When butler Daniel Rivers finds his employer, the Earl of Lynster, has shot himself rather than be arrested for treason, his first thought is to protect James, the new Lord Lynster, a man he’s secretly been in love with for years, even if it means letting suspicion fall on himself. James, the new Lord Lynster, knows the Crown suspects him of being a part of his father’s plot. At least he has his old friend Daniel to help.
Copyright © 2017 Adella J. Harris
About the Author
_This publication has it on good authority that there are traitors in the highest levels of society. It has come to our attention that even now, the Crown and its officers are preparing to bring the three traitor lords to justice and stop their nefarious plot to kill our gracious king. _
James had only read the first few sentences of the article, but he left the newspaper in the carriage and got out as soon as it stopped in front of his father’s townhouse. The pair hadn’t spoken since his sister’s wedding over a year ago, and both preferred it that way. But recently James had started to wonder if the current silence between them was more than their usual estrangement. The less careful newspapers had been writing about a group they called the traitor lords for months now—a group of titled men who were plotting to assassinate the king, and now the rumors were starting to spread to the more mainstream papers. James would have ignored that gossip entirely had it not been for some very odd questions he’d gotten from his father’s solicitor.
And then the visits started. He had been visited by agents of the Crown more times than he cared to remember in the past few weeks, and from the questions he’d been asked, he suspected his father was one of the traitors, although why Father would be a part of something like that was a mystery to him. Father was the farthest thing from a reformer and, if anything, thought the titled should hold more power, not less. He’d have gone back to the feudal system if he could, and King John was probably a personal hero. And yet, there were too many odd things said, too many questions being asked that showed a bit too much information about the family. And now this news that they were closing in on the traitors, and in a respectable publication.
James ran up the stairs to the townhouse. If he was right, he knew what he would find. He wished there were someone else to do this, but he was the oldest. He certainly couldn’t send his sister in any case, not in her condition. His brother-in-law might have been persuaded to handle the matter if there were a pressing need, say if he’d been called away by estate matters, but he couldn’t ask Lord Gatwell to take on a task like this simply because he didn’t want to. Not when he was soon to be the head of the family. And if his suspicions were correct, he had probably been the Earl of Lynster and therefore head of the family for several hours now, and it was most definitely his duty to check. He rapped sharply on the door.
Much to James’s surprise, the door opened almost at once. “My lord. A pleasure as always.” It was Daniel Rivers, the butler, and absolutely the best person he could have hoped to find on the other side of the door. They had known each other ever since Daniel had been an eight-year-old hallboy on the estate when James was six, and they had maintained a sort of friendship ever since, even if he’d barely seen the man during the estrangement from his father. Truly there was no one he’d rather have by his side now, and no one he would trust more with whatever secrets they might find. The man already knew his deepest secret, and James had never worried that it would be revealed.
James removed his hat and coat and allowed Daniel to take them. “Good morning, Daniel. I wanted to see if my father… I mean there was something in the newspaper…” He wished he’d brought it with him to show Daniel, so he wouldn’t have to explain.
“The Gazette or the Tattler? Both had—interesting articles last evening. I believe your father brought both home with him.”
“And you saw the articles?”
James tried to think how to ask the next question. He was still worrying over it when Daniel gently took control.
“Would my lord like a drink, or shall we proceed directly to the study?”
So Daniel suspected the same thing. “He didn’t drag you into it, did he?”
“No, my lord, but all of the staff have been questioned repeatedly on our days off and have been instructed not to tell him about it. Three maids and two footmen have resigned in the last month alone. And while they were instructed not to tell him anything, they were not given the same instructions with regard to me.”
“So you know all about the questioning.”
“I’m afraid so. It is most unfortunate. I told all of them to avoid purchasing or bringing home any pamphlets regarding any of the protests that have been occurring, just in case.”
“I hope they listened. We’d best go have a look.”
Everything seemed better with Daniel walking beside him. Daniel had always been the one he went to when Father had been cruel, and he’d been the one to tell James about his mother’s illness and when he could visit without Father being at home, and he’d been the one James had asked to keep him informed of Connie’s suitors so he could be certain Father wasn’t marrying her off to some brute with power. Daniel was the one person he trusted completely. The man was completely loyal, although it had never occurred to James to wonder why until this moment. Certainly not because of his father—Daniel had disliked him as much as James had, and yet he’d stayed, all these years.
And then they were at the study door, and James was dreading opening it, as he normally did, although this time not because he expected his father’s wrath. Daniel stepped forward and turned the handle as he always did, letting James concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other through the door into whatever horror awaited him.
He had expected more blood. That was his first thought. He wondered if Father had planned it. Most likely not. He wasn’t the sort to care about who would find the body or the servants who would have to clean up. Oddly, it was the least terrifying confrontation with his father in this room he could remember. Most ended with Father yelling at him or telling him to bend over and take six of his best. Father wouldn’t be doing either now.
James approached the desk and leaned over the form slumped on top of it. He didn’t need to look too closely to see that it was Father, although part of his head was covered with what looked like the blanket from the settee. To muffle the sound of the shot, perhaps, so the staff wouldn’t come running. There was a dueling pistol in his right hand. James located the other on the edge of the desk, still in the box they were kept in. He made himself touch one hand with the tip of his finger. Cold and stiff.
“Daniel, Father’s had an accident with his dueling pistol. Please send someone for Mr. Cuthbert and Mr. Sedmon. And a doctor, I suppose.” Although it was clearly too late for that. The vicar and the solicitor would be of more use.
“Right away, my lord.”
James didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to touch anything else, but was he supposed to? To go through the desk for papers perhaps? He didn’t know. He went to stand by the door. At least he wouldn’t disturb anything there. Unless he was supposed to disturb things.
He was still standing there when Daniel returned. “I sent a footman for Mr. Sedmon and Mr. Cuthbert in that order, and a second to Lord Gatwell.”
Telling Connie. He hadn’t thought of that, but somehow he’d thought he’d have to do it. But Lord Gatwell could tell his wife just as well. “Thank you, Daniel.” He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. Telling Connie. What else had he forgotten?
“And I brought you a drink, my lord. A little Scotch and a fair bit of soda.”
James took the offered glass and took a long sip. It helped steady his nerves, but from the amount of soda he detected, he suspected that was all in his head.
“And this, my lord.”
He felt something sticky being pressed into his hand. A marzipan sweet, this one a simple circle with an almond stuck to the top with honey. His favorite treat. When he’d been a boy, Daniel would slip him one after particularly bad incidents with his father. During the particularly bad years at school, when he’d had no friends and thought everyone suspected the truth about him, Daniel had given him marzipan sweets when he’d come home for holidays and would hide small boxes of them in his trunk when it was time to leave. It wasn’t until years later that he’d realized Daniel must have spent most of his pocket money on the treats for him. His eyes felt warm and moist for the first time that morning. “Thank you, Daniel.”
“You’re welcome, my lord.” Daniel rubbed James’s shoulder gently.
The bell in main hallway jangled. “It seems Mr. Sedmon was prepared for something to occur. If you will excuse me, my lord.”
James stayed by the door to the study and waited. It wasn’t long before he heard Daniel’s calm steps followed by the brisk ones that belonged to Mr. Sedmon. James gulped down the rest of the Scotch Daniel had brought so Sedmon wouldn’t know he’d been drinking before breakfast, took a nibble of the marzipan, and then slipped the rest of the treat into his handkerchief.
Mr. Sedmon was a small man of indeterminate age. He was wearing his usual sombre grey suit and had a notebook in his hand. “Good morning, my lord. I’m told there was an incident.”
“There was. He’s in here.”
Mr. Sedmon nodded and entered the room. He walked over to the desk and looked at the scene, walked slowly round it once, then came back to the door.
“Did anyone hear the shot?”
“I haven’t asked the staff yet. I haven’t told them yet, although they’ve probably heard something by now.”
“I would suppose the footmen let it be known downstairs before they went to deliver the messages. I’m afraid it is unlikely that they heard the shot, however.” Daniel bowed slightly as they both turned to look at him.
Mr. Sedmon raised an eyebrow. “And you believe this because?”
“Last night, there was a panoramic exhibit on our great victory at the Battle of Trafalgar with refreshments afterward, which I thought would be educational for the younger members of the staff. And as I did not feel it prudent to send them out alone, I asked his lordship if I might give the whole staff a few hours off to take in the exhibit after dinner.”
“And the refreshments,” Mr. Sedmon said with almost a smile.
“As it were, sir.”
“And Father gave permission?” That didn’t sound like him.
“When I asked, he said, ‘Yes, yes, whatever, Rivers,’ without looking up from his newspaper. As I did not wish to disturb him, I did not press but took it as permission.”
“So no one else was in the house last night?”
“I stayed behind in case he needed anything and to let the others in when they returned.”
“And you didn’t hear a shot?”
“No, sir. If I had, naturally I would have been obligated to rush upstairs and see if medical assistance would save him.”
“Naturally. So why do you think you didn’t hear it?”
“I dozed a bit around nine thirty. Perhaps it happened then.”
“Perhaps.” Mr. Sedmon turned back to James. “You’re lucky about that, you know. If he’d survived and been found guilty, the Crown would have been within their rights to take the title, the property, the bank accounts, everything from him, leaving you with nothing to inherit.”
James wondered if Daniel had been aware of that. Most likely he had.
“And this is how you found him?” Mr. Sedmon walked slowly around the room.
“Correct. I didn’t touch anything, but he clearly had an accident with his dueling pistol.” Clearly, he had not, but it was the best story that could be derived from the evidence at hand.
“Clearly.” Mr. Sedmon sighed. “I suppose I should have expected something like this. From the questions they asked me the last time they called, I knew they were close. But that article in the newspaper must have confirmed it for him.”
“I suppose he’s lucky they let it be written.”
“I suppose, but the writer isn’t. From what I’ve managed to ascertain this morning, there wasn’t supposed to be an official confirmation until they were all in custody, but they don’t know who let the press find out how close they were to apprehending them.”
“Do you know who the others were?”
Sedmon looked up. “You really don’t know anything?”
James shook his head.
“I suppose it won’t go badly for you if I tell you then. But if they ask how you know, don’t hesitate to say it was from me. The three Traitor Lords, as the press has named them. Your father was one—that seems obvious now. According to my footman, who heard it from the cook, who heard it from the lad who delivers the eggs and also delivers them in parts of Mayfair, Lord Burfield was apprehended at his house in Ryder Street early this morning. I think he wanted to be arrested, as he didn’t try to run. Lord Martford and his oldest son ran last night and haven’t been found yet. So apparently there were actually four of them. Unless some of the other sons prove to have been involved.”
“I wasn’t,” James said to be certain Sedmon knew.
“What do you know of your father’s plan?”
“Nothing, as I have said repeatedly this morning.” Sedmon at least should have been on his side.
“I did not mean it like that, my lord. I meant as a general question. Have you read the newspaper accounts, for example?”
James knew he’d overreacted, but Mr. Sedmon seemed to be ignoring the outburst. He probably assumed James was overwrought with the morning’s events, and he wouldn’t be wrong, and it wasn’t even noon yet. “I haven’t been reading the newspapers very closely, not much beyond the first paragraphs on the traitor lords stories. It makes me think what fools they all were, and I did keep hoping maybe he wasn’t involved.”
“Understandable, to be sure. I suppose the simplest explanation is that they intended to kill the king and prince regent and frame several of the groups calling for reforms which have sprung up lately. Their thinking—if one can call it thinking—appears to have been that the government would then be forced to deal more harshly with such groups and prevent a revolution in England like that in France.”
“Is that even logical?”
Sedmon sighed. “Not when Lord Burfield tells it. And several of the groups they intended to frame can’t stand each other and would probably have been turning each other in at the first opportunity. And then there is the swindle.”
“I’m afraid to ask.”
“As you should be. It’s a rumor, but it is widely believed that, rather than fund this objective with their own money, the traitor lords orchestrated several stock swindles, using their influence to cause shares they owned to become artificially inflated and then selling them before they crashed. As I said, not proven, but it is causing a great deal of personal ill will amongst many who might not have had much interest in the case beyond the chance at a public hanging.”
James groaned. “He’s left me an even bigger mess than I thought.”
“Small comfort, I’m sure, but at least he’s left you something. Lord Burfield’s heir will most likely lose the estate and title, as will Lord Martford’s, although the older son did run off with him so apparently was part of this. The younger is cleared, at least, as he’s been away at Oxford these last years.”
“You’re right, it’s small comfort.”
“But there are a few matters we ought to discuss.”
“Then we’d better get them over with.” Then maybe the day would begin to look better.
Sedmon glanced at Daniel. Daniel took the hint and bowed. “I will go and make certain the rest of the staff has been properly informed and that there is some breakfast prepared for you, my lord.”
James would have liked Daniel to stay so he would have at least one friend in the room, but Sedmon didn’t understand that Daniel was to be trusted, so he merely said, “Thank you, Rivers.”
When Daniel had left the room, Sedmon began. “Firstly, I must ask privately, as your solicitor—were you involved?”
Sedmon asked it with so little emotion that James couldn’t muster up much of his own this time. “Absolutely, definitely not. Father and I were barely on speaking terms. If I hadn’t been his sole male heir, we wouldn’t have been at all.”
“Very good. Then, as much as I hate to ask, is there anything in your life that may be used against you, either by the Crown or by the journalists that will no doubt be descending upon us like locusts?”
“Is this necessary?”
“I’m afraid so. The Crown will want to try someone, and that is the time when any little indiscretions come out.”
“I have a blameless life, sir.” He couldn’t possibly know about that, not when he never acted on it, at least not in any but the most discreet molly houses…
“Of course, it is simply that in times of trouble I find that some of my clients find themselves being asked to pay for various peccadillos, even those not of their making, for example, to keep a child of uncertain lineage from being produced in court. And if I am prepared in advance, I can be of more assistance.”
So not that then. “There is nothing like that in my past, Mr. Sedmon.” Then the rest of the statement registered in his mind. “In court? But Father is dead; there’s no one to put on trial.”
“I sincerely hope that is the case, my lord.”
“What do you mean you hope there’s no one to put on trial?”
Mr. Sedmon would not meet his eyes. “The Crown wanted to try a traitor to make an example of him. This traitor is no longer available to them. They may decide to look for a replacement. You inherited the title—you may also inherit the scandal.”
James groaned. “He never told me anything. Not only about this, about anything. I don’t even know where he kept the estate records. I assure you, I knew nothing about his plans.”
“But can you prove you knew nothing?”
James was saved from answering by Daniel opening the door and announcing, “Mr. Cuthbert, my lord. Peter is helping him with his coat. I’ll see there’s an extra place at breakfast.”
“Thank you, Daniel.” He turned to Mr. Sedmon. “I can’t keep the vicar waiting.”
“Of course not. I will get the will out of storage and make certain there isn’t anything that will be problematic for you.”
“I’ll show myself out. If I may, I will call on you later and tell you if I’ve learned anything about this situation.”
“I’d appreciate it.” James watched Mr. Sedmon disappear down the hallway. He could hear Mr. Cuthbert’s loud voice carrying along the hall as he spoke to the footman about the sad day and evils of money. James wished he still had the Scotch.
When Daniel was safely behind the closed door of the butler’s pantry off the dining room, he leaned against the counter and closed his eyes. He felt like he’d served a weeklong house party short-staffed, and breakfast hadn’t even been served yet. But the body had been found, and James hadn’t had too terrible a time of it, so that was one thing well done. He heard footsteps coming from the kitchen and busied himself with the breakfast service.
Mrs. Harrigut, the housekeeper, took one look at his face and nodded. “I take it it’s happened then. I wondered when you got rid of us all last night, not that I’d say that to anyone but you and Mrs. Patterson. I suppose it’s a relief really.”
“We did know it was inevitable.” He didn’t need to ask what they were referring to.
“How is the earl I suppose he is now, how is he bearing up?”
“Well enough. Mr. Sedmon was here, and Mr. Cuthbert is there now.”
“And he’ll most likely stay to breakfast. I’ll have Nora set a place for him. This was a respectable house when I came to work here, Mr. Rivers.”
“As it was when I came, Mrs. Harrigut. This is merely a smudge on an otherwise good name.”
“But what a smudge. But I suppose you would know, seeing how long you’ve been here.”
“Since I was a mere hallboy.”
Mrs. Harrigut nodded. “Indeed. And now we’ll have to figure out where to go next. It’s a sad state, Mr. Rivers.”
“I’m certain his lordship will do everything he can to help.”
“I’m sure he will, but how much good will references from the House of Lynster be at a time like this?”
Daniel was going to answer, although she was correct—references from the house of a traitor would not get them many positions at all—but Mrs. Harrigut’s expression changed. He held still and wasn’t surprised to hear her say, “Bessie, have you finished the fires?”
“Yes, Mrs. Harrigut, all but the one in the study. I didn’t like to… I mean…”
Daniel interrupted. “I don’t think a fire will be required in the study today. If it is, I’ll see to it myself.”
“Thank you, sir. I didn’t like to go in there, with, you know.”
“His lordship discussing matters with Mr. Cuthbert?” Daniel knew that wasn’t the real reason, but it spared the maid having to mention the body.
“Yes, sir, more or less.”
Mrs. Harrigut nodded to the staircase. “Go and see if Polly needs help with the breakfast things, and tell her to set a place for Mr. Cuthbert.”
“Yes, Mrs. Harrigut.” Bessie hurried for the staircase, obviously glad of a job that did not involve going near the room with the body of the old lord.
Mrs. Harrigut sighed. “I suppose we’d best begin planning for the mourning calls, although not a one of them will be sorry to see him go. Gossip calls is what they are.”
“I ordered the fabric for draping the mirrors last week. You’ll find it in my sitting room.”
“What would we do without you, Mr. Rivers? I’ll get the girls on it after breakfast.”
“And I’ll send the footmen to deal with the outside, and see what his lordship wishes for everything else.”
“At least we have a plan to deal with things. I’d best see how the breakfast is coming.”
Daniel nodded so she would leave then went back to slumping against the counter. He had known this was coming and had tried to plan as best he could, but some things could not be anticipated. Like the bits of charred paper he’d pulled from the hearth. Should they have been left to burn or not? Well, he could always burn them himself if he needed to. For now, they were safe in his bureau. There was no way to completely rescue James from Mr. Cuthbert, but the sooner he got breakfast laid out, the sooner he could provide a distraction. He pushed himself away from the counter and went to set out the silverware.
James had no idea why he always assumed clergymen could be expected to stay to a meal, but he did, and Cuthbert didn’t disappoint. Once Dr. Matthews had arrived and commandeered the study so Cuthbert could no longer stand in the doorway and wax sympathetic on how hard it must have been to find the body, James felt obligated to offer him a seat at the breakfast table, and Cuthbert spent the entire meal telling James how sorry he was about his father’s death and how he was certain that he would never have taken such a dark path if he hadn’t been influenced by evil men, which was further proof that honesty in all things was the best course of action. James resisted the compulsion to be completely honest and tell him his father very likely instigated the whole plot, and if he hadn’t, he had certainly influenced its direction. But that would bring shocked lectures, which always took Cuthbert longer to deliver than his pious ones, so James toyed with his eggs, and when the sausages were all gone, mostly into Cuthbert, it seemed safe to say, “I am so glad you came in my hour of need.” A lie if ever there was one—so much for the honesty lecture. “But I’m afraid I have so many people to notify, and the house must be put into mourning, and there are papers to go through…”
Cuthbert finally took the hint. “Then I will leave you to it. Please let me know when you would like to hold the funeral. I say, do you suppose he was cleaning the gun to use on the other traitor lords for pulling him into this mess?”
Obviously not, but whatever Cuthbert needed to tell himself to get through the service. “We’ll never know, will we?”
“One day we all will.” He gave a pious glance up, and James tried not to look like he wished Cuthbert were at the door already. “But as you say, you are busy. You have my deepest sympathies, my lord. Good morning.”
James bit his lip and schooled his face into a look of regret but didn’t say anything. The phrase “good morning” had suddenly struck him as a pun, and he was imagining the vicar wishing him “good mourning.” It wouldn’t do to laugh at something like that, though, not with the vicar right there, so he kept his face bland and walked Mr. Cuthbert to the door of the dining room, where Bessie was waiting to clear the table. She offered to fetch Mr. Cuthbert his hat and coat, and the vicar followed her to the front hall.
Once Cuthbert was out of the front hall and James heard the front door close, James went to the library and collapsed into the nearest armchair and started laughing. He was still laughing when Daniel came into the room. Daniel took one look at him and shut the door behind himself.
“I haven’t gone mad, Daniel, at least I don’t think so.”
“The strain, my lord, it can be trying.”
“It sounds strange hearing you call me ‘my lord,’ but that wasn’t it. Just that Cuthbert said, ‘Good morning,’ and I heard it as a pun.”
Daniel grinned. “I suppose it could be taken that way.”
Daniel always did get his humor. “We’re still friends, aren’t we, Daniel?”
“Of course we are, my lord. But you are the earl now.”
“So no more James and Daniel.”
“It wouldn’t be proper in public, my lord.” Daniel grinned the way he had when they were boys running around the estate together. “But privately, I would not object, James.”
James grinned back. “Good. I think I will go mad if I don’t have one ally in all of this. What do I do now? That’s the question.”
“Funeral arrangements. Is someone coming to see to the body?”
“Dr. Matthews sent for someone. He told me the name, but I told him to get whoever he thought was good. Then there are Father’s papers. The Crown will want them, no doubt.”
“No doubt, my lord. James.”
“I’d better have a look at them first, just to see what I’m up against. Sedmon thinks the Crown will want to put someone on trial, and I might be a likely choice.”
“They wouldn’t.” Daniel sounded properly shocked.
“I hope not. There isn’t any gossip about me, is there?” He didn’t have to tell Daniel what sort of gossip he was concerned about. Daniel had been the first one to know about his inclinations.
“None that I am aware of, and I do try to listen to the house gossip, although clubs are outside of my purview. I will try, though. I could use the excuse of looking for a new position to find the gossip in other households. There will be servants coming along with their masters to pay condolence calls. Coachmen always appreciate a cup of ale.”
“You’ll probably have to buy some more ale then. I might as well get the papers looked at. Would you come? You’re the only one I trust to help.”
“Of course, James.”
Hearing his first name from Daniel’s lips seemed to make it all a bit better.
James led the way back to the study. The body was still there. Somehow he couldn’t think of him as “Father,” but then it had been a long time since he’d been able to. He went to the desk and looked at the first drawer, the only one that had been spattered with blood. Best to get that one over with.
“Here, James.” Daniel held out a white handkerchief.
“Thank you.” It was less disturbing to open the drawer when he didn’t have to actually touch the blood. At least there hadn’t been more, which struck him as odd all over again. He looked up at Daniel, who was watching the closed door. “You arranged this, didn’t you?” James gestured to the clean floor under the desk, which he now remembered had been covered with a rug the last time he’d been in here. Now that he looked properly, several things were missing: the uncomfortable chair he’d had to sit in when he visited Father, the framed map of Rome from Father’s youth spent wenching his way around Tuscany to hear him tell it, the tapestry runner that had been under the lamp on the table. All things that would have been in a position to be spattered with blood when his father fired the shot.
“Not the shot, I assure you.”
“But the lack of blood. There should have been more blood.”
“Come on, Daniel, I’m in no mood for riddles.”
“No riddles, my lord. I merely did not wish to burden you with household matters. I did not want to make Bessie and Polly clean up the mess, so I hired some outside help. As I knew the circumstances of the death and that you would most likely be finding the body, I didn’t see any reason to make you stumble upon that scene either.”
“Two resurrection men who frequent St. George’s burial ground. I felt they would be happy for the money and not put out by the sight of quantities of blood.”
“And you prevented them attempting extortion by?”
“Posing as the one who fired the shot. They are convinced I will do the same to them if any word of their participation reaches the wrong ears.”
James laughed. “I’d forgotten you were so good at disguise. You could have been in the theater. I’m surprised you never tried.”
“I’m happy where I am.”
James was going to say more, when the door to the study opened and Mrs. Harrigut peered in. “I’m sorry to disturb you, my lord, but Lady Gatwell is here.”
“What?” James shoved the drawer closed without looking at the papers inside and hurried into the front hall.
Constance, Lady Gatwell, was being helped out of her pelisse by Polly. James ran over to her.
“Connie. Are you sure you should be here?”
Connie rolled her eyes at him. “I’m with child, darling, not ill. Although if you say I should avoid the scene of the actual…incident, I won’t object.”
“Of course you should. Come into the sitting room. What does Lord Gatwell think of you being here?”
Connie shrugged and followed him down the hall. “He knows I’ll be more agitated sitting at home and wondering than I will be here. Where did it happen?”
“The study. He was—um—cleaning his dueling pistols when the accident occurred.”
“At least he had the sense to give you an easy and obvious story. Although knowing Father, that was a happy accident and not planned at all.”
James nodded and gestured for her to take the largest armchair by the fire.
They both stopped talking when they heard the door open, but it was only Daniel coming in with a tray. “I thought you might like some tea, Lady Gatwell, and some raspberry tart.”
“My favorite. Thank you, Rivers.”
“Is there anything else?”
“No, Rivers, I’ll play mother.” Connie reached for the teapot without looking up.
“That will be all, Rivers.” He’d have to remember not to use Daniel’s first name in company—not that Connie was company, but she made for good practice.
“Very good, my lord, my lady.”
When Daniel had left, closing the door behind him, Connie handed over a cup of tea. “It must be quite a comfort having him here.”
“He’s very efficient. And thoughtful.” James leaned in. “It cannot go beyond this room, but Daniel actually found Father’s body last night, or I suppose it was really this morning. In any case, he arranged for a pair of resurrection men to come and clean up the scene before I found it.”
Connie helped herself to the largest piece of tart. “That was clever of him to get resurrection men. I would have gone for the butcher and had the gossip over the whole street before breakfast. But then he was always clever, and you two were always so close.”
James was surprised. He hadn’t thought of it that way. Daniel had simply been there, always, whenever he was needed. “I suppose we were when we were young.”
“And beyond.” Connie paused as if she were giving him a chance to say something more. When he didn’t, she went on. “Do you need help with the funeral arrangements?”
“Dr. Matthews suggested the funeral furnishers, and Mr. Cuthbert has offered to arrange everything with them, and I accepted the offer. It will look best if the funeral is sedate and pious.”
“Your final revenge on Father, eh? Well, considering what Mr. Cuthbert will consider a proper length for a sermon, I might allow myself to be persuaded that a woman in my condition shouldn’t attend.”
James groaned. “I wish I could make that excuse.”
“Would you want me to attend?”
He shook his head. “No reason for us both to suffer.”
“Is there anything I can do to help, as I’m getting out of the worst bit?”
James could tell by Connie’s tone that she wanted to be given something useful to do. He racked his brain for something. “Could you speak with Mrs. Harrigut and make certain she has everything she needs? I have no idea what one is supposed to do about maids and all that. And if you could go over the menus for the funeral with Mrs. Patterson. Approve whatever costs seem reasonable to you. I can have her call on you if that’s easier for you.”
“I can call here just as well. And I’d be happy to help with the arrangements however I can.”
James thought that should be more than enough to make her feel she was contributing. “I’ll let you know if there’s anything else, but unless you want Cuthbert asking you about every detail, it’s best to leave him to it. How is the nursery coming along?”
That had the desired effect, or at least Connie saw that he wanted to change the subject, and allowed it as he was the one who found the body, and James spent the rest of the visit pretending to be interested in Connie’s arrangements for what she was hoping would be Lord Gatwell’s heir until the funeral furnishers arrived. Cuthbert may have had several less than ideal qualities, but clearly, he was efficient. James told Connie to linger over her tea as long as she liked and went to deal with them, which he did by telling them to do more or less what they wanted. He went with them to the study to secure any papers that were in the desk, only to find Cuthbert’s efficiency had nothing on Daniel’s.
“I’ve taken the liberty of moving all the papers from the desk into the library, my lord, so you will not need to inconvenience the gentlemen at their work.”
“Thank you, Rivers.” He was so relieved he didn’t have to spend more time in the room with Father’s body that he barely caught himself before he said “Daniel,” but he did manage it. “Gentlemen, I will defer to your expertise in these matters.”
“Very good, my lord,” the gentleman with the discreet order book said as he ushered the other man inside. James retired to the library and the papers.
Daniel had placed the contents of each drawer in its own stack, so there was some order the mess he was confronted with, not that it was really a mess thanks to Daniel, but it was still more than he wanted to deal with at the moment. He’d gotten barely halfway through the first stack and found nothing more useful than a record of horses Father had bet on, when the door opened and Daniel came in. James put aside the papers he was looking at, which were three-year-old household accounts, and looked up, eager for the distraction, at least until Daniel started speaking.
“Mr. Rollins is here with Mrs. Rollins, my lord.”
“What? Why on earth are they here?” James didn’t know who he wanted to see less, Rollins or Rollins’s mother.
“A condolence call, I believe. News travels quickly, I’m afraid.”
“You mean gossip. I suppose I have no choice but to see them.”
“Not really, my lord. I’ve put them in the parlor. Polly and Bessie have finished there.”
James didn’t know what it was they needed to finish, but he was grateful to Daniel for having sorted it out. “I suppose you should bring some refreshments or something.”
“Very good, my lord.”
“Do I look like I’ve spent the day crawling through dusty papers?”
“You look fine, my lord.”
“Then I’d best get this over with. There’ll be more, won’t there?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And some will probably have daughters.” Unmarried daughters. And dodging their hints was the last thing he needed at the moment.
