After the two men left, Thorn sank back into his chair.

The Duke of Villiers had bought Eleanor a ring. But India could buy her own jewelry. What she needed was the faith that the man she married wouldn’t leave her, as she believed her parents had done.

She would never have enough faith in him: he could imagine that she would test him over and over and he would fail every time, because, damn it, he was as blind as the next man.

India was brilliant and subtle. Her brain darted ahead, planning for eventualities only she could see. In that, he was her opposite. He dealt with problems of the moment, and never bothered to look much further.

He wouldn’t even know he was failing her. Yet India’s conviction that she was unlovable —and that Thorn didn’t love her—had far more to do with her parents than with him. Perhaps if he made love to her every—

He stood up again, his mind reeling. He had just told himself that he planned to make love to India.

It was common terminology, after all. Though he never thought of sex that way: he used a rougher term for bedding a woman. Or more jovial ones. He shagged, pumped, screwed, jousted.

He never said anything about love, and he never thought it, either.

Until now.

Finally he identified the emotion that gripped him the night he’d thought India was on the point of marrying Vander. It wasn’t possession or lust—or at least, it wasn’t only those emotions.

It was love. He loved her.

And yet India didn’t believe he loved her. She never would . . . unless he took action.

He had to find those jewels and bring them to her.

He had to prove not only his own love for her, but her parents’ love.

It wasn’t easy to gather the remaining lads together. Dusso was now a senior driver with the Royal Mail, and Thorn had to bribe the office handsomely to give their driver a week’s leave. He ran down Geordie in the East End, wretchedly thin and evidently without a job. Bink had a family and lived in Kent on a tenant farm, but he didn’t seem to be earning much; Thorn promptly offered him one of the farms attached to Starberry Court.

When at last the four of them were together, Thorn explained what he wanted. “A number of years ago, a carriage went off Blackfriars Bridge, and its two passengers drowned. A leather pouch holding jewels went missing. I want to find that pouch. You three are the only ones I would trust. Hell, I think we’re probably the only men in London who have a chance of dragging it back up.”

“Yer mugging us!” Dusso exclaimed.

“Giving us the piss,” Geordie chimed in.

“I assure you that I am not.”

“Bloody hell,” Dusso said. “Iffen I’d known you was talking about the river, I wouldn’t have come. I’d rather be winding that bloody horn on the coach day and night than that.”

“One hundred guineas for each of you,” Thorn said, “and five hundred for the man who finds the jewels.”

“It’d be like finding a pea,” Geordie said, slumping in his chair. “I dream about it at night, you know. Swimming down into the black, stinking water and fearing a dead man’s claw is going to pull me down.”

Bink scowled at him. “It’s no wonder you have the collywobbles if you’re letting yourself think about it. I’ll do it,” he said, squaring his shoulders. “I’m not looking forward to it, mind. The wife complains because I work all day in the fields and still I don’t want a drop of water near me after. But I’ll do it for my girls.”

“I can’t possibly do it alone,” Thorn said. “I need a team, same as we used to do. Two to dive, and one person above to spot, make sure they both come up. One on the shore in case of trouble.”

“I’ll be on the shore,” Dusso said instantly. “Them boats have no concern for who might be bobbing about in the stream.”

Thorn shook his head. “Geordie’s on shore.”

Dusso looked at Geordie’s frail body and nodded. “How much are the joowels worth?”

“I have no idea, and it doesn’t really matter. I want to give them to the woman I wish to marry. It was her parents who drowned. Their bodies were recovered but the jewels were not.”

“Stolen,” Dusso said instantly. “Probably the men as fished out the carriage are sleeping on beds of roses right now.”

But Marley had bribed his way into the constabulary records.

“I believe not,” Thorn said. “The marquess visited a jeweler in the Blackfriars and went off the bridge minutes later. By the time they fished him out, the man was wearing only his breeches. The jewels were almost certainly lost in the river when his coat was dragged from his back.”

“Bloody hell, you’s talking of marrying the daughter of a bloody marquess?” Dusso squawked.

The three men stared at Thorn, jaws a-cock. They’d gotten used to the fact that Thorn had grown wealthy. They knew his father was a duke, and that he was always good for a sovereign or two. But this was different.

“I am marrying her,” Thorn said shortly.

“But is she marrying you?” Geordie asked.

Dusso laughed. “Yeah, a lady agreeing to take on a by-blow? Not likely! No dog in a doublet for the likes of a lady!”

“You always was a gundiguts,” Bink snapped. “Why shouldn’t she marry our lad? He’s as good as any other Englishman.”

Thorn intervened. “She’ll marry me because I love her.” He wanted to believe it.

“Well, aren’t you the cork-brained gay-lant,” Dusso shouted. “He lurves her. Does she have chicken breasts or a bushel bubby? Has she—”

“Don’t speak of her in that manner,” Thorn growled, bending forward.

Dusso nodded.

“Iffen you find these here jewels, will she take you?” Geordie asked.

Thorn didn’t answer. The truth was that he wasn’t sure.

“She’ll like him better if he’s on his knees with a string of joowels in hand,” Bink said practically.

Dusso put his elbows on the table. “I’ll help you. For old times’ sake.”

“I want two hundred guineas,” Bink stated. “You said it was only if we went in the water. Geordie here gets a hundred as well, even he don’t put a pinkie in that river.”

“Five hundred for each of you if we find the jewels,” Thorn said. “Two hundred each otherwise, and that includes Geordie. There’s many a time that the one on shore has saved everyone in the water.”

“There ain’t no joowels other than a crown as is worth fifteen hundred guineas,” Dusso pointed out.

“They’re worth it to me,” Thorn stated.

“I remember the Blackfriars Bridge,” Geordie said. “It’s got a nasty fast current around the corner.”

“I expect it was that current that ripped off the marquess’s clothing,” Thorn confirmed.

“We’re not going to find it in an hour,” Bink said.

“We’ll have it out within the week,” Thorn stated. “We could find anything in that damned river. We still can.”

“Know it like the back of me hand,” Dusso bragged. “Reckon we can get it out today.”

Bink looked nervous and cracked his knuckles. “I ain’t been in the river ever since.” Copyright 2016 - 2024