Chapter 10

Three days later, Devil stood at the library windows, his gaze, abstracted, fixed on the summerhouse. Behind him, open ledgers littered his desk; a pile of letters begged for attention. He had a lot of unfinished business on his plate.

No trace had been found of Tolly’s killer, and the simple task of securing his bride was proving remarkably complicated. The latter was more bothersome than the former-he was sure they’d eventually track Tolly’s murderer down. He was also unshakably convinced Honoria would be his bride-he was simply no longer so sanguine about what state he’d be in by the wedding.

She was driving him demented. What power had goaded him into declaring his hand so forcefully, there, on the terrace in the moonlight? It had been sheer madness to act the tyrant as he had-yet he could feel the same emotion, the urge to conquer, to seize, to hold, flaring even now, simply at the thought of her.

Luckily, her stubbornness, her defiance, her unquenchable pride had forbidden her to flee before his heavy-handed declaration. She’d let Michael depart alone. Now, with her nose in the air, wrapped in a cloak of chill civility, she held him at a distance.

After learning of her past, common sense suggested he at least reconsider. Common sense stood not a chance against the deep-seated conviction that she was his. Where she was concerned he felt like one of his conquering ancestors preparing to lay siege to a much-desired prize. Given what he now suspected, her surrender, when it came, would need to be proclaimed from the battlements.

He’d wondered how she’d reached a succulently ripe twenty-four still unwed. Even hidden away as a governess, not all men were blind. Some must have seen her and appreciated her worth. A determination on her part to remain a spinster, childless, could, in this case, explain the inexplicable. Her stubbornness was a tangible thing.

In this case, her stubbornness would need to surrender.

He wasn’t going to let her go. Ever.

At least she couldn’t later say that he hadn’t warned her.

His gaze, still on the summerhouse, sharpened; Devil straightened and reached for the handle of the French doors.

Honoria saw him coming; her hand froze in midair, then she looked down and resumed her stitching. Devil climbed the steps two at a time; she looked up and met his gaze squarely. Slowly, she raised her brows.

He held her gaze, then glanced at the seat beside her.

She hesitated, then carefully gathered up her strewn silks. “Did your man learn anything in Chatteris?”

Devil stared at her.

Honoria laid the silks in her basket. “I saw him ride in.”

Swallowing his irritation, Devil sat beside her, angling his shoulders so he faced her. “Nothing-no horseman came by way of Chatteris.” Perhaps he should grow screening hedges about the summerhouse? She’d adopted it as her lair; he could see a number of pertinent advantages.

Honoria frowned. “So that’s all the towns ’round about-and no gentleman hired a horse anywhere.”

“Except for Charles, who came by way of Cambridge.”

“Is there any other place-a tavern, or some such-where horses might be hired?”

“My people checked all the hedge-taverns within reach. Short of borrowing a horse, something we can’t rule out, it seems likely the murderer rode away on his own horse.”

“I thought you said that was unlikely?”

“Unlikely but not impossible.”

“The storm came up shortly after. Wouldn’t he have had to take shelter?”

“The others checked all the inns and taverns on their way back to London. No likely gentleman took refuge anywhere. Whoever shot Tolly was either exceedingly lucky or he covered his tracks exceptionally well.”

“Riding his own horse, he could have come from anywhere, not just London. He might have been a hired assassin.”

Devil looked at her, silently, for a full minute. “Don’t complicate things.”

“Well, it’s true. But I had meant to ask you…” She paused to snip a thread; in the silence that followed, Devil got her message. She’d meant to ask him before he’d acted the despot. Setting aside her shears, she continued: “Was it common knowledge that Tolly habitually took the lane through the wood?”

Devil grimaced. “Not common knowledge, but widespread enough to be easily learned.”

Honoria set another stitch. “Have your cousins discovered anything in London?”

“No. But there must be something-some clue-somewhere. Young gentlemen don’t get murdered on country lanes for no reason.” He looked out across the lawns-and saw his mother approaching. With a sigh, he uncrossed his legs and stood.

“Is this where you are hiding, Sylvester?” The Dowager came up the steps in a froth of black lace. She held up her face for a kiss.

Devil dutifully obliged. “Hardly hiding, Maman.”

“Indeed-you are a great deal too large for this place.” The Dowager prodded him. “Sit-don’t tower.”

As she promptly took his place beside Honoria, Devil was reduced to perching on a windowsill. The Dowager glanced at Honoria’s work-and pointed to one stitch. Honoria stared, then muttered unintelligibly, set down her needle, and reached for her shears.

