Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(49) by Lorraine Heath
The storm still raged outside. Swindler wasn’t certain he’d be able to sleep with all its howling and shrieking. Even the rain was louder than anything he’d ever heard in London. Rubbing his stiff neck, he decided that with both ladies in bed, what he really wanted was a hot bath.
Just off the kitchen he found a bathing room. No doubt a recent addition. While he was able to pump water to fill the tub, because he preferred it near to boiling and because he liked it full and was in the mood for a bit of indulgence, it took him a while to get the water to his satisfaction. He’d just pulled his shirt over his head when the door opened. His heart galloped as he turned around, and just as quickly it slowed to a canter.
Releasing a soft laugh and drawing her shawl more tightly over her night rail, she took two steps toward him. “Oh, James, I can’t tell you how it hurts me that you fail to recognize me. It’s me. Emma.”
“The bloody hell you are.” Dismissing her, careful to keep his back from her view, he dipped his hand in the water. Still hot enough, but not for long.
“I can’t believe after all we shared—”
Spinning around, he grabbed her wrist before she could touch his bare shoulder. He wasn’t certain what his face revealed, but judging by the widening of her eyes, it was exactly what he was thinking. “Leave me be. I want nothing to do with you.”
She sagged as though all remaining life had been drained from her. “You really can tell us apart. No one else has ever been able to do that. Not even Father. How can you be sure I’m not Emma?”
Releasing his hold on her, he stepped away. “Your eyes.”
“They’re the same shade of blue.”
“The same shade, perhaps, but the souls they reveal are very different.”
She released a harsh scoff. “Mine is harder, I suppose. He deserved it, you know. You’ll see. Once you’ve finished reading the journal. Emma said you want to read all of it. There’s little point. It was last summer that destroyed her.”
“I’ll handle this matter as I think best.” Dipping his fingers in the water again, he nodded toward her bandaged hands. “What happened?”
She rubbed them together. “I can’t get his blood off. I keep trying, but there’s always a little bit that I seem to miss.”
“Soak them in vinegar. It dissolves the blood.”
No, but the remedy had worked after his father’s hanging, when Feagan took him in. Swindler had scrubbed his hands raw trying to get off the blood that only he could see—he and Feagan. It had been years before he realized that Feagan had tricked him into believing what he needed to hear so he’d stop scraping the imaginary blood off his hands. But the nightmares were something Swindler had been forced to come to terms with on his own. They still visited on occasion, usually on the anniversary of his father’s death.
“I’ve seen it work,” was all he said now.
“I shall try it in the morning and leave you to your bath now.” She turned to go, then looked back. “She wanted to stay in London, to be with you. I convinced her we were only safe if we stayed together. It should be enough that only one of us hangs. See to it that she doesn’t. I shan’t be able to live with myself otherwise.”
He watched her walk away. He still didn’t trust her, but he was fairly certain she loved her sister—both of them. It didn’t excuse what she’d done, but it made it a bit more understandable. With a shake of his head, and no resolution to his dilemma, he turned his attention back to his bath. His water was too tepid now, so he set about heating another pot. Once he had the water again to his liking, he removed the remainder of his clothes and climbed into the tub. The hot water swirled around him as he sat in the cramped confines. He missed the large copper tub he’d had specially made to accommodate the length of his body. But at least the hot water in which he soaked eased away some of his tension.
He wasn’t certain what he’d expected to find when he began his journey here. The woman he’d known in London, to be sure. But he hadn’t known if he wanted her to be the same or different from the lady he’d taken to his bed. If she were different, he could rely on his anger to get him through bringing her to justice. If she were the same, each step of the journey would be hell.
He dropped his head back. It was hell.
He wanted to saddle up the horse he’d hired and leave her here. Return to London. Explain to Sir David that he, the best at solving crimes, was flummoxed and that the murder of Lord Rockberry would remain unsolved. Swindler’s perfect record would no longer be perfect. But leaving her here meant never having her in his life again, because it would be so much harder to lie about the crime with her at his side. It was even possible that the guilt would slowly nibble away at her, destroy what he had come to love. He could see it already having its way with her in such a short time. She was thinner than she’d been in London, her step heavier, as though she carried a great weight on her shoulders now. Her eyes were hollow, ringed in dark circles, dull. She was the woman he’d known in London and yet she wasn’t. He knew guilt’s power. It had been his companion all these years. If only he hadn’t lifted the damned watch. If only he’d tossed it aside instead of slipping it into his father’s pocket. His father had always seemed larger than life, able to handle any situation. He found work when others couldn’t, kept a roof over their head and food in their bellies. But there had never been money for extra items, only the essentials. The gold watch had looked so pretty. Swindler shoved the dark thoughts back to the shadowy corner where they belonged. Thinking about them only served to distract him from his purpose. Besides, the water had cooled. It was time to concentrate on other things. He scrubbed off quickly. Leaving the tub, he toweled off before drawing on his trousers. He saw no need to put on anything more. Eleanor had surely returned to bed by now.
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