Authors: Maureen Driscoll
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult Romance
“If you have broken the law, my lord, I am obligated
to report it.”
“That will make this rather awkward, since this very
conversation violates the state secrets act. But I haven’t committed murder or
mayhem – at least not much. Do I have your word, Lewis?”
“That will have to do. I work for the Foreign
Office. I am currently in the process of leaving government, but am forced to
maintain my cover as a useless fribble for the time being. I cannot tell you
much of my work, other than it does expose me to information you might find
useful in this case.”
Alex stilled. Was this a test? It wouldn’t be the
first time someone had decided to test a prosecutor’s loyalty to the Crown.
“If you have evidence of Mrs. Pierce’s guilt, my lord, I suggest you share it
with the proper authorities at Bow Street.”
“There is no evidence of Mrs. Pierce’s guilt because
she did not kill her husband. Win isn’t capable of it.”
“You are a longtime family friend and, therefore,
biased.” And just the use of Mrs. Pierce’s Christian name grated on him. Had
Grayson courted one sister, only to move on to the next?
“I can tell what you’re thinking, Lewis. You’re
surprisingly transparent, which I would imagine is quite inconvenient for a
barrister. Win has always been like a sister to me.”
“But Lady Rosemary?”
“Most assuredly is not. But I would thank you not to
spread that about. It would damage her reputation to have her name linked with
mine. Not to mention her brothers would kill me. If I do end up dead, that is
a murder where I would support your prosecutorial efforts wholeheartedly. I am
here to offer you my services, Lewis, in clearing Win’s name.”
“You have not forgotten I’m working for the
“I believe, sir, you are working in the interest of
justice. And that will not be served with a wrongful conviction. I will help
you discover the truth. Then it will be up to you what you do with it.”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“I would ask you to take my word as a gentleman, but
that might not carry much weight. Think of it this way…by simply admitting I
work for the Foreign Office, you could have me arrested. We both have
something at stake. But it is nothing compared to an innocent woman’s life.”
“I do not know she is innocent.”
“But you are beginning to suspect it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you listened to what I had to say. Is it a
Alex thought about it for a moment. He was risking a
great deal. He could be disbarred, leaving him with no means to earn a living.
He also loved the law. It was the primary source of comfort in his life. But
if Mrs. Pierce were innocent…. “Yes, it’s a deal. And if you are in earnest
about assisting me, I have a job for you.”
“I will gladly do it. Shall we discuss it over
another glass of brandy?”
Win was nervous. It was not dissimilar to the nights
she’d waited for Pierce to return, unsure of what would happen when he did, but
knowing how bad it could be. She was taking an enormous risk by leaving Lynwood
House and she might not learn anything of use at her home.
Yet she had to do it.
It was almost ten of the clock and she knew she still
had a few hours to wait. From what Lewis had said, Clive, Emmeline and Horace
were living at the house. She’d never enjoyed their company when Pierce had
been alive and had no doubt they would turn her in if she was discovered at the
Early on in her marriage, deprived of her own family,
Win had thought to find friendship with Emmeline. But all her overtures had
been rebuffed. Emmeline spent most of their time together criticizing Win,
from her choice of décor to her style of dress and even her preference of peas
over carrots. Poor Horace had been so intimidated by his wife that he’d
avoided everyone’s company by spending most of his time in the study with a
glass of brandy. Clive was slightly more tolerable than his sister when others
were around, yet Win had to constantly avoid him in private. He had wandering
hands and the desire to have everything his elder brother did.
The brothers’ relationship had been so contentious, Win
had even wondered if Clive might have killed Clarence. But she doubted he had
either the strength or the force of will to do so.
Win had to time her departure from Lynwood House
well. Clarence’s relations were officially in mourning, so they wouldn’t be at
any social engagements. She had to wait until they were asleep and the
servants in their quarters, before slipping out the library doors of Lynwood
House and stealing through the dark streets of Mayfair. With any luck, she
could be back within two hours. Yet those two hours weighed heavily upon her.
But she reminded herself that the outcome would be
worse if she did nothing at all. She’d been inactive for too many years. It
was time for her to take charge of her life, even if the very notion of what
she had to do scared her.
There was a light knock at the door. Win’s heart
stuttered in her chest. “Come in.”
And suddenly, Win’s trepidation lifted – at least for
the moment. It was such a blessing to be able to see her family whenever she
wished, especially after being denied for so long.
