Authors: Maureen Driscoll
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult Romance
Alex sat back and rubbed his neck. He’d spent most of
the day and into the evening studying the ledgers he’d taken from Pierce’s
house. His neck and back ached. His desk was too small and there was but one
comfortable chair in his chamber. Unfortunately, it wasn’t conducive to poring
over ledgers, particularly when one of them was in an undecipherable code.
He’d spent hours trying to break it, to no avail.
He was growing more frustrated with this case by the
It was an odd thing, being a barrister. One lived and
worked from chambers, then ate in the dining hall, much like life at a college
in university. The head of chambers distributed cases and a barrister could
not decline an assignment unless he was too busy or not qualified to argue the
However, if he’d had the choice, he would have
declined his current case. The more he read, the more he wondered about Mrs. Pierce’s
guilt. If she had killed her husband, she’d been most impractical about it. And
while there were those who felt women were inherently impractical, Alex did not
believe Mrs. Pierce had murdered her husband, but been too feeble-minded to do
Nor did he believe the murder had been an act of
passion. Someone would have heard arguing. From all accounts, Pierce had
outweighed his wife by five or six stone. It would have been extremely
difficult to kill him, even if she hadn’t been beaten mere hours earlier.
Then there was the matter of the ledgers Alex had
found in the desk. From what he’d been able to discern, they looked like payments
to Pierce, and likely from illegal means. If he had to guess, it would be blackmail
or, given his shipping connections, contraband trade. Possibly opium or, even
worse, human trafficking. People didn’t keep coded ledgers in hidden compartments
for regular business transactions.
That was borne out by the correspondence he’d found.
Pierce had received threatening letters from tradesmen whose fortunes had been
wiped out when they’d been unable to pay debts to Pierce at interest rates that
would constitute usury. A few of the men had threatened Pierce with bodily
harm and Alex had the feeling some of them wouldn’t have hesitated to follow
So much for the claims that Pierce hadn’t had an enemy
in the world.
However, it was doubtful those men would have gained
entrance to Pierce’s home and there had been no signs of a breakin. Many of
the letters were old, some going back a decade or more. It was unlikely that
someone driven to murder would wait that long.
But whatever Pierce had been into had been illegal and
he’d made powerful enemies because of it. The list of people who wanted Pierce
dead was likely much longer than just his wife.
Alex suddenly realized he’d missed supper. Not an
unusual occurrence when he was caught up in a case, but, given his growing
distaste for the deceased, he decided a meal would be a good distraction.
He walked through the dimly lit corridors on the
threadbare carpet, amidst a slight smell of mildew. The walls were covered
with paintings of distinguished barristers. He often wondered if those men
from the past had been any more interested in the law than most of his current
day colleagues. Many of the men he worked with were simply biding their time
until they could find a rich wife.
Alex was not one of them. He suspected he would
remain a barrister for the rest of his life. There was little chance he’d be
appointed to the courts as a judge. His lineage wasn’t good enough for that.
He would live his life from case to case, eating his meals in the communal
dining hall and returning each night to his cold bed.
It was rather depressing when he thought about it too
much. But he’d chosen this profession. It couldn’t be helped if he was fated
to a solitary life.
After descending two flights of stairs, he reached the
dining hall where one of the serving lads was still cleaning up. Alex asked
him for a sandwich, then looked for a place to sit down and relax. He was hailed
by George Peyton, the third son of Baron Grassley. Peyton was six and twenty,
lazy and had chosen the law as a profession because it had come with lodgings.
He was fond of gaming and drinking, which were particularly bad hobbies for a
barrister, though hardly uncommon. Peyton cared little for the law and even
less for his clients. And it showed. He’d often remarked that he was only
biding his time until he could find a rich earl’s daughter to marry.
“What, ho, Lewis,” said Peyton. “You look terrible.
Been out on the town at some soiree in Whitechapel? Or have you made it all
the way to Gracechurch Street society?” Peyton laughed at his own jest. He
was forever making sport of Alex’s humble background, just as he was always
toadying up to the barristers who were sons of dukes and marquesses. After
all, some of them might have sisters.
“No, Peyton, I’ve been studying my latest case file.”
“What’s to study? Bow Street has already done your
work for you. Lady Winifred is all but convicted. All you have to do is stand
in court and utter a few words, you lucky sot.”
“How do you know about my case?”
“Because I’m opposing you. Sir Wilfred gave me the
news today. I’d say I envy you since you’ll not have to lift a finger to win,
but I heard the murderess widow is staying at the Duke of Lynwood’s house. He’d
be a powerful ally and this will give me a chance to rub shoulders with him and
his brother-in-law the Marquess of Riverton. It’s too bad I’ll lose, but I’ll
do just enough to make it look like I’m trying. I also heard the murderess has
an eighteen-year-old sister, Lady Rosemary.”
