"What have you been trying to tell me?"
"Victoria received letters and gifts from a secret admirer."
Colin was taken aback by that reminder. Alesandra had tried to explain why she was worried about her friend and he hadn't let her. He should have listened, he realized now.
"Who is Victoria?" asked Caine.
Alesandra answered him. She explained how she'd met Victoria. "After she returned to England, she wrote to me at least once a month. I would immediately write back, of course, and I did love hearing from her. She had such an exciting life. In the last few letters, however, she mentioned an admirer who was sending her gifts. She thought it all very romantic. I received her last letter in early September."
"And what did she say in that letter?" Caine asked.
"She had decided to meet the man," Alesandra answered. "I was appalled, of course, and wrote back to her right away. I advised caution and suggested she take her brother with her if she was determined to find out who her admirer was."
Alesandra started to shiver. Colin instinctively hugged her. "I don't know if Victoria received my letter or not. She might have already been gone by then."
"Gone? Gone where?" Jade asked.
"It was reported Victoria ran off to Gretna Green," Colin explained. "Alesandra doesn't believe that."
"There isn't any record of a marriage," Alesandra countered.
"What do you think happened to her?"
Nathan asked her that question, and until that moment she hadn't allowed herself to voice her true fear. She took a calming breath and turned her gaze to her husband's partner.
"I think she was murdered."
He paced the library in a rage. None of it was his fault. None of it. He had stopped. He'd ignored the craving, hadn't given in to the urge. It wasn't his fault. No, it was the bastard who was responsible. He never would have killed again… he never would have given in to the urge.
Revenge. He would show him. He would get even. He would destroy him. He would begin by taking away everything he valued. He would make him suffer.
He smiled in anticipation. He would start with the women.
That statement got an immediate reaction. "Good God," Caine whispered.
"Could it be possible?" Nathan asked.
"I hadn't realized…" Jade whispered that remark and placed her hand over her heart.
Colin was the last to react and the most logical in his response. "Explain why you believe this," he commanded.
"Flannaghan, will you please go upstairs and fetch my list for me?"
"You have a list of reasons why you suspect your friend was murdered?" Caine asked.
"She has a list for everything."
Colin made that remark but she was pleased that he didn't sound at all condescending.
"Yes, I do have a list," Alesandra said. "I wanted to organize my thoughts about Victoria's disappearance and try to come up with some sort of plan. I knew something was wrong as soon as I heard she'd eloped. Victoria never would have done such a thing. Appearances were more important to her than love. Besides, I don't think she would have allowed herself to fall in love with someone she believed inferior to her station in life. She was sometimes a little shallow-headed and a bit of a snob as well, but those were her only faults. She was also very kindhearted."
"He has to be someone in society," Nathan decided aloud.
"Yes, I think so, too," Alesandra agreed. "I also think this man begged her to meet him somewhere and that her curiosity led her to forget caution. She was certainly flattered by his attention."
"She must have been terribly naive," Jade remarked.
"So is Catherine."
"Catherine? What does my sister have to do with this?"
"She made me promise not to tell, but her safety is at issue and I must break her confidence. She also received flowers this morning."
"Hell, I need a brandy," Caine muttered.
Flannaghan returned to the salon just then. He handed a pile of papers to Colin to pass along to Alesandra. He'd heard Caine's request and immediately announced he would fetch the brandy.
"Bring the bottle," Caine ordered.
"I hope to God we're all jumping to the wrong conclusion," Nathan said.
"Better that we are," Caine countered. "Three women in our family are being courted by the bastard. Think the worst and plan accordingly," he added with a hard nod.
Colin was sorting through the stack of papers, looking for the list pertinent to their discussion. He was given pause when he saw his name at the top of one sheet.
Alesandra wasn't paying any attention to her husband now. Her gaze was centered on his brother.
"Caine, you don't have sufficient information to assume there are only three," she explained. "This man could have sent dozens of gifts to women all over London."