“It is likely, my lord.”
James sighed, resigned. “The parlor, you said?”
Daniel nodded and held the door for him.
When James arrived at the open parlor door, Rollins was pacing by the fireplace as his mother whispered loud enough to be heard in the hallway, “Do you think we’ll see him?”
“No idea, mother. You certain you want to?”
“That’s the point… Lord Lynster, we just heard the sad news.”
“Thank you,” James said even though he didn’t think he’d heard any condolences yet.
“Sorry, old fellow.” Rollins came over and patted him on the shoulder. James wasn’t entirely certain if that had been meant as an expression of condolence or an apology for having brought his mother.
“Thank you.” It was such a nice, all-purpose phrase. He’d never really appreciated it before.
“We were a little surprised to be shown into the parlor,” Mrs. Rollins said in a tone that would have told him she was hinting at something even if he hadn’t heard the previous conversation.
“I’m afraid the funeral furnishers are still at work in the study.” He was very tempted to make some comment on the state of the body or the room, but he held his tongue. If Mrs. Rollins fainted, he’d be obligated to let her stay until she recovered, and he had the feeling she would time her recovery to coincide with the funeral furnishers being done, even if that took a week.
“I see.” James wondered if it was his fancy or if Mrs. Rollins really sounded disappointed. Perhaps she had rushed over in hopes of being the first to see the scene, only to learn that she had come too soon.
“Probably wasn’t much to see anyway,” Rollins said in what James assumed was a tone meant to console his mother.
Everyone fell silent. James couldn’t think of a single thing to say to his guests, and they seemed unwilling to initiate conversation. Rollins was probably as uncomfortable as he was, particularly as Rollins’s normal line of conversation involved tales of his exploits with his latest paramour, not a good topic under the circumstances. Mrs. Rollins was probably hoping some bit of gossip would be spoken so she could bring it back to her friends, and not about her son’s paramours. When none was forthcoming, she asked, “And how is your sister?”
“Lady Gatwell is very well, thank you.” He noticed the alliteration—was it alliteration? He’d have to ask Daniel—and realized he’d have to find a better way to answer the question so he wouldn’t be tempted to smile at it.
“That’s good. I was concerned when she wasn’t here.”
“Oh no, she’s fine.” That was the last thing Connie needed, rumors that she was ill. “It’s just, in her condition, we all thought it best…” He trailed off, not sure how to go on.
“Her condition, of course. I had forgotten. One must be so careful, particularly as it’s the first.” She launched into a long dissertation on the difficulties of bringing heirs into the world, leaving Rollins looking a bit green and James wondering if he should blush or faint himself.
Mrs. Rollins was just hitting her stride when the door opened and Daniel came in. “I brought tea and some of Mrs. Patterson’s blueberry lemon cake.”
Rollins made a bit of a face, and Mrs. Rollins looked put out. Mrs. Patterson made excellent cakes, but Daniel knew full well neither of the Rollinses could stand lemon as they’d broken out in spots when they’d had the lemonade at some party he no longer remembered beyond how ridiculous they’d looked, although that might have been from the gin Fenning dropped in the pitcher as a joke. Either way, the almond cake he’d seen Daniel taking out of the breakfast room when Cuthbert arrived would have been a better choice, even if it was his favorite.
“And I believe Mr. Cuthbert is arriving shortly.”
So the cake had been deliberate, although James didn’t remember Cuthbert saying he was coming. But then after the day he’d had, anything could have slipped his mind.
“Cuthbert?” Rollins looked taken aback. “We wouldn’t want to bother you when you’ve got such…um…religious matters to discuss.”
Mrs. Rollins looked as if she were looking for any excuse to stay. When she couldn’t find one, she sighed and nodded. “If you are making arrangements for the service, we don’t want to be in your way.”
James grasped Mrs. Rollins’s hand and bowed over it. “Thank you so much for coming during this trying time.” He thought he was laying it on a bit thick, but she patted his hand.
“Of course, dear. If you need anything, I’d be more than happy to send Mrs. Shaw over to help you.”
Send her housekeeper, not help herself, not that he’d ask for either. “You’re too kind.”
“Sorry about everything, old chap.” Rollins patted him awkwardly on the shoulder then steered his mother towards the door.
James watched them go, half-convinced they’d turn around and come back, but Polly brought their coats, and they were soon out on the pavement. James slumped against the wall. “So now just Cuthbert to get through. When is he coming?”
“Well, my lord, it is possible I was mistaken.”
James burst out laughing. “That was a rescue mission?”
“I was beginning to get the impression that Mrs. Rollins intended to stay until the funeral furnishers finished with the study, so it seemed prudent.”
“And that could be days, and she would do that to get the first bit of gossip. What would I do without you?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, my lord, but I did have one suggestion.”
“Not for getting on without you, I hope.” The panic he felt at that seemed completely irrational.
“No, my lord. A general suggestion. As you are so busy with business matters and sorting out the estate, normally there would be someone to see to the guests. As Lady Gatwell is in no condition to receive callers, perhaps you could impose upon Mrs. Cuthbert to help you receive guests and entertain them while you are occupied with estate matters.”
Not that there were any estate matters yet. But it made a perfect excuse. “You’re brilliant, Daniel. And I’ll bet she would love nothing more than to play the hostess in a house like this, even with the hint of scandal. And tell Mrs. Harrigut I’ll give her a bonus for dealing with her.” He’d only met Mrs. Cuthbert twice, but from what he remembered, she was the sort to enjoy the novelty of a staff of servants to order around and take full advantage of it.
“I’m certain she will be happy to be of assistance.”
“Did Connie escape?”
“Only as far as the kitchen. She is visiting with Mrs. Patterson to discuss meal plans for the funeral. I assume you would like to see her when she’s finished?”
“Yes, she should hear about the Mrs. Cuthbert plan. She might think of something we haven’t. Show her into the sitting room when she’s finished with Mrs. Patterson and ask if she’d like to stay to dinner.” James went up to the sitting room to wait, which didn’t take very long at all. “Were you hiding in the kitchen all this time?”
“Hiding? Of course not. I had important business to discuss with Mrs. Patterson, and then I didn’t want to bother you when you had guests. I assumed you had important business to discuss with Rollins. Besides, she offered me tea and cake, and I really couldn’t say no to that.”
“You know perfectly well that Rollins has never discussed important business in his life. But Daniel has figured out how to handle condolence calls. I’m going to beg Mrs. Cuthbert for assistance.”
“That is brilliant, and considering my condition and your unmarried state, she will be thrilled to help. It’s a situation begging for gossip, even without Father’s stupidity.”
Something about the mention of his unmarried state annoyed James, but he wasn’t sure why. He knew he’d need to produce an heir at some point, and marriage was a requirement for that, but Connie went on before he could question it.
“Just warn Mrs. Patterson to have lots of cream cakes on hand. Mrs. Cuthbert has a passion for cream cakes. Tell Mrs. Patterson to buy them; Mrs. Cuthbert won’t know the difference. Really, it’s just the thing. Then your guests can give their condolences to you and move right on to the gossip as soon as you leave the room, and all perfectly proper as the vicar’s wife will be presiding. Why, if I were here to receive the calls, they’d have to wait until they were in their carriages to have a proper time ripping us apart.”
“I’m sure it won’t be as bad as all that.” Connie made it sound like he was being invaded by a series of wolf packs.
“You obviously don’t know the fine ladies of our acquaintance as well as I do. They’ll want to see how you’ve set the house up for mourning and criticize anything that is not up to their standard, then have a good gossip about why he did it, my condition, and your eligibility and suitability as a son-in-law. It will give them a marvelous day out.”
All topics James wanted nothing to do with. He changed the subject as quickly as he could. “How is Allister holding up?”
“Well, you know he never cared for Father, so this is something to be endured for my sake, I think. Or do you mean Lord Burfield babbling on about the conspiracy in the press? He won’t speak to me about any of that, and I don’t read the articles. Such a lot of rot. The man should keep his mouth shut, or at least have a care for his son, although I don’t think Lord Heathborough’s spoken to him since Lady Burfield died. And then there are reports every day of people spotting Lord Martford, but those have all been false. Allister tries to ignore all of it, but people who should know better keep asking about it. And I know Allister got a letter asking for a job from the Martford lad, the younger one, but he didn’t have anything he could offer, which is a pity really. I remember him as a very sweet boy, and I’m certain he had nothing to do with all of this.”
James tried to picture Lord Martford’s younger son. Edwin Gilford, that was the name. “He’s young, youngest of us I think, and still at university. He’ll get by. And so will we once this is sorted out.”
“I’m sure that will put Allister’s mind at ease. I think he felt rather bad about it. How are the funeral furnishers getting on?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve just left them to it. I assume they know their business.”
Connie nodded. “Would you like me to check on them?”
James shook his head. “I think Daniel has been, and he’ll do a better job of being certain I’m not being taken advantage of than either of us could.” The funeral was another topic he was rapidly becoming tired of, so he tried another change of subject. “Will you stay to dinner?”
“Is that a hint to be rid of me? Not that it matters. I need to go home before Allister starts to worry. And he does worry. It would be sweet if it weren’t so annoying.”
“Better than the alternative, I suppose.”
“I’ll walk you to the door.”
“You think I can’t find it myself?” But she accepted his arm and went with him into the hall. “Is there anything else you need me for?”
“Not unless you want to dig through Father’s dusty old papers looking for his will and any estate records.”
“As I highly doubt you’ll find anything exciting like lost treasure or forgotten heirs, I think I’ll leave that to you.”
James smiled. “Then safe journey.”
“I’m only going to Berkeley Square.” Connie bounced up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “Send word if you need anything, from me or Allister. And don’t work too hard.”
James watched from the window so he could wave to Connie as her carriage disappeared into the traffic of the street, just as they had when they’d been children, although then he was usually the one leaving for school while she stayed behind; then he went back to the library to begin searching through papers. He kept at it, finding nothing of any real use, until Daniel came in.
“Dinner is almost ready, my lord.”
James tossed the contract for a ten-year-old coal delivery on the stack of useless papers. “Then I may as well leave the rest until the morning.” He untwisted himself from his spot on the floor, only to find his left foot had lost feeling.
Daniel came to offer him a hand up. “Will you be returning to your townhouse tonight, my lord, or would you like me to have a room made up for you here?”
“I suppose it would be convenient to stay here and be on hand for whatever arrangements need to be made. And my townhouse is in a bit of muddle. I have to find a new butler.”
“The last did not suit?”
James leaned against the desk and stomped his foot on the floor to try and get enough feeling back to be able to walk. “Oh, he suited just fine. It was my plan that didn’t suit. I tried paying an outrageous sum to attract the best, and the fellow saved it up and left me to open an inn.”
“How much did you offer?”
“Two hundred pounds a year.”
“Gracious.” Daniel sounded truly shocked. “That’s at least double the normal rate.”
“I wanted quality.”
Daniel brought a chair over for James to lean on while he waited to be able to put weight on his foot. “Has it ever occurred to you, my lord, that you have too high a standard?”
“You should be the last to complain about high standards.”
“But I fear you are turning away many fine stallions in your quest for a unicorn.”
Oddly enough, that analogy seemed to apply to more than one area of his life. “What if I’ve seen a unicorn?”
Daniel smiled. “Then maybe you should have caught it when you had the chance.”
James chuckled. “I suppose so. Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Daniel, why have I never thought of hiring you away from Father?”
“I’m sure I have no idea, my lord.”
“Would you consider it now?”
“I hardly know, my lord. As your father is in no position to continue my employment…”
“I’ll double your salary to start.”
“Really, my lord, that would not be necessary. I do need to consider a bit.”
James had been so caught up in the idea of having Daniel around all the time, he’d never thought the butler might have other plans. But now that he’d started to think, he noticed how formal Daniel had become all of a sudden. Perhaps Daniel had already made other arrangements. Or perhaps he wasn’t sure he wanted to work for James. That was a worrisome thought. “Of course you need to think. I’m rushing things. But it is a serious offer, and I really would double your salary.”
“It’s most kind. And I assure you I will not leave while this house is in disarray.”
“You’ve no idea what a comfort that it. I’ll just go wash up a bit and go to the dining room. No point in dressing when it’s only me.”
“I’ll send up some hot water.” Daniel bowed.
James watched Daniel leave and wondered what he could offer to convince him to stay. Now that the idea was in his head, he was quite certain Daniel’s continued employment in his household was essential to his happiness.
It was nearing midnight when Daniel was finally able to go upstairs. After he’d checked the work of the footmen and made certain they understood the importance of keeping their mouths shut around Mrs. Cuthbert (something that had been surprisingly easy to impart after Peter had said, “You mean that old busybody’s coming around? She’ll tell everyone every time you…” Daniel had cut him off at that moment, as Polly and Nora had come into the servants’ sitting room), he’d met with Mrs. Harrigut and Mrs. Patterson to discuss what else would be needed before the funeral. While he knew James had enlisted her assistance merely to make her feel she was doing something, Lady Gatwell had been of great help to Mrs. Patterson and Mrs. Harrigut, suggesting several things that could be purchased and brought in so Mrs. Patterson could do so with a clear conscience, and offering the services of some of her own staff so Mrs. Harrigut wouldn’t have to bother with finding temporary servants, a particularly difficult task under the circumstances.
When the staff matters had been discussed and the other senior staff were on their way to bed, Daniel had stopped to see how the funeral furnishers had got on and to be certain the men hired to sit watch with the late lord had not been into the whisky. And then there had been the arrangements to go through. He knew James wasn’t foolish enough to agree to just anything, but he was distracted by the scandals and fed up with everything, so Daniel had read over the contracted services to be certain James would get everything he’d paid for and wasn’t being taken advantage of. There had been plenty of other things he could have done after that, but he doubted he’d manage any of them without at least a little rest, so he’d stopped once he was certain that the kitchen was in order and all the doors and windows had been locked, as well as the dining room, butler’s pantry, and office just in case the watchers were not as honest as the furnishers had promised.
In his room, Daniel collapsed on the end of his bed and stared at the wall without seeing it. With no work to occupy himself, there was nothing to do but think. And he didn’t like the direction his thoughts had been taking. He should have left years ago. There had been so many offers, footmen starting inns, cooks starting pubs, even the last housekeeper who started a hotel with the last kitchen maid but one and two of the footmen. That had been profitable; he’d invested in it, but he had stayed on the small chance of seeing Lord James again. Lord Lynster now. And when his arrival had been imminent, Daniel had realized he should have been gone long before.
But he’d thought he could hide behind formality. They weren’t boys anymore, taking an illicit thrill in using first names despite their difference in station. James would have the title, and he himself was a fully grown man who supervised a house full of servants and had money in the bank. He was no longer the young lad eager for a friend, the young man flattered that his lordship’s son would choose him to disclose the deepest secret of his heart.
Did James even remember that kiss? It hadn’t been his first. That honor belonged to some hussy at school, a maid who was all of sixteen and accounted a master of the art and offered to sell the young lads kisses for a shilling. And James had sought him out when he’d come home for winter holidays and told him all about it, and all about how he’d said all the things the other boys did, but he hadn’t felt any of them. And then he’d shyly said he thought he might feel them with a man and would Daniel be ever so good as to let him try? And Daniel had been all of fifteen and desperate for physical contact and half in love already and had said “Of course” as calm as you please. And when it was done, he’d been all the way in love, and James had practically run off, cheerfully saying at least he knew what the issue had been.
But apparently Daniel wasn’t as grown up as he thought he was. He’d fallen into the old names as easy as when he’d been a boy. And James had certainly grown up since the last time Daniel had seen him, the day he’d come to get some of his mother’s things before his lordship could get rid of them. The estrangement between father and son had been a good thing, he’d told Daniel—it had made it easy to hide his inclinations from his father, who sent him a regular allowance and paid for his schooling and all the things the heir was supposed to have even if he didn’t speak to him. That secret would have cut off all ties. But the grown-up James hadn’t had the desired effect on Daniel’s emotions. He was more of a lord, more sure of his place, more remote and haughty, although not where Daniel was concerned. He was also taller, almost even with Daniel, broader in the shoulder, and the current fashions suited his frame better than those that had been popular when he’d been in school. It was most definitely not easier to see him now, but much, much harder.
And Daniel certainly couldn’t leave now. He couldn’t leave James in a time like this if he wasn’t completely certain he would have no additional worries beyond the obvious ones. That would mean training someone to take his place personally, and with all the current troubles, he could not undertake that and keep the household running to his standard, not that anyone would come to work in the house that had belonged to one of the traitor lords, as the newspapers were calling them. He should have left years ago. He could be running the front desk of a hotel, far away from temptation that he could never give in to.
And he knew he would have come rushing back the minute he’d heard of the scandal to be certain everything was being handled well here, that James was being taken care of as he dealt with the mess his father had made of things. Simply dealing with the literal mess this morning had been of assistance, Daniel was certain. He would not have wanted James to see the state the room had been in when he’d entered to find his lordship with his brains blown out. No, at least he’d saved James that sight. That was what he told himself whenever he closed his eyes and saw it, the blood and gore and—no, it was best not to dwell on it. Best to remember that, because of him, James would not have those nightmares.
Daniel pulled himself to his feet and began to undress. He would have to be up early to see that the staff began preparing for the funeral and the flowers and cards were properly dealt with and the funeral furnishers were doing what they’d been paid to do and Mrs. Cuthbert was settled in when she arrived. At least Dr. Matthews had agreed it was an accident. There wouldn’t be the need to deal with a suicide on top of everything else.
James stretched out in his bed. They’d put him in the best guest room, which had to have been Daniel’s idea. His old room had too many memories, and he certainly couldn’t face staying in Father’s room, even if it was the master’s suite. The best guest room was just what he would have asked for if he’d thought that far ahead.
It was so good to see Daniel again. He was the one man James knew he could trust completely. After all, he’d been the one to send notes round to the club to let him know when Father was out so he could visit mother undisturbed. And he’d been the one to help him sneak a few of her things out after the funeral. Hell, he’d even been the first one he’d told about his inclinations after that tart at school—what had her name been—had been selling kisses. All the boys had raved about them, and he’d wanted to fit in, so he’d bought three, and hadn’t felt a thing. Nothing at all like what the others described. So he’d cobbled together his own version of raptures from bits and pieces of everyone else’s and had wondered what was wrong with him. It had been Daniel he had gone to with the story, out by the frozen pond at the country house. And sitting beside Daniel, it had suddenly dawned on him what might be the problem. And so he had asked Daniel if he could experiment, could find out if perhaps a man’s kiss would be more to his liking. And Daniel, loyal to a fault, had agreed to the experiment. And everything the other boys had said about—he felt terrible that he remembered he’d paid three shillings but had no idea what she had been called—about her kisses had been true of that one. And he’d had his answer. Thank God Father had never found out, or he’d have been disinherited ages ago. And pity none of the kisses that followed had lived up to that one, even with men of great skill and experience. He would have thought the first would have a rosy glow of fond memory but would, in fact, have been unpracticed and fumbling, but perhaps it was different with men. And the parts that had often followed had for the most part been very nice. Not spectacular like some of the descriptions he heard at his club, but very nice.
Yes, it was good to be back with someone he could trust with anything, and he would need someone like that now, thanks to the old coot. James pulled the blankets over his head and fell asleep, dreaming of the pond at the country house for the first time in years, with Daniel sitting there, suggesting they might need to conduct further experiments to be certain the outcome was consistent. In the dream, it required more experimentation than the discovery of gravity had, and James slept very well.
Sedmon arrived the next morning before breakfast had even been finished. James would have thought he was hinting for a free meal, but he turned down the offer of everything but a cup of tea. When he was seated, he waited for Nora to leave the room before he began speaking. That more than anything made James nervous.
“Something has come to my attention which I felt I should relay as soon as possible.”
James tried for a bit of humor. “They aren’t coming to arrest me, are they?”
“No, no, my lord, nothing like that. Not yet, anyway.”
“I don’t think that was as comforting as you intended.”
Sedmon smiled. “Perhaps not, but I’m afraid it was as comforting as I can be at the moment. No one is telling me anything about how matters stand, which in itself makes me nervous. But I have been giving your situation a great deal of thought. Now, it seems to me that your sister is well out of the difficulty because of her husband and his influence.”
“And because she had nothing to do with it and was nowhere near when the conspiracy was being planned, thank God.”
“There is that. But it has occurred to me that you do not have anyone of influence to step up on your behalf.”
“So you think I should approach Gatwell and ask him to use his influence? I don’t like to bother him, but in this case, it might be worth it. I mean I’d ask Connie to do it. It seems he can deny her nothing considering her state.”
“While I’m certain Lord Gatwell’s influence would be of assistance, I was thinking of something a little more personal. Your father often spoke of having you properly married. I’m sure you have considered the matter.”
Of course he had. He was heir to a title; an heir of his own had always been expected of him. But it had been something in the future. The far distant future, when perhaps he could see himself settling down with a woman, even though a woman held very little interest. Still, most wives in the circles his family inhabited didn’t expect a husband to be madly in love with them, and he would be polite and stay out of her way and put her marriage portion in a trust for her so she could access it without interference from him, which would hopefully make him a tolerable partner. “Naturally, it’s a subject that has been mentioned.”
“I’m afraid to say I have very little confidence in your father’s choices at the moment. However, there are several influential families that would welcome your suit seeing as you are both wealthy and titled. And as no hint of your involvement has been mentioned anywhere where it matters, I think something could be arranged if you were to act quickly.”
“Before I’m suspected anywhere that matters?” James tried for humor again but knew he sounded brittle.
Sedmon ignored the attempt at levity. “There are several families with influence but little money; that would be the place to start. If you could find a young lady who was acceptable to you, her father or brother could be of great help. Would you like me to research the subject and make you a list of potential ladies?”
No, I would not, and just when I thought this couldn’t get any worse, you find a way to do it. “If you think that it is best.”
“I do, my lord. Before there is a need. I’ll compile the list and bring it by as soon as it is completed.”
“Thank you.” James sighed. “This whole affair…” He made an abstract gesture with his left hand and let Sedmon take it how he would.
“It’s been a trying time, but I think having someone of influence on your side will help. As will an heir. That will settle the title and take minds away from your father. I’ll see myself out.”
Sedmon being so understanding made James feel he’d been churlish. “Thank you for all the trouble, Sedmon.”
“I do realize you’re not the cause of it, my lord. I’ll do my best to see that you do not suffer for it. I will get the list for you.”
As Sedmon left the room, James realized the solicitor was placing a great deal of hope in that list, and he wondered just how bad things were looking for him.
Mrs. Cuthbert arrived soon after breakfast had finished, all sympathy and slightly disapproving lectures, although even she couldn’t find anything wrong with the arrangement of the household. Which was not to say she didn’t try. Her first task—self-appointed, James noted—was to go through the house and check the funerary drapings as “a poor bachelor such as yourself has no idea how to arrange such things.” As the only criticism she could make was to say the draping in the drawing room was too dark—and as all the draping was black, James wasn’t certain what she meant—he took it to mean the house passed inspection, and he decided to give the staff a bonus when this was over to thank them for arranging it without bothering him, double for Daniel, as he most likely deserved most of the credit. Then she met with Mrs. Harrigut for a long conversation filled with, “I wouldn’t want to impose, but we must not let down his lordship” and, “For myself it doesn’t matter, but if we want his lordship’s guests to be comfortable, we must…” followed by increasingly inconvenient orders. James managed to give Mrs. Harrigut several apologetic looks, which were always met with a hint of a smile, and he resolved to give her an extra bonus for the trouble as well. Once the meetings were out of the way, James made the excuse of needing to look over estate records and see what needed to be done for the tenants—no need to tell her the first order of business was to find the estate records—and left Mrs. Cuthbert in the parlor with her tea and cream cakes and Polly to see to her needs.
Mrs. Cuthbert’s presence proved to be a brilliant idea despite the annoyance to the servants. When guests arrived, Daniel would fetch him to make an appearance. If they were gentlemen of his acquaintance, the visits were normally short and to the point and stayed in the study, with much nervous twitching and furtive glances towards the coffin and equally apprehensive glances towards Mrs. Cuthbert. Most of the visits were the wives and mothers of people his parents had known, and those were where Mrs. Cuthbert’s presence was most helpful. They would be shown to the parlor, where he would make an appearance and thank them for coming and accept the sympathetic gestures, then he would make some excuse about the stacks of paperwork necessary “at a time like this,” which was met with understanding nods and slight verbal pushes towards the door—”Such a good man, seeing to the needs of his tenants before his own worries”—and then Mrs. Cuthbert took over. As soon as he closed the door behind him, he could hear the swell of voices murmuring in a tone that always suggested gossip to him, which bothered him less than he’d thought it would, even though he knew it was most likely about him.
At least he had plenty of time to start looking through papers, enough that he managed to find the estate records and the tenant lists, which seemed to contain a large number of people about to be evicted for unpaid rent, which made him think of the schemes Sedmon seemed to think had been needed to fund the conspiracy and to wonder if it was connected. He toyed with the idea of blanket amnesty in honor of his father’s memory—it was probably the only way to make anyone remember him fondly, their rent being forgiven when he died—but he wondered if that was prudent. Daniel would know. He traveled to the estate with Father whenever he opened the place up. He’d ask Daniel’s opinion on the plan, and while he was at it, he’d ask him what repairs he thought were needed, or at least who at the estate would give him an accurate answer. What would he do without Daniel?
Daniel couldn’t decide if the day had passed too quickly or dragged forever. Mrs. Cuthbert seemed to have taken the burden of visitors from James’s shoulders, which was a good thing, but she did keep the staff running constantly. Mrs. Harrigut and Mrs. Patterson accepted it with good grace, as he’d known they would. Thomas and Peter seemed on the verge of laughing every time she was mentioned. He didn’t want to know what sort of things they’d said when he’d sent them to bed the night before, but if it was keeping them amused and at their work, he was quite willing to pretend he didn’t notice. Poor Polly got the worst of it, as she’d been assigned to see to Mrs. Cuthbert’s needs, but Daniel had whispered to her that he would see if he could convince his lordship to give her a few extra afternoons free, and as she was seeing the baker’s assistant, he was quite certain that would be appreciated.
Then there were the funeral furnishers to be watched. They’d finished the preparations inside the house, but there was a constant stream of small details to be dealt with, most of which Daniel handled without bothering James. At least Dr. Matthews had sent an honest firm to handle things so his worries about fraud and theft were unfounded. But still, it was a distraction from all the normal duties of running the household.
Mrs. Cuthbert stayed for tea and, after accepting a donation for her services—Daniel noticed how unspecific James had been about its destination and was quite certain she had as well—left with a basket of something she’d helped Mrs. Patterson by getting out of her way that would no doubt become Mr. Cuthbert’s supper. When they’d finally gotten her out the door, Daniel had turned to find James slumped against the hall table. “At last, a bit of peace. Is that the post?”
“Yes, my lord. I didn’t want to bother you with it.”
“Didn’t want to give anyone an in to see me, eh?” James grabbed up the stack of letters. “I’ll be in the library if you need me, Daniel. Tell everyone dinner will be informal again tonight. I don’t think I could stand anything else.”
Daniel could sympathize with the feeling. Everything seemed turned upside down. But there was still dinner to be gotten out and a million other small things he’d been forced to neglect. He’d barely gotten the front hall back in order when there was a knock at the door. It was too late for sympathy calls, so he felt no guilt over lying about his lordship being at home, but when Daniel opened the door, he found Mr. Sedmon on the step. Mr. Sedmon was another matter entirely. “His lordship is working in the library. Would you care to wait?”
Mr. Sedmon shook his head. “No, this is a fleeting visit no matter what. I merely wished to leave this for him.” He produced a thick stack of papers. “It’s the list of potential brides he wanted me to compile. Just let him know I brought it by, and he can summon me at any time to discuss it.”
Daniel tried not to stare at the list as if it were his death warrant. “I will see that his lordship gets it. Thank you for taking the time to bring it.”
“No trouble. Good day.”
Daniel closed the door carefully and deliberately. Then he walked to the library at a steady pace. If he didn’t act as if it were the worst thing he’d heard all week, perhaps he would begin to believe it wasn’t.
James would have to marry. Daniel had known all along that that would be inevitable. Heirs to titles had to produce the next in the line. But somehow over the years, he had managed to ignore that one small fact where James was concerned. And now he’d wasted all those years here, when there had been no hope of anything more. He’d known that as well, but hearing James had asked for a list of potential brides made it horribly real.
James was hunched over his desk when Daniel entered. He waited by the door until James glanced up, then crossed the room to hand over the papers. “Mr. Sedmon brought you the list of brides you asked for.”
James sighed. “Just leave it somewhere.”
Daniel placed the stack of papers neatly on top of the letters that had been put aside. James glanced at it as he dipped his pen.
“My God, how many did he send?”
“How many did you ask for, my lord?”
James continued to stare at the stack. “I don’t think I really asked for any. Sedmon thought it was a good idea, and I told him to go ahead and make the list.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I suppose he’s right, though. I could do with some support in all of this, and a father-in-law with influence, even a future one, might be exactly what I need.”
So not his idea then, but he seemed to think it was a good one. “As you say, my lord.”
James nodded and turned back to his papers. Daniel stood at the edge of the desk, staring at the list. It was a good plan. And James needed all the influence he could find to keep him safe from the mess the old lord had made. And somewhere in that stack of papers there was sure to be someone acceptable both for influence and as an amiable companion. “I’ll get you some refreshment, my lord.” Daniel didn’t wait to hear what James thought of that idea as he rushed out of the room.