Alex knew little of the earl’s family, though he
imagined they were as toplofty as most in the
. But he didn’t like
Peyton’s predatory way with women. “I cannot imagine the Earl of Ridgeway will
look favorably upon you as a future brother-in-law for one sister if you bungle
the defense of the other.”
Peyton laughed. “Oh, I don’t want to marry the chit.
The family’s much too poor. In debt to their eyebrows, as it were. If I
married her, I’d have to keep toiling away here.”
“Perhaps it is good for both the lady and those you represent
that you will not pursue a marriage.” Though in truth, Peyton’s withdrawal from
the legal profession would benefit everyone.
Peyton laughed. “You’re so middle-class, Lewis. I
don’t want to marry the chit, just tup her a few times. I want to see how
grateful she is that I’m trying to save her sister, though God knows I cannot
win. Especially with you on the case,” he added begrudgingly. “I wish they’d
hand you an unwinnable case from time to time. It’d make the rest of us look
Lewis wanted to say he was handed unwinnable cases
frequently, yet still prevailed more often than not. But there was no point in
arguing with an ass. And he prayed this Lady Rosemary wouldn’t fall in line
with Peyton’s plans.
The serving lad returned with Alex’s sandwich. “I
think I’ll eat this in my chamber,” he said to Peyton.
“As you wish. But, for God’s sake, stop working so
hard on the case. You’re going to win, but there’s no need to show me up so
badly. It’s bad form, old man.”
Alex bit his tongue against saying Peyton could be
shown up by the roast beef sandwich, but instead he nodded, then went back to
his chamber wondering why the hell everyone wanted Mrs. Pierce convicted quite
“Are you certain there’s nothing wrong with him?” It
was two in the morning and Ned Kellington was pacing the floor of the
bedchamber he shared with his wife and infant son, Daniel. Jane was in the
chair by the fire soothing the baby, and rocking back and forth.
Ned took another look at his wife and son, then
continued pacing. “I don’t think it’s normal to cry this much. You say he’s
not hungry and doesn’t need his nappie changed. There must be something
wrong. He’s obviously unhappy with us. We must do something!”
Jane looked at the husband she loved so much, as she
cradled the son she adored. She was exhausted and her heart ached to know her
son was in this much distress. Yet, she – tenderly and lovingly – wanted to
send her wonderful husband to the furthest reaches of Lynwood House. Or
beyond. His constant pacing and panicked worrying weren’t doing Daniel or her
But he didn’t know any better. He hadn’t been present
when their daughter Violet had been born. He hadn’t even known of her existence
until six years later. Jane still felt terribly guilty about that. He hadn’t
been around to see that sometimes babies just cry. Jane had experience both as
a mother and a surgeon to let her know there was nothing seriously wrong.
Daniel simply couldn’t fall back asleep.
“My love,” she said. “Please don’t worry. Daniel is
healthy, but the poor babe is having a hard time of it tonight. He has no
other way to make his frustration known, so he cries.”
“There must be something we can do.”
Jane was thinking more and more of her “banishing Ned”
plan. The Americas might be a good destination.
There was a knock at the door. She and Ned looked at
each other, wondering who it could be. Violet could sleep through anything, so
Jane didn’t think it was her.
Ned opened the door to find little Anna Emerson.
“I’m sorry if Daniel woke you, sweetheart,” Ned said
But Anna just smiled at Ned, then padded into the room
with bare feet and a nightgown that was a little too big. She smiled shyly at
Jane, then studied Daniel.
“He’s all right,” said Jane. “Just a little upset.”
Anna nodded, then began singing a song, accompanied by
a dance. It was in the girl’s native tongue, and while Jane didn’t understand
the words, from the movements it appeared to involve the sun and moon.
And miracle of miracles, as Anna kept singing in her
sweet, clear voice, Daniel stopped crying and looked at her. As Anna continued
singing, Jane could feel the tension begin to leave her son’s body.
There was movement at the open door. Jane looked up to
see James and Irene standing there, curious. They were soon joined by Rosalind
and Liam, then Colin and Ava, and Nick and Rose. No doubt Daniel had been
keeping all of them awake, as well.
Daniel began to close his eyes. The closer he came to
falling asleep, the quieter Anna sang. Finally, the baby fell into a deep
sleep. Anna continued singing softly, then finally stopped. They waited a
moment, but Jane could tell her son would now sleep for hours.
