Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(67) by Lorraine Heath
Besides, if Jim knew what she suspected, he’d want to protect her, question her, keep her secure, and she didn’t have time for that sort of nonsense right now. The children had to come first. For her, they always came first.
She opened the back door to the alleyway and released a screech at the sight of the tall, dark figure looming there.
“Sorry, darling, didn’t mean to frighten you,” Sterling said as he put his arm around her.
“I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Told you I wasn’t going to let you travel about alone. Are you all right? You’re trembling.”
“Sykes killed Nancy.”
She nodded at the disbelief in his voice. “Jim just told me. He doesn’t know Sykes did it. They found her body in the Thames, but I know it was Sykes. I shouldn’t have let her go back to him. I should insisted—”
“Frannie, love, you’re not responsible for every wrong that’s done to someone.”
“I know. I just…I was so angry with her.”
“For good reason.”
“Still, she didn’t deserve what she got. Where’s Peter?”
“He was sleeping when I left.”
“Did you leave someone watching him?”
“No. He promised not to leave.”
“Oh, Sterling, a child doesn’t understand promises.”
“Come on, then. Let’s get home and check on him.”
As his coach traveled quickly along the streets, Sterling held Frannie close against his side.
“Sterling, I know it would be a great imposition, but could we take him to your country estate?”
“Do you really think that’s necessary? Why would Sykes think we have him?”
“Nancy might have told him. I don’t know. I just…I don’t think he’s safe here.”
“Very well then. We’ll take him to the country.”
She squeezed his hand. “And the other children? I want to take them as well.”
“How many are there?”
“Thirty-six. I know that’s a lot but I’ll make certain they don’t pilfer anything.”
“Oh, Frannie, I don’t care about all that. I’m thinking logistics. I have two more carriages—your staff could ride in those. We have a large wagon we use for carting our belongings here for the Season, then taking them back to the estate. I think it’ll hold the children. Be miserable for them if it rains, but it’s only a day’s ride if we start with the sun.”
She wrapped her arm around his waist and squeezed him hard. “Thank you ever so much.”
“Did you think I wouldn’t help?”
“No, I knew you would.”
Two months ago, he wouldn’t have. That was the thing of it. He hadn’t cared about the orphans in the streets. He’d cared about only his own pleasures and given little thought to how others survived. They weren’t his concern. What a shallow young man he’d been.
When they arrived at his residence, Frannie dashed up the stairs while Sterling spoke with Wedgeworth about the arrangements he wanted made with the carriages and the wagon.
He looked to the top of the stairs, and he could tell by her stance what was coming.
They searched everywhere. Sterling thought perhaps he’d gone to the art room. That evening Sterling had let him use charcoal to draw a picture before scurrying off to bed.
For a moment Frannie studied the picture Peter had drawn. It was all harsh lines, dark beady eyes, pointed teeth.
“Something that gives him nightmares, I suppose,” Sterling said, as uncomfortable now looking at the picture as he had been when Peter showed it to him. What sort of dark thoughts ran through that child’s mind?
Frannie gave Sterling a sad smile. “That’s Sykes.” She turned away, heading for the door. “I want to check on the orphanage.”
“I can see him coming for his son,” Sterling said as he followed her down the stairs, “but the others—”
“You don’t understand Sykes. When I was twelve, he told me that he wanted me to be his girl. He tried to kiss me. I kicked him. Told him I’d rather die. He told me there were worse things than death. I suppose that’s the reason he arranged my little journey into hell.”
“You failed to mention that.”
“It only occurred to me tonight when I heard about Nancy.”
“I like this fellow less and less. Surely Swindler can do something about him.”
“Not without proof, and Sykes is very difficult to find. He hides in the shadows.”
Which gave him an advantage over Sterling.
They went outside and started down the steps. The coach was waiting, but Sterling didn’t see the driver or footman. Probably having a spot of tea in the kitchen.
“I need to alert the driver—”
She’d reached the bottom of the steps ahead of him, and he realized there were more shadows there. Two of the gas lamps weren’t burning.
Where was Frannie? She’d been in his field of vision and then she’d disappeared beyond the hedgerows.
“Wedgeworth!” he yelled at the top of his lungs as he hurried down the steps.
He cursed the darkness that swallowed her. He saw what he thought were shadows…moving…he heard a feminine grunt.
He heard rapidly pounding footsteps coming from the residence. “Your Grace!”
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