Devil grabbed the opportunity. “I wanted to speak to you, Maman. I’ll be leaving for London tomorrow.”

“London?” The exclamation came from two throats; two heads jerked up, two pairs of eyes fixed on his face.

Devil shrugged. “Purely business.”

Honoria looked at the Dowager; the Dowager looked at her.

When she turned back to her son, the Dowager was frowning. “I have been thinking, cheri, that I should also go up to London. Now that I have dear ‘Onoria to keep me company, I think it would be quite convenable.”

Devil blinked. “You’re in mourning. Full mourning.”

“So?” The Dowager opened her eyes wide. “I’ll be in full mourning in London-so appropriate-it is always so grey there at this time of year.”

“I had thought,” Devil said, “that you would want to remain here, at least for another week or so.”

The Dowager lifted her hands, palms upward. “For what? It is a little early for the balls, I grant you, but I am not suggesting we go to London for dissipation. No. It is appropriate, I think, that I introduce ‘Onoria, even though the family is in black. She is not affected; I discussed it with your aunt ‘Oratia-like me, she thinks the sooner the ton meets ‘Onoria, the better.”

Devil glanced, swiftly, at Honoria; the consternation in her eyes was a delight to behold. “An excellent idea, Maman” Silver glinted in Honoria’s eyes; he hurriedly looked away. “But you’ll have to be careful not to step on the tabbies’ tails.”

The Dowager waved dismissively. “Do not teach your mother to suck eggs. Your aunt and I will know just how to manage. Nothing too elaborate or such as will… how do you say it?-raise the wind?”

Devil hid his grin. “Raise a dust-the wind is money.”

The Dowager frowned. “Such strange sayings you English have.”

Devil forebore to remind her that she’d lived in England for most of her life-and that her grasp of the language always deteriorated when she was hatching some scheme. In this case, it was a scheme of which he approved.

“Everything will be tout comme il faut,” the Dowager insisted. “You need not concern yourself-I know how conservative you are growing-we will do nothing to offend your sensibilities.”

The comment left Devil speechless.

“Indeed, just this morning I was thinking that I should be in London, with your aunt Louise. I am the matriarch, no? And a matriarch’s duty is to be with her family.” The Dowager fixed her undeniably matriarchal gaze on her silent son. “Your father would have wished it so.”

That, of course, signaled the end to all argument-not that Devil intended arguing. Manufacturing an aggravated sigh, he held up his hands. “If that’s what you truly wish, Maman, I’ll give orders immediately. We can leave tomorrow at midday and be in town before nightfall.”

Bon!” The Dowager looked at Honoria. “We had best start our packing.”

“Indeed.” Honoria put her needlework in her basket, then glanced briefly, triumphantly, at Devil.

He kept his expression impassive, standing back as she and his mother exited the summerhouse. Only when they were well ahead did he descend the steps, strolling languorously in their wake, his gaze on Honoria’s shapely curves, smug satisfaction in his eyes.

St. Ives House in Grosvenor Square was a great deal smaller than Somersham Place. It was still large enough to lose a battalion in, a fact emphasized by the odd individual of military mien who presided over it.

Honoria nodded at Sligo as she crossed the hall, and wondered at Devil Cynster’s idiosyncracies. On arriving at dusk two days before, she’d been taken aback to find the stoop-shouldered, thin, and wiry Sligo acting as majordomo. He had a careworn face, moon-shaped and mournful; his attire was severe but did not quite fit. His speech was abrupt, as if he was still on a parade ground.

Later, she’d questioned the Dowager; Sligo, it transpired, had been Devil’s batman at Waterloo. He was fanatically devoted to his erstwhile captain; on disbanding, he’d simply continued to follow him. Devil had made him his general factotum. Sligo remained at St. Ives House, acting as its caretaker when the family was not in residence. When his master was in residence, Honoria surmised, he reverted to his previous role.

Which, she suspected, meant that Sligo would bear watching. A footman opened the breakfast-parlor door.

“There you are, my dear.” The Dowager beamed gloriously from one end of the elegant table.

Honoria bobbed a curtsy, then inclined her head toward the head of the table. “Your Grace.”

The devil nodded back, his gaze roving over her. “I trust you slept well?” With a wave, he summoned Webster to hold a chair for her-the one beside his.

