Chapters one, two and a wee bit of t'hree!
London, England, 1863
“Oh, t'here ye are, luv,” Gurtie said cheerfully in her thick Irish brogue while opening the back door for Constance. She watched as the young woman made her way up to the steps, the packages she carried threatening to topple at any moment. The plump cook took the basket from the top of the heap, uncovering the young woman’s face. “I was t'hinkin’ I’d best be after findin' ye.”
Constance blew at a lock of hair that had fallen from her tight bun. “At least that’s over with,” she said as she entered the kitchen, her speech was distinctly English.
“Ye look all done in, ye do.” Gurtie fussed as she lightened the load further. “Why did ye not wait for Iain te help wit' t'hose?”
“I didn’t want the eggs prematurely scrambled.” Constance gave her a meaningful glance as she set the rest of the packages on the table.
“Well now,” Gurtie chuckled, “seein' as how 'e’s not blown t'he wash up in over a month, I consider us lucky indeed.”
“You have a point.” Constance nodded as she inhaled the aroma of fresh baked bread. Her stomach rumbled in appreciation. “Oh, that smells good.”
“Did ye not eat breakfast again?” Gurtie looked up at her as she went about emptying a basket of vegetables. When Constance didn’t reply, she tsked, “Shame on ye, yer too t'hin as 'tis.”
Constance glanced down at the worn servant’s dress and sighed. It did nothing to enhance her figure, but that had been the point in wearing it in the first place. The last thing she wanted was to attract attention while acting as her own maid.
“Where’s t’he brisket an' fish?” Gurtie asked, looking through the goods.
“Augh,” Constance groaned yet again.
“T'hat fishmonger didn’t try te manhandle ye again, did he? Because if he did. . . .”
Constance smiled as the older woman picked up a particularly large stalk of celery and wielded it like a club. “He didn’t.” She plopped down in a chair. “Our money didn’t stretch as far as I’d hoped, but there are plenty of turnips.”
“'Tis a shame, 'tis, but why yer after doin' t’he messages is beyond me, especially when Betsy—”
“I’ll not be swindled again, that’s why,” Constance interrupted her. “Our coin is scarce enough as is, and until that changes, I’ve decided I’ll be doing the shopping.”
“T'hat bein' t'he case, why don’t you be about askin' our kind benefactor fer a wee bit more next mont'h?”
“And have to explain that my teetotaling, nearsighted, elderly maid has a weakness for dice?” Constance arched a delicate brow. “Even if I were to tell him that she was taken by a charlatan, I don’t think Lord Langston would be very understanding, do you? He might even increase his efforts to watch over us.”
“Speakin' of which,” Gurtie gave her a knowing look, “ye’d better get out of t'hose rags. 'E’s already 'ad t’he agency send another butler 'round.” She shook her head with a sigh. “As if we didn’t 'ave enough te contend wit'.”
“He didn’t?” Constance groaned, “If we didn’t need the monies Langston provides I’d have done with his insisting on us having a man about the house.” She nibbled on her bottom lip in frustration as she considered the problem the new butler presented. “I thought we’d have more time before they installed yet another.”
“T’hey filled t'he post right quick, t’hey did.” Gurtie nodded. “But don’t ye worry none, I’ve it all worked out.” She looked back over her shoulder. “T'hat reminds me . . . don’t drink from t'he teapot in t’he salon.”
“You didn’t?” Constance looked at her with disbelief. “Poor Mr. Crabbits is probably still recovering from your treatment of him.”
“Now I did 'im a favor, I did.” Gurtie’s pin curls bobbed as she spoke. “Even now 'e’s restin' in t'he country on a fine pension, instead of toilin' away as someone else’s butler . . . an' in fine 'ealth, I might add.”
Constance couldn’t help the smile that Gurtie’s reasoning brought to her lips. “I suppose there’s no help for it,” she yawned. “We certainly can’t afford someone spying on us.”
“'E’ll be sleepin' like a wee babe is all,” Gurtie assured the exhausted young lady. “Which is what ye should be doin', rather t'han traipsin' around all hours of t'he night.”
“You know why I have to,” Constance replied tiredly.
Gurtie shook her head with a sigh. “I’ll just send up a new pot for ye, t'hen. A nice spot of tea will do ye good, an' I’ll just put a wee nip in it te put t’he pink back in yer cheeks.” Gurtie winked as she turned away to put the kettle on to boil.
“Pink is the last thing I’m wanting, but maybe just a little.” Constance picked up one of the freshly baked rolls and smelled it appreciatively. “I’ve got to go out again tonight.”
“All t'his runnin' around, I hardly t’ink it would be what yer mum would want, God rest her soul. I’m sure 'tis not what she intended when she asked me te look after ye.” Gurtie frowned as she turned back around. “Ah-ah-ah!” She shooed Constance away from the steaming hot bun she was about to bite into.
“No?” Constance eyed the freshly baked morsel dubiously.
“T'hose are for t’he new butler,” the cook warned. “I’m t'inkin' 'e’ll be stayin' close to t’he loo tomorrow, he will.” She nodded with finality. “Ours are still in t’he gammy.” She indicated the oven with the plate she held.
“Just don’t kill the poor man.” Constance set the sweet back on the plate with the others, scooting them far across the table from herself.
“I would never do such a t'hing!” Gurtie looked positively innocent in her cap and curls. “I’m after helpin' him on 'is way te 'is new post is all.” She rolled her eyes when the servant’s bell rang. “T'hough t'his one will be a pleasure, I tell ye,” Gurtie huffed as she placed the plate on a tray.
“Why is that then?” Constance raised her brow curiously. “What’s the story?” The maid scowled when the bell rang once again. “Is he a threat?” Constance grew concerned.
“Gorr’s no,” Gurtie snorted. “But our Mr. 'Iiggins is a cheeky one, 'e is. Why 'e’s already rung t'hat bell a dozen times. You’d t'ink 'e’s t’he comp'ny, rather t'han t’he 'elp, ye would.” She lifted the tray as the bell rang again. “A positive nuisance!” she muttered, looking over her shoulder. “Don’t be long, Connie, luv. I’ll send Betsy in te pour.”
Constance shook her head with a sigh. “Poor Mr. Higgins.” She couldn’t help but smile to herself. The butler would, no doubt, be wearing most of the tea with Betsy pouring, not to mention seeking a new post before the night was through. That was, if he knew what was good for him.
Samuel stood before the mirror in the salon. The image reflected back was hardly that of the young Lord St. Clair. The only thing that looked remotely familiar was the blue of his eyes behind the spectacles. He moved the bushy white eyebrows up and down as he straightened his withered grey beard which made him look like the ancient man he was pretending to be. “Perfect, if I do say so myself.” The new wrinkle gel was a mite improved over the last formula the agency had produced. He smiled, inspecting the crinkles on his face as well as the false teeth he’d had made especially to cover his own.
“Good day, madam,” he said, altering his voice to project a more gravely one. “Hmm,” he cleared his throat and practiced it again. “Good day, madam.” With a satisfied nod, he turned towards the window. Affecting the posture of a much older gent, he walked slightly bent over with an obvious limp, which was only partially an act. The injury he had sustained on his last assignment was acting up. Must be the weather, he decided as he looked out at the crisp autumn day.
With a sigh, he withdrew his pocket watch. Adjusting his spectacles, he scrunched his eyes to read it. It was always best, he’d found, to remain in character. Quarter-past four. He sighed yet again, returning the watch to the pocket in his waistcoat. He’d already been waiting an interminable amount of time. He’d drained the teapot an hour ago and was starting to have a powerful need to relieve himself.
He went to the bell cord, pulling at it again in frustration. He then moved towards the chair by the fireplace, where he sat down, stifling a big yawn. At least he’d have plenty of rest during the day so that he could continue his usual pursuits at night. He grinned. “A piece of cake.”
“What’s t'his 'bout cake?” Gurtie asked as she bustled into the room.
“Excuse me, Madam McPhee.” Samuel cleared his throat. “I wasn’t—”
“Now none of t'hat. I’ve told ye te call me Gurtie, and good news I 'ave too,” she continued. “Our Miss Connie is back from doin' t’he messages and will be down te see ye soon. I’ve just brought some of t'hese sweets fresh from t'he oven for ye 'til she arrives.” She placed the tray next to the pot of tea.
“Ay, Mum,” a young lad greeted her as he walked into the room.
“Well, t'here ye are Iain. Come meet t'he new butler, Mr. 'Iggins.” The boy that entered couldn’t have been any more than ten or eleven. “'E’s a fine lad 'e is, not te mention t’he best footman hereabouts.” Gurtie beamed proudly. “An' 'e even pulls t'he weeds in t’he garden, 'e does.”
“Sir.” Iain bowed.
“Hum, hum,” Samuel cleared his throat, “Iain.”
“You’re not goin' te get sick like t'he last butler, are ye?” he asked when he straightened.
“Och now,” Gurtie shooed him out of the room. “Run along like a good lad an' take Mr. 'Iiggins’s trunk up te 'is room.” She turned back to the new butler with a bright smile on her face. “A bit of an imagination on 'im, but a good boy.” She busied herself by plumping a few cushions. “Go on now, eat up,” she encouraged as she checked the teapot beside him. “I make t’he best cakes from 'ere te 'olandary, I do.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Samuel said as he sank his teeth into a hot bun.
Bump, bump, bump, thump, sounded from outside the room. “I’m alright,” Iain called from the stairs. Samuel could see the boy pulling his bags up the steps only to have them slip out of his grasp to end at the bottom of the flight again.
“I’ll just go see 'bout a fresh pot.” Gurtie smiled brightly as she picked up the empty teapot. “Oh, an' Betsy’s finished wit' t'he wash, she is, and will be in te pour. Careful t'hough, she 'as an eye for t'he gents, she does.” She winked, smiling as she left. “What she can see of t'hem, t'hat is.”
Samuel barely heard her parting comment as he chewed. He wasn’t left long to ponder on it, however, as the spinster he’d been sent to babysit walked into the room. She was about as dull as the wallpaper in her crisp white cap and high-necked day-gown of grey. The spectacles she wore were perched high on her nose, and her complexion was most peaked.
Samuel slowly rose from his chair as she approached. “Good day, Miss Applegate.” He experienced a rush of dizziness as he stood and bent over as he was, he almost toppled over as he bowed.
