Read Love and Larceny Online

Authors: Regina Scott

Tags: #humor, #historical romance, #regency romance, #sweet romance, #historical mystery, #regency romp, #friends to lovers, #romance 1800s, #traditional regency romance, #romance clean and wholesome

Love and Larceny (8 page)

BOOK: Love and Larceny
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It
was rather amazing. Brentfield Manor, it seemed, was honeycombed
with passages running between the chamber story and the servants
quarters overhead. The paths lay along wide, heavy beams, girdered
on either side, so that it was like walking down a long tunnel with
branches leading off in various directions.

“That way leads toward the rotunda,” he
explained, pointing to the branch nearest them. “The servants’
stair is the opposite direction.” He leaned closer. “And your
mother’s room is just there, so don’t make too much noise or she
might hear us.”

“Really?” Daphne said.

From below their feet came a gasp.

“Who’s there? Show yourself.” Lady Rollings
ordered.

Daphne exchanged glances with Wynn, then
suddenly grinned.

“There’s no one here,” she called. “You’re
having a dream.”

“I am?” her mother asked.

“You are,” Daphne insisted, eyes twinkling in
the candlelight as if she couldn’t believe her own audacity. “You
feel great anguish over the cruel manner with which you treated Mr.
Fairfax this evening.”

Wynn raised his brows.

Lady Rollings raised her voice. “I most
certainly do not. Very likely it was too much blanc mange. All that
sweet milky gelatin never sets well with my digestion.”

Daphne clamped her lips tight as if to hold
back a laugh. Wynn nodded to the right, and they set off into the
passage, going single file.

“Be careful along here,” Wynn advised her,
pointing to the rough spot below the beam on the left. “You can see
where the plaster was repaired. I doubt it would sustain our weight
should we step on it.”

“Oh, it won’t,” Daphne agreed. “She went
right through.”

Wynn frowned, glancing back at her. “She? Who
fell?”

She was turning a delicate shade of pink. “A
former tenant.” She giggled. “Sorry, bad pun.”

He knew Tenant was Lord Brentfield’s family
name. His mother had looked the fellow up in
Debrett’s
Peerage
before allowing Wynn to attend the house party. The
king had granted the American a special dispensation to inherit
when no other male heirs could be found after the deaths of the
last earl and his son in a carriage accident. There had been some
speculation that the dowager Countess of Brentfield had fallen into
such grief on the death of her second husband that she could no
longer tend to her duties. Surely Daphne didn’t mean she had been
the one to crash through the ceiling.

“Well, I would never forgive myself if you
fell through,” Wynn told her. “Though somehow I doubt I should
worry about you.”

“I’d worry more about the dust,” Daphne said
with a wrinkle of her nose before he turned to the front once more.
“My hem is going to be filthy. I wonder if my maid will think I’ve
been out playing in the mud in my nightclothes.”

Wynn stopped and turned to stare at her.
“Daphne, you’re brilliant!”

“That’s what I keep trying to tell people,”
she agreed.

“Think about it,” he urged. “Lord Brentfield
said these passages have been unused recently. You can see dust on
every surface. If someone has been in these tunnels, they will have
left footprints.”

“Of course!” Daphne cried. “And all we have
to do is find those footprints and follow them to our thief. Let’s
go!”

Chapter Nine

Walking through the passages really was the
most singular sensation. They moved within the circle of light from
their candles, cocooned in darkness and quiet, as if the rest of
the world had merely drifted away. Behind Wynn, Daphne could only
admire the way he walked with such confidence, his limp hardly
noticeable. He was her leader, her protector, the champion of her
cause. She smiled at his back.

And such a nice back too, stretching the
material of his coat. When had his shoulders grown so broad? His
legs in those breeches so long? And she could not help but sigh
over the way the candlelight reflected in his dark hair.

Which was still adorably mussed. What would
he do if she reached up and stroked it down?

What was she thinking? This was Wynn! Oh, but
she must actually be growing tired to start dreaming of such
things.

She had to focus on their task. That was the
ticket. She raised her head, thought hard. Surely there was some
conversation they should be having, but she couldn’t remember
what.

