Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(69) by Lorraine Heath
“I assure you that I’m not quite the simpleton you seem to think I am. I’m to serve as the bait. When the prey takes the bait, you’re going to kill him. And I assume, Inspector, that you’ll investigate and determine it was an accident.”
Swindler shrugged. “Or self-defense.”
Claybourne leaned forward from his perch on the corner of the desk. “You need to understand, Greystone, that it’s not an easy thing to live with the responsibility of a man’s death on your conscience. It’s not a decision to be made in haste or in anger.”
Sterling gave his full attention to the old man. “Get the word out.”
Sterling sat beside Frannie’s bed, holding her hand, rubbing his thumb over her knuckles. She had yet to awaken. Graves thought she would…eventually. She had two broken ribs, immense bruising, but no damage internally. Graves tried to credit Sterling with getting to her quickly and in time.
But everyone in the library had recognized Graves’s desperate attempt to shift blame to some nameless, faceless fellow, when everyone knew who truly was to blame for Frannie’s dire condition. A man who couldn’t see his hand if he held it out straight from his side. A man for whom the dark was the enemy. They didn’t know the particulars, of course. And he wasn’t about to enlighten them. He didn’t have to see Sykes once he lured him out. Unless Sterling intended to shoot him—and that was a real possibility. Mostly he’d shot game with rifles in Africa, but on occasion he’d used a pistol. It would be much easier to conceal.
Sometimes one of the men would come in and offer to relieve him or to report that nothing had yet been heard from Sykes. It would probably be twenty-four to forty-eight hours before a meeting would be arranged.
Sterling knew he was being reckless to be the one involved. But he hadn’t protected her before. He was damned sure going to see that she was protected forever—no matter what the cost.
He heard the soft footsteps. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Catherine. She pushed a chair over and sat beside him. “How is she?”
“She hasn’t woken up yet.”
“She will.” She squeezed his hand. “You can trust them, Sterling.”
“Don’t count on it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Swindler uses this opportunity to set me up to be hanged. He has a rather low opinion of me.”
“They all love her.”
“She’s very easy to love.”
“Do you love her?”
He nodded. “She’s so good, Catherine. I’ve never met anyone as unselfish as she is. I want her to be a little bit selfish. I could teach her that, you know. To put her own pleasures first.”
“Is that what you and Father fought about?”
“It was part of it.” He looked at her. “I did go see him, Catherine. When I got back to London. He wanted nothing to do with me.”
“Why didn’t you come see me?”
“You were managing things quite well without me, and my presence would have just complicated matters.”
She rubbed her hand up and down his arm. “I shall take your word on that.”
They sat in silence for several long minutes. He thought about brushing Frannie’s hair. Thought about lying beside her and holding her—one last time. After Sykes was taken care of, everything would change. Sterling would see to it. He knew what he had to do and as much as he didn’t want to, he would do what had to be done. Strange that it was this wisp of a woman who had changed him into the man his father had thought he’d never be.
“Sterling, I know you want to do this,” Catherine said quietly, “but there are incredible dangers. If anything should happen to you, you’ve left no heir.”
“We have our cousin.”
“Wilson? You can’t tolerate him.”
He held his silence. Nothing, not even his title, was more important than the woman lying in his bed.
Catherine wrapped her arm around him and pressed her head against his shoulder. “You know, Sterling, I feel as though you’ve come home at last.”
Sterling had to admit that he looked every bit the ruffian. Not shaving or sleeping had given him a roughened look. The not shaving had been Dodger’s idea. The lack of sleep had come from hours of sitting with Frannie. He desperately wanted her to wake up, but at least he didn’t have to lie to her. He knew she wouldn’t approve of what he was going to do, but he had to do it. For her sake. And maybe a little for his.
He didn’t ask where the bedraggled clothes that Swindler had brought him came from. They made him itch. He didn’t look like a beggar, but neither did he look like a man whose clothes normally came from one of the most exclusive tailors in London.
Word had come through Feagan that Mr. Knight should take a corner table at the designated gin palace at ten. Someone would meet him.
“It probably won’t be Sykes,” Swindler said as he, Dodger, Claybourne, and Feagan stood in a darkened alley awaiting the arrival of the appointed hour. “It’ll be one of his lackeys. You insist that you’ll only deal with Mr. Sykes. Try to roughen up the cadence of your speech a bit.”
“I’d planned to imitate you.”
“Actually, you probably want to go a bit rougher,” Dodger said. “Remember, we’ve all been educated to a certain degree.”
“I ken bloody well talk ’owever I damn well want to,” Sterling said.
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