A Loving Scoundrel Page 35

“You think he was just tidying up loose ends, because he knew you could recognize him?”

“But I couldn’t. I didn’t remember him at all until tonight.”

“But he wouldn’t have known that, would he?”

“No. Look out!” she screamed as the man loomed up behind Jeremy’s back.

Jeremy swung around, but her warning must have changed the man’s mind about attacking them, because he bolted out the door instead—and ran into Artie by the sounds of the butler’s complaint. Jeremy hurried to the door, told Artie to apprehend the fellow, then came back to Danny.

He wasn’t leaving her alone with a madman in the house. “Artie will catch him. He can be quite ruthless when warranted.”

Danny felt that Jeremy’s confidence was a bit misplaced until the butler came back and announced, “He’s dead.”

“Blister it, Artie,” Jeremy complained, “I wanted to question him, not bury him.”

“I didn’t kill ’im,” Artie said with a shrug. “ ’E dove back out that window ’e broke to get in the ’ouse and landed on a sharp piece of glass.

Danny started to cry. She was silent about it and turned her head aside so the men wouldn’t notice, and fortunately, Jeremy left with Artie to see to the body and to summon the authorities, so she had time to get her emotions under control. But she couldn’t manage it, the tears kept pouring, because she’d realized too late that that fellow could have told her who she really was. But now he couldn’t.

Chapter 44

“YOU’RECOMING WITH MEand that’s final,” Jeremy said.

“You get really silly when you’re worried, mate,” Danny replied. “That chap was a loner. No one else is going to break in here and try to kill me.”

“You don’t know that for certain, or have you remembered more?”

They were in his bedroom. Jeremy was packing for the weekend trip to the Crandle house party. He’d almost talked himself out of going that morning, he was still so worried about her. But he’d mentioned that Crandle wasn’t known to throw a great many parties, just a few per season, so it might be a long time before he had such a prime opportunity again to observe Heddings and hopefully catch him at some wrongdoing. Danny had to convince Jeremy once again that she was fine, that he shouldn’t change his plans on her account.

She thought she’d succeeded. He’d agreed. But apparently not completely, since he’d just summoned her to his room to inform her that she would be accompanying him.

“I’ve remembered nothing else,” she told him, answering his question.

But she was still quite amazed that she’d remembered her name, not all of it, just the first name. It had come to her that morning just after they awoke in each other’s arms, and she’d blurted it out, “My name is Danette,” and then she’d laughed. “A far cry from Danielle, eh? And don’t be calling me that. It sounds too foreign for my liking.”

“I think it’s rather pretty,” he’d said.

“Too bad. It’s mine and I choose to forget it again.”

But she wasn’t going to forget it. And she had hope now that more memories would come back to her. Because she’d taken another blow to her head? Or because she’d come face-to-face with her worst nightmare? Whatever the reason, she had confidence now that shewould remember more.

“You’re still coming with me,” he insisted. “Or do you prefer cleaning house to going to parties?”

She snorted at his logic. “I’d prefer being realistic, if you don’t mind. I don’t belong at such parties and you know it. Look at the fuss you made about my attending that ball.”

“But you did splendidly there.”

“So? What’s that got to do with another party? I don’t have the clothes for it either. I have that one ball gown—”

“Which will do just fine.”

“For both days? You gentry wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the same clothes two days in a row, mate.”

“It will have been in the only trunk that was salvaged when they all got dumped in the river. Quite understandable.”

She stared at him, then laughed. “Who would believe that whopper?”

“Anyone I mention it to. You don’t think the gentry suffer simple difficulties like having baggage come loose from its strapping and roll down a hill into the river? I assure you, the same mishaps that bedevil the general populace can bedevil the upper crust, too.”

He got his way, the scoundrel. Despite all her objections, he was able to talk circles around her, cajole, tease, and otherwise browbeat her in his nabob way.

Her last warning was, “You know, mate, if you don’t stop making me pretend to be a lady, I might like it and work on getting m’self a lordly husband, rather than just a respectable one.”

But that didn’t work either, merely had him replying in a casual tone, “I haven’t shot anyone lately. I suppose I’m overdue.”

That shut her up quickly. He was joking, of course, but she still hadn’t liked the sound of that, which reminded her too much of his father. Hewas James Malory’s son, after all, and although he was mostly just a lovable scoundrel as his cousin had termed him, there could be another side to Jeremy that he didn’t allow her to see.

“I never thought I’d see the day, Jeremy,” Amy said, “that you’d fall in love.”

Amy and Warren had come with Jeremy and Danny to Lord Crandle’s party. That had been decided when Jeremy stopped by to borrow their coach and he’d been reminded that “Danielle” should have a chaperone.

“Bite your tongue, Cousin,” Jeremy replied. “You ain’t seen it yet.”

Amy raised a brow at him. “Don’t tell me you’re going to be the last one to know?”

She started laughing then, causing him to grit his teeth. They were dancing, the first opportunity they’d had to talk alone since she’d returned to England. A trio of musicians had started playing after dinner, and with Warren keeping Danny occupied teaching her to play cards, Jeremy had let Amy drag him onto the dance floor.

Lord Heddings hadn’t made an appearance yet, and he might not show at all. Amy had agreed to pose as the “temptation,” wearing some of her best jewelry for the duration of the visit. Fat lot of good that was going to do if the thief didn’t show up.

“You see, you can’t even keep your eyes off her for two minutes,” Amy said triumphantly, as if she’d just made her point.

Jeremy snorted. “She’s a raving beauty. Of course I’m going to stare at her every chance I get. I’d have to be blind not to want to.”

“It’s all right to love her, you know. She comes from good family.”

