Read Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club Online

Authors: Sara Bennett

Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction

Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club (16 page)

BOOK: Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club
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Chapter 21

he following day, the men set off early for their shooting, and the women rose late. Maria brought Tina a tray with tea and toast and then began to prepare her clothing for the morning at Arlington Hall. Outside it was turning into a sunny day, despite Sir Henry’s fears the weather might turn nasty, and Tina sat up in bed on a mountain of soft pillows and gazed at the view from her window.

Irrational as it might seem, she had a sense that this day was going to be important to her, that there was something momentous fast approaching, and she’d best prepare for it.

After she’d washed and dressed in a cream-colored day dress with a pastel print, Maria brushed her hair and pinned it up. Satisfied with her appearance, Tina went downstairs to breakfast.

Lady Isabelle greeted her cheerfully enough, but she looked weary, and her spirits were clearly not as high as they had been the night before. A couple of times she lapsed into silence, staring at nothing, and smiling to herself. As if she was replaying some memory in her head. When it happened Tina exchanged glances with her friends and couldn’t help but wonder what pleasant thoughts Lady Isabelle was indulging in.

Eventually it was decided that those who wished to could come on a stroll in the gardens and down to the river, while the less active guests could remain in the house to read or doze or whatever else took their fancy.

By now it was a glorious day, the sun warm but not yet hot and the air clear and pure. As they walked, Lady Isabelle spoke, and she appeared to know the names of all the plants in her garden and waxed quite lyrical about them. It was an unexpected side to her.

“When I married Sir Henry and came to Arlington Hall the garden was very overgrown. I replanted the entire garden and restored many of the stone walls and pathways. Sometimes we allow the public in to visit and they picnic on the lawns or stroll about the borders. Only when we’re not in residence, of course. Sir Henry grumbles about my spending so much time out here in the garden, but I know he’s glad I’ve found something with which to occupy myself. We had hoped for children, but I am beginning to lose hope.”

She looked sad for a moment but then seemed to shake it off. Turning to the other women, who were lagging behind, she called rather testily, “Come along, ladies. Catch up. Do you see this shrub?” The shrub was covered in purple flowers, and the perfume was beautiful and exotic. “It comes from India. And this one over here, with the red flowers that look rather like brushes? All the way from Australia. Can you imagine?”

While they were admiring these specimens a familiar voice interrupted their tour.

“My dear Lady Isabelle, here you are!”

Signor Veruda was striding purposefully in their direction, smartly dressed in beige trousers with a well-tailored chocolate brown jacket and a matching brown waistcoat with gold-and-beige swirls. His starched white cravat was high beneath his chin, and his jet-black hair shone in the weak English sunshine while his black eyes glittered with mischief and warmth.

Suddenly Lady Isabelle was all aflutter. “Signor! I thought you might join the gentlemen for shooting?”

He pulled a face. “I am not one for the bang-bang.”

The women tittered, but Lady Isabelle could only gaze at him with adoring eyes. It was quite embarrassing really, Tina thought afterward. And it was becoming very clear that Lady Isabelle and her Italian baritone were more than just friends.

They turned back, meandering along the paths, chatting and laughing and keeping an eye on their hostess and the signor. He was certainly a fascinating character, every bit as exotic as the plants in the garden, and every woman there was drawn to him. The house was in sight when suddenly they could hear dogs barking and voices shouting, and Tina could see Charles hurrying toward them. Something in his manner struck her with fear—was this the momentous happening she’d been expecting? Lady Isabelle’s face went white, and Signor Veruda held her arm to support her.

“Lady Isabelle.” Charles was breathless and flustered. “Beg pardon. There has been an accident. Sir Henry . . .”

Lady Isabelle swayed and clutched at the signor’s coat. “What has happened?” she cried.

Charles, belatedly realizing he should have put things less bluntly, opened and closed his mouth.

“Charles, what is it?” Tina said sharply, stepping up to him. “What’s happened?”

“Oh. Tina? There you are. Eh, someone tried to . . . no, no, I’m quite sure it was an accident, it must have been.”

“Charles, for goodness’ sake!”

“Tina, Sir Henry was very nearly shot! The bullet made a groove across his scalp above his ear. He hit his head when he fell, and now he’s unconscious. We carried him back to the house, and Eversham has sent posthaste for the doctor.”

