Read Ghost of Christmas Past Online

Authors: Rebecca King

Tags: #romance, #romantic suspense, #mystery, #historical fiction, #historical romance, #romantic thriller, #romantic mystery, #historical mystery, #romantic adventure

Ghost of Christmas Past (5 page)

BOOK: Ghost of Christmas Past
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Are they French too?”


What do we do with the dead men?” The inn keeper asked as his
friends hefted the Frenchman onto his feet.


If you have a cold room, we will put them in there so we can
clean the room down while we are here. The prison cart should be
here by this afternoon and they will take the prisoners and the
bodies.”


You say there is a fourth one still in the
village?”

Rupert
glanced at Luke who nodded. “We think that he may still be around
here somewhere, but he is likely to be armed and
dangerous.”

Grumbles
about traitors and murderous thugs swept through the assembled men
as they half carried, half dragged the semiconscious Frenchmen
downstairs and dumped them unceremoniously on the floor beside the
front door. With the threat of a French traitor still walking
freely amongst them, the villagers turned into something of a
vigilante gang. With horrifying speed they arranged themselves into
small groups. Two of the burliest men remained behind in the pub to
stand guard over the prisoners, while the rest of the assorted men
undertook a thorough search of the entire village.

It was
early dawn by the time they all returned to the village pub,
exhausted, hungry and empty handed. The men from the Star Elite had
helped but, unsurprisingly, there was no sign of Fornier and there
was nothing to suggest that he had even been in the
village.


We need to find Fornier as a matter of urgency,” Jacob
whispered to Marcus, Luke, Harry and Rupert, who had gathered in
the tavern to decide what to do.


I think he will have headed south,” Marcus sighed around a
yawn. “I mean, he has contacts in London. The French have always
started their operations in London and worked their way around the
country. The people they have recruited to their cause have all
been Londoners, and we know that is where their financiers are
located.”


He must have been the coachman in the top hat.” Bitter curses
littered the tension that hovered over them.


Where did he go when he left here last night?” Rupert’s voice
was cold and hard.


He headed over to Leicester but then simply vanished into
thin air. We searched an area that was at least five miles wide but
he just vanished as quickly and as silently as a ghost.”


We have searched the house across the green from top to
bottom but there is nothing incriminating in there.” Harry slapped
his ale down on the scarred surface of the table they were gathered
around. “We have nothing.”


Except two Frenchmen who can provide us with information,”
Luke added darkly.


Does anyone have any information about where to find
Fornier’s contacts in London?” Rupert asked in hushed
tones.


Does anyone have any other work ongoing at the moment?”
Marcus glanced at each man around the table in turn with raised
brows.


We have all been seconded to this mission for the time
being,” Jacob replied with a shrug. “I suggest that we drop those
two off at Bodmin. We shouldn’t wait for the prison cart. These
villagers have mustered themselves far too quickly for my liking.
If Hugo is in London we can meet up with him there and get an
update on the information he has. I don’t know about you lot but I
am not giving up on this until Fornier is behind bars.”

Murmurs
of agreement swept through all of them.


Let’s head to London then,” Rupert suggested with relief. He
had had enough of the country for the time being, and would be glad
to enjoy the sights and sounds of the big city for a while, even if
it was going to be primarily the east end and docklands. He didn’t
really like the smog and over-crowded atmosphere in London, but it
was a damned sight better than freezing his backside off in the
middle of nowhere.


I think it is safe to say that our elusive Frenchman isn’t
here. Now that his colleagues have been removed, there is nothing
around here to help him,” Luke muttered with a frown. “The locals
have a description. Even if he has hidden away somewhere, the
locals will deal with him when he surfaces.”


So, let’s head off to London,” Rupert suggested. He was glad
that he was already packed and ready to go. He drained the last
dregs of his ale and dropped his mug on the table, as eager to give
chase as his colleagues were. Although everyone was tired and
hungry, they were all aware that there wasn’t a moment to lose if
it they wanted to stop Fornier from heading back to France with
valuable information.

 

A week
later, Rupert sat in a booth at the rear of Whites and watched the
assorted patrons as they arrived and left the exclusive gentleman’s
club. He had just left Harry and Marcus at an old abandoned
warehouse in London’s dockland where they were keeping watch for
any sign of Fornier or his contacts, and he now rather wished that
he was there with them.

The
rather austere property was busy with many of London’s highest
nobility enjoying the plush leather seats and the amiable
atmosphere that was heavily laden with pipe and cigar smoke. At one
time in his life, Rupert had visited Whites frequently and had felt
at ease there. Now though, he felt as though he was in a different
world to the one he had grown accustomed to.

While
the urge to leave was strong, he also knew that Whites was the last
place Fornier or any of his French colleagues would even consider
venturing into. For the time being at least, it was safe to relax
and enjoy the wonderfully fragrant brandy at his elbow.

A few
minutes later, he eventually gave in to the yawn that threatened
and, not for the first time, thought about the wonderfully warm and
comfortable bed that awaited him at his lodgings. The only good
thing about staying in London was the plethora of accommodation
that was readily available to the weary traveller and he had spared
no expense in purchasing something that provided him with a few
extra home comforts. When another yawn loomed he pushed away from
the table and made his way to the door with his thoughts firmly
locked on getting some much needed sleep.

It was
only when he was on the doorstep that he glanced up when he became
aware that someone was blocking his path. His gaze was immediately
captured by John Weatherby’s and his world drew to a stop. He
studied the older man and nodded warily at him when John called a
polite greeting.


Are you coming or going?” Rupert asked quietly as he nodded
to the highly polished doors behind him.


Going,” John replied solemnly.

