Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(76) by Lorraine Heath
Keeping to the wall, she walked past the row of chairs, heading for the back of the room. When she reached Luke, he drew her close and hugged her.
“My grandfather would have liked that,” he said, his voice low so as not to disturb the reading of A Christmas Carol that Dickens had begun.
Nodding, Frannie glanced past Luke, then searched the room.
“He’s left already,” Luke said.
She gave him a smile that she hoped hid her disappointment. “I’m going to check on the ballroom. Make certain it’s ready.”
But once she was in the foyer, she didn’t take the hallway that would lead to the large ballroom. She took the one that led to the library. She hesitated at the door because of the memories that rested beyond it, especially the memory of her encounter with Sterling on that gray, rainy day so long ago. But she wanted to remember it, to remember him.
She opened the door, walked in, and quietly closed it behind her. Several lamps were lit as well as the gas lamps in the garden. The curtains were drawn back and at the window stood Sterling, gazing out, his hands behind his back. Glancing over his shoulder at her, he bestowed a half smile.
Her heart was thundering so hard that she feared he’d hear it. As sedately as she could, she walked over to stand beside him. He turned his attention back to the garden, where large snowflakes were slowly drifting down.
“It started snowing. We stopped to assist someone who was having trouble with his carriage. That’s the reason I was late.”
“I’m glad you came. I was nervous standing up there until I saw you.”
“I can’t believe you have Charles Dickens here to give a reading. I suppose you met him through the Earl of Claybourne.”
“No, actually, Feagan introduced us. Mr. Dickens was researching life in the rookeries, so he interviewed some of us. To hear him tell it, he put us in his stories, but I don’t see the similarities.”
“I’ve not read the tale. Perhaps I’ll hire someone to read it to me.”
“Reading still causes your head to ache?”
“Worse than ever. So how is Peter? Did you find a family for him?”
“No, actually, I’ve decided that he shall stay with me. I promised Nancy I’d take care of him. I’m going to keep that promise. He and I live in the orphanage presently, but I’m going to have a small cottage built on the land and we’ll reside there. He’ll be the son I shall never have.”
“Surely, Swindler will give you children.”
“I’m not going to marry Jim.”
“Has he not yet asked?”
“He’s not going to. He knows what the answer will be. I don’t love him in that manner. It would be very unfair to him.” She desperately wanted to reach out and hug him, hold him close. Instead she took a deep breath. “So how have you been?”
Finally he faced her, and she was able to gaze into those beautiful blue eyes that had haunted her dreams these many weeks.
“I was just standing here thinking about the morning of Catherine’s wedding and how easily you lifted my timepiece,” he said far too quietly.
“Oh, dear God, please don’t remember that. I don’t know why I did it. I’m so embarrassed—”
He touched his finger to her lips, silencing her plea that his memories of her be far more pleasant.
“You managed to do the same with my heart, didn’t you, Frannie? You stole it, and I didn’t even feel it happening.”
Tears burned her eyes and her chest ached with the raw emotion she saw reflected in his eyes. Her heart leaped with the possibility that something real and true could exist—did exist—between them. “Oh, Sterling, I—”
Before she could profess her love for him, he was again pressing his finger to her lips. “I thought if I kept my distance that somehow my heart would return to me.”
She shook her head. “As long as I have it, I’ll not give it back.”
He returned his gaze to the garden, and she thought she would shatter with the thought of losing him. Since he’d gone to the country, she’d never known such loneliness. Her dreams of helping orphans paled when compared with the dream of once again having him in her life. She wanted to be able to talk with him at any hour of the day or night. She wanted to envision new dreams and share them with him. She wanted to look across a room and see him watching her. She wanted to wake up next to him and fall asleep beside him.
“I’m going blind, Frannie.”
Frannie felt her heart stutter, her chest tighten into a painful knot.
“Right now, I can’t see you,” he said quietly. “Are you looking at the garden?”
“No, I’m looking at you.”
“Look at the garden.”
Only she didn’t want to. She wanted to look at him, but she did as he asked.
“Can you see me?” he asked.
“Out of the corner of my eye, yes.” She turned back to him, and discovered his gaze on her.
“I can see you now,” he said, a self-deprecating smile on his face. “But unlike you I can’t see out of the corner of my eye, or even much to the side for that matter. And when the shadows move in, I lose a great deal more than that.”
“What happened? Was it because of your encounter with Sykes?” She was horrified to think—
“No. This has been coming for some time. Do you remember my drawings of the willow tree?”
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