Say You Love Me Page 25

Just as she reached for the door to the street, it opened, and in walked her Aunt Elizabeth with her sister, jean, just a step behind. jean, of course, shrieked in delight upon seeing Kelsey and threw herself into Kelsey's arms. Elizabeth was as surprised as Kelsey was, though not unpleasantly, as Kelsey most surely was. "What are you doing in London?" they both asked at the same instant. "Didn't you receive my letter?" Kelsey added.

"No ... I ... did ... not." The pauses between those words added a sting to Elizabeth's reproach, if Kelsey didn't feel it enough from her expression. She should have written sooner. She knew it. Elizabeth had been expecting a letter. But it was just so hard lying to her own family that she'd put it off as long as possible. Now she was going to have to explain again. "I did write, Aunt Elizabeth, to let you know that I was moving to London with Anne. She's found a new doctor here, you see, who's actually given her some hope, so she wanted to be near him." "But that's wonderful news!" "Yes, it is." "Does that mean you will be coming home soon, Kel?" Jean asked hopefully. "No, sweetheart, Anne is still very sick," Kelsey said, hugging Jean close. "Your sister is needed here, Jean," Elizabeth added gruffly. "Her friend needs her spirits kept up, and Kelsey is good at that, kindhearted as she is." "But what are you doing in London, Aunt?" Kelsey asked again.

Elizabeth humphed. "Our seamstress at home moved away, and without a by-your-leave. Can you imagine that? And I won't use that French hussy who competed with her. So I decided that as long as Jean and I were going to get a few new dresses for the holidays, we might as well come to the best, and Mrs. Westerbury has been well-recommended by several of my friends." "Yes, she is excellent," Kelsey agreed. "I've ordered a few dresses for myself as well, since I didn't bring too many along with me." "Well, if you are going to be needed here for much longer, do let me know and I'll send your trunks to you. You shouldn't be deprived on this errand of mercy. But, goodness, as long as you are in London, do you realize this is the height of the season? And I have numerous friends here who I'm sure would be delighted to take you in hand and launch you. And I'm sure your friend wouldn't begrudge you a few hours here and there to keep your own spirits up."

Aunt Elizabeth was well-meaning, of course, but Kelsey had passed beyond taking advantage of a London social season for marriage prospects. Since she couldn't mention that, she said simply, "That will have to wait, Aunt Elizabeth. I'd feel so terrible, going off to enjoy myself while Anne couldn't, that I wouldn't enjoy myself atall."

Elizabeth sighed. "I suppose. But you do realize that you are at an age to marry? And as soon as you return home, we will plan a proper season for you. I will begin working on the arrangements immediately. I owe it to my sister to see you well sponsored."

Kelsey cringed inwardly. She hated thinking of her aunt's wasting her time making plans for something that would never come about. But she couldn't tell her not to bother, not without telling her the truth. And what was she going to tell her six months from then? A year from then? That Anne was still lingering? That excuse was going to wear thin as the months passed.

The best she could do was warn, "Don't make any specific plans yet, Aunt. I really can't say at this point how long I will be needed here." "No, of course not," Elizabeth concurred. "Speaking of which, I'd like to pay my respects to your friend as long as we are here in London."

That simple statement threw Kelsey into a complete panic. Her mind went blank. Not a single excuse occurred to her. And worse, she realized that Elizabeth would want to visit her as well while she was in town, and if she did, Anne wouldn't be there, of course, because there was no Anne.

Elizabeth didn't have the address now, wouldn't have it until she returned home and got Kelsey's letter. Why had she put her real address on it? Because she had assumed her aunt wouldn't be traveling to London. Elizabeth never came to London. She hated the congestion. But here she was ... and Kelsey didn't dare give her the address when there was no telling what time of day she might drop by.

With that realization coming to her, thankfully, so did an excuse. "Anne isn't well enough to receive callers right now.

