Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(39) by Lorraine Heath
“It’s all right.” Frannie came up behind him and placed her hand on his back. “You grew to care for her. Even I could see how much during the ball. Come back and sit down. Tell us how we can help.”
He glanced back at her. “I’d rather pace.”
She smiled. “All right. So where do things stand?”
“I’ve had no luck finding the lads she hired to carry her trunk. I suspect she took the train. I tried to draw a portrait of her, to ask at the ticket window if anyone had seen her, but I’ve never been skilled at drawing people. I can sketch a room to the smallest detail to help me solve a crime, but Eleanor…I can’t draw her likeness to save my life.”
“Sterling can. He’s an artist. Do you remember her well enough, Sterling?”
“Yes, I believe so.” Her husband got up, went around to the desk, and opened a drawer. After pulling out some paper, he sat down and immediately began to sketch. Swindler thought it might be the first break he’d had in two days. He gave his attention to Frannie. “Did you notice anything that might be helpful while you were visiting with her?”
“I’m afraid not. I only spoke with her in the parlor.” Her face suddenly brightened. “Oh.”
“Agnes went to her rooms to alter the gown.”
Five minutes later a very nervous Agnes was standing in front of Swindler and wringing her hands.
“Did you notice anything?” Swindler asked.
The young lady shook her head, then scrunched up her face. “Well there was one thing I thought odd. She changed into the gown in her sitting room. The door to her bedchamber was closed. We didn’t go in there. But then, when I was finished with my sewing, she opened the door and went to look at herself in the mirror.”
“Did you see anyone else in there?”
“No, but…I could see a dress draped over a chair in the corner. The thing is, it looked exactly like the dress on the sofa in the sitting room—the dress she’d taken off to put on the gown. I thought maybe it was her favorite dress, so she wanted two of them.”
“You probably have the right of it. Thank you, Agnes. That’s all I need,” Swindler said. He walked to the window and gazed out on the night.
“What are you thinking?” Frannie asked.
“I don’t know what to think. Do you have dresses made that look the same?”
“Before I was married, when I spent my night at Dodger’s, my dresses were very similar.”
He remembered. Drab and blue.
“Jim, what if Elisabeth didn’t die as Eleanor claimed?” Frannie asked quietly. He shook his head. “No, the grief over the loss of her sister was not false. I know true grief when I see it.” He’d seen it in his eyes often enough as a lad.
“Here you are,” Greystone said, holding out a sketch.
The likeness was uncanny. Swindler felt as though someone had reached into his chest and torn out the heart that had started to grow there. “Perfect,” he said, and he could have sworn the temperature in the room dropped several degrees.
“What are you going to do, Jim?” Frannie asked.
“I’m going to find her, if it takes me the remainder of my life.”
Standing near the edge of the cliffs, Emma Watkins watched the whitecapped swells from the sea and the darkening sky herald the approaching storm. With the strengthening wind surrounding her, she breathed in and absorbed the fury of the tempest. She almost wanted to fling herself into the turbulent water just to be surrounded by something other than the dull, somber nothingness that had become her life since she returned from London. It was as though she and Eleanor had left behind their laughter, their joy, their very essence, as though they were little more than empty shells going about their daily rituals only because failure to do so would bring them a slow agonizing death. Food contained no flavor, greeting the day no joy. Sleep came in fits and starts. In the two weeks since they arrived at their small home, she’d lost track of the number of nights she heard Eleanor cry out when her sister eventually found sleep.
Fear of discovery didn’t hammer at them. Emma thought it might even be a relief to face up to what they’d done. No, to their everlasting surprise, remorse was making a banquet of them. Where once they’d laughed and shared silly secrets, their shared dark secret weighed them down. Every morning, Emma began her day by writing a letter to James, explaining why she’d left. A letter she never sent. She fought not to envision the expression on his face when he returned to her lodgings to discover she was no longer there. She tried to convince herself that he deserved that betrayal. From the beginning she’d known his attentions were an attempt to seduce her into confiding in him. A thousand times she wished she had. Following the ball, during the hours she spent in his arms, she’d decided she could trust him with anything. She’d prayed that Eleanor had not possessed the strength to carry through with her part of the plan. She was going to convince her sister that they needed to tell James everything, that he would help them see justice done.
But when she’d been arrested, she knew it was too late. The deed was done, their course was set.
James would despise her for her role in Rockberry’s demise. How could he not?
So she and Eleanor had packed their trunk. Emma had gone to the street and hired two boys to carry it out. Then she asked Mrs. Potter to make her a meal for the journey, and while Mrs. Potter was in the kitchen preparing it, Eleanor had sneaked out. Simple. The three sisters had always found it simple to switch roles, to pretend to be each other.
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