The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(22) by Lorraine Heath
“You think he’s visiting you along the lines of Marley’s ghost?”
She didn’t blame him for the skepticism. It sounded rather ludicrous to her, but she could think of no other explanation. Easing over to the other bench, she faced him. “I have an old aunt who swears she’s communed with her dead husband. The medium she used—I believe her name was Mrs. Ponsby—was able to serve as a vessel so my aunt could ask her husband where he had hidden her jewels. Before he died, he’d gone quite off his rocker, hiding all sorts of things. He thought everyone was trying to steal from him. Anyway, through Mrs. Ponsby, he told my aunt where in the garden she’d find her jewels. They were exactly where they were supposed to be. I think Mrs. Ponsby could assist me in speaking with Avendale. I want him to know that I won’t put up with this nonsense. He must move on.”
“Winnie, I fear it’ll be a waste of your coin.”
“It’s my coin to waste. But after my aunt’s experience, I’m quite confident in the medium’s ability to speak with the dead. I don’t know why I didn’t think of calling on her before. It’s as you said earlier, being out here frees up the mind to all sorts of possibilities. If I can make him see that I’m not the woman I was, that he can’t push me around, that I don’t frighten as easily, perhaps he’ll let me be. That’s the thing of it. He took joy from my cowering. I know that I reacted rather badly last night, but that’s because I thought I was going mad. If it’s Avendale, then I need to have a word with him.”
“I just don’t think you’ll accomplish anything.” With a final dip and push of the oars, he had the boat gliding alongside the deck.
“I think it’s worth a try. If you’d rather not be there—”
“I’ll be there.”
“She plans to have a medium connect her with Avendale’s spirit,” Graves said to the group gathered in Claybourne’s library. Claybourne, Catherine, Frannie, Swindler, and Jack. It was early afternoon. He didn’t like talking about Winnie’s plans behind her back, but he owed these people, although he was beginning to feel as though he was giving them his soul.
He hadn’t wanted to leave Winnie but he’d needed to see to some patients, and as his first was the queen herself, he couldn’t very well be late to that appointment. Victoria seemed to have recovered from her bout of illness. He wished taking care of Winnie’s situation would prove to be as easy.
“I’ll convince her that no good will come of it,” Catherine said.
“Let her do it,” Jack said. “Where’s the harm? The medium will raise the table a bit with her knees, make knocking sounds on her chair, hum for a spell, and then pretend to be possessed by a spirit. The duchess will believe she’s spoken to her dead husband, and won’t even begin to consider that he isn’t dead at all.”
“He’s right,” Frannie said. “It will only serve to reinforce our ruse.”
Graves wasn’t convinced. “And if this medium doesn’t contact her husband?”
“She will,” Swindler said. “They’re all charlatans. I’ve arrested several. Attended the séances to gather the information to prove that they were not contacting the dead as claimed, but swindling people out of money. While I’m opposed to their methods, I agree that in this case they serve our purpose.”
Graves didn’t feel comfortable with it. “What we did three years ago was necessary. What we’re doing now, to protect ourselves, doesn’t sit well with me.”
“Think you’ll feel more comfortable when you’re dancing in the wind?” Jack asked. “He’s a bloody duke. You’re a commoner.”
“He’s physician to the queen,” Claybourne pointed out.
“Knowing how she and Albert are striving to raise the standard of behavior among her subjects,” Jack said, “do you think she’s going to be open to looking the other way?”
Silence greeted that proclamation as they all knew that Victoria had high moral values. Within her court, she was known for dismissing servants for the slightest of infractions.
“We might want to consider another possibility,” Swindler said, his sharp gaze homing in on Graves. “That the duchess is the one instigating a ruse.”
“Why the devil would she do that?” Graves asked.
“To gain your attention. Have you seen any evidence that what she claims is happening is in fact happening? She’s always telling you things after the fact.”
While he thought it highly unlikely, he couldn’t discount the question entirely. She had mentioned the necklace disappearing, then showed up at his door with it. She knew he would be returning to the residence last night. She could have arranged the rings, then sat in the corner awaiting his arrival. But he thought of her haunted eyes, her chills, her trembling. “I’ve no doubt she’s telling me the truth.”
“I agree with Bill’s assessment,” Catherine said. “Winnie doesn’t have a conniving bone in her body. I’ll visit her this afternoon. She’s certain to invite me to attend her séance, and Claybourne and I cat at least be on hand to reinforce the notion that Avendale is dead.”
“I’ll be there as well tonight,” Graves told her.
“Well then I don’t see that anything can go wrong,” Jack said.
Winnie had chosen the duke’s library for the séance. He’d spent a good deal of his life there, overseeing the management of his estates. In spite of its size, which allowed for four large sitting areas, this room seemed to have absorbed his strong scent. The dark heavy furniture reminded her so much of the bold and brazen man he’d been.
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