The next morning, Honoria woke late, alone, Devil long gone, up and about his business. His unflagging energy struck her as unfair-the events of the night had left her drained. Her gaze, unfocused, fell on the swath of ivory silk adorning the richly hued carpet. Her nightgown.
They’d engaged in a midnight tussle-half-asleep, she’d been reluctant to relinquish the gown’s warmth. He, however, had insisted, then compensated admirably. Even now, she felt pleasurably aglow, inside and out. Smiling, she sank deeper into the bed, luxuriating in the lingering sense of warm fulfilment.
Who’d made the first move she neither knew nor cared; they’d turned to each other and let their bodies seal their unvoiced commitment that, regardless of any differences, they remained man and wife, their alliance rock-solid, as enduring as the Place.
The door from her apartments cracked open; Cassie peeked, then bustled in. “G’morning, ma’am.” She swiped up the nightgown. “It’s nearly eleven.”
“Eleven?” Honoria blinked her eyes wide.
“Webster asked if you wanted any breakfast kept. Having missed dinner and all.”
Honoria sat up. “We ate later.” An hour after her nightgown had hit the floor, Devil’s mind had turned to food. She’d been sound asleep again; he’d made a trip to the kitchens, then ruthlessly harried her awake, insisting she eat morsels of chicken, ham, and cheese, all washed down with white wine.
“There’s kedgeree, boiled eggs, and sausages.”
Honoria wrinkled her nose. “I’ll take a bath.”
The bath suited her mood: lazy, disinclined to move. She stared through the steam, reviewing the previous evening-and heard in her mind, in the depths of the night, her husband’s deep voice as, sated, replete, he’d slumped beside her. “
Why would he fear losing her even more than she feared losing him?
The minutes ticked by, the water grew cold, and still she could find only one answer. As she rose from the bath, her spirits soared-she spent the next half hour sternly lecturing herself on the unwisdom of leaping to conclusions, especially conclusions like that.
She retired to the morning room but couldn’t settle, idly drifting between window and fireplace, consumed by a longing to see her husband again. To look into his face; to study his clear eyes. Mrs. Hull brought up a pot of herbal tea. Grateful, she accepted a cup, but it grew cold while she stared at the wall.
Louise and the twins provided a welcome diversion; they came to lunch, the girls eager to describe their latest gowns. Honoria toyed with a portion of steamed fish and listened with half an ear. She’d canceled all her other engagements, although the news that the new duchess of St. Ives was indisposed was certain to lead to speculation.
In this instance, speculation would be accurate. She’d hesitated to let the thought form in her mind, but it now seemed beyond question. Her dullness every morning, her fragile appetite, all testified to the fact.
She was carrying Devil’s child.
The very thought made her giddy with happiness, with eager anticipation tinged only by understandable apprehension. Real fear had no chance of intruding, not with Devil and his family so constantly about her.
As if to emphasize that last, with the twins on the front steps, Louise glanced at her affectionately. “You’re looking well, but if you have any questions, there’s me or Horatia or Celia-we’ve all been there before you.”
“Oh-yes.” Honoria blushed-she hadn’t told Devil; she could hardly tell his aunts first. “That is-” She gestured vaguely. “If…”
Smiling, Louise patted her arm. “Not if, my dear.
Climbing the stairs, Honoria debated just how to tell Devil the news. Every time she imagined doing so, the specter of his would-be murderer intruded. They were closing in; before he’d left that morning, Devil had told her that he and Vane were searching for proof, precisely what he hadn’t said. He’d promised to reveal all tonight. The last thing they needed now was a distraction-announcing the impending birth of his heir would create a major stir, focusing society’s rabid interest on them.
Entering the morning room, Honoria inwardly shook her head. She would inform Devil of his impending fatherhood
As she sank onto the
Lifting the folded sheet, Honoria saw black lettering, conservative, precise, not her husband’s extravagant scrawl. “Thank you, Webster.” Breaking the plain seal, she returned the knife to the tray and nodded a dismissal. Webster left as she unfolded the note.
Should you wish to learn more of he who intends your husband ill, come at once to No. 17 Green Street. Come alone – tell no one of your errand, else all will be lost. Most especially destroy this note that none may chance upon it and follow you, scaring away the little bird that would whisper in your ear.
