Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(75) by Lorraine Heath
Devoted sister that Catherine was, she had informed Frannie that Sterling was doing well in the country. But the information she shared was all superficial. Frannie didn’t know how he truly fared. If he had met someone. If he was happy. She wanted him to be happy above all else.
As people arrived, footmen took the toys to the parlor while Frannie directed the guests to the drawing room, where chairs had been set up in rows and a lectern had been placed at its far end.
She spotted a face in the crowd coming in through the door and smiled. “Mr. Dickens. It’s so good to see you, sir.”
“Miss Darling, you’re as lovely as ever.”
“You’re too kind. Here, allow me to take your hat and coat.” She led him away from the crush of people and had the butler take his outer garments.
“I can’t thank you enough for coming this evening. We have quite a crowd,” she told Mr. Dickens.
“I’m delighted to help your cause.” Looking just past her shoulder, Mr. Dickens grinned broadly. “Why, Mr. Dodger, I expected you to be transported by now.”
With his wife and five-year-old stepson, Henry, at his side, Jack laughed. “Ah, Mr. Dickens, you always underestimated my ability to get out of a tight spot. Please, Lady Olivia, allow me to introduce Mr. Charles Dickens.”
“I’m honored, sir,” Livy said.
“And my stepson,” Jack said, “the Duke of Lovingdon. Mr. Charles Dickens.”
Mr. Dickens bowed. “Your Grace.”
“I know children weren’t invited, but Henry is quite taken with your work, and I begged Catherine to make an exception,” Jack said.
“So you like my stories, do you, young man?”
Henry nodded. “May I ask you a question?”
“Certainly, Your Grace.”
He pointed at Jack. “Is he the Artful Dodger?”
Mr. Dickens bent low. “I write fiction, Your Grace. The characters in my books do not really exist, but if they did”—he winked—“I do believe he would be the Artful Dodger.”
“I knew it!”
“And do you see that gentleman over there?”
Dickens nodded. “He would be Oliver.”
“And what about Miss Frannie?”
“She is every sweet girl who appears in the story.”
Henry laughed joyfully, and Frannie hoped a day would come when all the children in her orphanage laughed in the same manner, with such abandon.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Catherine said, “but we should probably get started.”
Frannie squeezed Mr. Dickens’s hand. “I’m going to introduce you.”
Frannie walked beside Catherine to the drawing room. “Did your brother—”
“No, I’m sorry. I’d hoped—”
“He’s probably very busy.”
“He may have returned to the country already.”
“Of course.” It was where he obviously preferred to reside.
They walked to the front of the drawing room. Catherine clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention.
“I want to thank you all for coming. I hope you enjoy the evening as much my husband and I enjoy having you. We are avid supporters of Feagan’s Children’s Home. We will be taking the toys you brought this evening to the children on Christmas morning. For many of them, it will be the first time they’ve ever received a gift on Christmas morning. I would like to now introduce you to Miss Frannie Darling, who is the owner and overseer of the home.”
People clapped politely and Frannie wished they hadn’t. It made her terribly nervous to suddenly have all this attention on herself. She wanted to do the children proud.
“Thank you,” she said, sounding like a frog. She cleared her throat—
And then she saw him standing at the back of the room, just inside the doorway, looking so incredibly handsome, and she thought all her nerves would go away if she spoke only to him…
“I grew up on the streets of London. An orphan who never knew who her parents were. Feagan was the kidsman who gave me a home in exchange for which I was to pick pockets and steal and lie to people so they would give me their coins. I suppose it seems strange to name a children’s home after a criminal, but he wasn’t a criminal to me, because I didn’t know any better. He was the one who fed me and clothed me and gave me a place to sleep. When I was twelve, the previous Earl of Claybourne took me in, and that’s when I learned it was wrong to steal. The present Earl of Claybourne doesn’t know this, but I recently bought some land where I shall build another children’s home, and this one I shall name in honor of his grandfather.”
People applauded, and Luke, who had already grabbed a flute of champagne, was standing at the back of the room. With a bowing of his head he raised his flute to her in salute, and she knew her words had pleased him.
“The children on the streets are not only poor in possessions, but they are often poor in spirit. It is my hope that these homes shall give them what every child deserves: a loving place. So along with the Countess of Claybourne, I thank you for the toys you have brought and for the joy they will bring. And now for your enjoyment, I present to you Mr. Charles Dickens.”
Again everyone applauded. As Dickens neared, he kissed Frannie on the cheek. She’d heard once that he was as uncomfortable with the nobility as she. It meant a great deal to her that he’d come. When they’d met, she’d been a girl and he’d been a young man scouring the rookeries for stories.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online