Stormy Persuasion Page 37

Chapter Forty-Seven

“Judith Malory, I insist. If you don’t tell me what’s wrong this minute . . .”

They’d just finished breakfast together. Whenever her mother used her full name and that tone, Judith knew she was in trouble. But she just didn’t want to talk about Nathan, didn’t know where he was, didn’t know if she’d ever see him again. Of course that didn’t stop her from looking for him every place she went.

Roslynn had been given a full account of the trip, so she even knew who Nathan was and had nothing but good things to say about him, how he’d changed his plans and sailed to the Caribbean to find Jack. She had also expressed regret at how shabbily he’d been treated by the Malorys, her husband in particular.

“You should be asking Jack that,” Judith replied to her mother. “She’s been behaving most odd. She is angry more often than not for no apparent reason.”

“No, I know you. I’ve caught those sad looks when you think no one is watching. Are you just worried about Jack? Did you fancy one of the men you met in Bridgeport? Or are you disappointed Lord Cullen got engaged before the Season even began here? That was so unexpected,” Roslynn complained. “But that cast on his foot got him far too much sympathy from the ladies—”

Judith cut in tonelessly, “I assure you I’m not lamenting over the Scotsman.”

She was worried about Jack, but she was equally worried about her father. Finding out that Nathan was innocent, that he’d been so wrong about him, didn’t sit well with Anthony Malory a’tall. He did apologize when Nathan returned them to Bridgeport. It had been an exceedingly embarrassing moment for him that Judith had watched from afar. Or her father’s foul mood could be a result of the tiff her parents were having. She didn’t even want to know what that was about. Or it could simply be because she had half a dozen young lords aggressively courting her. Two of them had even whispered to her that they were going to ask for permission to marry her—from her mother.

Ordinarily Judith would have laughed at their admissions of which parent they preferred to approach. She hadn’t told them not to, but only because she didn’t want to have to explain why. She would tell her mother instead. Actually, she ought to sit both her parents down and have a talk with them. But not today. She had a recital to attend this afternoon, a dinner tonight, a ball tomorrow. A Season in London was a whirlwind of activities.

So Judith was appalled with herself when she suddenly burst out, “I found out what love is like, Mama. It’s horrible. I hate it!”

“Only if— Who would dare not return your feelings?” Roslynn demanded hotly, but then she guessed, “Oh, good God, your father was right? You got attached to that young man from the ship, Nathan Tremayne? But Tony didn’t say it was serious!”

“Because it’s not—not anymore. He couldn’t forgive me for doubting him. I can’t even blame him for that. But we were mismatched from the start, never meant to be. I’m beginning to accept that. Well, I have to, don’t I?”

“Not if you don’t want to, sweetheart. Or do I need to point out that you should never ever say never. Or perhaps I need to remind you that your father and I didn’t marry for love. He merely made the ultimate sacrifice of his bachelorhood to protect me from my cousin Geordie. Tony was the worst rake in London, with the exception of his brother James, of course, so I was sure it would never work. Look how wrong I was. So tell me more about Mr. Tremayne. . . .”

• • •

Mere blocks away in the West End of town, Nathan was hiding around the corner of a building, waiting. He wasn’t alone. Arnold Burdis leaned against the wall next to him, six of his men lined up beyond him. Nathan thought he heard a wagon pulling up to the back entrance of the tavern, but when he peeked, there was nothing there. It was just sounds from the street out front that he’d heard.

This was one of three fancy taverns in this wealthy part of London. Commander Burdis had groups of men posted at the other two, and single men watching four other establishments that weren’t quite as fancy, but still in the general area. If normal deliveries weren’t made in the mornings, they wouldn’t even be there yet. But Nathan had a feeling Grigg would be that bold. Night deliveries, with the tavern filled with nabobs, might draw suspicions. But Nathan and Burdis had been doing this for a week now, ever since Nathan got back to England and reported to the commander—and confided what he’d learned before he’d sailed from Grigg’s man.

