Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(44) by Lorraine Heath
“I’ve brought you some of my father’s whiskey,” Eleanor announced as she glided into the room. Her dress was a pale blue adorned in darker blue. It didn’t seem to suit her, but he supposed he was viewing her through a kaleidoscope of murder. Strange how he saw her as the more cunning of the two sisters, how she stirred nothing within him except disgust. If his head weren’t threatening to explode, if he were better able to think, he might not have taken the glass, but as it was, he thought whiskey could dull the pain, sharpen his thinking. He downed it, relishing the bite and the warmth that burst through his chest.
“Shall I bring you some more?” Eleanor asked.
“No, that’ll do for now.”
Eleanor watched him with obvious avid curiosity. He wondered how much Emma had shared with her. He remembered that when he first began to follow her, he’d thought her nothing special. Even the first night at Cremorne, he’d come to her defense because it was in his nature to protect the innocent. But the following afternoon, everything changed, something had been different about her. He hadn’t been able to determine exactly what it was. He’d only known that when her fingers touched his when he handed her the map, he wanted her to touch all of him. From a great distance he heard himself say, “Explain the circumstances that led to Elisabeth’s death.”
“To discuss our sister’s poor choices with you seems a sort of betrayal,” Eleanor said.
“I might be able to help you if I understand everything.” His words sounded slurred and he suddenly staggered.
“Lie down, Mr. Swindler,” Eleanor said, taking his arm and guiding him to the bed.
“Eleanor, what did you do?” Emma asked as she rushed over.
“Given him something to make him sleep while we decide how best to handle this.”
As though his mind had left his body, he was aware of them arranging him on the bed. His eyelids grew heavy. He couldn’t keep them open. He wanted to explain that nothing would deter him from his purpose save death, but his mouth seemed unwilling to accommodate his need to speak.
Giving in to the comforting lure of sleep, he closed his eyes. A blanket was brought over his body, and the sweet fragrance of roses surrounded him. He wanted to pull Emma in but his arms didn’t respond to his commands. All he did was drift back into the blackness.
“How could you do that to him?” Emma snapped.
“How could I not? We have to think very carefully about what we wish him to know.”
“We should tell him everything.”
“Absolutely not. He’ll use it against us.”
“Eleanor, it’s too late to deny what we did. If we explain to him the why of it, he might be able to help us.”
“And what if we have to explain the why of it at our trial? I’d rather hang than disgrace Elisabeth before all of London.” Eleanor strode from the room. Emma bent down and pressed a kiss to James’s forehead. “I’m so sorry.”
Then, because he was asleep and Eleanor wasn’t about, she touched his hair where it poked up over the bandage. It had been windblown when he arrived, giving him an almost barbaric appearance. She trailed her fingers around his face, relaxed now, but the cragginess that she so loved gave a hardness to his familiar features. When he’d leaped from his horse, his fury matched the worst storm to ever sweep over the land. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected of him. That he’d taken her in his arms had both terrified and thrilled her. Resting her hand against his throat, she felt the thready pulsing of his blood. She wanted to smack Eleanor for giving him a draught. Hadn’t they done enough to him?
Charm him, seduce him, distract him, Eleanor had urged. Emma found the task to be heaven and hell. She’d enjoyed every moment in his company, even as each one was tainted with guilt.
She’d known every time he began to ask her questions that he was striving to determine her purpose. How often she’d wanted to confess all, to seek his opinion, to share her doubts. Eleanor had been convinced that a lord of the realm would go unpunished in spite of his abhorrent behavior. They’d had to take matters into their own hands, had to make him pay for what he’d done to Elisabeth—and perhaps others.
Emma had agreed that Rockberry needed to be dealt with. But she’d never wanted to hurt James. That last night in his arms, she’d known that no matter how desperately she wished otherwise, she would bring him pain.
Taking his hand, she brought it to her lips and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. Revenge was not for the faint of heart, but she’d discovered too late that neither was it for her.
When Swindler awoke, darkness had descended and the wind shrieked, a forlorn sound that echoed the cries of his own heart. Knowing everything he knew about Emma’s conniving, how was it that once again he’d allowed her to bewitch him? How could she still look so innocent? In her eyes, he could have sworn he saw regret, but also tenderness and a powerful yearning that matched his.
He rolled over, swinging his legs off the bed, and sat up. Dizziness assailed him, and he gave it a moment to pass. His head throbbed dully—he suspected more from whatever Eleanor had put in his whiskey than from the horse’s kick. He wished he could take only her back to London and leave Emma here, but how would he explain his providing the alibi? Either way he would look the fool, but at least the truth wouldn’t destroy his reputation, only sully it. Without Emma he would be viewed as a liar, his days working with Scotland Yard behind him. He’d worked so damned hard to rise out of the gutter, to no longer be thought of as the son of a thief. He refused to let all his struggles go for naught. Although he was dead, his father deserved a son more worthy. Swindler had always been determined not to disappoint him. Rising to his feet, he walked to the window and peered out on the darkness. Rain lashed at the windowpanes. With the flashing of lightning, he saw the white crests of the distant turbulent sea and trees bending from the force of the wind. Deafening thunder cracked. Living so near the sea was not for those easily frightened by strength and power. Little wonder Emma was as courageous as she was. She’d no doubt been shaped by these storms, knew the force of nature, knew how to withstand its onslaught.
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