Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(77) by Lorraine Heath
“Yes, and how you began to focus…only on the tree.”
“I’m not so artistically clever after all. When I was one and twenty, it occurred to me that I wasn’t drawing as much of the countryside as I once had, yet I was standing in the same place. I pulled out my previous drawings and began to compare. Side by side the difference was subtle, but when I compared the first with the last…I’m a bit ashamed to admit that my first reaction was raw fear.”
She reached up to touch his cheek, his hair, but would he welcome her? She lowered her hand. “I can hardly blame you for that. Have you seen a physician?”
“A dozen or more. In various towns across Great Britain, in various countries around the world. There is no hope for it. Eventually my vision will narrow down until it disappears completely.”
“I don’t know. Could be years.”
“That’s the reason you went against your father’s wishes and took your tour of the world when you did.”
He nodded. “I don’t know how long my window of opportunity will remain open, as the window on my vision is slowly closing.”
“Does Catherine know?”
“No. I’m fairly certain my father carried the shame of my imperfection to his grave.”
“He couldn’t be ashamed of something over which you had no control.”
He shifted his gaze to the falling snow. “You’re wrong there. He actually told me that he wished his second son had lived while his first had died. I’ve never told Catherine. She adored our father, thought he was without fault. He adored her. I won’t steal those memories away from her.”
And he declared himself a man who saw only after his own desires?
“You told me that you thought you’d loved a woman, but she discovered your failings.”
“Angelina. I was courting her. She loved to dance. It’s very difficult to sweep a woman across the dance floor when my vision is as narrow as it is. She began to take offense because I wouldn’t dance. Finally I explained the reason—and she very quickly began to give her favor to another. As far as I know she told no one. For that I’m grateful.”
“She didn’t deserve you.”
He laughed harshly. “No woman does.”
“That’s not true.”
Facing her, he cradled her cheek. “The night we went after Sykes, I’d left you a letter because if I died I wanted you to know that you’d stolen my heart as easily as you did my timepiece. As I’ve walked over my estate these many weeks, I thought how very unfair it was to you not to know how very much I’d fallen in love with you.”
She placed her hand over his, turned her face into his palm and placed a kiss against its center. “Sterling, I love you, too, so very much.”
“And that, my darling, is why I won’t marry you. I won’t burden you with what I will become.”
“What nonsense! What you will become is a powerful duke, a loving husband, a wonderful example as a father—”
He pressed his thumb to her lips. “Frannie, you go into dangerous places searching for your orphans and I can’t even see if someone is about to attack you. The darkness, my sweet, is the enemy.”
“Then I’ll stop going into dangerous places.”
“In time you’d come to resent me.”
“I will not. I’ll hire someone to go where I can’t. There is no problem that you can envision for which I cannot find a solution.”
“You did not want to be part of the aristocracy.”
“Yet tonight I actually spoke to some of the ladies and they’re really quite nice. Nothing like they were as silly young girls.”
“If we attend balls, like this one tonight, I shall have to be content to watch you with other men, knowing I can never sweep you across the dance floor.”
“Don’t be absurd. Of course you can.”
“Are you not listening? With me leading, we shall always bump into people—”
“Then I shall lead.” She held her hand out toward him. “We can do this, Sterling.”
He lowered his gaze to her hand.
“I love you, Sterling, with all my heart.”
He lifted his gaze to hers. “So did Angelina.”
“No, she didn’t, because if she had, she’d have never given you up for something as inconsequential as a dance. Let’s try it tonight and if it doesn’t work we’ll never dance again. I can live without a dance. I can’t live without you.”
He seemed to consider, then bowed. “Miss Darling, may I have the honor of the next waltz?”
She smiled. “The honor, Your Grace, is all mine.”
Sterling had been unprepared for the impact of seeing her again. Her hair was upswept, her gown was flattering, and she appeared completely comfortable in her surroundings. He suspected that not being able to dance wouldn’t matter to her, but still he wanted to give it a try.
The strains of the waltz began and he escorted her onto the dance floor.
“Simply keep your eyes on me,” she said.
“That won’t be difficult. You look ravishing tonight.”
“I had this dress made hoping you would be here. I wanted to catch your attention if you were.”
“You caught my attention at Catherine’s wedding, even though you were dressed in something plain.” It was odd letting her lead him, yet at the same time it seemed…right.
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