Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(60) by Lorraine Heath
He headed for the door. The footman opened it and Jim strode through it without a backward glance.
Oh, God, what had she done? Why had she never seen that before, why had she never recognized the depth of his feelings?
“Are you all right?” Sterling asked, coming up behind her and putting his hands on her shoulders.
Tears burned her eyes. “I should leave now.”
“I’ll have the coach readied.”
She nodded, as the full measure of what they’d done and what they must now do loomed before her. Slowly, he turned her around and held her close. She inhaled his scent, absorbed his strength. Then he tipped her head up. His eyes met hers, and he began to leisurely lower his mouth—
“Thank you, Your Grace,” she said softly.
He stilled. She watched his throat work as he swallowed. His arms moved slowly away from her. “It’s been my pleasure, Miss Darling.”
Leaving him standing in the entry hallway, she headed for the stairs so she could change into her clothes and return to her world. Her chest ached so badly that she thought it might cave in on itself. She wouldn’t cry here, but later, in her apartment where no one could hear her, she would let the tears fall. And she prayed that eventually they would stop.
With a sigh, Frannie placed her elbow on the desk and her chin on her palm. She was supposed to be adding numbers and instead she’d been writing Greystone, Sterling, Duke on a piece of paper at random angles. Once, she’d even written Duchess, but she scratched it out. She wouldn’t be his duchess—ever.
It had been two nights since she’d gone to his residence. She’d visited the secret balcony at least half a dozen times trying to catch a glimpse of Sterling at the gaming tables. If he was there, he was as hidden as she was.
If Jack had a problem with where she’d gone for two nights, he didn’t say anything. He’d become a little more accepting of the nobility since marrying into it and perhaps not as judgmental. Jim hadn’t stopped by. She rubbed her brow. She was dreading that encounter when it finally happened—if it ever happened. Jim might be having misgivings about how much he’d revealed regarding his feelings for her. He’d laid them bare. And dear God, help them both, she couldn’t return his affection in equal measure.
She considered going to talk with Luke. He’d once asked her to marry him, but he hadn’t loved her, not truly, not in the way that a man loved a woman. His love was the love of youth. Thank goodness, Catherine had come into his life and shown him the error of his ways.
She supposed she could talk with Catherine. After all, Sterling was her brother, but she sensed that they weren’t as close as they might have once been.
Frannie was tired, not sleeping well, because she’d begun to dream, to remember the dreams, and in every one of them Sterling was doing wicked things to her and she was screaming out his name. In some, she was being equally wicked and he was screaming out hers.
She rose from her chair and took a last look around her sparsely furnished, tidy office. She should probably move her books to the orphanage. She could work on them there and be with the children every night, instead of only visiting with them during the day. It didn’t matter where she worked on the books as long as she worked on them.
Strolling down the hallway, she removed her dagger and reached into her pocket for the key that unlocked the door to the outside. She wasn’t about to let one of Sykes’s footpads frighten her into cowering. Let someone try to attack her again. She was in the mood for a fight.
Once she was on the steps in the dim glow of a lantern hanging nearby, she closed and locked the door. She gave her eyes a moment to adjust to the shadowy and foggy gloom.
She heard the soft whisper, the almost desperate need to be heard and not heard at the same time. Turning toward the shadows, she reached up and lifted the lantern from the hook. Because she recognized the voice, she wasn’t afraid, but she was incredibly curious and cautious. “Nancy?”
A woman stepped out of the shadows. She was only two years older than Frannie, but the years had not been kind to her. Her face was hollowed-out cheeks and eyes, dark circles and smudges that might have been dirt but were most likely bruises. “How ye be?”
They’d been friends on the street, although they were under the care of different kidsmen. When Nancy turned twelve, she moved in with a boy three years older—Bob Sykes. It wasn’t uncommon for young girls to attach themselves to boys only a bit older than they were. They offered protection. For the boys, having a girl was a symbol of achievement. Frannie had always been able to tell which boys had taken in a girl because they had such large swaggers when they walked about, their status among the other boys raised by the apparent evidence of their manliness.
Frannie hadn’t seen Nancy since the night Frannie had been abducted and sold into prostitution. She and Nancy had planned to sneak into a theater to see a play that Nancy had been talking about incessantly. Instead disaster had struck. Fortunately for Nancy, she’d managed to escape, while Frannie had been carted into hell.
“I’m doing well, Nancy. How are you? Still with Sykes?”
“Caw, yeah. ’e’s not somebody yer loikely to leave, now, is ’e? Ye still working for the Dodger?”
Nancy was stooped over, cowering from the light, so Frannie pulled it back. She knew what it was like not to want to be seen under too harsh a light. Nancy’s clothes were worn and frayed, but Frannie could tell they’d been recently pressed as though she wanted to make a good impression. Although it was night, she wore a hat that sat askew on top of her piled-up hair.
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