"She's not on my list of favorites, either," Grant replied. "But you have more cause to hate her than most, don't you? You blame her for causing your son's suicide."
"She is responsible for Harry's death," Lane acknowledged. "I've said as much to many others."
"Responsible in what way?"
Though Lord Lane made an effort to conceal his emotions, his voice contained betraying tremors of grief and fury. "My son suffered from melancholy for years. It caused him to turn to all manner of excessive behavior. He was easy prey for gamblers and thieves...and women such as the Duvall creature. She had an affair with Harry, and when she ended the relationship, my son shot himself."
"That isn't all you have against her," Grant said. "After Harry's death, Vivien then seduced his son Thomas--your only grandson--and schemed to marry him."
There was a long silence, during which Lane struggled to mask his emotions. "I'm aware of no schemes concerning my grandson," he said, his voice cool and dry.
Lane was a fairly good liar, Grant reflected--but the issue was too close to the old man's heart, and his rage was too great to conceal the truth for long.
"You bought Thomas a commission and packed him off on the first ship to India when you found out Vivien was after him," Grant continued. "I suppose you thought he'd be safer braving heathens, wild game, and exotic disease than to be exposed to Vivien's influence. God knows you may have been right. But you should have stopped it there, my lord. Hiring someone to murder Vivien was going a bit too far."
"Nonsense," Lane said curtly. "Had I wanted the harlot dead, I would have done it myself."
"Men in your position never do it themselves. But I am surprised that you apparently hired an idiot to take care of your dirty business. He didn't finish the job. The clumsy ass couldn't manage to kill one small, defenseless woman--something you learned about on the night of the Lichfield ball, when you saw that Vivien was still alive. And you became understandably keen on having the bastard finish what he was paid to do."
The barely suppressed outrage on Lane's face was infused by cunning and smugness. "What proof do you have of any of this?"
"I'll have proof enough when my investigation is concluded and I've caught your hired killer."
And then something strange happened...something that had never occurred in Grant's previous years of detective work. The defensive barrier suddenly broke, and Lane stared at him with a gaze of glittering, triumphant malice. And he made a four-word confession.
"You won't catch him."
The admission of guilt was completely unexpected. Had Grant been in Lane's position, he would have prevaricated indefinitely and hid behind a shield of age, respectability, and political influence. There was no reason for Lane to confess anything. However, later Grant would reflect that it was understandable in light of Lane's sense of invulnerability. Lane must have been certain that a man in his position--a peer of the realm--would never have been tried for the death of a whore. And moreover, Lane was so enraged over his son's suicide that deep inside he wanted someone to know that Harry's death had been properly avenged. He was an old man with very few years left, and he had been robbed of his only son.
Motionless, Grant stared at Lane as the old man continued with a quiet certainty that sent chills down his spine. "Vivien Duvall will soon be deep in her grave, her killer will disappear from England--and you can do nothing to stop it."
Inwardly unnerved, Grant had to remind himself that Victoria was safe in his own house, with a Runner to protect her.
"The imbecile you hired won't get anywhere near Vivien," Grant said softly. "So far he's never managed to lay a finger on her. From the beginning of your damnable bargain, he's been pursuing the wrong woman.The wrong one, do you understand? The woman he attacked and threw into the Thames--the same woman I escorted to the Lichfield ball--isn't Vivien Duvall. It's her sister. Vivien's been in hiding all this time, and your hired man has been trying to kill her innocent sister."
"It isn't true!" Lane shot to his feet so quickly that his chair toppled backward. Clearly the suggestion that Vivien Duvall was healthy and out of harm's way was enough to make him insane. Even the ends of his coarse gray hair seemed to crackle with fury. "Lying cur! Only a fool would believe such a cock-and-bull claim--"
"Vivien's sister has been put through hell because of your stupidity," Grant said, his own anger welling in an ungovernable flood. "And the nightmare she's been living is going to end tonight." Before he was quite aware of what he was doing, he felt his hands close around the other man's throat in a threatening vise. "Shall I do to you what was done to her?" he asked thickly. "Let's see how you feel after a good throttling and a nice long swim in the Thames--"
"Take...your hands...offme..." the other man wheezed.
"Tell me your man's name, so I can put a stop to this damned nonsense," Grant said grimly. "Tell me, you bastard."