They came out at a crossroads, and he led her
up to a hole in the wall. Some industrious ancestor of Lord
Brentfield had built a secret window through which to spy upon the
rotunda. She could see the black and white marble tiles below, the
staircase curving upward. Lord Brentfield must have been concerned
the thief would try the front door, for he had stationed a footman
there as well. As they watched, the servant raised a gloved hand to
stave off a yawn.

Now, that was a topic of conversation.

“What else did you learn from Lord
Brentfield?” she whispered to Wynn as they crept back to the
crossroads.

“Not a great deal,” Wynn confided, pausing to
stand face to face with her in the candlelight. His eyes looked
tired, sagging a bit on the outer edges. He nodded toward the
passage that headed off toward the rear of the house. “Passages
like this one cross the manor, but he wasn’t able to explore them
all before he decided to close them off for safety’s sake. He may
have missed some entirely.”

“And someone else found them?” Daphne
wrinkled her nose, skeptical.

“I suppose it’s possible,” Wynn replied.
“Lord Brentfield is new to the estate. Others may have known more
about the place before he arrived.”

“Or came in while he was gone.” Daphne chewed
her lower lip a moment. “Hannah and David were on a honeymoon for
nearly a month. That must have been when the repairs were done. One
or two more workmen might not have been noticed.”

Wynn nodded. “Possibly not. But that would
mean the thefts had stopped. The thieves are gone. Our mysterious
stranger in the woods and on the terrace was merely a servant as
Lord Brentfield implied.”

She
should be glad for that, for Hannah’s sake. Yet she felt decidedly
dejected. “Then we have no reason to be searching.”

“Except for this.” He pulled something gray
out of his waistcoat pocket and held it on his open palm. “I found
it at the foot of the terrace. It’s possible our thief dropped it
from his shoe.”

Daphne leaned closer. “Is that a rock?”

“Limestone, to be exact.” He rubbed it with
his other fingers. “And recently broken off from a larger rock if
the roughness is any indication. Are there any limestone deposits
on the Brentfield lands?”

“Like big cliffs or mounds?” Daphne shook her
head. “Not that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve ridden over most of the
estate. The only limestone cliffs I know are near the seashore at
Brean. We went there once when we were attending the Barnsley
School, which isn’t too far from here.”

In the dim light, she could see Wynn was
frowning. “Seashore? We must be miles from the sea.”

“Not too many miles,” Daphne told him,
turning for the south passage. “Barnsley was fifteen miles from the
coast, and we’re closer here, perhaps six or eight. But I don’t see
a reason for a thief to be out looking for seashells like we
were.”

“Doubtful,” he agreed, following her, but his
voice sounded thoughtful, as if he were considering the matter.

They followed the south passage to where it
intersected the servants’ stair at the back of the house, but the
only marks in the dust were of their own making. Wynn was yawning
when Daphne agreed to call it a night. He saw her back to her
room.

“Forgive me,” he said as he handed her out of
the passage. “I just realized. By following me, you broke your
promise to your mother.”

Daphne took her candle from him. “I most
certainly did not. I didn’t set one foot outside my door. I went
through the wall instead.”

He smiled. “I meant by being alone with
me.”

“Oh.” Daphne felt her face warming. “Well,
that part of her dictate is nonsense in any event. You’d never take
advantage of a situation like that.”

“Certainly not,” he agreed, but he seemed to
be watching her.

“You are a gentleman,” Daphne insisted.

“Indeed I am.” Still he didn’t move. What
else did he expect of her?

“And we are just friends,” she pointed
out.

“Good night, Daphne,” he said, and he
disappeared into the darkness before she realized that he hadn’t
agreed with her.

*

Wynn was still yawning when he ventured down
the stairs to breakfast the next morning. Perhaps it was the late
hour last night or the extra exertion, but his leg felt unusually
stiff and sore. Then too, his spirit had taken a bit of a beating
as well.

Just friends
, Daphne had said. Was
that all he would ever be to her?

He did his best to hide his limp as he came
into the breakfast room, just in case she should be there. It was
the smallest room he had seen at Brentfield, but that wasn’t saying
much given the grand size of most of the rooms. The breakfast room
had a wall of windows facing the rising sun, which glowed on the
oval table and scroll-backed cherry wood chairs. Silver and
porcelain dishes filled with all manner of delicacies crowded the
sideboard along the opposite wall.