“Good day, Mr. Higgins,” Constance replied in the most somber voice she could affect as she watched him straighten. “I trust you haven’t been waiting long. I was unaware that the agency would be sending anyone around.”
“Of course,” Samuel’s gravelly voice intoned, “Mrs. McPhee has been most gracious.” He indicated the hot buns as she seated herself on the other chair. “Would you care for one?” he asked, picking up the tray.
“Oh, no thank you,” Constance replied, almost too quickly. “I wouldn’t want to spoil my dinner.” Among other things, she thought as she watched the tray wobble. The poor man’s hand trembled so badly, she reached out to help him set it back down. She waited until he seated himself before continuing. “Your services are hardly needed here, I’m afraid. Your duties will be few and far between.
Samuel nodded as she continued, fairly secure in the fact that she believed him to be old and frail, he sat back as she spoke.
“There is the women’s reading club I go to every Tuesday, and the ladies auxiliary on the second Thursday, but that is only once a month.”
Samuel shook his head. There was a definite buzzing in his ear, and he found himself needing to stifle a yawn on several occasions as she spoke.
“And then there is Lady Persse’s tea.” Constance looked over at him. “Mr. Higgins, are you listening?”
“Yes, yes,” Samuel replied as he refocused on her face. He was afraid her monotone voice was putting him to sleep.
“Actually, Mr. Higgins, no one ever comes to call. I’m afraid the only one that comes and goes by the front door is myself,” she sighed, fairly secure in the knowledge he thought her boring, “and even I use the servant’s entrance most the time.”
Samuel felt sorry for the girl. It wasn’t her fault she’d been born with that complexion, or those looks. Maybe if she just did something with her hair? Unfortunately, it was red, which made two strikes against her already. And, if that wasn’t enough, it appeared she had a slight harelip. She looked down most of the time, so it was hard to see her eyes past her spectacles. Poor girl, there was no hope for her, and he had an eye for that type of thing.
His taste ran more towards buxom blondes. Samuel’s mind drifted away for a moment as her voice droned on. Take the twins, for instance, he thought, now there was a pair that had been doubly blessed. The ladies he’d recently met in Cairo, and had the pleasure of entertaining on the voyage home, were fair indeed. He sighed.
Her grating voice cut into his thoughts. “Yes?”
“Are you alright?”
“Quite.” Samuel cleared his throat, looking at her once more. Green, he noticed with surprise. Her eyes were green with gold flecks in them. She averted her gaze quickly when their eyes met, looking down.
“I was saying that, although you receive your pay from Lord Langston, I will not allow any disruptions,” she droned on in a colorless voice. Samuel fought the urge to yawn as she continued, “my household runs as smooth as clockwork.”
Before he could reply, Gurtie burst into the room. “'Ere we are, t'hen.” She placed a new pot of tea down on the service. “Ye’d probably like a fresh cup.”
Samuel wanted to groan. If he had any more tea, he might float away. He’d never understood why it was so popular, anyway. He much preferred a rich cup of café, and if it was enhanced with a liberal dose of whiskey, it was all the better.
“Now, where is t'hat Betsy?” Gurtie sighed. “I’ll just be 'bout seein' what’s keepin' 'er.”
“You were saying?” Samuel asked the young lady seated so stiffly across from him as the cook left the room.
“Betsy!” Gurtie yelled from the hall. The volume she used was enough to shake the rafters. “What’s keepin’ ye?”
Samuel’s eyes widened in shock at the lack of decorum.
“I’m not deaf,” the maid yelled in response. “I was just after freshin' up, seein’ as 'ow I’m meetin' t'he new butler'n all.”
Gurtie returned. “She’ll be right down.” She smiled brightly.
Samuel was further amazed when Betsy appeared a moment later. The glasses she wore magnified her eyes, giving her an owlish appearance. Her grey hair sprang from under her cap at every angle, and when she bobbed a curtsey, he was sure he detected the smell of whiskey and lye soap in the air.
“'Ello t'here, Mr. 'Iiggins.” She batted her big eyes at him.
Her Irish accent was much thicker than the cooks, Samuel noted as he cleared his throat. “Madam.”
“Oh, t'hat would be miss.” She batted her eyes again. “I’m unwed.”
“You don’t say,” Samuel coughed.
“Twould ye care for a nice cuppa' tea, t'hen?” She leaned over the service, “Fancy a lump er two?”
“One, please,” he replied as she handed him his cup, without the tea. She then proceeded to pour as he chased the stream of liquid from the pot with his cup.
“Ye can call me Betsy,” she replied.
Samuel looked up to see her eyes focused on him, rather than the task at hand. “Excuse me?”
“B-e-t-s-y,” she leaned closer to say as if he were deaf, pouring scorching hot liquid across his lap as she tipped the pot.
“Ah-Ah-Ah!” he yelped as the liquid seared him.
“Oh, Jaysus, but I didn’t mean te—oh, dear!” Betsy put the pot down and grabbed her apron. Leaning over him, she dabbed at the spill. Her efforts only succeeded in pressing the scalding cloth against his skin.
“Stop!” Samuel did his best to stand as he brushed her hands away.
“Oh my.” Betsy stepped back, wringing her hands in dismay.
“Mr. Higgins.” Constance said looking at the man. “Are you alright?”
“No, miss, I am not!” Samuel asserted.
“Betsy,” Constance replied calmly. “Could you see Mr. Higgins to his room, where he can change his trousers?
Samuel snorted indignantly. He seriously doubted she could see anything!
“I can.” Betsy bobbed. “Right t'his way.” She smiled.
Samuel had seen wolves with that expression. He followed behind her, his posture bent. The only difference this time was that he wasn’t faking it. Even in his pain induced haze, however, Samuel noted the creaks on the stair as he slowly went up. The fifth and third from the top were to be avoided in his nocturnal wonderings.
“'Eere ye are.” She led him into his room, where his trunk lay broken open, the contents scattered across the floor. “Ah, 'ow nice,” Betsy claimed as she turned large eyes on him. “It seems Iain 'as brought yer t'hings up.”
“Indeed,” Samuel commented, far too concerned with the burning in his nether region to worry about the pile of clothes spilt on the floor.
“Would ye like some 'elp?” The owl blinked up at him.
“No,” he blurted out when it appeared that she winked. “No, thank you,” he crisply repeated while he ushered her out the door, turning the key in the lock.
He had barely managed to get his pants off, when a few moments later, a knock sounded.
It was the cook’s voice. . . . Standing in nothing but his shirt and stockings, Samuel felt out of sorts.
“I’ve come te tend te ye,” she called.
“That’s quite alright.” Samuel stole a brief look down. His flesh was scalded and bright pink. He watched in horror as the key in the door fell to the floor, pushed through from the other side by the cooks own master.
“Oh, pish!” Gurtie retorted, turning her key in the lock.
“Madam, you will kindly stay on that side of the door.” Samuel looked around frantically for something to cover himself. He grabbed the sheet off the bed just in time.
“T’here’s not'hin' ye 'ave t'hat I 'ave not seen 'afore.” Gurtie pushed the door open, carrying a hip bath. “Now, off with t'hat, and let me 'ave a look.”
“I will not!” Samuel blustered, wrapping the sheet around him.
Betsy appeared in the doorway with a bucket. “Good t'hing t'he iceman came teday.”
Before he knew what was happening, Gurtie pushed him backward. The movement caught him so off guard that he fell into the tub. Unable to recover, he sat there while Betsy followed right behind her, pouring freezing cold water across his lap.
“Ahh-hh!” Samuel leapt out of the tub. As he moved, the heavy, wet sheet slipped from his fingers, parting in the front. He quickly turned away from Gurtie’s view, right into the owlish eyes of Betsy.
“Oh my!” Betsy’s eyes grew even larger as Samuel jerked the sheet up.
“Well, what’s it look like?” Gurtie asked her.
“It’s all pinkish,” she replied.
“Well t'here’s nothing much te it,” Betsy said. “It’s shriveled up te a wee t'ing. I may 'ave burned it off.”
“It’s . . . It’s not been burnt off.” Samuel blustered. “It’s been frozen.”
“Are ye goin’ to let me see it, t'hen?” Gurtie asked.
“Not if it’s the last thing I do!” Samuel stood by the door with the handle in one hand and the bunched up sheet in the other.
“Suit yerself t’hen.” Gurtie sighed as she turned to leave. “I’ll just leave this salve for ye.” She set a jar of green paste on the dresser. “Come now, Betsy,” she said as she passed Samuel and went out into the hallway. “'Ow ‘bout a nice spot o' tea?”
“T'hat sounds nice.” Betsy nodded, following her out the door.
Samuel shut the door behind them, throwing the bolt home, “Holy hell!” He rested his head on the door. “What kind of household is this?” He turned, bracing his back against the frame. “Runs like clockwork, indeed,” he scoffed. “It’s a bloody madhouse!”
“Works every time,” Gurtie chuckled as Samuel slammed the door behind them.
“I t'ink we’re gettin' better at it.” Betsy nodded.
“'Tis a fine art,” Gurtie agreed.
“He did 'ave quite a bit of fight in 'im,” Betsy commented. “Did ye give him enough laudanum?”
“”Ee’s not as frail as 'e looks,” Gurtie replied thoughtfully. “I’ll 'ave te up t'he dose for 'is dinner, I suppose.”
“Well?” Constance asked from the table as they entered the kitchen.
“'E’ll be packed an' out t'he door as soon as 'e gets 'is britches back on.” Betsy giggled as she set a plate of untainted rolls on the table.
“T'here is a problem,” Gurtie took one of the three cups Constance had poured. “Iain commented about the last butler being sick. I’m afraid 'e’s pickin' up on our efforts.”
“Oh, dear.” Betsy blinked her big eyes as she sat down, taking a cup.
“We’ll 'ave te mix it up a bit.” Gurtie nodded. “We’ll start next time wit’ t’he itching powder ye make, Connie, and perhaps forgo it altogether on t'his one.”
“Em,” Betsy blinked, “too late.”
“Ye’ve already powdered 'is britches?” Gurtie asked in surprise.
“Well, what did ye t’ink I was doin’ when ye called?” She snorted with laughter. “It’s not as if I was gettin' pretty for t'he old codger.”
