Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(62) by Lorraine Heath
“I’m assuming you called us here for a reason,” Claybourne said. “Can we get to it?”
“Yeah, right,” Swindler said, clasping his hands together and leaning forward. He’d purposely arranged the seating so he sat opposite Emma and Eleanor. He wanted a clear view of their faces in order to judge their reactions and determine what they were thinking, in the event they decided honesty wasn’t the way to go. “As I’m sure you’re well aware, Lord Rockberry recently left this world. Emma and Eleanor were responsible for his demise.”
Aware of Eleanor stiffening beside her, bracing for what accusations or unkind sentiments might come, Emma felt her own chest tighten. It was the first time the truth of their actions had been shared with anyone. She’d expected that moment to carry with it shame and humiliation. Instead she didn’t know what to make of it because of the way James had spoken, the inflection in his voice, as though he’d been revealing something as common as them sewing a button on a shirt.
“I take it he deserved it,” Claybourne said, giving the impression that he was the patriarch of this unusual clan.
As Eleanor squeezed her hand unmercifully, a shiver of dread raced through Emma. She despised having to endure this moment when they heard all the sordid—
James gave a brusque nod.
Claybourne nodded in turn. “Right, then. What’s your plan? Provide them with new names, set them up somewhere?”
“Wait,” Eleanor said, loosening her hold on Emma. “That’s all you require? A nod? What sort of people are you?”
“The finest you’ll ever meet,” James said. “I wouldn’t have called them here otherwise.”
But more weighed on Emma’s mind than the trust they so easily granted James. “You mean to send us away?”
“It’s possible that may be our only recourse to ensure your lovely neck isn’t stretched,”
James said, “but before we work on the particulars of how best to handle your disappearance, we need to attend to other matters.” He glanced around, to find everyone’s attention still riveted on him. “My plans at the moment involve finishing what the ladies began. Rockberry didn’t act alone. We need to discover who the others were and bring them to justice.”
“I suppose you’ve thought through the particulars,” Jack Dodger said.
“Within reason, as far into the future as I can see—which isn’t far.” Without revealing any of the sordid details involving her sister’s encounter with Rockberry, James explained about the society that had lured her in. He then removed a sheet of paper from his jacket pocket, unfolded it, and passed it to Claybourne. “Rockberry placed that around Elisabeth’s neck in a ritual that welcomed her into servitude.”
“It’s a very intricate piece,” the Duchess of Greystone said, looking at the drawing. “And quite lovely. Where is it now?”
“Hopefully in Rockberry’s residence. I intend to go searching for it tomorrow night.”
That was news to Emma. “Within his residence? Are you mad?”
James bestowed upon her a very somber but determined expression. “If we’re to have you or Eleanor pretend to be Elisabeth returned to town for another taste of pleasure, we need to find the necklace. While the marquess’s home is large, people tend to hide things in rather conspicuous places. Ten minutes, fifteen at the most, and I should have it in hand.” He gave his attention to Mr. Dodger. “Thought perhaps you could invite the new Lord Rockberry to a private game of chance at your club tomorrow around midnight.”
Mr. Dodger shrugged. “If Claybourne and Greystone are up to it.”
Both men were, and particulars were worked out as they discussed how best to keep the new marquess occupied while James searched his residence. Emma didn’t like it. If he were caught—
“What of his servants?” she asked. “You don’t think they’ll notice you traipsing through the house?”
“Most will be abed. I’ll be most discreet.”
Although she still didn’t like it, she quickly realized that she and Eleanor were here as a courtesy. The others were making the plans. They were so comfortable with each other working out what needed to be done that it occurred to her this was not the first time they’d plotted together to bring some plan to fruition. If she’d been honest with James from the beginning, it was quite possible that he could have instructed her and Eleanor on the best method for getting rid of Rockberry without getting caught. They’d thought they were so clever, but had relied on games they played as children. She wondered if there’d ever come a time when they weren’t ruled by naiveté.
When the final details were worked out, Mr. Dodger, Lord Claybourne, and his wife took their leave. The only question that remained was which sister would be placed in harm’s way.
“It has to be me,” Emma said as she walked through the garden, her arm entwined around James’s. He’d asked for a few minutes alone with her, after which he, too, would take his leave. The gas lamps cast a faint glow over the path they walked. Roses, hyacinths, and other blossoms scented the air around them. Another time, Emma thought it would have been a relaxing, calming diversion before retiring to bed, but her nerves were far too jangled as the silence built between them. “James?”
“The situation may turn deadly. Eleanor, at least, has killed. She might not hesitate to do what she must.”
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