Thorn had stayed in fighting shape, but the rest of his gang hadn’t. He made up his mind. “That’s it!” he shouted. “We’re done. No more. We gave it a good shot. We’ve been up and down the bank.”

“No!” Bink shouted back. “I’m not ready to give up. I know where it is.” He pointed directly to the turn in the river, the place where the water ran black and furious.

“We’re not going there,” Thorn said. “Out of the water!”

Dusso started splashing toward the bank, but Bink shook his head. “I need that money!”

“It was two hundred just for going in,” Thorn said, treading water. “Come on, mate. Let’s get out of here.”

“I ain’t taken no charity in my life,” Bink said, his jaw setting. “And I ain’t going to start now. I’m going after that damn bag.” And with that he let go of the branch and began plowing through the water toward the bend.

Thorn shouted, knowing Bink wouldn’t hear him—or listen, if he did. Dusso howled something from the bank and Thorn started out to swim, planning to drag Bink back to the bank by force if necessary.

But the man had a good start, and even though Thorn slashed through the water as if it were air, Bink had disappeared below the surface by the time Thorn arrived at the river’s bend.

He followed the pale flash of legs down through the murk. Bink was no fool: he was using the current to propel himself against the bank, his gloved hands outstretched to bounce off the looming rock, pushing him lower to a pileup of silt that likely included everything from dead rats to broken crockery.

A stream of curses went through Thorn’s mind. What in the hell had he been doing, putting his lads at risk? One wrong move and Bink would be swept sideways, straight into the rock that the water was smashing into with a throbbing roar.

With a powerful kick, Thorn reached Bink, grabbed his arm, and hauled him up.

They broke the surface, both gasping. Bink brought his hand up to the air. It was clutching a slimy, moldering leather hat; he shook it and let it fall. “Damn you,” he shouted. “The place is ripe. The pouch is there, I tell you!”

“I don’t give a damn. If I hadn’t grabbed you, you’d have been driven into the rock.”

“Well, you did,” Bink said defiantly.

“You’re bleeding.” A thin red rivulet trailed down Bink’s cheek.

“A flea bite. I’m going down again. I’m going to get that damn pouch. You’ll marry the bloody marquess or his daughter, and I’ll earn me reward.” And with that, he slipped beneath the water again.

Thorn swore, and dove. Bink was like a fish. With a grim curse, Thorn swam after, eyes straining to see through the murk. The water was full of silt cast up by Bink’s first attempt.

This was the Thames at its worst, black as soot, with a current that clutched with a hundred fingers, no matter how agile the swimmer, seeming to purposefully drive him against a shard of rock or a broken bottle, each perilous in its own way.

The heel of Bink’s foot flashed ahead like a fish scale. He was precisely where Thorn had decided the bag had likely lodged, if it was there at all: under the shadow of the rock that the current had cut into, leaving the great bulk hanging above them like a black shelf.

With almost no oxygen left in his lungs, Thorn reached Bink, only to see his body jerk in the way of a man who is trying to tug something free. He was making silt explode into the water, clouds of sediment spreading as fast as smoke.

Thorn swam blindly toward the place where he’d seen Bink’s heel. His hand closed on a slick leg, and he felt forward. If a man is caught in spirals of fishing line, tugging could tighten it, trapping the swimmer until, panicked, he choked on sludge-laden water.

Bink knew that as well as he did, and yet he still pulled. Thorn joined in, pulling with every bit of remaining strength he had. Bink lurched backward, kicking madly.

His foot caught the edge of Thorn’s thigh and flipped him as easily it might a fish. In that instant the current caught Thorn in a rush of bubbles, turned him over, his vision gone, air gone, and slammed him against the rock. Water rushed to fill his mouth, swept into his lungs.

The world was already black, but the rush of bubbles in his ears stopped, and everything went silent and cold.

Chapter Thirty-eight

In years to come, India never forgot the moment when Fred burst through the door of her sitting room, Adelaide’s butler at his heels. “He’s dying, m’lady,” he gasped. “And the little girl wants you.”

For a moment, Fred’s words just knocked about in her head like the lyrics of a song she heard recited but never sung.

Dying? How on earth could Thorn be dying? But the fear etched on Fred’s face told her that he was not exaggerating.

She sprang from her chair and ran to Thorn’s carriage without her pelisse, without her reticule, without Adelaide.

Fred leapt on and the carriage rocked around the corner. India sat, her nails biting into her palms. Her mind turned into a snowstorm, so white and violent that no single thought made it through, nothing besides the beating of her heart. Each beat was a prayer, a cry, a plea.

Thorn couldn’t die. The world would be nothing without him. She couldn’t imagine it: her heart rejected the idea.

The pain was like a drumbeat marking the minutes.

As the carriage rocked to a halt in front of the house, India leapt out and ran up the path and through the door, past the silent butler, up the stairs, straight to Thorn’s chamber. A doctor was bending over the bed.

When she saw Thorn, her knees gave way and she barely caught herself on the bedpost. He was naked, covered below his waist by a sheet. His skin had lost all color; he was white, a powder-white that wasn’t right. His lashes were black as coal against the pallor of his cheeks.

Even worse, a huge gash stretched across his forehead. She watched the doctor make another neat, precise stitch, working to close the gaping wound. Blood was running down from the man’s hands, soaking into the pillows.

“He’s not dead,” she said, her voice gasping. “What happened?”

“Mrs. Dautry?” the doctor said, not lifting his eyes. “He still lives.” He took another stitch, and another.

“Are there other injuries?”

“Not unless you count drowning.”


“He was pulled from the Thames, as I understand it. It’s a miracle those men got him breathing again. But he hasn’t come out of it. He should have returned to his senses by now. Could be damage to the lungs. Or brain concussion from the blow.” More blood oozed over the doctor’s hand, and a woman, likely Thorn’s housekeeper, moved forward with a wad of damp cloth.

The world snapped back into focus, and India grabbed her wrist. “Is that towel clean?”

“I do the washing on Monday,” she answered, her chin wobbling. “It’s only been a day or so.”

“I will take it, if you please,” India said, softening when she saw the housekeeper’s red eyes and the tears rolling down her cheeks. “What is your name?”

“Mrs. Stella,” she said.

“I’m Lady Xenobia. I’d be grateful if you could bring me a stack of pristine, unused cloths. Put in an order for ice to be delivered every day for the next week. I also want to make up a poultice of eggs, oil of roses, and turpentine.” Copyright 2016 - 2024