Their laughter filled the kitchen.
“All in a day’s work,” Gurtie sighed.
Samuel stood across the street from the spinster’s house and watched as a cloaked figure of a woman slipped out the back gate. He waited in the shadows as she passed him. It had to be the bookworm. She was the only one in that bizarre household he’d met that fit the description. The woman appeared to be the same height and size as Miss Constance Applegate, but where was she headed at this late hour?
It was just his luck, Samuel thought with no small amount of frustration. Now I’ll have to follow, he sighed, looking up at the sky, at least the large moon that was almost full was partially covered by clouds making it easy to blend into the shadows.
Bloody hell, what next? He’d already had to cancel his plans with the twins because of the debacle this afternoon. Blistered in places he didn’t want to think of, the last thing he wanted to do tonight was follow the “ever spirited” Miss Applegate.
He pulled up the collar of his coat; glad he’d thought to put the spare set of clothes in the hidden lining of his bag. The outfit he wore was not that of an aged butler, nor that of an English lord, but that of a worker from the lower class. He’d worn the disguise often enough when it suited him, and it suited him just fine tonight; especially since the woman he was following was headed to the dodgier part of town.
What could she possibly be thinking to come here? Samuel wondered as she turned onto Fleet Street. The din of music could be heard from the taverns as he rounded the corner and watched as two men blocked her path in front of one such establishment. Samuel’s stride quickened, he’d like to be a whole lot closer in case she needed his assistance.
She appeared to be speaking to the larger of the two men as he approached. Laughing at something he’d said, she swept her hood back, allowing her dark red hair to fall down her back in a riot of cascading curls. Samuel slowed his step; he highly doubted that that hair belonged to the bookworm.
“Go on wit' ye now,” she laughed again as she brushed past them.
Her voice had a sensual loft to it, causing Samuel to stop altogether. . . . He’d obviously mistaken the honorable Miss Applegate for someone else. But who was she? Was there another woman he’d yet to meet living in that house? His interest in his new assignment piqued despite the day he’d had.
“'Tis true,” the big one grinned, “I’m just waitin' for ye te make an honest man of me.”
“Don’t fash yerself, Devon McGregor,” she tsked, “I know yer ways.”
“Now, don’t listen to the gossipin' hags, Connie luv.”
“And who would ye be callin' a hag?” she turned to lift a brow.
Samuel had his first glimpse of her face as the big oaf stammered. It definitely wasn’t the bookworm. This woman’s complexion was as rich as her hair and her features were exquisite. He was intrigued by the surprising beauty of her, despite the fact she wasn’t his mark, he lingered nearby as the two men followed her into the tavern, the smaller one slapping the other on the shoulder with a chuckle as they entered through the door.
“Ye might as well shoot fer the stars with that un,” he laughed.
“She’ll get hers, she will,” the big one threatened. “An' soon!”
Samuel stood looking through the window that read O’Grady’s in big white letters, and watched as the woman took off her cape, revealing what was underneath. The dress she wore was a deep rich red, trimmed with black. The tight waist of the corset emphasized her lush curves. A smile lifted the corners of his mouth at the enticing vision she made.
He hadn’t liked the sound of the men’s conversation and if she was somehow acquainted with Miss Applegate it was his duty to watch her . . . closely. The idea made his step lighter as he entered the tavern, the day’s events finally taking a pleasurable turn.
He skirted the dance floor, watching as she stopped several times to greet people. Whoever she was, she was well known here. The fiddler even started playing a song with a faster tempo when he laid eyes upon her. Instead of walking around the dancers in the center of the room, she started tapping her feet to the rhythm.
The crowd began to clap, making room in the center of the floor as she moved. She swirled, her arms in the air, letting her head fall back as her laughter rang out. She then lifted the hem of her skirt, revealing the intricate footwork of the dance. Going up to several of the women near the edge, she used her skirt to tag them. They in turn tagged others who all joined in as well.
Samuel stood mesmerized by the enchanting creature, dancing with complete abandon in the center of the room. Even the twins, he realized with surprise, paled in comparison to her stunning beauty.
The young men gathered around, whooping and hollering as the group of women kicked up their heels, whirling around one another. As the music increased in tempo, the men jumped in. Twirling the ladies to the outside, they took their place in the center. The dance then became a more physical demonstration of strength as the women stood on the outside looking on appreciatively.
Samuel couldn’t help but smile as she stood, clapping and cheering on the men with the rest of the women until the dance ended. Laughter erupted as several ladies were scooped up and twirled in the air. Caught in the throng, Samuel lost sight of her as the fiddler started up again.
“Laws, but aren’t ye a 'andsome one.” A buxom blonde, with more cleavage exposed than was covered, smiled up at him. She pressed herself into him breathlessly before pulling him onto the dance floor.
Forced to participate until he was able to work himself to the edge, Samuel followed the movements of the other men, spinning the buxom wench until they were both dizzy. Her cloying perfume clouded the air as she twirled and he fought the urge to sneeze.
A dark-headed man, who looked old enough to be her father, pushed inside the circle, taking the comely wench by the hand in an attempt to steal her away. It was all too obvious that his interests weren’t paternal as she smiled coyly, flirting with him.
Oddly enough she might have interested Samuel before he’d set eyes on the redhead. As it was, he had no interest in winning her favor, and couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when her benefactor whisked her away.
Standing on the opposite side of the room from where he’d started, Samuel waited to catch a glimpse of the mysterious woman he’d followed. A redhead across the bar caught his attention, before another with curls down her back crossed in front of him. “Damn!” He swore, as he looked around. It seemed as if every redhead in England was in attendance this eve.
He stepped back out of the way of the dancers as he surveyed the crowd. He was beginning to think he’d lost her when he finally caught a brief glimpse of her through the crowd.
“I know ye were lookin' at her, ye good fer not'in' letch,” a heavy-set, dark- haired woman, standing right next to him raised her voice in anger.
Shocked, Samuel eyed the disgruntled harpy who stood with hands on hips, her eyes looking right through him.
“Now darlin', ye know I only 'ave eyes fer ye,” a man on the other side of Samuel pleaded.
Samuel looked at the thin man on his other side then back at the woman. It seemed he had stepped back a little too far, managing to insert himself into the middle of a domestic squabble.
“Just ye wait til' we get 'ome!” the harridan wagged her finger.
Caught between the two, Samuel quickly traded places with the beleaguered man at his side who was doing his best to placate her.
“Yer te one I’m buyin' drinks fer now, isn’t t'hat right?” the man soothed.
Even Samuel wanted to roll his eyes at that one, the idiot was fighting a losing battle and going down fast.
The woman snorted. “Ye know what ye can do wit' yer drink?” she threw it at him. The man ducked. . . . Samuel didn’t.
Samuel gasped as the contents of her glass hit him in the face. “Bloody 'ell!” I probably should have seen that coming, he realized as he painfully blinked, wiping the rot-gut from his eyes with his sleeve.
“Och, now see what ye made me do!” The woman shoved her man.
“Me?” the man argued as he spat on the floor. “Now I’ll 'ave te buy 'im a drink an' I’m all out.” He patted his coin purse.
“You’d buy 'im a drink 'afore me?” The woman shrieked with hands on hips. “I knew ye was off, but not t'hat far!”
Samuel waved him away. “Don’t mind me, yer hands are full enough.”
“Did ye not 'ear what 'e said 'bout me?” the woman gasped. “Why aren’t ye defendin' me honor?” She slapped the man’s arm.
“Now luvvie.” Samuel heard the man coax as he backed away from the two of them.
“Don’t luv-vie me Earl O’Rourke!” the woman scolded as Samuel left them to their squabble.
“Yer not workin' too hard now are ye Maggie?” A woman’s sultry voice spoke from behind him.
It was her voice! Spinning around, Samuel nearly collided with her as she greeted the barmaid. Her hair tickled his chin, a sure sign that he was far too close. Bringing up his hand to cover his face, he turned away, walking towards the tables which lined the wall.
“I amn’t, besides what would I do if I weren’t waitin' on these fir jacks 'appy out 'avin' a whale of a time?” Maggie rolled her eyes as she held up two mugs of ale.
“Hurry it up t'here, Maggie luv,” a man at a table a few feet away from Samuel held up his empty tankard.
“I’ll show ye some luv, 'Eenry Flannigan,” Maggie warned, taking a step toward him. She chuckled as he grabbed his heart dramatically and sat the tankard back down. Before moving on she looked back over her shoulder. “Oh, Connie luv.”
Samuel found a place beneath the stairs, where he could observe, yet remain unseen. The barmaid stopped right in front of him, pausing as if remembering something.
“I almost forgot, t'here’s a message waitin' on ye,” Maggie said.
“It’s finally come?” the redhead’s relief was obvious as she glanced over toward the bar.
“It has. Yer Uncle Patrick 'as it in t'he back.”
“Yer t'he best, Maggie.” She kissed the woman on the cheek, looking past Samuel to the large barkeep.
“Go way outta t'hat,” Maggie beamed at the praise.
Samuel’s eyes flared with recognition as the gas lamp on the stairwell above them illuminated the mysterious woman’s face. He watched as she hugged the barmaid, the golden flecks in her green eyes shimmering in the light. He stood unmoving in the shadow as she passed him. There was always one thing that gave a good disguise away . . . the eyes.
Samuel could hardly believe that the pasty bookworm he’d met this afternoon and this vibrant goddess, were one and the same. Once more a smile lifted the corner of his mouth as he watched her. There was certainly more to Miss Constance Applegate than had originally appeared.
“'Ow 'bout a tankard for ye, luv?” Maggie nudged him, disrupting his thoughts.
Samuel turned to see the barmaid smiling up at him. “Aye, ‘twould be glad of it,” he nodded with a grin. He was looking forward to something other than tea. He’d actually had to choke down another pot with the dinner that had been delivered to his room. . . . A lovely concoction consisting of boiled turnips with the greens on the side. The pushy cook and house maid wouldn’t leave him alone until he’d eaten every last drop. He swallowed distastefully at the memory.
“T’here is me Connie, t’hought fer a moment ye forgot 'bout yer ol' uncle,” boomed the deep voice of the barkeep as Constance hugged him.
The barkeeps use of her name confirmed her identity for Samuel and he couldn’t help but wonder what she was up to?
