The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(11) by Lorraine Heath
“Yes, of course. It’s in my bedchamber.”
He held up a finger. “When we get there, don’t tell me where it is. Allow me the fun of ferretting it out for myself.”
As she climbed the stairs, Swindler followed behind while William walked beside her.
“He’s very good at what he does,” William said.
“So I’ve heard, although I do find his notion of what constitutes fun a bit odd.”
William chuckled low. “He loves solving a good mystery, even if it’s little more than searching for a safe.”
“Well, I do hope he solves our mystery quite quickly. I couldn’t relax enough to go to sleep after I returned here last night.”
She led them into her bedchamber. William stood beside her while Swindler stepped into the room, gave a quick glance around, and walked straight over to a painting, lifted the frame off the nail, and revealed the safe.
“How did you know?” she asked, as he leaned the painting against the wall. “There are other pictures about.”
“Yes, but they were placed with the intent of complementing the décor of the room. This one was placed to hide something, so it looks slightly out of place. Who all has a key?” he asked as he reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a small pouch. Opening it, he removed a couple of long, slender instruments.
“Only I do.”
“None of the servants? No one else?”
“Has anyone else ever possessed the key?”
“Only my husband.”
He and William exchanged a glance.
“But he’s dead,” she felt compelled to add.
“Do you know where his key is?”
She rubbed her forehead, where an ache was beginning to take hold. “No, I don’t. I went through his belongings, but I don’t recall seeing it.”
“So someone might have taken it,” he answered distractedly as he worked the instruments into the keyhole. She heard a snap and the door opened a crack. He opened it further. “A rather simple lock system. Anyone could have broken into it.”
“And relocked it?” William asked.
“That might have proven tricky. We’ll see about replacing this with something that will guard your valuables better.”
“I suppose there is some comfort in knowing anyone could have run off with it,” she said. “But why didn’t they?”
Swindler shrugged. “That I can’t answer, Your Grace. Bill says you don’t suspect your servants, so it’s quite possible someone managed to get inside without anyone seeing. We’ll want to change the locks on all the doors as well.”
“Yes, all right. Have you had other reports of incidents such as this?”
“Something similar, yes. But not to worry, Scotland Yard is on it.”
Swindler left, but William stayed, suggesting that Winnie show him the plans for the hospital she’d mentioned the night before. She took him to her study. It was much smaller than Avendale’s, the furniture more dainty. It looked out on the gardens. With the draperies pulled back, sunlight poured in. She’d never felt comfortable in Avendale’s library. Everything was so dark, the furniture bold and intimidating.
“After the success of last year’s ball, I took the liberty of hiring an architect.” She went behind the desk, picked up a scroll, and began rolling it across the top of her desk. “I know I might have been a bit premature—”
“It’s fine, Duchess. You’re providing the funds. You can handle the building of the hospital however you wish.”
He came to stand behind her, looking over her shoulder. Good God, he was so wonderfully tall that he was probably peering over the top of her head. She arranged a marble paperweight on one corner of the parchment. Leaning over, he reached toward an inkwell. She was acutely aware of the press of his chest to her back, the curve of his body around hers. Very slowly, as though they had the remainder of their lives, he set the glass container on the opposite corner of the scroll. Then placed his hand on the other corner to stop it from curling up.
“That should be all we need,” he said quietly, and she felt the brush of his warm breath across her temple.
She could think of a good deal more that she needed: a touch, a kiss, a caress. Rubbing the bridge of her nose, she fought to concentrate on the lines spread out before her. “I’m not sure of all the details, but it has surgical rooms and a separate area for isolating those who are contagious.”
“I like that idea. What do you think of having a separate wing for children? It seems as though they should have their own area.”
She felt a tiny bubble of joy burst within her chest. Avendale had never asked her opinion on anything. He’d always told her how things were to be. She especially liked that William was thinking of the little ones. “It’s a splendid notion. I think it should be right here.” She placed her finger on the far end of the building. He wrapped his hand around it.
“I can think of no place better.”
Her voice tried to lodge in her throat but she wouldn’t have it. She wanted to speak to him, she wanted to tell him everything. “And gardens. Lovely gardens where people can walk as they’re recovering. I remember the walks you would take me on, insisting I needed them to regain my strength.” Hesitating to say the next words, she swallowed hard. Avendale would have laughed at such silliness, but William wasn’t Avendale. Still, if he laughed, she would be incredibly hurt. But she had to risk it. She had tried to shape herself into what Avendale wanted and failed miserably. She needed someone who accepted her as she was. “They became my favorite part of the day.”
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