Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(4) by Lorraine Heath
“Take care in the future, Miss Watkins. London can be a very dangerous place for a woman alone.”
Before she could reply, the driver set the vehicle into motion. Glancing back, she saw Mr. Swindler still standing in the street. Large and foreboding, becoming lost to the night, much like the man she’d glimpsed following her.
If he was Rockberry’s man, why had he let her go? And if he wasn’t, why was he following her?
“Her name is Eleanor Watkins.”
“Elisabeth’s sister. I should have guessed. There is an uncanny resemblance.”
James Swindler didn’t turn to acknowledge the quiet muttering from the shadowed corner following his pronouncement of the name of the woman he’d encountered at Cremorne Gardens—after spying on her for two days now.
Swindler’s superior, Sir David Mitchum, sat behind the desk in front of which Swindler stood. As the flame in the lamp was low, failing to cast enough light to reach the corners, Swindler assumed he was to pretend he wasn’t aware that another person inhabited the room. That the man smelled of sandalwood, rich tobacco, and nervous sweat made it a bit difficult for him to blend in with the surroundings. The fact that he’d spoken—apparently surprised by the information that Swindler had imparted—added to the ludicrousness of trying to pretend that Swindler and Sir David were alone in the room.
Unlike the man in the corner, Swindler had the uncanny knack of blending in wherever necessary. Still, Swindler gave no indication that he was aware of the other’s presence. He could pretend with the best of them. Although he found it inconceivable that the man would believe his identity was a secret, especially as Swindler’s investigation of the woman had begun at his lordship’s residence. He suspected the Marquess of Rockberry was a conceited buffoon.
“What more have you managed to learn about the woman?” Sir David asked. After sending the woman on her way, Swindler had taken another hansom, following at a discreet distance and ordering the driver to let him out on a street near Miss Watkins’s lodgings. He’d walked briskly the remainder of the way, arriving just as Miss Watkins had entered through the front door. He’d waited until he saw a soft light appear in a corner window—fortunate that her hired room faced the street—to approach. By placing a few coins in the pudgy hand of the landlady who’d opened the door, he’d been able to discern a few more details. “She has a hired room. She has only paid for the month and has been in London for a sennight. She is extremely quiet, never causes a disturbance, does not visit with the other residents, and has no callers. Often takes her meal in her room.”
Silence stretched between them before Sir David asked, “Anything else?”
“I fear I have nothing else to add. My instructions were to follow her and not approach her. However, as some young swells were intent upon engaging in a bit of mischief where she was concerned, I thought it prudent to ignore the second part of my orders. They claimed someone informed them that she was ‘available.’ I don’t suppose we have any idea who that someone might have been.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” came from the corner, confirming Swindler’s suspicions that Rockberry himself might have advised the young gents to make short work of her. Apparently patience wasn’t Rockberry’s strong suit.
“A lady wandering through Cremorne Gardens late at night— alone—is bound to run into trouble,” Sir David said. “She’s fortunate you were watching her. I assume she’s none the wiser regarding your task.” If he harbored Swindler’s suspicions regarding Rockberry, he gave no hint of it.
“She knows nothing about my true purpose. I have shared with you all that her landlady was able to reveal. Well, except for the fact that Miss Watkins arrived with one trunk and seems to have a preference for pink. If I might be honest here, from my initial observations, I hardly view Miss Watkins as a threat to anyone.”
“His lordship disagrees.”
Which was the reason that Swindler had been brought in. To determine what the lady was about. So far she had followed Rockberry through the zoological gardens and Hyde Park. Last night she had followed him to his club—Dodger’s Drawing Room, one of London’s more exclusive venues for gentlemen of leisure to enjoy the vices. Tonight, Cremorne Gardens. If it were a crime to follow someone, Swindler would be rotting in Pentonville Prison by now.
“With all due respect, sir, I believe I can serve better elsewhere. I heard someone reported a murder in Whitechapel tonight and—”
“I know you prefer solving crimes after they’ve been committed, Swindler, but our duty first and foremost is to prevent the commission of crimes.”
It was the policeman’s motto, his creed. Prevention. It was the very reason that so many patrolled the streets. But Swindler believed nothing would prevent someone who was intent on committing transgressions. He was more obsessed with securing justice and ensuring that the correct person paid the price for felonious crimes. He had no desire to deal with a pampered lord who was concerned with a slight of a woman whose head barely reached the center of his chest. God help him, he’d felt like a lumbering giant next to her.
“It would help, sir,” Swindler said, “to know what crime we expect her to commit.”
“I believe she intends to kill me,” came from the corner, the voice a low simmer. Sir David did little more than arch a dark brow at Swindler, who fought not to let his impatience with this situation show. He was very close to wanting to strangle the lord himself.
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