When
John made no attempt to extend the conversation, Rupert studied the
road before them. He wanted to turn around and walk away but
something kept him rooted to the spot. His recent conversation with
Jacob lurched into his mind and he silently contemplated what to
do.


How are you?” he asked indifferently. He didn’t really care
how the man was. From the look of the expensive cut of his jacket
and the healthy glow to his cheeks he was in fine
fettle.


Very well, thank you. Yourself?”

Rupert
nodded and frowned at the passing traffic. He was aware that John
was studying him but neither man broke the silence. At one time in
his life Rupert would have made his excuses and walked way, but the
last four years had changed him almost beyond recognition. He was
now not the kind of man who shied away from anything. So why wasn’t
he saying the words that hovered on his lips?


How is Thea?” His voice deepened huskily. Just saying her
name brought about a fierce ache in his chest that made him suck in
a deep breath to steady himself.


She is fine,” John replied as he studied the many, many
changes that had happened to the man beside him. “You are one of
Sir Hugo’s men now, aren’t you?” The respect in John’s eyes was
plain to see and surprised Rupert a little.

Rupert
nodded but didn’t expand on his work given that they were standing
outside where anyone could overhear. He watched the occasional
carriage trundle past and wondered if he should invite the older
man back into the gentleman’s club so that they could talk more
privately.


I wasn’t aware that you knew Sir Hugo,” Rupert murmured
quietly. As far as he was aware nobody knew who the Star Elite were
apart from a handful of people in the War Office.


We are old friends,” John replied obliquely. He studied the
changes the four years had wrought upon Rupert and felt the heavy
weight of guilt grow a little heavier. It broke his heart to admit
it but he had, on more than one occasion, bitterly regretted the
actions he had taken all those years ago when he had lied to
protect his battered and bruised niece.


Does Thea reside at Weatherby House now?” He had no idea why
he felt so driven to know. A part of him hoped that her father
would have done at least one decent thing for her in his life and
left her the house because she was his only child. On the other
hand, the thought of her being stuck in that huge house with nobody
but her waspish mother to keep her company chilled him to the
bone.


No, she refused to even consider going back there. She was in
a bad way after the accident as you know. I didn’t think it was
fair to inflict Frances on her too.” His lips quirked wryly and he
shared a knowing look with the man who should have been Thea’s
husband by now.


She needed to be moved far away from that awful woman.” It
was all he could think to say. The myriad questions that tumbled
through him were difficult to make sense of and he didn’t know
quite where to start. “Where is Thea now?”

When
John didn’t immediately answer, Rupert wondered if he would have to
punch the information out of the older man and only just held on to
his patience when John merely studied the traffic for several long
moments in thoughtful silence.

John
sighed and turned to stare sightlessly at the passing traffic. The
way that Rupert had continued to call by the doctor’s house daily
while Thea fought for her life had haunted John and, to this day,
continued to poke at his conscience with ruthless efficiency. Not
for the first time he had wondered whether he had been wise to
support Thea’s desperate cries not to allow Rupert to see her in
such a way, especially now that she was scarred for life and unable
to walk again. John’s own personal need not to distress Thea any
further had driven him to accommodate her wishes. However, he
couldn’t help but wonder where the couple would be now if Rupert
had been allowed to see Thea. She may have found the happiness that
had so far eluded her and Rupert would most probably never have
joined the army, or gone on to work with the Star Elite.

John had
enough contacts in Whitehall to know that all of the men of the
Star Elite were held in the highest esteem and had a reputation for
dealing with matters not only discretely, but with diligence,
attention to detail and ruthless efficiency. There wasn’t anyone in
the War Office who wouldn’t move heaven and earth to provide the
men with anything they asked for.

He
couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if he gave Thea and
Rupert a little nudge in the right direction. Rupert’s interest in
Thea was evident given the speed of his questions about her, and
the intent look in his eyes while he waited for an
answer.


Are you busy for a while?” John asked as he watched a
carriage pull to a stop directly in front of him and glanced over
at the man who should have been his family by now.


No, I was just heading back to my lodgings for the
night.”


Why don’t you come back to Ridings with me? I have a few
things I need to discuss with you.”

It is about time she joined life again
, John thought to himself as he climbed into the carriage and
settled down against the squabs. He didn’t need to look behind him
to know that Rupert had climbed into the carriage as well and had
taken a seat opposite. Even if Rupert didn’t wish to see Thea
again, John just had to clear his conscience and at least appease
the man’s curiosity.

By the
time Rupert was seated in front of the roaring fire in John’s
lavishly decorated study, his curiosity was at boiling point. He
watched John place the decanter of brandy onto the small table
between them almost too carefully. The deep frown on the man’s face
warned Rupert that he was gathering his thoughts and deciding what
to tell him and what to keep a secret.

A ripple
of unease swept through him as he waited. He had learned from his
time in the Star Elite that it was sometimes best to sit back and
wait for information to come forward willingly than to poke and pry
and get people annoyed in order to glean whatever information he
wanted.


Where is she, John?” A single, horrifying thought swept
through him for one brief moment. He had to take a breath and
remind himself that John had confirmed earlier that Thea was
fine.

John
sighed and leaned back in his chair to study the man before him.
The years had brought about a maturity and inner strength that was
defined in the breadth of his shoulders and the straightness of his
spine. It was the inner wisdom in Rupert’s eyes though that warned
John that the years had taken their toll in a way that was more
than just physical. Their once youthful glimmer of mischief had
long since been replaced with a hardness that had been brought
about by the things the man had seen and done. John hated to even
think what those things were, but had heard enough about the Star
Elite’s latest fight to rid the country of a ruthless gang of
French spies to know that their skirmishes were often bloody and
brutal.

BOOK: Ghost of Christmas Past
8.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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