For a long moment, Honoria stared at the note, then she reread it. Then, drawing a steadying breath, she sank back against the
Devil wouldn’t want her to go. But if she didn’t?
There was clearly a potential threat to herself, but that she dismissed out of hand; far more relevant was how Devil would react. Not, of course, that such a consideration would sway her-her fear was more compelling than his.
Glancing at the note’s thick black script, she grimaced. Devil’s words of the night replayed in her mind; if she understood them correctly, then his fear was a mirror image of hers. There was only one emotion which gave rise to such fear. That emotion, if he felt it, demanded her consideration, her care. The same emotion impelled her to go to Green Street. How to do both?
Five minutes later, she stood and crossed to the escritoire. Fifteen minutes later, she shook sand across her letter, folded it, and sealed it with the seal Devil had given her-the Cynster stag rampant imposed on the Anstruther-Wetherby chevrons. Blowing on the wax, she rose, crossed the room, and tugged the bellpull three times.
Sligo answered her summons. “Yes, ma’am?”
Honoria glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. Nearly three o’clock. “Where is His Grace at present?”
“At White’s with Master Vane.” Sligo almost smiled. “He didn’t try to lose the men I set to follow him today.”
“Good.” Honoria held out her letter. “I want this delivered into His Grace’s hands with all possible speed.”
“Right away, ma’am.” Accepting the letter, Sligo turned for the door.
“And have Webster call up a hackney for me.”
“A hackney, ma’am?” Sligo turned back, his expression watchful. “John Coachman can have the carriage around in a trice.”
“No.” Honoria let authority tinge her tone. “A hackney.
I’m only going a short distance-there’s no need to get the carriage out.” With a regal nod, she dismissed Sligo. “Tell Webster I wish to leave in ten minutes.”
Sligo departed. Honoria picked up the letter from her “well-wisher.” She glanced at it again, then, folding it neatly, headed upstairs.
Ten minutes later, arrayed in her golden pelisse and clutching an ivory-beaded reticule, she settled in one corner of the hackney. The footman bowed and started to close the door. It was wrenched from his grasp-Sligo bundled himself into the carriage, then shrank back in the other corner. Honoria stared at him. “Where’s my letter?”
Sligo watched her like a chicken shut in with a vixen. “On its way-I sent Daley with it. He’ll see it into His Grace’s hands, just like you wanted.”
“Indeed? And what are you doing here?”
“Ah…” Sligo blinked. “I thought as how it wasn’t right you going about alone-you might get lost, not being used to Lunnon an’ all.”
Lips compressed, Honoria straightened her skirts. “I’m only going a few streets away to visit an acquaintance.”
Sligo swallowed. “Be that as it may, ma’am, I’ll go with you-if you don’t mind.”
Looking up, Honoria was about to inform him that she did mind, when suspicion dawned. “Did His Grace order you to stay with me?”
Glumly, Sligo nodded.
Honoria sighed. “Very well-but you’ll have to remain in the carriage.”
The hatch above opened; the jarvey peered down. “We goin’ somewhere? Or did you just want to use me carriage for a chat?”
Honoria silenced him with a glare. “Green Street. Drive along it slowly-I’ll tell you where to stop.”
“Right you are.” The jarvey dropped the hatch; an instant later, they were off.
Green Street was where her grandfather lived, at Number 13. Number 17 was closer to the park. The jarvey walked his horse along; Honoria studied the facades. Number 17 was an elegant residence, a gentleman’s abode. She waited until they’d passed two more houses before saying: “Have the jarvey pull up. Wait for me here.”
Sligo relayed her orders. The hackney drew up; Sligo leapt down and helped her out. Beside the hackney, screened from Number 17 on the other side of the road, Honoria fixed Sligo with a commanding look. “Wait for me here-
Sligo blinked. “Shouldn’t I walk you to the door?”
“Sligo, this is Green Street, not Billingsgate. You will stay in the carriage.”
Mournfully, Sligo nodded; Honoria waited until he resumed his seat, then turned on her heel, walked back a short distance, and swiftly crossed the road. Briskly determined, she climbed the steps of Number 17. Reaching for the knocker, she froze, her hand in midair. The brass knocker was a sylph-a naked sylph. Honoria frowned, then closed her gloved hand about the indiscreet figure and beat an imperious tattoo.
