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Authors: Jo Ann Ferguson

The Smithfield Bargain (36 page)

BOOK: The Smithfield Bargain

“Did you believe my professions of love? You are pretty, my sweet, but I would no sooner live my life under the domination of your damned grandsire than I would face the French. However, you have the potential for being a very valuable young lady. That's why I wanted you to be my wife. My late wife, but every time we planned an accident, you somehow survived.”

arranged with Duffie for me to be kidnapped and killed? Was it you that knocked our carriage from the road?” She blinked back tears. “Thatcher was killed in that accident!”

“I never meant to hurt him.”

“And the fire?”

“There was, shall we say, certain evidence remaining in the carriage that, if it had been found, would have been incriminating.”

“But why do you want me dead? You know Grandfather has arranged that I will be left little.”

He chuckled as he pushed her to sit on the settee. “Save for one investment.”

“It cannot be that grand. Grandfather invested fifty thousand pounds for me. Even if the investment had been a wondrous success, it—”

“Was a tontine, Romayne.”

“Tontine?” she repeated, as she heard Ellen whisper a desperate prayer.

“Your grandfather, sly fox that he is, thought there was no way you could not end up with the money invested by the seven members of the tontine. Each of his friends put in a like amount for their children, but the duke signed the papers last, and nobody noticed until the first death that he had made the investment in the name of his granddaughter. He knew that his friends' children should be dead long before you.”

“And in a tontine,” said Philomena, “the last one alive gets all the money. Three hundred fifty million pounds, Romayne, although it has grown far beyond its original amount.”

“The others are dead?” Romayne asked.

“Save for one.” Boumphrey pointed to the ceiling. “Lord Harcourt is the only other surviving signatory to the tontine.”

James laughed, and Romayne stared at him. Was he mad to taunt them like this? “The duke's perfect investment must be stopped by three widgeons who are growing desperate for money since their source from France has been squeezed closed.”

“France?” Montcrief snarled. “What does France have to do with good English pounds?”

“Ask your convenient what message you brought her from Brooks's, Montcrief.”

Philomena's colorless face flushed at the insult. “Bradley, kill him! I do not need to listen to such talk in my father's house.”

“Are you more offended that I speak of your light-skirted ways or your traitorous ones, Lady Philomena?” James folded his arms in front of him and smiled.

“Shoot him!” shrieked Philomena.

“Before I can tell Montcrief the truth of your attempt to trade England's secrets for French gold?”

Romayne choked on her shock. Philomena was the traitor? How was that possible? She doubted if Philomena had ever traveled farther than her father's estate.

When Montcrief pulled his pistol from under his riding coat, Romayne gasped, “Don't, Bradley! Can't you see the truth? She will have you kill James and Ellen and me. Then you will be the one to hang.”

“She's lying to you,” Philomena said as she put her arm around Bradley. Lifting his hand holding the pistol, she murmured, “Kill all of them, and then the money is ours.”

“Kill all of us,” James added, “and your sweet Philomena will marry her beloved brother-in-law, Norman Boumphrey. After all, the two of them have been plotting this since Norman returned from the Continent after being a prisoner of war. The French may have convinced him the only way to avoid being sucked up into the war again was to bring an end to it by betraying England, or,” he smiled coldly, “maybe Boumphrey and his brother's wife saw a way to get the money they both had thought his brother had had. What a shock it must have been, Boumphrey, to discover that your brother had already squandered it at the table of green cloth at Brooks's.”

“How do you know
?” Boumphrey demanded.

“Stow your jabber!” Philomena cried.

“You made your biggest mistake, Lady Philomena,” James continued in the same calm tone, “when you served as the contact. I should have taken note when the letter from the French spy began
Ma chère amie
. A woman!”

Philomena whispered in Montcrief's ear, then stepped back as he raised the pistol. “We shall hear no more of your lies, MacKinnon. Bradley, kill him.”

“Only if you wish to die first.” The thunderous voice rolled through the room like the tolling of doom.

“Grandfather!” Romayne gasped.

The Duke of Westhampton raised a dueling pistol. Boumphrey shoved Romayne in front of him. A gun fired. With a screech, he released her. She crouched against the wall. Another gun fired. Something crashed overhead. She tensed, waiting for death. A hand touched her shoulder, and she moaned.

“It's over, Romayne.”

