Authors: Sara Bennett
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction
Richard straightened in amazement. “Using my services to marry Tina? She wouldn’t marry you, Gilfoyle! A woman would have to be desperate to even consider it, and she’d still say no.”
Gilfoyle launched himself up out of the chair, and they grappled furiously. Richard managed to get a glancing blow to Gilfoyle’s nose, while Gilfoyle struck him in the eye. Sir Henry roared again, “Enough, I say!” and Will forced them apart. Richard stepped back, panting, wishing he’d landed another good punch on that smug mouth, but there’d been satisfaction in making his nose bleed. Gilfoyle shook himself free of Will and sat back into his chair, snatching the handkerchief the other man offered and dabbing gingerly at his nose.
“You’ll be sorry for this,” he threatened, breathless. “All of you. I won’t say any more until I see Lord Montague. He’s one of you, isn’t he? Yes, I thought so. Well, he was a friend of my late father.”
And with that he closed his mouth.
Richard wondered why Lord Montague had never mentioned his friendship with the Gilfoyles. Well, they would find out soon enough. His eye was aching, and he knew from experience that soon it would begin to swell and close. He should put something cold on it, but there was no time to indulge himself, no time to do anything but find the Captain and his man Sutton, before they found Tina.
“You were at the Great Southern Inn in May,” Will began. “You were on your way to Kent for the Bossenden Wood riots.”
“You were traveling with John Little. Isn’t that so?”
Gilfoyle looked surprised, then thoughtful, but he still would not speak.
They continued to question him, but the silence went on, and eventually Sir Henry decided it would be best to take him under guard back to Whitehall and question him there.
“At least tell us where your henchman Sutton is hiding?” Richard demanded, as Gilfoyle was led to the door. “He’s going to hurt Miss Smythe if he remains on the loose. Give him up for her sake, if you really love her.”
Gilfoyle turned his head to stare at him. “You are an idiot, Eversham. I know nothing of this. If Tina is in danger, then it is entirely your fault, and if any harm comes to her, then I shall blame you for it.”
The door closed. Richard swore and went to the window, then back again, restless and anxious and unable to do anything about it.
“If he’s guilty, he’s giving a good impression of an innocent man,” Sir Henry said quietly.
Richard threw him an angry look. “He’s not innocent. Don’t let him gull you into believing that, sir. He’s a consummate liar.”
“Humph. Well, we shall see,” Sir Henry said.
Will returned, having given instructions to the trusted servants Sir Henry was using to keep watch over Gilfoyle until he was transported to London. He looked from one to the other of them and decided it was safer to hold his tongue.
“I’ll take her to Kent,” Richard said suddenly, almost as if he were talking to himself. “She’ll be safe there, and I can watch over her.”
“It’d be an easy enough matter for Sutton to follow you,” Will blurted out, and then wished he hadn’t as Richard shot him a nasty look. “However, I’m sure you’ve thought of that,” he added hastily.
“This friendship between Miss Smythe and Lord Horace,” Sir Henry said thoughtfully. “You don’t think they’re in this together? Not the first time a beautiful woman has made a fool of us men, eh?”
Richard took a breath as if he were about to explode, and then calmed himself, to the relief of the others. “Miss Smythe has nothing to do with the Captain, I’d stake my life on it. Gilfoyle has duped her just as he has everyone else.”
“Very well then.” Sir Henry rubbed his hands together. “I’ll get ready to return to London with Lord Horace. I’ll take Branson, too; give him a bit of a scare in case he hasn’t told us everything. You and Will here go to Kent with the young lady, and stay there until we consider it safe. I’ll keep in touch.”
Sir Henry came over to shake hands with them both. “Congratulations. This has been a difficult mission, but we are finally nearing its end. Your brother can rest peacefully at last, eh, Richard?”
As Richard agreed he realized with a sense of shock that he hadn’t been thinking of Anthony at all when he fought with Gilfoyle just now. He’d been thinking of Tina.
ina sat on the bed in her undergarments and watched as Maria packed her belongings carefully in her trunk and boxes, ready for the journey to Kent. All those expensive and precious gowns and bits and pieces, teamed with the worn and patched petticoats and darned stockings. It told the story of her life better than any words. She couldn’t believe so little time had elapsed since she had arrived here at Arlington Hall, and yet so much had happened.
The woman she’d been then was someone she barely recognized now. She’d been weighed down with her concerns, certainly, but she’d also been dreaming of Richard Eversham and enjoying the relative freedom of Arlington Hall. They’d walked in the sunshine and dined in the pavilion by the river, and although her plans in regard to Horace had been unsuccessful, she’d seen her brother Charles in an entirely new light.
“Charles!” She started up. “Maria, we must tell Charles what is happening. He’ll be worried and what will he tell my parents?”
Maria soothed her. “He’s been told, Miss Tina. Mr. Eversham and Sir Henry explained matters to him. He’s going to return to Mallory Street tomorrow in Lord Horace’s coach.”
