Hugh was not home when Daniel arrived, but his valet was, and he showed Daniel to the sitting room, assuring him that Hugh was expected to return shortly.

For nearly an hour Daniel paced the room, going over every detail of the attack. It hadn’t been the best lit of London streets, but it certainly wasn’t considered one of the more dangerous. Then again, if a thief wanted to capture a heavy purse, he would need to venture beyond the rookeries of St. Giles and Old Nichol. Daniel would not have been the first gentleman to be robbed so close to Mayfair and St. James’s.

It could have been a simple robbery. Couldn’t it? They had said they wanted his money. It could have been the truth.

But Daniel had spent too long looking over his shoulder to accept the simple explanation for anything. And so when Hugh finaly let himself into his rooms, Daniel was waiting for him.

“Winstead,” Hugh said immediately. He did not appear to be surprised, but then again, Daniel didn’t think he had ever seen Hugh appear surprised. He had always had the most remarkably expressionless face. It was one of the reasons he’d been so unbeatable at cards. That and his freakish aptitude for numbers.

“What are you doing here?” Hugh asked. He closed the door behind himself and limped in, leaning heavily on his cane. Daniel forced himself to watch his progress. When they had first met up again, back in Italy, it had been difficult for Daniel to watch Hugh’s painful gait, knowing that he was the cause of it. Now he bore witness as a sort of penance, although after what had happened to him that very evening, he was not certain it was a penance he deserved.

“I was attacked,” Daniel said curtly.

Hugh went still. Slowly, he turned, his eyes carefuly sweeping from Daniel’s face, to his feet, and back again. “Sit,” he said abruptly, and he motioned to a chair.

Daniel’s blood was rushing far too quickly to take a seat. “I would rather stand.”

“Excuse me, then, if I sit,” Hugh said with a self-deprecating twist of his lips. He made his way over to a chair, awkwardly, and then lowered himself down. When he finaly took his weight off his bad leg, he sighed with audible relief.

This, he was not faking. He might be lying about other things, but not this. Daniel had seen Hugh’s leg. It was twisted and puckered, its very existence an improbable feat of medicine. That he could put any weight on it at all was a miracle.

“Do you mind if I have drink?” Hugh inquired. He rested his cane on a table and then began to knead the muscles in his leg. He did not bother to hide his pain from his face. “It’s over there,” he winced, jerking his head toward a cabinet.

Daniel crossed the room and extracted a bottle of brandy. “Two fingers?” he asked.

“Three. Please. It’s been a long day.”

Daniel poured the drink and brought it over. He had not touched alcohol since that fateful drunken night, but then again, he did not have a shattered leg that needed numbing.

“Thank you,” Hugh said, his voice somewhere between a groan and a whisper. He took a long swalow, and then another, closing his eyes as the fire roled down his throat. “There,” he said, once he’d regained his composure. He set the glass down and looked up. “I was told that your injuries came at the hands of Lord Chatteris.”

“That was something else,” Daniel said dismissively. “I was attacked by two men as I was walking home this evening.” Hugh straightened, his eyes sharpening. “Did they say anything?”

“They demanded money.”

“But did they know your name?”

Daniel shook his head. “They did not say it.”

Hugh was silent for a long moment, then said, “It’s possible they were ordinary footpads.” Daniel crossed his arms and stared at him.

“I told you that I extracted a promise from my father,” Hugh said quietly. “He will not touch you.” Daniel wanted to believe him. In fact, he did believe him. Hugh had never been a liar. Nor did he possess a vengeful nature. But was it possible Hugh had been duped?

“How do I know your father can be trusted?” Daniel asked. “He has spent the last three years in the pursuit of my death.”

“And I have spent the last three years convincing him that this”—Hugh curled his lip and waved his hand over his ruined leg—“was as much my fault as yours.”

“He would never believe that.”

“No,” Hugh agreed. “He is a stubborn ass. He always has been.”

It was not the first time Daniel had heard Hugh refer to his father in such terms, but still, he was taken aback. There was something about the plainness of Hugh’s tone that was unnerving.

“How can I know that I will be safe?” Daniel demanded. “I returned to England on the strength of your word, on your belief that your father would honor his promise. If something happens to me, or if, God help you, any member of my family, I will hunt you down to the ends of the earth.” promise. If something happens to me, or if, God help you, any member of my family, I will hunt you down to the ends of the earth.” Hugh did not need to point out that if Daniel was kiled, there would be no hunting to be done.

“My father signed a contract,” Hugh said. “You have seen it.”

Daniel even possessed a copy. So did Hugh and Lord Ramsgate, and Hugh’s solicitor, who was under strict instructions to keep it under lock and key. But still. . .

“He would not be the first man to disregard a signed document,” Daniel said in a low voice.

“Indeed.” Hugh’s face was pinched, and there was a long-standing look to the shadows under his eyes. “But he will not disregard this one. I have made sure of it.” Daniel thought of his family, of his sister and mother, and his rolicking, giggling Pleinsworth cousins, whom he was just beginning to know again. And he thought of Miss Wynter, her face springing to the forefront of his mind. If something happened to him before he had the chance to know her . . . Copyright 2016 - 2024