Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(61) by Lorraine Heath
“Yes, I’m still with Dodger,” Frannie said. “We have a cook who prepares food for the gentlemen all night—anything to keep them playing at the tables. Come inside to the kitchen, and I’ll find you something to eat.”
“Nah, thank ye, I’m fine. That ol’ gent taught ye how to speak right.”
“He taught me a good deal.”
“So everything wot ’appened that night, I guess it weren’t so bad after all.”
Frannie had been brutally raped. To even think that it wasn’t “so bad” was the same as comparing a knife through the heart to a pinprick of the finger. “I survived.” She glanced around. “It’s all damp out here with the fog rolling in. At least come up to my apartment, get out of the weather.”
“I ’eard yer taking in orphans,” Nancy said quickly.
“Then take this ’un.” Nancy reached back into the shadows, then slung a boy against Frannie’s legs. “He’s one of Sykes’s boys. I ken bring ye more if ye’ll take this ’un.”
“Please. ’e’s my boy, too. I want something better than the streets fer ’im. ’is name’s Petey. ’e’s a good boy.”
Wrapping her arm around the lad, Frannie drew him up against her skirts. While he wore a jacket, she could still tell that he was little more than bones. Sykes was a burglar by trade, and she knew he worked hard to keep the boys small so they could fit through tiny places in order to get into a house and open the front door for him.
“You come with us, too, Nancy. I can provide a safe haven for you and the boy.”
Nancy scoffed. “I been with ’im since I was twelve. ’e ain’t likely to let me go easy.”
“I can find you employment in the country—”
She watched Nancy’s face crumple. “Ye was always so nice. I didn’t want to do it, ye know. Ye gotta believe that. I didn’t want to do it.”
“What are you on about?”
“It was Sykes. ’e made me. ’e said we’d make good money selling ye to that old woman. I never saw a “apenny.”
Frannie’s insides felt as though an ice storm had hit them. The old woman? The gray-haired woman who’d run the brothel where she’d been taken? Suddenly she found herself clutching the boy to keep herself standing.
“Ye look loike yer about to bring up yer supper. Ye didn’t know?”
Frannie shook her head. “No.”
“Ye was always so smart that I figured ye figured it out. Don’t hold it against my boy.”
“I’d never take the sins of the mother out on the child. Do you know what they did to me, Nancy?”
“I can well imagine.”
“No, I don’t think you can.”
“I imagine it’s pretty close to wot Sykes does to me ev’ry night. ’e’s an animal, that one is. A dog. Someone should put ’im down. I’ll bring ye more boys if I can.”
Before Frannie could respond, Nancy was running off into the darkness, her rapid footsteps muffled by the thickening fog. Frannie lowered the lantern and looked at the boy who’d been left behind.
He was the boy who went by the name of Jimmy.
The little thief was again in Sterling’s kitchen, sitting at the servant’s table, stuffing food into his mouth as though he hadn’t had a nibble since he’d last visited.
That Frannie had brought him here and not to her orphanage spoke volumes. Unfortunately, she wasn’t saying quite as much, and Sterling sensed that whatever was troubling her was far more worrisome than discovering the lad’s parentage.
“So he’s Sykes’s son?” he repeated.
“According to Nancy, yes.”
“I suppose that explains his inability to appreciate your taking the lad.”
“I’m afraid if I take him back to the orphanage that Sykes might come after him there.”
Sterling shifted his gaze to her. She was looking up at him with absolute certainty in her eyes that he would offer the solution without misgivings.
“If he’s to stay here and sleep in one of my beds, he’s to be bathed first. I don’t care the hour.”
She gave him a beatific smile that warmed the cockles of his heart. Blast her. Was there anything he could deny her? He’d let her go once and he didn’t know if he’d be able to do it again. To watch her walk away had been the hardest thing he’d ever done.
“I also think you should stay the night.” He didn’t like the idea of her being out on her own. Besides, knowing her, she’d head to the rookeries to confront this Sykes fellow. As much as he disliked her friends, he was considering alerting them to the situation. No, she’d see it as betrayal. He should see about hiring guards to follow her around.
“If you don’t mind—” she began.
“I wouldn’t have offered if I minded. You should quit working at Dodger’s.”
She released a half laugh. “Dodger’s provides me with the means to do as much as I do for orphans.” She nodded toward the urchin. “We probably shouldn’t let him eat as much tonight.”
“I concur. One pie is all he’s getting.”
She squeezed his hand, may as well have squeezed his heart. “I know you don’t like light fingers in your residence, but I’ll see that he doesn’t steal anything.”
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