Rose came in and hugged her. The two sisters held on
to each other for a long moment.
“I love doing that,” said Rose. “I’ve missed you so
“You cannot imagine how much I longed to see you,” Win
said, squeezing her sister’s hand and being reassured by its warmth.
“Would you like to go to the kitchen for some warm
“Thank you, but I plan to retire early.” Win hated
lying to Rose, but she couldn’t very well tell her the truth.
“I am so sorry – I should have asked if you wished to
have company,” said Rose, looking more like the timid young girl of six years
earlier than the grown woman she now was.
“Don’t be silly. I will always wish to see you.
Please sit down.”
The two sisters curled up into the wingback chairs by
the fire, tucking their skirts around them. When Rose didn’t say anything
further, Win asked “Is something wrong, dear heart?”
“I am worried about you, of course,” said Rose. “I
hate that after everything you’ve been through, there is still the trial to
“Let us not speak of that tonight,” said Win. “What
is troubling you? I believe it is more than my legal problems.”
Rose, once again the uncertain girl, tried to speak,
but couldn’t. Tried again and failed.
Win reached for her hand. “What is wrong, love? Is
Rose’s eyes widened. “How did you know? And, more
importantly, do our brothers know?”
“I believe they are quite blissfully ignorant. I,
myself, do not truly know anything. I simply suspect there is something
between you. An understanding, perhaps?”
“Nothing of the sort!” said Rose. “In truth, I do not
know if Grayson considers me as anything other than his friends’ bothersome
“He thinks a great deal more of you than that. I can
tell just the way he looks at you. But the more important question is what do
you think of him?”
“I’m afraid I’ve been in love with him most of my
life. There is no hope for it, of course. I shan’t be staying in London and I
don’t think he’ll ever come back to Wiltshire. Why is it that he and his
father don’t get along?”
“I do not know. Our brothers might, though I scarcely
think they would tell us.”
“If they had any idea I had feelings for Nate, I am
quite certain they would lock me in my room and goodness knows what they’d do
to Grayson. Yet he is one of their closest friends.”
“It is the way of protective men, I’m afraid. I don’t
believe any man could measure up to their high standards when it comes to a
husband for their beloved sister.” Win studied Rose, who was absent-mindedly
straightening her gown. “Are you certain your feelings are true? You haven’t
met many eligible young men.”
“Nor am I likely to since I will never have a Season.
Pray do not mistake my feelings on the subject,” Rose added quickly. “I have
no desire to be out in Society. And I have never felt a strong desire to be
married in general – especially once I heard what you went through. But
Grayson is different. I just believe we are meant to be together. I know that
“Not at all.”
“But I know it’s hopeless. I dread the day when I
learn he is to marry. And if he brings her back to the castle, well, mayhap I’ll
set out for America to get away.”
“Don’t say that, love. We cannot be separated now
that we’re all finally together again.”
“I know,” said Rose, squeezing her sister’s hand. “Do
you think I might, well…may I spend the night with you? I have missed you
terribly. I remember us spending nights together when father was in one of his
rages. You were so kind to a scared little girl.”
Win smiled wistfully. “I was but a scared older girl,
but I’m glad I gave you comfort. I would normally like nothing more than
that, Rose, but tonight, I’m afraid I cannot.”
Rose’s face fell and Win felt a pang in her heart.
“Of course,” said Rose with a weak smile. “I’m sure
you have much on your mind. And, besides, we are much too old for that.”
“Rose, it isn’t that. We will never be too old for a
coze. And I wish I could do that very thing tonight, but….”
How could she
“But what?” Rose looked achingly hopeful.
“But I have plans,” said Win weakly.
“This late at night? What are you doing, Win? Are
you running away? Because I will go with you. I’ll protect you and make sure
no man ever hurts you again.”
Rose was fierce in her loyalty and Win had no doubt her
sister would protect her at all costs. So perhaps she owed her the truth.
“Promise me, dearest, not to repeat a word of what I’m
about to tell you.”
“I promise.” Rose’s gaze was fast upon her.
“I am going back to my house for a few hours.”
“But you cannot leave here at all! You’ll surely be
arrested and thrown into that terrible gaol again. If there’s something you
need, I will get it for you. Please,Win, it’s the height of lunacy to go
there, especially at night.”
“But I believe it could help my case.” Win told Rose
about her suspicions and the reasons she couldn’t involve their brothers.
Rose listened to the explanation, asked a few
questions, then nodded slowly. “I understand why you have to do this.”