The trip to London took a severe toll on her, and now she has to conserve all her strength just to visit her doctor." "Poor girl. She's still that bad?" "Well-yes, she was at death's door before she started these new treatments. The doctor said it will take several months before we will even know if it's going to help her. But I do want to see you both again while you are here. What hotel are you staying in?" "We're staying at the Albany. Here, I have the address written down." She searched in her reticule until she found it and passed it to Kelsey. "I will be sure to call, then," Kelsey promised. "I've missed you both. But just now, I really must run. I don't like to leave Anne alone too long." "Tomorrow morning, Kelsey," Elizabeth said, and it might as well have been an order in that tone. "We will be expecting you."

LL, IT'S ABOUT BLEEDIN' TIME 'E'S LEFT THAT COACH behind," Artie said to his French friend as he reined in the horses on the carriage in which they had been following David Ashford. "I was beginnin' to think we was never goin' to find 'im. off alone." "You call that alone, mon ami?" Henry asked casually as he kept his eyes on their prey. "He has already picked up some wench."

Artie sighed. "Well, 'ell, it were easier nabbin' the cap'n's niece outta 'er backyard than it is this nabob." "I would agree, but since she turned out to be his niece, rather than just his enemy's wife, I would rather not repeat the disaster that turned out to be."

Artie snorted. "As if we knew. The cap'n didn't even know, not till she tol"im. Besides, wot's to mistake this time? That's our target. We just need to get 'im away from 'is servants long enough to grab 'im." "We have been waiting a week now to do that," Henry rerninded his friend. "But he does not seem inclined to stray far from his coach or house."

"I still say we shoulda took 'im. from that tavern. We coulda whisked 'im. out the back way, an' 'is driver out front would still be sittin' there waitin' on 'im."

Henry shook his head. "The cap'n said to avoid notice. That tavern was much too crowded." "And this street ain't?"

Henry looked up and down it first before he confirmed, "Not nearly as crowded. And besides, people tend to mind their own business on the street. Who will notice if we quickly escort him to our carriage instead of his?" "I still say we oughta just take 'irn from that 'ouse 'e visits outside o' the city. It's so isolated, can't be no one else in it." "There was a light from within the last time we followed him there. You were sleepin'." "You still bitchin' 'bout me fallin' asleep that one bleedin' time?" Artie complained. "Two times, but who is count-?" Henry paused, frowning, as he continued to keep his eyes on Ashford and the woman who had just joined him. "She looks scared."

Artie squinted at the couple. "Maybe she knows 'im. If I was a wench and I knew what 'e was like, I'd bleedin' well be scared, too." "Artie, I really do not think she is going along with him willingly." "Wot the 'ell? You mean Vs kidnappin' 'er when we're supposed to be kidnappin' 'irn?"

Kelsey's driver had had to move her coach to accommodate a delivery wagon, so he wasn't where she'd left him. He was quite far down the block, waving at her to get her attention. She started walking that way, but as for her attention, it was still on that unexpected meeting with her aunt and sister.

So she didn't see Lord Ashford approaching her. She didn't notice him until he grabbed her arm in a painful grip and began walking with her. "Make a sound, my pretty, and I will break your arm," he warned her with a smile.

Had he realized that she was about to scream her head off? She had already blanched completely just at the sight of him. And he was pulling her along, but moving toward her own coach, thank God. Would her driver realize that she needed his assistance? Or did it merely appear that she had rnet up with an acquaintance? "Let go of me," she ordered, but it came out as a timid squeak.

And he laughed. He actually laughed. The sound turned her blood cold.

She was going to have to scream despite his warning, she knew that now. What was a broken arm, after all, compared with what she now knew him to be capable of?

But he must have sensed that she was about to cause him difficulty, because he shocked her into utter silence by telling her, "I killed that bastard, Lonny, you know, for getting my hopes up with the promise of a virgin. He should've just sold you to me, instead of auctioning you. But I'm sorry I did so now, because his brother has taken over the place. He's a much straighter arrow and probably won't permit whipping the whores. Ah, well, that place only ever offered me appetizers. I still had to go elsewhere to have my full pleasure, as I intend to have with you."

