The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(15) by Lorraine Heath
The bowl was removed and a plate of mutton was set before them but she hardly seemed to notice. “Weren’t you frightened, going into the graveyards at night?”
“What was there to dread?”
“The spirits of the dead. Don’t you believe they linger?”
As she had mentioned being haunted before, he didn’t laugh. “To haunt us?”
Pondering his answer, he took a bite of the tasty mutton. She was so earnest. Who was he to dissuade her from her beliefs? “I will admit that I have encountered phenomenon that is difficult to explain: A glow in the fog, a howling when there is no wind. And on occasion, the hairs on the back of my neck would rise. Sometimes I felt that I was being watched, but I assumed it was other grave robbers who were disappointed we beat them to the treasures.”
She glanced around and he knew she wanted to say more, perhaps even mention the strange occurrences she’d experienced of late, but she was hesitant to appear foolish in front of the servants, even if they weren’t supposed to be listening.
“So you’ve never actually seen a spirit wandering around the graves?” Before he could answer, her eyes widened. “Is that why your surname is Graves?”
He couldn’t help but smile. She looked as though she’d solved a difficult problem. “When Feagan took in a child, he always made him or her change their name. For most of us there is no record of our birth, no record of our existence. Unlike with the aristocracy where births and deaths are recorded steadfastly, in the rookeries names are changed on a whim or when someone is caught committing a crime.”
“It never occurred to me that one could go about changing his name so easily.”
“I suspect even some of your servants aren’t presently living under the name with which they were born.” He didn’t fail to notice how one of the footmen shifted his stance. He’d have to check the man out. Probably wouldn’t hurt to have Swindler investigate them all. He’d much rather discover it was one of them instead of Avendale sneaking about.
“So why Graves?” she asked as another dish was set before them.
“An homage to my father, to his work. He was a large man, silent as the grave, which seemed appropriate considering his occupation. Never complained, never had an unkind word. ‘Lot of unpleasant tasks need doing,’ he once told me. ‘So it’s best to just do them so you can move on to the pleasant ones.’”
“How did he die?”
“Don’t know that he did. He simply disappeared one night. After he sold my mother’s remains to a teaching hospital.” As a look of horror crossed her face, he downed his wine, signaled for more. This time he was brought red.
“That’s awful,” she said, brushing away the next plate before it could be placed before her.
“I’ve ruined your appetite. Perhaps we should discuss the weather. It’s going to rain tonight, I predict.”
“I don’t want to discuss the rain. Were you there? Did you see what he did with your mother?”
He took a healthy swallow of the wine, wishing for something a bit stronger. He’d not thought of his youth in years. “I was with him. I found no fault with his decision. We were in need of coins, but more than that, Winnie, those training to become doctors needed to be able to study more than books. My mum was quite unpleasant in life, but in death, I believe, she became an instrument of education that allowed others to save lives.”
“I suppose that’s one way to think of it.”
“It’s the only way to think of it.”
“We are so morbidly fascinated with death. You’ve dealt with it all your life in one manner or another. You don’t fear it?”
He slowly shook his head. “No.”
“Do you fear anything?”
You discovering the truth. Not that he could admit to that.
“That it’ll rain before I can take you on a turn about the garden.”
She laughed the sweet tinkling sound that reminded him of tiny crystal bells ringing on Christmas morning. “I’m serious.”
“As am I.” Shoving back his chair, he stood, walked over to her, and pulled out her chair. Leaning low, he said in a quiet, seductive voice, “Come on, Winnie. It’s dark out. Lovely things happen in the dark.”
With a twinkle in her eyes, she peered up at him and whispered, “But we’ve yet to have dessert.”
“I have my heart set on tasting something sweeter than anything that can be prepared in the kitchen.”
Rising, she placed her hand on his forearm. “A walk about the garden sounds just the thing.”
Unfortunately as they stepped out onto the covered terrace, they discovered a soft rain falling, so quietly as to create little more than a constant drone rather than a harsh pattering of drops.
“We’re too late,” she said.
“We’re never too late.” He walked to the edge of the terrace, just short of being touched by the falling droplets. “I find the rain soothing.”
He felt her shiver. Stepping behind her, he wrapped his arms around her and drew her in close.
“I feared it when I was a child,” she said quietly. “When the lightning rent the sky in two and thunder boomed so loud that it shook the ground, the servants would rush through the house turning all the mirrors around. It was my mother’s edict. She said when she was a child a bolt of lightning zigzagged through her parents’ house, using the mirrors to propel itself along. Do you think that’s possible?”
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