Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(3) by Lorraine Heath
She tried to open her reticule, to find the dagger she kept there as her only source of protection, but No Chin tore it free of her hold, nearly wrenching her arm off in the process.
“No!” she cried out.
“Come on, be a good girl,” the fair-haired man said as he snaked an arm around her, lifting her to the tips of her toes.
Terror gripped her as she released an ear-splitting scream. But all she heard was laughter as they began carting her toward the dark abyss. She wouldn’t succumb easily to what they planned. She would fight, scratch, claw—
“Hold up, gents! The lady is with me.”
Apparently, the men forcing her off the main pathway were as surprised by the deep confident voice obviously directed at them as she was. They parted slightly, allowing her to view through a narrow gap the shadowy silhouette of a large man with broad shoulders, taller than any man she’d ever seen.
Abruptly, he shouldered his way in, wound his arm around her waist and untangled her from her captor, using his free arm to shove one of the other men aside.
“I mean you no harm,” he murmured quickly in a low, reassuring voice. “If you wish to survive this night with your virtue intact, I suggest you come along with me.”
Everything about him was lost to the murky shadows that accompanied the encroaching fog. His hair was dark, but she couldn’t tell its exact shade. She could feel the power in his hold, strength as well as confidence. Instinctively, she knew he was not a man who forced women. He had no need. Something about him radiated a protective air, and she realized in all likelihood he was the man who’d been following her, the man from Scotland Yard. She didn’t think he was one to fear the devil, and she had an insane thought that perhaps he could help her deal with Rockberry. But even as she thought it, she realized she could no more confide in a stranger than she could a friend. Not about this matter, not when so much—when everything—was at risk. His gaze shifted away from her, and only then did she remember they had an audience. The three young men were glaring at them.
“Look here, old chap,” the leader said. “We claimed her first.”
“As I’ve already stated, she’s with me.”
“We were told she was available.”
“You were told incorrectly.” With his arm firmly around her, he began to stride away. She had to move her feet quickly to stay in step. But before they’d neared the main path, the three men moved to thwart their leaving. She heard his weary sigh.
“Do you gents really want to fight tonight, knowing you can’t possibly win?”
“There are three of us and only one of you. I like our odds.”
“My odds are better. I grew up on the streets, fighting far worse than you.”
“You sound like a gent.”
“But I fight like the very devil.” The underlying threat of his words reverberated through his voice.
It seemed the men who had accosted her were not only mean-spirited, but stupid. Bulbous swung—
She found herself quickly thrust behind her protector—it was how she was quickly beginning to think of him—as he warded off the blow and sent Bulbous to the ground. The other two attacked him. While he used his shoulder to cause No Chin to stagger back, her rescuer plowed his fist into the fair man’s stomach. With a gasp, Fair doubled over and dropped to his knees. Then her protector rounded on Bulbous as he regained his footing and stood. The thud of flesh hitting flesh as her protector’s knuckles caught the man beneath the chin echoed around them. Bulbous staggered back, arms windmilling. He fell in a graceless sprawl over the ground, unmoving. As his companions tried to get to their feet, her protector made short work of landing two quick punches that returned both to the ground.
“Stay put until we leave,” her protector ordered, before holding out his hand to her. “Let’s go, shall we?”
If he meant her harm, she thought, he had no reason to take her out of here. While the excuse was flimsy, she found herself nodding. She’d had quite enough of this place, and knew that finding Rockberry now was beyond the scope of her meager skills of detection. She took a step toward her rescuer, then remembered—
“My reticule. One of them took it.”
With his foot, he rolled Bulbous over, retrieved her reticule, and halted to stare at the handle of the dagger poking out.
“For protection,” she muttered, taking her reticule and closing it over the dagger.
“Little good it did you. Come along. Stay close. I’ll hire a hansom, see you safely home.”
She had no choice except to let him draw her in and hold her upright, because she realized that she was trembling from the ordeal now that it was over. How could she have been so foolish as to believe she could protect herself in this place by simply not accepting what anyone might offer?
“Have you a name?” he finally asked quietly.
“Eleanor Watkins,” she said without thinking, and then wondered if she should have provided a false name. She’d given so much thought to her plans, and here they were becoming unraveled.
“What were you doing wandering the gardens this time of night, Miss Watkins?”
“I fear I got lost.” She peered up at him, unable to determine if he believed her. “It seems, sir, that I should know the name of the man who rescued me.”
On King’s Road they found a hansom waiting by the curb. Leaning over, he opened the door and handed her up. “What instructions shall I give the driver?” he asked. Reluctantly, she gave him the address for her lodgings. He called out the information and handed coins up to the driver.
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