Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(51) by Lorraine Heath
“Because I couldn’t stand the thought of watching it shatter. I didn’t want to see the disgust in your eyes when you realized what we’d done. And I was worried about Eleanor. She put on such a brave front, but I could see that she was devastated by what she’d accomplished.”
He wanted to believe her, he wanted to forgive her. He wanted what they’d somehow managed to capture that last night, but he knew it was in the past.
“You’re going to take us back to London, aren’t you?” she asked.
“I have no choice.”
She gave him a resolute nod. “I don’t think the storm is completely over. We’ll probably have a bit more rain.”
“We’ll go when I’m finished with the journal.”
Drawing the blanket more securely around her, she worked her way out of his embrace. “I should go to the house now, change into some dry clothing.”
“I’ll stay and put out the fire.”
She gave him a tremulous smile. “There’s so much I want to tell you, but I’m not certain you’d trust the words. You might think I’m trying to sway you from your duty, but I’m not.”
“Then don’t say them.”
He saw the hurt in her eyes, but at that moment he was struggling with his own demons, not certain that he could trust himself to do the right thing. She rose gracefully and strolled out of the cove. He sat by the fire and stared out to sea. She was wrong. It was never completely quiet here. He could hear the thrashing against the cliffs, the water tumbling into the cove, splashing against the shore. But it was rhythmic and peaceful. Gave a man leave to think.
Yet all he could think was that no good options remained to him.
Emma had been correct concerning the weather. The wind picked up in the late afternoon and the rain began to fall. They were enclosed in the house. Following dinner, the three of them retired to the front parlor, the ladies with their needlework and Swindler with the journal. Although he was reading Elisabeth’s words, he could clearly see Emma in each of them. Gathering seashells, feeding the seagulls. And he saw things that weren’t written. He imagined her running barefoot to greet their father when he returned from town. He could see her chasing chickens and laughing on a swing.
“How did you come to work for Scotland Yard, Mr. Swindler?” Eleanor asked, never lifting her gaze from her needlework.
“I would report those who committed crimes in the rookeries, give the policemen descriptions so they could arrest the offenders.”
Her fingers stilled as she lifted her gaze to his. “I see. So you’ve made it your life’s work to see the proper people punished.”
“I believe in justice, Miss Watkins.”
Nodding, she returned to her embroidery.
“Exactly how did you do it?” he asked.
Her head came up so quickly that he heard her neck pop. “Do what?”
Emma’s eyes widened with alarm. “Don’t force her to go through it again.”
“If you don’t want to hear, leave, but I have questions and I want answers.”
Emma reached across and wrapped her hand around Eleanor’s. “I’ll not leave my sister to suffer alone.”
Swindler’s gut clenched with the knowledge that she’d gladly go to the gallows with her sister—and in doing so, she’d leave him alone. She was as courageous and reckless as he’d always believed. He turned his attention back to Eleanor. “You enjoyed a glass of wine with him.”
“Yes. I caught him as he was going into the residence. He invited me in. Said I reminded him of Elisabeth, only more beautiful. No gentleman had ever told me I was beautiful before. To my everlasting shame, I began to succumb to his charms.”
“But you didn’t finish your wine.”
“No. He jerked me out of the chair and tried to kiss me, all the while saying horrible untruths about Elisabeth. I had the dagger and I used it.”
“Only one stab.”
He took comfort in the fact that she wasn’t gloating. He had a feeling she was caught between remorse that she’d taken a life and satisfaction that the man who’d trifled with her sister was no longer breathing.
“Did he die immediately?”
“Must you put her through this?” Emma demanded.
“It’s all right, Emma,” Eleanor said. “No. He writhed around for a bit, then went still. And I left.”
“You should have taken the dagger with you.”
“I thought of it later, but I just wanted to leave. And I certainly didn’t want to touch him.”
Something about that crime nagged at him, something that hadn’t seemed right at the time. He was certain it would come to him.
“If you had it to do over—” he began.
“I’d do it again,” she said succinctly. “Finish reading the journal, Mr. Swindler. Quite possibly you’ll wish you’d had the opportunity to use a dagger on him.”
He returned to his reading. Rather than returning to their needlework, the ladies went to prepare themselves for bed. Based on the sounds he heard coming down the hallway, he could only assume those preparations included bathing.
How could he concentrate on the words when his mind was suddenly filled with images of Emma soaking in the tub, drops of water rolling over her skin? Lord help him, he wanted to join her, wash her, dry her, hold her.
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