Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(73) by Lorraine Heath
She looked down at her clasped hands and nodded. Lifting her gaze to his, she said, “That’s where the children are.”
And where he couldn’t protect her. He’d been fortunate with Sykes, but he’d played enough cards at Dodger’s to know that fortune was a fickle mistress.
The days passed blissfully as Sterling slowly recovered. Frannie brought him his meals. She bathed him. Every night they slept in the circle of each other’s arms.
As his strength returned, Sterling took short walks about the residence, and eventually took longer ones about the garden. Peter would often join him there.
They didn’t usually talk, and yet there was a camaraderie between them that Sterling couldn’t quite explain. He was going to miss the lad when the time came, and he knew it was coming much sooner than he wished.
Frannie sat at a table on the terrace and watched wistfully as the strikingly handsome lord and his waif of a companion strolled through the garden. It was strange, the way attachments between the most unlikely of people could be formed.
She knew her time with Sterling was drawing to a close. They’d not made love since his encounter with Sykes, but she could sense him pulling away. She knew she was as well, fighting desperately to protect her heart, fearing that it was far too late for that.
From the beginning she’d known that Sterling was a temporary addition to her life, and she had made peace with that knowledge. Sometimes late at night, in the dark, she desperately wanted to tell him that she’d fallen in love with him, but she suspected it would only make their final parting that much more difficult.
That evening, during dinner, she told him, “I need to go to the rookeries. I was hoping you’d go with me.”
Sterling captured her gaze. “I believe I’ve proven I’m an inadequate protector.”
“You’ve proven that you’d risk your life for me. That’s hardly inconsequential.”
Shaking his head, he returned his attention to the food on his plate. “You should probably ask Swindler.”
Only she wanted Sterling with her. “I want to talk with Feagan. I’m fairly certain I’ll find him at his favorite gin palace. It won’t take long. I’d very much like you there.”
As though he understood the momentousness of what she planned to do, he gave her a brisk nod. “I’ll have the coach readied.”
The journey to the rookeries was as quiet as their days had become, but Frannie found consolation in the fact that Sterling held her. He always seemed to sense when she needed to be held.
With a great deal of jostling, starts, and stops, the driver was able to maneuver the coach through the area until they were very near where Frannie expected to find Feagan. The place had suffered in the years since she’d last been here, accompanying Feagan because he always insisted on keeping a sharp eye on her.
Because she knew his preferred table, it didn’t take her any time at all to locate him. Her heart lurched at the sight of him, alone, in the corner. A man who had once been surrounded by children.
Glancing up he gave her a crooked grin. “Frannie darling, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Sterling pulled out a chair for her and she sat beside her former kidsman.
“Your Grace, will ye buy me a drink?” Feagan asked.
Sterling looked at her and she nodded.
As Sterling walked off, Feagan said, “Nice enough gent, I suppose. Cares fer you.”
“You almost got him killed.”
“Weren’t my idea. Was ’is. Can’t blame me.”
No, he never took responsibility, her Feagan. Whenever one of the lads was arrested, it was the boy’s fault for being reckless, not Feagan’s for sending him into danger.
Sterling returned, setting the tankard in front of Feagan, before taking a chair beside Frannie. Beneath the table, he wrapped his hand around hers. She drew strength from the simple act.
Swallowing hard, she took a deep breath and forced out the words, “Feagan, are you my father?”
Chuckling low, he rubbed his hand over his mouth. “Ah, Frannie darling, where’d ye ever get a silly notion like that?”
“I just always thought…I don’t know. I just always thought you were.”
“Nah. Yer much too fine to ’ave come from the loikes of me. I found ye in a basket on a door stoop, so I took ye. Ye know ’ow I am. I see something that’s easy to pluck and I pluck it.”
She didn’t know whether she was disappointed or relieved. “I love you anyway,” she said, giving him a soft smile.
“I love ye, too, me sweet girl.” He winked at her, lifted his tankard, and gulped his brew.
As though understanding they were done here, Sterling got to his feet and pulled out her chair.
Once outside, she let the cool night air wash over her.
“Do you believe him?” Sterling asked quietly.
She looked up at him. “Did you?”
“I don’t know.”
She took a deep breath. “Doesn’t matter. It’s what he wants me to believe.”
The tone of his voice told her what was coming before he spoke the words.
“I’ll be leaving for the country tomorrow.”
She nodded. “This is good-bye then?”
“Very soon. Yes.”
“What about Peter?”
“He belongs with you. After all, you’re the queen of the dragons.”
He was striving to make light of something that was breaking her heart. “He’s grown very close to you. Have you told him?”
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