“Tolerably well, thank you.” Perforce ignoring the nine other empty chairs about the immaculately laid table, Honoria settled her skirts, then thanked Webster as he poured her tea. The previous day had gone in unpacking and settling in. A rain squall had cut short the afternoon; she’d got no closer to the park in the Square than the drawing-room windows.

“I have been telling Sylvester that we plan to visit the modistes this morning.” The Dowager waved a knife at her. “He tells me that these days the ton selects modistes by age.”

“Age?” Honoria frowned.

Busy with toast and marmalade, the Dowager nodded. “Apparently, it is quite convenable that I continue with my old Franchot, but for you it must be…” She glanced at her son. “Qu’est-ce que?”

“Celestine,” Devil supplied.

Honoria turned her frown on him.

He met her look with one of ineffable boredom. “It’s simple enough-if you want bombazine and turbans, you go to Franchot. If frills and furbelows are your fancy, then Madame Abelard’s is more likely to suit. For innocent country misses,” he paused, his gaze briefly touching Honoria’s fine lace fichu, “then I’ve heard Mademoiselle Cocotte is hard to beat. For true elegance, however, there’s only one name you need know-Celestine.”

“Indeed?” Honoria sipped her tea, then, setting down her cup, reached for the toast. “Is she on Bruton Street?”

Devil’s brows flew. “Where else?” He looked away as Sligo approached, carrying a silver salver piled with letters. Taking them, Devil flicked through the stack. “I daresay you’ll find any number of modistes that might take your fancy if you stroll the length of Bruton Street.”

From the corner of her eye, Honoria watched him examine his mail. He employed a small army of agents; one had followed on their heels from the Place and spent all yesterday closeted with his master. Running estates as extensive as those of the dukedom of St. Ives would keep any man busy; thus far, from all she’d seen, business had prevented Devil from pursuing his investigations.

Reaching the bottom of the pile, he shuffled the letters together, then glanced at his mother. “If you’ll excuse me, Maman.” Briefly, his eyes touched Honoria’s. “Honoria Prudence.” With a graceful nod, he stood; absorbed with his letters, he left the room.

Honoria stared at his back until the door hid it from view, then took another sip of her tea.

The St. Ives town carriage had just rumbled around the corner, bearing the Dowager and Honoria to Bruton Street, when Vane Cynster strolled into Grosvenor Square. His stride long and ranging, he crossed the pavements; cane swinging, he climbed the steps to his cousin’s imposing door. He was about to beat an imperious tattoo when the door swung inward. Sligo rushed out.

“Oh! Sorry, sir.” Sligo flattened himself against the doorjamb. “Didn’t see you there, sir.”

Vane smiled. “That’s quite all right, Sligo.”

“Cap’n’s orders. An urgent dispatch.” Sligo tapped his breast-rustling parchment testified to his cause. “If you’ll excuse me, sir?”

Released by Vane’s bemused nod, Sligo hurried down the steps and ran to the corner. He flagged down a hackney and climbed aboard. Vane shook his head, then turned to the still-open door. Webster stood beside it.

“The master is in the library, sir. I believe he’s expecting you. Do you wish to be announced?”

“No need.” Surrendering his cane, hat and gloves, Vane headed for Devil’s sanctum. He opened the door, instantly coming under his cousin’s green gaze.

Devil sat in a leather chair behind a large desk, an open letter in one hand. “You’re the first.”

Vane grinned. “And you’re impatient.”

“You’re not?”

Vane raised his brows. “Until a second ago, I didn’t know you had no news.” He crossed the room and dropped into a chair facing the desk.

“I take it you have no insights to offer either?”

Vane grimaced. “In a word-no.”

Devil grimaced back; refolding his letter, he laid it aside. “I just hope the others have turned up something.”

“What’s Sligo up to?” When Devil looked up, Vane elaborated: “I bumped into him on the steps-he seemed in a tearing hurry.”

Devil waved dismissively. “A small matter of forward strategy.”

“Speaking of which, have you managed to convince your bride-to-be that investigating murder is not a suitable hobby for a gentlewoman?”

Devil smiled. “Maman can always be counted on to visit the modistes within forty-eight hours of arriving in town.”

Vane raised his brows. “So you haven’t succeeded in striking murder from Miss Anstruther-Wetherby’s agenda?”

Devil’s smile turned feral. “I’m directing my fire at a different target. Once that falls, her agenda will no longer apply.”

Vane grinned. “Poor Honoria Prudence-does she know what she’s up against?”

“She’ll learn.”

“Too late?”

“That’s the general idea.”

