Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(65) by Lorraine Heath
“That would be me,” Eleanor said, with her usual biting tone.
“He told me you were a prostitute who refused to let him be. He told my friends and I to have our fun with you.”
“And you thought forcing me would be fun?”
To the marquess’s credit, he blushed and took great interest in the shine on his shoes.
“Perhaps I’m not so different from my brother after all. A cad when it suits me.”
“You’re very different,” Swindler said as he crossed over to a table, poured whiskey into a tumbler, then handed it to Rockberry. “Do you still have the journal?”
Rockberry appeared surprised by the question. “No, I took great pleasure in burning it. Is there a way to keep this situation from making its way to the Times?”
“Sit down,” Swindler said. While his order was to the marquess, everyone else followed suit. He wished he’d been nearer to Emma so he could have joined her on the small couch. Instead, she now sat beside Eleanor, holding her hand. He wanted to be the one to comfort her. He’d been angry with her when she insisted he put her in harm’s way rather than her sister. Now he just wanted to hold her.
Leaning forward, with his elbows on his thighs, Swindler asked of Rockberry, “Did your brother reveal where the meetings took place?”
“No. My sense was that it was always somewhere different. The night was the same, however. Wednesday. The ladies—if you can call them that—were to go to Cremorne Gardens, wearing their silver. Each would be approached by a gentleman who would lead them to a carriage. I take it the gentlemen knew the location, but the ladies did not. I suppose the fewer who knew, the better.”
“Did the journal offer any names?”
Rockberry took a sip of whiskey. “No. My brother was far more interested in describing the rituals and the orgy than the particulars of how it was all arranged. I do know they periodically initiated women into the society and those women were not always willing. They used blackmail, coercion, fear, and shame to keep the women from speaking out about them. He also wrote about…” His voice trailed off and he shook his head.
“What did he write, my lord?” Swindler prodded.
Rockberry finished off the whiskey, holding the glass in a white-knuckled grasp.
Rockberry again took to studying his shoes. “He…he killed someone. Got too rough with her. I couldn’t stomach to read the particulars. They made me ill.” He gazed up at Swindler.
“What do you intend to do with this information?”
“We intend to find the others. And if Wednesday is the night they meet, then that shall be tomorrow.”
“I’m willing to help in any way I can.”
“Allow us to borrow the silver.”
“You can have the deuced thing. So what’s your plan?”
Swindler supposed he couldn’t blame the man for his interest. He explained how they intended to set a trap.
Eleanor was acutely aware of Emma stiffening beside her when Mr. Swindler announced that it would be Eleanor who walked through Cremorne Gardens the following night. It was only fair. After all, she was the older of the two, even if only by moments. If he hadn’t selected her, she’d have had to give Emma a sleeping draught. She wasn’t going to allow her younger sister to be placed in harm’s way. Especially as Emma had a gentleman very much interested in her. It was quite possible that Mr. Swindler would see to it that Emma did not have to pay for what happened to the former Rockberry.
After details were explained, while people were taking their leave, Eleanor slipped out the door and into the garden. She wasn’t nearly as comfortable or trusting around these people as Emma. She simply wanted the entire matter to be done with.
She’d only just reached the hyacinths when her name was called. Strengthening her resolve, she turned slowly, shoulders back, chin held high, to face Rockberry. “My lord.”
“You’re the one who ended…my brother’s ability to breathe.”
“It could have been my sister.” She didn’t know why she’d said that. Until that moment she’d been proud of her actions, but then, until that moment she’d not faced someone who might have cared about the blackguard. She had never considered that he possessed family or friends. All she’d seen was that he was a man who’d taken from her someone she loved.
“No. Your eyes contain a heavier sorrow than hers.” His voice was soothing, compassionate, and for some reason it irritated her.
“You misread me, my lord. I’m not sorry for what I did. Your brother forced my sister into submission. When he was done with her, he allowed others to have their way with her as though she were no better than a scrap of meat to be tossed to the dogs. My only regret is that he died so quickly.”
A heavy silence built between them, as though he didn’t know how to respond to the accusation.
“Shall we?” he asked finally, indicating the cobblestone path. She was grateful to begin walking again, and he fell into step beside her.
“You act valiantly to pretend you don’t care, but I don’t think murder is in your nature,”
he said quietly.
“You know nothing at all about my nature, my lord.”
“Dear God, I think you could have sliced my brother to death with your tongue.”
“How dare you!” she spat, turning on him, her arms flailing, her fists pounding into his shoulders. “You have no idea what he did!”
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