Daniel was tempted to run somewhere, anywhere he could be alone. But it would not do to be running in the hallways where any of the staff could see him and ask what was wrong. He forced himself to walk at a calm, sedate pace, one foot in front of the other. No thinking about James, his lordship. He was Lord Lynster now, not James. He was Lord Lynster now and would soon have a wife and an heir. And Daniel should be happy for him. For his lordship. It was what he needed right now. Mr. Sedmon was merely looking out for his lordship’s interests, as Daniel should be. Daniel looked around and saw he had gone to the butler’s pantry before he realized his steps had actually taken him somewhere.
At least it was somewhere sensible. He knew his job so well, he could do it without thinking. He went to the cupboard and looked at the glasses inside. He had hurried from the library so quickly that he hadn’t bothered to find out what his lordship might like for refreshment, or if he even wanted anything. Daniel stood in front of the cupboard and considered the choices. His lordship was looking at potential brides and condolence letters, so he would probably say he wanted something stronger than tea, but tea seemed most appropriate, and as someone had left the kettle in the breakfast room to supply the endless stream of visitors, it was easy to prepare. He reached into the cupboard and collected a tray, teapot, and cup. He had no reason to be upset at the idea of James—his lordship—marrying. None at all. He put the tray on the counter and arranged everything needed for a proper tea on it. It wasn’t unexpected at all. He had no one to blame but himself for the years he’d wasted serving here. He adjusted a spoon so it sat properly on the saucer. No one had asked him to stay. No one had said, “Poor Lord James could use a friend in the house. Why don’t you look out for him?” That had been entirely his own doing.
Daniel dropped the spoon and rested his forehead against the cool wood of the cabinets. Entirely his own doing. One kiss that had been an experiment for James, and he’d devoted his life to chance meetings and serving the father to care for the son. It was his own fault that after twenty years in service he had nothing to show for his life but a position in a soon-to-be-disgraced household and a fine reference. He’d get another position, he was certain, but he wasn’t certain he wanted one. The whole point of serving here had seemed to be to watch out for James, and now James would belong to someone else and there didn’t seem to be a point.
And there was no one to blame but himself. He should have left years before, accepted a better-paid position in an easier house or one of the many offers from servants starting their own concerns, or even to start one himself. But he’d stayed, when he’d known there was no chance, no hope that James would suddenly look at him and declare his undying love, and if he had, no hope of anything beyond a fleeting affair. Because James was heir to a title and therefore would have to marry and produce an heir of his own.
It would have been different if James had been a servant like him. No—Daniel pressed his forehead harder against the wood, letting the pain give him an excuse for the wetness in the corner of his eyes—he wouldn’t want James pressed into a life of scraping boots and cleaning grates and being at the beck and call of a house full of people. The son of the bookseller, perhaps, or the draper, or the tailor. Any of those, and he might have held out hope. Hope that James would want to be with him, would take on an apprentice to leave the business to or sell it all together when he was too old to continue. But the heir to a title didn’t take on apprentices. And their servants should know better. He should have, at least.
Daniel pulled himself away from the wall and rubbed at his eyes. There, he’d had his little fit, and now he would go back to his duties. This was his own fault, and there was no reason for him to be upset. He’d done what he wanted, and if that left him with fewer prospects than might be hoped for, well, he would have to live with his choices. Lord Lynster would marry, and Daniel would be happy for him. Daniel picked up the cup to put on the tray. It was time for him to look out for himself. There was the hotel in Brighton. He could take the position there. Lord Lynster would be fine. He would have a wife with influence who could do more to help him with this mess than Daniel ever could.
He slammed his fist into the counter then braced his hands against the wood and slumped over, staring at them, trying to regain control of his breathing and the dampness that was collecting in the corners of his eyes again. The teacup clattered to the floor, taking two saucers and several pieces of silverware with it.
“Are you all right, Mr. Rivers?”
Daniel pulled himself away from the counter and was almost himself when Mrs. Harrigut hurried into the room. “Yes, yes, but I’m afraid I broke a cup.”
“You’re not hurt, are you?”
“No, no.” Not the way she meant. “Just, the past few days…”
Mrs. Harrigut patted his arm. “It’s been trying on us all. Mrs. Patterson and I were just saying how hard it is to keep a good face on things in front of the younger staff when we’re as scared as they are.”
“I’ll speak to his lordship about giving everyone some extra time off. A chance to rest might be what we all need.”
“Make certain you include yourself in that. Now here, let me get another cup, and you go fill the kettle and bring that up to his lordship. I’ll tidy up in here, and we’ll say the cups were broken in the confusion after his former lordship’s accident or in the press of callers today. It’s not a lie, or not quite, and there were enough people blundering around that no one will think twice.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Harrigut.”
She patted his arm again. “He’s lucky to have you. I hope he knows it.”
Daniel nodded and focused on getting the teapot to the kettle in the breakfast room. He knew James did appreciate him in his own way. It wasn’t James’s fault Daniel had always wanted more.
James had been going to ask for a Scotch when Daniel darted out of the room. But perhaps Scotch wasn’t the best idea when he had letters to answer. And he did seem to be drinking an awful lot of it since he’d come up those steps and found Father sprawled out in the study. No, tea was probably more sensible. He glanced in the direction of the list Sedmon had sent over, but there was no reason to hurry with it. He’d get the post sorted first, then he could worry about it. It wasn’t something to be decided in a day, even if Sedmon had hurried with the list and seemed to think it was his best chance with the Crown. Choosing a bride wasn’t a decision to be made lightly. And if it was something he should have been thinking about for years, well, it was too late to worry about that now. He turned back to the letters in front of him and put the three that seemed to be from merchants in a stack to pass on to Sedmon when he returned. Daniel would know if they were legitimate bills and if the amounts were correct. He could work with Sedmon on them if the solicitor needed anything from the house.
Daniel came into the room as James was turning to the stack of what he was certain were letters of condolence. “Just in time. I’ll need something to fortify me against all the well-wishes.”
Daniel didn’t answer. James glanced up to see if the joke had somehow offended him, but Daniel was busy preparing the tea, so perhaps his reaction had simply been lost in the clatter of cups, not that Daniel ever clattered the cups.
James flipped through the letters, identifying them by their handwriting without reading them. “Freddie Rollins. Edwin Gilford.”
Daniel put the cup beside James’s elbow, within easy reach but in no danger of being knocked off the desk. “That was kind of him.”
“Mmm? I suppose it was.”
“Perhaps he might offer some useful sympathy?”
“You’re hinting that I should read it because his father was in on the scheme too? He’s just as likely to blame me for it since at least mine had the decency to kill himself. Besides, he’s the youngest of us. He’ll have all the sympathy, such as it is. That sounded terrible.”
“And his father ran off and denied the Crown a second trial. I shouldn’t blame him for that, but he’s not under suspicion.”
“And you think you are?”
“Sedmon is hinting that I am. How do I prove I didn’t know something?” James dropped Gilford’s letter in the stack with the others, unread. He was not as optimistic as Daniel. “Paul Fenning. Lady Clairmont. That’s the last of them.” James looked at the list he’d been dreading ever since Sedmon offered to compile it, the one with the list of potential wives. He picked it up and glanced at the first names. “He thinks I should marry, you know.”
Daniel went to get the plate of biscuits. “Mr. Fenning?”
“No, Sedmon. He thinks that having someone of influence on my side, like a powerful father-in-law, will help my case should the Crown try to connect me to Father’s schemes.”
“And what do you think of that plan, my lord?”
James sighed. “That’s the problem. I don’t know what to think. I have to marry so there’s an heir to the title and all that, but I always thought it would be some far-off day, not in the next few weeks. But I suppose if I’ll have to do it sometime, I may as well do it when it will be of the greatest advantage to me.”
“As you say, my lord.”
Somehow, Daniel agreeing with him was not as comforting as he’d thought it would be.
Daniel put the tray down across from him and stepped back. James had read three more names when he realized Daniel was still in the room. He looked up and found the butler standing very still, watching with a sort of frozen look on his face. “Did you need something else, Daniel?”
Daniel swallowed and looked down at his hands. “There was one thing, my lord, but I didn’t want to bother you with it.”
“Bother away. None of this is so urgent I can’t be distracted for a few minutes.”
“I am afraid I cannot take up a position with you.”
“What?” James was certain he had heard wrong.
“I will stay until the estate is settled and funeral arrangements have been made, of course.”
“But then you’ll leave?” Not having Daniel around seemed wrong somehow. He’d been around since they’d been boys. There had always been the promise of seeing him whenever he went home for holidays or to visit mother and Connie. That was what he’d looked forward to, to seeing his friend. The thought of him being somewhere else was strange. “Have you been offered more money? Whatever it is, I’ll match it.” That was ridiculous. When would he have had time to see someone offering him a position and more money? Unless one of the callers…
Daniel shook his head. “It isn’t money at all, my lord. I think it is time I was leaving service. Some of the former staff of your father’s household have a hotel in Brighton, and they’ve asked me if I would like to join them in the venture. I think it would be a nice change for me.”
“Brighton?” James wasn’t sure he’d ever been to Brighton. He wasn’t certain he’d ever go to Brighton. And that meant he would never see Daniel again. That was a depressing thought.
“Hotels can be a risky business.” Perhaps the place would fold before Daniel could get there.
“They can indeed. However, this concern has been in operation for several years now, and as I invested some money in it when they first opened it, I have been privy to their records. It is an excellent concern and already shows the beginnings of profitability. I am quite confident that my employment will be secure.”
James kept his attention on the paper in front of him. It was logical, sensible. Of course someone as clever as Daniel wouldn’t want to spend all his life as a servant. Daniel was only two years older than him, not more than thirty. He had plenty of time ahead of him to be a gentleman. “I wish you luck in it then. But it will be strange not having you around.”
“For me as well. I’ve spent my entire life in service to your family.”
“Which is all the more reason for you to go.” James tried to say it with as much enthusiasm as possible, but really, the idea of Daniel leaving was like the pond where they’d met during holidays suddenly deciding it wanted to move to another estate. Or a hotel in Brighton.
“I will stay until after the funeral, and until the trials are finished if you should need me to. And I will train a replacement if you don’t have someone from your household in mind already.”
James nodded. It was tempting to ask him to stay until it was all over, but that would be selfish. Lord Burfield’s trial alone could take forever, let alone finding Martford and his son. “That’s very good of you. Until the funeral certainly, but the court cases against the other two could drag on forever. There’s no reason for you to put off your life for that long. Once the funeral is over, if you would begin advertising for replacements, I would appreciate the help.”
“Certainly. If you have any specific requirements…”
“No, no, I’ve never done well on my own. Offer as much money as you need to, and find me someone good.”
“I certainly would not leave you in incompetent hands.”
“I know.” It was only that any hands that weren’t Daniel’s would seem incompetent by comparison.
“Thank you for understanding. I’ll see how Mrs. Harrigut is coming along with dinner.”
James nodded and went back to the post. He wasn’t certain he could eat anything with the news of Daniel leaving hanging over his head, but he didn’t want Daniel to know that.
Daniel hurried to the kitchens before James could call him back. The worst part was done. He’d told James. And if James had seemed disappointed, well, that was most likely all in his mind. Or perhaps because James really was not very good at finding servants. Which was odd because he was a very easy man to work for. His demands were reasonable, and he was kind when it was needed. No, the problem was most likely in the candidates he was finding or in his questioning. Perhaps his advertisement was badly phrased. All things Daniel could help him with. Then he would be in safe hands, and Daniel could go to Brighton with a clear conscience. He stopped by the main kitchen to tell Mrs. Patterson that dinner would be informal.
“Bless his heart, that’s what I needed to hear after the day we’ve had. How much can those ladies eat? I’ve no idea where they put it.”
“Their reticules, most likely,” Mrs. Harrigut said as she came in. “You’ve provided high tea for half the town today. I’ve no idea how Polly stood it.”
“I promised to try and arrange a few extra half-days for her,” Daniel said.
Mrs. Harrigut nodded. “Which she will schedule with her gentleman friend. I was wondering what was keeping her smiling.”
Mrs. Patterson chuckled. “But best Mrs. Cuthbert didn’t know what she was thinking, hmm?”
“I hope she’s the sense to be a good girl until she has a promise at least.”
“I’ll see…” Daniel stopped. He realized he would soon not be able to see to anything about Polly and her young man or any of the others.
Fortunately, the others didn’t notice his aborted sentence. Mrs. Harrigut picked up the teapot and filled it from the kettle. “Do you suppose he’ll be hiring a housekeeper? I wouldn’t mind staying on.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Oh, I would have thought you’d discussed the household arrangements. I know his last butler left in a hurry.”
“No,” Mrs. Patterson said. “That was the one before. The last opened an inn, I think.”
“In any case, I thought you’d know.”
Daniel couldn’t bring himself to say he was leaving twice in so short a time. He settled for, “I haven’t made any firm plans.”
“You?” Mrs. Harrigut asked as if there could only be one outcome for him.
“Sensible,” Mrs. Patterson said. “As I was telling Bessie, now is the time to take stock and see if you are where you want to be, or at least on the path there. And if you’re not— Is that the time? Where is Peter? Informal does not mean late.”
“I’ll find him,” Daniel said at once. Footmen were his responsibility. It had nothing to do with Mrs. Patterson’s words making him uncomfortable. He had taken stock and chosen a new path, so why did he feel like he was walking away from what he wanted, not towards it?
Mr. Cuthbert had been nothing if not efficient in arranging the funeral. At James’s request, it was held as soon as possible, which meant there wasn’t time for anything elaborate or for any of the distant relatives to travel to town, which was exactly what James had hoped for, even if it left the funeral furnishers looking more glum than ever when they heard. Even the Crown seemed to think it was in poor taste to bother them while they were preparing for a funeral—at least no one came to question him, and he didn’t hear of any servants being pestered.
James barely saw Daniel for the days leading up to the funeral except for quick moments when Daniel slipped into the library to see if anything was needed between supervising the draping of crepe and the bringing of refreshments to those from the funeral furnishers doing the actual work.
They laid him out in the study—Daniel’s idea, although Connie approved at once, pointing out, “That’s what they’ll all want to see anyway,” and Mrs. Cuthbert let the guests who came to offer condolences in to see him then brought them to the parlor, where everyone consumed more tea and cake than a regiment of fusiliers, as Mrs. Patterson put it—mostly shop bought at Connie’s suggestion—with only a short appearance required of James. His duty done, James barricade himself in the library most of the time, going through papers, trying to find any information he could on the estate, the home farm, the tenants—all the things Father should have told him about years ago.
There was something unreal about it, and James kept expecting to find that it was a mistake, and he was back at his own townhouse, although why, he wasn’t certain. It was something to ask Daniel, but Daniel was far too busy to be bothered with his slightly skewed sense of reality.
The day of the funeral was damp and chilly and only got worse the closer to the appointed hour, which did nothing to change the sense of unreality he’d been feeling, and just the sort of weather Connie should avoid. James stood in the parlor and wished he had an excuse to avoid it as well and that he were anywhere else.
“Lord Gatwell, my lord.”
James looked up and noticed that Daniel looked pale and drawn. He’d have to give Daniel a day off when this was done, insist he go somewhere nice. The panorama perhaps, or the theater. Or the seaside. But could he do without Daniel long enough for him to go to the seaside? Especially as Daniel was leaving soon, probably forever, probably somewhere James would never see him again. “Thank you, Rivers.” Why had first names suddenly seemed too familiar?
Lord Gatwell stepped forward with an expression that was just the right combination of sombre and pleased to see him. “Hello, James. Connie wasn’t up to coming. Her condition and all.”
James nodded. “Hello, Allister. I quite understand about Connie. I told her she probably shouldn’t come, and certainly not with this weather. But you could have stayed away as well.”
“It’s no trouble, and as you’ve no other family, well, I didn’t want you to be alone up there.”
“That was kind of you.” Another one telling him he had no family, no wife. Maybe Sedmon was on to something. The dreaded list was still sitting on his desk, untouched. Too many things to arrange for the funeral, or so he told himself. “Shall we leave?”
“Wouldn’t do for you to be late.”
Daniel was standing in the doorway waiting for James with his hat and coat. As he helped James into them, he murmured, “I’ll see the servants are there in time and back to get everything in order here.”
“Thank you, Rivers.” Why couldn’t Daniel come with him? That would make him feel better than anything else.
“Don’t forget your gloves, my lord.” Daniel pressed the black gloves into his hand.
James accepted the gloves and led Lord Gatwell to the door. As he clutched at the gloves, he felt something crinkle inside. He glanced down and saw Daniel had left a wrapped bit of marzipan between the gloves, this one a small flower. James caught Daniel’s eye and smiled as he slipped the sweet into his pocket.
Daniel watched James and Lord Gatwell until they reached the corner where they were to meet up with the funeral procession, which was completely foolish as nothing was going to happen to him outside of his own house, and, if it did, Lord Gatwell was more than capable of handling it. Almost as foolish as the marzipan, but James seemed to remember the old reference at least. Daniel had rather thought he’d have forgotten about it and would think Daniel a fool, but he’d seemed so lost the day he’d come to find the old lord, Daniel had wanted to offer some comfort. And it had been the only comfort he could think of. It had been the same when they’d been young, and he’d heard the yelling from the study as he swept the hall and scraped the boots. It had been all he could think of to do then as well, and he’d thought it a good use of his pocket money to see the young master smile when he’d brought him the treat, first through tears out in the back garden and later, when they were older, from a stoic look of pain in the library, or imagined smiles when he’d hid the sweets in the travel cases to be found at school when things were new and uncertain. After all, he may have only been a hallboy whose family had scattered to the four winds, but he’d had the cook and the housekeeper to fret over him when something went wrong and the old butler who was strict and demanding but also kind and lavish with praise when it was warranted. The young master had had no one that Daniel could see. And then, when he was older, after the experiment at the pond, those smiles had meant so much more, even though he’d known it was all in his mind.
“You look thoughtful, Mr. Rivers.”
Daniel jerked himself back to the present. “Just thinking, Polly. The world doesn’t stop, no matter what we might like.”
“No, it doesn’t, sir. Not sure I’d like it if it did.”
Daniel smiled. “Then Mr. Evans would never propose?”
She grinned at him. “Something like that, sir.”
There was no time to be worrying about what wasn’t, not if he wanted to be at the church so James could see he had a friend there. Of course, he had friends there. Wasn’t Lord Gatwell walking right beside him? “Is everything ready for the guests?”
“Almost, sir. Mrs. Harrigut found the vases she wanted, so I’m going to switch out the flowers in the study, then I’ll go tidy myself up. Nora’s got the hatbands and handkerchiefs they’re giving out all wrapped on a tray; she’s just arranging them nicely.”
“Very good. Carry on.”
Polly curtsied and hurried on her way. Daniel went to check on the rest of the house. He found Thomas in the parlor moving chairs around, and as the chair he was moving had been in the exact same position it ended up in when he’d checked them that morning, Daniel knew it was an attempt to stall for time. “Thomas, is there anything else you should be doing?”
“I’m getting the chairs in order, sir.”
“This appears to be the order they were in this morning.”
“Well, you see, sir, Mrs. Harrigut…”
“Will tell me the truth when I ask her. If you’ve finished your work, go get yourself ready to leave for the service.”
“Do we have to go? It’s not like any of us liked him.”
“Yes, Thomas, you have to go to support the family.”
“Bessie is helping Mrs. Patterson in the kitchen. If you think you could be of as much help as she is, then you may seek Mrs. Patterson’s permission to ask Bessie if she would like you to take her place so she may attend the funeral.”
“Right.” Thomas ran for the kitchen, nearly knocking Mrs. Harrigut down as she came out of the baize door to the servants’ staircase. “Sorry, ma’am.” He didn’t pause for an acknowledgment.
Mrs. Harrigut shook her head. “Doubt he knows what he’s in for.”
“As he has no talents in the kitchen, I would assume washing pots, stoking fires, and peeling potatoes. Still, his choice.”
Bessie came out of the kitchen stairs a moment later. “Mrs. Patterson says I can go with you.”
Mrs. Harrigut nodded. “So Thomas will assist her? I had no idea you were so fond of his lordship.”
“Not the late, one, though Ma always said we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. But his new lordship is a fine man, and I wouldn’t like him to be alone there, seeing as how he hasn’t much family in town.”
Daniel nodded. “You’re a good girl, Bessie.”
Mrs. Harrigut patted her on the arm. “Go change into your Sunday best. We’ll wait.” As Bessie ran off, Mrs. Harrigut watched her go. “He is a fine man. I hope we’ll be able to stay on. I don’t like sending the girls off just anywhere.”
So there would be plenty of people to look out for James when he was gone, even if they wouldn’t give him marzipan sweets. Not that he needed those anymore. He was a grown man. There was no reason to worry about him at all. “I’m sure he will see that everyone is cared for.” Just not him. And that was his own fault.
James had felt everyone’s gaze on him from the moment he left the house. Sitting in the front row of the church, it seemed every eye was on him, not Cuthbert as he went to the pulpit. There was no one else in the pew but Allister, who was doing a capital job of staring stoically straight ahead, but then it was only his father-in-law at the heart of a scandal, not his father. No one was nearly as interested in his reactions. As they stood for the first hymn, James risked a glance behind, just to see if everyone really was staring at him. Perhaps it was all in his head.
No, he’d been right. Too many heads were turning as he looked over his shoulder. They had not been watching Cuthbert a moment before. He schooled his face into a sombre expression and hoped he looked as if he were merely glancing at his guests or something equally benign.
Then he spotted a familiar shape in the back of the church. Daniel was there, seeing that all the staff had their prayer books and were standing properly. When Daniel turned back to the pulpit, he caught James’s eye. Their eyes locked for a second, then Daniel gave the smallest of bows. James allowed himself a tiny smile then turned his attention back to pretending to listen to Cuthbert.
The morning after the funeral, all James wanted to do was sleep. The funeral furnishers had apparently decided to make up for the speed of the funeral by providing the most elaborate of processions, approved by Cuthbert no doubt, with ostrich-plumed horses and paid mourners to fill out the spectacle, and it had attracted onlookers and many of Father’s acquaintances who most likely would not have attended otherwise. In many ways, it was the opposite of what James had wanted, although Sedmon seemed to think it was an inspired idea. “You know what their minds are, my lord. They’ll all assume that the only reason for such an elaborate affair is to hide how little you liked him, and that can only help you.” And then he’d turned to Lord Gatwell and started to ask after Connie.
Cuthbert’s method of dealing with the speed of the arrangements was to lend them dignity with what had to have been the longest sermon seen in London since the last king died. At least it had seemed that way to James. But he’d forgotten to tell Andrews not to wake him, so he could hardly fault his valet for being in his room at the normal hour, although somehow he would have thought Daniel might have mentioned something. But he should not be relying on Daniel to deal with his valet. “Good morning, Andrews.”
“Good morning, my lord. I have your tea.”
James took the cup and sipped it as he got out of bed. He hadn’t realized how much better Daniel’s tea was than anyone else’s, but he could certainly tell that he hadn’t prepared this cup. But it wouldn’t do to complain. It was the same as he’d had every morning before coming here. Besides, Andrews looked a bit out of sorts this morning. Perhaps he was put out at the notion of limiting the wardrobe to black for the foreseeable future. James stayed quiet while he dressed, letting Andrews do his job as he saw fit and trying not to yawn.
As Andrews was smoothing the final wrinkles from James’s coat, the ones James could never see but pretended to believe were there, he finally found the source of his valet’s distraction. “There was something I wished to discuss with you, my lord.”
Not this early, he pleaded, not another disaster. “Of course, Andrews.”
“I realize this is not the ideal time for you, but I think it is time for me to seek other employment.”
And another one lost over Father’s stupidity. “I see, Andrews. This is rather sudden.”
“I know you had nothing to do with the recent difficulties, but I do need to look out for my future. On my way back from retrieving your black coat from the tailor, I…” He stopped abruptly as if he’d just remembered he wasn’t supposed to reveal certain information to certain persons.
“And you were questioned by His Majesty’s men?” James offered.
“It isn’t the first time, my lord. We were…um…”
“Forbidden to tell me. Yes, I know the procedure.”
“You understand, then, my lord, why I did not mention it sooner, but the tone of the questions yesterday was not the same as the others. And I do need to look to my future.”
And James did not need a valet who didn’t trust him. So the Crown hadn’t left them alone because of the funeral, only left him alone. Although he knew a servant without references or with unusable ones would have no hope of a good position, and he really could not expect them to put loyalty to him above being able to eat in a few years. “Very well, Andrews, I’ll write you a reference. How long of a notice are planning on giving?”
“Well, my lord, I was offered a position in the Fenning household, which I would like to accept as soon as possible.”
Before any scandal from his old master made the new position impossible. “Then you would like to leave tomorrow?”
“If that would be convenient, my lord.”
It would most definitely not be convenient, and if he had a position in line already, it showed he’d been thinking of leaving far longer than he was admitting to. “If that is what is required, then it is what is required. I may not be able to get to the reference immediately, you understand.”
“Yes, I completely understand. Mr. Lewis gave me one before he left.”
So he’d been planning as long ago as that. The butler had quit almost a month ago now. “Then you won’t be in a hurry for it. Are we finished? Then I’ll go down to breakfast.”
Andrews seemed to have sensed that James was annoyed enough to want to be away from him. “I am sorry, my lord.”
“I know it isn’t your fault, but I can’t pretend it’s convenient at the moment. You should start packing your things and write to your new employer. I’ll frank the letter for you.” He left the room before Andrews could offer another half-hearted apology.
James started for the breakfast room hoping to avoid seeing anyone else. He was losing servants left and right, and replacing them was becoming a chore. Perhaps he could ask Connie for help with that. She hired servants for her household, and it might make her feel she was doing something useful that wouldn’t require dealing with gossips and bores.
He reached the landing and found Daniel there rearranging the black crepe over a mirror. If it had been anyone else, James would have turned and tried to find another way down to the breakfast room, but he didn’t mind seeing Daniel, although he wasn’t certain he was up to talking.
As James passed Daniel, the butler looked up from his work. “Something wrong, my lord?”
James glanced down the hall and saw they were alone. “Andrews just left me for Fenning. He’ll be gone tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry, my lord. We can begin advertising for a new valet whenever you’d like.”
“Another problem on top of everything else.” How was he supposed to word the notice? Son of traitor lord seeks valet who’ll stay for more than a week?
“Then we can put it off. There are plenty of footmen here who can act as valet on a temporary basis.”
“How loyal are they?” James rubbed his forehead. “Sorry, I just didn’t need a new problem before breakfast.”
“If loyalty is a question, my lord…”
Having Daniel act as valet would be ideal. “I don’t want to add to your problems, but I would appreciate it.”
Daniel looked startled, as if that was not at all what he had been thinking. But he recovered so quickly James wasn’t certain he’d seen the expression. “Of course, my lord. And if it is any consolation, I don’t think he will find Mr. Fenning’s household as pleasant as yours.”
That made James grin. “Fenning is an idiot, isn’t he?”
“And rather thoughtless from what I’ve observed.”
“And obsessed with fashion. He’ll have Andrews starching neckcloths for hours.”
“And careless about his clothing when in his cups.”
“Which is most nights. Thank you, Daniel. When I’m irritated with Andrews, I can simply think of what he’s let himself in for.”
“It should be ample punishment for leaving you in the lurch like this.”
At least Daniel didn’t think being annoyed at Andrews was unreasonable. And he wouldn’t have to go searching for a valet who he was certain wasn’t a spy for the Crown or connected to his father’s gang. The morning already seemed better.
Daniel watched James go down to breakfast looking slightly less harried. Only a few days ago he would have been thrilled by the chance to act as James’s valet, to help him to dress and perhaps act as confidante. A return to something like their old friendship. Now…now it was another thing to be endured. A few weeks before, he would have known there was no practical chance of the kiss between them all those years ago being repeated, but he could have had the fantasy of it. Now, knowing James would marry and he would be moving on to Brighton, it would just be a knife at his heart. No, more little pinpricks, every button done up, every collar adjusted, death by a thousand little stabs, each bearable alone, but together pushing him farther away from he didn’t know what. His impossible vision of happiness, he supposed.
“Mr. Rivers, is something wrong?”
“What? No, Polly, no. I was merely considering the amount of work to be done now that the funeral is over.”
“Yes, sir. Nora and I will have the parlor in good shape in no time. We promise.”
“I’ve no doubt you will.” He hadn’t even looked in the parlor yet. Once the last of the guests had gone, he’d sent everyone to bed and collapsed himself. There had been refreshments in the parlor, he remembered now. He didn’t want to see the mess the guests had left behind. “Do your best, and perhaps we can have a couple of maids over from Lord Lynster’s house to help if they’re needed.”
“Thank you, sir, although I’m not sure how much of his staff is left. I’d heard they’ve been quitting left and right before the scandal hits him. Begging your pardon, sir.”
“That’s probably true. But I’m glad we have loyal servants here.” Who were already mixed up in the scandal and therefore happy to have a place, any place. “Perhaps Lady Gatwell could be persuaded to send someone over to assist if it’s needed.” Polly seemed cheered by that thought, which made Daniel want to see the parlor even less if that were possible. He sighed and went to see to the serving of breakfast.
James’s sense of well-being from his conversation with Daniel did not last long. He’d barely made a dent in his eggs when the door opened and Peter entered. “Mr. Sedmon, my lord.”
What on earth could Sedmon want this early in the morning? Whatever it was, it was bound to be bad. “Thank you, Peter. Mr. Sedmon, how nice to see you. And I can see by your expression that this is not a social call. Sit, and I’ll have Rivers bring you some tea.”