“Thank you, love.”
“When do we leave?”
“You are not coming with me.”
“There is no way I’m letting you go alone.”
“But it could be very dangerous.”
“Which is why I won’t let you go by yourself.”
“I won’t take you.”
“Then I’ll go to Colin’s bedchamber right now.” And
the look on Rose’s face made it clear she wasn’t bluffing.
“You said you wouldn’t tell him!”
“I’m sorry to go back on my word, but after everything
you sacrificed to keep me safe, do you really believe I wouldn’t do everything
in my power to protect you, as well? Be angry with me if you must, but you are
not leaving this house alone. And I’ll go to Colin and the others this very
minute if you do not relent.”
Win was incredibly touched. “That is blackmail.”
“Yes, it is. When do we leave?”
It was half past midnight when Win and Rose slipped
out of the Lynwood House gardens. There was a half-moon out, which lit their
way but was not bright enough to expose them. Win was still worried that Rose
had accompanied her, though also incredibly comforted by her presence.
They quickly walked the few blocks to her old house. They
stopped at the entrance to the alley which led to the mews behind it. They’d
discussed the route ahead of time. They would keep to the shadows as they
slipped past the mews and into the back garden, then make their way to the
servants’ entrance near the kitchens. Win knew it was often left unlatched to
allow servants to sneak in and out as they pleased. Havers was as unpleasant to
the staff as he had been to Win. She knew few of the servants liked adhering
to his strict curfew.
As she approached the entrance with Rose close behind,
Win prayed they wouldn’t encounter anyone in the servants’ hall before they
could slip through to the front of the house. Win took hold of the door handle
and lifted it. It was unlocked. She said a quick prayer of thanks as she
ushered Rose in, then closed the door with just the slightest click. They
remained motionless for a moment before Win once again took the lead, tiptoeing
through the dark servants’ hall.
When they reached the swinging door to the rest of the
house, there was no light coming from the other side. She hoped that meant
there was no one there. But if there was someone, their only plan was to turn
and run back the way they had come. If they didn’t catch her, they couldn’t
prove she’d left Lynwood House. But if they did catch her…
She wouldn’t think of that now. She was tired of
cowering. Tired of being afraid. Then she felt Rose’s hand in hers and it
gave her the courage to move forward.
Win pushed open the door to find the foyer dark, save
for the moonlight coming through the transom above the front entrance. She
held on to Rose’s hand, as they walked silently through the dark foyer, then
turned to the study. The door was closed, but she carefully opened it and they
both slipped in.
She closed the door behind them and breathed a sigh of
They looked at each other. It was clear they were
both grateful for having made it that far. But Win also had to admit to an
unexpected excitement. The risk made her feel almost giddy. She made her way
across the room, then opened the drapes a bit to give them more light.
“Is this the room where you found him?” Rose
“Yes,” said Win, surprised that the memory brought up
no emotion other than a detached sorrow that anyone should have to die in such
a violent manner.
“Where should we start?” asked Rose.
Win studied the large room. There were windows along
two sides, which made it unlikely that the entrance to a secret chamber could
be along either of them. Part of another wall bordered the foyer. A fireplace
and bookshelves lined the other wall. Win pointed to it. “I suspect it is
somewhere over there.”
The two women approached the bookshelves and the ornate
“Are you certain it is here?” asked Rose.
“Unfortunately, I am not certain of anything,” said
Win. “But if there is a passageway, I suspect it is hidden somewhere here. We
should start by looking for a latch around the fireplace.”
The two spent the next five minutes searching. “I
feel like we’re in some kind of gothic novel,” said Rose. “Though,
unfortunately, not one of the romantical ones.”
Win grinned. “Does Colin know about your reading
“Heavens no. Of course if he did, he’d probably spend
his hard-earned royalties on buying me books when we have necessities to
“I’ve always thought books were necessities. I believe
I would have gone mad had I not been able to read over the past six years.”
“Then I am very glad you had them,” said Rose. “Did
Win held up a hand to silence her sister, for she
heard the doorknob to the foyer turn. She grabbed Rose and quickly hid the two
of them behind the drapes just seconds before the door quietly opened.
The two women stood shoulder to shoulder, holding
hands, not daring to breathe. Win tried to suppress the panic that was welling
within her. Whoever it was had just cut off their only means of escape. If
they were caught, Win would try to stall whoever it was to allow Rose to get