In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(65) by Lorraine Heath
“I should toss you over my shoulder—”
“And kiss my bare bottom? You don’t frighten me, Lord Claybourne. You wouldn’t harm a woman if your life depended on it. Unlike Avendale who would strike his wife simply because he didn’t fancy the color of her gown. I’m not staying behind.”
He cursed soundly, signaled his footman, and a few seconds later, the coach sprang forward.
“You’re the most irritating woman I’ve ever had the misfortune to know,” he ground out.
Then he shifted, took her hands, and pressed his mouth to her bare knuckles. “And the most courageous.”
“If I were so courageous, I’d have never involved you.”
He moved until he was sitting beside her and had her nestled against his side. “It should have never fallen to you to see to the matter to begin with.”
“She’s my dearest friend in all the world.”
“We will do what we can to salvage your reputation.”
“I care only that Avendale is dealt with. What are your plans for him?”
“I need some answers from him. Depending on what they are, I may try to reason with him.”
“And if he’ll not provide the answers or be reasoned with?”
“Heatherwood is a rather large estate. A man can easily get lost and never be found.”
The coach came to a stop outside Claybourne’s ancestral residence the following night, long after dark. The footman opened the door
“Stay here,” Claybourne ordered.
“I’ll not be bullied—”
He sighed with impatience. “Catherine, do you trust me?”
“Do you trust me?”
“With my life,” he said.
Oh, dear Lord, she’d not expected him to place that burden on her. What was she doing here? How had she brought them to this moment?
“I think things between us would go much better if you’d simply explain the reason for your orders,” she told him. “I don’t mean to be difficult, but I don’t want to be kept in the dark either.”
“Very well. I’m going to send most of my servants to the village for two reasons. I want them out of harm’s way and it’ll increase the likelihood of preserving your reputation, so I need you to stay hidden until they’re gone. A butler and a few footmen are all who will stay behind.”
Nodding, she settled back. “I shall wait patiently like a good little girl.”
He chuckled low. “I have a feeling you’ve never been good a day in your life.”
Before she could castigate him for that erroneous assessment of her, he’d disappeared out the door. He’d not allowed her to be seen at any of the inns where they’d stopped to change horses and purchase food. He always bought an inordinate amount of food as though he had several people to feed. If Avendale stopped where they’d stopped, if he made inquiries, he’d think Winnie was in the coach. Winnie and Whit.
He would be furious when he discovered he’d been duped.
Catherine heard the whinny of horses and the rumble of carriage and wagon wheels. She supposed the servants would use whatever means possible to travel to the nearby village.
She’d not meant to put everyone out. But Claybourne was right. They would be safer there.
The minutes dragged slowly by. Finally, she heard movement in the boot and assumed the footman was gathering Claybourne’s satchel and hers. The door opened, and she released a tiny squeal.
“Are you all right?” Claybourne asked, and she thought she detected humor in his voice.
He held out his hand. “Come on, then.”
She put her hand in his, felt his strong fingers close around hers, and all her doubts and worries dissipated. This was Claybourne. He’d survived much worse than a cad like Avendale. Together they would see that Winnie was safe forever.
She stepped out of the coach. Although she could only see the silhouette, she could tell that his residence was grand. She placed her hand on his arm and allowed him to escort her with the footman scurrying ahead with their bags.
“Under normal circumstances, the guests sleep in the east wing, the family in the west.
But these circumstances are hardly normal. I’ve instructed the footman to put your belongings in the bedchamber next to mine. I want you near, Catherine, so I can assure your safety. I’ll not take advantage.”
The last was said quietly, almost with a measure of regret echoing through it. She couldn’t deny that she felt a bit of disappointment.
“Well, it’s not as though I haven’t spent the night in your bed,” she said.
He lost his footing, and suddenly she was reaching for him to help him keep his balance.
When he was again standing tall, he said, “You play a very dangerous game, Lady Catherine Mabry.”
Too late she’d come to realize that fact. But she’d not retreat now. She’d do whatever necessary to achieve her end.
“Don’t you think I should have a false name while I’m here?”
“Did you have something in mind?”
They’d reached the steps and were climbing toward the door.
“What was your name when you were a lad? Before the Earl of Claybourne discovered you?” she asked.
“Locke. Luke Locke. I was very skilled at picking locks. Most of us were orphans, didn’t know our real names anyway. But even for those who did, Feagan always insisted on changing their names. When they came to him, they started life anew. So what would you like your name to be?”
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