"She's right about that," Nathan agreed.
Caine shook his head. "My gut feeling is that he's coming after one of ours."
Colin had just finished reading Alesandra's list. It took everything he possessed not to show any reaction. His hand shook when he placed the paper on the bottom of the pile.
He was going to become a father. He was so damn pleased he wanted to take Alesandra into his arms and kiss her.
And what a time to find out, he thought to himself. Colin wouldn't let her know he'd read the list, of course. He would wait until she told him. He'd give her until tonight, when they were in bed together…
"Why are you smiling, Colin? It's a damn bizarre reaction to this topic," Caine told him.
"I was thinking about something else."
"Do pay attention," Alesandra requested.
Colin turned to look at her. She saw the warm glint in his eyes and wondered what in heaven's name he'd been thinking about to cause that reaction. Before she could ask him, he leaned down and kissed her.
It was a quick, hard kiss that was over and done with before she could react.
"For God's sake, Colin," Caine muttered.
"We're newly married," Alesandra blurted out, trying to find some excuse for her husband's display of affection.
Flannaghan came in with a tray loaded with goblets and a large decanter of brandy. He placed the tray on the table near Alesandra and leaned over to whisper close to her ear.
"Does she have news?"
Flannaghan eagerly nodded. Caine poured himself a drink and downed it in one long swallow. Both Nathan and Colin declined the brandy.
"May I have a drink, please?" Alesandra asked. She didn't particularly like the taste of brandy but she thought the warm liquid might take some of the chill out of her. She was feeling queasy, too, and she was certain the distressing talk about murder was the cause.
"Flannaghan, get Alesandra some water," Colin ordered.
"I would rather have brandy," she countered.
She was clearly astonished by his emphatic denial. "Why not?" Colin didn't have a quick answer for her question. He wanted to tell her brandy probably wasn't good for her delicate condition. He couldn't, of course, because she hadn't told him about the baby yet.
"Why are you smiling? I do declare, Colin, you're the most confusing man."
He forced himself back to the matter at hand. "I don't like you drinking," he announced.
"I never drink."
"That's right," Colin agreed. "And you aren't going to start now."
Flannaghan tapped Alesandra on her shoulder, reminding her of his message.
"Will you excuse me for a moment?" she asked. She noticed her lists were in his hands then. "What are you doing with those?"
"I'm holding them for you," he replied. "Would you like me to look through them for the list you made concerning Victoria?"
"No, thank you," she replied. She took the papers, found Victoria's list second from the top, and then started to stand up. Colin shook his head at her and hauled her back.
"You aren't going anywhere."
"I must speak to Cook."
"Flannaghan can answer her questions."
"You don't understand," Alesandra said in a low whisper. "She went on a little errand for me and I wanted to find out the results."
"What errand?" Colin asked.
She debated answering him for a minute or two. "You'll get angry," she whispered.
"No, I won't."
Her expression told him she didn't believe him.
He said her name in that warning tone of voice he was certain would make her wish to answer him with all possible haste, but when she smiled at him he knew she wasn't at all impressed.
"Please tell me," he asked.
He had asked, not ordered, and that made all the difference in her mind. She immediately answered him. "I sent her to the Viscount of Talbolt's town house. Before you get upset over this, Colin, do remember you ordered me not to talk to the viscount. I adhered to your wishes."
He was thoroughly confused. "I still don't understand," he admitted.
"I sent Cook to talk to Lady Roberta's staff. I wanted to find out if she'd received any gifts before she disappeared. Husband, we both know she didn't run away from her husband. Such an excuse is unthinkable."
"She did receive gifts," Flannaghan blurted out. "The viscount pitched a tantrum, too. Staff believes Lady Roberta ran off with the suitor. The viscount isn't talking but his employees believe he thinks his wife ran off, too. The upstairs maid told Cook the viscount has turned to drink to ease his torment and stays locked up in his library day and night."