“IfI were going to love her, I wouldn’t give a bloody damn where she came from, and how the devil do you know about her family? No, never mind. Forget I asked.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not one of my ‘feelings.’ You just have to watch her, listen to her, to know she’s got good breeding in her background.”

He gave a hoot of laughter and said, “You wouldn’t be saying that, puss, if you could have heard her talking just a few weeks ago. Right out of the gutter she sounded, and was, for that matter.”

“Exactly,” Amy said triumphantly. “You don’t really think someone like that could learn to speak so well in just a few weeks, do you? Unless it was how she used to speak. She said as much, that her friend Lucy taught her to talk like a guttersnipe. Did you never wonder where she came from before she got adopted by that riffraff?”

“Course I have, but that’s all I can do, when she can’t even remember her full name. And she’s sure her parents were killed by that bastard who tried to kill her. They’d have searched high and low for her otherwise. So even if her memories do return, she has no one to go back to.”

“Don’t sound so hopeful,” Amy huffed. “She could have distant relatives other than thoseyou’ve created for her. And even if she doesn’t, that doesnot mean you’re going to get to keep her as your maid forever. The girl has goals, Jeremy, if you didn’t know, and you’ve only supplied one of them in giving her a job.”

“I know about her damned goals,” he grumbled. “Bloody hell, did she tell you her whole life story on the way back to London that day?”

Amy grinned at him. “You know I have a way of getting people to open up. There’s no prevaricating when you’re around me.”

“More’s the pity.”

“I don’t know why you’re protesting what is so patently obvious, scamp. And youcould supply her other two goals, though come to think of it, you don’t really fall under the heading ofrespectable, do you?” Amy feigned a sigh. “Forget I mentioned it.”

Jeremy scowled. He hated when Amy got in a teasing mood. Like her two more notorious uncles, she went for blood.

Fortunately, a change of subject walked in the door. “Ah, there he is finally.”

Amy followed his gaze. “Lord Heddings?”

“Yes, and why don’t you go introduce yourself, puss, and let him get a good look at all those baubles you’re wearing. You and Warrenwere given a room of your own, right? I doubt he’ll take the chance of sneaking into a room if it’s being shared.”

“Yes, we have our own room. Crandle has a standing arrangement with his two closest neighbors to help him with any extra guests when he runs out of rooms. It’s fortunate we arrived early, or we probably would be staying elsewhere. I take it you’ll be sharing a room yourself?”

“Of course. With a half dozen other bachelors at last count. And Danny was put in with the single young misses. Hadn’t considered that when I dragged her along,” he added with a frown.

“Don’t worry, she’ll do fine.”

He was glancing about the room now, having noticed that Danny was no longer where he’d left her at the card tables with Warren, was nowhere in sight. Heddings was heading to the card tables, though.

“Intercept him before he settles in at one of the tables. He’s known to spend all night gambling. I’ll go see where Danny’s gone off to.”

She’d gone to bed, according to Warren. This early? She’d mentioned a headache, which made Jeremy feel like the worst cad, for having forgotten the knock on the head she’d taken. She’d said she was fine, but the wench was probably as good at lying as she was at stealing.

He bounded upstairs to check on her. This early in the evening, the room she was sharing was likely to have only her in it. He knocked. She opened the door, was still dressed, had probably just gotten up there herself.

“Why didn’t you tell me your head was still hurting?” he admonished rather sharply.

“Because it wasn’t. It was trying to concentrate on the cards that brought the headache on.”

He gave her a suspicious frown. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?”

“Of course I would. Thieves are good at that, you know.”

His scowl got worse. She chuckled. “I was joking, mate. Cor, you’re touchy lately.”

He sighed and leaned against the doorframe. “Crandle has a very nice garden, I was told. I was hoping to show it to you later.”

She raised her brow at him. “That’d be better suited to the daytime, wouldn’t it? So I could actually see what you’re showing me?”

“Well, no, you don’t have to see anything for this.”

He’d no sooner said it than his arm snaked out and pulled her body flush with his, and his mouth covered hers. He wanted to devour her, but he restrained himself, just barely. The kiss was sensual, God, he loved the taste of her. She kissed with her whole body, not just her mouth, pressing into him.

He broke off abruptly before he lost all sense and carried her to bed, a bed that wouldn’t be private for long. He stepped back. He was actually trembling!

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” she replied breathlessly.

He groaned inwardly, almost grabbed her back. He stuffed his hands in his pockets rather quickly instead and got the subject off kisses and how much he wanted to make love to her right now.

“Heddings showed up finally,” he said.

“Well, that worked out rather well, didn’t it?”

“How so?”

“If he doesn’t know I’m here, he won’t know to look for me in the morning. He’ll be doing a head count before he tries sneaking into any of these rooms.If he’s going to try it.”

“You still don’t think he will?”

“I think he’s too smart to do the stealing himself,” she reasoned.

“I disagree. I don’t think he can resist the temptation.”

“But look what he risks if he’s caught.”

“Exactly. Some men would find the danger of that exciting. But I’ll allow we could both be right. He might not take the risk often. However, with Amy’s jewels as the bait, he’s more likely to try it. She travels too much these days, being married to a ship’s captain. So if he wants her baubles, he’ll need to grab them while he has the chance.”

“But how would he know she’s not often in England?”

“Because she’s going to tell him, dear girl. Amy is quite as good as Reggie at setting up a plot. She’s going to mention that although she and Warren only just returned home, they’re going to be leaving again in a few days. She’s even going to hint that they might not return this time, that Warren’s been talking about a new trade route that would bypass England. And she’s going to leave the baubles in her room tomorrow. So it will be now or never.”

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