Mr. Sedmon sat but did not stop twitching. “Have you seen the morning papers?”
“Yes, but I don’t think the bit you’re asking about.”
“Then you did not read the account of the confession?”
“I’ve been avoiding accounts of the traitor lords this morning. It really has nothing to do with me and only makes me think of the mess Father left behind.”
“I suppose that is what you pay me for, to look after your interests in these things. Unfortunately, this one might involve you.”
James groaned. “What’s happened now?”
“Lord Burfield has been giving interviews and has been telling reporters the details of the scheme, and it seems your father had someone who passed information between the conspirators at various events and house parties. They called him ‘the Tributary.’ You see how that could refer to a son, at least as the Crown might see it.”
“It couldn’t be me. Father and I have been estranged for years. I only went to events that were important to Mother.”
“Perhaps this isn’t as dire as it appears then. I have been compiling a list of events which he was reported as saying were crucial to getting information distributed. If you can give your whereabouts for some of them, and that can be proved, then we can argue that it can’t have been you.”
James took the list eagerly. He’d spent so little time in his father’s company the last few years, surely it would be easy to find gaps. But the more of the list he read, the less he liked it. “I was there for both of the Twelfth Night celebrations, and for the New Year’s parties. And Mother wanted everyone at the Hunt Ball at the end of the season every year, so I went even after she was gone. And my sister’s coming out dinner, I had to go for that. And these three were all in preparation for her wedding. Ah, here’s one, the start of the foxhunting season. I never went to those as I thought the ball at the end was enough, seeing as I don’t hunt if I can avoid it.”
Mr. Sedmon nodded. “Good, even one where we can show you were somewhere else will help your case. Do you remember where you went instead?”
James stared at the page. “Probably just stayed in London. It wouldn’t have seemed memorable at the time.”
“Perhaps you went to the theater, or to another ball, or dined with friends. Even if you visited a house of ill-repute, I might be able to get some kind of confirmation.”
“I’ll check my diary. Maybe there was something usable. Here’s another one, a dinner party. Oh, but that’s when I went fishing in Scotland.”
“Would the place you stayed have a record?”
“It was a cottage belonging to some of our old tenants.”
“And they would most likely lie for you.”
“And they don’t have records.” James put down the list. “Can they seriously believe that my father would have trusted me with something like that? We barely spoke for years before it came to a full-out estrangement.”
“What better cover for your nefarious misdeeds than an estrangement?”
James sighed. “I suppose you’re right. But couldn’t it be one of the other sons?”
“Martford’s oldest was away for most of these events, and I have the impression there was another secret name for him. Besides, he was far more involved than a mere courier. The younger was at university and well away from the conspiracy. And Burfield’s son has been working on his various business interests, so his whereabouts are known for many of these events as well.”
“So I’m the only one unaccounted for. What about Burfield? Why is he telling everyone all of this? He’s practically bragging about what they did.”
“Nothing practical about it. It is clearly bragging. I believe he has lost his reason. After all, he has been abandoned by the other conspirators. Your father died by his own hand despite what Dr. Matthews put on the certificate, and Martford ran off. I suppose it does explain why they accepted your father’s death so readily.”
That did not sound good. “What do you mean?”
“I thought it was odd that they accepted Dr. Matthews’s verdict of an accidental shooting so readily without trying to make a case for suicide. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t surprise me, but these circumstances are anything but normal. But if they thought they had something with this tributary business, or any of Burfield’s ramblings, that might explain why they didn’t bother with it. Still, lucky for you they didn’t, or quite a bit of your inheritance would have been forfeit.” Mr. Sedmon stood. “I won’t wait for tea. If there are any other events mentioned, I will note them down and bring them to you.”
“And I’ll go through the list and mark what I didn’t attend and try to find some proof of what I did those nights.” Surely he would find something. It couldn’t be as bad as it seemed. “It almost looks as if whoever did this knew what I was attending.”
Mr. Sedmon paused in the door as Daniel entered with the tea. “That could be something. Who would know that kind of detail?”
“The staff, I suppose. Father, perhaps. Connie would remember, but I don’t think she’d have known beforehand. I didn’t exactly tell her all my comings and goings.”
Mr. Sedmon nodded. “Keep thinking. That’s the best thing you can do. And perhaps someone could look over the guest lists for those parties and see if there are any other connections. The surest way to prove you weren’t the contact is to prove who was.”
Daniel put the tray down and held the door for Mr. Sedmon. “I know where her ladyship kept the replies to her invitations. I would be happy to look into it for you, my lord.”
“There we are,” Mr. Sedmon said. “We’ve as good as got you cleared. I will call again tomorrow and let you know if there is any new information.”
“Thank you. And I’ll start following Burfield’s ramblings to the press so I’m not caught off guard again.”
“That might be wise. Would you mind if I spoke to some members of your staff and asked about the list of events in question? They might see more connections than we could.”
“Certainly, speak to whomever you like. Rivers will show you the way.”
When Daniel led Sedmon out of the room, James began to poke at his food again, his appetite gone. He had no idea how much time had passed when Daniel came back into the breakfast room and brought the tea to the table. “Would you like me to bring you something stronger?”
“I would, but I shouldn’t. I need my wits about me. How much of that did you hear?”
James was glad Daniel hadn’t even pretended not to have been listening at keyholes. They’d done it together often enough as boys for a denial to have been completely unbelievable.
Daniel continued without him having to ask. “Mr. Sedmon asked me to look over a list of social events and see if I remember anyone who was at all or most of them. He is speaking to Mrs. Harrigut and Mrs. Patterson now, about the same request, I would assume. I will get out her ladyship’s guest lists and begin comparing them for guests common to all, but I have no idea what his lordship did with his lists, if he kept any. I will try looking through his papers, or perhaps there will be a list of invitations that had been franked. If there is a list that would be of any help to you, I’ll find it.”
“I know you will. If you’d been my butler then, I bet you’d have all the proof I needed of my whereabouts.”
“What about your butler? Or your valet? Might they have some idea to help?”
“I’ve been through so many the last few years, but I suppose it’s worth a try. They all left on favorable terms, so I think they would be willing to help if they could.” He picked up his fork and poked at his eggs. “Will Father always contrive to make my life difficult?”
“Once this is settled, I would think that would be the end of it.”
“And at least he isn’t spouting nonsense to any reporter that will listen. All right, as soon as I’ve finished breakfast, I’ll start going through papers.”
“I’ll see that the library is ready for you. The funeral furnishers should return today to put the study back to rights as well.”
“That’s good, although I don’t think I’ll be wanting to use it for a while.” Perhaps he could turn it into something else. A formal parlor? But that would most likely have the opposite effect to what he wanted, drawing the gossips from every village within a twenty-mile radius to call and offer condolences and see That Room. He sighed and went back to his eggs. Prove his innocence first, worry about everything else after.
Daniel worried about James as he left the breakfast room. James had barely touched his food after Mr. Sedmon had arrived. The news of Lord Burfield’s confession seemed to be the last straw, with his own staff leaving in droves and now a new valet to be found. Daniel wished there was some way to ease the worry from James’s shoulders, but all he could do was continue to run the house and offer to act as valet, no matter how painful it was for him.
“A letter for you, Mr. Rivers.”
“Thank you, Polly.” He took the letter and glanced at the address. From Mrs. Millford in Brighton. He slipped the letter into his pocket. “Has the parlor been tidied?”
“Yes, sir, Nora and I finished it.”
“And the library?”
“There’s a fire laid, sir, and the curtains open. Everything is ready should his lordship wish to use it.”
“And preparations for the midday meal?”
“Mrs. Patterson was getting the last of it together when Mr. Sedmon went to talk to her.”
“Then please see if she needs any help.”
Once he was certain Polly had gone, he went to his sitting room off the kitchen and unfolded the letter.
Of course we would adore having you come and join our little hotel. You will find working for your own concern far more rewarding than being at the beck and call of someone else. Although there is quite a bit of that here too, but the faces change, so that is something. I’m afraid we will not be able to offer you the position of desk manager that we had mentioned in our original discussions; the gentleman we have now is excellent, and it doesn’t seem fair to him to take the position from him. I’m sure you will understand. We would have held it for you, only when you said you were not interested in leaving service, we all assumed you would continue to serve the young master, as the two of you were always so close. Nonetheless, I am certain we can find you a position in the management of the hotel which will interest you. We all know we will be very lucky to have a gentleman of your talents here with us. Please write and let us know when you expect your obligations to the new lord to be fulfilled and extend all of our sympathies to him in this trying time. Let him decide what the trying time is.
That was good. He should be very pleased. It would be terrible to learn that the hotel was doing poorly and they had no place available for him. This was excellent news, and he should be glad. He was glad. Daniel folded the letter and tucked it in the drawer of his desk. Obviously, he couldn’t leave at this moment, but it was the right thing to do eventually, when James no longer needed him. When the case was settled and James had his wife and her influential father on his side and plans for an heir. Daniel rose and went to see that luncheon was being properly prepared.
James sat at the desk in the library and stared at the lists in front of him. He’d sent Andrews back to his house to retrieve his diary and a few other papers that might be helpful along with the post, only to discover the post included letters from his housekeeper, cook, and the last remaining footman giving notice. He sighed and tossed them on the stack of things to be dealt with later and pulled the stack of diaries to him. Somehow, he had expected Daniel to help him go through his diaries and letters and try to piece together where he was on the nights in question, not that Daniel could be much help in deciphering the scribbled notes he’d left himself, but still, the pair of them sitting hunched over the desk had seemed as if it would make things move more rapidly, because there were two of them, not because it would have been more enjoyable. He considered asking Daniel directly, but Daniel seemed distracted whenever he came into the library to bring tea or announce luncheon, and it occurred to James that he’d given Daniel an entirely new set of responsibilities as his temporary valet, and perhaps Daniel was trying to complete as many of his existing responsibilities as he could to make time for the new ones. James knew he ought to tell Daniel he could call on the rest of the staff for help or send for someone from James’s townhouse, if anyone was left there, but he had the impression that Daniel would have delegated the valet responsibilities rather than the butler ones, and that wasn’t what James wanted at all, so he pored over every description of his movements he could find by himself.
When the door opened just before tea and Daniel entered, James allowed himself a moment to think that perhaps he was coming to help, but Daniel merely said, “Mr. Sedmon, my lord,” bowed, and slipped out of the room.
James pushed his disappointment aside. Disappointment that it was Sedmon, of course. The man seemed to bring nothing but bad news lately. “Afternoon, Sedmon. I’m afraid I’m not making much progress.”
“I have a few new dates you could look at, but they all appear to be large events in your family, so it is very likely you were at all of them.”
James took the list Sedmon held out and scanned it. “Well, considering the first one is Connie’s wedding, and I was in the wedding party, yes I’d say these were less than helpful.” He dropped the list on top of the other one. “Any luck with the staff?”
“Not yet, but I am still waiting for Mr. Rivers to give me his list.”
“He’s very thorough. I’m sure it will be worth the wait.” Another task that had been piled on Daniel’s shoulders. No wonder he seemed out of sorts. James looked at the stacks of paper still to be gone through. He’d rather hoped Sedmon would say he’d proven who the Tributary was and James could give up on all of this. “So we still don’t have any alternate suspects?”
“My lord, there is one person who might fit the description.”
James sat up and turned to Sedmon. Why was he being coy if there was something new? “Out with it. This sounds like my chance.”
“I asked your housekeeper to make a list of staff who would have been present at all of the events on the list. She informed me that your father had a very high rate of desertion.”
“I doubt she put it that way, but yes, that is true.”
“In fact, she said she herself was not here for the first third of the list and directed me to your butler, Mr. Rivers.”
“That’s correct. He’s been here in one capacity or another since I was a boy.”
“And he travels with the family between the townhouse and the country house.”
“Yes, but only now that he’s butler and in charge of the staff.” And then James understood. The only one there long enough. The only one present at both houses throughout. “You can’t mean to suspect him.”
“He is the only member of staff who fits the criteria, and we have not found a single guest who does. Have you managed to account for your whereabouts during any of the parties?”
James sighed. “Not yet, but I did attend the theater during one of them. I’ve been going through my papers looking for a ticket or a program or something. But you can’t suspect Daniel. He wouldn’t do it.”
“He is the only one we’ve found besides yourself who could have. And the name Tributary could fit a man named Rivers as well as a son. My job is to provide you with a defense.”
“At the expense of an innocent man? Really Mr. Sedmon, I’m starting to think you suspect me of being the courier.”
“It is not for me to question, my lord, merely to provide your defense.”
“I’m not letting you drag Daniel through the muck in this.”
“If I don’t, someone will. The man is leaving to bury himself in the country after years of loyal service to the family with no explanation. What are we to assume?”
“That isn’t anything. He was offered a position at a hotel that’s being run by former staff members. You said yourself my father had a knack for losing them. And that’s a ridiculous argument anyway. He offered to stay when all of this started, through the trials if I needed.”
“And was that before or after you were drawn into the mess?”
James knew the truth wouldn’t help Daniel, so he gave Mr. Sedmon his best lord-of-the-manor stare.
But Mr. Sedmon had dealt with the old lord for years. “I thought as much. When he thinks he’s undetected, he offers to stay and help you through the transition. When he realizes he might be exposed, he leaves.”
“He’d accepted the position; he couldn’t very well tell them he couldn’t come.”
“What is the name of the hotel?”
“I didn’t ask. I don’t think it’s the sort of place I’d ever stay.”
“Then I’ll have it from him and get the actual order of events.”
“Do, and I’m quite certain you will find all the proof you need that he is innocent.” Utterly ridiculous, thinking Daniel was involved in this. So why wasn’t Sedmon apologizing? James stared at the new list. Maybe he’d missed something on the first reading.
Daniel slipped away from the door and made for the dining room. He could say he was inspecting the silver. He’d cleaned it the day before, so he could start in the middle and not worry about missing anything. And if Mr. Sedmon came looking for him, he would never know Daniel had heard.
It didn’t surprise him. He’d wondered how long it would be before someone noticed he was the one constant at all those parties, aside from the traitor lords. He even suited the codename in a way. And he would have interacted with all of the guests, seeing to their coats, passing around drinks, plenty of chances to pass notes between them. He stopped himself before he put a serving fork in with the tea service.
In a way, it was better they suspect him than James, he thought. Purely practical, of course, not the silly infatuation that had kept him here for twenty years. No, having a servant as the go-between was far less interesting. Who would bother with the trial of a butler when Lord Burfield’s would be coming up? It gave him a small amount of security. Which was good as, unlike James, he had no hope of another alibi. He had been at all of those parties, milling amongst the guests. There would be no proof of anything else and no way to find him innocent unless the real Tributary was found and identified.
James finally gave up staring at the lists and stared at Sedmon instead. Sedmon didn’t seem to find his behavior strange at all. Perhaps he’d seen odder things before when clients were confronted with uncomfortable news. But this news was simply wrong. “He didn’t do it. He couldn’t have done it. I’ve known Daniel my entire life, Sedmon. He wouldn’t betray anyone.”
“Lord Lynster, I am trying to find some defense for you, some way to divert suspicion. And there is suspicion, even if they haven’t come to question you.”
James sighed. Sedmon was only trying to do his job. And he didn’t know Daniel like James did. “My valet quit because he thought I was under suspicion, and two maids from my townhouse and all of the footmen. And the cook. And the housekeeper. That’s part of why I’m staying here, to save me having to hire new staff on top of everything else. But I won’t let you divert suspicion onto an innocent man just to get it away from me.” Especially not when that innocent man was Daniel.
“Let’s go speak to him, then. Maybe he has some insight that would give me a proper direction to divert suspicion.”
James got to his feet at once. “Come on then. Let’s get this foolishness squared away.”
James half expected to find Daniel standing outside the library door, well across the hall from the library door, where someone with a penchant for listening at keyholes would retreat if the door suddenly opened. But Daniel was all the way across the house in the dining room, doing something with the silver. He looked up when he heard their footsteps.
“Did you need me, my lord? You could have rung.”
“Mr. Sedmon wants to have a word with you.”
Sedmon glanced at James and then towards the door. James didn’t take the hint and sat down in one of the dining chairs. He wasn’t leaving Daniel alone with the solicitor, not when he was a suspect.
When James sat down, Sedmon gave up hinting and turned his attention to Daniel. “Mr. Rivers, I’m sure you remember the latest in the incident the former earl was involved in.”
“You mean the parties? I provided you with the preliminary guest lists and will have the rest soon.”
“You did, and I’m afraid I’ve found very few constants among the parties in question. One of them is you.”
James watched Daniel’s reaction, but he didn’t seem surprised. “I had served his lordship my entire life, both here and at the country estate. It would not be surprising to discover that I had attended all the events he’s held over the years.”
“But you see that this puts you in a suspect position. Someone was passing information at these events, and you and Lord Lynster are the only constants. And now you are leaving for Brighton.”
“I’m not sure what to think, sir. I am completely confident that Lord Lynster had nothing to do with the treason, and I did not participate in it or have knowledge of it before the Crown started questioning the staff. I was at all the events in question, and most likely any others you might come across, but I had nothing to do with the unfortunate events that followed. My leaving for Brighton is related to the old lord’s passing only because it seemed a good time to move on, not because of his actions.”
“If you can think of any way to prove that, or anyone else who might have been involved, don’t hesitate to contact me.”
“I will, sir. Was there anything else?”
James looked over at Sedmon, who shook his head slightly. “No, Daniel. I’ll see Mr. Sedmon out.”
“Very good, my lord.” He turned back to the silver cabinet.
James led Sedmon back into the hallway. “I told you he had nothing to do with it.”
“But he doesn’t present much of a defense, does he?”
James had been hoping Sedmon wouldn’t notice that. “What kind of a defense were you hoping for? He was at the parties. It was part of his job. What can he say other than that he wasn’t involved?”
“As you say.” Sedmon took his hat and gloves from the hall table. “If you need me, don’t hesitate to send word. And if any of the guard comes to speak to you, send me word. Do you have a preferred barrister?”
So it was coming to that, was it? “I don’t really know.”
“I know several who are quite good. Addison and Powell come to mind.”
“I’m sure they will be more than adequate.”
“And you will need better than ‘more than adequate’ if this isn’t sorted out. Still, there’s always hope. Don’t hesitate to contact me for any reason.”
“Of course.” James waited for the door to close behind Sedmon then went back to the dining room. Whatever Daniel had been doing, he hadn’t gotten any farther along; he was still holding the same silver punchbowl.
“Did you need something, my lord?”
[_For you to have a brilliant alibi so everyone will see you can’t possibly be guilty and I won’t have to worry about you. Barring that, for you to defend yourself at least a little bit. _]But he couldn’t say either of those things. “Daniel, Sedmon seems to think we’re the two best suspects for this Tributary Burfield’s babbling about. I have told him you were definitely not involved, but I got the impression he thought my best defense was to throw you into the flames.”
“That is unfortunate, my lord.”
James sighed. “Please, try to think of something that could help you. I’ve told him that it wasn’t you, and I think he’ll take my word for it, but I don’t think that will have any sway with the Crown.”
“I will try, my lord. Was there anything else?”
He sighed. Why wasn’t Daniel taking this seriously? Although if he thought about it, it rather seemed Daniel was and simply didn’t care. “I know a dismissal when I hear one. Don’t deny it. And you’re supposed to call me James when we’re alone.”
“Very well, James.”
But it had none of the old warmth. James returned to the library. Something was wrong in this house, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.
James spent the afternoon in the study trying not to bother Daniel, but when it was time for dinner, Daniel seemed to be back to his old self. He supervised the table then went into the library with James to pour him a brandy. “This is very good.”
“I’m pleased you approve, my lord. I sent Andrews to your townhouse before he left with instructions to bring a few bottles of your favorites, as you’ll be here for a little while at least and some of his lordship’s spirits are—not up to your standards, I would think.”
Daniel did think of everything. “Try a glass yourself.”
Daniel gave his head a small shake, then glanced at the bottle and poured a small measure into a glass almost like a man who needed to steady his nerves. Perhaps he did, but why? Perhaps he was tired. The funeral must have run the staff off their feet, and James knew he wasn’t helping any by adding to his responsibilities. He gave Daniel a chance to sip the brandy and nod approvingly then asked, “How is the staff holding up after the funeral?”
“Things are almost back to normal, thank you for asking. The funeral furnishers cleaned up the study today and did a very acceptable job of it. When I looked in, one would not know what had taken place there. Although Mrs. Harrigut plans to have Nora and Polly go over it again tomorrow so it’s up to our standards. She is planning on assisting them. They are not flighty girls, but considering…”
“Anyone would be a bit off going in there, even Mrs. Harrigut.” It was very comforting talking to Daniel about something as normal as household matters. Whenever Connie tried to interest him in them, he usually found a way to pawn it off on the housekeeper. And Daniel did seem more his old self. Perhaps the problem had merely been the extra responsibilities he’d given Daniel. Perhaps when Daniel had a chance to rest and think, he’d be less remote, less formal, and perhaps he’d come up with a defense for himself.
James was considering telling Daniel to have one of the footmen from his townhouse come to help now that the funeral was over, then he remembered there were no more footmen at the townhouse. A maid then. Hopefully, that would be enough to prevent Daniel from making anyone else valet. He certainly didn’t want anyone else for a valet. Which was an odd thing to think. He’d had plenty of perfectly good valets over the years. Perhaps he was tired himself. That must be it. They were all tired. He’d let Daniel get some rest and rest himself, and everything would look better in the morning. James yawned. “I suppose it’s bed for me.”
“Very good, my lord.” Daniel finished his brandy in one swallow and held the door for him and followed up to his bedroom.
The first thing James noticed when he entered was how nicely his room had been prepared for him, although he couldn’t put his finger on what made the difference. Andrews had been a good valet and had taken care of everything in a most proper manner, but there was something a little nicer in the way the basin and hot water had been set out, the way the towel was placed, even the way his nightshirt had been laid out on the bed—the lighter one as it wasn’t yet cold enough for the thicker linen. That was only for the coldest nights. James liked to be a bit cold in the room; it made snuggling under the covers so much nicer. He wondered how Daniel had known that. Most valets took weeks to figure him out. Perhaps he’d mentioned it over the years, although when, he had no idea. Daniel had always been thorough and always took such pride in his work, even if it was only folding a towel. At least James could enjoy that care for a little while. He unbuttoned his trousers and stepped out of them as he headed for the washbasin. The water was scented with rosemary, he noted. He’d always like the scent of rosemary. That was what grew near the lake at the estate where he’d gone to hide so often. Daniel would remember that; he’d gone with him on as many of those adventures as James could manage.
James dropped his shirt and trousers on the bed and tossed his drawers after then turned his attention to the washbasin and filled it from the pitcher Daniel had brought. It was so much easier with Daniel acting as valet. Whenever he hired someone new, he always felt self-conscious undressing in front of them the first days. When he’d been younger, he’d desperately wanted to ask somebody if that was normal or brought on by the fact that he was normally undressing in front of new people for very different reasons at Madame Rosamond’s, but of course the second part of the question made it completely unsuitable for asking anyone, and the first part really wasn’t much better.
But with Daniel, everything was comfortable. They’d known each other so long, there was no reason to be self-conscious. Besides, they’d swum together in the lake and lain in the sun drying off on the long summer days when he’d been at the manor house and Daniel had been able to sneak away from his duties or James had been able to commandeer his help to carry a hamper or fishing poles or some other excuse to need him. That was what the rosemary made him think of. It had grown in the sheltered area a little ways from the water where they had been able to lie down and rest after a swim. Even the fact that he was half-hard didn’t matter when it was only Daniel around. James twisted to run the warm cloth over his shoulders and saw Daniel bent over the stack of clothes he’d left, all his concentration on shaking them out and sorting them into what need to be sent out for washing and what could be sponged at home. “You’re very quiet, this evening, Daniel. Was there something on your mind?” Perhaps he was on the verge of some kind of alibi for them both.
Daniel didn’t look up as he folded the trousers and placed them on the stack to be brought downstairs. “There was one matter, my lord.”
“Yes?” James asked as he put the cloth back in the basin and looked around for his nightshirt.
Daniel brought the article to him immediately, dropping the fabric over his head and holding the sleeves as James pulled it on. “I have received a reply from Brighton. I will be leaving soon, unless you have a pressing need for me to stay.”
James grabbed at the nightshirt and tugged it fiercely into place so he could look at Daniel. “Leaving? Already?”
“If you need me, of course I will stay, but I thought we had agreed that after the funeral…”
“Yes, of course, we did. I didn’t mean…” What did he mean? He’d known Daniel was leaving. “I just didn’t realize it would be so soon.”
Daniel went to the bed and turned down the covers and fluffed the pillows. “I won’t leave until you have a suitable replacement. In fact, I will go in the morning and see if the registry office has some suitable candidate, or place an advertisement for one if they don’t. Would you like me to check for valets as well?”
Another valet to get used to. Someone who wasn’t Daniel in his room in the evenings, undressing him, watching over him. This had felt so comfortable, it made the thought of someone else even stranger than normal. “No, I’ll see if I can find a recommendation.”
“As you wish. Did you need anything else?”
He had no idea what to ask for. Stay? Don’t leave just yet? Both foolish and not at all fair to Daniel. “No, that will be all.”
“Very well. Sleep well, James.”
James looked up. That had almost sounded like the old Daniel, but Daniel didn’t seem to mean anything by it as he emptied the dirty water back into the pitcher and took it away with the clothing he’d sorted.
James sat on the end of the bed and stared at the empty room. Why did it seem empty now when it never had after Andrews left? He was most likely imagining things. He picked up a book and climbed under the covers. He was tired, and that was somehow making him restless. Nervous, that was it. He was nervous. About the Crown, about he and Daniel being under suspicion, about having to hire yet another new valet when he’d thought he’d have a respite from it with Daniel.
He opened to a random page in the book and stared at the words without reading them. Why did Daniel have to decide he wanted to run a hotel now of all times? It wasn’t as if James would be a bad employer. Daniel knew him, knew he paid well, knew he’d have all the authority he wanted over the staff and the household. He’d let Daniel hire anyone he wanted and trust his word about who should be let go. They’d even been friends once. He had thought they still were for a little while at least. Was that it? Did the old friendship make him uncomfortable? Daniel had been the one to say he thought he should use James’s title. But he’d fallen into their old habit of names easily enough in private. And it had been quite a while after that when he’d decided to leave. When had it been, exactly?
It had been when this business of the Tributary began appearing in the newspapers. Or had it? No, Sedmon had come the day after to tell him what was happening and the danger he was in. Of course, Sedmon would say that Daniel had seen it in the papers when James wasn’t following the articles. What had happened that could have made him reach that decision? There had to be something. James tried to recall every conversation for some hint. They’d been in the library. He’d been going through the post. What had they been discussing at the time?
No, it couldn’t be that. It would be too absurd. And it would mean that Daniel… But James couldn’t ignore the fact Daniel had first mentioned leaving at the same time James had started talking about marriage and the list of potential brides Sedmon had brought over. That problem had slipped his mind when he became a suspect in the conspiracy, but he had been talking about it that day. Trying to avoid it really. What if it wasn’t all on his part? What if that kiss by the pond had meant something to Daniel too? And if he’d thought that James was considering marriage, he would certainly want to be as far away as possible before it happened.
And if he was right, in a strangely tragic way, it explained why Daniel was so reluctant to offer any sort of defense for himself, why he was letting Sedmon build a case without protest. Daniel listened at doors; James knew he did. The two of them had perfected their skills at it when they were young. If he had heard that James was a suspect, might he let himself be suspected to draw suspicion away from James? Even when he knew James would be looking for a wife when this was over? But how on earth was he supposed to ask Daniel a question like that? James stared at the book on his lap, not seeing the words but knowing he wouldn’t find sleep with those thoughts running through his head.
Daniel brought James’s clothing downstairs and dropped the linens into the basket for the washerwoman. He folded the jacket and trousers over a chair and examined the waistcoat. No need to clean it, so he hung it up and began sponging the cuffs of the trousers. How was he going to help James dress in the morning? Being in the room with him while he’d undressed and stood naked at the washstand had been bad enough, trying to keep his focus on the clothing and not turning to look at the smooth back, the dip just above his hips, the strong curve of his bottom… Daniel forced his attention to a spot of mud on the hem and rubbed at it enthusiastically. No, tonight had been bad enough, but dressing him in the morning would be so much worse. At least tonight he’d had little to do with James’s actual person. Just gathering up the discarded clothes and bringing the nightshirt when it was needed. But in the morning he was going to have to stand close to him, help him do up buttons or laces…
Daniel examined the rest of the trousers then hung them up and turned his attention to the jacket. And he’d have to help James with his cravat, standing close enough to touch his neck, to feel his breath against his hands…
No, he’d been right to say he was leaving, right to decide to leave as soon as possible, before James could figure out the real reason why. It had almost been obvious in the bedroom just now. If he hadn’t had the clothes to carry out of the room draped in front of him, James would have seen evidence of his interest, and that would have made everything more uncomfortable than his announcement that he was leaving for Brighton soon.
Daniel hung the coat with the trousers and snuffed out all but the candle he took with him. He was a terrible valet. He should have sponged everything thoroughly and pressed all of it and had it ready to be worn again. But it wasn’t as if he needed a reference, and he couldn’t stand being there a minute longer, thinking about staying and taking care of James. Let whoever replaced him as valet worry about the clothes, and maybe he’d tell James how incompetent Daniel had been, and perhaps that would make James glad he’d gone and remove that slightly melancholy look he’d given Daniel as he’d left the room. That thought did absolutely nothing to make Daniel feel better.
