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 (17 page)

BOOK: Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club
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“I’ll go and join them at the river,” he said abruptly. “Stay here with Sir Henry, and let’s just hope he wakes soon. Perhaps he saw who shot him? That would solve all our problems.”

“There is another possibility,” Will began tentatively. “Lady Isabelle and Signor Veruda.”

Richard sighed and shook his head. “I know what you’re thinking, but I can’t see it. Despite her behavior last night Lady Isabelle loves her husband. They have an awkward relationship; well awkward on her part anyway. Sir Henry is the calming influence, he’s her rock. She would never leave him, and certainly never harm him. And as for Signor Veruda . . . can you see him lurking in the woods with a loaded gun, taking aim, then melting into the trees? He wouldn’t be able to help launching into an aria.”

Will grinned. “Put like that, perhaps not.”

Chapter 22

he picnic luncheon was finally over. It had been uncomfortable and distressing for her, sitting next to Horace. His behavior toward her was on the verge of insolent, and she was certain he’d said several things that were far too risqué for her ears—not that she understood them but she could tell by the glint in his eyes.

Was this her doing? Had she given him cause to believe she was eager to be his mistress? How could her plans have gone so awry!

Escaping Horace—he’d become embroiled in a conversation with some other guests—Tina made haste to join Charles and Anne at the riverside, where a jetty jutted out into the water. Several rowing boats were tied up and awaiting those who wished to partake, and already groups of guests were setting out, making a pretty scene of bright gowns and waistcoats and ribbons on straw bonnets, while parasols cast shade over delicate complexions.

Anne was being assisted into a boat by Charles, when Tina touched her brother’s arm and, drawing him aside, murmured that she wanted to speak to him.

“Speak to me about what?” Charles said grumpily, watching Anne being rowed away without him.

“Charles, you know Horace better than anyone. Is it true? Have he and Lady Isabelle been lovers?”

Charles stilled. “Who told you that?” he said quietly.

“Horace told me.”

He looked momentarily too surprised to speak, and then his face darkened. “He shouldn’t have. A lady’s reputation is sacrosanct and . . . well, he shouldn’t be talking like that to you. I’m going to have a word with him.” He turned about, seeking Horace among the crowd.

Tina was pleasantly surprised at his protective attitude—she’d been afraid her brother might take Horace’s side and disregard her feelings. But then again, she couldn’t allow him to become embroiled in anything he didn’t properly understand, not without explaining matters to him, no matter how difficult and embarrassing that explanation may be for herself.

“Charles, wait. I-I think I may have given him the wrong impression,” she said woodenly with a sideways glance. “Lately I’ve been . . . it’s just that he might have thought I was angling to be his lover, too.”

Charles stared at her as if she’d lost her mind.

“Actually, I was trying to persuade him that I would make him a perfect wife, but he seems to have got it into his head that I want to be the perfect mistress.”

He shook his head at her. “Why would you want Horace to marry you?”

“I love him,” she said.

“No, you don’t! And besides, Horace would make a terrible husband. He would never be faithful, Tina, and he has mistresses and women . . .” His mouth closed in a prudish line. “I think I’ve said enough.”

Tina blinked. “No, I don’t love him, you’re right, but I do have to marry him, Charles. The family . . . that is, Father . . .” Her voice trailed off. How could she explain to Charles that they were destitute? He would be shocked and horrified, and apart from that, she’d been told not to tell him, that he wouldn’t be able to cope with the news.

However the Charles facing her now was no callow youth. He was a man. And he looked as if he would shake the truth from her if she didn’t speak it very soon.

The words came bubbling from her lips, all about Father’s money problems and their having to sell the heirlooms and then Tina’s decision to marry Horace, and Lady Carol’s encouragement. The cold hard fact that this weekend was to be her last chance to secure him before it was too late for them all. By the time they returned home there would be no home to return to.

Charles listened, his face turning to the color of ash, and when she was finished he stared at her with eyes that were far older and wiser than they’d been a moment before.

“They should have told me.” He groaned. “I’ve been going off to clubs, thinking everything was all right, when . . . Good God, how could I not have known!” He turned away but turned back almost immediately. “Do you really think marrying Horace will put everything right, Tina? If you do, then you’re a fool. He might be my best friend, but I would never let you marry him. He would make you miserable, and nothing is worth that.”

Tina watched him walk away, feeling sick and upset, the beginnings of another headache drumming against her skull. Suddenly she couldn’t bear to be here with everyone enjoying themselves. She wanted to be alone. She wanted to be completely and utterly alone.

She turned and began to run along the path by the river, losing herself in a grove of shady trees, running until she could no longer hear the voices or the careless laughter.

ichard saw her running from his position up on the pathway that looped down to the river. Immediately he cut off the path and across the lawn, in the direction she was going, hoping to reach her before she got too far ahead.