Lady Isabelle was already hurrying to the house, her skirts rustling furiously about her, Signor Veruda at her side, whispering in a mixture of English and Italian. Tina took Charles’s arm, about to follow, when Anne came up to them, her blue eyes wide.

“How awful, Charles,” her gentle voice was trembling. “Will he . . . do you think he might . . .”

“Steady on, Anne,” Charles said. “Sir Henry is a tough old bird. It’d take more than a bullet and a fall to finish him off.”

Tina thought her brother’s reassurance rather rough-and-ready, but Anne was gazing at him as if he were perfection itself. She left them to it, going ahead to the house, where she found Horace standing alone in the vast entrance hall, staring thoughtfully into space.

“Horace? Charles has just told us what happened.”

Horace pulled a face. “An unpleasant business. He’s unconscious. Not a peep out of him. They’ve sent for the doctor, and Eversham’s thrown us all out of the room.” His face darkened, but Tina hurried on before he could start down that particular well-worn track.

“I don’t understand how anyone could shoot Sir Henry by mistake. He doesn’t look like a pigeon.”

“A gun might have gone off accidentally.”

“Has anyone owned up to that?”

“No, and I don’t imagine anyone will, do you? No one wants to admit to being such a fool.”

“But surely someone else must have seen something? You were all together, weren’t you?” asked Tina.

“Here and there.” For a moment, he looked uncomfortable, as if he’d prefer not to answer her questions. He took her hand tightly and squeezed it almost painfully. “Lady Isabelle was in a state. Guilty conscience.”

“Guilty conscience?”

“That singer fellow. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Lady Isabelle is a great deal younger than Sir Henry and looking for diversion, and she’s found it in Signor Veruda. She probably thinks it’s all her fault her husband is at death’s door.”

“Horace, is she really . . . ?”

“What, having an affair with the Italian? Yes, I should say so.”

Tina felt uncomfortable with the idea, despite the fact she’d suspected it herself, but she was far more uncomfortable with the suddenly lascivious look in Horace’s blue eyes. “Tina,” he said, his voice dropping to an intimate pitch, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”

Thankfully just then Charles and Anne came upon them, and he had to let her hand go and move away. A moment later the hall was full of people, and Lady Isabelle appeared, pale and fragile, at the head of the stairs.

“I’m so sorry,” she said shakily, “but Sir Henry will have to spend the rest of the day in bed. Please, you must all continue with the picnic luncheon. No, I insist,” she hurried on, as protests were raised. “Sir Henry would insist. All is in hand, and my housekeeper will show you the way. Now, if you will excuse me,” and she was gone again.

“Eversham is making the most of it,” Horace muttered, and, following his gaze, Tina saw Richard in the shadows behind where Lady Isabelle had been standing. He was looking pensive, gazing down into the hall, but she couldn’t see who he was looking at.

Herself? Or perhaps Horace?

A moment later he was gone, and despite herself she felt the loss.

he picnic was to be held by the river, where there was a wooden pavilion set up with tables and chairs. Hardly a picnic then, Tina thought wryly, more like an outdoor dining room. The guests had a choice of strolling down or being driven, and Tina had decided to walk.

“Will we be safe?” Anne whispered, still shaken from the morning’s events.

Charles heard her and laughed. “Perfectly safe, Miss Burgess. Sir Henry had an accident, he wasn’t attacked by outlaws. And
be here to watch out for you.”

Anne reached for her parasol, but Tina noticed the color in her cheeks that always seemed to appear when Charles was about her. “Thank you, Charles.”

He held out his arm for her, and Tina smiled to herself. She’d be delighted if her brother settled down with Anne, and not only because such a rich bride would take some of the pressure off her to marry a wealthy man. Charles needed a steadying influence, and Anne was certainly that. And, Tina admitted uncomfortably to herself, it would do him good to see less of his great friend Horace, who always seemed to bring out the worst in him.

In fact both Charles and Horace seemed decidedly lacking in character when she compared them to a man like Richard Eversham.

Branson and his wife were in an open carriage, rather rudely calling for everyone to hurry along, as they bowled past them. Charles explained to Anne that the Bransons had once owned Arlington Hall, before it was Arlington Hall, so perhaps they still felt proprietary about the place.

“Excuse me, Miss Smythe?”

