Authors: Addie Jo Ryleigh
Table of Contents
THE RUNNER’S ENTICEMENT
ADDIE JO RYLEIGH
Cover Design by Fiona Jayde
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
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THE RUNNER’S ENTICEMENT
Men Of Circumstance Book Two
ADDIE JO RYLEIGH
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
To the best (unofficial) agent,
publicist, therapist, and supporter.
And the greatest (official) best friend.
Our morning conversations would be very one-sided
without you. I’m so glad you work for free.
Thank you, JMC. Love you!
And as Always . . . For My Boys
The ones who have to live with me during a deadline.
You are my I Love You.
Nathaniel Frederickson yanked up the collar of his coat, but not before another icy drop slipped past and rolled down the back of his neck.
. To think, he’d once enjoyed this. Even reveled in it. He must have been mad. Or maybe he was past his prime. Perhaps he needed a new direction for his life.
Furthermore, when had rain become so wet? Never before had it seemed to soak through his coat and directly into his skin, causing him to shiver in his boots. And the wind. Had it ever held such a bitter chill before tonight? This might be England but surely there were colder places in the world. If he leaned any closer to the tree in an attempt to block the gusts, he’d have bark branded on his arse.
Though none of that had kept him from tracking his prey through half of England, one agonizingly slow step at a time. Thankfully, there would be a small boon for his efforts. As soon as he had the target in custody, he could retreat to Frenton Hall and thaw his frozen limbs.
Being the bastard brother of a duke had a few benefits—and after the trials of this trip, he planned to exploit each one. His innards heated a degree at the mere thought of warmth.
Nate huddled against the cold a few minutes longer. To no avail. The man wasn’t going to show. He probably had more sense than Nate at the moment and was holed up someplace dry.
About to bail on the mission and retrieve his horse, Nate sidled back to the tree when his quarry straggled out of the night and made his way down the sidewalk. Even from a hundred paces away, there was no mistaking Jarvis—The Viper—was on the prowl. It was imperative for Nate and his men to take him into custody tonight. If not, there would be no telling who his next victim would be.
More to the point, Nate hadn’t caught his death by standing in the rain the last three hours to come away empty-handed. No matter how deadly The Viper’s strike, Nate was quicker.
With visual confirmation impossible, Nate had to trust his men hadn’t abandoned their posts and were prepared to act once he sounded the signal. He’d need every one of them if he wanted to bring Jarvis in.
Keeping in the shadows, Nate studied Jarvis’ uneven gait, courtesy of a fellow Runner’s lucky shot. The outlaw’s injury might have slowed his walk, but it hadn’t kept him from killing three more families. Too bad the wound hadn’t festered and done in the son of a bitch.
As Jarvis neared the gambling hell, Nate’s muscles tightened. This was it. The night they finally stopped the madman.
Nate did a quick scan of the area. Maybe the cursed rain would work in his favor. On a normal night there would be countless men and a few prostitutes lingering outside the establishment, any one of whom could hinder his capture of The Viper. No need to add to the ample bodies littering the man’s wake.
A couple more steps and it would be time to sound the alarm. Nate reached for his pistol. As much as his finger itched to take the man out himself, he refused to assume the duties of judge and executioner. Jarvis would hang for his crimes soon enough.
His body tensed as he struggled to hold off on giving the signal. He needed to wait for the precise moment. When there would be no room for The Viper to maneuver. Just two more paces. All Nate needed. The rain created a thin curtain but he kept his eyes pinned on his quarry.
Finally! He was right where Nate needed him.
Nate’s sharp whistle pierced the storm as he sprang from the cover of the tree.
“Jarvis! Don’t move.”
With a flick of his jacket, The Viper exposed the pistol shoved into his waistband. He would only need a second to draw the weapon.
“Don’t. You have five of my best men surrounding you,” Nate yelled over the storm as he took a calculated step closer. “You have nowhere to go.”
He felt the presence of his men, approaching from all sides. Good to know they were loyal enough to stay put through the rain.
All but Grant, who stepped out of the gaming hell behind Jarvis, gun pulled. He’d somehow managed to win the prime lookout spot. Lucky sod.
“You think you’ve won, Frederickson? No one beats The Viper.”
Nate couldn’t contain his laugh. Cocky as ever. Even staring down the barrel of Nate’s gun, the man refused to admit he was done for.
He’d advanced close enough to see the killer’s puff of breath break through the rain. “You have two choices. Both end in you leaving with me. You get to decide if you will be breathing when you do.”