"What the hell is going on here?" Caine asked. "Could there be a connection between the two women?"
"They both disappeared," Jade reminded her husband. "Isn't that connection enough?"
"That isn't what I meant, sweetheart."
"Maybe he's being random in his selection," Nathan suggested.
"There's always a motive," Colin argued.
"Perhaps with the first one," Nathan agreed.
Alesandra was confused by that comment. "Why a motive with the first and not the second?"
Nathan looked at Colin before answering. Colin nodded. "There was probably a motive behind the first murder," Nathan explained. "But then he got a taste for killing."
"Some do," Caine admitted.
"Dear God," Jade whispered. She visibly shivered. Caine immediately got up and went over to his wife. He pulled her out of the chair, sat down, and then settled her on his lap. She leaned against him.
"Do you mean to tell me he likes killing?" Alesandra asked.
"Could be," Nathan answered.
Alesandra's stomach turned queasy again. She leaned closer into her husband's side in an attempt to gain more of his warmth. She felt safe when she was near him—comforted, too. That was what love was all about, she thought to herself.
"We're going to have to get a lot more information," Caine announced.
"I tried to talk to Victoria's brother, but he wasn't at all helpful," Alesandra said.
"He'll be helpful when I talk to him," Colin snapped.
"I can't imagine why he would cooperate," Alesandra replied. "You threw him out on the pavement the last time you spoke to him."
"What about asking Richards for some help?" Nathan suggested.
Alesandra closed her eyes and listened to the discussion. Colin was rubbing her arm in an absentminded fashion. His touch was wonderfully soothing. The men's voices were low and while they formulated their plans of action, she thought about how nice it was to finally have her husband's cooperation. She knew he would find out what happened to Victoria… and why. She didn't have any doubts about Colin's ability to find the culprit, because she was certain she was married to the most intelligent man in all of England. He was probably the most stubborn, too, but that flaw would come in handy now. He wouldn't quit until he had his answers.
"What the hell else do we do?" Caine asked.
Alesandra looked down at her list before she answered him. "You find out who profited from Victoria's death. Colin, you could find out if any policies were taken out. Dreyson would be happy to help you."
All three men smiled in unison. "I thought you were asleep," Colin remarked.
She ignored that comment. "You should also consider all the other motives… in the general sense," she explained. "Jealousy and rejection are two motives. Neil mentioned his sister had turned down several proposals. Perhaps one of those men didn't like being told no."
It occurred to Jade that Alesandra was actually very astute. Colin was grinning, suggesting to Jade that he was also aware of his wife's cleverness, but Nathan and Caine hadn't realized it yet.
"Yes, of course, we'll look into every possible motive," Caine said. "I just wish we had a clue or two."
"Oh, but you do," Alesandra replied. "The fact that three women in your family have received gifts is clue enough, Caine. It occurs to me that one of you men or one of us women has offended the man."
Colin nodded. "That thought had already occurred to me," he said. "He's getting careless."
"Or more bold," Nathan interjected.
"Isn't everyone forgetting one important fact?" Jade asked.
"What's that?" Caine asked his wife.
"There aren't any bodies. We really could be jumping in the wrong direction."
"Do you think we are?" Alesandra asked.
Jade thought about it a long minute, then whispered, "No."
Colin took charge then. He gave everyone but Alesandra an assignment. He told Jade to talk to as many of the ladies of the ton as possible to find out if anyone else had received a gift. He warned her not to tell the women about the gifts she, Catherine, and Alesandra had received because some of the more foolish women might think this was all some sort of competitive game.
Nathan was given the duty of taking over the offices while Colin concentrated on finding answers.
"Caine, Alesandra's right. Neil won't talk to me. You'll have to deal with him."
"I will," Caine agreed. "I should also talk to Talbolt," he added. "We went to Oxford together and he might be more receptive to hearing me out."