Authors: Maureen Driscoll
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult Romance
“You were in distress, Win,” said Nick. “Why did you
not remain in your bedchamber?”
“Because for all I knew Pierce had hurt someone else.
I could not let that go unchecked. So I carefully made my way downstairs. I
was too groggy to light a candle and it was dark. I had to guide myself by the
moonlight coming through the windows. I kept hearing the voice calling and it
was almost like a moan. When I arrived downstairs, I saw the door to Pierce’s
study was ajar and that a fire was burning in there. I heard some sort of
click, but no other sound. I entered the study and at first didn’t see
anything. But then I…smelled it. It smelled like metal and somehow I knew
something was very wrong. I walked further into the room and there he was on
the floor in a pool of blood.
“I dropped to my knees to see if he was still alive. The
blood was seeping from his neck, but I could tell from looking at his eyes that
he was gone. Pierce was dead.”
There was a moment of silence, broken only by the
sound of Lewis taking notes. “Did you see any type of weapon? A knife or
“I did not look for one. I was barely able to focus
and I was simply staring at Pierce. At some point – and I did not have a good
grasp of time – Havers came in.”
“Yes, I was wondering about that. I was at your home
and it appeared you had a full complement of staff. I find it surprising that
not even a footman would have been in the vicinity of your husband’s study that
“Pierce didn’t want close scrutiny when he conducted
business at the house. He often dismissed the servants.”
“Wouldn’t it have been odd to conduct business so late
Win shrugged. “Pierce had his own way of doing
things. I was rarely consulted.”
Lewis finished what he was writing, then turned to a
new page in his notebook. He hesitated, but then began. “Excuse me for
asking, Lady Winifred, but do you have reason to believe your husband was
unfaithful to you?”
Win smiled weakly. “On an almost constant basis. He
used to tell me about his conquests.” Here, James muttered “bastard” not quite
under his breath. “It was almost a relief to know he was occupied elsewhere.”
“This next question is not one for mixed company,”
said Lewis, with a look toward Rose, Ava and Irene.
“Are you suggesting I leave the room?” asked Win. “It
would make it more difficult for me to answer.”
He smiled. Win was amazed by how much less fearsome
he appeared when he did so.
“No, it would be better if you remained. But the
question is delicate and there are other ladies present. Not to mention, I’m
not sure you’d like to answer this in front of your brothers.”
“We are not going anywhere, Mr. Lewis,” said Rose.
“Pray continue with your inquisition.”
Lewis cleared his throat and looked rather
uncomfortable. “Were you and Mr. Pierce having relations?”
Win could feel her face heat. Perhaps she should have
sent her family out of the room. “We had not….completed relations for several
years. He didn’t even try for the last three or four years.”
“That’s odd,” said Peyton. “Was Pierce blind? If I
had a wife who looked like you, I would exercise my husbandly rights on a
“That is enough, Peyton!” said Lewis.
“You’re the one who brought it up,” said Peyton
“Yes, but I had a point to my questioning.” Lewis
quieted his voice before turning to Win once again. “I apologize for the
personal nature of my questions, but if he was unable to complete relations
with you, why would he claim to have so many conquests with other women?”
Mr. Lewis was asking respectfully, but it was still
humiliating. “I can only assume he found me wanting.”
“Mrs. Pierce, I cannot imagine that to be the case. I
do not mean that to be a forward remark. It is just that when a man is unable
to, uh, be amorous with one woman, it is highly unlikely that he is able to be
so with others.”
Win had never discussed the matter with anyone before,
so she could hardly credit his words. But they did make her re-examine
things. Perhaps she wasn’t as repellent as Pierce had said, but then she
“As soothing to my pride as that might be, Pierce was
having an affair with my ladies’ maid, Tawny.”
“How do you know this?”
“She told me. She described numerous assignations
“But you never saw them?”
“Then you cannot be certain they were thusly engaged.”
“But why would she have lied?” asked Win.
“I have found, Lady Winifred, that people lie for any
number of reasons.”
“If I might ask, Lewis,” said Mr. Olson. “Why are you
pursuing this line of questioning?”
“Well, it is a good deal more interesting that most
questions he asks,” said Peyton laughing. He looked around the room, expecting
others to join in.
No one did.
“I was trying to determine whether Pierce might have
been killed by a jealous husband,” said Lewis.
“That is an excellent theory,” said Peyton.
“And one you might have pursued, though now I have
doubts to its probability, since learning of Pierce’s, uh, condition.”
“So I am helping you convict me,” said Win wryly.
“I prefer to think of it as helping me find the truth
– wherever it leads.”
The door opened and Letty, Anna and Violet ran in.
Of the guests, Grayson, Olson and Lewis rose. Only
Peyton remained seated.
Anna went up to Olson, whom she’d met a few weeks
earlier. “I’m getting an English mama,” she said with a grin.
“Congratulations, Miss Emerson! I believe both you
and your English mama are very fortunate. As is your papa, of course.”
“Emerson?” asked Peyton as he started at Anna. “She
can’t be a relation to anyone here, can she?”
“She is my daughter,” said James with a dangerous edge
to his voice.
Peyton stared at the girl. “Is she some sort of
charity case? Are you doing your Christian duty by bringing home a savage?”
Win was horrified. “Mr. Peyton!” she said. “You will
apologize to everyone you have offended. And the list is long, sir.”
Peyton looked genuinely bewildered.
“Miss Emerson,” said Lewis kindly. “I was wondering
if you could tell me your favorite experience in London so far.”
Anna, who was usually shy around strangers, smiled at
Mr. Lewis, as she considered the question carefully. “I like Violet,” she
said, as the other girl beamed. “And I liked it when we had the ice.”
