In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(76) by Lorraine Heath
Growling, Claybourne flung himself at Avendale, knocking him down. Avendale’s head hit the edge of a low table and he lay still, unmoving. Claybourne bent over him, pressed his ear to his chest. “He’s alive.”
“We’ve no way out, nowhere to hide,” Catherine yelled.
It seemed only then that Claybourne realized the dangerous predicament they were in.
“This way,” Claybourne ordered. He pulled Avendale upright, folded him over his shoulder, and lifted him up as he rose to his feet. In long strides, he reached the fireplace.
“What in the bloody hell do you think we’re going to do?” Catherine yelled. “Climb up the chimney flue?”
“No. We’re going to climb down. Grab a lamp.”
She was surprised that a lamp still remained, but she spotted one on a small table in the corner. Grabbing it, she watched as he did something along the side of the fireplace—
pushed something, pressed, pulled, she couldn’t see clearly with all the smoke—and a grinding, groaning began to echo through the room as one of the great shelves shifted forward, creating a passage behind the wall.
Something crashed. She felt as though her blood were beginning to boil.
“Come on. Quickly.” He pressed his hand to the small of her back, urging her into the darkened passage.
The lamp illuminated a set of stairs.
“Go down,” he ordered.
“Where does this go?”
“I don’t…I don’t bloody well know. I just know it’s safe. Go!”
She dashed down the stairs. It was cool here, the air while musty was easier to breathe.
At the bottom she reached a tunnel.
“Keep going,” he ordered.
She ducked cobwebs, thought she heard a rat squealing—but facing a rat was better than facing a fire. She came to a fork in the passage, stumbled to a stop.
“Keep right,” Claybourne said.
She glanced back at him. “Where does the other go?”
“Back into the house.”
“I certainly don’t want to go there.”
She followed the fork as he’d indicated. After a while she began to hear the rush of the ocean and smell the salt air. She walked out into the darkness, onto the shore. Dark clouds moved across the moon, but still the light glowed off the nearby sea. Had the family made its original fortune as smugglers?
Claybourne dropped Avendale onto the shore, then staggered over to a boulder. He sat on it and stared at the waves rushing in to cover his boots before darting back to sea. A light rain continued to fall, but it was the least of their concerns. Catherine knelt before him, lifting the lamp so she could see his face. “Luke?”
“Catherine, how did I know? How did I know about the passage?”
“I don’t understand.”
He shook his head. “I didn’t know it existed. I didn’t know it was there.”
“How could you not know? Someone must have shown you.”
“No, no one has ever shown me.”
“The previous earl.”
He sounded so certain, so sure.
“But you went right to it. You knew what you needed to do.”
“Only after you said we had nowhere to hide. Until that moment”—he pressed the heels of his hands against his brow—“dear God, my head. I feel like it’s trying to split in two.”
Breathing heavily, he dropped his head back. “I’ll have to worry about this later. Right now, we need to decide what to do with Avendale. And make sure the servants are safe.”
He stood up, fell to his knees. She crouched beside him. “Luke, you’re frightening me.”
He lifted his gaze to hers, cradled her face with his palm. “My courageous girl.” Leaning in, he kissed her.
When he drew back, she asked, “What are we going to do about Avendale?”
“Find a way to kill him—without either of us being sent to the gallows for doing it.”
“If that was your intent, why not just leave him in the fire?”
“Because I want his death to serve a purpose. I need him alive for that to happen.”
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
“Do you trust me?”
“With my life.” Suddenly she was in his arms, shivering and crying, feeling like such a ninny but they were alive, Claybourne was alive, and that was all that mattered.
Using strips torn from Catherine’s underskirt, Luke bound and gagged Avendale after taking great satisfaction in delivering a blow to the man’s jaw when he’d begun to stir.
Luke was not of a mind to be gentle or forgiving. It didn’t help matters that his head had begun to pound mercilessly. He actually envied Avendale his unconscious state.
With great effort, he hoisted Avendale over his shoulder. With Catherine at his side, they began making their way back to the manor. No path marked the way, but the terrain wasn’t too rugged. The rain, however, had increased in intensity, but Luke didn’t mind.
With any luck, it might reduce the fire’s damage to the manor.
“If the house were still burning, don’t you think we’d see fire in the distance?” Catherine asked.
“Yes. The servants and village’s fire brigade no doubt got it under control.”
“Your head’s bothering you, isn’t it?”
“I’ll be all right.”
“What are you going to do with Avendale tonight?”
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