Lord Lane's face purpled, and his eyes bulged with bitter fury. "If it's true," he choked, "if there are two of them...I'll have both of them destroyed, just to make certain--"
"Never. It'sfinished, do you understand?" Deliberately he tightened his fingers on Lane's windpipe. "His name," he repeated grimly, staring like an angel of vengeance into the old man's watery eyes.
Lane spat out the name with a force that sprayed flecks of spittle over Grant's face.
Suddenly Grant's hands loosened, and he stared at the gasping, choking man before him. "What did you say?" he demanded, trying to hear above the sudden annoying buzz in his own ears.
Staggering backward, Lord Lane repeated the name as if it were a profanity. "Keyes," he spat. "Neil Henry Keyes...one of your damned comrades. ARunner. " He laughed harshly. "He had need of the money. He assured me the task would be easy. I should have known one of your ilk would prove to be incompetent for the job. But I'll hire someone else, do you hear me? Vivien Duvall will never be safe!"
Shaking his head, Grant made his way to the door, feeling as if he were wading through quicksand. He was suffocating, fighting to breathe...
"My God," he gasped, as horror stole every coherent thought. For the first time in his life, he experienced a panic so great it made him momentarily unable to act. Keyes was the Runner who had been assigned to watch over Victoria this evening. Victoria had been delivered into the hands of her own murderer, with Grant's approval. "If anything happens to her," he whispered hoarsely to Lane, "your life is over."
And so was his. He ran, stumbled, tore his way out of the tomblike atmosphere of the club and into the cold shock of rain outside.
"My life ended when Harry's did," Lane cried, rushing after Grant, his voice echoing in the astonished silence that had settled over Boodle's. A tremendous pain settled in his chest, squeezing, pressing, but he ignored it in his mounting rage. "The only thing I live for now is to see that slut dead! I will never rest until she dies, do you understand? If I have to crush the last bit of life from her...with my own hands..."
Lane stopped in the center of the great saloon, while servants and patrons hurried toward him. He was surrounded by a dark blur, and he shouted into the thickening haze, while the crushing pain in his chest increased and spread. Hands were on him now, a myriad of voices tried to calm him, but that infuriated him all the more. His shouts faded to insistent gasps of vengeance, and the floor rose inexorably as he began to fall...He felt himself dissolving in the sea of hatred he would never, could never, relinquish.
"The Runner is here, my dear." Mrs. Buttons stood at the library door. "His name is Mr. Keyes, and he's a good, kind gentleman--the most experienced man Sir Cannon could offer. Mr. Morgan esteems him highly. We've been left in good hands, to be sure."
"Give Mr. Keyes my thanks for looking after things during Mr. Morgan's absence," Vivien murmured. She paused before the library window with a book in hand, gazing at the gathering storm outside. A blanket of clouds had made the afternoon as dark as night, while gusts of wind sifted through the trees and garden. A few patters of rain began to fall, the plump, heavy drops heralding worse to come.
"Shall you thank him yourself, miss?" the housekeeper asked. "He is waiting in the entrance hall, and he seems intent on speaking to you right away."
"Of course," Vivien said reluctantly. "Would you show him in here?"
Holding the poetry book against her midriff, Vivien splayed her fingers over the embossed leather cover and heaved a great sigh. She didn't want to make conversation with Mr. Keyes, she wanted Grant to come home right away. Knowing that he was temporarily out of reach made her feel strangely uneasy. She had come to rely on him so completely that she hated the thought of being separated from him, even for a day and night.
But she couldn't allow herself to give in to such feelings. Their relationship, such as it was, would end all too soon, and she must retain some vestige of dignity when they parted. To reveal how she craved his attention, his smiles, his companionship, would only embarrass them both. She faced a lifetime bereft of Grant Morgan, and she had better accustom herself to doing without him. Making her breathing quiet and deep, Vivien loosened her anxious grip on the book and turned just as Mrs. Buttons brought the Runner into the room. Mr. Keyes was an average-sized man wearing an obviously costly salmon-colored coat. A wide-brimmed gray hat was clasped in one hand. He was attractive and rather dashing, his silver hair fluffy and windswept. Vivien couldn't take her eyes from him. His dandyish appearance contradicted her notions of what a Bow Street Runner should look like. Shaping her mouth in a polite smile, Vivien curtsied as he approached her. Mrs. Buttons began to leave with a small murmur.
