The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(31) by Lorraine Heath
“You watched the séance last night, didn’t you? And afterward. That’s how you knew where to find your rings.”
He grinned. “I almost answered the lady’s summons, but better not to let others know I was about—not just yet anyway.”
“Why do this?”
“To punish you and Catherine. Maybe she’ll even go mad with guilt, thinking of you spending the rest of your life among the truly insane.”
“If you want to be rid of me, simply divorce me.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“Why not kill me then as you did your other wives?”
A corner of his mouth hitched up sinisterly. “You can’t prove I killed them.”
“But you did, didn’t you? No one is going to believe a madwoman, so why not tell me? Maybe knowing I was married to a murderer will be enough to send me over the edge.”
He released something between a grunt and a laugh. “I’d almost think you’d acquired some spunk while I was gone. That would be a shame as it would mean your permanent demise.”
It bothered her that he would think she would break so easily. But if she’d been tougher before, perhaps he would have killed her. “You did kill them then.”
“Of course I did. They were barren. I needed an heir. Divorce is costly, time consuming, and scandalous. Now I have an heir, I’m in no need of a wife, especially one who can’t be trusted. After what I’ve been through, you deserve to suffer a bit. Do you know what it’s like on those prison hulks? I got infested with fleas and lice. Fleas and lice for God’s sake. And a rat actually bit me before I snapped its scrawny little neck.”
His eyes were wide, glittering, and she wondered if perhaps his ordeal had made him mad. Perhaps he was the one who belonged in an asylum.
“They made me work until my hands bled and my back ached. They laughed when I told them I was a duke. Took a lash to me. It was almost two years before I found a way to escape. And all the while I plotted my revenge. Then last night I heard you with him, and I realized he would have to be punished as well.”
“You might want to rethink that. He serves the queen.”
“It’ll just look like he ran into a rough lot who beat him to death and left him in the mews.”
She fought back her fear. She would not allow him to hurt William. “No.”
“You can’t stop me. You’ve always been a frightened little bird whose wings were clipped. When I’m done with him, I plan to spend the night getting reacquainted with my wife before sending her off to Bedlam.”
Her stomach roiled as she thought of him touching her, of him wiping away the touch of a man she loved. She did love William, in spite of what he had hidden from her, she loved him. Wasn’t he the one who had insisted Catherine tell her the truth? He’d known she was strong enough to handle it. He knew everything about her, inside and out, and he accepted her as she was.
“Go to hell,” she said and shoved on his chest. The great hulk that was her husband barely moved. He just laughed, laughed as he had when he’d hit her before, when she cried out. She’d learned not to cry out.
A growl echoed around them. Winnie barely had time to register the sight of William charging before he knocked Avendale aside. Both men tumbled to the floor. Still bound, William struggled to stand. Avendale had nothing to hamper his progress. Jumping to his feet, he grabbed William by the shirt front, lifted him slightly, and pounded his fist into his face.
She heard the crack of bone shattering, a sound that had once echoed between her ears as her own bones took the weight of his fists. Jumping from the chair, she grabbed the fireplace poker and smashed it across his back. He spun around. She put all her strength, her weight, her need to stop him in the next swing, catching him across the head, sending him off balance. He landed on his back at the stone edge of the fireplace, his head at an awkward angle, leaning against his gargoyle.
Breathing heavily, she stood, feet spread, poker at the ready to strike him again. But he didn’t move. He just lay there staring at her as though he were surprised that she’d fought back this time.
She jerked her gaze over to William as he struggled to sit up, blood gushing from his nose. “Oh, yes, of course.” As she knelt beside him and fumbled with the knots, she kept darting glances over at Avendale. “How did he come to have you?”
“I was in the garden, keeping watch, but I was foolish enough to fall for his trick. Are you hurt?”
“No, not really. He seemed more intent on talking me to death.”
William released a huff that might have been a laugh. When his arms were free, he cradled her face. “You were extraordinarily brave.”
“I never stood up to him before, never fought back. I couldn’t return to living like that. I wouldn’t. But I think I hurt him rather badly.”
“I’ll have a look.”
She watched as William moved over to Avendale. “Be careful,” she warned.
“He won’t hurt me.” He pressed his ear to Avendale’s chest, then gently lifted Avendale’s head. She saw the blood seeping onto the stone.
“Looks as though he took quite a blow. I should get some linens to stanch the bleeding,” she said.
William moved back over to her, folded his hands over her shoulders, and met her gaze. “Winnie, he’s dead.”
Winnie sat in a chair in a corner. After covering Avendale with a sheet, William had sent for Inspector Swindler. She watched as he first studied the door, then crouched down and lifted the sheet to examine Avendale.
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