In the semi-darkness, Simon couldn’t make out the figures, but there seemed to be plenty of action behind the saloon doors. He stood on alert, straining to hear the words. Deciding he would have to move closer, he stayed in the shadows of the buildings, and steadily made his way to the voices. No matter how interesting the youth or how much he wanted to pursue that mystery, he couldn’t lose sight of why he was in town—to check on Gregory Weldon and follow the trail of counterfeit money that seemed to surface in Hobart.
“Told you before, you whelp, no matter how much money you bring to the table, it’s not going to be enough. Now, scat.”
“I need that information, Mr. Weldon.”
Simon’s brows snapped together. He knew that husky voice. Great, they were tangled together, the youth and his number one suspect. The youth’s bravado made Simon break out in a sweat. He, or as he strongly suspected, she, was no match for the man confronting her. Weldon’s voice, if that was who was speaking, was deep and rough, sounding as if it belonged to a much older man.
“I told you I would pay anything for it.” Now Simon’s ears pricked up for an entirely different reason. Those were the words of a desperate person. Perhaps they really were tied together! That’s what he was here to find out. He pushed away any preconceived notion he might have had that the youth was innocent. He knew that neither age nor gender would have anything to do with a person’s acts.
Not a full moment later, there was a scuffle, and then the youth was practically thrust through the saloon doors. He stumbled, but before he could recover his balance, Simon came up behind him from the shadows and covered his mouth, grabbed him by the arm, and dragged him around the side of the building. The youth struggled to gain foothold on the walk.
Definitely a female, Simon thought, grinning to himself. No self respecting boy would fight that way. He locked one of his arms around both of hers, just below her elbows to still her. She still tried to kick him, but with his feet braced wide, she had a difficult time finding a target. “Hold still,” he whispered into her ear when it was close enough. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She slowed her thrashing but still struggled against him. When he made no untoward move, she stilled, looking at him warily from the corner of her eye. He could hardly blame her for that.
“I overheard you out there, and I have some questions.” He spoke softly so that his voice wouldn’t carry. She pulled against him, but he held her easily. “It sounds as if you’re in trouble. Are you?” When she made no response, he gave her a little shake. “Are you?”
Finally, she shrugged her shoulders.
He bit back a grin. Stubborn thing. “Perhaps we can help each other out.”
She stiffened in his arms, then started to thrash about, nearly slipping through his hands. He tightened his grip and brought her back hard against his chest. “Just listen before you make any decision.” There was no response. “Will you do that much?”
At least he got a very reluctant nod that time.
“Fine. Now, I’m going to remove my hand, but I expect you not to scream. Got it?” Again, a hesitant nod. “Now you can lead me somewhere where we can talk.”
Slowly, he removed his hand and she looked at him warily, but she didn’t scream.
“How do you know I won’t lead you somewhere you can be killed?” her voice whispered in the dark.
Simon lowered his hands. There was always that possibility. “I trust you,” he said. “All I want is to talk, and from something you said, I think you can help me. We can help each other,” he amended at her cautious look.
He hadn’t been an operative for this many years and not learned to be aware of his surroundings, yet there didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary as she led him down the alley he had pulled them into. Still, he had one hand close to the gun in his belt.
“I wondered if you have any news of your brother. Surely he would have sent word by now.”
She gave him a tired grin. “Obviously, you do not know Collin all that well if you believe that.” She took a sip of her tea. Real tea. Something she had not had in years. She closed her eyes for a moment to savor the taste. It was much richer than anything she could recall.
He watched her drinking and her reactions. “Is there something wrong with the tea?”
Her eyes snapped open. “Heavens, no! It’s lovely.” She gave him a reserved smile. “Was there anything else, my lord?” That did not seem much of a reason. Still, she was glad for it had got them inside and this delightful tea.
“I had not expected you to leave your home so quickly.”
“It seemed the best thing to do, my lord. I have not heard from Samuel, so I can only assume that Lord Hawke has taken possession.”
“He has. I am puzzled about something. He seems to think that Collin is in possession of some items.”