She waited, clutching her reticule, trying not to think of the expletives her husband would utter when he read her letter-she hoped the committee of White’s would understand. Then footsteps approached on the other side of the door. Not the measured tread of a well-trained butler but a slow, familiar, prowling gait. Even before the door opened, Honoria knew she would not be facing a butler.
When she saw who held the door wide, her jaw dropped.
The earl of Chillingworth’s jaw dropped, too.
For one instant, they stood stock-still, staring at each other. Honoria mentally reeled, possibilities and conjectures whirling wildly.
Then Chillingworth scowled. “For God’s sake, don’t just stand there! Someone might see you.”
Honoria blinked dazedly and remained rooted to his front step. Smothering a growl, Chillingworth grabbed her arm and hauled her inside. He shut the door, then faced her.
Although he was not as tall as Devil, Chillingworth was not a small man. In the narrow hall, Honoria was acutely conscious of that fact. Straightening, without a clue as to what was going on, she fixed him with an imperious look. “Where’s your butler?”
Chillingworth returned her look with one she found unreadable. “My butler is out. As are the rest of my staff.” Honoria’s eyes widened; grimly, Chillingworth shook his head. “I can’t believe you’re serious.” He searched her face, her eyes.
Honoria tilted her chin defiantly. “Of
Chillingworth’s expression showed a medley of disbelief and disillusionment, then hardened into a mask very like his greatest rival’s. Fluidly, he shrugged. “If you insist.”
Without further ado, he bent his head to Honoria’s.
Uttering a strangled shriek, she jerked back and hit him.
Just before two o’clock, Devil had absentmindedly climbed the steps of White’s. On the threshold, he’d literally run into Vane.
Devil had grinned. “Surprising you didn’t find me then, for that’s where I’ve been. All over.”
Frowning, Vane opened his lips-Devil waved the question aside. “Have you eaten?”
Still frowning, Vane nodded. Devil handed his cane to the doorkeeper; Vane did the same. “I’ll talk while you eat.”
The dining room was companionably crowded with gentlemen lingering over their brandies. Served with remarkable promptness, Devil started on the sole-and lifted an inquiring brow.
Vane grimaced at the bodies about them. “I’ll tell you later.”
Devil nodded and applied himself to his meal, pleased to have an excuse not to talk. Explaining why he’d spent the whole morning roaming the town, exercising the two grooms Sligo had set to tail him, was beyond him. He suspected it would always be beyond him-his affliction wasn’t improving with time. And he could hardly tell Vane he was avoiding his wife because she’d said she loved him.
Said it, declared it, in unequivocal terms, with absolute conviction. Pausing, Devil quaffed half his glass of wine.
It was heady stuff, to know your wife felt that way. About you. That she would face danger without a blink, and refuse to back down, even when faced with sufficient intimidation to break a troop sergeant-all because she loved you.
There was only one snag, one fly in the ointment.
Taking another sip of wine, he returned to his sole. And the dilemma with which he’d spent all morning wrestling. If he told Honoria how he felt about her loving him, if he even acknowledged her declaration, he would simultaneously acknowledge the validity of her “justification” for going into danger. Which was something he could never do.
In times of trouble, as far as he and, he was quite sure, all his ancestors were concerned, Cynster wives were supposed to retreat to the donjon, there to remain in safety while their husbands manned the walls. Honoria’s vision was apparently different-she wanted to be on the walls with him.
He understood her point-he simply couldn’t accept it.
Explaining that was not going to be easy, not even after he’d made the confession he’d convinced himself he was honor-bound to make.
Feeling vulnerable was bad enough-admitting to vulnerability, out loud, in words, was infinitely worse. And, once said, the words couldn’t be taken back. He would, in essence, be handing her a
Whether she suspected his state he did not know-he did know he couldn’t count on her remaining in blissful ignorance for long. Not his Honoria Prudence. Which meant that the only way he could keep her out of danger was to remove the danger-by laying Tolly’s killer by the heels.
Pushing aside his plate, he looked at Vane. “What have you learned?”
Vane grimaced. “Let’s go into the smoking room.”
