Yourstone slammed the door to his study. The past few hours had been the worst of his life. He’d left Windsor and ridden back to London in silence, heading first to his office at Parliament. He’d felt safe there, though he realized that his time as an influential member of that body was drawing to a close.
Nothing had gone right.
And he couldn’t count on Peter Lyon.
No. This problem was all his.
He stepped to the bar and poured himself a whiskey, downing the drink in one swallow, then made himself another. This seemed like a good night to be roaring plastered.
He reclined on the sofa.
The door to the study opened and his son stormed into the room.
“My God, Father. What have you done?”
He was definitely not in the mood for prattling. “Leave me alone.”
Andrew rounded the couch and faced him.
He did not rise or even look up.
“You cannot dismiss me.”
He gulped another swallow of whisky. He was going to need fortification. “If I could only be so lucky.”
“You have destroyed us. I spoke to Eleanor. She told me what happened with the queen.”
“I no longer give a bloody damn what you think or care.”
“Our title could be ended. My inheritance. Gone.”
He downed the rest of the whiskey and rose for more.
Yourstone had enjoyed the sweet nectar from a poisonous tree. He’d bedded a princess and plotted to overthrow two legitimate heirs to the Crown. He’d even come close to making his son king. What did any inheritance matter?
He splashed more whiskey into the tumbler.
“You seem unconcerned,” Andrew said. “Don’t you even realize what has happened?”
He pushed past his son and settled back on the couch. He actually wished he had another mistress. Her flat would be an excellent place to spend the next few days. But he’d concentrated all his attention on Eleanor of late, trying desperately to impregnate her.
“Leave me alone,” he said. “Go and bed one of your tarts. Pretend to be a man. I hope whoever she may be likes her men on the weak side.”
He downed more whiskey.
“You are an abomination. A disgusting monster.”
He saluted his glass as the young man stood before him. “To me. The abomination.”
He bottomed out the tumbler and enjoyed the feeling that burned a path to his stomach.
His son rushed from the room.
* * *
Malone stuffed a pistol between his belt and shirt. He wore a dark jacket, cords, and a brown shirt, his feet wrapped in black Nikes. He climbed from the car into a night made soft by a half-moon and a plenitude of stars. He was parked down the street from Nigel Yourstone’s Belgravia house. He’d waited until darkness before moving, having learned all about Victoria’s confrontation at Windsor with Eleanor and Yourstone. But if he’d guessed right, and he was certain he had, Yourstone was facing something far worse than a royal wrath.
He shut the car door and walked down the sidewalk.
Lights burned inside the residence.
* * *
Yourstone enjoyed another whiskey and then decided on his course of action. It would be easy to simply take a revolver from his desk and blow his brains out. That was precisely what two great-uncles had done when faced with financial ruin 200 years ago. Every family had its share of weaklings, men and women remembered more for their shortcomings than their accomplishments. But he was not about to resign his fate to such dismal depths, always having his name preceded by
He could actually live a comfortable life there.
He stepped to the desk, unlocked the lower left drawer, and found the passbooks for the two foreign accounts. Upstairs in the bedroom safe was 50,000 pounds. Money he always kept on hand. He located the telephone directory and reached for the phone. A moment later a reservationist for British Airways came on the line and told him there was a flight to Caracas, Venezuela, leaving in five hours. From there he could grab a connection to Buenos Aires.
He booked a first-class ticket, then headed for the hallway and upstairs.
Before reaching the study doors, the panels swung inward.
Had his son returned?
He hadn’t the time to dawdle over more of his nonsense. But the figure in the doorway was that of a silver-haired man, clean-shaven, dressed in a three-piece suit, his right hand gripping a peculiar walking stick, the left holding a revolver.
Sir Thomas Mathews.
“I heard your conversation with the reservationist. Argentina is lovely this time of year.”
The spymaster blocked the doorway.
“Why haven’t you answered my calls?” Yourstone asked. “I’ve tried reaching you since yesterday.”
Mathews motioned with the gun. A sound suppressor extended the snout a few extra inches. “I thought we’d speak in person. Have a seat.”
He decided not to argue and retreated back across the room, sitting behind his desk.
Mathews casually examined the bookcases. “Your choice of reading is admirable. The classics, mythology, St. Augustine. Quite a variety.”
“My ancestors were well versed.”
The older man chuckled. “You aristocrats aggravate me so. I would rather deal with terrorists and fanatical avengers, like Peter Lyon, than the blue blood of old money.”