A brief rap on the door heralded the appearance of Richard “Scandal” Cynster; he was followed by Gabriel and Demon Harry, Vane’s brother. The comfortably spacious room was suddenly very full of very large men.

“Why the delay?” Harry asked, lowering his long frame to the chaise. “I expected to be summoned yesterday.”

“Devil had to make sure the coast was clear,” Vane replied-and earned a hard look from Devil.

“Lucifer sends his regrets,” Gabriel informed the room at large. “He’s exhausted from his efforts to discover any news of Tolly’s peccadilloes-which efforts have thus far been completely unrewarding.”

“That,” Harry returned, “I find exceedingly hard to believe.”

“Unrewarding in terms of our investigation,” Gabriel amended.

“As to that,” Harry continued, “I know exactly how he feels.”

Despite considerable effort in their delegated spheres, none had uncovered any evidence that Tolly had been in trouble. Devil put forward the idea that Tolly might not personally have been in trouble at all. “He may have unwittingly stumbled on something he wasn’t supposed to know-he might unsuspectingly have become a threat to someone.”

Gabriel was nodding. “That scenario sounds a lot more like Tolly.”

Harry snorted. “Silly beggar would have got all fired up with innocent zeal and hared off to lay the evidence at your feet.”

“Before demanding that you fix it.” Richard’s smile went slightly awry. “That plot rings truer than any other.”

His eyes on Richard’s, Devil said, “The very fact that he was coming to see me may have been what led to his death.”

Vane nodded. “That would explain why he was killed at Somersham.”

“We’ll have to recanvass all Tolly’s friends.” Under Devil’s direction, Gabriel, Harry, and Richard agreed to take on the task.

“And me?” Vane raised his brows. “What fascinating piece of detecting am I to undertake?”

“You get to wring out Old Mick.”

Old Mick?!” Vane groaned. “The man drinks like a fish.”

“You’ve the hardest head of the lot of us, and someone’s got to speak to him. As Tolly’s man, he’s our most likely lead.”

Vane grumbled, but no one paid him any heed.

“We’ll meet here again in two days.” Devil stood; the others followed suit. Gabriel, Harry, and Richard headed for the door.

“It’s occurred to me,” Vane said, as he strolled after the others, “that the latest addition to the family might not be so amenable to bowing to your authority.”

Devil arched a brow. “She’ll learn.”

“So you keep saying.” At the door, Vane glanced back. “But you know what they say-beware of loose cannon.”

The look Devil sent him embodied arrogance supreme; Vane chuckled and left, closing the door behind him.

Wringing information from a devil was not an easy task, especially when he evinced no interest in her company. Poised at the top of the stairs, Honoria debated her next move.

She’d taken Devil’s advice and visited Celestine’s salon. Her suspicious nature had reared its head when a note, directed in bold black script and carrying a red seal, had arrived for Celestine hard on their heels. While Honoria tried on subtly understated morning gowns, fashionable carriage dresses, and delectably exquisite evening gowns, the modiste, in constant attendance from the instant she’d read the note, had made comments enough on monsieur le duc’s partialities to confirm her suspicions. But by then she’d seen too many of Celestine’s creations to contemplate cutting off her nose to spite her face.

Instead, she’d bought an entire wardrobe, all for the express purpose of setting monsieur le duc back on his heels. Celestine’s evening gowns, while unquestionably acceptable, were subtly scandalous-her height and age allowed her to wear them to advantage. Nightgowns, peignoirs, and chemises, all in silks and satins, were similarly stunning. Everything, naturally, was shockingly expensive-luckily, her pocket was more than deep enough to stand the nonsense.

She’d spent the ride back to Grosvenor Square imagining the look on Devil’s face when he saw her in a particularly provoking nightgown-only as the carriage reached St. Ives House did the anomaly in her thinking strike her. When would Devil see her in her nightgown?

Never if she was wise. She’d bundled the thought from her mind.

For the past two mornings, she’d entered the breakfast-parlor wearing an encouraging smile and one of Celestine’s more fetching creations; while the devil had noticed her, other than a certain glint in his green eyes, he’d shown no inclination to commit himself beyond an absentminded nod. On both mornings, in an unflatteringly short space of time, he’d excused himself and taken refuge in his study.

She could imagine that he might be busy; she was not prepared to accept that as an excuse to ignore her, particularly as he must by now have learned something about his cousin’s death.

