Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(74) by Lorraine Heath
“He knows. He understands.”
Then the child was far wiser than she.
That night Sterling made love to her for the first time in ages. There was a roughness to their lovemaking, as though they were both clinging to something that they could never hold forever.
When they lay in each other’s arms afterward, it was bittersweet. Frannie had always known the moment would come when she would no longer be in his life. She simply hadn’t expected it to hurt so much.
When Sterling woke up the following morning, he was alone. He knew it was pointless to go searching for her. She wasn’t in the residence and neither was Peter. He felt their absence as soul-rending emptiness.
He roared, his anguish reverberating throughout the room, bringing him no comfort.
With a weary sigh, Frannie closed the ledger. A month had passed since Sterling had left for the country. There was at least half an hour every day when she didn’t think about him. Tomorrow she’d add another minute to the tally, until eventually she would think of him not at all.
Peter had adjusted well to life in the orphanage. He brought her such joy. She wasn’t at all certain how she could have managed without him to provide her with love.
She became aware of someone standing in her doorway, not at all surprised when she looked up to see that it was Jim.
She rose from her chair. “You know you don’t have to escort me to the orphanage every night.”
“But I like riding in that fancy carriage of yours.”
It had arrived a week after she’d silently left Sterling’s residence. She couldn’t have born saying good-bye to him. Cowardly, but there it was.
The note that the driver had given her simply said:
So you may always travel in safety. And not to worry. I shall handle the upkeep on the horses.
Jim helped drape her cloak around her shoulders. “Have you heard from him recently?”
“No, and I don’t expect I shall. He’s gone to the country. You know how it is with the nobility. They don’t like London in winter.”
“Don’t think much of it myself.”
“I haven’t heard that sound in a while.” Jim said.
“Then you should come to the orphanage. I laugh quite often there. The children are a delight.”
Once they arrived at the orphanage, the footman handed her down and she began to walk toward the building. As she got nearer, she quickened her pace. It was always good to be home.
The Earl and Countess of Claybourne
Cordially invite you to enjoy a reading
By Mr. Charles Dickens
December 15, 1851
Reception and ball to follow
Your donation of a toy to be taken
To Feagan’s Children’s Home
On Christmas morning is appreciated
The Little Season occurred in December, when the lords returned to London for a quick session in Parliament. Sterling was amused to see that Catherine, with a small nudge from Frannie no doubt, was planning to take advantage of the opportunity to do a bit of good work. He didn’t know whether to view the invitation he’d received as a gift or a punishment.
He’d recovered rather nicely from his wound and had gone to the country estate as soon as he was strong enough. He thought being away from London would make it much easier to forget Frannie, but as he walked over his estate each day until near exhaustion, thoughts of her journeyed along beside him.
He’d contacted Charles Beckwith, the family solicitor, and had him draw up papers for Catherine to sign, giving Sterling permission to send her monthly stipend to the children’s home as she’d requested. His own donations were made anonymously, except for the shoes provided by the cobbler. He promptly paid the man’s statement of accounts owed whenever it arrived. With winter upon them, he hoped the children’s feet would stay warm.
In London, when Sterling slept in his bed, it seemed unlikely, yet he swore he could still smell the scent of Frannie adorning his pillow. It was another gift in his life for which he didn’t know if he should be grateful because it made him miss her all the more.
As for the invitation that he’d read and contemplated a dozen times since receiving…
As Sterling tugged on his white gloves in the foyer while his servants carried out the hundred sets of water colors that he’d purchased, he knew he couldn’t possibly not go. After all, what sort of message would that send? Catherine was his sister and one simply didn’t ignore an invitation from one’s sister. Besides, when a man carried a title as revered as Sterling’s was, it was important that he support charitable events. It made a statement that the good works were worthy of his time, gave them credence. And since he and Claybourne had been drafting legislation protecting children, it was really imperative that he let it be known he believed in the work he and Claybourne were doing. What better way than attending this function?
All and all it would work out quite nicely. He wouldn’t stay long. Simply make a quick appearance, see that Frannie was doing well, ask after Peter, and then be on his way. He could certainly manage that.
In the foyer, along with Catherine, Frannie greeted the guests as they arrived in their finery. As for herself, she wore a deep purple gown that she’d had made just for the occasion because she wanted to do the children’s home proud. Her stomach was all in knots but it had very little to do with the fact that so many of the nobility were here. She feared that if Sterling came, she’d be unable to look at him and not give away how very much she missed having him in her life.
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