Anna leaned in to Jane, then whispered in her ear.
“Can I kiss him?” she asked.
Jane smiled and nodded.
Anna bent down, then very carefully, very softly,
kissed the sleeping baby’s forehead. Then she grinned at Jane and Ned. Jane
was both incredibly grateful and completely enthralled by the performance. Ned
leaned down and kissed the top of Anna’s head, which made her giggle.
With that, Anna turned and was surprised to find her
audience, all of whom looked like they wanted to applaud but knew better than
to awaken a sleeping baby. Anna took her father’s hand, as well as Irene’s,
and everyone left for their respective bedchambers.
Ned pulled an ottoman to the chair and sat next to his
wife. The two of them looked at their sleeping son, then they kissed.
It was, thought an exhausted but happy Jane, the
“I am kidnapping Letty and Anna,” announced Ned the
next morning at breakfast, to the assembled Kellington and Emerson families.
The three girls were off working on a mysterious surprise
for Win that they wouldn’t talk about other than to say it involved flowers and
singing a song for her.
“Ned!” said his wife.
“I cannot help it if my daughter has grown so attached
to the girls that she’ll be heartbroken when they leave. And you know what an
incredible relief it was when Anna put Daniel to sleep. They’re coming back to
Marston Vale with us.”
“I must say I was thoroughly charmed,” said Rosalind.
“Though I cannot condone kidnapping, of course.”
“Just wait until you and Liam have a baby,” said Ned.
Rosalind’s only response was a blush. “How did Anna
learn to do that?” she asked James.
“She told us it had been her job in her village,” said
James. “When a new baby was born, she would sleep in the home, then serenade
the babe when he awoke crying. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know that until
“Which is all the more reason she and Letty should
come live with us,” said Ned. “We have a baby who cries. We need her assistance.
Well, Jane does. I’ve been handling the pressure quite admirably.”
Jane shut his mouth with a kiss.
They were interrupted by Heskiss’s arrival. “My
lords, my ladies, Mr. Olson has arrived. I have taken the liberty of placing
him in the sitting room and ordering tea.”
“Thank you,” said Win. It was the first morning she’d
taken breakfast downstairs. She was still in pain, but with each day spent with
her family she felt stronger.
“We will leave you to meet with him in private,” said
Lynwood. “But please remember that if you need us for anything we are at your
“Thank you,” said Win. “I cannot express how much I
appreciate what you have already done.”
Lynwood bowed to her, then the Kellingtons took their
“Win,” said Nick. “Colin, James and I would like to
meet with Olson, as well.”
“I want to come, too,” said Rose.
Colin shook his head. “This isn’t the type of thing
a young girl should be exposed to.”
“Win lived it,” said Rose firmly. “And she was no
older than I when it first began. She stayed with that bastard in part because
of me. I am sitting in on that meeting.”
Heskiss entered again. “My lords, my ladies, Lord
Grayson is here. He is most insistent on meeting with you. He is quite
concerned about Lady Winifred.”
If Win hadn’t been standing next to Rose, she might
have missed it. But she heard the sharp indrawn breath and saw her sister smooth
her skirts and tuck away a tendril of hair.
It was just as she suspected. Win had a
Nathaniel Gage, Lord Grayson, entered. It had been
six years since Win had last seen him, but he looked much the same. He was a
handsome man with fair hair and blue eyes. Even if he hadn’t been the heir to
the Duke of Bancroft, every Society miss would have fallen at his feet. The
scandal sheets were filled with his exploits. It appeared her old friend was
doing his very best to throw away his considerable fortune in gaming hells and to
drink himself to an early grave.
But today, he looked decidedly grim as he entered.
Then, after seeing her bruises, he clenched his jaw in anger.
“Oh, Win,” he said. “I just heard. I’m so sorry. I
am here for whatever you need.”
Nate gently took Win’s hand and bowed over it. There
was nothing romantic in the gesture – thank goodness – just the concern of a
good friend and ersatz brother.
Then he turned to Rose and the two locked eyes. There
was a moment when neither could look away. Win could feel the spark between
them. Thankfully, Nate’s back was to Win’s brothers, so they couldn’t see the
attraction between the two. It wasn’t that they disliked him. But no one
would want rakehell Nathanial Gage as their beloved sister’s husband.
“Olson is waiting,” said Nick. “We should probably
meet with him. Win, would you be all right with having Nate join us? We may
need him down the line.”
“Of course,” said Win.
“Good. It will be to our advantage to have as many
peers on our side as possible.”
That was enough to finally break the gaze between Nate
and Rose. Win would have to talk to her sister in private. Win liked Nate
very much, but even she had her doubts about his suitability as a husband.