“An' how’s t'hat nephew of mine?” her large uncle asked.
“Growin' like a weed.” The large beefy man smiled proudly at her words. “I’ll tell him ye asked after him.”
“An' t'hat I 'aven’t forgotten 'bout our night at t’he Covy comin' up.” He lifted his fists in a play boxing move before he filled another tankard, handing it over to Maggie.
“I will.” Constance laughed. “He’s most excited.”
“Patrick O’Grady!” Maggie shook her head at him. “Don’t keep 'er waitin, ye tease.”
Patrick smiled at Connie. “Would ye be wantin' t'hat message t'hen?”
“I would.” She nodded.
When he still didn’t retrieve it, Maggie chimed in, “It’s in t'he press.”
“T’here ye go tellin' my secrets,” he chided Maggie.
“I’ll give t'his te ye with one understandin'.” He took the missive out of the cupboard and held it out. “Don’t think unkindly of yer mum, no matter what ye find at t'he end of it.” When she nodded in agreement, he handed it to her.
Samuel stifled a yawn as he watched her open the note. Maybe there had been something to the curse in that tomb after all, he thought mordantly over his unusual tiredness, he couldn’t remember when he’d felt so exhausted. He probably shouldn’t have sniffed the contents in that Canopic jar, he coughed at the memory wondering if he was suffering any ill-effects from it albeit weeks later.
His thoughts were interrupted once again as the lovely bookworm spoke up. Her voice, he noted, had a far different effect on him than it had earlier that day.
“Did ye see who delivered t'his?” Constance looked up, her brow knit with concern.
“I didn’t.” Patrick shook his head, fixing her with a serious stare. “Promise me ye’ll be safe, and not let what happened to yer Ma, happen te ye.”
“I promise.” she nodded, tucking the missive into her décolletage.
“I told ye it would work.” Samuel heard the whispering behind him as she turned away.
“She fell for it right quick she did.” Another voice replied.
“They’ll pay handsome for 'er they will.” The first man added.
Samuel turned slightly in order to see who was speaking. The two men standing on the other side of the stair were the same ones who had spoken to her when she’d first arrived. He pretended to watch the dancers while inconspicuously listening to them.
“Just don’t forget yer line,” the big one whispered.
“I’ve got it,” the small one snorted. “A branch of the apple-tree from Emain I bring.”
“Don’t mess up or there’ll be 'ell te pay,” the big one warned.
Samuel realized as he listened that their Cockney accent was that of the inner London crowd and wondered how they fared in a Irish Pub.
“I got it!” the smaller one complained.
“Yeah well, let’s just 'ope she don’t find out yer na' the man she’s expectin'.”
“What do ye take me for a complete eeget? Besides, there’s no way fer her to find out 'tween now and midnight, so stop yer frettin',” the little one replied as the barmaid strolled up them.
“I can tell by the looks of ye t'hat yer up te no good, Devon McGregor,” the barmaid said as she walked towards them.
“Och now, Maggie,” the smaller one complained.
“Don’t, Maggie me, Sandy Donavan, I’ve got me eye on ye too.” She pointed. “Off with ye now, 'afore Patrick sees ye. I’ll 'ave no more loiterin' by the likes of ye.” She shooed them away.
The bar maids response answered his earlier question. Seemed the two were trespassing.
Maggie turned as they left. “Here ye are, luv,” she grinned at Samuel. “On t'he 'ouse, first time an' all.” She winked before brushing past him.
“My t'hanks!” Samuel lifted the mug to his lips, getting mostly foam. Before he could swallow, the beleaguered man with large female problems slammed into him, knocking the contents of the tankard down his shirtfront. Foam flew from Samuel’s mouth in a fine spray.
“Hey, watch who yer spittin' on.” The man stumbled away from him, teetering briefly before landing in Flannigan’s lap. Laughter erupted from the table as he rolled onto the floor.
“An’ don’t come back!” his wife spat before dusting her hands off.
Samuel glanced down at the drunk who’d obviously been pushed.
“Give ol' Earl a hand-up,” Maggie laughed.
Samuel set the empty tankard down with a sigh of regret.
“Care for another one, luv?” Maggie turned to him before hollering over to the table. “Someone needs to take Earl off te bed!”
“Are ye askin', Maggie luv,” the drunkard turned bleary eyes toward her as she shook her head. “'Ow 'bout anoder pint?
Maggie snorted in response, “Like 'en’s teeth. Jaysus, but yer half-ossified and wrecked t'rough.”
Samuel looked around for the lovely bookworm while the barmaid was distracted by the drunkard. The two men he’d overheard talking were heading out the door.
“Would ye care fer another one t'hen?” Maggie turned her attention back to him.
“Aye, I would, but later,” he winked at her before walking away.
“Now why is it I’m always asked out by the like of ye,” she looked back at Earl who was still trying to stand, “and not by a randy bloke like t'hat.” Samuel heard her complain as she pulled the drunkard up off the floor.
“I’m randy as t'hey come,” Earl verified as he leaned against her and she pushed him off in the direction of the door.
The occupants of the back table once again dissolved into laughter.
Deciding to follow the two men, Samuel took one last look around for the lovely bookworm. She was talking with a group of women near the door. Doing his best to slip past the group unseen, Samuel almost swore when ol' Earl bumped into the ladies on his way out, sending one of the women falling back into Samuel’s arms.
“Off wit’ ye Earl! Imagine t'hrowin' a ban fili like t'hat,” one lady said as the group turned in unison from Earl to look at him. His eyes met the green one’s as he set the brunette in his arms straight. Samuel touched the rim of his cap before heading out the door.
“Gorr’s, now he’s a looker,” the woman he’d righted exclaimed. “He can catch me anytime.” She raised her brows suggestively.
Samuel left the tavern, passing Earl as he relieved himself in the alley, and followed the two men that were several blocks down. He couldn’t help but wonder why they were bent on capturing Miss Applegate as he shadowed them. Keeping back, he trailed behind, as they left the busy tavern on Fleet Street and headed towards the business district along the docks. Staying in the shadows he watched as they knocked on the door of a warehouse before entering.
Slipping into a darkened alley across the way, Samuel stood where he could see both ends of the building. With a big yawn he checked his timepiece. Quarter to twelve, he sighed, pulling his coat closer about him he wondered again why he was so tired.
He was about to check his watch again when the back door of the warehouse opened and a man wearing a hat and cloak walked out. He was carrying something in his hand that looked like a twisted wand that shimmered in the moonlight. Samuel thought for a moment that he’d been seen as the man headed right towards him.
Samuel remained unmoving as he waited for the newcomer. Instead of confronting him, the man turned and settled himself against the corner of the building a few feet from where Samuel waited in the dark.
Silently, Samuel moved slowly towards the unsuspecting man, his foot crunching a pebble just before he was upon him.
“Who’s there?” the man whispered as he turned.
Before he knew what had hit him Samuel grabbed him in a chokehold, putting pressure on his jugular. The man was unconscious in seconds and slumped in his arms. There was no one the wiser as the fellow disappeared into the alley briefly, only to reemerge a moment later as someone else.
The big oaf poked his head out the back door of the warehouse a minute later, signaling to his mate. Samuel nodded, touching the stick the other man had held to his hat as he played the part. It appeared to satisfy the one called Devon, for he disappeared back inside.
Samuel leaned against the wall, glancing down at the glittery apple-branch he now held. When he glanced back up it was into the eyes of the lovely bookworm.
“Do ye 'ave somet'ing for me?” There was an edge to her voice as she spoke just above a whisper.
Samuel kept his surprise at her sudden appearance to himself and the brim of his hat low over his face. “Oh, right—the apple branch.” He held it out to her.
She stepped back, uncertain.
“I mean,” he continued with a lopsided grin trying to remember the words the now unconscious man had recited back at the pub. “A branch of t'he apple tree from Emain, I bring.” How the hell could he have messed that up?
“Are ye—” she started.
“Shh,” he put his finger to his lips, “Yer in terrible danger, follow me quickly.” He fell back into the alley, winding his way through to the other end of the street.
“What the hell are ye doin'!” the big man yelled after them. “Yer goin' the wrong way!” Samuel turned to see several men filing out of the warehouse, running toward them.
“Who’s t'hat?” She glanced over at him, “I’m sure I wasn’t followed.”
“Just keep moving,” Samuel ordered as they crossed the road and darted into another side street. He glanced behind them. “Damn!” He swore under his breath. Several men had appeared from the alley at a run, still hot on their trail.
“Wait!” the big one called.
She looked back over her shoulder, slowing. “Isn’t that Devon Mc—”
“'Tis,” Samuel ground out as he grabbed her hand, pulling her along. “And unless ye want to be sold off like so much chattel, ye'll keep movin',” he warned.
She pulled at his hand. “What is going on 'ere?”
Samuel glanced again at the men who were fast on their heels. He’d been hoping to make it back to the taverns where they could disappear into a crowd. He pulled her into another dark alley. “Ye’ve been played like a cheap violin,” Samuel replied indelicately as he shrugged off the cape and tossed the hat into a refuse pile.
“What?” she gasped, trying to pull away from his grip.
He held firmly to her hand as they ran. “'In here,” he said as he darted inside a door stoop dragging her with him. It was deep and dark enough to hide them both.
“This way,” they heard a man’s voice call out from around the corner.
“Bloody 'ell,” Samuel swore softly before stepping in front of her. “My apologies, but 'tis fer yer own good,” he whispered before covering her mouth with his. Stunned for a moment she did nothing.
It was difficult not to notice that she fit him like a glove, as they stood pressed together, breathing heavily from their exertions.
“What do we have 'ere?” a man asked from behind him.
The little vixen in his arms chose then to grind her heel into his toe and tried to knee him as she spoke in a mumble. He kept his lips on hers, despite the pain that laced up his foot. He groaned when her knee made contact with the scalded skin of his groin, making it sound like so much more and did his best to make the movement of him doubling over slightly. He rocked back, stepping in closer so that his knee was pressed between hers and she couldn’t do it again. As he did he also placed his hand inside his coat pocket, palming the gun that was there.
“Show yerself,” the man ordered.
Samuel tore his lips away. “Leave off,” he grumbled, adopting the voice of a drunken sailor as he turned slightly, pointing the gun in his pocket towards the man. Mercifully, the bookworm stopped grinding his toes. He felt her inhale deeply- a sure sign she was going to scream.