“If you would be so lucky to take me in, it would never be with a breath left in my body.” Jarvis’ eyes narrowed and turned deadly. “And never before I took you with me.”
Only because he’d been watching for it, Nate caught the flinch of the man’s finger. Luckily, he’d figured this would be the route Jarvis would take and had planned for such a moment—it would have been too effortless otherwise.
As it was, he’d already been overly generous giving the man a choice. Now it was time to end this. A quick tilt of his head at Grant and the man flung the bottle he’d carried from the gaming hell. It slammed against the wall of the building.
Prepared for shattering glass, Nate’s focus never left Jarvis. Being a professional killer, the noise barely pulled the man’s attention, but it successfully shifted his eyes for a mere second, giving Nate the opening he needed.
Knowing the signal, his men converged on the killer the same moment Nate lunged, catching the side of Jarvis’ head with his pistol. The blow only slowed the bastard enough for Nate to grab his shooting arm.
True to his appellation, The Viper already had his gun free.
Why hadn’t I just shot the man?
It wouldn’t have been the first time Nate had to kill someone who’d rather die than be apprehended—and in his line of work, would be far from the last.
Too late now. At this range, he’d probably only manage to shoot himself. Something he’d rather avoid.
Both men fought to gain control of the gun. Nate used his bulk to push Jarvis against the building, all the while struggling to keep his footing on the rain-slicked walk. If he went down, Jarvis wouldn’t hesitate to shoot him.
“Drop your weapon, Jarvis!”
Up close, the man’s eyes were lifeless. “In hell.”
Nate didn’t have time to share that hell was exactly where the man was heading. Instead, he used the moment the others reached for Jarvis’ arms to lower his shoulder into the killer’s chest. Jarvis released a grunt of air, quickly followed by a moan when Nate’s gun once again connected with his head.
This time hard enough to knock Jarvis off his feet. Nate’s men quickly tackled the criminal and freed him of his weapon. Jarvis continued to struggle but with the strength of five men holding him down. It was futile.
He scowled at Nate, blood mixed with rain streaming down the side of his face.
“You should have killed me when you had the chance.”
“Oh, you’ll be dead soon enough, but it won’t be by me.” Nate couldn’t stomach looking at the vacant death in the man’s eyes any longer. “Get him out of my sight.”
“I hear you caught your man.”
“You make it sound as if you doubted me,” Nate answered as he strolled into the office of Jacob Lawson, a top officer of the Bow Street Runners.
“Only a fool would pass on a sure thing just for a chance to bet on the long shot.”
More often than not, Nate could never tell if his supervisor was complementing his skills or speaking in pointless riddles. Since his record spoke for itself and he knew he was the best at what he did, he didn’t think on it long.
“I’m glad you’ve secured Jarvis. I have a new assignment for you.”
Nate raised a brow as he took the seat opposite the dark haired man whose bookish appearance contradicted his outspoken nature. Being a senior member—and the most skilled—of the Runners enabled Nate to pick what cases he wanted to pursue. He was rarely assigned to anything.
“The Earl of Brodford requested our best man to investigate a series of thefts. And before you refuse, need I remind you of all the times you’ve proclaimed to be that man?” Lawson didn’t give Nate the chance to refuse the case or deny the claim—not that he could. They both knew Nate was the most accomplished. “Lord Brodford owns a very extensive collection of historical artifacts and over the last several weeks, a number have gone missing. I’m told each one is priceless.”
“Aren’t they all,” Nate mumbled.
“I’m familiar with your thoughts on the aristocracy. However, in this case, you will need to set them aside.”
“Why does the Earl of Brodford deserve such a boon?”
“Would ‘because I told you so’ be reason enough?”
Nate resisted the urge to laugh. “Has it in the past?”
“Excellent point,” Lawson replied, a teasing glint in his eye. “Then, how about as a personal favor to Sir John Fielding?”
Seeing as the man, one of the original founders of the force, had been dead for close to forty years, Nate was intrigued.
“Brodford’s father had a business connection with Fielding. Brodford is calling in a favor based on the old relationship.”
“Here I thought the nobility just purchased everything they desired.”
“Remind me where you are currently residing?”
The inquiry silenced Nate’s tongue. Ridiculing the upper crust for their privileges was rather hypocritical. After all, at present he called Frenton Hall his home . . . which also happened to be the family seat of his half-brother, the Duke of Wesbrook.
