Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(78) by Lorraine Heath
“My hair probably. I’ve never liked the shade.”
“I like it very much. You’re very good at leading.”
“I’m very good at the dodge.”
He studied her for a heartbeat. “The dodge?”
“It’s when you set up a situation to fleece someone of something. There are all kinds of dodges, but you usually have a partner. You have to learn to read the situation very quickly and to know what your partner is going to do. You never want to play a game where Luke and Jack are partners. They always know what the other is thinking. Anyway, dancing is like a dodge. You follow your partner or let your partner follow you.”
“I can see over your shoulders that there are a lot of people on this floor.”
She smiled brightly. “Yes, there are. And we’ve not bumped into a single one.”
“That’s about to change.”
She appeared startled when he came to an abrupt halt. He felt someone brush past him. Couples began to give them a wide berth. He dropped down to one knee and Frannie’s beautiful green eyes widened.
He was aware of people no longer circling around him. The music came to a stop and he could sense the anticipation in the room. He took her hand. “Miss Frannie Darling, will you honor me by becoming my wife, my duchess, my love?”
Hers was not the only gasp he heard, but hers was the only one that mattered. Tears filled her eyes. She nodded quickly, smiled radiantly. “Yes! Oh, yes!”
He rose to his feet, took her in his arms, and kissed her deeply.
Without her in his life, the past few months had been sheer torment. He’d traveled the world searching for something he couldn’t even identify. And tonight for the first time he realized what he had been looking for, what he’d always been searching for: the woman nestled within the circle of his arms.
The following day, Sterling received a request for a meeting with Claybourne and arrived at Claybourne’s residence at the appointed hour. Within the library, he’d not expected to face Claybourne, Dodger, and Beckwith—his family’s solicitor. It seemed he worked for at least one of the gentlemen. Frannie was also in attendance, looking a bit frazzled.
“I assumed the purpose of this meeting was to warn me to be a good husband or else,” Sterling said, laconically. “I’m not certain a solicitor is in order.”
“We thought we needed to come to terms on the settlement,” Claybourne said.
“A settlement? Are you gentlemen thinking to provide a dowry? I assure you. One is not necessary. I have no problem with Frannie coming to me with nothing.”
“There. You see?” Frannie said. “I told you this was unnecessary.”
Claybourne sighed heavily. “It is necessary, Frannie, because you don’t go to him with nothing.”
“Wait a moment,” Dodger said, finally uncrossing his arms and relaxing his stance. “You think she comes to you with nothing?”
“Other than whatever pitiful salary you’ve been paying her to serve as your bookkeeper. I know she likes to do good works with it. Whatever the salary was, I shall match it with an allowance that she is free to do with as she pleases. We can put it in writing if you want. And if she hasn’t already, she’ll need to give notice that she’ll no longer be looking over your books.”
Frannie stepped forward and placed her hand on his arm. “Sterling, I’m not exactly paid to look over the books. They’re simply my responsibility.”
He glared at Dodger. “You bastard. All this time, you’ve been taking advantage—”
“No, Sterling.” She squeezed his arm until he was looking at her again. “The three of us are partners, in several ventures, actually. I look over the books because, well, they’re my books. Our books. I have a substantial amount of money.”
“Which will become yours once you marry her, unless we come to terms on the settlement,” Claybourne said.
“I’m recommending that her current finances as well as any future monies she receives from the businesses be placed into a trust,” Beckwith said, “that she will oversee and manage.”
Sterling shrugged. “I have no problem with that recommendation. I’m not marrying her for her money.” He lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm. “I’m marrying her because I love her.”
She gave him a beautiful smile. “In all fairness, you should probably know the amount.” She rose up on her toes and whispered a number that staggered him.
“Two million?” he rasped.
“Give or take a quid or two.”
“You do realize that if that had gotten around, there isn’t a lord in all of England who wouldn’t have offered for you.”
“That’s the reason we kept it quiet,” Dodger said. “Fewer fortune hunters that way.”
Sterling nodded. “Simply show me where to sign.” He winked at her. “Although I may not give you quite as much allowance as I’d planned.”
She wound her arms around his neck. “I’ll never stop loving you, I promise.”
He held her tight and whispered, “As long as I can, I’ll give you everything you desire.”
Dressed in a white gown, with orange blossoms wreathing her veil, Frannie sat in Luke’s open carriage as it transported them through London to the church where she was to be married. Catherine was traveling in a carriage ahead of them. Their son, born in the spring, remained at home with his nurse.
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