They found a deserted nook and settled in; Vane began without preamble. “Basically, I was right. My source has checked every-“
“Excuse me, Your Grace.”
They both looked up; one of the club’s footmen stood at Devil’s elbow, proffering a salver bearing a folded note. “This arrived a moment ago, Your Grace. The man was most insistent it be delivered to you immediately.”
“Thank you.” Taking the letter, Devil broke the seal, absentmindedly nodding a dismissal. Unfolding the letter, he scanned it-Vane saw his face harden. Devil’s eyes flicked back up to the start of the letter, his face unreadable, he read it through again.
“Well?” Vane asked, when Devil looked up.
Devil’s brows rose. “Something’s come up.” He didn’t meet Vane’s eyes. “An unexpected development.” Refolding the letter, he rose. “You’ll have to excuse me-I’ll send for you as soon as I’m free.”
With that, he turned and, putting the letter in one pocket, walked out.
Stunned, Vane stared after him. Then his face hardened. “Honoria Prudence-what the devil have you got up to now?”
“No! Wait! You can’t just walk out the door.”
“Why not?” Honoria swung around.
Holding a cold compress to the bridge of his nose, Chillingworth followed her up the hall. “Because there’s no sense in taking unnecessary chances. Your husband’s not going to appreciate this as it is-there’s no sense in making things worse.” Setting the compress down on the hall table, he looked her over. “Your bonnet’s not straight.”
Lips compressed, Honoria swung to face the mirror. Adjusting her bonnet, she studied Chillingworth’s reflection. He was still very pale; she wasn’t sure it was wise to leave him-his servants had not yet returned. On the other hand, she could understand his insistence that she leave without delay. “There!” She turned. “Does that meet with your approval?”
Chillingworth narrowed his eyes. “You’ll pass.” He met her gaze. “And don’t forget-show that note to Devil as soon as you see him.
Honoria lifted her chin.
Chillingworth eyed it with open disapproval. “Thank the heavens you’re his and not mine. Wait here while I check if anyone’s about. Like your grandfather or his butler.”
Honoria watched as he opened the door; standing on the front step, he looked up and down the street.
“All clear.” Chillingworth held the door open. “Other than your hackney, there’s no one in sight.”
Head high, Honoria swept out, then stopped and looked back. She frowned. “Don’t forget to lie down with your feet higher than your head. And for goodness sake put that compress back, or your eye will be worse than it need be.”
For the second time that day, Chillingworth’s jaw dropped. Momentarily. Then he glowered. “Good God, woman-get
Honoria blinked. “Yes, well-take care of yourself.” With that, she turned and briskly descended the steps. Gaining the pavement, she saw her hackney waiting. She glanced the other way-a black carriage rolled slowly around the corner into Green Street. Behind her, Chillingworth’s latch clicked. It was after four; dusk was drawing in. As Chillingworth had said, there was no one about. With an inward sigh, Honoria started along the pavement.
She didn’t see the dark figure, cloaked in black, who emerged from the area stairs beside Chillingworth’s steps. She had no inkling, felt no presentiment of danger, when the figure drew close, looming behind her. Harness jingled, hooves clacked as the black carriage drew abreast of her, blocking out the hackney. Honoria glanced at the carriage-a black pall dropped over her, cutting off the light, wrapping her in impenetrable folds. She gasped, and grasped the material, only to feel it wind tighter. She opened her mouth to scream; a hard hand clapped over her lips.
Honoria froze. An arm like steel wound about her waist and lifted her.
She didn’t struggle but patiently waited for Devil to set her down. He eventually did-on the carriage seat. The carriage jerked and picked up speed. “Wait!” Still enveloped in what she assumed was Devil’s cloak, Honoria struggled to break free. “What about Sligo?”
Then, “Sligo?” Devil sounded as if he couldn’t believe his ears.
“You ordered him to watch over me, remember?” Honoria wrestled with the cloak. The next instant, it was lifted from her-she let out an explosive breath, and discovered her husband watching her with an expression she couldn’t read at all. “He’s in the hackney, waiting for me.”
Devil stared at her, then, frowning dazedly, shook his head. “Wait here.”
He tapped on the hatch and ordered John Coachman to pull over, then leapt down. Honoria heard him stride back along the pavement. She couldn’t see anything; the flaps were all down.