“You didn’t seem to mind using me for your purposes.”
“Quite right. I never minded a moment.”
It had been Mathews who’d provided nearly all of the surveillance information on Richard. The Secret Intelligence Service possessed resources no one could match. Monitoring mobile phone calls had been easy for them. Keeping tabs on Richard simple. Secrecy a matter of course.
“What are you holding there?” Mathews asked.
He displayed the bankbooks.
“I’m familiar with your offshore accounts. Money supposedly safely hidden behind aliases.”
He shrugged. “It’s the way of the world.”
Mathews studied more of the leather volumes on the black wood shelves, and Yourstone used the moment to ease open one of the desk drawers.
Oiled ball bearings made not a sound.
The gun’s grip came into view.
* * *
Malone bypassed the town house’s front entrance. William had explained the building’s geography, so he knew Yourstone’s study was located on the ground floor, facing west.
He rounded the corner and headed for the rear.
A swish of leaves from the treetops, thanks to a stiff breeze, produced the only sound disturbing the chilly night. Not much car traffic here. He climbed a wrought-iron fence and threaded a path through a back garden, weaving among ranks of roses and clipped yews.
Movement caught his eye from an alcove.
A glass pane in a door window had been shattered, and lace curtains danced through the opening. He removed the gun from his belt and trotted to the porch. Approaching slowly, he could see through the curtains that the door led into a kitchen. The floor was a checkerboard of black and white tile. Bright lights highlighted an array of stainless-steel appliances. Splotches on the floor caught his gaze.
He tried the knob.
He swung the door inward and stepped inside. Nobody was in sight. Not a sound, save for a soft whir from two refrigerators. Blood droplets formed a trail to a paneled door. He followed their lead and found a young man, in his late twenties, lying in a pantry that reeked of clove and garlic, his shirt stained red from a fatal chest wound.
William had also provided photographs of Yourstone’s son.
Here he was.
* * *
Yourstone turned his attention away from the gun and kept his face a study in restraint, not wanting to telegraph any of what he was thinking. Mathews remained across the room, near a rack of antique hunting rifles. An 18th-century grandfather clock in the opposite corner ticked with a steady beat that began to unnerve him. Thank heaven for the whiskey, which was lessening his fear of this maniac.
“This effort failed because of your ego,” Mathews said.
“It seems it failed because of Cotton Malone. He was a step ahead of you throughout. Was he the one who tossed the homing device into the Thames? If you had bothered to get back to me with information about him earlier, we might have avoided all of this.”
“And what would you have done?”
“We’ll never know, now, will we?”
A smile formed on Mathews’ lips. “No. We won’t. And, yes, it was Malone who thwarted the missile.” The older man gestured with the gun. “How long has your family owned this town house?”
He wondered about the sudden change in topics, and the thought of a cat toying with a mouse flashed through his mind. But he simply answered, “Two hundred years. Yourstones have served this nation with distinction.”
“But alas, there will be no Yourstone on the throne.”
“It seems we are both to be denied.”
“It’s ironic,” Mathews said. “Three Richards have sat on the throne. All were failures. The first betrayed his father, then spent his life crusading and left the country to ruin. The second was overthrown and murdered. The last was a despot who killed his brother’s children and stole the throne, only to lose it on the battlefield. I shudder to think what havoc Richard IV will reek upon us.”
“So this was all about love of country?”
“Unlike you, my lord, I have no personal agenda. No profit or fame or fortune. No glory. My only interest is what is best for the United Kingdom.”
“And you were willing to kill Albert Saxe-Coburg?”
Mathews chuckled. “For someone who thinks himself so smart you are quite stupid. I had no intention of Albert dying. On the contrary, he should clearly be king. And you offered the perfect way to make that happen now. As did Cotton Malone. He stopped the missile and exposed Eleanor, which in turn exposes you. All of the conspiratorial rats taken down in one sweep. Richard will be his own downfall. He will never be king.”
“Nothing exists to stop that now.”
“Don’t be so sure. There are matters of which you have no knowledge. Be assured, he will not be crowned.”
Silence passed between them, and he was comforted by the sight of the gun, in the drawer, only inches away. Mathews moved away from the desk and momentarily turned his back on him.
He eased the drawer fully open.
Mathews turned and said, “Your son. I heard him earlier. Apparently there is no relationship there?”
“He is an inept fool.”
Mathews shrugged, as if agreeing. “My thoughts, too.”