“I believe those are very good choices,” said Lewis.
“I haven’t gone for an ice yet,” said Letty. “But
once Win is feeling better, I was hoping we could all go.”
“Maybe you and Mr. Olson could come with us,” said
Anna shyly to Mr. Lewis.
“I will accept the invitation gladly,” said Olson. “What
say you, Lewis? Will you join the family for an ice?”
Mr. Lewis smiled wryly at Mr. Olson, and once again
Win was reminded how different he appeared when he did so. “Thank you for the kind
invitation, Miss Emerson.” But he did not commit to going.
Mrs. Stemple entered the room and curtsied. “My
lords, my ladies, please excuse the interruption, but Lady Jane urgently needs
the young ladies’ help with Master Daniel.”
Three young heads immediately looked up, then the
girls ran from the room.
“I didn’t mean they needed to run,” said Maude as she
watched the girls disappear from the room. “And I’m sorry the young misses
interrupted you earlier. I was trying to keep them occupied, but I turned
around and they were gone.”
Ava smiled. “I am afraid, dear Maude, that no one would
be able to keep track of that trio. But thank you for coming to get them.”
As soon as Maude left, Win turned to Peyton. “Mr.
Peyton, if you ever insult a member of my family again, I shall discharge you
on the spot.”
“But my dear lady, I did no such thing.”
“You called my niece a savage.”
“But she’s hardly your niece, she’s…”
“Peyton,” growled Lewis, “before you say another word,
do remember there is a disciplinary committee at chambers. They do not look
kindly on members who bring disgrace to our group. If you have gathered all
the information you sought, I suggest you return to your work. You have a good
deal of it ahead of you.”
“So, I will not be meeting with Lynwood?” Peyton’s
disappointment was clear.
“No,” said Colin, Nick and James as one.
“Then I guess I should be going,” said Peyton, as he
rose. “I shall try my best to keep Olson informed of any developments in the
case. But I do think it prudent that you say a prayer. Several, actually. The
deck is quite stacked against us. Lady Rosemary, it was a pleasure.” He
approached her, trying to take her hand.
Rose sat staring at him, stone-faced, her hands firmly
clasped in her lap.
“Good day, Peyton,” said Grayson rather forcefully.
Peyton looked around to see if there was a friendly
face, then, finding none, departed.
Alex couldn’t believe the dilemma he was in. Peyton’s
incompetence and lack of interest in the case were going to get Mrs. Pierce
hanged. It would be the easiest win of Alex’s career. But he didn’t feel good
His day had taken a distinct turn for the worse when
he’d barreled into the room with his usual lack of grace. He’d frightened
her. She’d schooled her features quickly. But he hadn’t imagined it. When she
got her first glimpse of him, she’d known real fear.
And he’d felt like a cad.
He’d seen that look in women before. Women who’d been
beaten. He’d even prosecuted a few cases against the husbands. They were
almost always acquitted or given such light sentences as to be
inconsequential. But now he was prosecuting a woman who might have killed her
It went against his innate sense of justice, though he
was bound by professional ethics to do it.
“You must discharge Peyton,” Nick said to Olson.
“I would if I could. But just the fact they assigned
this case to him – one of the biggest dullards in the legal fraternity – makes
me think there is a conspiracy afoot. If I take it to a different chambers, I
could get someone even worse.”
“I shudder to think that’s even possible,” said Irene.
“What about this ethics committee you spoke of, Mr.
Lewis?” asked Colin. “Can we get him removed that way?”
Alex grimaced. “That would be very difficult. I said
what I did earlier to try to get him to curb his ignorant tongue. Peyton is
well known to chambers members. If they haven’t expelled him for general
mediocrity by now, they probably never will. And he’s a peer, as are the members
of the committee. They’re not likely to sack him because I tell them he behaved
like an arse. Excuse my language, ladies.”
“But Mr. Olson tells us you are highly respected,”
said Win. “A KC even. Would that not make a difference?”
“My lady, I became a KC by working hard and being the
best possible barrister I could be. But I am not a peer. In fact, my father
is unknown.” He stood taller. He was not ashamed of his background. His
mother had worked very hard to get him an education. He had no illusions about
what the people in this room would think of him after that admission, but he
“If you think to shock us with your admission, Mr.
Lewis,” said Win, “then you do not know much about our family.”
“I am Lady Winifred’s half-brother, though it is
unacknowledged by law,” said the Earl of Layton. “And there are other examples
we could mention. If you think to distance yourself from us through that
admission, you should have come up with another example.”
“If you truly wanted to set yourself apart from the Emersons,
Mr. Lewis,” said the Earl of Ridgeway, “you might have said you had an
extraordinarily happy childhood with parents who did not act dishonorably at
every opportunity, including selling their eldest daughter in marriage to a
bastard who beat her.”
Alex nodded. “Indeed, I had a happy childhood with a
mother who did the very best for her son.”
“Then you are a fortunate man,” said Lady Winifred.
“It is true that I was forced into a marriage I did not want, then had to stay
for reasons I do not care to go into. And my husband did beat me frequently.
But I did not kill him.”
“May I be frank, my lady?”
“I was unaware you were being anything but, sir.”
He had to smile. But it was short-lived. “I believe
several people want you to hang for this murder, regardless of your purported
innocence. I spoke to Sergeant Fisk. He is the only person at Bow Street who
has any doubt of your guilt. I strongly suspect it is no coincidence that Peyton
was given your defense and I the prosecution. I have had to search for any
evidence that does not point to you as the killer.”