She turned to find a young man she’d been briefly introduced to last night as Will Jackson. He was gazing at her a little shyly, but his smile was pleasant, and she found herself smiling back. “Miss Smythe, I wonder if I might escort you to the picnic? Richard . . . that is Mr. Eversham asked that I take particular care of you.”

She wasn’t quite sure why Mr. Eversham would think it his place to ask anyone to look after her, but as Will Jackson seemed sincere she simply nodded and took his arm. They spoke about the weather and the countryside, anything but Sir Henry’s accident, and after a time Tina had the feeling that he was deliberately steering her away from the topic. She couldn’t help but wonder whether there was a reason for that and what that reason might be.

The pavilion was big enough to seat them all, and waiting servants bustled about, serving the food and drink, catering to their every need. Through the open doorways and windows the river appeared idyllic, the blue sky reflected in it, but a chilly breeze was beginning to strengthen, and Tina began to wish she’d dressed more warmly.

“Lady Isabelle comes here to bathe,” the neighbor, Mrs. Branson, seated to one side of her, was saying. “There is a bathing house that can be pushed out into the river, for the sake of discretion.”

Horace, seated beside Tina despite all her attempts to escape him, nudged her. “Lady Isabelle and discretion, surely that’s an oxymoron.”

Tina shot him a look.

“Don’t slay me with your eyes, Tina, you know very well what I mean.”

“I notice you don’t condemn Signor Veruda.”

“The vile seducer? Come, Tina, all men are vile seducers. That is the way we’re made.”

“All of you?” she retorted, uneasy, willing it to be a jest.

“Do you really think Signor Veruda is the first?” he leaned to whisper in her ear. “Lady Isabelle is incredibly generous with her favors.”

Tina shuddered. She felt a little sick. “I don’t believe you,” she said bluntly.

“You should believe me. Tina. If anyone should know, then it is I.”

It was as if he were boasting, as if he thought she would be impressed by his confidences, but Tina was repulsed. Why must all men be vile seducers? Was that the truth or simply Horace’s own belief?

Tina did her best to ignore him after that, eating her cold chicken and salad, listening to the others enjoying themselves. His words ate at her, eroding away any sort of feeling she’d had for him.

ichard had done all he could for Sir Henry. The sight of the older gentleman lying on the ground, bleeding from the bullet wound, had shocked Richard more than he had let on. He hadn’t seen his brother immediately after he’d been shot, but Anthony must have appeared much like that.

Sir Henry was resting comfortably, according to the doctor, and it was best to leave him sleep. Healing came through sleep, and if Sir Henry had damaged his brain, then he needed to rest and heal himself.

And if he didn’t wake up?

It was Isabelle’s trembling question that caused the doctor to hesitate and then reassure her that in nine times out of ten, the patient woke up.

“I couldn’t say in front of Her Ladyship,” the doctor murmured later, when he was alone with Richard, “but I have grave fears for her husband. He’s sustained a very nasty injury. We must pray he wakes soon.”

Will Jackson had returned from the picnic, and he and Richard shut themselves into the library.

“You need to question all the men who were out this morning,” Richard said seriously.

“You don’t think this was an accident then?”

“I don’t know, but Sir Henry told me he was looking into the lives of John Little and Lord Horace Gilfoyle. They are both here. Perhaps they decided to put an end to his inquiries.”

“Or perhaps it was a simple accident,” Will Jackson soothed. “However I will begin to ask some questions.”

“Be subtle about it, Will. Tell them Lady Isabelle wants to know.”

“I’ll be subtle, Richard.”

Richard lapsed into thought for a moment. “If someone was trying to shoot him, then there’s a good chance our Captain
one of the guests.”

“Good point. Perhaps we should create an opportunity for him to take a shot at me and catch him in the act!”

Richard smiled despite his gravity. “One wounded Guardian at a time, Will. Did you find Miss Smythe?” he asked. “You’re back awfully quickly.”

“I found her. I tried to sit with her at luncheon, but Gilfoyle pushed in. Didn’t seem much point hanging around after that, so I came back here.”

Richard had hoped that Will and Tina might find some sort of common ground, but it seemed that Gilfoyle had other ideas. For a man who’d been indifferent to Tina, calling her an innocent and boring, he’d certainly changed his opinion of her. Richard had the uncomfortable feeling that it had been his lessons that had brought the change about, the absolute opposite of what he’d intended.

BOOK: Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club
12.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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