He was beginning to think Grigg’s man had lied about those London deliveries. Yet everything the man had said that night had made sense. Why would smugglers come to London except to do business? Why wouldn’t Grigg hit this lucrative market after finding it nearly risk-free? His runs across the Channel would be much quicker, and he’d avoid the heavily patrolled southern coast. And revenuers didn’t police the city. They might keep an eye on the docks, but the city was too big. And they weren’t expecting smuggled goods to get in by land routes.

“Are you sure this plan will actually bear fruit?” Burdis asked, not for the first time.

“This tavern is almost out of brandy. They are charging exorbitantly high prices for what little they have left. Last night I went in and ordered a glass. When I commented on the price, I was told to stop complaining, that they’d be getting a shipment soon.”

“Yes, yes, I know it looks promising, but—”

“You didn’t have to come along.”

“You mean you hoped I wouldn’t. But the man’s got to hang, Nathan, publicly, legally. I can’t let you just have at him.”

“But he’ll be hung for smuggling, not for killing my father,” Nathan growled.

“Does it really matter why he hangs, as long as he hangs?”

It mattered, but obviously only to Nathan. Grigg had caused the rift between Nathan and Jory, made them part ways with anger, and killed Jory before Nathan could fix that, before he could tell Jory how sorry he was for leaving the way he did.

“You still going to that ball tomorrow night that I arranged for you?”

The commander’s attitude toward Nathan had changed quite a bit after Nathan returned to England, almost as if they were friends now. Having “worked together,” as it were, and successfully, Nathan wasn’t even surprised. But he’d found it useful, having friends with connections, when he’d got it into his head to enter her world.

Which had been a crazy notion to begin with, and since he didn’t even know if Judith would be at the ball, he said, “I don’t know.”

“My tailor didn’t come through for you in time?”

“He did. I’m just having second thoughts about it.”

“I had to call in a huge favor someone owed me to get you that invitation. What the devil d’you mean, you don’t know?”

“Just that. I’m not so sure it’s a good idea now, to see her again.”

Arnold, who hadn’t questioned why Nathan had wanted to attend a ball in London, rolled his eyes. “So it’s a woman. That’s what I had to promise my life away for? I should have known.”

“Your life?” Nathan said with a chuckle.

“You can’t believe what that hostess is capable of demanding in return. If I wasn’t already married, she might even demand that I propose marriage to her. She’s a widow.”

As exaggerations went, that one had to be a whopper. Nathan should never have asked the favor. He just didn’t like the way his relationship with Judith had ended. At least that was the excuse he’d convinced himself of. He’d behaved like an ass. He knew it better than anyone else. But he wasn’t used to these feelings she had stirred up in him. They were driving him crazy. She had given him no clue about how she felt about him. The sadness he’d seen in her eyes was as likely to have been disgust as disappointment. During the entire trip back to Bridgeport, he’d never seen her alone. She’d always been with Jack or her uncle. She wore her family like a shield. That damned, infuriating family . . .

Her father did apologize, but how sincere could an apology be when a threat was laced into it? “You might be innocent on one count, but not all,” Anthony had added that day. “I know what you did. Stay away from my daughter. I won’t warn you again.”

Nathan might have demanded an explanation if his first thought hadn’t been that the man knew he’d bedded his daughter. But saner reasoning later suggested Anthony couldn’t know that. Nathan was still alive, after all.

But not every member of her family was hostile to him. Her American uncles weren’t bad sorts at all. Boyd had been true to his word. He had rounded up a crew and a full cargo for Nathan and had even suggested where he could sell it quickly, in Ipswich or Newport, for the best prices. Nathan hadn’t declined it when a free cargo would turn quite a tidy sum. But he was almost feeling rich now since James Malory had also come through with the handsome fee he’d promised him for his help.

It was nearing noon. Burdis would be taking his break soon but would resume surveillance again that evening. He’d been doubtful of a morning delivery from the start, was still sure the smugglers would prefer to operate in the shadows of night. Nathan knew Burdis was just here now to humor him.

“I’m going to have to start bringing a chair for this mission,” Arnold said, only half joking.