“Daphne is off riding this morning,” Lady
Emily told him when he took the chair next to hers. She was the
only person in the room at the moment. Daphne’s friend wore a
coffee-colored gown that somehow suited her for all his sisters
would have protested the dark color. “But she told me you had news
to report.”

Those brown eyes could look remarkably
piercing. But he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to share the
secrets of the passages just yet. Instead, he told Lady Emily about
the limestone.

Immediately her eyes narrowed. “Interesting.
You must sit in on our interviews with the staff. Perhaps you’ll
see something Jamie and I miss.”

Somehow he doubted that. Sir James had become
a Bow Street Runner of some note, though he was only a year or two
older than Wynn.
The Times
liked to disclose the large sums
of money the Runner earned as rewards for his investigations. Wynn
had heard rumors the man was related to a prominent aristocratic
family that refused to acknowledge him. Daphne had shared that
Emily was enamored of the fellow. Wynn would never act as harshly
as some might about the gulf in their stations, but he could not
imagine a duke’s daughter settling for an officer of the court, no
matter how well situated financially.

But then, who was he to question love, when
he couldn’t share his feelings with Daphne?

He could not deny, however, that Lady Emily
and Sir James made a good team as they interviewed various staff
that morning. Daphne returned in time to join him while Priscilla
and Ariadne kept the other guests busy with a game of charades in
the orangery. At the last minute, Sheridan peeled away to paste
himself next to Daphne.

“I’m sure whatever you are doing will be much
more interesting than charades, Miss Courdebas,” he said with a
smile.

Could Daphne hear Wynn’s teeth gritting at
the facile statement? Worse, Sheridan was attired in a fitted coat
of a stunning blue that made his very teeth sparkle. Insufferable,
that’s what he was. And while Wynn was dressed in a bottle green
coat, he rather thought his own attitude was greener, with
jealousy.

If the staff thought it odd to be questioned
by no less than five of his lordship’s guests, they were too well
trained to remark upon it. However, the two footmen and groom who
had heard the noises seemed reticent to talk about the occasions.
Perhaps it was the presence of Mr. Harrop, their supervisor, who
stood at the back of the breakfast room, arms crossed over his
chest and eyes narrowed. Lady Emily and Sir James managed to get a
few answers, but, as the interviews wore on, Wynn could see Daphne
turning restive, foot swinging under the green sprigged muslin of
her skirts.

“I say,” Sheridan whispered to her. “You
don’t think the house might be haunted, do you?”

Certainly not, but as reluctantly as Lord
Brentfield had agreed to this investigation, Wynn could not see
that he would approve taking Sheridan into their confidence. Daphne
frowned at him as if unsure how to answer. Worse, the footman who
was being interviewed clamped his jaw tight as if expecting
ridicule for whatever he said.

Mr. Harrop reacted mores strongly.
“Balderdash. There’s nothing wrong with this house a bit of
discipline wouldn’t cure.”

The footman sunk lower in his seat.

Lady Emily frowned at the butler.

“Brentfield Manor is not haunted,” Wynn put
in. “But someone’s gone to some trouble to make us wonder. Noises
in the night, strangers on the steps.”

Sheridan raised a brow. Mr. Harrop lowered
his arms.

The footman straightened with a nod. “That’s
the right of it, sir. Hammering, like. And oaths, as if something
dropped on someone’s foot.”

“Oh, really,” Sheridan started, but Lady
Emily held up a hand.

“Where, exactly?” she asked. Mr. Harrop
leaned forward as if to better hear the answer.

“West wing, your ladyship,” the footman said.
“Just below where the countess used to sleep.”

Sir James leaned forward as well. “The
Countess of Brentfield sleeps in the east wing, with her husband,
I’m told.”

“The lady who married Lord Brentfield sleeps
there,” the footman allowed, tugging down on his black and silver
livery. “The countess, I heard, slept in the west wing, and some
say she never left.”

Mr. Harrop grunted as a chill went through
Wynn. Was that why the dowager Lady Brentfield hadn’t been seen in
London this Season, as was her wont? Was she a prisoner of the very
manor she’d thought was her home? To what evil purpose? He simply
couldn’t see Hannah or her husband as some kind of cruel
wardens.

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