Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(67) by Lorraine Heath
“Do you make a habit of this?”
“Hardly. But when the circumstances are right…Frannie has a skilled hand. She can forge any document or signature. I daresay, she could make me a duke and even the queen wouldn’t be able to detect that it wasn’t her signature on the document. Dodger often hides people in his gambling establishment or gives them a job. Cleaned up, dressed properly, with a new name in an area of London where no one knows them…they’re safe. Graves, who you’ve yet to meet, was a grave robber in his youth. If we ever need a body, he’s our man. Claybourne provides whatever financing is needed and is the one who usually serves as a go-between. He’s very good at straddling the upper levels of society as well as the lower. When we work together, we can give someone the opportunity to start over.”
“That’s what they thought you wanted to do for Eleanor and me.”
He trailed his fingers along her face, eventually taking some strands of her hair and twisting it around his finger. “It’s still a possibility. My hope is that by taking care of the others in this society, your earlier transgression might be overlooked.”
She laid her head on the center of his chest. “And if it’s not?”
“We’ll go to America.”
She jerked her head up. “You’ll go with us?”
“I know what it is to have you in my life. I know what it is to have you walk out of it. I will do whatever I must to see that you don’t walk out of it again.”
Tears burned her eyes. “Tomorrow, let it be me instead of Eleanor.”
“I can’t.” When she made a motion to move away from him, he stilled her actions by threading his fingers through her hair and holding her in place. “She’s suffering, Emma. I know you can see it. She needs to be the one who goes to Cremorne Gardens.”
She couldn’t deny the wisdom in his words, but she didn’t like it. She eased off him and rolled over onto her side. His arm came around her, holding her close, her back to his front.
“Trust me, Emma. Please trust me.”
“I do,” she whispered. But while her heart meant the words, her mind continued to worry.
As she studied her reflection in the cheval glass the following evening, Eleanor couldn’t deny there was a measure of anticipation thrumming through her that very much matched what she’d felt the night she confronted Rockberry. A bit of danger, a bit of risk, a bit of uncertainty. Regardless of how she tried to anticipate every scenario, it was always possible something would arise she’d not foreseen.
“You should have some weapon,” Emma said, standing nearby, scrutinizing every aspect of the red gown that the duchess had loaned Eleanor.
“Mr. Swindler said he’d provide me with one when I get into the carriage.” She studied her sister’s furrowed brow, the taut line of her mouth. “Please don’t worry, Emma.”
“I should at least go, to be there in case I’m needed.”
Turning from the mirror, Eleanor hugged Emma. “I’d be worried silly if you were anywhere near the gardens. I’m certain Mr. Swindler would as well. At least this way he’ll be focused on the task at hand.”
“You could call him James, you know.” It wasn’t often that Emma sounded petulant.
“He’s your beau, Emma, not mine.”
Eleanor walked to the vanity. It was time. She took a deep breath. “Will you place the silver around my neck?”
Emma crossed over cautiously, as though she dreaded looking once again at what Rockberry had given their sister. “How can something so pretty be so evil?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Eleanor said.
Both sisters simply stared at the intricate, delicately designed jewelry for several minutes, neither picking it up, neither beginning the process of what needed to be done.
“If it wasn’t so pretty, it really would resemble a collar, something to indicate subservience,” Emma said.
“I hate it,” Eleanor said.
“Then don’t wear it.”
“I won’t be approached if I don’t. Come on, let’s just get this over with.”
With a brusque nod, Emma lifted the necklace and very carefully placed it around her sister’s neck. Eleanor was surprised by how weighty it felt, in spite of how delicate it looked. Emma fiddled with the clasp for a few minutes, and finally Eleanor heard it click into place.
“There, all done.”
“I thought you’d try to trick me and put it around your neck,” Eleanor said.
“I almost did. But I didn’t see the point. James would simply remove it and do it properly.”
“I think he cares for you very much, Emma.”
Emma nodded and reached for her, but not before Eleanor saw the tears in her eyes.
“Please be ever so careful,” she whispered. “I won’t be able to stand it if I lose another sister.”
“Not to worry. I don’t plan any heroics.”
But as she marched from the room, Eleanor knew that matters didn’t always go as planned.
Emma plucked at her needlework. She didn’t know why she bothered. She’d never had a skillful hand when it came to using needle and thread. Well, except for once when she’d stitched up the gash in James’s head.
Sitting in the parlor, she could hear the tick, tick, tick of the clock on the mantel. It was likely to make her go insane. They’d been gone for two hours now. How long would it take?
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