Back in his room, Daniel stared at the bag he’d taken out to be packed. He’d be leaving soon. He realized it didn’t particularly matter to him if it was for Brighton or prison. Either way, James would be safe. Perhaps it would be best to start packing now, while he was thinking about all the advantages of leaving. At the very least, it would make less work later. He’d start with the bureau and hope to tire himself out. Then maybe he would be able to sleep without thinking about James.
When he opened the top drawer of the bureau, he found the charred bits of paper he’d taken from the study fire the day of his lordship’s accident. Funny that he couldn’t call it what it had been even in his head. He’d put those pieces away in case they were important and then forgot about them in all the confusion. If the old lord had wanted them burned before he shot himself, then maybe there was something there, something that could provide the proof of the Tributary’s identity Sedmon was looking for, something that could help James. Daniel brought the bits of paper to the desk and spread them out then brought as many candles as he could find so he could see as clearly as possible.
Everything was covered with a layer of ash and soot. Daniel realized his fingers and cuffs were already beyond hope, but he managed to peel off his jacket and leave it on the bed. At least that wouldn’t need to be thoroughly cleaned before he could wear it again. Then he began the slow work of sorting the scraps into what could be read and what couldn’t. The largest bits seemed the most promising, so he picked each one up with gentle fingers and tried to make out what he could.
He’d gone through most of the large pieces before he found one where the bits he could read made sense. It was an order for wine. Why would the old lord burn that in the minutes before his death? Daniel held the candle close to the fragment and tried to read more. The list was nothing like anything that had been ordered for one of their dinner parties. If they had ordered a combination like that, Mr. Berry at the shop would have sent word back to make certain none of the staff were trying to cheat or that Lord Lynster hadn’t been drunk when he wrote it. Daniel put it aside and spread the rest of the fragments out, looking for anything else that might be part of an order or an invoice.
Now that he had an idea of what to look for, many of the bits started to resemble shop orders, all for wine and other spirits, which still made no sense, unless the former Lord Lynster had needed a bit of liquid courage that night and not been thinking clearly.
Half an hour later, with sooty fingers and watering eyes, Daniel found it. The direction of the shop the burned orders had come from. And it wasn’t Mr. Berry’s. It wasn’t any shop they had used before. It was an establishment called Nestore’s Fine Spirits. Something about that seemed familiar. He glanced at the clock. Half past midnight. Late, but James would probably still be awake, especially with all the worries he had. Daniel gathered up the pieces that seemed most relevant and folded them in a piece of paper then went to see James.
James was still awake, still sitting up in bed trying to make sense of Daniel’s odd behavior when heard the door open slowly and looked up to find Daniel peering around the edge of the wood, in his shirtsleeves, no less. “My lord, I hope I did not wake you?”
“Not at all. I was reading. Come in.” He glanced belatedly to the side to see if enough candles were still lit so it would actually look like he was reading then turned to see what Daniel wanted. “Good God man, what have you been doing, cleaning chimneys?” Daniel had soot on his hands and smears on his face, and his normally white cuffs were the color of coal, and he was indeed in his shirtsleeves.
Daniel looked down at his hands. “I am sorry, my lord. I should have tidied up before I came to see you.”
“I thought we agreed you weren’t to my lord me when we’re alone. Let me get some water.”
“First you should see this, my… James. These papers were in the hearth when I found your father. I took them out before I went for the resurrection men in case they were of importance, then forgot about them in the confusion that followed.”
James forgot about the water and went to look at the scraps. “And you know what they mean?”
Daniel looked around the room for someplace to put the bits down. James put a hand on his shoulder and steered him to the desk. When Daniel hesitated again, James pulled some paper out and spread it across the surface. Daniel seemed to think that was sufficient protection and sat at the desk to spread out his finds. “They’re invoices from a wine merchant.”
James went to stand at the desk beside Daniel. “A wine merchant? Why on earth would Father burn those?”
“I don’t know, but it’s a strange combination of orders, and it isn’t our usual man. I found the name here. Nestore’s Fine Spirits.”
James leaned over Daniel’s shoulder to look at the barely legible writing he was pointing to. Something about it seemed familiar. “You said Nestore?”
“Yes, my lord.” James felt Daniel’s breath against his neck as he answered. He wanted to lean into that sensation, to feel Daniel’s breath against more of his skin. Against his… And then the words struck him again, and he remembered their importance. He looked back at the paper, trying to see the spelling of the name. “This is what Sedmon was looking for, Daniel. The name that Lord Burfield gave, do you remember it?”
“Tributary, I believe.”
“Exactly. Tributary. And the Nestore River is a tributary of the Tiber River in Rome. Father would have known that; he had a map of Rome on the wall in the study, which is probably where he came up with the code names.” James reached forward to turn the scrap so he could see it better, brushing against Daniel’s shoulder as he did. “This might very well be what he was referring to, not a person, but the shop, or at least the wines. And you say they’re unusual?”
“Yes, nothing we’d order normally, and in unusual quantities. Too small for a party, too large for personal use.”
James leaned closer to Daniel. “This has to be it. You’ve solved it.” He flung his arm around Daniel then realized his hips were pressed against Daniel’s side, and there was no way Daniel couldn’t feel what their proximity was doing to him. Unless perhaps Daniel might think that it was excitement over solving the mystery, or that he had been reading something scandalous, or…
Daniel turned his head, just a fraction, just enough that James could see his expression, could see Daniel look up ever so slightly, ever so nervous. James remembered all of his theories, all the things he’d interpreted just a few moments before. And Daniel would be leaving him soon no matter what. Unless he was right, unless he could convince him otherwise. James leaned in just the littlest bit more. Just enough that he could press his lips against Daniel’s, could take the full bottom lip between his and suck lightly on it. Daniel stayed frozen. And then, just when James was about to pull back and apologize, Daniel made a small sound of pleasure, and his lips parted, his tongue darted out and brushed against James’s lips. James crushed his mouth against Daniel’s, twining his fingers in Daniel’s hair and chasing his tongue back until his could stroke the roof of Daniel’s mouth. Daniel pressed closer but didn’t touch him. James would have thought the kiss was unwelcome except for the small sounds of pleasure coming from Daniel and the way Daniel’s tongue stroked his as he explored. His hands, the soot—he should have found Daniel some water. He tangled his fingers in Daniel’s hair to keep him there.
It only lasted a moment before Daniel broke the kiss, but that was only to begin running small kisses along James’s neck. James leaned against the desk and pressed up towards Daniel’s mouth. This was what had been wrong with all those kisses. Not him, not memory—those kisses had been wrong because they hadn’t been Daniel. And then he realized Daniel wasn’t nuzzling his neck anymore. Daniel was on his knees, pushing up the hem of James’s nightshirt as he ran his hands along James’s thighs, ignoring the trail soot he left behind. James wanted to touch him as well, wanted to loosen Daniel’s trousers and reach inside and fondle the cock he’d seen when they’d swum together, taste it and see if that was also better than with anyone else. And then Daniel’s tongue darted out, and all James could think of was the feel of it as it ran over the head of his cock then licked down the underside to the base. He moaned as Daniel pressed closer, his hair tickling against the sensitive skin of James’s inner thigh while Daniel’s mouth explored his sac, taking one side into his mouth and sucking until all James could do was whisper, “Daniel, please, Daniel.”
Daniel pulled away for a moment, and then his mouth fastened around James’s cock again, sliding all the way down, wrapping it in warm wetness until Daniel’s nose brushed the hair on James’s belly, and he could feel Daniel swallow around him, then Daniel drew back, sucking as he did, letting his tongue swirl around the head, then plunging down again. How did Daniel know just what he wanted? Was it the same instinct that told him how James liked his tea and which nightshirt to put out, or was it merely that Daniel had been what he’d wanted all along, what had been missing in all those other encounters, and anything he did would be what James wanted?
And this was what James had been missing, his dear Daniel who’d been his companion for so long. How had he not known this was what he wanted? He looked down, wanting to see his cock disappearing into Daniel’s beautiful mouth and sliding out slick and hard. How had he not noticed Daniel was beautiful? They’d been naked together by the lake, after swimming, and Daniel had lain there, wet and warm and drying in the sun beside him. How had he not realized? He saw Daniel had undone his own trousers and looked ready to spend without even touching himself. James wanted to say that wasn’t fair, he was expecting his turn just as soon as he remembered how to make his legs move, and then Daniel sucked and flicked his tongue and swallowed, and there was no room for anything in James’s mind but the wonderful warm feeling until he felt his body release and spend into Daniel’s mouth. He closed his eyes and let his body ride the feeling of bliss, feeling safer than he had with any other lover, even those with as much to lose as he had.
When he’d spent everything in him, and it felt like quite a bit more, he opened his eyes, wanting to say something to Daniel, but he had no idea what. He saw that Daniel had come as well, spending into his handkerchief, somehow managing to be neat even then. It didn’t matter, he told himself. Once he’d recovered a bit, he’d simply stroke and kiss and nip at Daniel until he was hard again and then have his turn. He hoped he wouldn’t disappoint. He didn’t have Daniel’s talent for anticipating what another might want, but perhaps he could make up for that with enthusiasm, or perhaps he could learn. He could learn one person’s preferences, if that person was Daniel, at least. He ran his hand gently along Daniel’s cheek, brushed his thumb along Daniel’s lip to wipe away the damp traces he’d left as his cock slipped from Daniel’s mouth.
Daniel leaned into his hand for a moment then pulled back and got to his feet so quickly that James’s passion-muddled brain couldn’t register what was happening until it was over. “Good evening, my lord.” Daniel shoved his hair out of his eyes and all but ran to the door, doing up his trousers as he did. James was ready to run after him, but Daniel was already in the hall by the time he’d come to his senses, and besides, what would he say to him there, outside the privacy of the bedroom? No, he’d have plenty of time to talk to Daniel in the morning and tell him—well, tell him something that would set this to rights. There was no way he could let Daniel leave for Brighton without at least trying to get him to stay. Not now that he understood what had been missing all along. He loved Daniel.
Daniel didn’t stop running until he was up the servants’ staircase and back in his room. What had he been thinking? He’d gone down to show James—Lord Lynster, clearly he couldn’t be trusted to call him James even in his mind—to show Lord Lynster the name he’d found on the scraps of paper, and ended up on his knees in front of him, sucking him dry. How could he have allowed that to happen? Without thinking about it, he removed his shirt and placed it in the basket to be laundered then hung his trousers over the chair and lined his shoes and stockings up beneath it, putting everything in its proper place in his tiny domain.
That was the problem, of course. One kiss by a pond almost twenty years before, and he’d stayed stuck here, with nothing to show for his life but this tiny, borrowed bit of the world. How much more could he give up for the memory of that moment? No, he had to leave, and soon.
At least James had seemed to enjoy it. His lordship. No, he would always be James in Daniel’s mind—there was no point in pretending otherwise. But James had enjoyed it. He couldn’t think of anything more mortifying than to have his admittedly inexperienced fumbling met with disgust or condescending advice for improvement.
Daniel climbed into bed and blew out the candle. Perhaps James would suggest he stay and they have another tryst, or make them a regular indulgence. While James wasn’t the sort to trap maids in back hallways—or in his case, footmen in back hallways—there could have been no doubt that Daniel was an enthusiastic participant, particularly since he was the one undoing clothing and… He felt his cheeks heat at the very thought of it. And a small part of him thought how grand it would be to say yes, he’d stay, he’d slip up to the master’s chambers after everyone else had gone to bed. And it wasn’t a small part of him either if he were honest.
And that was why he had to leave. Now, while he still could. While the part of him that was disappointed at how little he had to show for his life still had some sway. Before there was a wife to deceive or break his heart. James might have thought tonight was a bit of a lark, but Daniel knew he wasn’t falling in love. He’d been in love with James for years. Now his problem was how to leave this place without leaving any more of his heart behind.
When Daniel saw the light creeping under the curtain, he realized he hadn’t slept at all, and there wasn’t much point to it now. He pulled himself out of bed and started to dress for the day. Now that they’d discovered the meaning of Tributary, James was out of danger, so there was no reason for him to stay. He could leave for Brighton on the next coach. He sighed. No, he couldn’t. He’d have to arrange for a replacement. But there were servants’ registries. He’d go to one and find someone, and Mrs. Harrigut could complete the training. And while he was out, he would get a schedule for the mail coach. And if he was out when James needed the services of a valet, so much the better. Peter was more than capable of dressing his lordship. He would just slip out through the kitchen and tell Mrs. Patterson not to wait for him to return. She’d be there preparing breakfast already.
The registry office Daniel normally used to employ servants was only a short walk from the townhouse, and within twenty minutes he was there, discovering that the offices did not open until nine o’clock. He realized he should have assumed that would be the case and considered leaving a note but decided against it. He still hadn’t told the rest of the staff he was planning on leaving, and that ought to be done in person, not by a messenger replying to his request. He turned his steps towards the nearest coaching station.
As he walked through the nearly deserted streets, he tried to think of what other steps needed to be taken before he left the Lynster household. The staff needed to be told in time to prepare, of course, but servants left the old lord’s service so often it would hardly register with any but the most senior staff, the ones that knew how long he had actually been there. Mrs. Harrigut for one. And Mrs. Patterson. He’d have to tell them first. After his lapse last night, it would be best to leave the training of the new man to Mrs. Harrigut. She was certainly capable, and Lord Lynster might have specific requests. Best to have someone not used to the rhythms of the household, as he was, to sort that out.
And there were things he would need to do outside of the household. He had a small amount saved in the Prescott Bank. He would have to arrange to have it withdrawn so he could bring it with him. While he was there, he would ask if they had any recommendations for a bank in Brighton where he could open an account. He’d gotten Prescott’s name from James, and he didn’t want to ask him for any help finding someplace in Brighton, not after last night, not after he’d practically been begging to be pleasured, in his thoughts if nothing else. If the bank didn’t have a suggestion, he supposed he’d have to keep his savings under the mattress like Mrs. Patterson did. Unless the others at the hotel had a bank they liked. That was possible.
And how was he going to tell James? After last night. After he’d leaned back and seen James looking down at him with such excitement, such confidence in his abilities, and he’d wanted so much for James to bend forward and kiss him, and as if he’d read Daniel’s thoughts, he had. And it had been nothing like that day by the pond, nothing like two lads experimenting. James had learned how to kiss since then, and his mouth had been fierce and skillful and completely wonderful. And not something to be thinking of on the street, no matter how deserted.
No, he’d have to be very careful how he told James, lest James think he was some maid put off by the advances of her employer. That kiss had not put him off at all, or all the things that had come after it, being on his knees in front of James. The feeling of kneeling before him yet still holding so much power, the feeling of his mouth being stretched and filled by James’s length, the feeling of exhilaration as James said his name while reaching his climax while Daniel licked and sucked and teased. Definitely not something to put him off.
And definitely not something to be thinking of while walking down a public street. He forced his mind to consider the various advantages and disadvantages of the most traveled routes to Brighton and whether a morning or evening departure would suit him best until he arrived at his destination.
Once inside the coaching station, it took longer than he had anticipated to gather all of the information he needed, and he realized he would certainly be later returning home than he had expected, but he reminded himself that he was in charge of the staff, so unless James asked for him specifically, his absence would be a curiosity, possibly a source of speculation, but not one he needed to worry about. Mrs. Harrigut was quite capable of seeing that the household ran smoothly without him. And James would not ask for him. He stopped his mind from traveling that path again with a firm shake of his head and proceeded back towards the main doors, only to find that the way out was blocked by two large men. Daniel wasn’t in the mood for a confrontation of any kind, so he turned to the schedule of arriving coaches and pretended to be studying it until they moved.
Only when they moved, the men did not go to the ticket counter or anywhere he expected them to. They came to the same schedule board he was looking at. Daniel stepped away and moved towards the door. The taller man moved to block his path. Daniel couldn’t think of any offense he might have caused and decided the fellow was simply the sort of bully who liked to find someone to intimidate. He put on his most gracious air, the one he’d used on the old lord when he’d been in his cups. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be out of your way and you gentlemen can look in peace.”
“You’re Daniel Rivers?” the man’s voice was more educated than Daniel would have thought. It surprised him into a truthful answer.
Both men grabbed his arms.
Daniel started to struggle. “What are you doing?”
“Taking you in. You really thought we wouldn’t figure it out?”
“Figure it out?”
“Your involvement. Don’t make me knock you out.”
In the plot. Of course. No one else knew what he and James had found out. “I wasn’t a part of it. There’s evidence now.”
“No one’s told us that. Only that you’re to be arrested and questioned, and Williams is to look for evidence against the son. Come along.”
So far they had attracted a few curious stares, but the men were being quiet enough and restrained enough that, while it felt they were pulling his arms out of their sockets, no one seemed to know what was really happening. At least there wouldn’t be more scandal for James. And if he went, then maybe they would be too busy questioning him to look for evidence against James. While Daniel was certain James had not been involved in the treason, he had no idea how discreet he had been, how he’d lived when he was away from his father. Investigating him too closely could turn up associations with people and activities the Crown would punish almost as severely as a role in the treason. Daniel let his body sag, as if he’d given up in defeat, and allowed the guards to drag him out to the waiting carriage.
James woke up thinking he had just had the most restful sleep he could remember having since Father had upended their lives, and the most intense dream about Daniel ever. And then his mind pushed off the last bit of sleep and realized why he had slept so well. Daniel had figured out what Burfield meant by the Tributary. He had solved the riddle and figured out how Father had communicated with the others. The ordeal was over. He would no longer be a suspect. There were just the exact details to work out, and that would be easy enough for Sedmon to sort out now that he knew where to look.
And the rest of it, that hadn’t been a dream either. Daniel and he had… It had been… James sighed and pulled himself out of bed. He was in love with Daniel Rivers. All those years of wanting to see his friend, it had been because he was in love with him. He’d have to talk to Daniel. The man had run out of the room like the guards were at his heels before James could even consider reciprocating. He’d have to assure him first that there was no way they would be discovered, and then that he would like a repeat of the experience if it were possible. Perhaps there was some way he could persuade Daniel to stay. Being his own man and part of a respectable hotel was all well and good, but perhaps he might still want a role in the household. Was there something above butler that he could be offered? Connie would know.
That stopped him in his tracks. Connie did know. All the little hints about them being close, that was what she had meant. She had seen he was in love with Daniel. Did Allister know? Had he figured it out? Had she told him? And had anyone else figured it out? No, no. Connie knew him better than just about anyone but Daniel, so he was safe. He hoped he was safe.
James went to the bell pull and rang for Andrews. The sooner he was dressed, the sooner he could go looking for Daniel. Then his sleep-muddled mind caught up and he realized he wouldn’t have to go looking for Daniel; Daniel would come. He’d acted as valet the night before. James went to the mirror and tried to put his hair to rights. Daniel had seen him plenty of times at less than his best, but somehow this morning that wasn’t good enough. He wanted to be at least somewhat presentable.
The door opened before James could get himself into any sort of respectable shape, but it didn’t matter, as it was only Peter who came through the door looking slightly out of breath, not Daniel. “I’m very sorry, my lord. I hope you weren’t waiting long.”
What on earth was Peter doing there? He tried to hide his disappointment. “Not at all. I’m a bit early, but I have business with Mr. Sedmon this morning.”
“Something sober, then. The black with the dark-blue waistcoat perhaps?”
“If you think.” He didn’t particularly care what he wore this morning. As Peter took the required items from the wardrobe, James asked, “Do you know where Rivers is?” trying to sound merely curious and not as if he would rush directly to the spot, dressed or not, to have the conversation he was desperate to have.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?”
“What?” That made no sense at all.
“You didn’t know, my lord? He went out for a walk this morning and told Mrs. Patterson he’d be back for breakfast, but he hasn’t returned. We’re all wondering what happened to him.”
Daniel probably didn’t want to see him, James thought. Or thought James didn’t want to see him. Maybe he needed a bit of time to decide what he would say. He certainly wouldn’t have left for Brighton, would he? Without saying good-bye? No, not Daniel. He wouldn’t leave like that, and he wouldn’t leave without finding a replacement. James noticed Peter was watching him, waiting for an answer. “I’m sure he had some business to take care of and will return when it’s finished. Would you tell Mrs. Harrigut to let him know I’d like to see him when he returns?”
“Of course, my lord. I’m sure it won’t be long. Will a barrel knot do, or would you like me to attempt something fancier?”
James didn’t particularly care, so he nodded and held still while James fussed over buttons and brushed his coat. Surely Daniel would be back at any moment with a perfectly reasonable explanation. Perhaps he’d had another inspiration about the Tributary or remembered some essential item the household needed. It would all be explained as soon as he returned.
But Daniel hadn’t returned by the time James had finished breakfast. Or finished going through the morning post. Or had read two entire newspapers. He finally decided he couldn’t wait any longer to bring the new information to Sedmon. That allowed him to ignore the fact that it looked more and more likely that Daniel had not gone for a simple walk but was halfway to Brighton, which he knew was a completely irrational fear, but a fear nonetheless. He went up to his room and collected up the scraps of paper, folding the fragile bits into one of the sheets of paper that Daniel had insisted on to protect the desk. As he slipped the paper into a leather document case to further protect it, he realized Daniel had never said if there were more bits of paper with more information. Perhaps he had planned to before the evening took a decidedly more recreational turn. It wouldn’t hurt to go upstairs and look in his room. And if James happened to see any evidence as to whether or not Daniel had left for Brighton, that would be an interesting additional development, nothing more.
James always felt self-conscious entering the servants’ floor of his own house, as if he were intruding backstage in a play or the wheelhouse of a ship, somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be or even know existed. Which he knew was ridiculous as he owned the house and paid the wages, both at his townhouse and now here, which really was also his or would be once the will had been settled. But he still walked swiftly down the hallway, which was empty as the staff were all downstairs about their various tasks. Daniel’s room was at the end of the hall. A corner room giving him a bit of extra space and a second window that looked onto the roof of the house next door. James knocked in case Peter had been wrong and Daniel was hiding there, but there was no answer, so he went in, still feeling he was invading Daniel’s privacy.
The room was empty, which was a relief and also a disappointment. He would have worried less if Daniel had been there and wanted to be alone. James realized he’d never been in any of the rooms Daniel had occupied over the years, never snuck up to see him or bring him treats, which he really ought to have done. There was no reason he couldn’t have brought Daniel something from Oxford, sweets or a book or even some scandalous postcards from a train station along the way. The room itself was tidy, as he would have expected, and sparsely furnished, with a plain wooden bedstead, narrow and neatly made, a washstand and dresser along the wall, and a desk that matched neither, and an old rug on the floor that had been in the parlor in his mother’s day. James stood in the doorway, imagining Daniel coming here after a long day, sitting on the bed to remove his shoes, washing up at the basin. Removing his jacket and waistcoat and shirt, revealing his smooth back, and then his trousers and…
James pulled himself away from the door and closed it behind him. It would give him some warning if anyone came in. He was here for the papers, nothing more, although he couldn’t resist a quick glance around, just to be certain Daniel was coming back. A quick glance under the bed revealed Daniel’s travel case, open, with a couple pairs of summer-weight trousers inside. Was he packing, James wondered, or merely storing them there? Surely it wouldn’t be wrong to look for a little more evidence.
On the dresser, he spotted a box of marzipan candies, half-empty. James smiled as he remembered how Daniel had comforted him with those sweets so very often. Had Daniel loved him even then, when he’d been too caught up in his own troubles to even notice? Really, he should have realized years before how special Daniel was to him. Marzipan was his favorite sweet, but only the ones Daniel gave him had ever comforted him or made him smile when he saw them. He’d have to find out what made Daniel smile like that and surprise him with it.
He stepped away from the dresser and almost tripped on the basket for laundry near the dresser. There was a shirt on top that James recognized from the soot-covered cuffs as the one Daniel had been wearing the night before. He flicked the folds until he could see the hem, still stained with Daniel’s spend. That told him Daniel was planning on coming back more than anything, even the travel case. Daniel wouldn’t have left that behind to be found by some nosy maid or footman who would immediately begin speculating on who he’d been with. Even if Daniel never wanted to see him again, he wouldn’t let James be the subject of gossip, certainly not about that, nor would he let anyone think one of the maids in the household would take up with the butler for any reason. He was certain Daniel planned to do something with the shirt, either bundle it with other things so it wouldn’t be noticed, or clean it up himself. James dropped the shirt back into the basket and began searching for the rest of the burned paper.
James found the rest of the scraps of paper on the desk almost at once. Now that he knew what to look for, he could make out the name of the shop and the odd orders that had been placed. He gathered the scraps into a white handkerchief that had been left on the desk with a few sooty fingerprints—Daniel’s fingerprints—which he folded carefully around the scraps so none would be lost. He would take them to Sedmon himself, and then this whole mess would be over and he could concentrate on sorting out the mess with Daniel. And sort it out he would. If he couldn’t convince Daniel to stay on, he’d simply take a house in Brighton and let himself be thought an eccentric for living there year-round. Or move into that infernal hotel like some half-mad dowager. Anything so long as he was near Daniel. Although it was probably best he not be found poking around Daniel’s things if Daniel were to come back just now. He took the handkerchief of scraps and left with one last look around so he’d know where to imagine Daniel when they weren’t together.
Back in the main part of the house, James felt more comfortable. He sought out Mrs. Harrigut, who was in the formal parlor, seeing everything had been done to her satisfaction, no doubt. “I’m going to see Mr. Sedmon. I should be back in time for dinner.”
“Very good, my lord. And you were looking for Mr. Rivers?”
“I’ll want to speak to him as soon as I return.”
Mrs. Harrigut began studying a cushion that seemed to have been torn during one of the interminable visits of the past days. James could tell she was trying to sound casual when she said, “I’m sure he’s merely been delayed. I know he was talking about advertising for some more staff to replace those that are leaving.”
She was worried, James could tell that at once. But why? Did she think something was wrong with Daniel? No, more likely, considering Father’s temper, she was worried that he’d be upset with Daniel for disappearing. “He did say something about going to the servants’ registry office last night. Perhaps he ran into some delays there, or they may have had some candidates for him to examine at once. And if it’s not that, I’m certain he’ll have some perfectly reasonable explanation for being gone.” Probably related to his own appalling behavior the night before. “Tell him I have some household matters to discuss with him when I return.”
Mrs. Harrigut seemed to relax. So she had been worried about his reaction to Daniel’s absence and not any danger to Daniel’s well-being. “Very good, my lord. Shall I ring for Peter to get your hat and coat?”
“I think I can still manage those on my own. Thank you, though.” As he went to the coat rack in the front hall, he wondered if his father had bothered Daniel every time he needed to put on his coat and find his hat. Most likely he had. Why in the world had Daniel put up with it? James sighed and wrapped a scarf around his neck. He knew perfectly well why. If only Daniel had come to him and… And what? Asked for a position? How would that have been, asking to be hired so he could what, be near James? If that was even what he wanted. Told James he cared about him? James sighed and found the hat he wanted. He would simply have to make certain that Daniel was happy now, and hope that Daniel’s happiness included him.
James was always surprised to enter Mr. Sedmon’s office and find it teeming with clerks and other young solicitors researching points of law for him or handling paperwork. He always thought of Sedmon as working alone in some garret with nothing but his law books for company. The bustle of the office always made him wonder if perhaps there was more to the solicitor than he let his clients see. Perhaps he dallied with opera singers on his days off, or sang opera himself, or sat in front of his fire reading scandalous novels instead of legal decisions. It meant James always had to be very careful to collect his thoughts before he approached anyone, as it would never do to be grinning over some private joke just before requesting help with some serious legal matter. Daniel was the only one he could indulge in those thoughts with, and that thought sobered him quicker than anything.
Glancing around the office, James recognized several of the clerks from his past visits, and several recognized him. The one closest to the street door quickly ushered him through to the private waiting room outside of Sedmon’s office and went to announce him. James didn’t feel like waiting, especially as Daniel would most likely be home any minute, and he didn’t want to miss his return in case Mrs. Harrigut had been right and Daniel been at the employment office and had miraculously found a replacement already and would be on his way to Brighton before nightfall. As the clerk went through to the inner office, James followed. The clerk glanced back and looked ready to say something, but James was now an earl, and that permitted a bit of rudeness to go unchecked.
“Lord Lynster to see you, Mr. Sedmon.”
“Thank you, Mr. Cooper.” Mr. Sedmon didn’t even look up from his papers. Mr. Cooper nodded to James and left, pulling the door closed behind him. When he heard the door catch, Sedmon continued speaking before James could say anything about his purpose. “If you’d like him to be represented, I can make some suggestions, but as I am your solicitor, I should not be involved beyond that. Neither should any barristers you intend to use yourself. There are several good firms that I could recommend besides Addison and Powell.”
James had started unpacking the most legible of the burned scraps Daniel had shown him before Sedmon had finished talking. He really wasn’t interested in anything beyond getting this foolishness about the Tributary done, Daniel’s innocence proven—and his of course—and then getting home, where he was convinced Daniel was packing and halfway out the door already. “What are you talking about? Who needs to be represented?”
That made Mr. Sedmon look up. “I thought that was why you were here. To secure representation for Mr. Rivers.”
James nearly dropped the sheet of paper containing the scraps.
Sedmon looked concerned. “You didn’t know? He was arrested this morning.”
“But he’s innocent.”
“He was seen leaving the coaching station with schedules for the mail coach.”
So he was leaving after last night. That hadn’t been an irrational fear. “You knew he had a job in Brighton. We’ve known that all along.”
