In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(75) by Lorraine Heath
“You see,” Claybourne said, grinning at Catherine. “Civilized.” He looked at his servant.
“I’ll see him. And under no circumstances are we to be disturbed. I don’t care what you hear or think you hear happening inside this room. As a matter of fact, once you’ve delivered him here, dismiss the remaining servants for the evening.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Claybourne released her, walked to his desk, leaned against it, crossed his arms over his chest, and met Catherine’s gaze. “I don’t suppose you’d leave while he and I discuss—”
“I’ll not leave you to face him alone.”
She opened her mouth to speak—
“I mean it, Catherine. This is going to be like a very complicated game of cards, and I intend to do a great deal of bluffing.”
She nodded, heard the click of determined footsteps. Her stomach roiled. She walked so she was off to the side, near the shelves, far enough away not to be bothersome, but close enough to offer what support she could.
Avendale strode in, and once he was clear of the door, the butler closed it behind him.
Catherine could sense the fury emanating off the duke in waves. She was also very much aware that Claybourne seemed completely unaffected.
An extraordinary number of lamps had been lit as though Claybourne wanted a clear view of his adversary, or perhaps he wanted Avendale to have a clear view of him.
Unfortunately, they also gave Avendale a clear view of her.
He sneered at her. “I should have known you were at the heart of this travesty.”
“You’ll address me, not Lady Catherine,” Claybourne said, his voice firm, his manner that of a man who knew no fear.
Avendale shifted his attention to Claybourne. “We’re not among my peers where I must pretend politeness, so let me speak frankly. You’re nothing. You’re not the rightful earl, and I’ll not recognize you as such. I am here for my wife and heir. You will bring them to me and you will bring them to me now.”
“I have some questions I want answered first.”
“I do not answer to you.”
“Why were you having Lady Catherine followed?”
“Where is my wife?”
“Answer my question and I’ll answer yours.”
Avendale looked at Catherine, not bothering to disguise his low opinion of her. She just didn’t know if it was a recently acquired opinion. “She is a bad influence on my wife, and so I thought it worth keeping an eye on her.”
“And the reason you tried to have me killed?”
“Because I don’t like you, you insolent dog. You’re a blight on the aristocracy. Now bring me my wife and son!”
“It’s a bit difficult to do your bidding when they’re not here.”
“I’ve not lied since I was fourteen. Search my residence, every room, every nook and cranny. You’ll not find them here because they never left London.”
“You think to keep them away from me?”
“If I must in order to protect them. You and I are going to come to an understanding—”
Avendale dropped his head back and yelled, his hands balled into fists. When he again looked at Claybourne, the fury he’d brought into the room with him was tenfold. “I’ll not allow you to take anything else that rightfully belongs to another!”
He swung his fist one way, knocking a lamp onto the chair, swung it the other way, sending another lamp flying toward the draperies. Before anyone could react, he flung himself toward Claybourne.
The lamp on the desk hit the floor, shattering, spilling kerosene and fire. Catherine grabbed a cushion from a chair, made a move toward the flames in order to beat them out—
Suddenly dark eyes, insane eyes, were in front of her. Without warning. She felt blinding pain shooting through her jaw into the back of her skull, more pain as her head collided with something. The floor she realized. She felt a jerk on her arm, heard a roar, and the hold on her arm was gone.
Forcing her eyes open, she could see Claybourne and Avendale crashing around the room, with flames dancing around them as though they were in some macabre form of hell. Flames. Fire. She had to get up. She had to get help.
She struggled to her knees. The room spun around her. Crawling to the desk, she pulled herself up. How long had she been on the floor? She screamed for help, but already the flames were circling the room, blocking her way to the door, the windows. She considered trying to leap across them, but her skirts would surely catch on fire.
Reaching beneath her hem, intent on removing a petticoat so she’d have something to slap at the fire, she looked toward Claybourne. He had Avendale pinned to the floor. He punched him, once, twice—
Avendale bucked, throwing Claybourne off. Something else shattered. Another lamp.
Catherine pulled off her petticoat and began beating at the flames that were racing up the shelves devouring the books, the papers, the wooden shelves—
Dear God, was there a worse room for a fire to be let loose? So many flames rose higher and higher. And they were hot, so hot. The gray, billowing smoke made it difficult to see. Her eyes stung. Her lungs hurt.
Hearing a grunt, she looked back over her shoulder. Avendale had Claybourne bent backward over the desk, pummeling him. Catherine picked up a nearby statuette.
Coughing and gasping, she staggered over—
Avendale turned away from Claybourne and with an unholy glow in his eyes, punched her again. Staggering backward, she landed once more on the floor. She’d forgotten how he relished striking women.
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