Drawing a determined breath, she started down the stairs. Direct action was called for-she would beard the lion in his den. Or was that the devil in his lair? Luckily, his lair was also the library. Hand on the doorknob, she paused; no sound came from within. Mentally girding her loins, she plastered a breezily unconscious smile on her face, opened the door, and walked briskly in.

Without looking up, she closed the door and turned, taking two steps before letting her gaze reach the desk. “Oh!” Lips parting, eyes widening, she halted. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…” She let her words trail away.

Her devilish host sat behind the large desk, his correspondence spread before him. By the windows, Sligo was sorting ledgers. Both men had looked up; while Sligo’s expression was arrested, Devil’s was unreadable.

With a longing glance at the bookshelves, Honoria conjured an apologetic smile. “I didn’t mean to intrude. Pray excuse me.”

Gathering her skirts, she half turned-a languid gesture halted her. “If it’s distraction you seek, then by all means, seek it here.”

Devil’s eyes met hers; while his accompanying wave indicated the volumes and tomes, Honoria was not at all certain they were the distraction to which he referred. Lifting her chin, she inclined her head graciously. “I won’t disturb you.”

She already had. Devil shifted in his chair, then rearranged his letters. From the corner of his eye, he watched Honoria scan the shelves, pausing artistically here and there to raise a hand to this book or that. He wondered who she thought she was fooling.

The past two days had been difficult. Resisting the invitation in her eyes had required considerable resolution, but he’d won too many campaigns not to know the value of having her approach him. At last she’d weakened-impatience mounting, he waited for her to get to the point.

Picking up his pen, he signed a letter, blotted it, and laid it aside. Glancing up, he surprised her watching him-she quickly looked away. A sunbeam lancing through the windows burnished the gleaming chestnut knot atop her head; wispy tendrils wreathed her nape and forehead. In her cream-colored morning gown, she looked good enough to eat; for a ravenous wolf, the temptation was great. Devil watched as she put a hand to a heavy tome, one on agricultural practices; she hesitated, then pulled it out and opened it. She was vacillating.

Realizing what she was reading, she abruptly shut the book and replaced it, then drifted back to the shelves nearer the door, selecting another book at random. With an inward sigh, Devil put down his pen and stood. He didn’t have all day-his cousins were due later that afternoon. Rounding the desk, he crossed the carpet; sensing his approach, Honoria looked up.

Devil lifted the book from her hands, shut it, and returned it to the shelf-then met her startled gaze. “What’s it to be-a drive in the park or a stroll in the square?”

Honoria blinked. She searched his eyes, then stiffened and raised her chin. “A drive.” The park might be crowded but on the box seat of his curricle she could interrogate him without restriction.

Devil’s eyes didn’t leave hers. “Sligo-get the bays put to.”

“Aye, Capt’n Y’r Grace.” Sligo darted for the door.

Intending to follow, Honoria found herself trapped, held, by Devil’s green gaze. Forsaking her eyes, it slid down, lingering briefly but with a weight that sent heat rising to her cheeks.

He looked up. “Perhaps, my dear, you had better change-we wouldn’t want you to catch cold.”

Like she’d caught cold trying to fool him? Haughtily, Honoria raised her chin another inch. “Indeed, Your Grace. I shouldn’t keep you above half an hour.”

With a swish of her skirts, she escaped. Even forcibly dragging her heels, she was back in the hall in under ten minutes; to her relief, the devil forebore to comment, merely meeting her eye with a glance too arrogantly assured for her liking. His gaze swept her, neat and trim in green jaconet, then he gave her his arm; nose still high, she consented to be led down the steps.

Devil lifted her to the seat. They were bowling through the park gates, the carriages of the ton lining the curved avenue ahead, before she registered that a groom had swung up behind. Glancing back, she beheld Sligo.

Devil saw her surprise. “You’ll no doubt be relieved that I’ve decided to observe the strictures wherever possible.”

Honoria gestured behind. “Isn’t that rather excessive?”

“I wouldn’t let it dampen your enthusiasms, Honoria Prudence.” He slanted her a glance. “Sligo’s half-deaf.”

A quick glance confirmed it; despite the fact Devil had not lowered his voice, Sligo’s expression remained blank. Satisfied, Honoria drew a deep breath. “In that case-“

“That’s the countess of Tonbridge to your right. She’s a bosom-bow of Maman’s.”

Honoria smiled at the grande dame lounging in a brougham drawn up by the verge; a quizzing glass magnifying one protuberant eye, the countess inclined her head graciously. Honoria nodded back. “What-“

“Lady Havelock ahead. Is that a turban she’s wearing?”