“Have we? I contacted the hotel in question. I thought it might shore up his case if there was a particularly good offer. I received a reply from a Mrs. Millford, who said they had extended an offer of a position to him when the hotel first opened three years ago, but he declined it. She seemed pleased by the idea that he was planning to join them now, but she went on to say that, if he was coming soon, they would have to hurry and find something for him. It seems the position he was originally offered could not be left vacant for three years. An interesting time to decide to take up hotelliery, don’t you think?”
It was, and James was afraid he knew why now, but he pressed on. “Never mind that. He’s innocent. I know the meaning of Tributary.” He unfolded the sheet of paper on Mr. Sedmon’s desk and spread out the fragments. “These were swept from the grate shortly before my father’s accident.” He was grateful for all the times he’d stretched the truth in his youth with Daniel. It made it easy to remember his father’s death was to be an accident and to gloss over the fact that they had been removed from the study after his death, when Daniel had been busy arranging the scene. “They explain the meaning of Tributary. It wasn’t a person but a shop. A wine shop called Nestore’s Fine Spirits, obviously named for the tributary of the Tiber in Rome. Now how soon can he be released?”
Mr. Sedmon stared at the charred bits in front of him. “First, you need to explain this to me in a way that I can understand, then I need to decide the best way to bring this to the Crown so you and your staff will be seen to be helping them, not hiding this for over a week.”
“And how soon will he be out?”
“If this is as important as you seem to think, a few days at best.”
“A few days?” How could he leave Daniel in some prison for a few days? “Mr. Sedmon, Daniel has been with our family for years, since I was a boy. In fact, most of my best memories of Lynfield Hall are of the two of us sneaking out to the grounds to go fishing in the pond.” As he said it, he realized that was the truth, or almost it. He couldn’t recall a single happy memory at Lynfield Hall that didn’t involve Daniel in some way. “I am not going to let him rot in some stinking jail cell for a few days.”
Sedmon did not raise his voice, but he didn’t need to. He was a man who knew his business and knew that he did. “It’s the best you can hope for, my lord. This is treason, not some little offense you can throw your title at. Now, I see a pile of burned paper on my desk. Explain this to me so I can see why you think it fixes everything.”
“Can I go see him? Pay a bail? Pay for better accommodations?”
“I can try to arrange a visit. But first, what is this mess you’ve left on my desk, and how is it going to help you?” Sedmon still did not raise his voice. He simply waited for James to realize that he really did want to help him, and if that meant helping Daniel, he might be willing to do that as well.
James dragged a chair over to the desk. Leaning over Sedmon reminded him too much of leaning over Daniel the night before, and while he was quite certain doing so with Sedmon would not lead to the same conclusion, the memory might lead to some uncomfortable moments, not to mention he was already distracted enough with worry; he didn’t need anything else to muddle his mind. Sedmon waited patiently until James found the bits he wanted and started to explain.
Daniel assumed he was being taken to a prison, but he had no idea which one or even if they were still in London at all. The guards who’d taken him hadn’t spoken a word to him since they’d shoved him into the carriage. The shades were drawn, so he had no idea where they were going or even a general direction of travel, but he didn’t think the journey was long enough to have taken him out of the city. When the carriage stopped the first time, both guards grabbed his arms, but no one moved to get out. A gate then, he thought, perhaps the prison entrance. A short while later, they stopped a second time and the door opened. The first guard got out and gestured for him to follow.
The light seemed very bright after the closed carriage. Daniel blinked a few times as the guard holding his left arm said, “Rivers.”
Informational, Daniel thought, not meant to be addressing him. Another guard stepped forward and knelt down. Daniel was confused until he felt shackles being fitted around his ankles. So things were as bad as he feared. His eyes accustomed themselves to the bright light just as a chain was fitted around his waist to keep the one between his ankles from dragging on the ground. Hands went through his pockets, grabbing what money could be found, to pay for his upkeep he hoped, not blatant stealing. He’d surely never see it again, although that was the least of his troubles, he was certain.
“Bring him along,” one of the original guards snapped. Someone shoved Daniel in the back hard enough to make him stumble, and he was marched across the yard, lumbering along under the weight of the chains on his ankles.
He’d barely accustomed himself to the bright light of the yard when he was dragged inside into the gloom of a hallway. He stumbled along, prevented from matching his stride to that of the guards by the chain between his ankles, until he was pushed into what seemed to be an office. “Wait there.” The door slammed shut, and he could hear the clink of a lock.
Daniel went to the one chair in the room. No one had told him not to sit, so he did. Nothing happened. He wished there were a clock or at least a window so he could gauge how long he’d been kept there. He was certain it was not nearly as long as it seemed, but some confirmation of the fact would have been nice. He knew they were trying to make him nervous and that he was not really alone, although he did wonder if the guards were merely stationed outside the door or if they could somehow see him. Not that it mattered.
The room was stuffy and warm. He would have liked to loosen his collar, but he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing him fidget. Daniel stared straight ahead and considered his position. Clearly, he was being arrested, and most likely because they suspected him of being the Tributary or knowing who it was. That meant that he would be watched, even in whatever cell they put him in. From the tenaciousness he’d already seen, the guards would have no qualms about bribing thieves and even murderers to give information on him. That meant it would not be wise to try to intimidate them, as he had with the resurrection men. No, he couldn’t let the Crown have any information that would let them say he was a hardened criminal, which meant he would not be able to fight back.
At least it wasn’t James in here, he told himself. A butler would be seen as better off by most of the other prisoners, but still a servant, not as much fun to torment as a titled lord.
At last the door opened, and one of the guards brought a second chair. The guard ignored Daniel, so Daniel ignored him. He knew he wouldn’t get any answers from anyone regardless. As the guard left, a second man came in. From his uniform, Daniel could tell he was of higher rank than the first. This man was most likely one of the officers investigating the traitors and the one going to question him. The investigator walked once around the room, not looking at Daniel, acting as if he weren’t even there. Daniel continued to stare straight ahead. Until he knew the game, he thought it best to do nothing.
The investigator finally sat at the desk and stared at Daniel. “Daniel Rivers, you know why you’re here?”
“Oh, come now. You’re an intelligent man.”
He didn’t want to antagonize the man, so he tried to remain neutral as he said, “I assume it has to do with my former employer, although as I had nothing to do with his plans beyond those for the household, I don’t know what the specific reason would be.”
“I see.” The investigator leaned back in his chair. “You’ve no doubt heard that Lord Burfield has revealed that information was distributed at several parties held by your former master. We have been looking into those parties and have determined that there were only six people present at all of them. The three traitor lords, Lord Martford’s son, the current Lord Lynster, and yourself. I find it interesting that you are the only member of the household that has been with the family the entire time the conspiracy was being planned.”
“I was a boy when I joined the household. I have served the Earl of Lynster all my life. I never saw a reason to leave.”
“And yet Lord Lynster, the former Lord Lynster, has a reputation as a hard master.”
“I achieved a position of some responsibility. I was less affected by his moods than some of the others.”
“I see.” The inspector shuffled papers around on his desk as if he were looking for notes. Daniel knew he was buying time and stayed silent. It went on for quite a while, at least half an hour. Daniel wondered if the inspector was ever going to introduce himself, then decided he probably wouldn’t. Not having a name was meant to make Daniel feel out of control. If he didn’t know who his tormentor was, he wouldn’t know what he was capable of.
At last the inspector leaned across his desk. “We know the information came either from you or Lord Lynster. If you can give me any information that will lead to proof it was Lord Lynster, then we won’t have any reason to hold you, will we?”
Daniel wondered if they really thought James was the source of the information, or if they thought it was him but hoped he’d give them James for the added spectacle at the trial, or thought it was both of them but had no proof, or if they knew they had nothing and were hoping to get something from him. Not that it mattered. “As I had nothing to do with the conspiracy, I have no information to give you.”
“That’s most disappointing.” He leaned back in his chair and began stacking the papers. “For you, I mean. If we can’t find any evidence on Lord Lynster, we’ll have to bring you to trial, and we would hate to hang the wrong man.”
If it came to a choice between letting them hang James and being hung himself, Daniel wondered what he would do, right at the moment, when it was real. He knew his choice now, when the threat of hanging was something distant and abstract. “I’m afraid that either way you will be hanging an innocent man.”
“A pity, but it won’t help you at the trial.” The inspector got to his feet. “You know he won’t be able to hire representation for you, not if he wants to hide his role in all of this.”
“He doesn’t have a role in it. Neither do I.”
The investigator gave him a pitying smile. “If you should come up with any information, I will be back next week. Timmons, you can take him.”
Timmons was the guard at the door. He grabbed Daniel by the arm and led him from the room and further down the stairs. With each flight, the air became damper and the smells more foul. When at last they stopped, Timmons dragged Daniel down a narrow corridor and unlocked a cell at the end. He shoved Daniel inside and slammed the door before the other residents could react to it being opened.
Daniel tried to stay by the door until his eyes adjusted, but the guard had barely left when he felt hands snatching at his coat and at least one going into his pocket. He shoved hard in as many directions as he could then followed the bars of the cell until he found a wall to lean against. Several people had already taken the spots near the bars where the air was slightly better, so he pushed further in until he found a bit of space he could take with his back to the wall so there was one less side to defend. From his new position, he tried to survey the room. He had no idea how many prisoners were crammed in with him, but he was certain it was more than the room was designed to hold. There was a window letting in faint light of the sort he associated with window wells dug beside cellar windows. If that was the case, then he wasn’t as far below ground as the stairs had suggested. Clearly, this was an old prison, not one that had been modernized. That wasn’t surprising. Most likely, it was the worst prison they could find for him, and they were hoping the discomfort would get him to confess if bribery did not. He wasn’t going to let it work. He wasn’t going to let them implicate James in any of this.
He leaned against the wall, feeling the damp through all of his clothes, and thought about James. Had he noticed Daniel was gone? Was he worried? Thinking of going looking for him? Or glad he’d gone and they wouldn’t have to have an uncomfortable conversation after the humiliating display of the night before? Why had he done that, kissed James then dropped to his knees and sucked him off without a word? What must James think of him? But James had enjoyed it in the moment. At least he had that thought to hold onto. And Daniel couldn’t bring himself to regret doing it. At least he had that one memory to comfort him, even when he went to Brighton or wherever he ended up. Daniel settled against the wall and let his mind wander back to the night before. It seemed a bit disrespectful to think of it in a squalid jail cell, but it did distract him from the noise and damp and smell of the prison.
Explaining their theory to Mr. Sedmon took longer than James had anticipated, and when he’d finished, Sedmon was less enthusiastic than he had hoped. “An interesting view of things.”
That was not the reaction James had hoped for. He’d been expecting Sedmon to grab up the papers and say they’d go directly to the lead investigator and have Daniel out by noon. “So when will he be out?”
“My lord, what you’ve shown me looks very promising, but that is because I am already of the opinion that Tributary does not refer to you or Mr. Rivers. What you don’t have here is proof that would sway someone who believes.”
“So you do think Daniel is innocent?” That made it so much easier. At least there was one more person on their side.
“Yes, I do, and I have, but I have to look out for your interests, especially as you have not engaged the services of a barrister as of yet. What we have here is suggestive, but it is no more certain that Tributary refers to this shop than to a son or to someone named Rivers. To use this, we need to know how the shop was passing on information, particularly as the events in question seemed to have happened both in town and at your country house. Is there a second shop of the same name there?”
“Not that I know of.” He could see Sedmon’s point before the man made it.
“Then how was the information passed at those parties?” Sedmon patted James’s hand. “But I do think you’ve found something useful. I will look into it personally, then I will set some clerks on it and see what they can turn up. I have some very clever ones who look at things differently than I do. We have the start of a path now; we’ll get to the truth. Now, you look worn out. Go home and leave this in my hands.”
James was worn out and disappointed that he wouldn’t get Daniel out that moment. How odd that he hadn’t known his friend had been arrested before he came here, and now he felt he’d been trying to free him for ages. “You’ll arrange for me to see him?”
“I’ll do my best, but it is best for both of you if I don’t seem to be trying too hard, no harder than a normal employer would for an employee.”
“But one who had been with the family since he was eight.”
“I’ll keep that in mind and call on you as soon as I have something, but you have to be careful. They want another traitor lord, and if they think you are providing too much help and comfort to Mr. Rivers, they may take it as a sign that you know he helped your father, which would be evidence of both your guilt. But I will look into this and try to find something concrete. And I will continue to monitor Lord Burfield’s ramblings. Perhaps we will be lucky and he will reveal more facts of the plot.”
That seemed to be the best Sedmon could do, so James took his advice and went home. But he did not leave the idea of Nestore’s as the Tributary to Sedmon. He had needed to use the scraps Daniel and he had gone over the night before to explain the theory to Sedmon, so those had been left with the solicitor. However, he still had the ones he’d found in Daniel’s room with him, and he intended to sort through them. If there was an answer there, he was going to find it. And if there wasn’t, he would go to Nestore himself and see what there was to see. The only thing stopping him from finding the address and going there at once were Sedmon’s repeated warnings about his own precarious situation and how that could impact Daniel’s. He’d be cautious and give others the chance to question Nestore first, at least as long as Sedmon thought there was some hope of it happening.
When James arrived at the townhouse, he went straight through to the library, too eager to start to be concerned about food. He was about to spread everything out over the desk when he remembered Daniel’s expression the evening before and went looking for something to protect the surface from the charred paper. He’d just arranged several sheets of blotting paper in a manner he thought Daniel would approve of when the door burst open.
Mrs. Harrigut would have been storming into the room, only she seemed to remember at the last moment that James was lord of the manor now and it would be prudent to pretend at politeness. At least she paused after flinging the door open and stood half in the room glaring at him and pleating the skirt of her dress. Twice she looked ready to begin speaking then changed her mind and went back to glaring. James was so intrigued by the whole thing that he didn’t pretend not to notice and simply asked, “You wanted to say something to me?”
“I did, my lord, and you’ll excuse the familiarity, but Mr. Rivers had nothing to do with the conspiracy.”
He was impressed with the speed the news of Daniel’s arrest had traveled, but not surprised. “I know that. It’s the Crown we need to convince, although I think I have the start of how to do that.”
Mrs. Harrigut looked surprised at his quick agreement. “If there’s anything I can do…”
Perhaps he didn’t have to look into the new clues alone. Who would know better what the wine was for than the staff? Just because Daniel hadn’t seen the connection didn’t mean no one would. “I was hoping you would say that. I need to know about the wines that were ordered for Father’s dinner parties. Rivers said he always used Berry’s, but I need to know about any other places.”
“That is the only wine merchant I’ve heard used, but perhaps Mrs. Patterson would know more.”
“Excellent. Tell her I want to know anything she remembers. Also, if the two of you would look at this list, find these wines, see if you see anything odd about them.” He handed her the list he and Sedmon had put together from the invoices. “I’ll need that back when you’re through. It’s the only copy I made.”
Mrs. Harrigut scanned the list. “None of these look like anything I’ve seen in the house, but I’ll ask Mrs. Patterson. Perhaps they’ve been through the kitchen.”
“Excellent. Then I want you two to make a list of any other former members of the household who might know something and write to them.” Who besides the kitchen staff would know about wine? He tried to think of his own household. “Also include anyone who—may have taken a very personal interest in seeing that the master’s table was well laid out. They may have noticed something in the course of their—work.”
“You mean like Roberts. Wonder anything ever made it to the table when he worked here. We’ll see who we can think of. Won’t be a complete list, as neither of us has been here above three years.”
“But it will be a start. Thank you.”
“We could write to the previous housekeepers and see if they’re willing to help. That might do. Do you know how far back?”
“I didn’t think to ask Sedmon that. How far back did the parties he asked you about go?”
Four years? Father had been hiding this from him for four years? “Then that should be sufficient.”
“We’ll start at once, unless you’d rather we…”
“I think getting Mr. Rivers back here should take precedence over everything else, don’t you?”
“Most definitely, my lord. We’ll begin at once.”
“And I’m quite content with a tray in here for dinner, or perhaps the pub. I haven’t been to a pub in ages.”
“It won’t come to that, my lord, but we will have a list for you and the letters sent as soon as possible.”
When Mrs. Harrigut left the room, James pulled out the bits of paper and began sorting them on the desk, hoping for some kind of pattern.
By the time Peter came to light the lamps, James had reconstructed two invoices well enough to be able to see the dates and had begun a list showing what was ordered on each date he could identify. He thought it might help to compare that list to the list of parties and see if there were some connections. He was also hoping it would give him some idea as to how the shop could act as courier when the parties were held at the country house. Peter entering broke his train of thought, and once it was broken, he realized he was sore from sitting for so long. He arched his back and tried to loosen his shoulders.
“My lord, Mrs. Patterson said to tell you she had not seen any of the wines you inquired about. Nor has any of the staff.”
Damn, how was he supposed to find them then? Daniel would know, but he couldn’t ask Daniel. “Thank her for me. If anyone does think of something, I’ll want to know at once.”
“I will inform everyone, my lord. Will you be wanting to dress for dinner tonight?”
It seemed a silly question, but if Peter would be acting as his valet, one the footman needed an answer to. “No, I’m still working. Would you tell Mrs. Patterson to send a tray up here?” He glanced down at the desk and noticed his hands were as dark with soot as Daniel’s had been. “I’ll just go upstairs and wash up a bit. If you would send up some water.”
“Yes, my lord.”
The idea of Peter acting as his valet appealed even less now that he was worried about Daniel than it had in the morning. “And if you have other work to do, I can manage undressing myself tonight.”
“If that suits you, my lord. Was it something I did incorrectly?”
“Not at all, I’m merely a bit preoccupied.”
Peter nodded. “We all appreciate how hard you’ve been working on Mr. Rivers’s behalf. Not at all what the old lord would do, if you’ll excuse me saying.”
“I’ve known him a very long time.” It was a version of the truth.
“So had he, again if you’ll excuse the observation. And, if you don’t mind my mentioning it, there are several on the staff who don’t know that we’ll be able to get new positions considering the events here. I don’t like to ask, but were you considering keeping both houses?”
That was something he hadn’t considered at all, but he could see that Peter was worried. He’d known that his father’s stupidity would also reflect badly on the staff, but it hadn’t occurred to him just how difficult it would be for them, but of course no one would want to be anywhere near anything to do with the house of a traitor. Hadn’t he seen that in his own staff deserting? “I don’t think I’ll keep this place once everything is straightened out, but I will need to hire some more staff at my own residence. You can tell the others when I begin sorting my place out, I’ll look here first and take Mr. Rivers’s recommendations very seriously.”
“Then you think he’ll be back?”
“I’m certain he will. He’s innocent, so of course he’ll be released. It’s only a question of when.” Perhaps if he said it enough times, he’d convince himself.
“Everyone will be relieved to hear that. And about the offer of positions. It will be a great weight off of some minds.” James had the impression Peter’s was one of those minds.
“Tell Mrs. Patterson nothing too heavy or complicated for dinner.”
“Yes, my lord.” Peter bowed and left the study.
Had Daniel worried about his position like that, or had he been such a fixture that Father wouldn’t have thought of letting him go? He should have offered him a position in his household ages ago. Maybe then he would have figured out that he was in love with him sooner. There, he’d said it in his mind at least. He loved Daniel. James sat at the desk and went back to searching for clues with fresh motivation. He had to get Daniel out of prison so he could tell him he loved him.
James kept going through the scraps until Peter came back to the study to tell him there was hot water upstairs in a tone that made him realize it was probably the second or third pitcher that had been brought for him. The scraps were all blurring together in his mind anyway, and before his eyes, if he were honest. The light had become too poor to be useful ages ago. “I’ll be up in a moment.”
“Very good, my lord.” Peter sounded relieved even though he tried to hide it.
As James went up to his room and washed his hands and fixed his cuffs, he wondered what Daniel was being fed. They had to feed him, didn’t they? He knew it wouldn’t be good, but he wished he knew how bad it would be, to stop his mind from turning to thoughts of moldy bread or spoiled meat. He didn’t even know what prison Daniel was in. He’d been so concerned with convincing Sedmon that Daniel was innocent and that Nestore was what Tributary referred to that he hadn’t thought to ask.
Well, he would simply have to go and see Sedmon in the morning and ask him. Maybe by then Sedmon would have arranged for him to see Daniel or even found a way to have him released. That was a happy thought. Sedmon was good at his job—surely he’d found something by now. Perhaps he could… no, Sedmon wouldn’t be at his office now, and James had no idea where the solicitor lived. Sedmon probably liked it that way, to avoid just the sort of call James was thinking of paying on him now.
As he passed the door to the servants’ staircase, James remembered standing in Daniel’s room. That had been before he’d known Daniel was in prison, and he had still felt closer to him there than anywhere else. A quick look wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps it would make him miss Daniel less. That lie didn’t even convince him. If anything, it would make him miss Daniel more, but he still went to the baize door and started up the stairs.
He didn’t encounter anyone on the way to Daniel’s room at the end of the hall. They were most likely all down at dinner. No, all down waiting for him to finish his dinner so they could begin. He would only take a moment, just long enough to feel closer to Daniel, then go back down and eat whatever Mrs. Patterson had come up with for his supper.
Daniel’s room was just as he’d seen it last. No one had been up to tidy. James wondered if someone did come to tidy Daniel’s room or if he did it himself. Did he like his room? Would he want something different? It wouldn’t seem odd at all for James to arrange for some other accommodations for him. Everyone knew how much trouble he had keeping staff; surely it wouldn’t seem odd for him to offer Daniel anything he wanted to stay on, particularly as he was turning down the chance to help run a hotel. And if it was odd, he didn’t mind being thought eccentric. In fact, he could offer Mrs. Harrigut and Mrs. Patterson similar benefits and conceal the offer in plain sight. He ran his hand along the bed. Daniel had slept there after their brief encounter, his last night of freedom. For the moment. He’d be free again very soon. James would see that he was free very soon.
James thought he heard footsteps, but no one passed the room. The box of marzipan was still on the nightstand. Daniel must have bought it when he knew Father would be making life difficult again, just as he had when they were boys. Daniel picked up the box and put it in his pocket. He could look at it and think about Daniel’s kindness until Daniel was back, which would be very soon.
He glanced around and spotted the basket of laundry he’d noticed before. It hadn’t been emptied, so Daniel’s shirt was still there. James picked up the shirt and stroked the collar. He should have said something to Daniel then, told him to stay. Made him stay. Not let him run from the room. But he’d felt so sated and boneless after Daniel had finished with him. Still, he should have at least forced his voice to work. He buried his face in the shirt. It smelled of silver polish and soap and the musky scent of the night before and something that was Daniel, something he remembered from the long afternoons by the lake. He folded the shirt and slipped into the hall with it. If he’d been caught in Daniel’s room, it would have been easy enough to say he’d been looking to see if he could find anything there to prove Daniel’s innocence. Slinking through hallways with one of Daniel’s shirts was much harder to explain. But he encountered no one on the way back to his room. He knew he’d have to hide the shirt so Peter wouldn’t take it away for cleaning. He glanced around his room.
If he hid it under the pillow, it would be taken away when the bed was made. And among his clothes was no better. Even though he preferred Daniel as his valet, Peter was very good at the job and conscientious. James wouldn’t put it past him to go looking for clothes that needed washing. The nightstand. No one would look in the nightstand. James folded the shirt and slipped it into the top drawer, added the marzipan box as well, then hurried down to dinner. He didn’t want to make the rest of the staff wait any longer than he already had. He would have to do better at thinking of them, of trying not to make things harder for the staff. He didn’t want Daniel to think he was a difficult employer.
Daniel lay very still and hoped he looked like he was asleep. He didn’t want any more attention from guards or prisoners. Already he’d been robbed of all his money by the guards when he’d arrived and his coat and waistcoat by a particularly fierce prisoner. It had been simpler to let them go than to continue to fight, and he didn’t want to do anything that would make the guards notice him, make anyone notice him too much. He was quite certain anyone who found something to be used against him, to prove he was part of the traitor lords’ conspiracy, would be rewarded. He had managed to keep his shoes by stepping on the fingers of anyone who attempted to take them, which had seemed something anyone would know to do and therefore not something to be noticed or remarked on.
Daniel closed his eyes, although he doubted it made much difference in the darkness. He’d tried telling the guard who brought dinner around that they had taken his money on account, but the guard was used to the scams prisoners tried and had said he would check and until it been confirmed, Daniel would have to make do with the standard ration, which consisted of hard bread and watered ale and not enough of either to fill his belly, although more than enough to leave him with a feeling of disgust.
If an empty belly weren’t enough to keep him up, the cell he was in was overcrowded, meaning he was lying on the floor between two other prisoners, neither of whom had bathed or changed their linen in years from the smell, with barely enough space to roll over. Between the hard floor, the smell of unwashed bodies, and sounds of the other prisoners, he couldn’t settle his mind to sleep. And if he stayed here much longer, he would be as filthy and wretched as they were, and what would James think of him then, stinking, half-starved, and in rags crawling with lice?
He pulled his mind away from that thought. James wasn’t his to think about. But if he couldn’t find sleep, thinking wasn’t a bad idea. If they could solve the riddle of the Tributary, he could keep James out of a place like this. The wines, it seemed to be connected to the wines on those lists. But they weren’t anything Daniel had seen in the house. That meant they couldn’t have been served at any of the dinners. If they had been, he would have been the one to decant them and serve them. So if not a dinner wine, what did that leave?
He froze as he heard someone stumbling through the cell, picking their way over the bodies crammed in, presumably on their way to the slop bucket. The man on his left rolled over and shoved his shoulder against Daniel’s side. Daniel tried to slide away, but his other bed-mate was too close, and he didn’t want to find out what would happen if he appeared to be trying to get closer to him, particularly as he was one of the ones who had tried to take his shoes. Daniel resigned himself to a night with someone’s greasy hair tickling his face and tried to take shallow breaths. Where would the wine go if not in the guests’ glasses?
Gifts. The old lord had given gifts to his friends on many occasions—perhaps some of those had been bottles of wine. It wouldn’t seem strange. In fact, he was known for liking his drink, so it would be perfectly natural for him to tell a group of his friends he’d found something he wanted them to try and pass it out. And there would be no reason for him to involve any of the servants in that. It was worth looking into at least, only Daniel needed to find some way to get a message to James, to let him know that was a possibility. Perhaps Lord Gatwell might remember something from those occasions. As part of the family, he might have been present.
The prisoner had finished with the slop bucket and was making his way back, stepping over the bodies again, apparently missing his footing and stepping on a few from the curses. The man on Daniel’s right rolled away, taking the blanket Daniel had been given with him, not that particularly minded; it hadn’t given much warmth and was so fifthly he’d half expected it to crawl away on its own. So how to get word to James? He could hear that someone in the wing had managed the bribe needed to bring a prostitute inside, and the woman in question seemed to be doing a roaring trade.
That was the problem. He didn’t have any money for bribes. Perhaps he could offer his shoes. He had no idea what a pair of shoes was worth, but it might be worth trying. He heard a yell from someone using the prostitute’s services then laughter from the others in the room. There was always that possibility, offering himself to someone who couldn’t afford the services of a smuggled-in whore, but he had the feeling that the whore would charge less than the messenger, requiring more than one foray into that profession. Unless the person wanted something the whore wasn’t willing to do. Daniel closed his eyes. It was a possibility, one to keep in mind, particularly if the man questioning him seemed closer to arresting James.
Perhaps he could see someone from the outside, even the prostitute, in passing. If he could have a few moments of quiet with someone, he could relay the message and assure them that they would be well paid by the recipient. But that would bring another person into it, and someone who probably couldn’t be trusted. And could they be trusted to relay the message accurately?
Might he be allowed to post a letter? It would be read, certainly, but if he could hide the information somehow? But why would a butler write to his employer? No, that would raise more suspicions than anything. But if he could get the means to write, perhaps he could compose a note, address it with the promise of payment, and toss it somewhere where it would be found by someone on the outside. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was the best he’d come up with so far. The man on his left shifted again, and Daniel moved quickly to arrange himself in a marginally more comfortable position. Perhaps, once he’d seen more of how the prison worked, he’d come up with a way to get word to James without raising any more suspicions around James. He couldn’t bear the thought of James in a place like this.
James woke early after a night plagued by bad dreams about Daniel being questioned by sadistic prison guards then brutalized by his fellow prisoners. He didn’t bother to ring for Peter to help him dress but muddled through on his own, mainly because he had taken Daniel’s shirt out of the drawer after a particularly bad nightmare and wasn’t ready to put it back yet.
Standing in the breakfast room looking at the choices spread before him, he wondered what Daniel was being given to eat and felt guilty as he filled his plate. Peter came in as he was sitting down but didn’t ask why he hadn’t been summoned to act as valet, merely placed the tray with the morning post on the table beside James and left. Perhaps he understood, James thought.
James skimmed through the post, tossing most of the envelopes into the pile he thought of as to-deal-with-later. One caught his attention, addressed to “His lordship the new Earl of Lynster.” It was very quick for a reply to one of Mrs. Harrigut’s letters, but it was curious enough to attract his attention, and just incorrect enough to have been from a servant who wasn’t particularly good at his job. He broke the seal and unfolded it.
The letter was from the former footman Roberts, the footman with the fondness for spirits and the one he had pinned his hopes on. It read:
[_Mrs. Harrigut has written to me stating that you wish to know about the beverages that were imbibed at your father’s gatherings. I myself was very particular in seeing that they were of the highest quality, and that led to some interesting observations. I do not wish to entrust such news to a letter, but if you were willing to pay my expenses on the mail coach, I would be pleased to come to town and tell you all I know. _]
_Most respectfully, _
That was the most promising thing James had seen since the burnt papers. He flipped the letter over to look at the postmark. If Roberts could get here quickly, perhaps he could get Daniel out of prison before the month was out.
