Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(74) by Lorraine Heath
“Perhaps, perhaps not. Hard to say.”
“Just to be clear, sir, you intend to charge the new Lord Rockberry with the murder of the previous Lord Rockberry?”
“Depends, Swindler. Does my best man believe it happened as I described?”
Swindler remembered studying the gaping wound, remembered Eleanor saying that she’d jabbed Rockberry and stepped back. Sir David’s scenario was possible. And if it hadn’t happened that way—he couldn’t see giving either Rockberry the power to ruin another sister’s life. “Yes, sir. I concur that it could have happened just that way.”
“Jolly good. I shall write up my report, and we shall so testify if called before the House of Lords.”
“Now that we have that nasty business out of the way, tell me everything you know about Miss Eleanor Watkins—the real Eleanor.”
With a low chuckle, Swindler proceeded to do exactly that.
They treated Emma as though she was a princess. Eleanor and the duchess bathed her and washed her hair. They toweled her dry and braided her hair. They helped her slip into her softest night rail. When Emma crawled into bed, Eleanor clambered in with her and they held each other tightly, just as they had when they were young girls, and as on the night after they discovered Elisabeth at the bottom of the cliffs.
They stopped sharing the same room shortly after their father died and Eleanor had moved into his bedchamber. But tonight they needed to be together. Still, there was an emptiness to the bed.
“I miss her so much,” Eleanor said, as though reading Emma’s mind.
“Eleanor, I…” She let her voice trail off.
“What, dear sister?”
“I felt as though she was with me tonight. In that horrible room. That she was there, urging me on, giving me the strength to attack Rockberry. If so, then perhaps she forgives me for yelling at her.”
“Oh, Emma.” Eleanor squeezed her tightly. “She knows you didn’t mean it.”
“I hope so. I’d give anything to have her back.”
“I know. I would, too.”
They lay in silence for several minutes, each lost in their own reflections of Elisabeth. Her sweet nature, her adventuresome spirit.
After a long while Emma said, “Eleanor, tell me about Sir David.”
Eleanor’s laughter circled around them. “Isn’t he absolutely wonderful?”
“How did it all come about?”
“You can call him James.”
“All right. James led me to the carriage, handed me up, and there was this man sitting there in the shadows. Sir David. James’s superior. James told me that Sir David would see to matters at the gardens. I was so nervous. But Sir David calmed me with quiet words and reassurances. He had such faith in me.
“He explained that he had other men at Cremorne to keep an eye out. I was simply to walk around until someone approached me. No one ever did. I can’t imagine what Rockberry was thinking to abduct you from here. He must have known that they would know it was him. He took no pains at all to disguise what he was about.”
Emma fought to remember what she’d heard in the carriage. “It was part of the game, I think. To be so bold, so arrogant. And then to find a way to get away with it. He thought no one could touch him.”
“I wonder what they’re going to do about him.”
“And the others,” Emma whispered. “They all need to pay. I know James and his friends have the means to see someone punished who deserves it, by making him trade places with someone who doesn’t. We should have trusted him from the beginning, Eleanor.”
“But we trust him now. That should count for something.”
They lay in silence for several minutes before Eleanor said, “The duchess has offered to introduce us into society.”
“All I want, Eleanor, is to return home.”
Sir David’s office was again shadowed. Standing before his desk, Swindler was acutely aware of the presence in the corner, although this time the scent wafting toward him was decidedly feminine.
“We’ve identified the men you picked up two nights ago,” Sir David said. “The ladies have been released to their fathers, but the gentlemen—although I’m offended to refer to them as such—must be dealt with. Rockberry will be tried by his peers for the murder of his brother. The other five we would prefer to simply transport, but as two are lords, matters must be handled with a bit more delicacy. They must disappear, but we wish no harm to come to them in the process.
“I’m well aware, Swindler, that you have the skills to make undesirables disappear, and that you often remove from prison those who have been condemned to live within its walls. We would like it to appear as though the lords have died so their heirs may take the reins. Are you up to the task?”
Swindler gave a brusque nod. Sometimes it was better not to voice words.
“There will be a knighthood in it for you, Swindler,” Sir David said. Swindler turned to the corner, knelt, and bowed his head. “I require no knighthood to faithfully serve her majesty. I would request that Misses Emma and Eleanor Watkins be granted pardon for any crimes that might be brought against them now or in the future in relation to this incident.”
“So it shall be,” the soft feminine voice said.
Swindler did not look up as the swishing of skirts heralded the queen’s departure.
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