Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(69) by Lorraine Heath
It didn’t make her feel any better knowing that Emma could be in danger.
“Perhaps we had the wrong night,” she said.
“Perhaps. But I doubt it.”
“I wouldn’t be opposed to your providing a bit of hope.”
“I’m sorry. I fear I’ve always been more a realist than a dreamer.” He made a signal, and a half dozen men stepped out of the shadows. They, too, had been following her as discreetly as Sir David. They reported to him, were part of a special unit of detectives that he oversaw. “You men are free to leave. I’m going to see Miss Watkins home.”
As the men silently left the gardens, Sir David placed his hand on her elbow and began guiding her toward a waiting hansom.
“May I ask you a question, Miss Watkins?”
“The night you confronted Rockberry, do you know for certain that he was dead when you left?”
She staggered to a stop and looked up at him. He wasn’t nearly as tall or broad as Mr. Swindler, but he had a commanding presence. She couldn’t even begin to guess his age. At certain angles he appeared to be quite up in years, and at other angles he gave the impression of being a much younger man. “I…well, yes, I…I thought so. I jabbed him, and he fell to the carpet. He writhed for a bit, then stilled. Didn’t move. Made no sound. There was so much blood that I felt certain he was dead.”
“You only stabbed him once, then.”
“Yes. Straight in the heart.”
“Mmm. Interesting, that.”
“Why? What makes it so?”
“Straight’ into the heart.” He made a jabbing motion. “Like that? No twisting of the dagger, no turning it, no moving it out a little and pushing it back in at a different angle, a better angle?”
“No. Why ever would I do all that?”
“To kill him, Miss Watkins.”
“I don’t understand, Sir David. I stabbed him.”
“Indeed you did, but I’m beginning to suspect that someone else came in and finished him off.”
Eleanor stared at him. “I’m not a murderess?”
“I don’t believe so, Miss Watkins.”
He handed her up into the hansom and settled in beside her. “You sound disappointed.”
“I wished to avenge my sister. And afterward, oh God, it was not as easy to live with as I thought it would be.” A sob of unmitigated relief broke free, and tears burned her eyes. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry.”
Sir David put his arms around her and drew her into the comfort of his chest. “It’s quite all right, Miss Watkins. No harm done here.”
For the second night in a row she found herself in a man’s embrace, but this one was very different from the one last night. It was exceedingly comforting. Sir David was a man of outer as well as inner strength. She could tell it in the way he held her, as though he would protect her at all costs. Or was she simply being fanciful again? Wanting so desperately to discover what Emma had with James Swindler?
“Do you think it’s honestly possible that I didn’t kill him?” she asked hesitantly.
“Would you like it to be possible?”
Not daring to look at him, squeezing her eyes shut tightly against the truth, she nodded.
“Then I suspect we shall discover, Miss Watkins, that it was not you who delivered the killing blow.”
“It’s a great relief. Thank you, Sir David.”
“My pleasure, Miss Watkins.”
Swindler was damned tempted to leap from the carriage in which he was traveling and run to the carriage they were following. He’d hoped he was wrong about Rockberry. But something about the man had bothered him, put his senses on heightened alert. That he had properly judged the man should have brought him some satisfaction. Instead all he wanted was to make the man rue the day he was born.
When he’d seen Rockberry and his blackguard associates taking Emma, only Claybourne and Dodger holding on to him and reminding him that something larger was at stake had kept him from revealing his presence. At the last moment he’d almost switched the sisters’ roles, but he’d known Rockberry was expecting Emma to be in residence.
After leaving Emma last night, Swindler had met with Sir David and explained his plans and his suspicions. Sir David had volunteered to keep watch over Eleanor at the gardens while Swindler, Claybourne, Dodger, and Greystone were watching over Emma. Or that was the plan. At that precise moment all they were doing was following discreetly behind Rockberry’s carriage.
“Relax, man, my driver has him in sight,” Greystone assured him. “Ever since the night I almost lost Frannie, I’ve hired men who have the skills to protect her. He knows what he’s about. He’ll see that tonight ends with no harm coming to Miss Watkins.”
“I can’t believe the man is fool enough to do this,” Dodger said.
“Arrogant bastard,” Claybourne said. “He’s just inherited the title. He considers himself untouchable. His brother was.”
Swindler wrapped his hand around the gun in his jacket pocket. “If I don’t kill him tonight I shall see him hanged. And if he’s hurt Emma…”
He could hardly stand the thought without feeling a bit of madness consuming him.
“They won’t harm her until they’ve performed the ritual,” Dodger said.
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” Swindler asked.
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