No doubt making for Gretna Green. All talk stopped. No papers rustled; no glasses moved. It was almost midnight and the club was full. Every man in the vicinity appeared to be frozen in his chair as he strained mightily to eavesdrop on the conversation taking place in front of the fire. With a sigh, Arthur folded his newspaper, set it aside and took a swallow of his port.
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Or was he? She searched his face, but she could not be certain. She was growing more confused by the moment. I believed you to be far too honorable to try that trick.
She could not figure out what he was about. Voices sounded in the hall. A fresh wave of panic roiled through her. Margaret and Bennett had arrived. She looked around wildly, seeking escape. Perhaps she could slip out the window into the garden. But then how would she get back inside the house? What are we to do? Although I am not at all sure that you deserve it, I will save you from the embarrassment of being caught in such an extremely compromising position. He shoved the used handkerchief out of sight beneath the folds.
Then he scooped up her costume and draped it over her shoulders. Taking a firm grasp on her arm, he urged her toward the spiral staircase. She frowned at the balcony that rimmed the library. I had almost forgotten about it until I realized that it is where Ibbitts must have hidden when he eavesdropped on our conversations. It is just that, well, I have never had occasion to make use of a secret doorway.
You have battered my delicate sensibilities quite enough for one night. Elenora watched, fascinated, as the entire section of shelving slid aside to reveal a darkened linen closet.
I suggest you make haste before Margaret finishes saying good night to Bennett and makes her way upstairs. He turned coolly thoughtful. I shall ask him to help me keep an eye on you and Margaret. Next time I promise to do my utmost to provide you with a more stimulating experience. High time she accepted the blame for toying with his emotions, he thought cheerfully. Meanwhile, he now had not one but two murders to solve.
At the foot of the staircase he remembered to shove his fingers through his hair, raking it back from his forehead into some semblance of neatness. A quick check of his appearance in the octagonal mirror beside the door assured him that he looked like a man who had been relaxing in the privacy of his library after a busy night on the town.
He surveyed the room. He opened the door and went down the corridor, taking his time and making enough noise to ensure that Margaret and Bennett had ample notice of his impending arrival. The murmur of low voices stopped when he walked into the front hall.
Margaret and Bennett were standing very close together. The air of intimacy that surrounded them was unmistakable. They both looked at him. Bennett wore a bedazzled expression. Arthur ignored her and looked at Bennett.
Will you join me? You are not going to embarrass me by asking him to declare his intentions, are you? If so, I would remind you that I am a widow, not a green girl. My personal life is my own. What the devil is the world coming to, Fleming? At this rate the ladies will soon have no more need of us poor males. Merryn and I are old friends, remember? I have no objection whatsoever to joining him for a brandy in his library. But promise me that you will not allow him to coerce you into making any statements or promises that you do not wish to make.
I am quite capable of dealing with this matter. Arthur motioned Bennett down the hall toward the library. You only purchase the best. I asked you in here this evening because I have something of great importance to discuss with you. I assure you, they are entirely honorable.
Good lord, man, that is the least of my concerns. You are one of the most honorable men I have ever known in my entire life. He handed one to Bennett. I did not think that I would ever meet another woman I could love after I lost Elizabeth.
It is not often that life gives us a second chance, is it? You read novels and Margaret writes them. What could be more ideal? Margaret Mallory. He broke off at the sight of a narrow strip of pale blue ribbon lying on the carpet near the sofa. It was one of the blue satin garters Elenora had used to secure her stockings. He stood quickly Bennett frowned. What I wish to discuss with you is the status of my inquiries.
There has been another murder. His heavy brows came together in a bushy line above his nose. Using the toe of his boot, he nudged the garter out of sight under the sofa. It was still visible if one knew where to look, but it was unlikely that Bennett would get down on his hands and knees to survey the carpet for signs of recent debauchery. Satisfied that he had done all he could to conceal the evidence, Arthur continued back to his chair. I am going to need your help, Fleming.
She stuffed the gown and costume out of sight in the wardrobe, seized her wrapper and pulled it snugly around herself. She yanked the pins from her hair, plopped a white cap on her head and removed her earrings. A glance in the mirror assured her that she looked like a woman who had just been summoned from her bed.
She opened the door, hoping that Margaret would not notice that she was breathing rather quickly for someone who had been asleep. But Margaret did not look as though she was in a mood to pay attention to extraneous details. She radiated anxiety. He has taken Bennett into his library for a private conversation. Perhaps you had better sit down. Bennett left, a man committed to a noble cause, some thirty minutes later.
Arthur saw him out the door and locked it behind him. He turned down the lamps in the front hall and made his way back to the library. Inside the long chamber, he went to the sofa, crouched on one knee and reached for the blue garter. He picked up the damning bit of ribbon and got to his feet. For a moment he studied the garter coiled in the palm of his hand. It was delicate and enticingly feminine. He could feel himself getting aroused all over again, just looking at the thing.
He would never walk into this room again without remembering what had happened here this evening, he reflected. Making love to Elenora had wrought some change in him that he could not yet describe, but he knew that it had affected him very deeply. Whatever happened in the future, he would never be the same man that he had been before this night.
Even then she hesitated and considered requesting that a tray be brought to her bedchamber. But in the end, she opened the door and marched determinedly out into the hall. Eating in her room in order to avoid having to confront Arthur would have been cowardly in the extreme.
She was surprised to find herself feeling quite fit. She had expected to spend a restless night, but to her amazement she had slept soundly.
That was fortunate, she told herself as she reached the bottom of the staircase. At least her eyes were not puffy and red and her skin was not dull from lack of proper sleep. She had selected a green muslin gown and a white ruff to wear for this first encounter with Arthur.
She felt that the vivid color made her appear somehow more confident and sure of herself. She needed every ounce of self-possession she could muster. What did one say to a gentleman the morning after making mad, passionate love to him in his library?
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