What on earth had sent her into such a mad dash? Was she in danger, or had Gilfoyle hurt her in some way?

Richard lengthened his stride. Tina’s pale gown appeared between the trees, gone one moment and back again the next, and he began to worry she might vanish completely. He began to run, too, his heart thumping, his blood pumping, his jaw clenched so tightly his teeth hurt.

There she was!

She’d slowed down to a walk, and then she stopped altogether, standing disconsolately, with her head bowed. She looked absolutely despairing, and with a burst he made the final sprint to reach her. She must have heard his approach because suddenly she spun around.

“Tina,” he breathed, and then she was in his arms, her mouth on his, her face hot and damp with tears. He wasn’t sure who made the first move, and he didn’t care. This felt so right he couldn’t have stopped himself if they had had an audience of hundreds. They clung together, and she was returning his kisses, passionately, as if she couldn’t stop herself, either. As if she didn’t want to.

When at last they drew apart, they were both breathless and shaking.

“What is it?” he gasped, staring at her frantic expression and teary eyes. “Sweetheart, what has happened?”

She opened her mouth as if to tell him, but just then they heard voices drawing closer along the path, beyond the trees, and she shook her head and pulled away. “I’m sorry,” she said huskily. “I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry, Richard. I’ve ruined everything; I can’t do anything right.”

“Tina, please, there’s nothing to be sorry about. Let me help you.”

“You can’t help me.”

He could see that she believed it, and he wanted to kiss her again until she capitulated, but those blasted voices were getting louder and closer, and, any moment, they would be seen. Suddenly an audience didn’t seem such a good idea.

“I’ll come to your room.” He said the words instinctively, without thought, only knowing he must. “Tonight. Tell me then.”

She went still. She probably couldn’t believe he’d said something so indecent; he could hardly believe it himself. But what else could he do? They needed privacy, and he needed to know what was going on.

“I just want to talk,” he said to reassure her, with a quick glance at the strolling guests fast approaching. “Tina?”

She nodded, just once, and then she was walking away from him, her pace quickening, and he let her go.

Richard felt frustrated and angry. He was a man who was in total control of his life, but somehow that urge to control had grown to also include Tina. He wanted to protect her, help her, cherish her, and he wouldn’t be denied. Thinking of her tear-stained face again, he wondered what in God’s name had happened to upset her.

Was it Gilfoyle?

His face darkened.

Of course it must be Gilfoyle. He’d hurt her or-or insulted her. Richard began walking purposefully toward the pavilion until he came within sight of it and the milling guests. There he was, laughing with a group of his admirers, blond hair bright in the sunshine.

Richard stood and stared at him and it took an immense effort of will not to keep walking, drag Gilfoyle away from his friends, and punch him in his smug mouth. He squeezed his hands into fists, rigid with fury, trying to regain his reason. There was a violence inside him, a recklessness, that threatened to overcome the current need for calm common sense.

He reminded himself that Gilfoyle was not going to get away with his behavior. He was a liar and quite possibly a murderer, and soon, very soon, Richard was going to unleash his vengeance upon Lord Horace in a way he would never forget.

ne of Arlington Hall’s upper footmen had been hanging about Maria, but Archie followed them to the landing on the servants’ stairs and soon saw him off. Maria stood in the sunshine that glinted through the window and smiled.

“You frightened him with your fierce expression,” she said.

“Good. He’s too young for you.”

Maria lost her smile. “Too young?”

“You need a more mature sort of man.”

She laughed then, quietly, intimately.

Archie had hardly seen her since they reached Arlington Hall. The servants here were strictly regimented, men in one area and women in the other, and although they all ate together, there was also a strict precedence when it came to seating arrangements. And that blasted upper footman was always putting his nose in where it wasn’t wanted.

He also suspected Maria had been avoiding him, and he suspected he knew why. He’d been keeping secrets from her, and she didn’t approve.

“I was hoping to speak to you,” she said, interrupting his thoughts. “I was going to come and find you in the men’s quarters if I had to.”

“That’s very bold.”

“It was necessary. I’m worried about Sir Henry’s being shot.”

Archie felt his expression go tense and a little cagey. He knew Mr. Eversham wouldn’t like him talking about this, and yet Maria had a way of wheedling things out of him, and he was beginning to think she was far better at wheedling than he. Besides, he preferred to be honest with her.

“Is your master involved in this, Archie?”

“In the shooting?” he hedged.

“No, foolish man, I don’t think he would have shot Sir Henry,” she mocked. “I meant, is this something to do with his work. With your work? I’m asking not through idle curiosity but because I need to know whether Miss Tina is in danger.”

Archie scratched his chin. “I’m sure—”

“Don’t make excuses, Archie. Or I will leave you here all alone and go and find that nice young man you just chased away.”

He sighed and knew he was beaten, and seeing it, her smile grew wider.

