Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(59) by Lorraine Heath
“I think I have the gist of what it dangled between,” James said quietly, and Emma smiled at the sight of his cheeks turning red. He didn’t often show discomfort—at least not with her. It was interesting to see this aspect of him, and to know that he did feel different toward Eleanor than he felt toward Emma. He was not as comfortable with her sister. “What else?”
“Reminded me of a collar more than a choker,” Eleanor said. “And the clasp was very difficult to maneuver. I should think one would need help getting it on and off.”
“We didn’t try it on,” Emma said. “We didn’t even want to touch it once we realized what it was.”
“So beautiful,” Eleanor whispered, “for something so hideous. How could he do that to her?”
James stopped drawing and studied Eleanor. Emma was fascinated watching him, as though she could actually see his mind working. “Did he say anything to you that night in his library?”
She could have kissed him for the wording he used, for not throwing at Eleanor that she’d killed him. Emma hadn’t caught Eleanor scrubbing her hands once today. With a little more time, perhaps her hands would heal.
Tears swam in Eleanor’s eyes and spilled over onto her cheeks. “He taunted me. Told me Elisabeth enjoyed it, wanted it, begged for it. I’ve never hated, despised, loathed anyone so much in my entire life. I wanted him to at least show remorse before he died.” She looked as though she might be ill. “He gloated.”
She began frantically rubbing her hands. Emma laid hers over them. “It’s all right, Eleanor. He can’t gloat any longer.”
“He was so horrid.” She turned her attention back to the sketch. “That’s a very good likeness of the necklace, don’t you think, Emma?”
“It’s not really a necklace,” James said. “It’s as you indicated—a collar. I’ve seen one just like this before. On a woman we found murdered in Whitechapel.”
“Do you think she was part of the debauchery?” Emma asked.
He gave a brusque nod. “Based on discreet inquiries I’ve made, I believe there are secret societies that engage in rituals such as your sister described. I always assumed they were composed of eager players, and so I had no interest in pursuing them. But the one into which your sister was initiated seems to have taken matters into a darker direction.”
“Would they have eventually killed Elisabeth?”
“If they thought she was a threat to their discovery.”
“Is it possible”—Emma wasn’t certain she even wanted to think what she was thinking—
“that they came here and killed her?”
James leaned back in the chair. “Possible, but unlikely. Because of what she wrote in her journal the night she died, I suspect”—she could see him struggling with the words—”she sought peace however she could find it.”
At that moment she thought she couldn’t have loved him more for not giving voice to what her sister had truly done: taken her own life, sinned against God. The family had told the clergy and the villagers that Elisabeth fell to her death. An accident. Even among themselves they’d been unable to face, to accept, what had truly happened.
“So. Where do we go from here, Inspector Swindler?” Eleanor asked. It was the first time either of them had addressed him as such, thus recognizing the authority he had over them. Emma’s stomach quivered with the implications. She found it difficult to draw in a breath, but she didn’t look away, waiting for his decision, his judgment.
“Rockberry harmed your sister but he wasn’t alone in doing it.”
Emma and Eleanor exchanged glances. “He was the one responsible,” Eleanor said.
“The others must still be held accountable.”
“We don’t know who they are,” Emma said. “Elisabeth only mentioned Rockberry. I don’t think she knew who the others were.”
“I didn’t even think to ask Rockberry for names,” Eleanor said, and Emma heard her disappointment in herself.
“He wouldn’t have provided them,” James said, exonerating her.
“Then how do we find out who they are?” Emma asked.
“Do you remember that first night in Cremorne Garden, the woman Rockberry spoke with?”
“She was wearing something that might have been this,” he said, tapping the paper. “It’s possible the assignations begin there. If I can retrieve the collar from the new Lord Rockberry, and can find a woman willing to wear it through the gardens, it’s possible she’ll be approached—
“I’ll do it,” Emma and Eleanor said at the same time before he could finish explaining.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Eleanor said. “I’m the older, it falls to me.”
“No, you took the risk in killing him. Now it’s my turn to do more.”
“I won’t allow it.”
“I won’t allow you not to allow it.”
“Ladies!” James said, coming to his feet. “I need someone with a bit more experience with the rougher parts of London, someone who can take care of herself.”
“They’ll know all the ladies who have been initiated into their society,” Emma said. “You need someone they recognize. We told only Rockberry that Elisabeth was dead. It’s possible he didn’t tell anyone else. And even if he did, if they see someone who looks like her, they’re likely to think he was misinformed or lying. It has to be one of us.”
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