The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(28) by Lorraine Heath
“Have to finish these first.”
“Did you like walking through the zoological gardens?” William asked.
Whit nodded, his hair flapping against his brow. He pointed to one of the papers. “That’s the lion. He roared.”
“It’s a very good drawing,” William said, picking it up and holding it so Winnie could see it clearly. The lion’s mane was almost larger than the lion himself. Off to the side was a tree. Near it was something that appeared to be an obelisk: tall and dark, no features. With a quick glance over the other sketches, she saw that it appeared in several of them. She didn’t know why she found it odd, but she did. In one of the drawings, it seemed to have arms.
“What is this, darling?” she asked.
Whit’s tiny brow furrowed as he studied where her finger rested, before darting his gaze up to her. “It’s the shadow man.”
Everything within her stilled while he returned to his endeavors as though he hadn’t said anything monumental. “What shadow man?” She hated the slight tremor in her voice. She was very much aware that William hadn’t moved, but he seemed alert, barely breathing.
Whit lifted a slender shoulder. “I’ve seen him about. Sometimes in the park. The garden.”
“Our garden?” Winnie asked.
She looked over at the governess. “Have you seen him?”
“No, Your Grace. The young duke has mentioned him of course, but he has such an active imagination that I assumed the shadow man was an imaginary friend.”
Yes, that was probably it, Winnie thought. Just a figment—
“He was in my room last night,” Whit said distractedly, his attention back on his drawing. “I woke up and he was in the shadows. I couldn’t see him very well, but he said he was watching out for me and not to be afraid. This is the elephant.”
He held the paper out to her, and she took it with trembling fingers. Last night, dear God, last night when she was crying out in pleasure, he was in her residence, in her son’s room. “He’s a very interesting creature with that long snout. So your shadow man, did he say anything else?”
He shook his head. “But he was wearing my rings.”
He nodded. “The ones you said I can wear when I’m a man.”
She had shown the ducal rings to Whit several times because he enjoyed looking at them.
“I didn’t tell him they were mine,” Whit said quietly. “’Cuz he was so big.”
Leaning over, she pressed a kiss to his temple. “He won’t hurt you, darling. Mummy isn’t feeling well, though, so we’re not going on our outing today. You just keep drawing.”
Her legs were trembling so badly they could barely support her as she left the room. What she was considering was an impossibility, and yet it was the only thing that made any sense.
“Winnie, are you all right?” William asked.
“Hardly.” With William on her heels, she rushed down the stairs and hurried into the library, went to the cigar box where she had placed the rings after the séance, and lifted the lid. They were gone. After slamming the lid closed, she began striding toward the door. “I need to speak with Catherine. My husband either managed to manifest himself into a ghost or he was never dead to begin with.”
“Tell me precisely what happened at Heatherwood,” Winnie demanded.
William knew that he could have saved her the journey to Claybourne’s, but it wasn’t his lie to reveal. They were in the Claybourne library, a room large enough that with the door closed, it was unlikely that any of their conversation would drift out into the hallways to be overheard by servants. They were presently all standing, Claybourne in front of his desk, his hips leaning against it, Catherine near her husband. Winnie stood before them, her hands balled into fists at her side. At least they’d stopped trembling on the journey here. He wanted to be beside her, holding her near, but she seemed determined to face this on her own, so he merely waited, his arms crossed over his chest. It was her battle.
“Why don’t we all take a seat?” Catherine asked. “I’ll ring for tea.”
“I don’t want tea,” Winnie said. “I want to know about the fire at Heatherwood. Did you actually see Avendale die in it?”
Catherine glanced over at Claybourne before returning her attention to Winnie. “Winnie, you must understand that I was terrified for you.”
“What did you do?” she asked, her voice laced with trepidation.
“Do sit,” Catherine urged.
“I don’t think I shall. I have the impression that what you are about to tell me is best taken standing.”
Good for you, William thought, admiring her backbone. Her husband had nearly broken it. He hoped she’d hang onto it when she knew the true tale.
Catherine cleared her throat. “The night he beat you to within an inch of your life, before we left your residence, we hinted to the servants that we were going to take you to Heatherwood. Instead, of course, we took you to Bill. Then Claybourne and I carried on alone to Heatherwood.”
“Avendale arrived a couple of nights later demanding that we give you to him. When he learned you weren’t there, he went into a rage, attacked Claybourne. In the scuffle a burning lamp shattered on the floor, the kerosene and flames igniting the carpet and draperies. Claybourne got the upper hand and knocked Avendale unconscious. But by the time he did, the fire was raging. While I take no pride in it, I was grateful that he didn’t have the means to escape the fire.”
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