Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(35) by Lorraine Heath
“Not to worry, Eleanor. I’ll see that your reputation is not ruined for long.”
The gentleness of his promise caused more tears to surface. She was going to be like an overturned bucket of water before long if he continued on with his understanding and kindness. Tucking her against his side, beneath his arm, he said, “Let’s get you home.”
She reared back to stare at him. “Just like that? They’re going to let me go?”
“You have one of the most respected inspectors of Scotland Yard vouching for you, Miss Watkins,” she heard coming from the side, and turned to see one of the men who’d interrogated her earlier standing there. Sir David. He’d not been the one to come to her lodgings, but the one who marched into this room with such determination that her mouth had gone dry.
“Be quick about getting her settled, Swindler,” Sir David said. “If she didn’t kill Rockberry, we need to determine who did, and swiftly. After all, he is a lord of the realm. The queen will not be pleased with his demise.”
“Yes, sir. I shall meet you at his residence as soon as I’ve seen Miss Watkins home.”
The carriage they’d used last evening was waiting for them at the curb. She supposed he’d not had a chance to return it to his friend before he received word about Rockberry. James climbed into the coach after her and held her near.
“I’ve never been so terrified in my life,” she said, her voice quaking. Even with him holding her, she seemed unable to stop shaking. “Why do you suppose they suspected me?”
“His brother was apparently in residence and claims he saw you arrive around midnight. Says Rockberry joined you in the library. The brother went to bed, then decided he was in need of a drink. He claims he found Rockberry sprawled on the floor, a dagger to the heart. I suspect the brother is the culprit, lying through his teeth. He’s not the first to kill in order to gain a title. He was aware that you were following Rockberry. Knew Scotland Yard knew. So he thought to use the knowledge to his advantage. Now I just need to prove it.”
“Can you do that, do you think? Prove it was Rockberry’s brother?”
“I have a reputation for solving murders. Once I’ve taken a look ‘round Rockberry’s, I should have a better sense of exactly what happened. Right now my assumptions are premature. I shouldn’t have even revealed them to you. But I wanted you to know that you have no cause for worry.” He brushed his lips over her temple. “Everything will be all right, Eleanor.”
Her heart clenched and her chest tightened painfully. There was so much she wanted to tell this man, and so much she couldn’t.
They traveled the remainder of the journey in silence, with her wrapped in the cocoon of his comforting embrace.
When they arrived at her lodgings, he handed her down. As they stood on the walk, he slipped his finger beneath her chin and tilted her head up. Then he gave her the gentlest of kisses, which made her want to begin weeping all over again.
When he drew back, he held her gaze. “I want you to rest for a bit, put all this behind you. I must see to Rockberry’s murder. When I’m done there, I’ll return to you.” He gave her a tender smile. “Then we shall see to your reputation.”
“Shh, Eleanor.” He touched his thumb to her lips. “I shall do right by you, my darling.”
He ushered her inside, and although Mrs. Potter appeared to see to her needs, she felt instantly bereft when he departed. She slowly made her way to her room. Once there, all she wanted to do was curl up into a ball on the bed and weep.
Swindler couldn’t deny that relief swamped him when he stepped into Rockberry’s library with Sir David and didn’t smell Eleanor’s familiar rose scent. While he knew it was impossible for her to have been there, to have committed the crime, something nagged at him. She’d been in his arms from the moment they departed Frannie’s ball.
He wished he’d been here before the body was removed. It could have told him so much. But apparently when Sir David had come searching for him, he was still traveling through London with Eleanor, kissing her in the carriage before they’d decided to return to his lodgings. Blood marred the carpet. Two wineglasses sat upon the side table. That bothered him.
“What time did you say you saw the lady enter?” Swindler asked the new Lord Rockberry. Swindler had been surprised to discover that he was the blond-haired man who’d accosted Eleanor at Cremorne Gardens.
“A few minutes after midnight.”
“And you’re certain it was Miss Watkins?”
“The same Miss Watkins that you attacked at Cremorne?”
“I didn’t attack her,” he said impatiently. “My friends and I were going to have a bit of fun with her. I knew she was following my brother. He was none too pleased with the police not taking more effective action. Thought to scare her off.”
“We have a witness who says Miss Watkins was with him last night,” Sir David said.
“Then your witness is lying,” the new Rockberry said with confidence. Swindler and Sir David exchanged glances. He saw no doubt in Sir David’s eyes. He’d not considered when he placed Eleanor’s reputation at risk that he was also placing his own.
“I believe you have the right of it,” Swindler said. “Someone is lying, but I suspect it’s you.”
“For what purpose?” the young Rockberry asked.
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