Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(2) by Lorraine Heath
She had visualized that tonight the dagger would slide into his heart, so all the world would see exactly how putrid and black it was, but she knew the time wasn’t right, nor was the place. She had to take care, execute the plan as it had been laid out—lest she find herself hanging from the gallows. As much as she loved her sister, she wasn’t quite ready to join her—although if her life was the cost of revenge, she would pay it. From the moment she set foot on this path, she’d been aware that it might eventually lead her to Newgate. She’d not regret it as long as it also led Rockberry into hell.
“Would you care for some company?”
The fair young man who stepped in front of her gave her a charming smile. His clothes were well-tailored and she suspected that if she had someone to properly introduce her into Society, she might dance with him at a ball on another night. “No, thank you. I’m meeting someone.”
“Fortunate fellow. If he doesn’t show—”
“He will,” she lied, cutting him off and skirting around him, hurrying past the splashing fountain, wishing she had a moment to enjoy the beauty of the gardens. Blast it! Now where had Rockberry gone? She quickened her pace and breathed a sigh of relief when she spied him talking with a buxom woman whose gown was indecently low, giving all in attendance a glimpse of what she had to offer. Apparently she wasn’t what Rockberry sought, because he continued on without looking back. No, he preferred ladies of a more innocent bent. For the life of her, she couldn’t understand why he’d come here, where naughty behavior was tolerated, expected even. Rockberry had a penchant for the intolerable, forcing her sister to endure depraved acts of sin and debauchery.
For six days now she’d been cataloging his habits and rituals, striving to map out the pattern of his life, working to determine how best to bring that life to an end without sacrificing her own.
Unfortunately, her life in a small village near the sea had hardly provided her with the education or experience to play cat and mouse, and more often than not she feared she was the prey and not the predator in this deadly game. Especially as she had the increasing sense that while she followed Lord Rockberry, someone followed her.
As the lavender bowers scented the air around her, Eleanor fought not to glance back, not to give any indication that she was aware of her pursuer. She’d first become cognizant of a large man trailing in her wake two nights ago, after Rockberry had paid a visit to Scotland Yard. She should have been more discreet in her plans for Rockberry. She might have spooked him with her boldness, making him aware of her presence, hoping he’d begin to question his own sanity. If he went mad and took his own life, so much the better. It would save her from having to take it for him. Instead, it was possible he’d reported her to the police. She’d yet to catch sight of her pursuer tonight, but she was certain he was there because the hairs on the nape of her neck prickled, sending icy tingles coursing through her. It didn’t help, so near the Thames, that the thick fog was silently rolling in, washing out the color of all that surrounded her. The gaslights became muted hazes, eerily striving to illuminate what many preferred to hide. Behind the elms and poplars, in shadowy recesses, came the murmurs of gentlemen and the seductive laughter of women.
She was no longer certain what she hoped to accomplish by following Rockberry to such a questionable place, but she needed to know what he did, who he met, so she could determine the best moment to strike. Caution over expediency.
He prowled the night as though he were some ravenous beast, but she knew it wasn’t food he sought, but rather decadent pleasures—her sister’s journal had revealed in intimate and heartrending detail how he had seduced her, not only for his gratification but for the amusement of others. As though her wants had no merit, her dreams were meant to be shattered. Rockberry had destroyed Elisabeth long before she’d flung herself over the cliff into the turbulent sea below.
Fighting back her tears—now was not the time to succumb to her sorrow—she strengthened her resolve to see that Rockberry paid handsomely for his part in her sister’s death at the mere age of nineteen.
The loathsome man disappeared around a curve. Drat it! He was too self-absorbed to realize he was being followed, so he must have some rendezvous in mind. She wondered if he’d already singled out his next victim. If that was the case, then she might very well end the game tonight, because she couldn’t stand by and let another woman suffer as Elisabeth had. She swept around the trees and came to a staggering stop, her path blocked by three gentlemen with lascivious grins.
“Hello, sweeting,” the one in the middle said, giving her the impression that he was the one in charge.
The lights in this area were exceedingly dim, and the gray mist didn’t help the situation. She could tell little about him save that he was fair, and if not for his wretched smile, she might have even considered him handsome. His friends were dark, one distinguishable by his rather unattractive bulbous nose, and the other by his unfortunate lack of a chin, as though it had somehow fallen into his neck. The way their gazes roamed over her made her skin crawl, and it was all she could do not to shrink before them. They wore the finest of clothes, along with expectations for a grand time, intent upon enjoying their youth while it still belonged to them. As for herself, with Elisabeth’s death, she’d aged well beyond her twenty years.
“Please, excuse me.” She made a motion to go around them, but they moved as one to bar her path. Her heart sped up, imitating the rhythm of the train that had brought her to London, clacking and rattling and threatening to jump the tracks at any moment. She took a step back, and No Chin sidestepped over to hinder her escape. Suddenly, she found herself surrounded. It would take very little for the men to drag her into the darkest shadows of the garden where no hope existed for retaining her dignity.
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