“But the bailiffs!” she wailed, and put her hands to her face. “I can’t go to Kent. It’s impossible. There’s too much to do at home.”
Maria put an arm about her waist and led her toward the bed. “Lie down, miss, and rest. We will be leaving this evening, and it is a long journey without, I’m sure, many stops. Please, close your eyes and sleep. You are making yourself ill with worry.”
Tina wondered how she was meant to sleep with all this going on, but she didn’t have the heart to argue, and lay down, abandoning herself to the soft feather mattress, and let Maria draw the covers over her and tuck her in. The fragrance of roses drifted in from the open windows—the storm had blown itself out, and the air was still and calm once again.
To her surprise she did sleep, but it was a restless slumber, with snatches of nightmares interrupting memories of the folly and Richard’s arms. When the face of the man in the library suddenly jumped into a dream about swimming with Richard in the river, Tina sat up with wide-open eyes.
The room was in darkness apart from a flickering lamp, and someone was knocking on her bedroom door. Maria, who also looked to have been dozing, hurried over to answer it.
“Who is it?” she demanded.
“Lady Isabelle. May I come in and speak with Miss Smythe for a moment?”
Tina nodded to Maria and, climbing out of bed, draped a robe about herself to cover her underclothing. Lady Isabelle came into the room as Maria hastened to turn up the lamp to brighten the gloom.
“My dear Miss Smythe, is there anything I can do?”
Tina, allowing her hands to be taken in her hostess’s warm grip, looked into her compassionate eyes and felt like weeping.
“Sir Henry has told me the whole story. I find it difficult to believe that such dreadful things have been happening here, in my home.”
“Lord Horace,” Tina whispered, a lump still in her throat.
“He would never . . . Lady Isabelle, believe me, Horace may be unpleasant sometimes and . . . and arrogant, but he would never do the things they are saying he has done.”
Lady Isabelle squeezed her hands. “My dear, I, too, find it difficult to believe Lord Horace guilty, but my husband assures me he will get to the bottom of this situation. If your Horace is innocent, then he will be found to be so. My husband is an honest man, and I’d trust him with my life.”
Tina tried to take comfort from what she was saying.
Lady Isabelle led her to the window seat, and they sat down facing each other with the darkening garden and river behind them.
“I am more worried about you, Miss Smythe. This person you saw in the library, the man who frightened you so, I hope he may be far away by now, but if not . . . well, we must put our faith in Mr. Eversham and Mr. Jackson. My husband tells me they are both extremely capable men and will keep you safe from harm.”
“Yes. I just hope it will not be for very long,” Tina said in a little voice. “I want to go home. There are reasons I cannot . . . my mother needs me.”
“Well, I’m sure she will understand why you are prevented from returning just now.”
Tina wished she was as confident, but she thought it more likely Lady Carol had taken to her bed again and, in her darker moments, imagined she was being moved, bed and all, to the family’s new location—probably a nasty little hovel by the docks.
Lady Isabelle glanced over at Maria, but the maid was busy at the hearth, stoking the coals into a warm blaze. Lady Isabelle lowered her voice and leaned closer. “Mr. Eversham cares for you, Tina. I don’t know whether that is of interest to you, but I think it is. There are rumors that you have already given your heart to Lord Horace, and if so . . . But I wanted to say this to you, in case you are in a quandary. Women marry for many reasons: security and duty and familiarity. And love. I think if I had been able to, I would have married for love. Not that I don’t admire my husband and have a great affection for him, for I do. But there has always been something lacking in my life, and my search for it has made Sir Henry, and I, miserable at times.”
She sighed, and Tina was aware Lady Isabelle was generously sharing something that was important to her in the hope it would help Tina.
“I did think I was in love with Mr. Eversham,” Tina admitted at last, “but now . . . I don’t know. He isn’t the man I thought him. How could I have been so wrong, believing I understood him so well, and yet he was a different man altogether? That frightens me, Lady Isabelle, and makes me wonder what else I might have got wrong about him.”
“My dear, I think you will find you
Tina shook her head wildly. “No, I don’t. And now, with Horace . . . I can’t abandon him, can I? Even if I don’t love him in the same way as . . . well, we have been friends forever.”
“Hush, Tina, calm yourself. You are too overwrought at the moment to make a decision about anything. Give yourself time to reflect. That has always been my mistake, rushing into a thing in the heat of passion and repenting at leisure.”
Tina had never been one to rush into anything in the heat of passion. She was the practical one, the sensible one. And yet lately she seemed to have lost her no-nonsense air completely. “I will try, my lady.”
“Well then. I hope you will avoid the same mistakes as I. We are both passionate women, Tina, and I think that is why we must marry for love.”