Two minutes later, the carriage dipped as Sligo scrambled up behind.
“Around the park until I say otherwise.” Devil yanked open the door, climbed in, closed the door, then resumed his seat beside her.
The carriage lurched into motion; Devil met Honoria’s wide, totally open gaze. He drew a careful breath, trying to disguise the tension that still held him. “Perhaps you’d better tell me what’s going on.”
He’d obviously made a horrendous mistake-he didn’t want her to guess what he’d thought, how he’d felt, when he’d seen Chillingworth, stripped to his shirt, look out of his door, then seen her come waltzing out, turning back for a few last words before strolling away.
From the depths of the area, he hadn’t been able to hear her words; his imagination, however, had supplied words enough, with actions to match. Her betrayal had chilled him; the thought that her declaration of love had been worthless-mere words without meaning-had struck him to the heart. Black rage had consumed him, far beyond mere temper; he could barely remember following her. He could remember the instant when he’d held her trapped before him-and thought how easy it would be to put an end to the torment before it began. The recollection left him chilled, even as relief poured through him. Guilt over his lack of trust made him inwardly ache.
Honoria was watching him, a frown forming in her eyes. Devil cleared his throat. “Sligo said you got a note?”
He threw out the question to get her talking-instead, she frowned more definitely. “I told you about the note in my letter.”
Devil slowly blinked. “What letter?”
Rummaging in her reticule, Honoria dragged a sheet from the clutter. “I got this-
Devil took it and scanned it, then glanced accusingly at her.
She tilted her chin. “It said I had to come immediately, so I wrote you a letter explaining and asked Sligo to deliver it; he knew you were at White’s. I didn’t know you’d ordered him to stay by me-he sent Daley to deliver my letter so he could obey your orders.”
Devil frowned, then looked down at the note. “I didn’t get your letter-I must have left before Daley arrived.” The admission was past his lips before he’d considered.
“But-” Honoria’s brow was a mass of furrows. “If you didn’t get my letter, why are you here?”
Devil stilled. A minute passed; slowly, he lifted his head and met Honoria’s puzzled gaze. She searched his face-abruptly, he looked down. “I came because I got this.” He forced himself to draw the folded note from his pocket. He didn’t want to give it to her, but her straightforwardness, her honesty-her love-left him no choice. His heart a leaden weight in his chest, he handed it over.
Honoria unfolded the note, then read it. When she got to the end, she paused and drew an unsteady breath. A vise locked painfully about her chest; her heart beat heavily. Without lifting her head, she read the note again.
As she worked out what must have happened, her hands, holding the note, shook-she fought to steady them. Then, very slowly, she raised her head-and looked straight at Devil, into those eyes that usually saw too much but could also be blinded by fury. Time stretched; she stared into his eyes, her own full of pleading and disbelief. “It’s not true-I would
Devil closed his eyes. “I
His words reached Honoria; what she saw in his eyes wiped away her pain. The vise about her chest eased; she drew a deep breath. “That’s only fair.” Shifting along the seat, she slid her arms about him and laid her head against his chest. “I love you so much it hurts, too.”
If he couldn’t say the words, she’d say them for him; the truth was there, shining in his eyes. His arms closed about her, then locked painfully tight; after a moment, he rested his cheek on her curls. He was so tense, his muscles flickered. Gradually, as the carriage rolled on, she felt his tension ease, felt the muscles in his arms unlock.
His warmth enveloped her; his heart beat steadily beneath her cheek. He drew in a deep breath, then slowly exhaled; long fingers found her chin and tipped her face up.
Their eyes met, and held, then he lowered his head. Honoria’s lashes fell as Devil touched his lips to hers in a gentle, inexpressibly sweet kiss.
He drew back, one brow rising. “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me just what
No command or demand, just a mild request; Honoria couldn’t help but grin. “Actually, Chillingworth was very insistent that I tell you all, which must be a first.”
“Very likely. Start at the beginning-when you knocked on his door. Was he expecting you?”
“Not exactly.” Honoria wriggled upright. “He’d received a note, too-I saw it. Written in the same hand as ours.” She placed the note she still held next to the one on the seat beside Devil. “See? You can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman.”