The postmark explained the speed of the response. It showed the letter had come from a village about five miles outside of London. James chuckled. Roberts didn’t need a mail coach; he needed a sturdy pair of walking shoes or a friendly farmer on his way to market. But he understood the subtext. Paying transportation costs was not paying for information. But there was another consideration—Roberts was being called on for his familiarity with spirits, and James wanted him to arrive on his doorstep, not pass out on it. That would require delicate handling.
By the time he’d finished breakfast, James had come up with a reply.
I was very pleased to get your letter. I am most eager to hear what you have to say. As I do not like to entrust the post with large sums of money, I am enclosing a down payment to enable you to find conveyance to my father’s townhouse in London where I am staying. After we have spoken, I will be happy to pay you the balance of your expenses for the mail coach. Come any day that is convenient for you. No need to write ahead; Mrs. Harrigut and the staff will know to admit you.
He enclosed what he thought was a reasonable amount to offer a farmer on his way to London and enough for a hackney cab to the townhouse from almost anywhere within the city then sealed it and left it in the hall for the post, then he went to find Mrs. Harrigut and let her know that Roberts was to be admitted at once if he called, entertained until James returned if he wasn’t in, and above all, kept sober until he could be questioned.
Daniel heard the chains of the other prisoners rattling before the sounds of the guards coming to wake them. A lifetime of servants’ hours meant he wasn’t put out at being woken so early. He copied the other prisoners in picking up his blanket, which had made it back to him somewhere in the night, possibly under its own power, and hanging it from a peg on the wall. The guard came as they were shuffling around to give assignments. Daniel wasn’t certain if it was because he was new to the cell or because they knew he’d been a servant, but he was assigned to empty the slop bucket then scrub the floor in the corner. He saw some of the other prisoners sent out to swab the floors in the hallway or the common room.
Once the chores were finished, which didn’t take long as there wasn’t much to be cleaned in the cells, the ration of bread and watered ale was brought around, with nothing extra for him as he hadn’t any money to pay for it. With barely enough for his belly to know he’d eaten, he was ushered out to the yard with others for what was called exercise but seemed to consist of standing around in the gloom. Most of the prisoners seemed to split into groups, either gambling in the yard or going to the taproom to purchase what Daniel assumed was illicit alcohol. As he didn’t have any money, he was able to turn down requests to join both groups without seeming aloof and spent the time huddled against the wall as the areas around the stoves were all taken up by long-time prisoners.
When the church bell rang the hour, the gates were opened, and the day’s visitors began entering. Daniel could see merchants selling what seemed to be food past its prime and clothes that had belonged to more than one owner and women claiming to be visiting husbands who appeared to be seeking someone with enough funds for a comfort visit. Perhaps someone in that group could be persuaded to get a note to James. Or to Mrs. Harrigut. Maybe it wouldn’t seem as strange if he sent her a note. Someone might think he was sweet on her. So who would be the best person to approach? Normally he’d think the merchants, but they all seemed to be doing their best to scam the prisoners. The ladies seemed more sympathetic, particularly if he could find one who was actually married to someone inside, perhaps with children she was trying to support. That would make her glad of the money. But he had barely gotten a look at the newcomers when one of the guards came and grabbed his arm and led him back down to the cell. Daniel wondered if this was another example of not being able to pay for something or if he was denied the chance at relatively fresh air because of his status as a possible traitor. As he was the only one in the cell now, he assumed it was the latter. He sat in a corner of the cell by the window and waited for the time to pass. He amused himself by composing a letter to James in his mind, but he was quite certain he wouldn’t be granted any paper without money to pay for it, and besides, the letter quickly became the sort of thing he could never commit to paper, not if he wanted to see outside the prison walls again.
The idea that Roberts might have some information distracted James all through breakfast, and he found he couldn’t even concentrate on piecing together the rest of the invoices while he was thinking about the possibility that he could have something to help Daniel before the week was over. But not working on something made him feel guilty, as if ten minutes wasted might be ten extra minutes Daniel had to spend in prison because of him. In the end, he went to the study and further sorted the post, putting the bills from tradesmen for his father in a pile for Sedmon to deal with, the condolence letters in a pile to be replied to later—something he could press on Connie perhaps, or would that be taking advantage?—and the random invitations into a pile to be ignored.
He was just looking for another distraction when Peter came into the room. “Mr. Sedmon, my lord.”
“Sedmon, do you have news?” he asked before Sedmon was even in the room. Perhaps he’d solved the whole thing at once, or had found a way for him to see Daniel at least.
“I’m afraid not, my lord. I merely came to bring you a copy of the will and see how you were faring. Are those for the estate?” He picked up the stack of bills. “I’ll get them out of your way.”
James barely noticed. “What about me visiting Daniel or sending him money?”
“I did speak to someone connected to the prison, and they were very interested in why you would want to go. I tried explaining that he was a loyal servant of long standing, but they seem desirous of making something more of it.”
And not the more that was correct, James hoped. “You’re saying it’s not safe for either of us if I do anything.”
James sighed. Sedmon was trying to help. It wasn’t his fault that James wasn’t liking the answers he’d found. “One of the former servants wrote and might know something about the Nestore wines. I’m going to meet with him as soon as he gets to London.”
“Then perhaps that will help. And I will continue looking into things on my end.” Sedmon tapped the letters he was holding against the stack of papers on the edge of the desk. “Have you considered my proposal, my lord?”
“Proposal?” He’d been so busy worrying about Daniel he had no idea what proposal Sedmon was talking about.
“The list of eligible ladies. It would best to get someone of influence on your side as quickly as possible. It might even allow you to assist Mr. Rivers if you had someone with enough influence on your side.”
“The list.” The dratted list. It was still sitting on the edge of the desk. How in the world could he think about a list of potential brides when Daniel was in trouble? “Sedmon, I understand you were trying to help, I really do, but I don’t think that is the correct proposal for me.”
“My lord?” Sedmon stayed quiet for a moment. “You mean your heart is already engaged? You should have told me. We could still put part of the plan into action. A wedding is still a happy event, and an heir is always to be celebrated. And having someone on your side, even if they are not one of the great families, would still be something. Mothers and sisters can do wonderful things by gossiping in the right places. And if she has brothers or a father, well, someone to protest on your behalf at a race or over a gaming table with the right people present can be most useful. I’m at your disposal for marriage contracts.”
“That won’t… I mean…”
“Oh dear, she’s not married, is she? That would not do in this case, not at all.”
“No, that isn’t the complication.” Or should he say it was and let Sedmon think whatever he was going to think? James was still considering if he should protest in such a way that implied confirmed when he realized Sedmon was thinking hard, letting all possibilities roam through his mind.
“Oh good lord. Is it… Don’t tell me. I’m not sure I want to know.”
James couldn’t be certain Sedmon had guessed, but something in the way the solicitor said it told him he had come to the correct conclusion. “I won’t confirm it then.”
“Well, I can tell you that will be of absolutely no use in this circumstance. None at all. In fact, it would create a whole different set of problems.”
“I assure you, I am very discreet, but I do understand if you want to drop me as a client.”
“Drop you? Heaven forbid. No, we won’t discuss this, so I will not be lying if I am asked about it by the Crown, which under the current circumstances may be a distinct possibility; they seem to be poking around in every corner of your life. You have been discreet all along, I hope. But it does mean I need to come up with an entirely different strategy. And most likely a complete genealogy so we can find the next in line at some point. But first we have to keep the title intact and you out of prison. I’ll think about it. And you will continue to look into the business with the wine?”
“If Roberts doesn’t have anything useful, there are a few other avenues I can consider.” He wasn’t sure what they were, but they had to exist. He’d simply have to find them. “And I made a list of the dates I could read on the invoices. They seem to match up with the parties fairly regularly. The ones in town a few days before, the ones at Lynfield Hall at least a week before.”
“Good. It isn’t conclusive, but it seems he could have purchased all of the bottles from the same shop and brought them with him. That is looking like our best hope. I will let you know if I happen upon another strategy.” Sedmon tucked the bills into his pocket and put on his hat. “May I be permitted one impertinent question?”
“Considering how well you took that news, I’d grant you several.”
Sedmon smiled. “One will do. Is Mr. Rivers the reason the proposal could not be accepted?”
James wondered how to answer honestly. “At the moment, no, but I have hopes.”
“Then I will leave you to your lines of inquiry, and I will try to find a way for you to render aid to Mr. Rivers.” Sedmon stopped with his hat halfway to his head. “Perhaps Lord Gatwell could be applied to. Lady Gatwell has also known Mr. Rivers for a considerable time, and Lord Gatwell is a man of considerable influence. And if I could phrase your interest as partly motivated by concern for your sister, to keep her from worrying…” He finished putting on his hat and gathered up his gloves. “Something to consider. I will let you know once I have thought through the possible ramifications, or if anything else occurs to me. Good afternoon, my lord.”
“Thank you, Sedmon.” Although James wasn’t quite certain what he was thanking him for: the promise to keep looking, the idea to appeal to Allister, or understanding so quickly and kindly how things stood between him and Daniel. Sedmon merely nodded and left.
Daniel gave up on composing the letter in his mind fairly quickly. It did very little to pass the time and only made him miss James and home more. He was focusing on the window well, watching it from across the cell so it wouldn’t seem that he was interested in it. The question was, where did it lead to? He assumed the recreation yard of the prison as there were only windows on one side of the cell, but he hadn’t seen the amount of refuse by the window that he would have expected from the prison yard. But then there ought to have been garbage thrown down from the street if it faced a public thoroughfare, even a poorly traveled one. If he knew what was above the well, he might be able to toss some sort of note up to the street level.
Of course, there were almost as many problems with that plan as any other he’d had. Would someone finding it pick it up or merely toss it further away? If they opened it, would they deliver it as requested or bring it to the prison warden and hope for a reward? Naturally, he would say that the bearer would be rewarded upon delivery to Lord Lynster’s townhouse, but that would depend on the finder being interested enough to either read it if they were able or bring it to someone who could if they were not. And it would bring yet another person into the whole mess, which was another risk to James. And he would not risk James, not if it was in his power to prevent it.
He was trying to decide if a bit of his shirt could be written on when he heard shuffling footsteps in the corridor. He assumed it was a guard bringing some sort of midday meal and arranged himself on the floor with his knees drawn up and his head resting on them, hoping he looked defeated, or at least miserable. It seemed best to let them think they had succeeded in some small way to break his spirit.
The shuffling footsteps came closer, and Daniel looked up, not raising his head all the way in what he hoped was a submissive gesture. It wasn’t a guard, though, but a fellow prisoner. “Rivers? I brought you a bit of something seeing as the guards don’t bring food down during the day.”
He had been half-right then. It was a midday meal of a sort. Daniel unfolded himself from the ground and came to the bars. The man had brought him some bread with what appeared to be gristly drippings on it, but it was better than nothing. “Thank you. That was very kind. I hope you won’t get in trouble.”
The man shrugged. He also didn’t move to leave after he’d handed over the bread.
Daniel bit into the bread and waited to hear what the man wanted.
“Is it good?” the man asked after Daniel had eaten a few bites in silence.
The bread was hard, and the drippings were half-spoiled, but Daniel said, “Yes. I mean, for prison food.”
The man seemed to understand. “You get used to it.” He leaned closer to the bars. “I thought we could have a couple of words.” When Daniel didn’t answer, he went on, “They’ve been telling us you have information they want, and they’re willing to trade for it. I’m willing to trade too. Most of them aren’t. Most of them are looking for a time when the guard isn’t looking and…well, you’re lucky they said you have to be able to testify in court. But I don’t want that. I figure I could help you, and you could repay me by telling me. Easy, right?”
Daniel sighed. “What are they offering?”
“Nothing we can share with you, I’m afraid. I’m set to be transported for forgery, which I did not do, mind you. I had permission for every signature I signed, and the tailor was making up half those bills entirely.” The last was said towards the stairwell and made Daniel wonder if they were being watched or if was merely a precaution. “If I can get your information, they’ll make certain I get on a ship that’s leaving at once instead of sitting in hulk for months waiting.”
Daniel had heard enough stories of the conditions on prison hulks to understand why that worked as a bribe. He chose his words carefully. “I wish I could help you, or help myself, but I don’t have any of the information they’re looking for.”
The man looked disappointed. “Are you sure you know what they want? Maybe you don’t know you know.”
“They want proof against my current employer, only I was employed by his father, not him, so I don’t know anything that would be of use to them.” Maybe that would get around through prison gossip and he’d be left alone. It was more or less the truth. He certainly didn’t know anything that would connect James to the conspiracy.
The man sighed. “You’re completely certain?”
“Do you think I’d be sitting down here if I knew something?” He certainly would be if it protected James, but he hoped it was the sort of argument that would work on the other prisoners.
“I suppose not. But I had to try.” The man got to his feet.
Daniel almost felt sorry for the fellow. His accent was clearly educated. He reminded him a bit of the gamblers he’d known among the old Lord Lynster’s acquaintances, but they had all been fortunate enough to have deep pockets to accommodate their losses. “I understand. I just don’t have any information to offer. But I hope you manage to get where you’re going quickly.”
“Thank you.” The man shuffled back towards the stairs.
Daniel finished his bread then went back to leaning against the cell wall. If the guards were offering rewards to the prisoners for getting information from him, it was only a matter of time before someone tried to beat it out of him, and he needed to decide how to react to that. Thank God James wasn’t in this place.
Sedmon returned as James was looking at the midday meal spread out before him, torn between guilt that he had so much food when he was sure Daniel had very little, which robbed him of his appetite, and the guilt of having so much food and not eating it when he was certain Daniel would have been glad of a small portion of it. Sedmon was a distraction at least. “Do you have any news?”
“Of a kind, my lord. I’ve managed to arrange for you to visit Mr. Rivers this afternoon by emphasizing your concern for your sister and your wish that she not be worried in her present condition.”
“That’s wonderful!” At least he would know how much of his worry was justified.
“I should warn you, I believe permission was given because the investigator who is working at the prison wants to see your interaction with him.”
“So you’re warning me to be careful.”
“I’m warning you not to seem too concerned for his welfare. I know you are concerned, but Mr. Williams will be looking for any excuse to connect the two of you to any wrongdoing, and too much concern for him could easily be taken as a sign that he is more than a mere butler.”
“You mean that he’s part of the scheme? That we both are?”
“Exactly. So I’m afraid it would not be advisable to bring him anything even if it is permitted, or to discuss any of the avenues we are exploring to secure his release.”
James could feel himself making a face of disappointment.
Sedmon smiled a little. “I am trying to determine if Lord Gatwell could be applied to without risk to himself or Lady Gatwell. If I can find proof that they were away during some of the times in question, then I will approach him about purchasing some comforts for Mr. Rivers. Surely you don’t want to bring him momentary comfort at the risk of permanent imprisonment.”
“I’d like him permanently out of prison,” James grumbled.
“And our ultimate goal is to keep you both permanently out of prison. I’m sure that is the best outcome.”
James sighed. “I’m sorry I’m being so difficult.”
“You’re not. You’re merely concerned. They will expect to see you around five this afternoon. You will see many visitors roaming about, but those are for prisoners not accused of treason. Mr. Williams will want you to go to the office and alert him to your presence.”
“So he can spy on me.”
“It’s best to assume that is the case. Is there any other way I can be of assistance?”
“Just find a way to help him.”
“I’m working on helping both of you. I will see Lord Gatwell as soon as I am certain he can help without adding to the list of people at risk. Good afternoon.”
James started on his food without noticing what was in front of him while he considered how best to approach the meeting. He’d see Daniel. That was the important thing, and hopefully seeing him there would tell Daniel he wasn’t forgotten. But was there some way he could tell Daniel the rest of what he wanted him to know? Not directly, of course, but hint at it? He knew Sedmon would advise caution, and he was right, but if there was some way to hint at it.
The next time Daniel heard movement in the passage, it was the sound of many feet tramping down the stairs. He found a spot close to the marginally fresher air of the window, pulled as far back towards the wall as he could, and waited as the guards locked the staircase door then let the prisoners back into the cell. None of them seemed particularly pleased to be there, but most were still blinking at the change from outdoor sunlight to the dim light of the cell. Daniel could feel them looking at him, some trying to be surreptitious, some blatantly staring. So how many had the guards offered bribes to to get information out of him?
Daniel turned on instinct, before he’d thought through the best response. He’d have to be more careful, although the prisoner who’d spoken his name was a grey, mousy sort of person who looked as if he’d been in the prison so long he’d become part of the walls, or maybe one of the rats.
“You know they’re asking about you.”
Another who’d been offered a bribe. “So I’ve been told.”
“S’why they sent us back early, I think.”
So another reason for them to resent him. “I’m sorry.”
“We could help each other, if you were amenable.”
Daniel pitched his voice so it still sounded like a whisper but could be heard by the people around them. “If I knew anything that they wanted, do you think I would still be here?”
The man considered that, tipping his head from side to side as if he were physically considering it from several angles. “Suppose not.” He faded into the crowd of other prisoners.
Daniel went back to his spot by the wall, trying to look at faces without seeming to stare. There was less interest in him, so perhaps that argument held some weight. The few who were still looking at him included most of those who had tried to steal his shoes and the one who had his jacket. He suspected most of them would consider it reward enough to be allowed to beat another prisoner without being punished for it, but as long as the warden wanted him in one piece, he was safe enough from them. That should buy him a couple of days at least to figure out how to deal with that eventuality.
James had the carriage ready early for his trip to the prison. Sedmon seemed to think the appointment was not at a fixed time, but he didn’t want to arrive only to discover that the prison had closed its doors to visitors minutes before. He had the carriage leave him by the gate and told Tom to go to a pub and wait for him. It didn’t seem fair to make Tom wait by the grim high walls that seemed almost as frightening from the outside as he was certain they were inside. The gate was manned by a pair of guards who seemed to be letting anyone in, judging by the line of costermongers and prostitutes going through. He paused and explained that he had been asked to meet Mr. Williams in the office and was given directions.
The office was a small room with one window near the entrance to one of the imposing buildings. The room was dominated by a large desk, which Mr. Williams was sitting behind when James entered. The wall behind him was covered with an assortment of heavy irons James assumed were meant to frighten prisoners, as nothing so heavy and brutal could possibly be in actual use. Mr. Williams was not a large man. In fact, he was ordinary in every way from hair of indeterminate color to regular but slightly soft features. The sort of man you would glance at in a crowd and not be able to describe later, if you remembered him at all. That, more than anything, told James he was someone to be very concerned about. Mr. Williams looked up when he entered, but it took him almost a full minute to stand and greet him. “My lord, Mr. Sedmon said you wished to assure yourself of the welfare of one of our prisoners.”
“Indeed.” He knew better than to respond to the man’s rudeness, particularly as he seemed very adept at being rude without doing anything that one could cite as an example of bad manners.
“It is most generous of you to be so concerned about a servant’s welfare.”
So Sedmon was right; Mr. Williams was trying to see if he could trap them. “Mr. Rivers has been a loyal servant of the family for many years, since he was a boy really. It seems most unfair for him to suffer for that loyalty because of my father’s stupidity.” He remembered what Sedmon had said he’d used as an excuse and added, “Besides, my sister is quite concerned about him, and given her present condition, anything I can do to alleviate her concerns…”
“As you say. Shall we go down? Timmons, if you would.”
The guard had been standing unnoticed in the hall outside the door and came forward when he was called. He walked before them, unlocking each gate they encountered to let them through then locking it again behind them. James shuddered as he followed the guard down into the bowels of the prison. He wondered if this was meant to see his reaction to Daniel’s confinement or a warning that the same could be in his future. Either way, he schooled his face into the look of minor boredom he normally wore at matchmaking balls and followed silently.
The air was damp and close and foul, and James was tempted to pull out his handkerchief and hold it over his nose and mouth, only it would be seen as weakness by those with him. Their journey ended at what appeared to be a large common cell with bars blocking the way between them. The room was filled with half-starved wretches looking like the most deplorable sort of ruffians, the kind he would cross the square to avoid. When they saw the guard, they made halfhearted efforts to hide bottles and flasks they were drinking from, but the games of dice and cards continued unabated. James followed the guard to a corner near an overflowing slop bucket and waited as he banged his cutlass against the bars and yelled, “Rivers! Prisoner Rivers report!”
Several prisoners came to the bars, clearly hoping to be mistaken for the one summoned, but James didn’t see Daniel for several moments, until one of the ragged shapes who seemed to be fighting his way through came into the light enough to be recognized. Daniel was in irons—that was the first thing James saw. Heavy chains on his ankles connected to another around his waist. Just the sort of thing he’d seen on the walls upstairs. It made moving slow and seemed to drag him down as he walked. He looked tired when he arrived and the bars, but then he saw James and seemed to cheer up.
“My lord?” This close, James could see him clearly. His face was smudged, and his hair stood every which way, and there was straw in it. He was missing both his jacket and his waistcoat, and his shirt was dirty and torn. Even after so short a time in prison, he looked haggard and possibly a bit thinner. James didn’t know what to say, especially when they were being watched by so many hostile eyes. He settled for ridiculous. It was either that or waste his chance. “You’ve lost your jacket.”
“I’m afraid so, my lord. And the waistcoat. They didn’t get my shoes, though.”
James realized the articles of clothing had been stolen. “That was lucky then.” He swallowed. “I’m sorry I’m not here to get you out. Not yet.”
“I didn’t expect it yet.”
“But I will find a way.”
“My lord…” So Daniel thought he was being imprudent.
“Connie has been worried about you.” There, that was the cover Sedmon had given him. He remembered Sedmon’s other warnings and tried to be as vague as possible. “Some things have been going well. We have a lead on the spirits.”
Daniel’s eyes darted to the corner behind James. To Mr. Williams, James realized. “That should set her mind at ease. So will it be a séance then, or is there some new means of contact?”
James took that to mean that Daniel didn’t think it wise to let Mr. Williams know what their evidence was, that it was better he think they were being foolish than know the direction of their thoughts. James trusted his judgment. “Well, you know old Roberts. He’ll be visiting. Whatever he decides, I suppose. I believe he will be surprisingly helpful in the matter. You remember him?”
“I do. Seems you can find help in the strangest places when you require it. Who knows what gifts may be given as spirits.”
James noticed the strange phrasing and filed it away for future contemplation. “Is there anything I can get you? Anything I can do for you?”
Daniel shook his head.
“I suppose it would be stolen anyway.”
James had quite a bit more he wanted to say to Daniel, but he couldn’t think how while they were being watched. He wanted to ask him if he could think of anything about the bottles, anything about the deliveries, anything about how the parties worked. He settled for, “Do you know where my father kept his wine? Other than the cellar, of course. Mrs. Harrigut is trying to settle up some accounts.” Hopefully, that wouldn’t be seen as significant, and it might even make him seem cold, as if he merely wanted to see his butler to keep the household running smoothly. At least he hoped it did.
Daniel’s eyebrow hitched up a hair but he showed no other sign of understanding the importance. “He liked to handle the giving of gifts himself, so he must have had a private supply somewhere that we did not have access to. I suppose the study might be a place to start.”
James nodded. Gifts again. There was so much else he wanted to tell Daniel, but there was no way he could, not with officers of the law all around them. Unless… “I’ve been thinking about Lynfield Hall often lately. Remember when we boys there?”
“It’s comforting to think of simpler times in times of trouble.”
“Do you remember the pond?”
“It was always good for catching things.”
James looked Daniel squarely in the eye. “Remember our experiment? I’ve been thinking how grand it would be to go back and try it again.” He froze, waiting for Daniel’s reaction. Waiting to see if he even remembered the kiss.
Daniel stared at him unblinking for what seemed an age but couldn’t have been too long as the guard didn’t seem to notice. And then Daniel grinned as if it were nothing but an amusing memory. “I’d like that too. If your swimming has improved.”
James smiled. Daniel had understood and remembered. The pond was far too shallow for swimming. “How was I to know swimming was something to be learned? It looked so easy when you did it.” Despite being the younger of the two, it had been James who had taught Daniel to swim during one of those long summers, not at the pond but at the lake near the hunting lodge.
Daniel smiled, a real proper smile. “We learned a few things there, didn’t we?”
James tried to think of something else to say, but Mr. Williams broke into their conversation before he could think of something Daniel would understand and the guards would not. “If you’ve finished reminiscing, my lord, I believe they are preparing to serve the prisoners their dinner.”
“Of course. It was good to see you, Rivers.”
“And you, my lord. I have every confidence that you will get to the truth.”
“Thank you.” James allowed himself to be led back to the stairs. On the way up, another guard passed them carrying what seemed to be a basket of hard bread closer to being moldy than not and a bucket of what seemed to be greasy and vile-smelling soup. James shuddered to think of Daniel eating that, of having been eating for the last few days, but he kept his expression neutral, pretending he didn’t even notice. He suspected that was part of Mr. Williams’s plan, and he didn’t want to give him any sign that it was working, even if half his mind was thinking he should confess and say Daniel had nothing to do with the conspiracy simply to let Daniel be released. No, they were close. He would search the study as soon as he returned home. Then ask the staff about gifts. And as soon as he left the prison, he was going directly to Mr. Sedmon and insist he find some way for him to buy better accommodations for Daniel.
“Lord Lynster, if I might see you a moment?”
James knew better than to antagonize the investigator. “Certainly, Mr. Williams.” He followed Mr. Williams into the small office and took a seat without being asked.
Mr. Williams sat behind his desk. “I’m sure it must be difficult to see someone you know in prison.”
“Indeed it is, particularly when you know he is innocent.”
“And how do you know that, my lord? Did your father perhaps confide more in you than you have previously…remembered?”
So he was trying to trick him. James schooled his expression into one of boredom, the one he’d used when Father was criticizing his efforts at just about anything, the one that said he really didn’t care what the other fellow thought. “My father never confided in me. I’ve known Mr. Rivers almost my entire life, long enough to know he is innocent.”
“Still, one would think you’ve known your father longer, yet you say you had no idea he was plotting to assassinate his majesty.”
“My father and I were estranged for most of my life—informally, but still estranged. Daniel and I were of an age and frequently saw each other at the country house. It seems natural to me that I would know him better.” He tipped his head slightly so he was looking down his nose at Williams. “Now, did you have something you wished to ask me? If not, I have business at home I must attend to. As I said, my housekeeper has been going through the accounts in preparation for my taking over the household.”
“Certainly, my lord. But if you should think of anything else your father might have confided in you…”
James got to his feet and put his hat on. “My father did not confide in me. Good day, Mr. Williams.” James left the office before he gave in to his desire to break the man’s nose. That would not help Daniel’s situation.
Daniel stayed by the bars until he could no longer see James, then he pulled away and wandered deeper into the stinking cell. He would have thought he’d gotten used to it, to the stench and the cold and the damp and the disgusting straw under his feet, but every step seemed to bring a new bit of misery. He glanced at the corner under the window he’d staked out during the afternoon and wasn’t surprised to see some new wretch had found it and claimed it in his absence. He found another bit of wall he could lean against, this with no window and an unidentifiable patch of damp that he did not want to think about too carefully, and settled in.
James had come. That was the important thing. It had been worth losing his spot by the window to see him and know he was all right. And he seemed to understand the clue Daniel had found. In fact, the mention of spirits suggested he’d been coming to a similar conclusion on his own. That was good. It might be the thing that would clear them both. He’d managed to give him the other clue, to look in the bookcase in the study. James was smart enough to figure it out. And that left Daniel free to consider the other mystery.
The pond. James had referred to the experiment at the pond. The only experiment he could remember was the kiss. James had called it an experiment to see if he was attracted to men. Daniel racked his brain but couldn’t come up with anything else they had called an experiment. All of their hunts for snakes and toads and insects when they’d been younger had been expeditions, not experiments. And the speed with which James had taken Daniel’s lead and covered the reference in the lie about swimming, that seemed to suggest that he’d been thinking of the kiss.
For an instant, Daniel’s fancy turned to the idea of swimming with James, of going to the lake in the clearing near the hunting lodge and stripping down to their drawers and jumping into the water. He wasn’t a very strong swimmer, but the lake was shallow enough for him, and he’d be able to see James’s chest damp and warm beside him, his strong arms pulling him through the water while Daniel stayed in the cool shallows and watched. That might very well end in a kiss as well.
Daniel was jolted out of that fantasy by the rush of prisoners pushing towards the bars to get their ration of bread and what was optimistically called soup. Daniel edged closer to the window. The food was barely edible; he wouldn’t mind avoiding the crowd and missing one meal. Some of the worst bits might be left if he wanted to try when the swell of people pushed back, away from the bars. Besides, there was quite a bit for him to think about.
James had said he wanted to repeat the experiment. Did that mean he wanted to kiss him again? And why—that was the important question. Surely he was no longer in doubt as to where his interests lay. And after the way he’d acted, there was no question where Daniel’s interests lay either. And if James was going to follow Sedmon’s advice and find a wife, how could he expect Daniel to begin a relationship with him? Unless that was what he had in mind. What better way to hide it from his wife than to take up with the butler? Daniel closed his eyes. If that was it, it would be better to stay in prison. Especially if being there would keep suspicion away from James.
Unless…was it possible he had wanted that night together to have meant something? Perhaps not everything Daniel wanted, but more than just a warm place to put his cock? That was worth getting out of prison for, if only it were true. It was worth going to prison if he could have even a little of James’s regard.
Daniel felt his stomach growl and pushed away from the wall. If he was going to be stuck in prison indefinitely, he should try to accustom himself to it. And that meant the shoving for food and then eating the vile stuff.