Just when Samuel thought she might shout echoed down the alley. “If we don’t deliver the goods we’re in for.”
Samuel couldn’t have been more grateful for the timing of McGregor’s threat.
“Just let me see her face,” the man behind them pleaded.
“Get yer own girl,” Samuel grumbled as he pulled back the hammer of his gun. “I’m busy.”
Surprisingly, it was the bookworm who spoke up, sounding much like a dockside whore. “I thought ye said ye knew a place where we’d have a bit of priv-acy?”
“Give a mon a break,” Samuel added when the fellow remained.
The man anxiously stepped from one foot to the other before finally turning away. “Aw, it’s not them,” they heard him yell as he turned the corner.
“That was close,” she whispered softly as he stepped away.
Samuel didn’t know what to make of her. Most women would be in tears under such circumstances. At the moment he was just grateful she’d stopped trying to injure him. “We’re not safe yet,” he whispered back as he released her and busied himself with the locked door.
She stepped back a little to widen the gap even further between them, and breathed deeply. The smell within the alley was fetid enough without her savior reeking of alcohol. She dropped the silver bow and brought her sleeve up to her nose as she watched him warily, wondering at his motives . . . not to mention his kiss.
Samuel looked over his shoulder at the woman who looked ready to bolt. “In 'ere,” he whispered, opening the door. Her expression was one of indecision as he waited.
They could hear Devon McGregor’s angry voice coming closer as he yelled. “Did ye see her? I told ye to make sure it’s not her, ye dolt.”
She dashed inside at that remark. Samuel quickly closed the door behind her; the only sound was the click of the lock as he turned it.
“How did you do t'hat?” she asked in a hushed voice.
“There’s not a lock made that can keep me out,” he boasted in a whisper as he lifted his finger to his mouth. “Shh!” He took her hand, pulling her away from the window. She resisted slightly and he immediately stepped to the side to avoid another well placed hit.
“They’re not 'ere!” A man’s voice called from the other side of the door. “But this is.” The man outside stooped to pick up the branch. “Bloody hell!” he struck the man who had come up on them to the ground.
Samuel and the spirited she-cat at his side waited in silence as several other men passed by the window. They heard the lock jiggle before they moved on.
When the men left, Samuel drew her into another room. It was a printing office he discovered as he stumbled over a crate of paper, ending up sprawled across the press.
“Are ye alright?” she whispered as she watched him roll off the machinery onto the floor.
“I am,” he groaned, picking himself up. He was definitely off tonight. . . . If he didn’t know better he’d think he’d been drugged, but he’d only had a taste of the ale, nowhere near enough to leave him feeling like this.
Cautiously he made their way around the machinery with her following.
“Wait,” she whispered, stopping before a stack of papers. “I’ll go no further until you tell me who ye are?”
“All ye need te know is t'hat I saved ye,” he spoke with a thick accent disguising his voice.
“Are you t'he Rogue t'hen?”
Samuel could hardly believe his ears. So that was whom she thought she was meeting in the alley. Bloody hell! What could she possibly want with a notorious highwayman? Samuel stumbled as he stepped back into the shadows. “It depends on who’s askin'?”
“You once stole something from my mother,” she spoke softly taking a step toward him. “A necklace.”
“Hmm,” Samuel replied noncommittally.
“You t'hen returned it,” she raised a brow indicating a greater meaning as she lifted up a necklace in the shape of a Celtic cross from around her own neck, letting the ornate pendant dangle not far from her cleavage. The temptation he realized was to look closer, but that would expose his features to the light of the moon coming in from the high window. He remained in the shadow.
Frustrated that her ploy hadn’t worked, she stepped even closer. Was he so drunk he didn’t remember why she was to meet him, or was it as he’d suggested and she’d been fooled in some way, but by him? “If ye do na' know who my ma is t'hen yer not t’he man I need.” She turned to leave.
“I know who ye are Miss Constance Applegate,” he answered.
She turned back, looking at him curiously. “My mother told me that if I should ever need help, I should call upon you.”
He noticed how her accent had lessened now that he knew who she was. “And just what 'elp would ye be seekin'?” he spoke softly, keeping his, keenly aware of need to keep up the pretense, not to mention her nearness.
Nothing made sense. Constance looked at him with confusion knitting her brow as he tried to stand without falling again. What is going on? He didn’t seem to know why she had left to meet with him tonight. She remembered the missive that had been delivered to her at the book meeting last week by a street runner who hadn’t stayed long enough to tell where it had come from.
It had said that if she wanted the answers about her mother and the past that they would come. As testament to the givers good intention they had even contacted her through her uncle’s pub the next time and had signed it, the Rogue. All she needed to do was wait for another missive to be delivered to O’Grady’s. It had taken a week, but tonight it had finally come.
The note had given her instructions of where to go and to wait for the messenger to deliver an apple branch from Emain. Illuding to the wisdom of the keepers, but this man before her now who claimed to be the Rogue seem to be suffering from memory loss.
Constance wasn’t about to reveal anything to this man who seemed ignorant of everything . . . and then there was Devon’s interference. She inwardly cringed at the thought of what that cruel bastard had meant for her.
She eyed the man who stood in front of her warily, not sure who was the lesser evil of the two men. Devon, she felt she could deal with. This one was another matter. She had the feeling he could be far more dangerous as she tried to make out his features in the dark shadows where he stood. His arm and hand were the only things visible as he rested it on a filing cabinet.
“What can you tell me of the past?” she asked, noting as she did that his nails were clean and smooth enough to denote a man of leisure. The corded muscles of his forearm, however, bespoke of hard labor. “I need the missing piece,” she finally said, once again lifting a necklace from around her neck.
He rubbed his chin, leaning his elbow on the cabinet. “I see.” Samuel let his gaze dip down to the pendant that dipped enticingly into her cleavage once again as he spoke. The temptation was too great and he reached out and lifted it, his fingers lightly brushing her skin as he moved the disk in the moon light. The light glinted off the swirling circular cross, but his mind was wholly on the woman. “What do you propose?” he asked evasively.
The way his fingers had barely grazed her skin had sent off tingles across her body that she was wholly unprepared for. What did he mean by that? She wondered. Was he playing with her? She narrowed her eyes as she considered it.
“I propose nothing,” she said. She wasn’t sure if she could trust him and or the way her body had responded to his interest in the necklace. He wasn’t at all what she had been expecting.
“Can I ask a favor?” he let the necklace go as he spoke.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Not to meet strange men on street corners anymore.”
“What?” Offended, she stepped back and straightened her spine. “You asked it of me.
“That I did,” he chuckled as if finally remembering. “Then let me ask—”
“First, I must ask a favor of you,” she cut him off, deciding to test him before revealing anything else. Besides, actions at times spoke more for a person than mere words. She skirted past him.
“A favor?” he asked as his elbow slipped off the file, sending several papers across the floor.
She watched as he attempted to catch them but his efforts caused them to spill their content across the floor and wondered how one went about proving the identity of a highwayman. “I want you to take me raiding with you,” she seized upon the idea.
“Raidin'?” His voice sounded choked.
It might be the worst plan ever, but she could think of nothing else to test who he really was. If nothing else it might also give her time to glean where the third piece was. “Yes, take me with ye on yer next ride.”
She honestly wanted to go out on the road with a highwayman? “I’m retired.” He hoped that worked. No one had heard from the notorious highwayman in at least a year.
“I’m sorry te have bothered ye then,” she said, turning to look up at him and using the soft accent with devastating effect. “I’ve obviously got t'he wrong man.”
With the light of the moon illuminating her face and her full pouting mouth beckoning him, he had a powerful urge to lean forward and kiss her again. She tentatively licked her lips, as if she could read his thoughts. He had an inkling now of how women could lead some men to crime. “Would yer mother 'ave wanted that?” he asked.
She watched him for a moment with those beautiful green and gold eyes a momentary flicker of pain flashed within them before turning away without saying anything.
“Wait,” he said, immediately sorry to have caused her any.
“Yes,” she glanced over her shoulder.
“I would see ye 'ome,” he replied, “safely.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Not necessary! There were a dozen men combing the streets for her even now. “I insist.”
A corner of her mouth lifted in a half-smile, and with her eyes half-closed, it was almost cat-like. Samuel had to quell his urge to pull her close and kiss the smirk off her delectable lips.
“Your hardly in a position to insist.” She challenged.
“Am I not?” he asked, stepping closer. Bracing his hand against the wall above her shoulder, pinning her there and stood looking down at her. Perhaps he could change her mind about the raid after all. “If goin' on a raid is what ye seek, t'hen I might ask a price, should I decide to 'elp,” he said huskily.
“What price?” she asked. The way he was looking at her left little to the imagination as to his meaning. She nervously wet her lips with her pink tongue once again.
Seeing it, he acted impulsively, before dropping his head to hers. His lips touched hers softly before demanding a much deeper kiss. He’d hoped to scare her off this ridiculous game she was playing at, but was more affected by the kiss than he’d like to admit. Even despite the heavy abuse he’d taken of late, his reaction to her was painfully obvious. Reluctantly he ended the kiss, shifting to his left immediately to avoid a replay of the first kiss. “Why don’t ye just tell me what yer after?
Is he playing with me to get information? Constance wanted to stomp his toe again until he moved, his features illuminated by the shaft of light coming in through the window high above. The blue of his eyes immediately struck her. Blue as the sky on a summer day, she thought briefly before taking in the rest of his face, recognizing it. It was the man from the tavern, and he was obviously not unused to a woman’s advance. Ooh, how I’d like to slap the smug look from his face! She eyed his strong jaw dusted with stubble, which only managed to emphasize his masculinity, and sighed instead.
He stood, staring down at her far too intently, reading everything she thought in the details of her face. He looked far younger than she’d thought the Rogue would be . . . and much more virile. She bit her lip, now completely unsure of her next step. What was I thinking? Her attempt to lure him out of dark hadn’t gone without consequences. . . . she sensed she’d have to tread lightly. This was no mere boy to tease. This was a man; a man that practically oozed sexuality, along with the cheap perfume that clung to him. She tried not to breathe; , amazed that she could even smell it over the strong vapors of alcohol that assailed her nose.