“A toque,” Honoria replied through her smile. “But-“

“Mrs. Bingham and Lady Carstairs in the landau.”

It was difficult, Honoria discovered, to smile with clenched teeth. Her breeding, however, dictated her behavior, even in such trying circumstances; calmly serene, she smiled and nodded with gracious impartiality-the truth was, she barely focused on those claiming her attention. Not even the sight of Skiffy Skeffington in his customary bilious green had the power to divert her-her attention was firmly fixed on the reprobate beside her.

She should have chosen the square. After the first three encounters, the interest directed their way registered; the glances of the ladies whose nods she returned were not idle. They were sharp, speculative-keenly acute. Her position beside Devil was clearly making some statement; Honoria had a strong suspicion it was not a statement she’d intended to make. Nodding to a beaming Lady Sefton, she asked: “How long is it since you last drove a lady in the park?”

“I don’t.”

“Don’t?” Honoria turned and stared. “Why not? You can hardly claim you’re misogynous.”

Devil’s lips twitched; briefly he met her eye. “If you think about it, Honoria Prudence, you’ll see that appearing beside me in the park is tantamount to a declaration-a declaration no unmarried lady has previously been invited to make and one which no married lady would care to flaunt.”

Lady Chetwynd was waiting to be noticed; by the time she was free again, Honoria was simmering. “And what about me?”

Devil glanced her way; this time, his expression was harder. “You are different. You’re going to marry me.”

An altercation in the park was unthinkable; Honoria seethed, but couldn’t let it show, other than in her eyes. Those, only he could see, much good did her fury do her; with an infuriatingly arrogant lift to his brows, he turned back to his horses.

Denied the interrogation she’d planned and the tirade he deserved, Honoria struggled, not simply to contain her wrath but to redirect it. Losing her temper was unlikely to advance her cause.

She slanted a glance at Devil; his attention was on his horses, his profile clear-cut, hard-edged. Eyes narrowing, she looked ahead, to where a line of carriages had formed, waiting to turn. Devil drew in at the end; Honoria saw her chance and took it. “Have you and your cousins learned anything of the reason behind Tolly’s murder?”

One black brow quirked upward. “I had heard…”

Breath bated, Honoria waited.

“That Aunt Horatia intends giving a ball in a week or so.” Blank green eyes turned her way. “To declare the family once more on the town, so to speak. Until then, I suspect we should curb our excursions-the park and such mild entertainments are, I believe, permissible. Later…”

In utter disbelief, Honoria listened to a catalogue of projected diversions-the usual divertissements favored by the ton. She didn’t bother trying to interrupt. He’d accepted her help in the lane; he’d told her that his people had turned up no clues in the towns about Somersham. She’d thought he’d capitulated-understood and accepted her right to involve herself in the solving of the crime, or, at the very least, accepted her right to know what had been discovered. As the litany of pleasures in store for her continued, Honoria readjusted her thinking.

Very straight, her expression blank, she held her tongue until, the turn accomplished, he ran out of entertainments. Then, and only then, did she glance sideways and meet his eye. “You are not being fair.”

His features hardened. “That’s the way our world is.”

“Perhaps,” Honoria declared, tilting her chin, “it’s time our world changed.”

He made no answer; flicking the reins, he sent the horses back along the avenue.

Honoria’s head was so high she nearly missed seeing the gentleman standing by the verge; he raised his cane in greeting, then waved it.

Devil checked his team, drawing them to a stamping halt by the lawn’s edge. “Good afternoon, Charles.”

Charles Cynster inclined his head. “Sylvester.” His gaze traveled to Honoria. “Miss Anstruther-Wetherby.”

Resisting an instinctive retreat to haughtiness, Honoria returned his nod. “Sir. Might I inquire how your family is faring?” Charles wore the customary black armband, easily seen against his brown coat. Devil likewise wore the badge of mourning, virtually invisible against his black sleeve. Honoria leaned down and gave Charles her hand. “I’ve yet to meet your brother and sisters since coming to town.”

“They are…” Charles hesitated. “Well, I think.” He met Honoria’s eyes. “Recovering from the shock. But how are you? I admit to surprise at seeing you here. I had thought your plans were otherwise?”

Honoria smiled-feelingly. “They are. This”-she gestured airily-“is merely a temporary arrangement. I’ve agreed to remain with the Dowager for three months. After that, I plan to begin my preparations for Africa. I’m considering a prolonged sojourn-there’s so much to see.” Her smile grew brittle. “And do.”

