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Authors: Lydia M Sheridan

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BOOK: Mr. Dalrymple Revealed
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Or worse, they’d have to live with great-Uncle Richard. A
lump formed in her throat.

“Yes, Father, I am,” she answered quietly. Without prompting,
she began the Act of Contrition. “
Deus meus, ex toto corde poenitet me
omnium meorum peccatorum
--”

Kate crossed herself and left the confessional. After
finished her penance, she slipped out of the pew and walked down the aisle with
the light heart which comes from a clear conscience. At the door of the
chapel, she moved absently to the ancient stone basin of holy water. As she
dipped her fingers in the water, a large, masculine hand reached from behind,
grabbed her wrist, and held it hard.

Her instinct to fight, she curled her hand into a fist, moving
her arm up and away, but his strength was the greater. As the two struggled
silently, the lacy fall at his shirtcuff fell back, but Kate didn’t need to see
the nasty set of teeth marks on his wrist to realize who held her.

“What a pleasure it is to see you again, Lady Highwayman.”

 

*****

 

“How dare you accost me so, sir! We have not met!”

Edmund, highly appreciative of the performance, took her hand
and looped it over his arm.

"Then do allow me to present myself,” he said cheerfully.
"The Honorable Frederick Dalrymple, at your service.”

Pressing his arm to his side, imprisoning her hand, he
strolled out the door of the church into the ancient graveyard. The Lady
Katherine, though tense, went without argument. Edmund was unwise enough to
take this as a sign of cringing acquiescence.

Had anyone been watching, they would have noted the rather odd
couple, this youngish spinster, dressed in a respectable, though sadly dowdy,
muslin gown and bonnet. The man at her side was wonderfully attired in a suit
of rose, with a sky-blue waistcoat and cravat. From time to time he cast her a
fond glance, just in case anyone was watching. She returned a blinding smile
of her own, her eyes apparently narrowed against the strong sunlight.

But it was a busy market day in addition to the tourists, and
the village green was a field away, so no one noticed the dandy flick open his
parasol and present it to the lady with a flourish; nor did they see the two
slip behind the marble mausoleum holding the earthly remains of the defunct
family Wallingford.

Gallantly, Edmund dusted off a stone bench to seat his lady,
but the lady preferred to stand.

Remembering their pleasurable proximity of the previous
evening, Edmund grinned. Before yesterday, he’d never realized just how partial
he was to redheads with big blue eyes and freckles liberally spattered across
her cheeks. Not as classically beautiful as the sister, but nevertheless,
there was something about the Lady Katherine which made a man look at her
twice.

“Has anyone ever told you have the most beautiful eyes that
ever looked upon the world?”

“Yes.”

Edmund threw back his head and laughed. “I do like you, Lady
Katherine, much more than I ever expected I could. You can have no idea how
devastated I’ll be to watch you hanged, drawn, and quartered for high treason.”
Though the tone was jocular, the seriousness of his expression gave lie to his
lightness.

The lady’s reaction was not at all what he’d expected.
Instead of hysterical tears and pleadings for mercy, her lips curved in an
engaging grin. Still smiling, eyebrows raised in hauteur, she gently twirled
the parasol, watching the play of sunlight through its lacy swirls. “On what
grounds, sir?”

"The making and passing of false coin, madam.”

“What?!”

Ah, this is more like it!
he thought, as Lady Katherine, white-faced, sat down so abruptly she almost
missed the bench. However, Edmund’s glee was short-lived.

“False coin?” The lady frowned up at him. “Oh, no. How
ridiculous.”

Resting his elaborately tasseled boot on the bench, Edmund
crossed his arms on his knee and leaned forward.

“I have in my possession,” he replied softly, scanning the
horizon for possible intruders, “A certain number of coins you used to purchase
a length of ribbon yesterday afternoon at the drapery shop. Counterfeit
coins.”

The lady stared, speechless.

“You, Lady Katherine, have a date with the hangman’s noose,”
he told her with deliberate brutality.

Still she stared through him, her eyes blank. Edmund could
almost see the wheels turning in her brain as she tried to find a way out of
the web he’d so cleverly spun about her.