Looking up at James, she rose and threw her arms around his neck as bits of the ceiling drifted down toward them. One of the shots must have hit it. He held her gently for only a moment before he drew her back from him.

“I am fine,” she whispered as his gaze swept along her.

“So are we.” He turned and called, “Have them, Farmer?”

“Yes, sir,” came back the answer. “All three of them.”

“You know where to take them.”

“Yes, sir … Major!”

James smiled wearily as he helped Romayne to the settee. Sitting beside her, he put his arm around her shoulders.

“Ellen?” she whispered.

“Cameron is taking her to her mother before Dora swoons with fear.” Again his smile reappeared. “Cameron and Dora will be especially happy that this muddle is done and they can go back to their real lives.”

“Real lives? Ellen is not your cousin?” Perplexed, she asked, “Is Dora your aunt?”

James laughed. “Dora is Fergus Cameron's wife. Ellen is his stepdaughter. I collect I shall have to inform Ellen of that as well. She never questioned her mother when Cameron brought me to Struthcoille and told her I was a long-lost cousin of her late father's.”

Romayne stared down at her hands. “It is over, isn't it? You have caught the traitors. Now you can go back to your real life as Major MacKinnon while I try to put my life back together in the wake of the
learning our marriage was only a ruse.”

“There might be a bit of a problem with that,” the duke said as he sat in the chair where Ellen had been held prisoner when Romayne awoke.

“What problem?”

James did not answer as he held out his hand to her grandfather. “Thank you, Your Grace, for your assistance in this.”

“You helped James?” Romayne had doubted if anything could shock her more today, but she had been wrong. “I thought you wanted to be rid of him.”

“I can be double-dealing, too,” he said with a haughty smile. “I learned the game of espionage long before either of you were born. It was my pleasure to help you, Major.”

“But how—?

The duke patted her hand. “My dear child, did you think I would tacitly accept any man into my home as my granddaughter's husband? I arranged for your James to be investigated within hours of your arrival at Westhampton Hall. Imagine my surprise that this was
James MacKinnon, oldest son of my good friend the Marquess of Leithcairn.”

“Marquess? You are the heir of a marquess?” She recalled James in his torn breeches and ragged shirt.

“It's a title I hope I shall not be burdened with for many years, for I wish my father a long life.”

Romayne shook her head. “Is there anything else you failed to tell me, James?”

“One,” her grandfather said, “but your husband should explain it to you.”

Romayne turned to James. “My husband?”

His sheepish expression erased the last of the murderous fury from his eyes. “Your grandfather speaks of a small banger I told you.”

“A lie?” Seeing her grandfather's smile, she asked, “You never got a false marriage license for us?”

“No, my connections in the Lowlands were not as good as I had hoped.”

“But what Bradley brought to the house—”

“Was something I had arranged with Reverend Kerr. I suspected that, sooner or later, the turncoat would connect me with the Scotsman pursuing him. If anyone was to ask, Reverend Kerr was to give him the letter Boumphrey had in his possession.”

“Then, if we didn't have a marriage license, why did Reverend Kerr agree to marry us?”

“Because,” he said, cupping her chin in his hand, “we had a marriage license.”

“But you said—”

“A real marriage license.”

She stared at him, torn between disbelief and delight. This was everything she had dreamed of, but James always had made it very clear that he wished no ties, that he would leave her once he caught the traitor. Softly she asked, “We are truly married?”

“I am afraid so.”

“Why didn't you tell me the truth before this?”

Standing, he ran his hand through his hair, jutting it at odd angles. Again she could see a sign of the naughty boy he had been, always poking his nose where it did not belong, but beguiling his way out of trouble. “I feared you would not agree to marry me for real.”

“And that would have foiled your chance for this!” She flung out her arms to encompass the room where he had cornered his prey.

“No,” he said through gritted teeth, “it would have foiled my chance for

He seized her by the shoulders and tasted her lips. She let him draw her to her feet and into his arms. Raising his mouth only far enough away so he could speak, he whispered, “Let me ask you for real this time, Romayne. Will you be my wife?”

“Yes,” she answered as softly. When his lips touched hers, joy flooded her, and she knew that their hearts had made a wondrous bargain that would fill the rest of their lives with rapture.

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this ebook or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 1994 by Jo Ann Ferguson

Cover design by Neil Alexander Heacox

ISBN: 978-1-5040-0902-7

Distributed in 2015 by Open Road Distribution

345 Hudson Street

New York, NY 10014

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