She leaned forward to kiss Tina’s cheek and rose to her feet, turning to the maid. “Maria, Mr. Eversham asked me to tell you that he is ready to leave now. I will send some servants up to collect Miss Smythe’s luggage.” And then she was gone, the fragrance of her perfume lingering a moment after the door closed.
Maria began to hurry about, helping Tina into her traveling dress and cloak, gathering together her own belongings. Shortly afterward the servants came for the luggage, and Tina and Maria followed them down the stairs.
he coach rattled down the long carriageway, leaving the brightly lit Arlington Hall in its wake. Richard and Will sat opposite Tina and Maria, but Archie was outside, rugged up, riding with the coach driver. There were also several outriders Sir Henry had arranged to accompany them, as an added precaution. He’d had another word with Richard before they left.
“You know, don’t you, that this fellow Sutton may follow you to Kent?”
“I’m aware of that, sir.”
“All right, don’t get testy, Richard. I’m sure you are perfectly capable of protecting this girl, but I need to be sure you’re cognizant of the full picture. The girl has become the bait, hasn’t she? Where she goes, this fellow will follow, and when he decides to strike, we will have him.” He clapped his hands together like a man squashing a fly.
“I don’t want to think of Miss Smythe as bait for this thug,” Richard said grimly, “but I understand what you’re saying. I will be protecting her with my life, Sir Henry, believe me.”
Sir Henry gave him a curious look and then smiled. “I believe you will, Richard. Good, good. But don’t let that blind you to the possibilities. If you lay your trap carefully and lure him in . . .”
Richard shifted restlessly. “I don’t like to think—”
“Well you’ll have to. This fellow will be very valuable to us, together with Branson and Lord Horace. And if Lord Horace is the Captain, then we’ll have taken the head of this particular snake. I don’t think it will be able to function without his brains.”
he is the Captain?”
“I know you dislike him, but I’m of a cooler disposition, and I’m not entirely certain of it, not yet. Wouldn’t want to get it wrong and let the real Captain go free, would we? By the way, have you seen Mr. Little?”
“He is leaving in the morning.”
“Yes, he came up to me and expressed his shock. Of course gossip is rife now, all sorts of strange stories flying about the Hall as to what’s going on, but I think I said enough to put his mind at rest. He thinks Lord Horace was heading up a ring of poachers.”
“Unlikely but people will believe anything if you say it with enough panache.”
“Did you manage to get the reason why he was going to Kent in May, before the riots?”
“Without resorting to fisticuffs do you mean? I did. He was rather surprised, but he said he had relatives he was visiting, and it was his bumping into Lord Horace that day that brought them together in what has been an unlikely friendship. He sounded sincere, so I let him go. For now. We know where to find him if we need him, Richard. He’s a businessman with an importing business to run. He couldn’t just vanish even if he wanted to.”
Just before Richard left he remembered something else. “You told Branson you’d let him go, and now you’re taking him to London. I thought you were a man of your word, Sir Henry?”
Sir Henry smiled a crafty smile. “One’s word is a flexible thing, Richard. There are times when it can stretch to include all sorts of half-truths. Oh I’ll let him go, if he gives me everything he has, but first I want to make sure he never involves himself in anything like this again.”
The coach hit a rut in the road and brought Richard back to the here and now. In the gloomy interior, lit by a single light, his companions looked like strangers, even Tina. A beautiful stranger. He glanced at her, but she was looking down at her folded hands, smoothing her gloved fingers one by one, deep in her own thoughts.
And he would not be able to fathom those thoughts until they could speak alone, and that would probably not be until they reached Kent. He was certain Tina would not seek him out before then, and if he tried to seek her out, she would avoid him.
He caught sight of one of the outriders beyond the window and was glad of the extra protection. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about Tina’s safety on the journey. When they reached Eversham Manor he would have two choices: to keep the men about them, making certain no one got near her, or to let them go and leave Tina seemingly unprotected. To use her, as Sir Henry had said, for bait, to once and for all capture this threat to her safety.
He hadn’t decided yet. He’d always been a man of decisive actions, but this time he was having difficulty.
Once more Richard settled his gaze on Tina, the soft downward curve of her mouth, her dark lashes hiding her green eyes, the dark curl that had come loose from beneath her bonnet and kissed her cheek. He knew his feelings hadn’t changed; he still wanted her, to be with her, to spend his life with her.
As if she sensed him watching, she looked up and caught him. Surprise widened her eyes, but a moment later other emotions hardened her beautiful face. Distrust and suspicion. And quite possibly disgust—his eye was swollen and bruised from Gilfoyle’s ministrations.
“Get some rest, Miss Smythe,” he said evenly. “It is a long journey.”
Resolutely she turned away and rested her head against the seat, closing her eyes, shutting him out.
Oh yes, she had changed her opinion of him all right, but it was up to him to win her back.
A lesser man might give up, but Richard had spent the past two years teaching gentlemen how to win the ladies of their dreams. He was confident he could win back Tina. At least, he wasn’t about to give up without a fight.