Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(34) by Lorraine Heath
The hot tears burned her eyes.
He leaned down and kissed the corner of each eye. “Until tonight.”
Taking her key, he opened the door and ushered her inside. He didn’t follow her in. Simply closed the door. She leaned against it, listening to the clatter of hooves and the whirring of wheels taking him farther and farther away from her.
Swindler decided to take advantage of having Claybourne’s carriage. He’d send it back later. For now he had matters that needed his attention. He returned to his lodgings, where he took care in preparing himself to meet with Sir David. He didn’t want to give any evidence of what his night had entailed. However, in the early hours of the morning while Eleanor had lain in his arms, he’d decided it was time to put this nonsense to rest. When he walked into Sir David’s office, he didn’t give the man the opportunity to say anything other than “Swindler” before he began explaining where he thought matters needed to go.
“I’m quite convinced that Miss Eleanor Watkins is no threat to Rockberry. If anything, the man, himself, is the culprit. I intend to confront him this morning and ask him exactly why he believes Miss Watkins would want him dead, I intend to interrogate him thoroughly in order to determine precisely what he did to Miss Watkins’s sister. There, sir, is where I believe the crime resides, and I intend to get to the bottom of it.”
Sir David leaned back in his chair, his face an uncompromising mask. “That might be a bit difficult, Swindler, since Rockberry was murdered last night.”
Staring at his superior, Swindler felt as though Sir David had delivered a blow to his midsection. Swindler had been charged with protecting the lord, and he’d apparently failed miserably. “Murdered? Are you sure?”
“I’m quite familiar with what a dead man looks like.”
“No, sir, I wasn’t questioning that he was dead, but perhaps his heart simply gave out.”
“It did. After the dagger sliced into it. Your Miss Watkins has just been brought in.”
“It can’t have been her.”
“I’m afraid it was. Rockberry’s brother had apparently returned to the residence after a late night at the pleasure gardens, and he spied Miss Watkins going into the library. Sometime later, when he was in want of some brandy, he went to the library and found his brother soaking in his own blood, Miss Watkins nowhere to be seen.”
The anger surged through Swindler. His father had been hanged for a crime he didn’t commit. He would be damned before he allowed the same to happen to Eleanor. “He’s lying. Miss Watkins was with me—until dawn.”
Sir David’s dark eyebrows shot up.
“I have little doubt Rockberry’s brother killed him in order to inherit and is trying to place the blame on Miss Watkins,” Swindler said. “He no doubt knew she’d been following Lord Rockberry, was probably aware that we’d been so informed. He sought to use the knowledge to his advantage.”
“God, I do hope you’re wrong about that. Her majesty is not going to be pleased to learn that her nobles are behaving badly.”
“It’s quite possible there is another explanation, but I assure you, Miss Watkins is not involved. From the moment I arrived at her lodgings to escort her to the Duchess of Greystone’s ball, she never left my sight.”
“You’ll stake your reputation on that?”
“My life, sir.”
As she sat at a table in the dismal room, she’d never been so terrified in her entire life. Two men had been waiting in the parlor for her. They’d emerged mere seconds after she heard the carriage depart. They’d had a warrant for her arrest, accusing her of murdering Rockberry. While she’d proclaimed her innocence, they revealed not even a hint of believing her. Of course, she hadn’t provided them with an alibi either, had refused to reveal where she’d been all night and why she was arriving with the dawn. She wasn’t certain it was her place to do so, and considering the harsh glares they’d given her, she wasn’t convinced they would have believed her anyway. They were stern-faced and harsh. They’d not even allowed her an opportunity to change out of her gown before whisking her away.
As soon as the opportunity arose, she’d send word to James. Surely he would speak for her.
The door suddenly opened and a familiar outline filled the doorway. With a gasp of recognition, she burst out of the chair, rushed across the room and flung herself against the man. His arms came around her, offering comfort and strength.
“Oh, my God, James. They think I killed Lord Rockberry.”
“I know,” he said quietly, in that deep, raspy voice that possessed such confidence. The man never doubted, never questioned his ability to handle any situation. “I’ve explained to Sir David that you can’t have killed him, because you were with me…until dawn.”
With a sense of dread shimmering through her, she jerked her head back and looked up into his eyes. She’d expected to see disgust or shame. Instead she saw concern, compassion, and caring. So much caring, as though he were revealing his heart.
“I know your reputation is now in tatters, but I decided better your reputation than your neck.” As though to emphasize his point, he trailed his finger along the column of her throat, at the bottom of which rested the pearls he’d given her. In spite of her terror, she shivered in response.
She felt the tears well in her eyes. With his large hand, he cradled the back of her head and pressed her face against his sturdy chest, where she could hear the slow, steady pounding of his heart. Hers was fluttering like a bird fighting not to fall from the sky, and he remained so calm, so confident.
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