A Loving Scoundrel Page 36

Danny shrugged, conceding, “Well, if he’s that stupid, as I said, it’s a good thing then that I came upstairs before he noticed me. I’ll just remain up here in the morning and keep an ear open for him to make his move. If he’s going to do it, it will be after he’s assured himself that all the guests are accounted for downstairs.”

Jeremy shook his head at her. “You aren’t going to be doing the catching here, m’dear, I am. If or when he comes upstairs in the morning, I’ll give him a few minutes and then follow—”

“And miss him in Amy’s room if he’s quick? Finding him in the hall here or in his own room won’t prove a bleeding thing, now will it? Your timing would have to be too perfect.”

“Her jewels being missing will be proof enough.”

“Not if he hides them somewhere up here. He could even toss them out the window there at the end of the hall to one of his accomplices waiting below for just that. She’s going to miss them, after all, which means a search will ensue. So he won’t keep them on his person.”

“Bloody hell, you’re coming up with too many variables.Must you think like a thief?”

She grinned at him. “You can do the catching as you planned to. I’ll just be up here to point you in the right direction.”

“And miss the rest of the party yourself?”

“I didn’t want to be here in the first place, mate. But, no. If he doesn’t make his move before noon, I’ll be coming down for some lunch. I’m not going to starve myself to catch your thief.”

Chapter 45

DANNY WOULD HAVE REGRETTEDher decision to wait upstairs the next morning, since she got hungry not long after waking. But she’d gone to sleep early, so was awake before any of the other young ladies she was sharing the room with, and likely the other guests as well. So she took the chance to slip downstairs for a bite to eat and got back in her room without running into anyone other than the servants.

She used the same excuse of a headache to remain behind in the room when the other girls started waking each other to go down for breakfast. They hadn’t brought their maids with them, were apparently used to helping each other dress at weekend gatherings like this one. And they were all envious of Danny, having heard the rumors that Jeremy Malory was courting her, and thinking them confirmed since she’d arrived with him and his relatives.

She’d had to listen to each of them gushing about how handsome he was, how he was the most eligible bachelor in all of England. She’d managed to refrain from laughing. Bachelor, yes. Eligible, not a chance.

Alone again, she got comfortable near the door so she could listen to the comings and goings in the hall as the rest of the guests headed downstairs for the day. She wasn’t about to lie on the floor to watch the feet passing as she’d done in Heddings’s house, since one of the young ladies might return for something and end up banging the door against her head. But she felt safe in cracking the door open just a smidgen and leaving it like that. With Amy’s room just across the way, the crack gave her a clear view of the only room that mattered.

And she didn’t have long to wait. A well-dressed gentleman in his middle years came into her line of vision. Tall, distinguished looking, with black hair turning silver at his temples. He stopped at Amy’s door, glanced both ways down the hall, then tried the doorknob. Finding it unlocked, he quickly slipped inside.

Danny was amazed. She hadn’t really thought he’d be that stupid, but Jeremy had been right. Unless that hadn’t been Lord Heddings. But who else could it have been? She’d met most of the other guests last evening at dinner, and that man hadn’t been one of them. He was also dressed too fine to be a servant. And his caution before entering the room spoke clearly that he was up to no good.

She listened closely to hear Jeremy coming up the stairs, but no other sound came from the hall. She hoped he didn’t give Heddings too much time. She wasn’t sure what she should do if the lord left Amy’s room before Jeremy arrived. And what if he hadn’t even seen the man come upstairs? Heddings was going to get away with it if Jeremy didn’t hurry. She could accuse him. After all, she’d witnessed him enter Amy’s room. But fat lot of good that would do if he disposed of the jewels first.

The door opened again across the way so silently, she wouldn’t have heard it. He didn’t leave the room immediately either; he was looking down the hall first, then he poked his head around to look down the other way. Finding no one about, he fairly flew out of that room and closed the door again, leaving it as he’d found it, then hurried farther down the hall, out of Danny’s view.