“Indeed?” Charles frowned vaguely. “I believe there’s a very good exhibition at the museum. If Sylvester’s too busy to escort you, pray call on me. As I assured you before, I’ll always hold myself ready to assist you in any way I can.”

Regally, Honoria inclined her head.

After promising to convey their regards to his family, Charles stepped back. With a flick of his wrist, Devil set his horses trotting. “Honoria Prudence, you would try the patience of a saint.”

Irritation ran beneath his smooth tones. “You,” Honoria declared, “are no saint.”

“A point you would do well to bear in mind.”

Quelling a most peculiar shiver, Honoria stared straight ahead.

They ran the gauntlet-the long line of stationary carriages holding the grandes dames of the ton-once more, then Devil turned his horses for home. By the time they reached Grosvenor Square, Honoria had refocused on her day’s objective. The objective she had yet to attain.

Devil drew up before his door. Throwing the reins to Sligo, he alighted and lifted Honoria down. By the time she caught her breath, she was on the porch; his front stoop, she decided, was no place for an argument.

The door opened; Devil followed her inside. The hall seemed crowded; as well as Webster, Lucifer was there.

“You’re early.”

Honoria glanced at Devil, surprised by the disapproval she detected in his tone. Lucifer’s brows had quirked in surprise, but he smiled charmingly as he bowed over her hand. Straightening, he looked at Devil. “In recompense, if you will, for my previous absence.”

Previous absence? Honoria looked at Devil.

His expression gave nothing away. “You’ll have to excuse us, my dear. Business demands our attention.”

Business her left foot. Honoria raced through her options, searching for some acceptable way to remain with them. There wasn’t one. Swallowing a curse, she inclined her head regally, first to her nemesis, then to his cousin, then turned and glided up the stairs.

“I hesitate to state the obvious, but we’re getting nowhere. I, for one, am finding failure a mite tedious.” A general growl of agreement greeted Gabriel’s pronouncement. All six cousins were present, long limbs disposed in various poses about Devil’s library.

“Speaking personally,” Vane drawled, “I’d prefer to have failure to report. As it is, Old Mick, longtime servitor to the second family, has departed these fair shores.”

Harry frowned. “He’s left England?”

“So Charles informs me.” Vane flicked a speck of lint from his knee. “I went to Tolly’s lodgings and found them relet. According to the landlord, who lives downstairs, Charles turned up the day after Tolly’s funeral. No one had told Mick about Tolly-he was, needless to say, cut up.”

Richard whistled soundlessly. “He’d been with the family forever-he was devoted to Tolly.”

Vane inclined his head. “I assumed Charles would have ensured Mick was told in time to come up for the funeral-he must have been more distraught than we realized. As it transpired, there was something of a scene. According to the landlord, Mick stormed out. According to Charles, Mick was so cut up over Tolly’s death that he decided to quit London and return to his family in Ireland.”

Harry looked wary. “Do we know Mick’s surname?”

“O’Shannessy,” Richard supplied.

Devil frowned. “Do we know where his family live?”

Vane shook his head.

Harry sighed. “I’m due in Ireland within the week to look over some brood mares. I could see if I can ferret out our Mick O’Shannessy.”

Devil nodded. “Do.” His features hardened. “And when you find him, aside from our questions, make sure Charles took proper care of him. If not, make the usual arrangements and have the accounts sent to me.”

Harry nodded.

“Incidentally,” Vane said, “Charles’s man, Holthorpe, has also left for greener fields-in his case, to America.”

“America?” Lucifer exclaimed.

“Apparently Holthorpe had saved enough to visit his sister there. When Charles returned from Somersham, Holthorpe was gone. Charles’s new man has rather less presence than Sligo and goes by the name of Smiggs.”

Harry snorted. “Sounds like he’ll suit Charles.”

Lucifer sighed. “So where do we search next?”

Devil frowned. “We must be overlooking something.”

Vane grinned wryly. “But not even the devil knows what it is.”

Devil humphed. “Unfortunately not. But if Tolly stumbled on someone’s illegal or scandalous secret, then, presumably, if we try hard enough, we can learn that same secret.”

“And whose secret it is,” Gabriel, somewhat grimly, added.

“It could be anything,” Lucifer said. “Tolly could have heard it from a man on a corner or from some silly chit in a ballroom.”