Finally, her eyes narrowed. Bending her head meekly, the lady
smoothed a crease from her glove. In spite of his orders, Edmund felt a pang
of conscience that he’d handled this delicate blossom so roughly. It was a
wonder indeed that her fumbling attempts at robbery hadn’t landed her in
trouble before this. Now, he thought, now she would throw herself upon his
manly (under the ruffles) bosom and beg for his help. Not disliking the
prospect, he braced himself for her embrace, even improvising a few flowery
phrases to bring her comfort and him her undying gratitude. A pleasantly warm
sensation flooded him as he imagined her warm softness in his arms once again.
He would pat her shoulder as she wept with gratitude and--

“What!?” he shouted. Edmund looked at her in growing
disbelief and annoyance. The lady was not, he reflected irritably, reacting
the way any normal female would.

For the Lady Katherine was laughing softly. Her eyes, he
noticed, worried, were blazing with excitement.

“I asked,” she repeated, challenging him, “why then am I not
in custody already?”

Edmund ground his teeth and glared at her. “Because,” he
began loftily, then stopped.

The expression on Lady Katherine’s face changed to one of
ill-concealed smugness.

"Shall I tell you what I think, Mr. Dalrymple?” Before
he could frame a reply, the lady continued. “I think you’re dealing very deep.
But I also know that it takes two to play, and I, Mr. Dalrymple, have no
interest in your little game.”

Edmund glared at her impotently. An excellent card player, he
had forgotten the first rule of gaming: never underestimate one’s opponent.
The woman in front of him had trumped his ace, and he had no one but himself to
blame.

He searched his mind for the right words, words which would
reveal nothing, yet put her back in his complete power. "The accusation
is valid, Lady Katherine,” he informed her coldly. "The coins are in my
possession, to be used against you in a court of law.”

“Fiddlesticks. Whatever coins you may have I did not give you
directly. Once they passed through the hands of a third party, your alleged
case collapsed like a house of cards.”

She stood suddenly, forcing him to step back. Her eyes were
on a level with his, eyes that were filled with anger and contempt.

“You see, Mr. Dalrymple,” she spat, her voice low and shaking,
“you have no case against me. I suggest you leave, now, and threaten me again
only at your most dire peril.” With that, she turned on her heel and swept
away.

In spite of the predicament, Edmund’s lips twitched. The
lady, it seemed, had a theatrical flair. He should have known this from the
previous evening. “Lady Katherine,” he called, but she ignored him. Striding
after her, he caught her by the arm, spinning her about to face him.

“You’re quite right. I have no solid evidence against you.”

Lady Katherine stared unflinchingly back. “You’re hurting me,
sir. Must I call a constable?”

Instantly, Edmund released her. “My apologies.”

The lady moved to leave once more. Edmund leapt in front of
her, hands up in mute promise not to grab her again.

“Any barrister worth his wig could get the charges against you
dropped,” he told her, deadly serious. “I can, however, make your life a
misery until that time. I can see to it that your name will appear in every
newspaper in the country and your reputation ripped to shreds. By the time the
case is dismissed, neither you nor any one of your family will be received in
polite society again. You will be vilified beyond redemption the length and
breadth of this land. I can do that, Lady Katherine, and I will.” His voice
softened slightly. “Unless you cooperate.”

Appalled and frightened for the first time, Lady Katherine
stepped backwards, holding the parasol in an unconscious gesture of protection.
“But why?” she whispered hoarsely.

Edmund took a deep breath. “Because whether or not you are
one of them, the counterfeiting game is known to be operating in the area. As
a criminal yourself, you are bound to know something of what is going on, who
is doing it, where the coins are being manufactured. The fate of England may
depend on this information, madam, and I will have it no matter what the cost
to yourself.”

"The war is over. What can a few coins possibly matter?”

"Napoleon escaped once. He could do so again. The
economy of England and the fate of England itself could be in jeopardy.”

"This is blackmail.”

He shrugged. “Call it what you will. You have the entree to
the underworld which I mean to use. And I will use it, make no mistake.”

They stared at each other in a mute contest of wills.
Finally, Kate nodded, but they were interrupted by two grubby urchins racing
toward them.

Simon reached her first.

“Katie, Katie,” he shouted. "There’s going to be a
pageant and we get to be in it!”