“Mr. Eversham
worried about the shooting, but your mistress isn’t in danger. If anyone is in danger it’s probably Mr. Eversham.”

“Oh. Why is that?”

“He is seeking a particular gentleman, someone who has evil intentions for the country and the government. Someone he also has a personal grudge against. He suspects this gentleman might be here at Arlington Hall.”

Maria’s eyes were round. “But surely that is very dangerous, Archie? Who is this man? I need to know so that I can take care around him.”

Archie hesitated and then made his decision. He’d already said far too much, but in for a penny, in for a pound. If he was going to ask Maria to share her life with him, he had to trust her, and she had to trust him. “He thinks the gentleman he’s seeking may be Lord Horace Gilfoyle.”

Now Maria was very worried. “But he is the friend of Mr. Charles and Miss Tina! You must warn them at once, Archie.”

“Most definitely not. If we warn them, then he will hear of it, and the next thing he’ll flee the country. We must stay quiet, Maria. Do you understand? We must trust Mr. Eversham to deal with this.”

“But Archie—”

“Maria, I have said things I should not, but you cannot repeat them. I will lose my job.”

Reluctantly she nodded, but now Archie could see that Maria’s priorities weren’t the same as his. She didn’t care much for the government, but she did care for her mistress. And her mistress seemed to have got herself into a bit of a bother with Gilfoyle and Mr. Eversham. Archie could appreciate that being the personal maid to Miss Tina could be a very worrying thing, and the sooner this mess was sorted out—hopefully by Mr. Eversham—the sooner he could take Maria away from it all and look after her properly.

“Mr. Eversham will make sure she is safe,” he went on confidently, hoping she’d believe him. “I think he’s got a bit of a soft spot for Miss Tina.”

Her dark eyes narrowed as they fastened on him. “He’d better take very good care of her, or I’ll deal with him myself.”

And looking at her, Archie knew she meant it. His Maria was a loyal and wonderful firebrand of a woman, and he was pretty certain he was in love with her. As to whether she was in love with him? Well, that was another problem, and he wasn’t sure yet how to solve it.

Chapter 23

he two men met in the gloomy woods behind the hall. They would be unlucky if anyone noticed they were missing. Everyone else was otherwise engaged, either resting before dinner or taking afternoon tea in the salon.

“You idiot! What on earth possessed you to take a shot at Sir Henry in front of everyone?”

Branson, with a sullen curl to his lip and a rebellious glint to his eyes, looked as if he might say something rash, but common sense prevailed, and at the last moment he bit it back.

“Well? Answer me, damn you, Branson!”

“It was just to give him a scare,” he muttered, chastened. “I had no intention of killing him, or he’d be dead. I’m a good shot, you know.”

“Why on earth would you want to give him a scare? Are you sure you weren’t having your own little revenge on the man? Everyone knows you’re sick with jealousy because he owns Arlington Hall.”

Branson couldn’t think of anything to say.

“And you do realize that because of you Sir Henry knows that we are among his little group—that someone here is most likely the very man he’s been looking for?” He threw up his hands in an excess of frustrated emotion. “I can’t believe you could be so stupid.”

“He’ll never think it was me!”

His companion stared at him in amazed disgust. “No, probably not, but he has no reason to trust me, has he?”

Branson scrambled to dig himself out of his own mess. “Someone must have noticed you in the shooting party among the others. They’ll say you were there in plain sight when Sir Henry was shot. You’re safe. There’s no harm done.”

The other man sighed and shook his head, beginning to calm down, beginning to think. One of the Captain’s main strengths was a cool head. “You are a fool. But I suppose now we’ll find out who else here is in Sir Henry’s little team. No doubt someone will be questioning us all in the morning.”

“Eversham” was Branson’s prompt reply. “He and Sir Henry are thick as thieves.”

“Well, we shall know soon enough. Now I’d better get back to the house in case they’re watching me. And don’t do anything else without consulting me first.”

He didn’t wait for Branson’s reply but strode off. As he neared the stables at the back of the hall, he began whistling nonchalantly, hands in his pockets, as if he’d been out for a pleasant afternoon stroll.

Branson was a complete fool, and he would no longer trust him. In fact he would never have taken him on, but at the time the man’s disaffection with Sir Henry had made it expedient. And now what if Sir Henry died? There’d be hell to pay, but he’d make certain Branson was the one who hanged. It shouldn’t be too hard to point the finger in his direction.

For a moment he let his thoughts wander back, to Anthony Eversham’s face as he put the bullet into him. He gave a satisfied smile. Anthony had found out about him, but luckily he’d decided to keep his information to himself, play the lone hero. He’d nearly caught the Captain, but his luck had held.

It would hold this time. He wouldn’t believe otherwise. And if Anthony’s brother got too close; well, he’d go the same way.

BOOK: Sin With a Scoundrel: The Husband Hunters Club
5.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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