Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(65) by Lorraine Heath
Frannie walked across the room and came to stand beside Sterling. “What are you doing?”
“I have just initiated Master Peter here into the Order of the Dragon. He has sworn an oath to stay wherever Miss Darling—who is the queen of the order, by the way—determines he is to stay.”
“I’m ’oping I can stay ’ere,” Peter said, twisting his head around to look at Frannie.
“Need to be still, lad,” Sterling said sternly, delaying the need for an answer to be given right away.
Frannie wanted to weep. Staying here was not an option. “I’ll have to review my accounts,” she said quietly, to delay disappointing him for a while.
“That’s quite an impressive dragon,” she said. “I didn’t know you did oils in addition to sketches.” She glanced around at the walls. “Are these your works?”
“Yes.” He set the palette aside. “Sit there, Master Peter, while it dries.”
Sterling rose and said to Frannie, “Amazing how a knighthood can bring about manners.”
“I think he’s filled with goodness. It just hasn’t been tapped.”
“You’ll draw it out.”
“You’re free to look around if you like.”
He followed her as she walked around the room. He seemed to prefer landscapes. She stopped at one that was rolling hills flanked by trees, a pond in the foreground. It wasn’t quite as polished, but something about it made it very special. “That’s lovely.”
“It’s the ancestral estate.”
She moved down to the next painting. It was the same setting. “Is this a favorite view of yours?”
“Do you see this willow tree here?” he asked, touching a sprig on the other side of the pond. “Father planted it after Mother passed. I always thought of it as her tree, so I began to record its growth. Each year on the day she died, I set up my easel and painted the view.”
She walked along the wall where the paintings were lined up one after another. “I like what you’ve done here,” she said when she got to the last one.
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Well, in the first paintings you had the whole scope of the countryside. But as the years went by, you began to include less of what surrounded the tree and focused more on the tree as it grew larger.”
“Genius, isn’t it?” he asked flatly.
She turned to face him, not certain what she was hearing in his tone. “It is, really. You must have been very young when you started painting these. You have well over a dozen.”
“Well over, yes. And you’re quite right. How I viewed the world began to change during those years.” He turned away. “Let’s check on the state of this dragon.”
“I should probably go to the orphanage for a bit.”
“We’ll go with you.” He glanced over his shoulder at her. “I prefer that you not go anywhere alone.”
And she had no intention of becoming a prisoner, but she supposed for today, she could see no harm in it.
Later that night, Frannie closed the ledger. The numbers were all running together, probably because she was so incredibly tired. If they didn’t bring in so much money, she could do the books later, but as it was, she knew if she didn’t keep up with things, she’d be forever behind. She’d considered turning the books over to someone else, but quite honestly, they all thought the fewer people who knew the true worth of Dodger’s the better.
She’d spent the better part of her day at the orphanage making sure all was going well there. Sterling and Peter had gone with her.
“If you force him to stay,” Sterling said of Peter, “you’re turning this into a prison.”
“I know, but I promised Nancy I’d see after him.”
“I suppose he could stay at my residence until you find someone willing to take him in.”
She’d been deeply touched by his offer.
Glancing at the small clock on her desk now, she saw that it was almost midnight. When Sterling had reluctantly dropped her off at Dodger’s, she’d promised him she’d be home by that hour. She knew he’d send a coach for her and that it would be waiting in the alleyway.
Home. Her mind stuttered around the word. It wasn’t her home. It was a haven for Peter until the child wasn’t so frightened, until he would be content to stay in the orphanage while she looked for someone to take him in.
She caught sight of something out of the corner of her eye, snapped her attention to the doorway, and nearly leaped out of her skin. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, she shoved back the chair and rose to her feet. “Hello, Jim. How long have you been standing there?”
She’d not seen him since the morning he’d interrupted breakfast at Greystone’s. He looked awful, as though he hadn’t slept since.
“A few minutes. I don’t know if there’s anyone who concentrates on things as hard as you do.”
“And I was sitting here thinking that my concentration was sadly lacking. How have you been?”
He shrugged his wide shoulders. “I’m sorry, Frannie, for what I said the other—”
“No, don’t apologize.” She came around to stand in front of the desk. “I know you meant well. I appreciate your willingness to marry me if I should find myself in a spot of difficulty.”
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