He said it all so casually, as if he were speaking of the weather. Even the mild regret he was showing was not for killing a man but because it had caused him to lose something he was used to.

She was so horrified that she didn't even realize that he had steered her off the walkway and into the street, where his coach waited, until he was thrusting her into that coach.

She did scream then, but the sound was cut off abruptly as he shoved her face into the cushioned seat.

He held her like that until she discovered that she couldn't breathe and complete panic set in. Was he going to kill her right then? When he did release her head, all she did was gasp for breath. That was all she could do, really. But it allowed him to gag her before she even thought to try to scream again.

Had her driver seen what happened? Had he even tried to help? But it was too late now. Ashford's coach had taken off as soon as they were inside it, and at no slow pace.

The gag wasn't all that restrained her. The moment she was able to sit up, she turned to attack him, but she barely got in one swipe toward his face with her nails before her hand was caught and twisted behind her back, where it was then tied to the other.

The cords there were so tight that her fingers quickly numbed. The gag, tied behind her head, was just as tight, cutting into the sides of her mouth.

But those were minor discomforts. She knew that now. She wished she didn't. She wished Derek had not told her exactly the kind of cruelties this man enjoyed inflicting.

She had to escape before they got to where he was taking her. She could still use her feet. He hadn't tied those. Would the door open if she kicked it? Could she manage to dive out of it before he pulled her back? She was desperate enough to try. She just had to turn sideways so she could manage the kick ... "I would have waited until he got tired of you and tossed you out, but with the way he protected you, I knew he wasn't going to give you up within a reasonable time period. My patience doesn't last long. And unfortunately for you, my pretty, because of him, I won't ever be able to release you

"He," of course, was Derek. But Ashford had caught her attention completely with that "won't ever be able to release you now." Did he fear Derek that much? If she escaped, she would naturally tell Derek what he'd done, and then Derek would go after him ... yes, he had reason to fear Derek. And maybe she could make use of that-if he removed her gag long enough so she could speak. "Unless I kill him, too, of course."

Her blood went cold again when he added that. And he wasn't even looking at her as he said it, but was staring out the window. It was almost as if he were talking to himself. D Id insane people do that? "He deserves it, for the inconvenience he's caused me. But I haven't quite made up my mind yet." His eyes went to her then, so chillingly cold they could have been shards of ice. "Perhaps you can persuade me to let him live, eh?"

She tried to speak through the gag, to tell him what he could do with bargains like that. Only muddled sounds came out. But her eyes told him, showing the rage and fear and hate she felt. He only laughed.

She wasn't stupid. If he was going to try to kill Derek, nothing she could do would change his mind. But Derek wouldn't be unsuspecting of him, like Lonny must have been. Derek wouldn't be easy to kill, either, which he'd already realized, or he wouldn't fear him so much. If only she could work on that fear ... now.'

THE LARGE, MUSTY OLD HOUSE SHOWED VERY FEW SIGNS OF habitation. Sheets covered what little furniture could be seen through open doorways. Drapes were closed against any light, making a lamp necessary to light the way. Cobwebs had gathered in corners.

But an old man had let them in, so someone did reside there. Only on closer inspection, he wasn't very old, just very misshapen and very, very ugly. One arm was longer than the other, or perhaps it just seemed to be so because of the way his body was twisted. And his face was grotesquely disfigured; his nose had actually been cut off, and with cheeks that puffed out, he now bore close resemblance to a pig. The gray hair was what made him appear old when he really wasn't.

Kelsey's first horrified thought when she had that closer look at him was that Ashford had caused his deformities. Then she started paying attention to what they were saying as she was dragged down the hall.

The caretaker, John was his name, seemed to worship Ashford for giving him a job when apparently no one else would.

And she had to wonder what that job was. John didn't seem the least bit surprised that Ashford had brought in a gagged and bound woman.

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