“About the Cabalier! About the Cabalier!” Meg squealed,
jumping up and down.

“I -- what?” Kate had to smile, partly in relief, partly
because their enthusiasm was so infectious.

Heedless of sticky fingers and dirty faces, the two hurled
themselves at her, tugging at her skirt in excitement. Carolyn and Bertie,
equally thrilled, ran up. Lady Alice and Lucy followed at a more decorous
pace.

“Katie, Mrs. Dogget wants me to be in a coach that gets
robbed,” Carolyn said over the squeals of the others.

Not to be outdone, Bertie chimed in, “I get to be on the jury,
Katie, just think!”

“I am,” she answered. “What do you think about this, Aunt?”

“I think there can be no harm in it, Katherine. The village
council is sponsoring it and the money is to benefit the poorhouse. After all,
it’s simply a bit of fancy dress. It’s not as though they will truly run about
robbing people.” Lady Alice smiled at the gentleman beside her niece,
including him in her gentle joke. He responded by tipping his hat and laughing
warmly.

“Ha, ha,” Kate joined in weakly. To cover her confusion, she
took a handkerchief out of her reticule, licked it, and scrubbed a squirming
Simon’s face. “Well,” she began, beginning on Meg’s dirty features, “If Auntie
Alice feels this is appropriate, then you may all be in the pageant.”

“Huzzah!” shouted Bertie. The four youngsters ran back in the
direction of the green to join an excited group by the stocks. Lucy frowned
and bit her lip.

Kate couldn’t resist the chance to tease her sister. “What
part did they ask you to play, Lu?” she enquired wickedly. "The lecherous
Marchioness?”

Lucy turned red. “Kate!” she gasped, darting a warning look
at the stranger. To his credit, Mr. Dalrymple had moved away, courteously
appearing to be engrossed in the headstone of one Aloyisous Wallingford, who
was At Rest With The Angels since 1701.

Looking uncertainly from her sister to her aunt, Lucy replied
in a low voice, “Adam says the pageant will glorify evil and wickedness and no
pure thinking person should take part.” She bit her lip with a serious
expression. “He says that it would violate several of the Seven Deadly Sins,
not to mention--”

Kate, fed-up to the back teeth with “what Adam says” opened
her mouth to favor Lu with her opinion. Lady Alice stopped her with a warning
hand on her arm.

“Goodness, what a fuss,” she said calmly. “After all, to many
people, Captain Harrison was a hero, fighting the Roundheads long after the war
was over.”

“He was? He was.” Kate turned her aunt. “And think how much
money the pageant will raise. I think it’s every pure thinking lady’s duty to
participate.
Noblesse oblige
,” she
added piously.

Lady Alice nodded thoughtfully. “I shall certainly do my part
with the organizing committee. I would not care to have people believe I was
shirking my charitable duties.” She turned as if to head back across the
green. Kate read her intent and followed. After one agonizing second, Lucy
hastened to join them. Kate and Lady Alice stopped.

“Perhaps you’re right. Our duty, after all, is to our fellow
man.”

"No, Lucy, dearest. Your scruples do you credit,” Lady
Alice assured her.

“But if we are obligated--”

Kate chimed in. "No, Lu, you are quite correct. You
wouldn’t want to disobey your future husband, would you?”

Lucy shot her sister a narrow look. Kate kept her composure
and her innocent gaze. It was an exercise which required a great deal of
effort.

“Katherine, will you join us on the committee?” Lady Alice turned
to Lucy. “My dear, I shall depend upon you to look after the children while
Katherine and I take on new responsibilities.”

“Yes,” Lucy blurted out. “I’ll do it. The pageant, I mean.
I shall make Adam understand. For such a praiseworthy cause, of course.” She
stood irresolute, biting her lip. A relieved smile lit her face. “Mrs. Dogget
said Belinda and I could play the Duchess of Ortranto and her abigail. Because
I dance well, she said.” Lucy blushed and beamed. “May I stay to luncheon at
Belinda’s?”

Lady Alice nodded and smiled as her niece hurried over to her
friend, waiting at the gate to the graveyard. In an instant, the two had their
heads together and were chattering like magpies.

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