“Hmm-so he knew you were coming to see him?”
“No.” Honoria spoke distinctly, mindful of Chillingworth’s instructions-and her husband’s propensities. “His note was from a mysterious unnamed lady, making an assignation for this afternoon. It was quite…” she gestured airily, “titillating.”
Devil narrowed his eyes. “By which you mean Chillingworth was raring to go-what did he say when you arrived on his front stoop?”
Honoria shot Devil a mischievous look. “Actually, I think he was even more surprised than I was. He was almost disapproving.”
Devil raised his brows skeptically. “And?”
“What followed was actually my fault-he told me I couldn’t possibly be in earnest. Naturally, I assured him I was.”
Honoria held Devil’s gaze. “He tried to kiss me-and I hit him.”
Devil blinked-then blinked again. “You
Honoria nodded. “Michael taught me how before he allowed me to go governessing.” She frowned. “I suppose I should have used my knee, but I didn’t think of it at the time.”
Devil only just managed not to choke. “I think,” he said, his voice not entirely steady, “that Chillingworth is probably quite grateful you hit him.” Honoria was uncommonly tall, and Chillingworth was shorter than he was. Devil’s lips twitched. “I must remember to inform him of his close escape.”
Honoria frowned. “Yes, well-unfortunately that’s not all. When I hit him, his nose started to bleed.”
It was too much; Devil succumbed to gales of laughter. “Oh, God,” he said, when he could speak again. “
“He seemed to think so, too. His waistcoat was ruined.”
One hand pressed to his aching ribs, Devil fisted Honoria’s left hand. “You must have used your left.”
Honoria nodded. “How did you know?”
Devil’s grin was pure devilish delight. “I caught him with a left at Eton-the same thing happened. He bled like a stuck pig.”
“Precisely.” Honoria sighed. “I’m afraid he’s feeling rather put-upon.”
“I can imagine.”
Devil’s tone had hardened; Honoria looked up inquiringly. He met her eyes. “He and I will have to sort this out.” Honoria straightened. “What do you mean?” Devil’s lips softened as he drew her back into his arms.
“Just that we’ll need to make sure we’ve got our stories straight in case someone noticed or starts a rumor.” He hugged Honoria close. “Don’t worry-I’m hardly likely to call a man out because my wife bloodied his nose.”
Honoria frowned. “Yes-but is
Devil’s chest quaked. “I really don’t think that’s likely.” Grinning, he tilted Honoria’s face up. “You’re a remarkably resourceful woman, you know.”
She blinked her eyes wide. “Naturally-I was raised an Anstruther-Wetherby.”
Smiling, Devil lowered his head. “You were raised to be a Cynster.”
He kissed her-and kept kissing her. The carriage rolled slowly through the gathering gloom, through the quiet shadows beneath the trees.
Breathless moments later, Honoria discovered that he could be remarkably resourceful, too. “
“In the park.” Intent on what he was doing, Devil didn’t raise his head. “If you look outside, you’ll see a number of carriages slowly rolling around the circuit.”
The grin on her husband’s lips could only be described as devilish. “The trick’s in the timing-trust me, they won’t feel a thing.”
They didn’t-but she, and he, certainly did.
It seemed like hours-an infinite number of panting, gasping,
“Horrible things-they’re sticking into me.” She turned the mother-of-pearl buttons about. “They’re not as big as the ones Tolly had, but they’re quite bad enough.”
Devil’s eyes, closed in blissful peace, snapped open. “What?”
“These buttons-they’re too large.”
“No-what else did you say?”
Honoria frowned even more. “That they’re like the ones on Tolly’s coat?”
Devil stared into the distance, then he closed his eyes-and closed his arms about Honoria, drawing her close. “That’s it.” He spoke the words into her hair. “That’s what I’ve been trying to remember about Tolly’s death.”
Honoria held him. “The button deflecting the ball? Does it help?”
His chin resting in her hair, Devil nodded. “It helps. It’s the final nail in our would-be-murderer’s coffin.”
Honoria tried to look at Devil’s face, but he held her too tightly. “You’re sure who it is?”
Devil sighed. “Beyond doubt.”
Three minutes later, their clothes precisely correct once more, the duke and duchess of St. Ives headed back to Grosvenor Square.