“Which is why we’ll need to cast our net wide. Whatever it is must be out there somewhere-we’ll have to trawl.” Devil scanned their dissatisfied but still-determined faces. “I can’t see that we have any choice other than to keep searching until we have some facts to work on.”

Gabriel nodded. “You’re right.” He stood and met Devil’s eye, a lilting smile curving his lips. “None of us are about to desert.”

The others nodded; unhurriedly, they left, restrained impatience in their eyes. Devil saw them out. He turned back to the library, then hesitated. Frowning, he glanced over his shoulder. “Webster-“

“I believe Miss Anstruther-Wetherby is in the upstairs parlor, Your Grace.”

Devil nodded and started up the stairs. Their lack of progress hung heavily on his mind; Honoria’s wish to involve herself in the hunt was an added irritant-seducing her to his side was proving difficult enough without that complication. Gaining the top of the stairs, he smiled, grimly. There was more than one way of spiking a gun-presumably the same held true for loose cannon.

The parlor door opened noiselessly; Honoria was pacing before the hearth. She didn’t hear him enter. She was muttering in distinctly forceful fashion; as Devil neared, he caught the words “fair” and “stubborn beast.”

Honoria glanced up-and jumped back. Devil caught her by the elbows and yanked her to him, away from the fire.

Breathless, her heart in her mouth, Honoria pushed him away. He released her instantly; her inner shaking didn’t stop. Furious, on any number of points, she put her hands on her hips and glared. “Don’t do that!” She batted aside a distracting curl. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s unacceptable to sneak up on people?”

“I wasn’t sneaking.” Devil’s expression remained mild. “You didn’t hear me-you were too busy rehearsing your lecture.”

Honoria blinked; caution belatedly seeped into her mind.

“Now I’m here,” Devil continued, “why don’t you deliver it?” The invitation was the opposite of encouraging. “On the other hand,” his brows quirked, “you might care to hear what my cousins had to report.”

Honoria was bottling up so much spleen, she felt she might explode. There was, she understood, an “either or” buried in his words. If she poured out the tirade she’d spent the last hour preparing, she wouldn’t hear what had been learned of Tolly’s killer. Her head hurt. “Very well-tell me what you and your cousins have found out.”

Devil gestured to the chaise; he waited until she sat, then settled his long frame in the opposite corner. “Unfortunately, thus far, despite considerable effort, we’ve turned up precisely nothing. No hint whatever of what it was that set Tolly on the road to Somersham.”

“Nothing?” Honoria searched his face; there was no hint of evasion in his eyes. “Where did you look and what were you searching for?”

Devil told her; she drank in his description of the others’ particular strengths and the gamut of their investigations. She was confident he wasn’t lying; she did wonder if he was telling her the whole truth. She quizzed him, but his answers remained consistent. “So what now?”

In the distance, they heard the dinner gong boom. “Now,” he said, rising gracefully and holding out his hand, “we keep searching.” He’d explained they were looking for someone else’s secret. “Until we have a scent to follow, we can do nothing more.”

Honoria wasn’t so certain of that. She allowed him to draw her to her feet. “Perhaps-“

One long finger slid beneath her chin; Devil tipped her face up to his. “I’ll keep you informed of developments, Honoria Prudence.”

His voice deepened on her name. Mesmerized, Honoria saw the color of his eyes change, a gleam silvering their depths. His gaze shifted, dropping to her lips; she felt them soften, part, felt her lids grow heavy.

“Ah… yes.” Breathless, she lifted her chin from his finger and stepped sideways, bringing the door into view. “I’d better change.”

One black brow rose, but beyond that and a quizzical glance, he made no comment, escorting her to the door and holding it while she made good her escape. It was only when, half an hour later, she sat before her mirror for her maid, Cassie, to do her hair, that understanding dawned.

He’d told her what they’d discovered-nothing. He’d promised to keep her apprised of developments-eyes narrowing, Honoria realized he meant after they’d been acted upon. Even more telling, he’d prevented her from offering to assist-so that he wouldn’t have to refuse and make it plain that she was still not permitted any meaningful involvement.

When she entered the drawing room, she was poised and assured, able to meet Devil’s eye with calm serenity. Throughout the meal, she remained distant, listening to the conversation with but half an ear, her mind busy formulating her investigative strategy.

Nothing useful had yet been discovered, which left the field wide open. As for His Grace’s antiquated notions, she was sure that, when she discovered the vital secret, he wouldn’t be able to deny her. How could he?-she wouldn’t tell him until after, until it was too late for him to exclude her.


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