Page 48

Author: Anne Stuart


Brandon’s ghostly laugh was eerie. “No. They’re often a lot worse.” He sank back on the pillow, closing his eyes. “Forgive me, Neddie.”


For the first time in years he wanted to cry. “Nothing to forgive, baby brother. Trust me. Big brother is going to fix everything.”


But Brandon had already drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep. At least, Benedick hoped so.


The housemaid who’d assisted the doctor appeared in the doorway. “You want me to sit with him, my lord?” she whispered.


“Yes, thank you, Trudy.” He blessed himself for remembering her name. He wasn’t as good as he should be with servants but he was better than most. “Call me if there’s any change.”


“Doctor says he’ll sleep twenty-four hours or more, until that poison gets out of his system. I’ll watch him and make sure he rests easy.”


Benedick nodded. A deep pall had settled over him, which made no sense. Brandon was back, safe. It didn’t make sense that he’d killed the girl—it was too soon for the sacrifice. They would wait until the full moon, which wasn’t until sometime tonight.


Which meant some poor child was imprisoned, waiting, and by tomorrow would be dead. And he could sit and do nothing about it, or he could do what he knew he must do. Go to Kersley Hall and stop them.


He heard the commotion as he started toward the first floor, a flurry of voices, and he stopped on the landing, frozen, as he looked into the pale, desperate face of Emma Cadbury.


One of the footmen was arguing with her. “His lordship is not at home to women of your sort, my girl. Go along with you.”


Richmond would have known better. “Wait,” Benedick said, coming down the rest of the stairs.


The older footman turned. “Your lordship, this woman was found sneaking around the house. She must have got in the servants’ entrance, and she says she’s looking for you, but Cook says she’s one of those scarlet women, and she’s got no right visiting a decent gentleman’s establishment, less’n he’s asked for her, which I figger you didn’t, as you were worried about your brother, and…”


“Your brother?” Emma Cadbury broke through. “What’s happened to your brother?”


“I don’t think that’s any of your concern,” Benedick said stiffly. “Did you sneak in here to see me?”


“I couldn’t think of any other way. I knew I’d scarcely be allowed in by the front door.” Her voice was defiant.


He considered her for a moment, then made up his mind. “Come into the library,” he said abruptly. “That will be all,” he added to the footman, whose name he didn’t know. “Keep my sister and her damnable husband away from us.”


“But my lord…” the man began, but it was too late. Benedick had already pushed past him and pushed open the door, revealing Lucien de Malheur with his very pregnant wife sitting on his lap, kissing him.


“Shit.” It wasn’t a word Benedick had ever used in the presence of a woman, but the circumstances more than called for it, and he said it again. “Shit. What are you two doing in my library? Don’t answer that. Don’t I provide you with a bedroom, albeit against my will? Go there.”


“Who’s this?” Miranda said, hopping off her husband’s lap with surprising grace. The Scorpion rose as Mrs. Cadbury entered the room, ever polite.


“You don’t need to introduce me, my lord,” she whispered. “I know I shouldn’t have come here, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”


“I would suggest you leave it up to me to decide who I introduce my sister to,” he said acidly.


“Let me solve the problem and do the honors,” Lucien said smoothly. “My dear, I presume this is Mrs. Emma Cadbury, formerly one of the most notorious madams in all of London. Mrs. Cadbury, this is my wife, the Countess of Rochdale.”


Miranda gave her a dazzling smile. “But you’re so young. That’s quite an achievement for one of your youth. And I collect you’ve retired?”


“Miranda!” Benedick groaned.


“She married me, Rohan,” the Scorpion said. “She’s used to all sorts of bad hats.”


“Is that what I am?” Mrs. Cadbury said wryly. “It’s better than some other things I’ve been called. But Lord Rohan, I really must speak with you.”


“You may as well do it in front of my sister and her wretched husband. What has Lady Carstairs done now?”


“That’s the problem, my lord. She’s gone missing.”


33


The day had gone from incomprehensibly bad to cataclysmic, Benedick thought with almost absent precision. What had started with worry over his brother and annoyance with his sister had flipped over into a kind of focused panic. They had Melisande, God help her.


And God help them.


He managed to keep his voice under control. “What makes you think I know anything about it?”


