Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(37) by Lorraine Heath
“I began to fall in love with him, Eleanor.”
“Well, that was a rather silly thing to do, now wasn’t it?”
Emma blushed, but then she tended to do so quite easily. It was the one area in which they differed, but no one in London would know that since neither of them had visited the town before a month ago. They’d known no one in London when they arrived. The advantage to having a reclusive father who’d never felt deserving of his title.
“What would have been the harm in me staying?” Emma asked.
“A careless word, Emma, a misstep, and we’d both find ourselves hanging from the gallows. Once we realized Mr. Swindler was following us, and you encountered him at the park, the natural course was to use him. You should be grateful for the short time you had.”
Silently Emma nodded before dropping her eyes to her gloved hands balled in her lap. He’d seemed like the answer to their prayers.
She followed the man who was following Eleanor through Cremorne Gardens. Like Eleanor, she believed he was Rockberry’s man. For good or ill, though, she couldn’t say. She’d first spotted him the night Rockberry had gone to Scotland Yard. She and Eleanor always kept an eye on each other, taking extreme care in never being seen together, but always trying to keep the other within her sight.
As she rounded the curve, she caught a glimpse of Eleanor surrounded by three men who suddenly began pulling her into the shadows. Her heart leapt into her throat. She started to rush forward, to scream when she saw the pursuer quicken his pace. By the time she was in a position to better see what was happening, he had his arm protectively around Eleanor and was obviously trying to leave the area.
Then one of the blokes took a swing—
She’d never seen a fight before, had never witnessed anyone coming to blows. The large, powerful man made short work of the bullies, and then his arm was again around Eleanor, leading her away from the men who writhed on the ground. Her heart was pounding for a different reason now—no longer because of fear over Eleanor’s safety, but because she’d never seen anyone as magnificent as the man who’d come to her sister’s rescue.
Following them out of the gardens, always keeping to the shadows, always watchful, she arrived at the entrance just as he was helping Eleanor into a hansom cab. She saw Eleanor leave. Then the man climbed into another hansom.
“Follow her at a discreet pace.”
As the driver sent the vehicle into motion, she scurried from her hiding place and gave similar words to the driver of the hansom she entered. “Follow him.”
Just as he had, she disembarked on another street. She carefully made her way to the lodging house, again keeping to the shadows, until she spotted him observing the building. Eventually he went to the door.
After he left, she remained as she was for another hour before she saw the signal in the window—the draperies drawn closed—to indicate that Mrs. Potter had retired for the evening. It was safe to come in.
Once inside her room, she hugged Eleanor tightly. “You were accosted. I saw.”
“And I was rescued. Did you see him?” Eleanor asked, working herself free of Emma’s clinging embrace.
“Yes, of course.”
“His name is James Swindler.”
“You went with him! Do you know how dangerous that was when we know nothing about him?”
Eleanor sat in a nearby rocker, staring at the empty hearth. “Was he the man who’s been following me?”
“Yes. But it doesn’t matter. We must stop this madness of trying to avenge Elisabeth on our own. We should go to the police.”
“He may very well be the police. Do you not see how this works to our advantage? If he’s following you while I do the deed, we have our alibi. I can’t possibly be at two places at once. It’s what we planned all along, only better. The word of a policeman will be above reproach. The perfect crime.”
So they had decided to try to seduce him, to bring him even closer. But it was Emma who had been seduced. As the train took her farther from London, she wondered how she could have not known how much she would come to care for James in such a short time. She tried to imagine his reaction when he arrived at Mrs. Potter’s, and discovered that Emma—or Eleanor as he knew her—was gone. Even Mrs. Potter had been unaware there were two sisters sharing the same living accommodations. They’d timed their comings and goings so no one was the wiser. They would have taken rooms in different lodgings but money was scarce and it seemed silly to spend money that didn’t need to be spent. Along with Elisabeth, they’d had a lifetime of fooling people, of arranging pranks where they pretended to be each other or caused others to question who they’d really seen. It had been so incredibly easy in London because their father had never taken all three daughters there, and apparently had never even announced that he’d been graced with three daughters. As they weren’t sons, he’d deemed them insignificant. Until it came time to send one to the city for a Season. Then suddenly he’d had hopes of a good marriage and money being available for his other daughters. Emma had loved her father dearly, but his head had always been in the clouds. She didn’t even know exactly what he’d done for the Crown to be honored with a title.
Now, watching the passing rolling hills, she wondered what James would think of them. It had been so difficult to say good-bye to him, knowing it was forever, knowing she would never again taste his kiss or feel his touch. Knowing she’d never again hear his voice or look into his eyes.
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