They found Olson going through his notes. He rose
when they entered. “Good morning, my lords and ladies.” His gaze went
straight to Grayson.
“Lord Grayson,” said Win. “Might I introduce you to
my solicitor Mr. Olson?”
The two exchanged greetings before Olson bluntly asked,
“Lord Grayson, what is your business here?”
Grayson raised a brow. “What do you insinuate, sir?”
“I mean no offense, my lord. My entire objective is
to be Lady Winifred’s advocate. Lord Layton and Lord James might have warned
you that I do not always observe the social niceties while doing so. You are
the only one here whose relationship to the lady is unclear. If you’re seen in
her presence, it would ignite a firestorm of gossip.”
“I am Lady Winifred’s friend. That is all.”
“Grayson grew up with us,” said Colin. “There is
truly nothing but friendship between them.”
Olson looked like he was mulling that over. But he
refrained from asking further questions. He waited until everyone was seated
before beginning. “I was unable to secure the services of any of the
barristers I usually use. I appealed to one of the best chambers in town, but,
unfortunately, they handed your case to George Peyton.”
“And you do not believe he is good?” asked Win.
“I know he is not. He is meeting us here at any
moment to interview you. When he leaves, I would like to discuss our options.”
Heskiss entered the room. “My lords, my ladies, sir,
the Honorable George Peyton has arrived. He says he is expected.”
“Mr. Heskiss?” said Olson.
“Did he ask you to add the ‘honorable’ to his
Heskiss was torn. He didn’t wish to speak ill of a
guest, even by implication, but it was clear Peyton had indeed made the request.
“You do not have to answer, Mr. Heskiss,” said Olson.
“I believe I know what occurred.”
Win had to smile. “Please send him in, Heskiss.”
A moment later, a rakishly dressed man in his
middle-twenties entered. He bowed to the noblemen in the room. “Grayson,
Win knew her brothers and Grayson enough to know that
while they had likely met the man – the
was claustrophobically small
– they didn’t know him well, despite his rather casual greeting.
“I am curious,” said Peyton, looking around and
adjusting his cuffs. “Where are Lynwood and Riverton?”
“The duke has given us privacy and Lord Riverton is
tending to a sick child,” said Colin.
“Oh.” Peyton’s disappointment was clear. “Can’t the
nurse do that?”
“It is my understanding that Lord and Lady Riverton
are taking a rather personal approach to raising their children,” said Colin.
“I think it’s quite admirable and look forward to seeing
you change a few nappies,” said Ava.
“I’d love to see that,” said James.
“That’s no job for a man, is it?” asked Peyton. “Might
I be introduced to the lovely ladies in the room?”
Colin looked like he was already tiring of Peyton’s
presumptions, but he did the honors. Peyton raked every woman with his eyes,
then lingered on Rose.
“Lady Rosemary, I daresay you are excited to be in
London to see all the sights,” he said.
“Actually, sir, I am quite concerned about my sister
and her ordeal.” She was trying to be polite, but it was clear she was tiring
of the man, as well.
“But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself.”
“Peyton!” said Grayson, in a tone of voice that made
everyone jump. “Don’t you think you should get to why you have come?”
“Yes, I suppose it must come to that.” He looked
aggrieved by the very thought. “Well, I shall see you ladies later.”
Win, Rose, Ava and Irene looked at each other in
“Are you going somewhere, Mr. Peyton?” asked Win.
Peyton laughed. “Of course not. I need to discuss
the case with your brothers. Don’t worry about a thing. We’ll have it all
worked out. But do be a good girl and send the duke in on your way out.”
“This is my case, sir. My life!”
“Technically, I suppose you have the right of it. But
you are a lady.”
“An astute observation, Mr. Peyton.”
They were interrupted once more by an apologetic
Heskiss. “My lords, my ladies, please forgive my interruption, but there is a
Mr. Lewis here to see Lady Winifred. He is the Crown’s barrister.”
“Damnation,” said Peyton under his breath.
“Did he say what he wanted?” asked Win.
“He said he would like to ask you a few questions, my
lady. I can send him away, if you wish.”
“That is a capital idea,” said Peyton. “Send him off
with a flea in his ear!”
“I am awaiting Lady Winifred’s instructions,” said
Heskiss. The “not yours” was unspoken, but clearly implied.
After a moment’s consideration, Win said, “I suppose
it is better that I meet him here and now, instead of at the Old Bailey at
trial. Yes, I will see him. Please send him in.”
“Are you certain that’s wise?” asked Nick.
“We shall soon see.”