In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(63) by Lorraine Heath
“It’s not an easy thing to live with a lie, Catherine.” He knew that truth well enough.
“Do you think it is an easy thing to know you are responsible for your friend’s death?”
“She’s not dead yet. Don’t give up on her so easily. Bill is very good at what he does.”
“Two of Avendale’s wives have died. I shall never forgive myself if Winnie does as well.
Because I was a coward and waited. As much as I wanted the deed done, I began to worry about how I would feel afterward, how I’d live with myself. And now look what’s happened to her.”
“Catherine, it’s not your fault.”
“It is. As I explained.”
“What did you do, sweetheart? You sent out an invitation to a person he’d not anticipated. I killed a man and no one took a fist to me.” He put his arm around her, drew her near, and pressed a kiss to her temple. “His punishment doesn’t fit your crime.”
Catherine took such comfort from Claybourne’s nearness. From the moment that
Winnie’s lady’s maid had shown up at Catherine’s residence weeping, Catherine had feared the worst, and she’d not hesitated to send for Claybourne, for herself more so than Winnie. She knew she could draw from his strength. Knew she would find comfort in his presence.
“How many stab wounds would it take to kill a person?” she asked.
“One if you do it right. But using a knife makes it very personal, Catherine.”
“A pistol would be better then.”
“Only if you’re a very good marksman.”
She moved out from beneath his arm and shored up her courage. “Can you teach me to be a good marksman?”
“I could. But I see no need. I’ll take care of this matter.”
He took her hand, rubbed his thumb across her knuckles, then circled it over the back of her hand. It felt so lovely, so tender, so reassuring.
“I thought you were a beast,” she said quietly.
“Closer to the devil, don’t you think?”
Ah, yes, the Devil Earl. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d thought of him in those terms. “Why did you kill the man you did?”
“Because he hurt Frannie.”
Catherine tried to remember when everything had taken place.
“She would have been a child at the time.”
“Indeed, she was, and in spite of the life she’d led, up until that moment, she was a very sweet and innocent child.”
“Have you killed anyone else?”
He slowly shook his head.
“But you’ll kill Avendale?”
He gave one brusque nod.
“Will you be able to live with it?”
With his thumb, he wiped the tears from her cheek. “That’s for me to worry about.”
“You said I was asking you to give up the last of your soul.”
“There’s only a small bit left. Giving it up will be no hardship.”
But she feared it would be a great hardship, that it would change him irrevocably into a man she could no longer love. Oh, dear Lord, when had she fallen in love with him? Had there been a precise moment or had it been simply an accumulation of many?
“It was easier for me to ask you do this before I knew you,” she said.
“And it’s easier for me to do now because I know you better.”
The bedchamber door opened. A somber Dr. Graves and Frannie stepped out. Catherine came to her feet, expecting the worst.
“She’s going to recover, but she’s going to require a lot of care,” Dr. Graves said. “She’s been terribly abused in very personal ways.”
Catherine nodded. Winnie had been conscious for a while, in pain, suffering, weeping over the atrocities her husband had made her endure: raping her, beating her, striving to break her spirit. She feared he’d succeeded with the last. “I can see after her.”
Claybourne urged everyone closer. “Can she travel?”
Dr. Graves widened his eyes. “Not far, not far at all.”
“She doesn’t have to go far.” Claybourne sighed. “Avendale has been having Catherine followed. He’s also responsible for the attack on us that night.”
“What?” Catherine asked. “How do you know all this?”
“Jim caught one of the ruffians he hired to follow you. We were discussing the matter with him when I received your missive. Avendale must be dealt with but not here, not in London, where he may have resources of which I’m not aware. My plan is this. We will lead people to believe that we are taking the duchess to my country estate. You should come with us, Catherine. Avendale will come to you first, searching for his wife.”
“But my father—”
“He’ll be watched. No harm will come to him.”
She believed him, absolutely without question.
“We’ll do a switch,” he continued, “take the ladies to your residence, Bill, where you and Lady Catherine can look after the duchess. I shall travel on to Heatherwood.
Avendale is sure to follow me there if we leave enough clues. At which time, I shall put the matter to rights.”
“What about Whit?” Catherine asked.
Graves looked at her. “Who’s Whit?”
“Avendale’s heir,” Claybourne responded before she could. “We’ll bring the lad with us.
I suggest we move quickly. Bill, can you help me prepare the duchess for travel?”
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