Danny had mere seconds to decide what to do. Maybe she could just detain him long enough for Jeremy to arrive.

She stepped out into the hall and said, “Wait up, Lord Heddings.”

He turned around to face her. She was looking to see if anything was in the hall that he could have put the jewels in temporarily. There wasn’t, not even a vase. And the window at the end of the hall was still a long ways off, so he had to have the jewels still on him.

But then she noticed that he was staring at her quite incredulously. So he was going to play the innocent, was he? She snorted to herself. He should have waited until she actually accused him.

She did that now, warned him, “Give it up, m’lord. I know what you did.”

“So he failed again to get rid of you?” Heddings replied, his tone filled with disgust. “Still as incompetent as he was fifteen years ago? But whatever he told you, you can’t prove it.”

Danny felt poleaxed. She couldn’t breathe. He wasn’t talking about the theft he’d just committed. He was talking about the man who’d tried to kill her, twice, and his own involvement in it.

And then she really couldn’t breathe, because his hands were suddenly around her neck, squeezing, and she heard him snarl, “I’ll finish this myself.”

She fought with his fingers, tried to pry them loose, but too quickly her own were tingling, losing strength. A haze was clouding her eyes. The last thing she saw was the hate in his…

Jeremy came around the corner at the top of the stairs. He sighed to himself when he saw Danny standing there in the corridor in front of Heddings, her back to him. He’d warned her to stay out of this. It would be nice, it really would, if she’d pay attention to him occasionally.

He’d almost reached them when Danny slumped to the floor at Heddings’s feet. “What the hell?”

“She fainted,” Lord Heddings told him. “Mentioned she hadn’t eaten yet today and not much yesterday. I’ll fetch some smelling salts.”

Jeremy knelt down to pick Danny up and get her to a bed, but he couldn’t help seeing the red surrounding her neck with the low cut of her gown. So much emotion welled up in his chest he couldn’t breath for a moment, then it released in a keening cry. He gathered her limp body to his chest. He rocked with her. Pain was ripping him to pieces. He hadn’t felt such loss since his mother died.

“Jeremy?” Warren said hesitantly, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Jeremy looked up. He couldn’t see Warren clearly through the moisture in his eyes. “He killed her,” he said simply, his voice choked.

Warren bent down, tried to take Danny from him, but Jeremy wasn’t letting go of her, continued to rock with her in his arms. Again Warren said hesitantly, “Jeremy, I don’t think she’s dead. She’s still warm.”

Jeremy went still. He looked down at her chest, but it wasn’t moving. He put his ear to her mouth, heard the barest rasp of breath.

“Oh, God!” he cried, and squeezed her even tighter in his relief.

Warren wasn’t hesitant at all this time, said sharply, “For God’s sake, Jeremy, you’re giving her no room to breathe. Let her go.”

That snapped Jeremy out of it. And a new emotion took over, one so primitive it was all-consuming. “Take care of her for me,” he said, handing Danny to Warren. “I’ll take care of him.”

“You’ve caught him, and for more than stealing. Let the authorities handle—”

Warren didn’t bother to finish since Jeremy wasn’t there any longer to listen. He ran down the hall to the only room with an open door. Heddings was just climbing out the window. Jeremy charged toward him, yanked the man back inside so forcefully, he was tossed across the room. Instead of getting right up, though, Heddings scrambled to get the pistol out of his pocket that he’d fetched from one of his bags, the reason he hadn’t escaped immediately.

Jeremy didn’t notice the gun, he was too busy getting to Heddings again. He heard the shot fly past him. Couldn’t miss that. But he ignored it, too, that primitive rage still in complete control of him.

He reached him, kicked the pistol out of his hand, and started pounding him. He wanted to hurt him, not knock him out, not kill him, though he didn’t care at that moment if that was the result. The man had to pay for hurting Danny, that was the only thing in Jeremy’s mind.