He chuckled, his deep throaty laughter made her stomach leap. She drew herself up slightly, lifting her chin. He might be one of the most handsome men she’d ever laid eyes on, but it was all too obvious that he knew it. “I must go,” Constance’s voice faltered at his nearness.
Samuel watched her closely. Her breath coming in shallow puffs, her bosom rose and fell revealing her emotions in the light filtering through the window. She self-consciously pulled a curl back from her face and combed it over her shoulder. Despite her façade of disinterest, he could tell she was not immune to his charm. “Wait here,” he whispered near her ear before stepping away, making his way to the side door.
Goose bumps rippled to her toes from his breath on her neck and ear. Constance gulped in fresh air to steady her nerves and breathe in something other than the strong scent of alcohol. She watched him stagger away, feeling a mixture of relief and disappointment. The man was a drunken womanizer that could barely stand. She’d be well off to remember that! She watched as he tripped over a box on his way towards the door. She shook her head with a sigh. It didn’t matter, she told herself. She only needed him for one thing, and she’d have done with him quick enough.
Samuel opened the side-door and checked to make sure it was safe. “Stay close,” he whispered, waving her over.
Constance was starting to wonder if he’d be able to find his own way home as she followed him through the twisting alleyway. She shook her head as she watched him head down one alley only to return, retracing his steps and head down another.
“T'his way,” he said with a grin over his own mistake.
Reaching a street where several taverns were located, he paused near a garden wall. “I t'hink it’s best if we keep te t'he back streets. T'hose men are probably still looking for us.”
“I can make it safely from here,” she spoke softly.
He looked at her briefly before turning back to the street. “I would see ye home . . . and if ye need te reach me again, I t'hink it’s best we use another route. The last one appears to 'ave been compromised.”
She briefly wondered what else would be compromised if she continued down this path. “If yer willin' te take me raidin' with ye,” she said, glancing over at the park across the street, “I’ll meet ye at the fountain in the park tomorrow at midnight.”
Samuel couldn’t help but feel annoyed as she spoke behind him. “Why are ye so determined te rob somebody?” he asked in frustration.
There was no answer.
He turned back around. The street was empty. . . . She had vanished. “Damn it all to hell!” he swore shaking his head. “I’m getting too old and tired for this!”
Samuel awoke to the sun’s early light streaming across the bed where he’d slept. It took a moment for him to remember where he was. He swallowed, smacking dry parched lips together. It felt as though he had cotton in his mouth and his tongue was five times too large.
He rolled over, swinging his legs over the side until he was sitting on the edge of the bed, his head throbbing. He looked down at the washtub with melted ice, and winced as the memories of the night before came flooding back. The burning in his groin intensified as he thought of the debacle and then later meeting the real woman behind the bookworm’s facade.
How had she disappeared on him? He looked over at the window, where he’d waited last night until she’d come home. Having discarded the dress she’d worn he’d barely recognized her. Wearing britches, her disguise as a young lad would have been convincing had he not been expecting her.
There was certainly more to Miss Constance Applegate than had originally appeared, which had him wondering why she was leading a double life. “What are you up to?” he mused aloud as he rubbed his jaw.
Glancing down he noticed his book, which still lay open on the bed. It appeared that he had attempted to draw the necklace that she’d shown him while he waited the night before. The drawing was a poor attempt considering his usual efforts.
Still dressed in the street clothes that he’d worn the night before, Samuel sniffed at the collar, wrinkling his nose at the smell. His stomach rumbled in dissent as a cramp tore through his lower regions. With a groan, he clutched his abdomen.
This wasn’t good, this wasn’t good at all!
He quickly changed into the clothes of the butler, hastily applying his false whiskers as another pain gripped him. He checked himself in the mirror quickly before leaving the room. He just hoped it was early enough that no one saw him, there wasn’t enough time to make it perfect, nor was their time to avoid making noise on the stair as he stumbled down them in his haste.
“Have you seen the new butler?” Constance asked as she entered the kitchen.
“I saw 'im racin' to t’he privy bright an' early t'his mornin',” Gurtie said with a grin as she cracked eggs into a bowl and whisked them. “'E was makin' enough noise te raise t’he dead and movin' so fast 'e nearly lost 'is wig,” she chuckled.
“Poor man,” Constance shook her head as she poured a cup of tea and seated herself at the table. “Has anyone checked to see if he’s still alive?”
“Oh, pish,” Gurtie snorted as she threw flour into the bowl. “'E’ll be fine, cleansin' 'is system is all.” The curls on either side of her head bobbed as she vigorously whisked the mixture. “'E’ll be no worse t'han 'e was afore, anyhow.”
“All in all, maybe someone should check to see if he’s still alive?” Constance watched as dust from the bowl haloed Gurtie in a fine cloud.
“Already done,” Gurtie pronounced as she set the bowl down. “Betsy’s been after checkin' on 'im 'ourly, but 'he won’t open the door for some reason,” she chuckled as she poured the batter onto a skillet.
Betsy walked into the kitchen as Gurtie spoke. “Man’s dug in like a tick, 'e is.” She lowered her voice, “We may 'ave te use ot'her measures.”
“Consider it done,” Gurtie smiled, lifting the lid to the pot in front of them on the table.
“What is it?” Constance cautiously leaned forward as Gurtie lifted the spoon, drizzling the thin lumpy liquid back into the pot.
“Turnips an' porridge of course,” Gurtie replied.
“That should do it.” Constance wrinkled her nose, sitting back.
“So what of t'he night?” Gurtie asked. “Tell us everyt’ing.”
“I 'ad another dream of t'he fay callin' me,” Betsy answered. “A devilishly 'andsome one too.” She nodded as Gurtie looked on in disbelief. “'E did, called me te fetch some water, but t'here be shades black as pitch lurkin’ near t'he water’s edge waitin' te capture me,” Betsy finished.
“Honestly,” Gurtie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Not yers. Hers.” She indicated Constance with her spoon.
“You show no respect for t'he auld ways.” Betsy responded moodily.
“I have plenty of respect, but it’s nigh the twentieth-century, not t'he stone age. It must be takin' with a grain o' salt is 'ow I see it.” Gurtie looked to Constance as if seeking help as Betsy gasped over her words. “Now, tell us how it went last night.”
Samuel made his way into the kitchen, pausing outside the door when he heard the women of the household talking.
“Ye don’t say,” he heard Gurtie exclaim. “A drunken wastrel?”
“He could barely stand,” Constance replied. “He reeked of alcohol and cheap perfume.”
“'E didn’t?” Gurtie’s voice lowered in pitch.
“He said he’d retired,” Constance added. “My guess is he can’t sit a horse any longer.”
“And 'ere I t'hought 'e was a respectable kind of criminal.” He heard Betsy’s voice as he ducked into an adjacent room.
“Is t'here such a t'ing?” Gurtie snorted.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s respectable or not.” Constance was saying when he placed his ear against the wall. “Although it would help if he were sober. Last night I thought he may very well have forgotten who he was, let alone why we were meeting.”
“Wee nip never hurt a body,” Betsy protested, “lest 'e’s usin' it te bathe in.”
Gurtie’s muffled voice echoed through the boards. “Well, I for one will be glad when t'his is over.”
“After tonight’s raid,” Constance continued, “I’ll know if he can be trusted—”
“Raid!” Gurtie said loudly. “Oh, ye mustn’t! What 'ave ye done now? I absolutely forbid it!”
“It’s the only thing I could think of to test him to see if he was who he claimed to be.” She looked at the women who’d raised her and decided it would be best not to tell them of Devon’s involvement. She hated lying to them, but knew they would try to prevent her from going if they suspected. If it was as the Rogue had suggested and she’d almost walked into a trap then something had to be done. They were getting far too close.
“T'here must be anot'er way te test 'im.” Gurtie remained steadfast.
“I thought if I could get him to talk I could find out about the missing piece,” Constance tried to explain the unexplainable; she couldn’t say why she felt the need to see him again. “I just needed more time,” she responded sagging back into her chair. “I don’t know. It happened all so quickly.”
“Well, yer not goin' t'hrough wit’ it!” Gurtie said. “Yer mum, god rest 'er soul, would roll-over in her grave she would.”
“Her body was never found,” Betsy took exception. “She’s still alive.”
“My sister would never 'ave left her babe,” Gurtie said. “T’here’s not a force in t'he world t'hat would’ve kept 'er from 'er Connie and ye know it.”
Gurtie’s voice was raised enough to hear easily through the wall and Samuel pulled away a little and glanced at the door.
Samuel almost jumped out of his shoes at the sound of Iain’s voice. He turned to see the boy behind him, looking at the wall curiously.
“Is it t'hat rat again?” Iain turned bright green eyes on him.
“Ah— yes,” Samuel nodded stepping back from the wall.
“Yep,” Iain nodded sagely, “last butler tried to listen for 'em too. T'he little bugger just can’t be caught. I’ve traps set everywhere,” he whispered conspiratorially.
“Keep up the good work,” Samuel nodded, “and— ah, let’s not mention this to the ladies. You know how women can be over these things.” He watched as Iain buttoned his mouth and skipped from the room.
“Guess what?” Iain yelled as he entered the kitchen.
Samuel groaned, shaking his head. Great!
“What’s this?” Gurtie turned to look at Iain in surprise, “Rushin' in 'ere yelling at the top of yer lungs.”
“I can explain,” Samuel said as he rushed into the kitchen.
“Sandy Donavon got his neck stretched from the London Bridge last night,” Iain continued on excitedly.
“Explain what, Mr. Higgins?” Constance turned to ask him.
“Ah . . . my tardiness,” Samuel grasped for a new answer. He’d thought the boy meant to tell on him. “Please accept my apologies for not serving you breakfast in the dining room.”
“But I never have breakfast in the dining room Mr. Higgins. I prefer to eat all my meals here at the kitchen table. I’m quite sure I mentioned that yesterday when we spoke,” Constance said disapprovingly.
He had absolutely no recollection of it. His mind must have drifted off during her exciting lecture on household habits. “How remiss of me, Miss Applegate, I will undertake to remember in future.” He watched her as he sat. She was once again dressed in the grey day gown, her complexion as pale as when they’d first met, and like before, her hair was again pinned back into a bun that was so tight it defied any curls to escape.