Nathan started to laugh, but stopped at the sound of another wagon nearby. He glanced around the corner again. A slow, satisfied grin spread across his lips. A wagon was approaching the tavern’s back entrance. Three men were on the perch, another three in the back sitting on crates. It didn’t take that many men to make deliveries.

“He’s here,” Nathan warned in low tones. “And with enough men to stave off trouble. He obviously doesn’t take risks with a load this big.”

“You’re sure it’s him?”

“I’ve only seen him once. But Hammett Grigg has a face you can’t forget. He’s got his top man with him, too, Mr. Olivey.”

“I want his ship as well,” Arnold reminded Nathan.

“I’m sure you can persuade one of them to take you to it afterward—if any of them are left alive. So we’re handling this as we discussed?”

“We discussed not killing them, as I recall,” Arnold grumbled, and sent half his men around the tavern to come up on the other side of it. He wanted no one escaping. “Go ahead and distract them. If you can manage a confession, I’ll add murder to his list of charges. If it looks like he’d rather just shoot you, get out of the bloody way.”

“Yes, Mother,” Nathan said drily, and stepped around the corner.

The wagon was just coming to a stop with all six men still in it. Nathan walked to the front of the wagon and patted one of the horses as he positioned himself between the two animals. The reins were within his reach, but he’d have to lean forward to make sure he got both of them. The wagon was the only way Grigg and his men might still escape, simply by charging forward down the alley. But Nathan knew grabbing the reins was too aggressive a step to take just yet.

Olivey noticed him first and nudged Grigg. The older man glared at him. “You again? You Tremaynes are a bleedin’ bane,” Hammett said, drawing a pistol.

“There’s no need for weapons,” Nathan replied calmly. “Killing my father wasn’t enough for you?”

“Who says I did that?” Hammett smirked.

“One of your men.”

“Like hell,” Hammett began, but then he laughed. “Jory horned in on a couple of my buyers and wouldn’t let me go near your sister, preferring that damned nabob. He had it coming. And now you do, too.”

“My sister? You bastard—”

The shot was fired. Nathan dodged, then leapt for the reins, yanking them out of Olivey’s hands. Grigg had used an old pistol with only one charge, but now he was reaching for another tucked in his pants.

Arnold’s voice rang out clearly as he moved in with his men, “You will cease and desist! In the name of King William, I am placing you under arrest for stealing from the Crown with the crime of smuggling—and for the murder of one Jory Tremayne.”

The revenuers behind the wagon had already come forward, their rifles aimed at Grigg’s men. The three in the back of the vehicle didn’t reach for theirs. The third man on the perch jumped down and ran to the tavern’s back door, but it was locked. A shot to his leg made sure he didn’t try anything else. Nathan started to calm the horses, worried they still might bolt from the noise, but they’d merely raised their heads, well trained or used to loud noises. He still quickly used the reins to hobble one of them for now. Olivey had immediately raised his hands. Grigg did so slowly now. He still might reach for the pistols tucked in his pants, but with so many rifles pointed at him, that was doubtful.

Nathan headed toward Grigg, but Arnold yanked him back as someone else got Grigg down from the wagon and confiscated his weapons. “We have his confession. The charges now include murder.”

That bleedin’ well didn’t help. “Just give me five minutes alone with him,” Nathan asked.

But Arnold knew him by now. “Out of the question. I can’t hang a dead man.”

“One minute, just one.”

It took a moment, but Arnold nodded reluctantly, saying, “But not a second longer.”

Grigg put up his fists when he realized what was about to happen. But he wasn’t a fighter. His style was to shoot someone in the back, send his men to do it, or fight dirty. He tried dirty, drawing a concealed knife while he was bent over from Nathan’s first punch. But whatever had hold of Nathan, it didn’t include caution. He lunged for the knife the moment he saw it, grabbed it, and tossed it aside. Grigg’s attempts were pathetic after that. Nathan even allowed one of Grigg’s wild swings to land, just to make the fight feel fair for himself, but it wasn’t. He got no satisfaction in beating the man unconscious, not when the first blow to his face knocked him out. It didn’t even take a minute.

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