He had to be pulled off him. Warren was probably the only man there who could have managed it, as enraged as Jeremy still was. Others were present though, having been drawn by the pistol shot. And he hadn’t killed Heddings. He’d broken a good many of his bones though and damaged his face badly enough that it would never look the same.

Jeremy left Warren there to explain to the other guests what had happened and went to find Danny. Warren had placed her in his own room. Amy was there, sitting next to her on the bed. And Danny was sitting up, rubbing her neck. Sure now that she was going to be all right, he directed some of the rage still riding him at her.

“You accused him, didn’t you?” he said angrily.

“Well, yes, but he thought I was accusing him of something else.”

“What do you mean?”

Before she could answer him, Amy stood up and shoved Jeremy back. “Now isn’t the time to be questioning her. Open your ears, Jeremy. Can’t you hear how faint and scratchy her voice is?”

He stared at Danny. The redness on her throat was fading, but bruises would probably appear there in a few hours. He felt immediately contrite, knelt down next to her, took her hand in his to bring it to his lips.

“I’m sorry. Amy’s right. You need to rest your throat. Don’t talk for now.”

“I’ll talk if I want to, mate.”

Jeremy threw up his hands over that stubborn remark. But Amy said reasonably, “We should leave her alone so she can rest.”

Jeremy didn’t want to leave her alone for a second, wanted to get her back home where he could care for her himself. But he nodded at his cousin. And he still had to talk to the magistrate himself, to make sure Heddings got charged with more than just theft.

But Danny had too many questions of her own to watch them leave without getting answers. “Wait a minute. What happened with Heddings?”

Jeremy summed it up nicely, or tried to, so she wouldn’t have to ask any other questions. “He’s unconscious at the moment. And he won’t be trying to escape out any more windows. I believe he broke at least one of his hands when he tried to block one of my punches.”

“You knocked him out?”

“Something like that. The magistrate has already been sent for. He’ll probably want to question you as well, but I’ll make sure he keeps it brief.”

“He was going to kill me,” Danny whispered. “And not because I caught him stealing. He knows who I am. He knows that other man who attacked me, too. I think he’s the one who sent him.”

“So you recognized him?”

“No, not at all. There’s nothing about him even vaguely familiar to me. But he knew me as soon as he saw me. He can tell me who I am.”

“Ifhe will. I doubt he’ll be very accommodating under the circumstances, luv.”

Chapter 46

ATDANNY’S BEHEST, Jeremy confronted Heddings before he was escorted away. After the local magistrate had congratulated Jeremy, the fellow confessed that they’d been onto Lord Heddings for quite some time now, but had never been able to prove anything against him. He did work with others, as Danny had guessed. Apparently, he’d spot the jewelry at the parties he went to, get the owners’ addresses, then send his men to steal the items. He didn’t usually try to take the jewels himself.

He’d come under suspicion when he got greedy for more than just money. Most of the jewels he merely sold off, but those from prominent people, he’d wait a few months, then approach the owner of the bauble, say he’d heard of their loss and happened to have come across a piece that looked like it in a pawn shop, so he bought it on the chance that it might be the piece. These he gave back without charge, earning favors instead, favors that wouldn’t do him a bit of good now.

Amy’s jewelry was removed from Heddings’s pockets before he regained consciousness, and with enough witnesses that the lord wouldn’t be talking his way out of the crime. He was well and truly caught, and furious about it when he did wake. The rage probably kept him from feeling the worst of his injuries. It also kept his mouth shut on the subject of Danny.

“You tried to kill her. Why?”

“So she’s not dead? Too bad.”

Jeremy had to be pulled back again, was going to slam his fist in the man’s face once more. Heddings laughed at him, confident that the three constables waiting to drag him away would keep Jeremy off him.

“Why do you hate her?” Jeremy demanded.

“I don’t hate her. I don’t even know her.”

“So you just try to kill pretty young girls for the hell of it?”

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