“Did ye wash up for breakfast?” Gurtie asked her son while placing a plate of hot cakes and eggs in front of him. “And what’s t'his 'bout someone getting t'heir neck stretched?” she tsked. “Where did ye learn such a t'hing? An' how is it t'hat ye know of this Sandy Donavan?”
“Tommy, the butcher’s son, told me,” Iain replied. “'Tis true, I swear.”
Betsy snorted. “Well, t'hat’s grand! I say good riddance te t'he low life good fer not'in' letch. Couldn’t even run an honest game of dice, t'hat one, preyin' upon unsuspecting ol' ladies,” she stopped talking when she noticed the alarm on both Constance and Gurtie’s faces as they looked from her to the new butler. “Just sayin',” she turned to Higgins with a smile, “not t'hat I’d know, mind ye. Serves 'im right getting 'is due on the devil’s own gate.”
“Well now,” Gurtie ladled out a bowl of turnip porridge and placed it in front of Samuel, then added another pancake to Iain’s plate and watched as her son took a bite of it. “Seems as if ye’ve had a bit of excitement t'his mornin'.”
Iain nodded, his cheeks bulging with the food he’d just stuffed into his mouth.
Samuel eyed the lad’s plate of fluffy, steaming cakes longingly before looking down at his own bowl. “Could I have some of—”
“I couldn’t 'elp but notice yer extended stay in the privy t'his mornin',” Gurtie high browed him. “I’m not sure 'tis a good idea.”
Good Lord! Was nothing sacred to these women? Samuel coughed.
“After all, I fixed this porridge for ye special,” she said with a note of disappointment in her voice and a look of steel determination in her eyes.
Samuel looked back at his bowl with a weak smile. “How thoughtful of you,” he murmured, eyeing the unappetizing slop. She smiled reassuringly as he picked up his spoon. All eyes were on him as he stirred the contents before slowly bringing the spoon to his mouth. The slimy texture made him gag as he forced himself to swallow.
He set his spoon down. “Perhaps you’re right and I should just have tea,” Samuel squirmed in his seat, adjusting his position. There was more than one reason for his discomfort. Not only was his belly giving him problems, his groin was on fire as well, and not just from the burn. A rash had broken out across his nether regions, and there was no relief to be had from the itching. He slid uncomfortably forward on his seat.
Gurtie placed a hot steaming cup in front of him as the knocker on the front door sounded. “Who could that be I wonder?”
Samuel continued to look at his cup while Gurtie cleared her throat. “Well, aren’t ye goin' te get it?” They all stared at him. “Mr. 'Iiggins?” Gurtie increased the volume of her voice. “Mr. 'Iggins?”
“What?” Samuel was startled to see them all staring at him. “Oh yes, quite right,” he stood awkwardly.
They watched him leave. Betsy broke the silence first with a whisper. “I’m beginnin' te t'hink our Mr. 'Iggins isn’t all t'here.”
“He’s probably just reacting to the fine treatment he’s getting,” Constance smiled for Iain’s sake.
“I don’t know,” Betsy blinked. “I’ve never seen a butler forget te open t’he bloomin' door. If ye ask me 'e’s a few cards short of a full-deck.”
Samuel returned with a note for Constance a few minutes later. He held out a small silver platter, on which the missive sat, with all the decorum due his station. The action marred only slightly by the trembling of his hand.
“How odd,” Constance replied after reading it. “It seems I’ve been invited to the Radcliff’s ball. My dear friend, Lady Persse, has asked that I accompany her tonight.”
“Oh, how nice of t'he story-teller,” Betsy replied, calling the president of the book club, lady Persse by the nick-name she’d given her.
“Nice?” Constance groaned. “It’s the last thing I need.”
“Not much notice is t’here,” Gurtie sighed. “I’ll air out yer ball gown.”
“Perhaps if you accepted there would be more reason to come and go by the front door.” Samuel replied. He cleared his throat uncomfortably, adjusting his eyeglasses as all the ladies turned to stare up at him with varying degrees of censure. “Would you care to reply?”
“I will see her at the book reading today and give her my answer,” Constance eyed him coolly. “Thank you.”
He was going to have to remember to hold his tongue he realized as he watched her. The morning sun made the gold flecks in her eyes sparkle, especially when she was annoyed. Nodding briefly he said, “Will you need a driver?”
“I’ll walk, thank you,” Constance replied crisply.
“I hope then that it will be alright if I go out today for a short while. I have some errands to run.”
“Of course.” She turned away, summarily dismissing him.
“Told ye he was a cheeky one,” Gurtie said when he excused himself and left through the back door.
Samuel walked along the street until he was able to hail a hackney to a nondescript brownstone building in the middle of the business district. The plaque on the door advertised the agency as an employment office. He took the stairs up to the second floor, where a middle aged woman sat behind a desk.
“Excuse me?” The little secretary lifted her chin, narrowing her eyes on him, “Do I know you?”
“Why, yes, Katie luv.” He winked, grinning. “I believe you do.”
“Oh, Lord St. Clair.” She gasped in astonishment. “What a clever disguise,” she chuckled. “Speaking of which, you’re going to love the improvements to your jacket the seamstress has made and these from Morrison,” she said speaking of the agency’s designer as she stood and went to a filling cabinet, retrieving a box. “Perfect for the disguise you have on now.” She smiled as she handed it over to him.
Samuel opened it to find six small, round, thin pieces of glass; two brown, two green, and two a smoky grey. He picked one up carefully and squinted through the cloudy looking glass.
“Careful now,” Katie said. “They’re glass. They fit in your eye and can change the shade of it. That one you’re spying through is to make it look like you have cataracts.”
“Clever.” Samuel nodded, impressed.
“You just missed seeing the new director. He’ll be back later if you’d like to introduce yourself.” Katie paused. “Nice man.”
“Please, no need to fabricate any details on my behalf. I’ve already had the distinct pleasure of making his acquaintance,” Samuel cleared his throat, mimicking the director as he pinned her with a piercing stare.
“Oh, dear,” she shook her head. “Lord Langston’s not nearly that bad.”
“Hmm, well he’s not the reason I’m here anyway,” he grinned. “What I need is something from you, but secrecy is of the most importance.”
She blushed as he gave her his full attention. Though not immune to Samuel’s considerable charms she was also not one to be fooled either. She’d seen too much in the wars and with the agency to be anyone’s lackey. After listening to his request she nodded. “I will get right on it.”
He kissed her knuckles and turned to leave.
“Oh, I almost forgot, you scoundrel.” She grinned, handing him his jacket. “You’d better try it out before using it. The spring loaded triggers are quite improved over the last year’s model.”
Samuel left the agency a few minutes later, hailing another hackney to take him to his town house, where he changed into his own attire. He then sat down at his own table, feasting on scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, sausage, and a muffin.
“Good heavens,” his mother said when she joined him. “Where have you been that you’re so starved?”
“That, mother, is a government secret,” he smiled.
She shook her head in response to his evasive manner, not believing it for a moment.
“A note for you Sir,” Carson, the butler intoned as he handed the missive to Samuel.
Samuel opened it quickly, recognizing Katie’s handwriting. “Excellent, as efficient as ever,” he said as he read quietly.
The Rogue Bandit wears black, with a purple scarf masking his face. Leaves the wedding rings of the female victim only, kissing the woman on the hand, or cheek if she is especially attractive, earning him the name the Rogue. Hasn’t been heard of in 6 months, it is rumored that he’s dead.
The late Sandy Donavon was a petty criminal. Not much information on him at this time. Constable O’Malley is working the case.
Sharon McPhee, married to the late Sir Philip Applegate, was reported missing 17 years ago. Her body was never found. The agent working the case was found dead. I’ve checked the file on the incident and it is either missing or has been sealed. Further research through our mission records revealed that the agent involved was your own father.
Be Careful. K
“What is it?” his mother asked curiously. She watched with an odd expression on her face as he lit the paper on fire and let it burn on his plate.
“Mother?” he looked up at her. “Do you have a purple scarf I might borrow?”
“Certainly not,” his mother’s voice was curt.
“Hmm,” he thoughtfully tapped his finger against the table before standing. He walked around the table and kissed her on the cheek. “Have a nice day, Mother,” he added, taking his leave.
“I just don’t know,” Lady St.Clair sighed, looking up at the butler. “He reminds me more and more of my late husband the older he gets. I’m starting to worry about the boy.” She stared at the door where her son had disappeared thoughtfully. “Have the maid lock my scarves in the wardrobe will you.” She turned back. “And my lingerie too.”
“Yes, Madam,” Carson replied, bowing slightly.
Samuel ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time as he returned to his rooms. He picked up the clothes he’d so recently discarded in his haste to eat something other than turnips. Shaking out the trousers he was amazed as a fine powder fell onto the polished wooden floors at his feet. He narrowed his eyes as he swiped a finger through the dust that had fallen. He sniffed it. Immediately his nose began to itch and his eyes watered.
“Augh,” he sniffed, clearing his head. Running another finger through the fine powder he tasted it. It was bitter in the extreme. Next he rubbed a small amount onto the inside of his wrist. It wasn’t long before a red rash appeared.
He sat on the edge of the bed as the pieces started to fall into place. Last night he’d felt as though he’d been drugged. Hell, he had been drugged, but not by anyone at the tavern. “Bloody hell,” he said under his breath, remembering his morning spent in the dunny, “Those sneaky little–” No wonder his drawing of her necklace looked like a child had drawn it.
A knock sounded on his door.
“Enter,” Samuel called out as he stood. “Oh good, it’s you,” he smiled when Carson opened the door. “Have these laundered, will you, perhaps boiled? No. better to toss them and I’ll need another pair of the same.”
“Yes, M’lord,” Carson took them without question. “I felt you should know that your mother has ordered her underthings locked.”
Samuel gave him an odd look, “Why?”
“I believe she is concerned about your unusual interest in her wardrobe.”
“Unusual,” Samuel chuckled, looking at the butler speculatively, “You wouldn’t happen to own a purple cravat?"
Samuel sighed in disappointment before asking, “Do you remember what my father was working on before he was shot?”
“Perhaps your father might have mentioned it in the journal he left to you,” Carson replied.