Emma Cadbury gave him a look of withering disdain, something he deserved. “I was hoping you would, sir. I was truly hoping she’d been fool enough to spend the night with you again and simply hadn’t bothered to let us know.”


“I could only wish,” Miranda said wryly.


“But since she’d gone out in search of young Betsey, who disappeared, and she promised she was coming to ask you for help, it seemed odd that she didn’t send any word back to us. She never would have abandoned Betsey for some shallow affaire with a hardened rake,” she said bitterly.


She certainly had the hard part right, even if the shallow affaire and rake part were far and away off. “I never saw her,” he said. “Haven’t seen her since two mornings ago.”


“When she left here in tears,” Emma Cadbury said bitterly. “You bastard.”


He blinked in astonishment. He wasn’t used to being called a bastard by anyone, much less someone so far beneath him in rank.


Miranda jumped in before he could respond. “Not precisely, but close enough. To make things worse, the damned fool’s in love with her and refuses to admit it. I am so weary of pigheaded men and their stubborn natures.”


Lucien de Malheur laughed.


“You’re not exempt, either!” she snapped.


Emma Cadbury looked at Benedick with skepticism. “I don’t see any signs of love, my lady. I see a cruel, heartless pig of a man who used her and then sent her away, and…”


“Enough!” he thundered, and all was mercifully silent. “I do not appreciate being called names in my own house. I am not a bastard, a rake, a pig or anything else you women might think of. My love life is not open for discussion, no matter how interested you two are.”


“Make that three,” the Scorpion tossed in, and Benedick sent him a bitter glare. He should have known someone like Lucien de Malheur would offer no loyalty, no male solidarity.


“And beyond that, I believe we should be more concerned about Lady Carstairs. Explain to me what happened,” he demanded in a peremptory tone.


“But first, please take a seat,” Miranda broke in.


“You don’t offer a seat to a brothel-keeper, Miranda,” Benedick said.


“But she’s retired.”


“I don’t want a seat. I want to find Melisande and make sure she’s safe. I’m afraid she’s gone after those men, and she doesn’t even have your doubtful company to protect her.”


He ground his teeth at the word doubtful but let it pass. “When did she leave?”


“Yesterday, in the late morning. She took a hired coach, and the monk’s robe we’d made for her, and she said she was bringing Betsey home. And that’s the last we’ve heard of her, or Betsey for that matter.”


“You could have come to me sooner,” he snapped, a dozen horrifying scenarios racing through his mind.


“I assumed she was with you. That’s what she told me. I should have realized that something was amiss. Particularly when you consider how distraught she was when she returned home from here the last time.”


Another stab to the heart, but he ignored it. “Yes, you should have,” he said icily. He glanced at Lucien. “I need to leave. She must be at Kersley Hall, and it’s growing late. I don’t know if they intend to use her for their nasty ritual.”


“I gather she’s…er…not a virgin,” Miranda offered.


“That’s not my fault,” Benedick snapped. “She was already a widow.”


“Your lordship.” Richmond was at the door, a pile of cloth in his hand. “I thought you might be needing this.”


“What?” he demanded irritably.


“A monk’s robe. I found it among Master Brandon’s things and removed it, hoping it might stop his current activities. Not that it did any good.”


He wanted to hug the old man, but he simply grabbed the cloth and threw it over his arm. “I have to go,” he said again.


“Then go,” Miranda said, waving an arm. “Lucien and I will be close behind as soon as our carriage is readied, and I’m certain he can summon some of his less savory acquaintances to assist.” She turned to her husband. “Do you know where Kersley Hall is, darling?”


“Generally. We’ll find it,” he said. “Do you know when this supposed ritual is going to take place?”


“Midnight. And don’t even think of bringing Miranda. She’s pregnant, for God’s sake!”


“You’ve known her all your life,” Lucien retorted. “Do you really think I have a chance in hell of keeping her home?”


“Oh, you’re a fearsome creature, indeed, Scorpion.”


“Stuff it. Your sister is enough to terrify anyone.”


Benedick ignored him, turning to his sister. “Someone needs to look out for Brandon. I don’t know that Trudy will be fully up to it.”


“Mrs. Cadbury can do it. You don’t mind, do you, Mrs. Cadbury? The doctor assures us he’ll simply sleep the next twenty-four hours, but we’d feel better if someone was keeping an eye on him.”

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