In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(84) by Lorraine Heath
“I’ll take care of it,” Frannie said.
Luke looked at Catherine, sitting beside him. He wanted to take her hand, but it seemed wrong with Frannie sitting there. “Now then, here’s the hard part.”
Taking a deep breath, she nodded. “Whatever it is, I’ll do it.”
“I never questioned for a moment that you wouldn’t.” Still, he knew it would be difficult for her. He sighed. “You need to inform the Duchess of Avendale that her husband died in the fire at Heatherwood, a fire that was started when an ember jumped out of the fireplace unobserved, until it was too late.”
“But that’s not what happened.”
“Which is why I said yours is the hardest part. You’re going to have to lie to her, Catherine, to everyone. Once we’ve all seen to our tasks, it’ll be as though what you told her is the truth. We’ll present her with an unrecognizable burned body wearing Avendale’s clothes and rings. And she will never see him again.”
“I don’t understand why I can’t tell her the truth.”
“Because the fewer who know, the better. Laws are being broken here, Catherine. We’re all at risk. And while it’s possible she could hold her tongue on this matter, he was her husband. With distance and time, she may forget what marriage to him was like or she may decide she prefers marriage to a beast over widowhood. She may try to find a way to bring him back. It would have been easier all the way around if I’d left him in the fire, but I didn’t, so we must make the best of it and leave no doubt that the Duke of Avendale is dead so his son might inherit.”
“But shouldn’t we at least let them know how the fire really got started? The things he said, the things he did—”
“His son will live with the legacy of his father’s actions, Catherine. It will be easier not knowing the kind of man he was. If you doubt me, ask my cousin.”
Nodding, she tipped up her chin, showing her resolve. “I shall do better than speak with Winnie and Whit. I shall help them arrange the funeral.” She looked at Bill. “And it shall be very grand indeed.”
“Very good.” Luke looked around the circle. “Are there any questions?”
“I have one,” Catherine said.
Luke arched his brow.
“What task is left to you?”
“The best one of all. I have the honor of arranging Avendale’s delivery to the ship for transportation to his new life on the far side of the world.”
Catherine insisted on going with him. Luke had known she would.
The fog was thick and heavy, chilling the bones. The great ship creaked and moaned against its moorings, as though she were anxious to be off, but she had to wait for her guests to finish shuffling aboard, their leg irons clanking in the pre-dawn stillness.
“How did the duchess take the news of her husband’s demise?” Luke asked.
“She actually wept. I’d not expected that.” She peered up at him. “You don’t seem surprised.”
He shook his head. “People fear loneliness. They prefer living with an unpleasant person to living alone.”
“I don’t know if this is enough. It seems as though he got off rather easily, after all he’s done.”
“He’s a man accustomed to someone tying his neckcloth for him. He’ll be down on his knees scrubbing the deck. His hands will blister, his feet will toughen, and I suspect before the journey is done, he’ll find himself flogged on more than one occasion. I don’t know if there is hell after death, but I do know there is hell in life. I have waited in its antechamber. It is not a pleasant place. Avendale will rue the day he was born. He will be punished, Catherine. Every day, for as long as he lives.
“Although he’s actually managed to do a bit of good with his life, switching places as he has with Thomas Lark, giving the lad an opportunity for a better future.”
“One lad. It seems so little when there are so many.”
“We can’t save them all, Catherine, so we take satisfaction in saving those we can.”
They watched the two hundred and thirty prisoners march up the gangplank and onto the deck of the ship.
“There he is,” Luke said quietly. “The one in the gray coat, with the shoulder so badly torn.”
“I thought he’d resist more.”
“Bill gave me something to pour down his throat to make him as gentle as a lamb.”
“Still, I’m surprised he’s not yelling out his name and rank.”
“Bit difficult to do with a broken jaw.”
She snapped her head around to look at him. He shrugged. “He wasn’t being
They stayed until the last prisoner took his place aboard the ship, until the ship set sail.
Luke heard Catherine breathe a sigh of relief. “I can’t believe it’s over.”
Dawn was just beyond the horizon when Claybourne’s coach pulled to a stop in the alley behind Catherine’s residence.
Claybourne. She didn’t think he’d yet grown comfortable with the realization of who he was, but she had no doubt that he would in time. He was the proper earl. She wished she could help him, reassure him, stand by his side as he truly took his place among the aristocracy, but she wasn’t the one he wanted at his side. She knew that. Had accepted it before she ever entered his bedchamber at Heatherwood.
They’d talked of nothing personal since the night of his revelation. That, too, was how it should be.
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