Samuel looked at him thoughtfully, remembering the day the butler had given him the letter his father had penned for him to read when he turned fifteen. It had led him to a journal hidden in the attic. Through the pages he had learned who his father really was, and what had inevitably led him to the life he was now leading.
“You might be right, I’ll have to check.” For a moment Samuel considered the man who had been there for as long as he could remember. “Is Lugh still here or is he at the stables?” Samuel asked.
“He’s still in the kitchen I believe,” Carson supplied. “Since the cook took his leave, Lugh has burnt just about everything in the kitchen trying to comply with your request that he be your chef.
“I thought breakfast was excellent.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Carson slightly bowed his head.
“You cooked breakfast?” Samuel asked knowing it was so as the man nodded.
“I see, I’ll speak to him on the way out.” Samuel said.
“Will he be returning to the stables, Sir?”
“Afraid not. It’ll look into finding a new chef when I get the time.” Samuel patted the overworked butler’s shoulder as he stood.
“I was afraid you’d say t'hat.” Carson sighed.
Samuel found Lugh in the kitchen cussing over a tray of scorched balls of dough. “How would you like to take a ride tonight?” he asked.
“Sounds like heaven!” Lugh said in relief. “Does t'his mean t'he bloody chore of kitchen duty ye have me doin’ is over?”
“Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a replacement.”
“So what are ye askin'? Do ye need me to race Lightenein' on Gretna Green again?” the small chef asked as he took the lid of a smoking pot of something off the stove.
“Ah-no.” Samuel grinned remembering the bets he won the last time they’d done that. “I though you said you knew how to cook?” Samuel tried to cover his nose, coughed and stepped back.
“I told you I couldn’t,” Lugh reminded him as he waved the smoke away. “But ye begged me te do ye t'he favor because you need someone ye could trust in t'he kitchen rather t'han another of your mother’s hires,” the small man reminded him. “Which ye promised te do right away.” He glared at him for a moment longer before asking, “Why do I need to take a ride t'his time?”
“I’ve need of a man good with horses and women.”
“Aye, then ye’ve come to t’he right man.” Lugh winked. “I’ve the luck of t’he Irish with both. What do ye need me te steal?”
“Nothing . . . yet,” Samuel answered, looking at the man who had been an invaluable asset on many assignments. If it hadn’t been for Lugh the secret documents of the enemy’s fleet and movements that Samuel and Alec were able to take would not have conveniently fallen into their hands—nor would they have made it out of Amsterdam. “I’ll be playing the bandit tonight and I only need a driver at this time.”
“Cor Blimey,” Lugh swore. “I shudder to t’ink about what you’re up to now.”
Samuel smiled at him. If there was one thing about Lugh he always had a way of over-dramatizing the difficulties in an effort to be acknowledged for his feats and increase his pay. “I’ll increase your salary.”
“Bloody, right ye will!” Lugh said. “I never signed on te be making scones.”
“Is that what those are?” Samuel asked, before having to defend himself against a barrage of burnt balls were lobbed in his direction.
“Out of my kitchen!” the small man herded him out the door.
Hailing another hansom on the main street, Samuel emerged from the ride a new man, albeit an older one. Having used the rented coach as a changing station, he paid the driver and continued to increase the tip until the man’s expression turned from puzzled, over the bizarre change of his fare, to that of pleased.
“Fancy’s a strange set,” the driver said as he pocketed the money and drove off.
Once again dressed as Higgins, Samuel returned to the house with a renewed sense of danger looming over him. Now when he considered what the three ‘damsels in distress’ were capable of a chill ran down his spine . . . especially when the only one in distress so far had been himself.
He called out when he entered the house. When no one answered he carefully climbed the stair, avoiding steps three and five and found that two and ten were spongy near the banister. Making it to the second floor, he went into Constance’s bedroom and began to methodically search it. If there was a secret to be found, here was the best place to start looking.
He searched the usual places first, under the mattress, inside the drawers, the armoire, and the underside of all the openings. He searched for hidden latches and secret compartments, finding two. One in the trunk, and another in the dresser, neither of which revealed anything but a few pieces of jewelry. He was about to leave when the mantle of the fireplace caught his eye.
Samuel moved his hand expertly across the ornate woodwork, setting the screen aside; he looked up inside the flue. Noticing a brick without mortar, he took out his knife and slipped it around the edge and lifted the block out. Reaching inside the small hole behind it, he withdrew a small wood box and carefully examined the ornate carvings. They looked decidedly Celtic in origin. He placed it on the bed before opening it.
“Here we are,” he spoke softly as he lifted out a rolled up piece of old parchment. Something about it made the hair on the nape of his neck stand on end. It looked oddly reminiscent of another scroll he was all too familiar with. His suspicions were confirmed when he unrolled it. A seven-pointed star with ancient symbols within it stared up at him.
“I’ll be damned,” he breathed as he gazed upon the drawing, which was identical to the one on the map he had kept in his boot for eight months while crossing Egypt. He turned it over, expecting the Egyptian map on the other side. His brows lifted in surprise, however, when instead of the Egyptian drawings, he found himself looking at an image of two dragon type beasts entwined in the center of what looked to be runic symbols, woven within the Celtic style border.
****insert Celtic treasure map here****
“This is new,” he mused aloud as he studied the design.
The sound of the back door slamming echoed through the house a second later.
Samuel hurriedly rolled the scroll back up and placed it within the box, quickly returning it to its hiding place. His heart beat frantically as he slid the brick back into place. He could hear the footsteps of someone running up the stairs as he quickly returned the fireplace screen to its place in front of the fire, his mind racing as the threat of being caught loomed near. He dove under the bed just as Iain raced past the open door, gliding down the hallway.
Snap! Samuel winced in pain as something clamped down on his hand. He looked over at the source of his discomfort. His hand was inside some type of contraption that was squeezing down on his wrist. What the Hell?! Carefully, he worked his hand out, rubbing at the red welt that the bizarre snare had left behind.
“Found 'em!” Iain yelled as he ran back down the hallway with a jar of marbles that were scattering across the hall as he went, several rolled under the bed only inches from where Samuel’s face was pressed against the wooden floor. He just hoped the linens covered enough of the space to hide him.
Holding his breath as the boy crawled along the floor near the door, Samuel watched as the boy stopped and scooped up some of the wayward pieces. If Iain chanced to look under the bed, he would be caught red handed in more ways than one.
“Hurry up, or ye’ll miss your ride,” his mother yelled from downstairs. Samuel breathed a sigh of relief as the boy left the rest where they were and ran back down the stairs.
Sliding out from under the bed, Samuel quietly closed the door behind him as he snuck out into the hall. Hearing voices coming up the stairs he stopped in his tracks. . . . The ladies were coming up the stair. He looked to his left and then to his right. His own room was up a flight and down the hall in the other direction from the stair’s landing. If he could just make it. . . .
“I should t'hink t'hat it would be lovely,” Gurtie was saying as Samuel scrambled toward his door.
“Lovely?” Constance’s spoke as if insulted. “That’s the absolute last thing I want.”
There was no way he was going to make it Samuel realized as the ladies continued up the stair.
“Now why is t'hat? You could find yerself a nice husband from t'he ton and settle down nice and proper,” Gurtie said.
“A husband from the ton?” Constance’s voice raised slightly as she practically spat the words out. “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. There’s not one that can be trusted. I can’t wait for the day that I no longer have to go to these functions and pretend any affinity for them.”
Frantically Samuel backed away from the stairs. The last thing he needed was to be caught on the second floor near her bedroom. Stopping in front of the hall closet he prayed it wasn’t locked as he tried the door. Much to his relief, it opened. He darted inside and shut it just as the women reached the second floor. With his ear pressed to the wood panel he listened as they approached.
“I don’t t'hink it’s t'he worst idea at all,” Gurtie argued. “A wee babe of yer own would change yer mind I’m t'hinkin’.”
“A baby, yes, one day,” Constance conceded. “A husband, I suppose it’s a necessary evil. From the ton, never!” she added vehemently.
“Ye speak as if they’re evil spirits from t’he Otherside,” Gurtie chuckled as they entered Constance’s bedroom. “Many a fili would long te be among t’hem , but not our Connie. You equate the likes of t’hem with the Fomorii or worse.”
Samuel breathed a sigh of relief when they passed and the hall became quiet once again. He was just about to open the door a slit when it was suddenly jerked open. His eyes flared as the owlish maid Betsy blinked up at him. A smug smile spread across her features as she stepped inside with him, closing the door behind her.
Samuel jumped back into a pile of linens as she placed her hands on his chest and started undoing buttons.
“Mr. 'Iggins,” she breathed.
“Dear God in heaven,” Samuel begged as he chased her hands.
“Oh, but heaven 'waits,” she sighed, obviously mistaking his plea as she ran her hands into his hair.
He could feel the wig give way and desperately tried to right it. In the unguarded moment she reached lower. He yelped.
“What on eart'h is t'hat commotion?” Gurtie asked, looking out the door to where the distinct sounds of thumping and banging could be heard.
Curious, Constance joined her. They both stood gazing down the hall as the closet door burst open and a very disheveled Higgins staggered out, followed by Betsy.
“Hmm, hmm,” he cleared his throat as he looked at their surprised faces. “Ladies,” he dipped his head in acknowledgment as he turned away, his wig and jacket askew. Slipping on a few marbles, he skittered across the floor, his arms flailing before he regained his balance. They watched his retreat up the stairs to the safety of his quarters with suppressed laughter glittering in their eyes at the sight.
“Seems our Mr. 'Iiggins got more t'han he bargained for,” Gurtie chuckled when he disappeared around the corner. Constance stood with her hand to her mouth for a moment before she too started giggling.
Betsy joined them a moment later with a grin of satisfaction across her face. Straightening her apron she brushed her hands together. “T'hat’ll teach 'im te eavesdrop.”
“I don’t t'hink 'e’ll go anywhere near t'he linen closet again,” Gurtie howled with laughter wiping a tear from her eye.
“I hope you weren’t discussin' anyt'hin' of importance,” Betsy lowered her voice.
“Only why I won’t have anything to do with men of the ton,” Constance shrugged.
Thank you for reading this excerpt from Treasure of the Emerald Isles. I’m hoping to have the rest of the book available in December of this year.
To start at the beginning of the adventure in this series Treasure of Egypt is available now. Just click on the image to start this journey to view on Amazon US.