you know there are people who will kindly take in a soldier down on his luck? The soldier and his young daughter. And while the generous family was sleeping, we’d gather up their valuables and slip out into the night. You should never forget, Your Grace, that I was once one of the light-fingered people you wanted to keep out of your house.”
“And I was once a young man who put his own pleasures ahead of his duties. We all change, Frannie. We make up for our past failures. You stole, I disappointed my father. Now you do good works and I will honor my responsibilities and my title. It’s the woman you are now who intrigues me, the one I…care about as much as I am able to care.”
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