Keyes stopped her with a light touch. "Wait, if you please, Mrs. Buttons," he said. "You may as well hear what I have to tell Miss Duvall."
"Yes, sir." Folding her hands together, the housekeeper stood obediently, her brow knitting with a touch of perplexity.
"To begin with, Miss Duvall," the Runner said with old-fashioned courtliness, "I am gratified, to say the least, to be assigned the duty of protecting you."
"Thank you," Vivien said, noting that the rain outside had begun to slow, its heaviness suspended high and full in the sky. "Mrs. Buttons assures me that you are greatly esteemed by my--" She stopped in a sudden shock of confusion, and prickly color inched over her face and neck. "By Mr. Morgan," she managed to choke out. What other betraying words would have slipped out had she not caught herself? My...She had no right to apply that word to Grant, denoting possessiveness and attachment. He was not hers in any sense. How could she forget herself so easily?
Ignoring the slip, Keyes apparently sought to cover her confusion. His attractive, weathered face creased with a smile. "I will do everything in my power to justify Mr. Morgan's confidence in me."
"Thank you, Mr. Keyes."
"In that vein," he continued carefully, "I must inform you of a slight change in plans. Do not be distressed--you are in no danger--but just before coming here I received word from Sir Ross that I am to bring you to Bow Street at once."
"I would prefer to stay here," Vivien said in surprise, her hand creeping to her throat.
Keyes shook his head. "I understand, Miss Duvall. However, Sir Ross has received new information in Morgan's absence, which has led him to request your presence at his office."
"What kind of information might that be, sir?" Mrs. Buttons asked, coming forward to stand at Vivien's side.
"I'm not allowed to say," Keyes replied, smiling slightly at the two distressed women. "But I assure you, Mr. Morgan would want you to comply. And certainly there is no safer place in London than number four Bow Street."
"How long must I stay there?" Vivien asked. "Until Mr. Morgan returns?"
"Possibly." Suddenly a twitch of impatience pulled at his mouth. "Come, Miss Duvall, we're wasting time. Sir Ross requested me to escort you to him immediately."
"All right." Vivien was perturbed by the unexpected change of plans. An unpleasant feeling crept over her. Mr. Keyes appeared to be a nice man, but there was something about him that she did not like, something difficult to identify. It seemed that his genial facade concealed something reptilian and cold. She instinctively wanted to avoid him. Her heart had picked up its pace, beating in an anxious, uneven staccato. It was rather amazing, the reaction of her body, when her mind could discern no reasonable cause for it.
The desire to escape him rose strongly in her, making it difficult to keep from bolting into an outright run. "Mr. Keyes," she managed to say, "may I take one of the maids with me? I would like some female companionship."
"Mary will go with you," Mrs. Buttons said, clearly approving of the idea.
Keyes shook his head at once. "There's no need of that. This is hardly a social call, Miss Duvall, but official business. I would prefer to leave right away, if you don't mind. Before the storm worsens."
Vivien exchanged a long, questioning glance with the housekeeper.Is he trustworthy? her own gaze asked, while Mrs. Buttons silently responded,I believe so.
Mrs. Buttons was clearly worried, but her graying head tilted in a posture of helpless acquiescence. "Miss Duvall," she murmured, "if Mr. Keyes says you must go, I don't think there's much to be said about it." A troubled frown pulled at her forehead. "And he's right--there is no safer place for you than Bow Street."
Vivien glanced at the darkening sky visible through the window. "Very well," she said calmly. "If you'll excuse me, Mr. Keyes, I should like to change my shoes and put on a hooded premise."
"Of course, Miss Duvall."
Vivien backed away a step, staring at him intently. A memory seethed and writhed in her brain, pushing urgently at the wall of forgetfulness. "Sir...we've met before, haven't we?"
"I don't believe so, miss." His gaze held a coiled enmity that caused a sudden fearful pang in her stomach. He did not like her, she realized. He must have heard the terrible rumors about her--or the real Vivien, as it were--and believed every one of them.
A rumble of thunder scored through the silence, and Keyes turned his head to glance at the gathering darkness. Something about his profile, the small hump at the bridge of his nose, the outline of his hair, the way the little jut of his chin met the soft folds of his throat, made her nerves screech in alarm.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com