Jane set her tea carefully on the table. “I did not remove anything of import,” she said thinking guiltily of Evangeline’s doll.
“May I have another cake, Jane,” one of twins interrupted in a whisper, at least he assumed it was to be a whisper, it was rather loud.
Jane looked at the plate in front of them. She could see why her sister was tempted. She was herself. With true regret, she gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. She had to remember why they were here.
“Please, Jane.” That came from the other twin.
Before she could answer this time, Brayden did. “Of course you may,” he told them. Turning to Jane he said, “It is far enough to dinner that it will not spoil their appetite.”
Jane couldn’t even answer. She was sure of that! It also served as a reminder of why she was here. She sat up a bit straighter in the chair and placed her cup on the table. “I have some business I would like to discuss with you, my lord.”
Now that was intriguing. “If you think we can trust the moppets with the rest of the cakes, we can go to my study.”
She raised stricken eyes to his. She had not wanted them to take more, and certainly she needed him to think well of them. “They will not touch any others,” she assured him, and stood.
“It was a jest,” he said, standing also, and guiding her to the room across the hall. He couldn’t help but notice that she did not smile in return. Whatever was bothering her was weighing heavily indeed.
Ushering her into the room, he gave her a seat in front of his desk. Rather than sitting behind it, he hitched one hip on the edge, so that he was fairly close to her. He noticed her rough hands again as she twisted them together.
“Come,” he told her. “It can’t be that bad. What can I do for you?”
Pulling on her gloves, she moved closer to the door to where she could hear Thomas' voice.
From his deferential tone, it most likely was not Sebastian.
Her father arrived at the door ahead of her.
"Sherrington," she heard her father greet the man.
If she were certain that she had not been seen her she would retreat. The man had nothing to recommend him to her. Their initial meeting in the woods certainly did nothing to endear him.
By the time she exited the house, Sebastian, also dressed for traveling, stood next to her father. While her father stood relaxed, Sebastian stayed slightly behind him, legs wide, arms crossed over his chest. Turning to face the earl, she found him studying her! She felt the back of her neck heat and raised her chin a notch.
"It appears that I have come at a bad time," the earl said. Looking at Amelia, and then back to Michael he said, "You are taking your daughter into Town, then?" There was an unmistakable note of surprise in the man's voice.
"Of course! The change of scenery will do us all good."The earl had dismounted as Michael spoke. Now he stood closer to the man, appearing to confide in him, yet his voice carried easily on the morning air.
"She does resemble you, Stretton, but I cannot imagine - even with your status - that a natural daughter will be welcomed. Some circles may pretend to accept her, but..." he let his words trail.
Now Amelia wished she had told her father what the earl said on his last visit. She didn't have to look, but could feel both men still and quiet next to her. A snake seeking his prey made more noise. Her father moved first, calmly turning his attention back to pulling on his gloves. He did not look at the earl. "I will accept your apologies now, Sherrington." His voice was clipped and curt, but appeared to hold no anger.
The earl looked genuinely perplexed.
"I find I am growing short on patience," Michael said. Sherrington gave him the briefest of bows and offered the apology. Neither action seemed sincere.
"I do not need to explain things to you. But, I will tell you that Amelia is my daughter. My legitimate daughter. I will excuse your ignorance since you are new to the area and to the title, but I assure you, Sherrington, if it ever comes to my attention as otherwise I will seek you out. Do you understand me?"
Amelia could feel the heat emanating from Sebastian, he stood so close behind her. He said not a word. What would he think? The entire scene had been mortifying. Briefly she wondered if it would have played any differently if she had told her father about the earl's previous visit; she suspected not. Whatever could the earl be about? He had absolutely no reason to think otherwise of her father. All that she could tell was that he had seriously angered her father.
She shuddered as she seated herself in the carriage. She had never heard her father use that tone of voice. Of course, she doubted that he had ever been insulted to the point he had been, at least not in her presence. She made no mistake in believing that the insult was directed more to her father than herself.