Damn Lawson for having the arrogance to point out the fact.
Nate’s bleak opinion of the nobility stemmed from twenty-seven years of being on the receiving end of countless subtle—and some quite blatant—ridicule regarding his illegitimate status. Which also led to his clear avoidance of it. If not for the need to escort Jarvis to Newgate and to meet with Lawson, Nate never would have stepped a foot inside London.
“A man of your skills should have the case solved in a matter of days,” Lawson persisted. “Furthermore, not all men carrying a title are of the same ilk as your father and a few other small-minded members. What of your brother?”
Nate was becoming annoyed with the man who was not only his superior but someone he considered a friend. Lawson was the reason Nate had become a Runner, but if the man continued to state the obvious, Nate would seriously have to rethink their friendship.
“We both know my brother Gabe is nothing like the general peerage. But one or two anomalies don’t make the exception the rule,” Nate replied, deadpan.
“And a couple bad apples don’t ruin the pie.”
Nate wanted to point out it was quite possible for one bad apple to sour an entire pie but it would be futile. Lawson didn’t carry the same view of the
as Nate did and a few well-spoken metaphors weren’t going to alter his opinion.
“What can you tell me about Brodford and the oh-so-important artifacts?” If he was forced to waste his time catering to a member of the
he wanted to know what he was dealing with.
“Since ancient relics are not my expertise, you’ll have to discuss those with Brodford. I only know he is a highly respected man, and as soon as he requested help from the force, there was no thought of denying him.”
Despite his reluctance from the onset, Nate knew he would be taking the case. Regardless of his dislike for the nobility, he could never ignore the lure of solving a case.
As if reading Nate’s mind, Lawson stated, “You’re expected the day after tomorrow at Brodford’s country estate.”
His actual agreement superfluous, Nate exited the chair and headed for the door, wondering how he’d explain his continued absence.
Might be easier to just tell Gabe what I actually do with my leisure time.
At least then his brother wouldn’t think his only skills were pleasuring ladies and enjoying the comforts of his brother’s wealth. He would have done so already if he didn't think his career would hinder Gabe’s efforts to restore the Wesbrook name. Being one of the many bastards the previous duke had scattered far and wide was enough of a stain on the title. If not for Nate’s mother being a maid in the Wesbrook household and Nate being too damn stubborn to let his father get away with banishing them, Gabe would never have known of Nate’s existence.
“Frederickson, one more thing,” Lawson called, bringing Nate out of his thoughts.
He tensed all the way to his boots. Considering what Lawson had already announced, Nate wasn’t sure he wanted to hear more.
“I might not have been completely forthright,” the man declared from the safety of his desk, not even attempting to mask his amusement.
Yes, I’m going to severely rethink our friendship.
Nate turned to face his supervisor, arms crossed over his chest.
“Brodford didn’t only request a Runner to solve the thefts.” Lawson paused, clearly enjoying himself. “He also requested a bodyguard . . . for his daughter of one and twenty.”
“No.” The refusal sprang to his lips without any coaxing. Dealing with Brodford’s superior rank was one thing. Handling the privileged daughter of a peer was more than Nate could tolerate.
“Even when I say you don’t have a choice in the matter?” Lawson asked with a raise of his brow.
Nate didn’t return to the chair, favoring his position by the door since it offered a faster escape route. “I’d say go to hell.”
“We can go there together.” Lawson’s amused reply erased Nate’s usual calm.
At Nate’s seething silence, his superior sobered. “They’re not all like her.”
Nate’s shoulders tightened at Lawson’s reference. At least the man held enough acumen to refrain from saying her name. If he had, Nate wasn’t sure he could confine the urge to reach across the desk and throttle his soon-to-be former friend. Lawson’s ability to connect Nate’s resistance to
caused an entirely new resentment to slowly burn in his gut.
As Lawson’s dark features eased, Nate despised the pity looking back at him. “I would never willingly swell your already enlarged ego, but we both know you are the best man for the job. Despite your disagreement, Lord Brodford deserves the best we have. The sooner you catch the party responsible, the sooner you can be done with the earl and his daughter.”
Nate might have the freedom of the exit at his back but it felt as if his commander had him against the wall with no escape. It was beyond time for a career change. Not even the thrill of chasing his man and bringing him to justice enticed any longer.
Even so, Nate knew, come two days from now, he’d be the guest of the Earl of Brodford. And forced to play nursemaid to his overly entitled daughter.