James returned home more melancholy than when he’d left. Seeing Daniel had done nothing to alleviate his worries. If anything, it had shown him that he did indeed have something to be worried about. He spent the carriage ride back trying to decide if his time would be better spent trying to find the answer he was certain was in the burnt scraps of paper and thereby securing Daniel’s complete release, or sending for Sedmon and insisting he find a way to alleviate some of Daniel’s misery at once. Before he could begin on either course of action, he found Mrs. Harrigut waiting for him in the entryway.
“Lady Gatwell is in the sitting room, my lord.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Harrigut. I’ll see her directly. Send up some more tea, if you would.” He hurriedly discarded his coat and hat then went to the sitting room.
“James, where have you been all evening?”
“Sorry I wasn’t here to greet you, Connie. I was at the prison checking on Daniel.”
“How is he?”
While Connie was not nearly as weak and prone to vapors as they were letting everyone believe, he didn’t want to worry her unnecessarily. He also didn’t want to upset her unnecessarily, and if she thought she was being coddled, she would most definitely be upset, of the throwing small objects variety.
“As bad as that?”
Apparently, his silence had lasted too long. James shrugged and let Connie take it as she would.
“They don’t really think he has anything to do with this, do they?”
James collapsed into an armchair. “I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe they think arresting him will get him to give them evidence on me. I have no idea.”
“On you? Why would Father have trusted you with anything?”
“Mr. Sedmon thinks they want another title at the bar, and with Father dead and Martford and his son on the run, I’m left.” He covered his face with his hands. “It’s awful, Connie. They’ve got him down with thieves and murders, and it’s filthy and damp, and they barely feed them, and someone stole his coat, and Mr. Sedmon insists that it will be worse if I pay to get him better accommodations because I’m a suspect.”
Connie moved to sit beside him. “There, there, James. It will be all right. Do you have any ideas that could help?”
James nodded. “Daniel saved some papers Father was burning from the ashes. They have some clues we’re following up on.”
“Anything I can help with?”
He shook his head.
“I’m with child, not dying.”
James smiled. “It has to do with the alcohol bought for the parties. There’s a stack of invoices Daniel pulled out of the fire that don’t make any sense, but I’m working on piecing it together. It’s something I have to talk to the servants about, not you.”
“You know he hid bottles behind the books in the bookcase upstairs.”
“I found the hiding place years ago. Remember when you and Daniel used to play hide and seek with me and never found me? That’s where I was hiding until I was too big. The books are merely false fronts.”
“You never told me that.”
She shrugged. “And lose my best hiding place? Besides, you and Daniel had all kinds of secrets; I was happy to have one.”
“We did not.” But then he remembered the pond.
“So you weren’t sneaking off to do all sorts of interesting things and leaving me behind?”
James opened his mouth to answer, but the vision of Daniel in prison flashed through his mind, and he was struck by a wave of melancholy.
Connie leaned over and patted his hand. “I know you two have always been close. Am I a suspect?”
“I doubt it. You haven’t been here in years. And putting you in the dock won’t have quite the effect me and Daniel would.”
“Then I’ll send Allister to Mr. Sedmon and have him try to buy Daniel better accommodations. I’ve known him a long while too; it shouldn’t cause comment.”
“Sedmon said he was checking to be certain it wouldn’t cause Allister problems if he did that. I don’t want to drag the pair of you into this.”
“Poppycock. I’m already in it thanks to Father. And we’re not about to leave Daniel in prison to avoid a little inconvenience. Besides, Allister has a whole army of solicitors and barristers at his beck and call. Sedmon won’t have to face our problems without assistance.”
It hadn’t occurred to Daniel that that could be part of Sedmon’s worry. “Thank you, Connie.”
“I’m sure you want to go look in the bookcase. Go ahead. It’s not like I’m real company. I’ll stay here and poke through the drawers, see if there’s anything I want to take home with me.”
“I’ll send for some of the raspberry tart you like so much. And chocolate. Would you like some chocolate to drink?”
Connie grinned at him. “I’ve already asked for some. Go ahead. I want to hear if you find something interesting. This would be quite a neat puzzle if Daniel wasn’t in trouble over it.”
“And yet you’re not worried that I could be?”
“You’ve always been good at getting out of trouble.”
James stuck his tongue out at her and ran upstairs. He knew exactly which bookcase Connie was referring to, not in the study but the large one in what they had always called Father’s office. If it had been mother’s room, it would have been called her sitting room, as it was part of the master’s suite of rooms. It wasn’t really an office, but where Father had met with personal guests. He’d done all of his work in the study. James had never quite understood why Father had such a large bookcase there, but he’d always assumed it was something the decorators had installed and Father had simply never bothered to say he wanted it out, as he certainly wouldn’t have thought a large quantity of books would be any sort of an indication of status. But if he was using it to conceal something, that certainly sounded more like Father.
The first thing James noticed about the bookcase was the layer of dust on the books. That was surprising. Not that he thought Father had ever opened one unless he wanted to conceal something in it, but he couldn’t imagine Mrs. Harrigut or Daniel allowing a quantity of dust like that to accumulate in the house, not unless they’d been told not to dust in there. He’d have to ask Mrs. Harrigut if any such order had been given and what the explanation had been, and if any other similar orders had been given. Connie had said the bottom shelf, so he got to his knees and began pressing and prodding at the books. When they were at eye level, it was possible to see that they were indeed a false front made up of what appeared to be the actual spines of real books cut short and attached to a piece of wood.
After he’d poked around for a bit, James realized he needed to try to think of what an eight-year-old Connie would have tried and felt along the upper edge until he tripped a latch that let the shelf slide open. He could see how Connie had hidden there; the books sprang forward when the latch was released, so even then it would have been hard to see that there was something concealed behind them, although they would not have been latched closed. Pushing on the top of the books caused the entire panel to tip up and out, revealing a space behind tall enough and wide enough to hold several bottles of wine or a small girl. It was also completely, depressingly empty.
James leaned back on his heels and stared at the space. It was there—that had to mean something. As he stared at it, he realized there was very little dust, far less than on the books. That would make sense, as it was covered, he supposed, but it also suggested it was used more than the rest of the shelves. He tipped the false front down and ran his hand along the top. Again, very little dust. So Father had been using this hiding spot for something. How long ago had it last been used? That would be interesting to know. He slid his hand along the shelf, checking for dust. Instead of dust, his fingers brushed against something that felt slightly sticky. He leaned in and could just make out a series of circular stains on the shelf, consistent with bottles being left there. But why would wine bottles be dripping unless he’d opened them? And how could he give them as gifts if he’d done that? James closed the shelf and got to his feet. At least he knew there had been bottles there. That had to mean Nestore was the key to the whole thing. He’d simply have to keep looking until he figured out what it unlocked. Maybe Connie would have another idea. At least if he asked her, she’d feel included.
Outside the sitting room, he ran into Polly leaving the room. She paused to curtsy. “Would you like me to bring you anything, my lord?”
“No, just keep Lady Gatwell comfortable.” He paused. “Polly, did my father give any specific instructions regarding his office?”
“Quite a few, my lord. If you’d like it to have a good cleaning, we can see to it as soon as you’d like.”
So she knew exactly what he was talking about. “Eventually it will need it, when…” He struggled to get past the sudden tightness in his throat. “When things are more settled.”
“Yes, my lord,” Polly said in a tone that told him she knew he was thinking of Daniel.
“Specifically, what orders were you given about the room?”
“They were more prohibitions than orders, my lord. We were to see to the fire and wash the windows and the floors, but no touching the bookcase or the desk or the mantelpiece or the tables. Was that wrong, my lord?”
“Not at all. You were following orders. Did you think it was odd?”
“Of course, my lord, but it’s not often we get orders that give us less work, not more, so we followed them and didn’t question it.”
“And when did he give these orders?”
“As long as I’ve been here, my lord, and that’s been two years.”
So quite possibly long enough to cover the period of the conspiracy. “Thank you, Polly.”
Polly curtsied and went towards the stairs to the kitchen. James went into the sitting room to tell Connie the news, or lack thereof.
Connie looked up from her cake as he came through the door. “Nothing there?”
“Nothing, but I think something was. It looks like there were once bottles hidden in there.”
“I’m sorry. I thought that would solve it. Is there anything else I can do to help?”
James was about to say no, when he remembered the strange phrasing of Daniel’s comment when he’d mentioned the spirits. “Did Father give a lot of gifts?”
“Gifts? You mean at Christmas or something?”
“I mean at parties. Daniel said something about gifts when I was there, and he phrased it oddly enough that I think it meant something.”
Connie started to shake her head then stopped. “You know, he gave Allister a bottle wine on occasion. We both thought it was odd. He would say something about finding an amazing new vintage, but the few we tried were nothing special.”
James leaned forward. “Did you notice where it was purchased from?”
“Berry’s, same as always.”
“You’re certain? It couldn’t have been somewhere else? Someplace like Nestore’s Fine Spirits?”
“I’d remember that. It’s near Rome, isn’t it? Father used to brag like anything about sleeping his way through Tuscany, although I doubt there was much sleeping. We probably still have a bottle or two lying around. We stopped sampling them after the first couple; our taste in wines is not the same as Father’s. Allister has a very refined palate.”
“Could you bring one over? Then the keep the others safe.”
“This has something to do with scheme?”
James nodded. “It might be the key.”
“Then, of course, you can have the lot. I’ll send Allister over with one bottle as soon as he can, then he can tell you what Father said when he gave it. I was never there when he did; it was more of a gentlemen-over-port sort of thing. We’ll put the others in the safe.”
“Thank you, Connie.”
“Is there anything else I can do to help?”
“Not unless you want to answer condolence notes for me.”
He hadn’t expected an answer, but Connie shrugged. “I’ll add your thanks to the end of mine. Do you have the ones you’ve been sent?”
“You don’t mind?”
“If I’m supposed to spend an inordinate amount of time resting, I may as well have something useful to do while I’m doing it. Besides, not one in ten of them are actually sending their condolences. They’re just a thin cover for gossip-hunting. And I’ve promised myself a terribly romantic novel for every ten I finish.”
“What would I do without you?”
“I shudder to think. Now, was there more of that chocolate?”
“I’ll send for some. And I’ll get you a novel for five you take off my hands.” He’d send Polly and Bessie out to buy them and promise them a couple of their own as thanks. That thought startled him. When was the last time he thought about thanking servants beyond a couple of words when they came or left? Daniel was certainly having an effect on him.
Connie stayed for a short while longer. While he didn’t tell her much more about Daniel’s condition, he did tell her everything Daniel had said. Well, everything but the bit about the pond. She would most likely have had some very good ideas about how to interpret that, but some things were not meant to be shared. In the end, they were no further along than they had been, and Connie left for home promising to think about it while she was resting and to send Allister to help.
With Connie gone, James went to look at the burnt paper again, but he was too distracted by thoughts of Daniel for that sort of concentration, particularly when it reminded him of the night in his room when Daniel had first brought the clue to him, the way Daniel had looked in his shirtsleeves, the way his mouth had tasted. The way he’d knelt before James and taken him in his mouth. The way James had hoped to do the same. James abandoned the scraps and went back to the office, spending the time before dinner searching all of the other places Polly had said they were forbidden to dust, but he didn’t find anything suggestive, and by the time Peter came looking for him to announce dinner, he’d come to the conclusion that Father had included those in the prohibitions merely to hide the fact that the bookcase was off-limits for a reason.
Mrs. Patterson had made a very nice dinner, including his favorite sauce for the beef and green beans with lots of butter, but James couldn’t work up much interest. He wondered if she’d noticed he’d sent most of breakfast and his midday meal back down untouched and thought he should try to make an effort. But James was just realizing he had no intention of eating any of the food set out before him when Peter came in. “Lord Gatwell, my lord.”
Allister, someone he could talk to and not have to hide how worried he was. “Allister! How are you?” And then a new worry sprang up. “How’s Connie?”
“Connie is fine. Sorry to call at dinner, but I spent half the afternoon closeted away with your Sedmon discussing your butler, then Connie comes home and practically insists I run straight to his side and pay for God only knows what.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to spoil your day.”
“Seems yours was spoiled enough. I’m not complaining, but I did think I’d better come here at once and see what was going on.”
“Daniel Rivers has been arrested. They think he had something to do with the scheme, or I did, or I don’t know, but I went to see him today, and it was terrible. As bad as all the reports you read.”
“Sedmon seemed to think it wouldn’t be safe or prudent for you pay for anything yourself.”
James nodded. “Might be taken as wanting to help a traitor—a fellow traitor, I suppose.”
“He seemed to think it was safe enough for me to help him, though. It seems I was away for many of the exchanges, and as on more than one of the occasions I was with the prime minister discussing the war, and twice being briefed by Wellington on the situation, it seems I am not a suspect. I told Connie I’d go first thing in the morning if you said it was all right.”
At last, good news. “It is all right. Anything you want to do is all right. Whatever you can do to help him. I will pay you whatever amount is needed. I can give you something now if you’d like.”
“Not necessary. We can settle up when this mess is sorted out. Just to be clear, he wasn’t involved?”
“No! And neither was I.”
“I just had to ask, if I’m going to be getting involved.”
“I know. I’m just a bit sensitive on the issue.”
“And I’m one of the few you can snap at. Don’t worry about it. And here, Connie said you wanted a bottle of this.” He put a bottle of wine on the table. “I didn’t see anything odd about it. Neither did she.”
James grabbed it eagerly and looked at it. It was the same as one of the mysterious vintages on the list. He turned it around to look at the back, where a shop receipt was still partially attached, stuck to the glass. “It says ‘Berry’ here on the back.”
“Isn’t that who he normally bought from?”
“It is. What can you tell me about how he handed these out?”
Allister took a slice of bread from the tray and picked at it as he thought. “It would be when we were getting ready to leave. The ladies would be getting their wraps sorted out. A few people would be gone, and all of a sudden he would seem to remember that he had something for us. He’d hurry out of the room and come back with the bottles and pass them around.”
“You mean they’d be in a basket or something that he’d pass around?”
“No, he’d walk around handing them out. I never really understood why he included me in these little exchanges. We weren’t close. So you think this was part of it?”
“I do. And keep the other bottles safe in case you need to prove that you weren’t part of the conspiracy.” James considered Allister’s account of the handing out. “And it never seemed odd at the time?”
“I thought it was, only because we weren’t necessarily friendly, and to be blunt, generosity did seem out of character for him, but I don’t know that anyone else did.”
“And always when some people were gone?” What to make of that?
“Yes, but he always seemed to have just about enough to go around, never more than a bottle or two left, so I thought he was waiting for that to be the case rather than pay for enough bottles, or that it was some odd power play, to make the ones who left early feel slighted.”
“Both sound like him, although he was never good at planning. Or I didn’t think he was.”
Peter came back with a platter of fish. Apparently, Mrs. Patterson was trying anything to get him to eat. Peter nodded to the bottle of wine. “Would you like me to open that for you, my lord?”
“No, Peter,” James said, a little too abruptly, he realized. “But please get Lord Gatwell a plate and a glass.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“I don’t want to impose.”
“Nonsense. I’ve lost my appetite these last few days. Mrs. Patterson will be glad to have someone eating her food. I’m going to take this upstairs before there can be any confusion.” James grabbed the bottle and hurried upstairs with it. It would be safe enough in his room. The staff wouldn’t take anything left in there. Allister was right—there didn’t seem to be anything odd about the bottle, but if he could find one of the Nestore ones, he could compare the two and hopefully find out how the message was passed. The bottom drawer of the dresser was empty, so it was a safe enough place for it. He was about to return to the dining room when he spotted the box of sweets he’d taken from Daniel’s room on the nightstand. He might not be able to send a note to Daniel, but perhaps he could send some comfort. He was very tempted to take the heart-shaped piece, but the round one with the fluted edge was larger and less likely to get either of them in trouble. James took a bit of the paper from the bottom of the box and wrapped the piece of marzipan. On an impulse, he pressed his lips to the wrapping. Hopefully, Daniel would feel some comfort from it.
Daniel stared at the hunk of bread he’d been given for breakfast, trying to convince himself that the thing that had seemed to be moving was really nothing more than a trick of the light, and even if it wasn’t, this was all he’d see until they came to bring more of the same at midday, if someone came down at midday. He was just realizing he was hungry enough not to care what had taken up residence in the bread when he heard the guard call, “Rivers! Get over here, Rivers!”
Daniel took a bite out of the bread and hurried to the door. While it would be wonderful to see James, it would be very imprudent for him to come again. Perhaps he’d sent Mr. Sedmon with some news. Unless the investigator had come back to question him again. It seemed he’d been in the prison about a week, but he had no way of knowing for certain. Or perhaps they were arresting James and wanted to see his reaction. That thought did more to take his appetite away than whatever was in the bread.
The guard waited until Daniel was at the gate then unlocked it and let him out. So not James then. James had been forced to see him while he was still locked away. Daniel followed the guard up the stairs, which always seemed a slower process than he would have imagined with the irons on his legs. They eventually stopped in the guard office near the door to the yard where he had been questioned on his first day in prison. The guard shoved him inside.
“This the one you wanted?”
Both men turned. Daniel recognized one as Timmons, who had brought him the first day. He hadn’t realized Timmons was part of the command structure of the prison. The other was someone he hadn’t expected to see at all. Lord Gatwell, Lady Connie’s husband.
“That’s him,” Lord Gatwell said, sounding uncharacteristically bored.
The guard who’d brought him saluted and left the office, closing the door firmly behind him.
Lord Gatwell leaned against the desk and looked him over. “Hello, Rivers.”
Daniel bowed. “My lord. Thank you for coming to call on me.”
Lord Gatwell didn’t respond to him. “All right, Timmons, what can I buy?”
“You are aware of the prisoner’s crimes?”
“Alleged crimes, as my wife has pointed out repeatedly.”
“As you say. Then you are aware?”
Lord Gatwell nodded. “But as I said, she’s known him since she was too young to remember him, and when a woman’s carrying your heir…” He made a vague gesture.
Timmons nodded as if he understood. “We must let them have their fancies, mustn’t we? Well, there are a few things. If you would like to look at the list I have here.” Timmons sat down at the desk and opened a drawer to retrieve the list in question, which he spread out on the desk.
Lord Gatwell took the seat beside the list and started to peruse it. “Sit down, Rivers. I can’t concentrate with you looming.”
Daniel took the third chair in the room. He realized he was still holding his bread and put it down on the desk beside him. Whatever had taken up residence in it scurried away across the desk. Timmons tried to squash it, but it was too quick. Lord Gatwell closed his eyes as if he were trying to collect himself.
“The Master’s Side, she’ll like the sound of that. Two guineas?”
“For the entry, yes, although for his crime it will be a bit more. And then for him one pound per week rent, but he’ll get a room with only two or three other prisoners and won’t pay the garnish for food. I have a room now with a forger and a petty thief I could put him in. Morally reprehensible, but not violent.”
“Yes, that will sound good to her. And what can be done about food?”
“Ah yes, housekeeping matters are always of interest to the ladies. Right there, my lord.” Timmons pointed to a section of the list.
“I see, and bed linens, and the washerwoman’s services, I suppose.” Lord Gatwell went down the list, pointing to something he wanted in each section, never the most luxurious services, but never the cheapest either. “That should do, I think. Total it up, and I’ll settle up the first week now. I want to be able to tell her I saw him taken care of. I’ll send my solicitor to discuss how we’ll handle future payments.”
Timmons looked very pleased, and Daniel was afraid to contemplate how much this was costing Lord Gatwell.
While Timmons was bent over his accounting, Daniel turned to Lord Gatwell. “If I might, my lord, please express my deepest thanks to her ladyship.”
“I will, Rivers. And before I forget, I was told to give you this.” He reached into his pocket and produced a small wrapped sweet.
Daniel knew what it would be before he opened it. Marzipan. He smiled. So it wasn’t Lady Gatwell behind this. It was James. “Please express my deepest gratitude.” Daniel was tempted to keep the gift safe, even though it would most likely be stolen, but Lord Gatwell said softly, sounding more like himself, “Go on, eat it so I can say I saw.”
Daniel bit into the sweet slowly, enjoying the way it tasted and knowing that it was good, not spoiled or infested. He could imagine James taking a bite of it, then his lips brushing something that had touched James’s. He wondered if this was how James had felt when he found the sweets Daniel had slipped into his things those hard summers at Lynfield Hall. He was only able to draw it out for three bites, but Lord Gatwell seemed pleased.
Timmons broke the mood by sliding the invoice across to Lord Gatwell. Lord Gatwell looked it over. “This seems to be in order. I’m sure you understand, but my solicitor will want to see that the prisoner is receiving all of this when he comes to deliver the next payment. He is a suspicious fellow, which makes him a good solicitor, I suppose.”
“Quite, quite.” Timmons did not look pleased at that news but did cheer up when Lord Gatwell produced his wallet and counted out the coins. Once the receipt was signed, Timmons stood and went to the door. “We’ll take him to the master’s side now, so you can tell your lady wife he’s settled in. Come on, Rivers.”
Daniel stood and shuffled after, dragging the chains as best he could. It always seemed harder to get them started moving.
“Can you do something about those things around his ankles?” Lord Gatwell sounded horrified for a moment then seemed to remember himself and added, “The sound is dreadful.”
“Considering the crime, I’m afraid I can’t remove them completely, but easement costs ten shillings.”
“Here, before the noise drives me mad.” Lord Gatwell fished out more coins.
Timmons summoned another guard, and the chains were struck off. There was a moment of freedom, then the new set of irons was fastened in place. Still a prisoner then, but the new irons were lighter and easier to walk in as Daniel followed Timmons and Lord Gatwell across the prison yard to the better accommodations.
The room he was led to was slightly smaller than the cell he’d been in, but as it would only be housing two other prisoners, it was an enormous improvement. There was even a fireplace and a table. Lord Gatwell nodded. “This will set her mind at ease. And none too soon. Mrs. Patterson was just mentioning how many trays were being sent back barely touched.”
“That would be the cook, my lord?”
But Daniel caught the reference. The Gatwells employed a Mrs. Moorley as their cook. His lordship was trying to tell him that James was worried and most likely the one behind all of this more than Lady Connie. And that made Daniel wonder just how much Lord Gatwell had deduced about James’s feelings and were his deductions accurate. More probably, it would be Lady Gatwell doing the deducing, and he had no doubt she knew her brother well.
“And that does remind me, there is the matter of food. As you said, housekeeping matters are just the thing to distract the ladies, and as I believe I paid for his breakfast…”
Timmons looked taken aback at the request but started nodding before Lord Gatwell had finished speaking and then couldn’t very well deny him after the mention of monies paid. “I’ll send someone for it at once.”
“Excellent.” Lord Gatwell gave the room a bored glance, lingering for an extra moment on Daniel so he could wink.
Daniel had known that Lord Gatwell was considered quite the diplomat, but this was the first he’d seen of the talent. When Timmons turned to yell at the guards that had accompanied them, he ventured a small smile. Lord Gatwell nodded once and was back to halfheartedly leaning against a chair when Timmons returned his attention to the room.
James spent a fidgety morning waiting to hear from Allister. Allister hadn’t exactly said what he considered first thing in the morning, and James’s view that the minute the sun was up was considered morning was probably too much to expect, but James hoped Allister had understood the importance. It meant that James was finding it impossible to concentrate on piecing together what remained of the burnt scraps, particularly since what was left was small and hard to decipher. He was considering for the dozenth time whether it would be too much to send a note round to Connie and find out what Allister planned on doing when Peter came into the study. “Mr. Roberts, my lord.”
Just the thing to distract him; the possibility of new clues about the wines. “Show him in.” James stayed seated at his desk but looked up when Roberts came in. He was younger than James had imagined, not much over thirty, but already had the sagging skin and red eyes of a habitual drunk. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Roberts. Please sit and tell me what you know.” James considered offering tea, but he didn’t think that was what Roberts wanted to be offered, and he wanted the man sober until he’d finished his story, so he waved Peter away and focused on his guest.
Roberts sat in the chair and began to speak at once. “Your letter said you wanted to hear about where your father bought his spirits.”
“That’s right.” Straight to the point. Roberts was probably eager for his money, but then James was eager to have anything that might help Daniel.
“Is this to do with Mr. Rivers?”
So the man was clever. “Yes.”
“He never helped himself to the liquor.”
“I’m sure. There’s something suggestive that might help, but I need more information. What can you tell me?”
“Well, seeing as it’s Mr. Rivers. I was always very careful of his lordship’s table. I was only a footman, but it reflected on me. So I was sure to test anything that I was putting out, to make certain it met his standards.” He paused to see if James was going to object to the obvious lie.
“Naturally, Mr. Roberts. And you noticed something in the course of your duties?”
“In a manner of speaking. When Mrs. Harrigut wrote to me, she said you were looking for anything that had struck me as unusual with the spirits, and I recalled how I came to be sacked. Not that I am complaining about it, my lord. I know you weren’t part of it, but it was odd.”
James nodded then realized Mr. Roberts was looking in the direction of the drinks tray. He’d have to offer the man something to get him to talk. He went to the sideboard and mixed two drinks, making Roberts’s as weak as he could without the man commenting on it and brought them back to the desk. “Please tell me about it.”
Roberts took the drink and sipped it. He seemed to find it less than he’d hoped for, but he clearly remembered who had made it and did not comment. “To understand it, you’ve got to understand how your father and I got on. You see, we understood each other. He once caught me testing the wine he was serving with dinner, and I was that terrified that he’d sack me on the spot, but he didn’t. He said, ‘Looking for poison, Roberts?’
“Well, I saw he understood I wasn’t stealing, so I said, ‘Can’t be too careful, my lord, although who’d want to poison you, I have no idea.’ And we both laughed. And that was his little joke. Every time he caught me, he’d ask if I was looking for poison, and I’d say, ‘Can’t be too careful, but who’d want to poison you?’ and we’d laugh. So you see, we understood each other.”
James nodded. A pair of habitual drunks. “Yes, I can see that. Please continue.”
Roberts drained his glass. When he saw no more was offered, he went on. “I’m sure you know your father was fond of giving out spirits as gifts.”
He hadn’t known about it until Connie mentioned it, but James nodded as if he understood.
“Usually he bought it from the same place as the dinner wines, but every so often he would order some from another source, a Nestore wines, I think.”
James had to pinch himself under the table to keep from showing his excitement.
“I thought perhaps Berry didn’t have sufficient quantity in stock, so I thought nothing of it. Until one night when I’d already… tested and served the other drinks, I realized I’d never tested the gifts. So I went up to the office and uncorked a bottle and poured a glass. The stuff was vile. Not up to his lordship’s standards at all. I spent a bit of time down in the kitchen wondering what to do, and just when I’d decided I should go back upstairs and say something, I discovered the bottles had already been taken away to be given out, so I said nothing, and as no one complained, I thought perhaps there was nothing to be concerned about. Perhaps Nestore had improperly stored the bottles, or a new employee had done something foolish.
“But it stayed with me. The household usually took its liquor very seriously, so the next time some from Nestore was delivered, I sampled it again, only this time I also tried some from one of the bottles from Berry, in case I was misinterpreting. You know how there are fashions for things that no one would do if it weren’t in fashion. I thought perhaps the same happened in wine, only the bottles from Berry were excellent. All the ones I sampled. It was only the ones from Nestore that were awful, yet the labels were identical.
“Now, I was quite concerned for his lordship. I didn’t want him to get a reputation as one who gave inferior bottles as gifts. So the next time it happened, I tried again. I thought three times could not be an accident. And as I was preparing to open the bottle, I noticed the label was loose. It had been pasted on over the original. Nestore was taking advantage of Lord Lynster. I felt it my duty to inform him of that, so I found him alone in the study and told him.
“I thought he was going to collapse of apoplexy on the spot. He demanded to know why I was testing the bottles that were gifts, why I looked at the labels, and why I was allowed near the wine in the first place. And two days after that, I was sacked for breaking the china shepherdess.”
James grasped the significance at once. “The china shepherdess? The pink one in the front hall? Father hated it. He’d never have it repaired, yet it’s not broken.”
“Precisely. She stared at me from her table the whole time I walked out the door with my bags packed. I figured it must have been on account of the wine. It seems your father didn’t mind being cheated so long as he could pretend he wasn’t being.”
James nodded, but he was thinking along very different lines. “Did you actually peel off the label?”
“No, not when I saw the scam. I wanted him to see it for himself—evidence, you might say.”
“Do you think there are any more of the bottles lying around?”
“If there were, they’d be in the butler’s pantry or his office.”
Daniel would have noticed them in the pantry. He’d have to try the office again. “And do you know who he gave them to?”
“Sorry, my lord, no.”
“And do you know which parties they were given at?”
“I might be able to think on that one. If I come up with anything, I’ll send word.”
It would have to do. “Thank you.” James paused for a few moments, pretending to enjoy the last of his drink. When he was certain Roberts wasn’t going to come up with anything else, he reached into his desk and produced a small purse. “I think this should cover your travel expenses.”
Roberts took the purse and looked inside. “Oh yes, my lord, this is very good.”
“If you remember anything else unusual or anything about when the inferior wines were ordered, please let me know.”
“Of course, my lord. Happy to help.”
James rang for Mrs. Harrigut and left her to see Roberts out. Once he was gone, James went for his own hat and coat. “I’m going to see Mr. Sedmon. I’ll try to be back for dinner.”
Mrs. Harrigut smiled at that news. “Very good, my lord. I take it Roberts was helpful?”
“I’m hopeful.” For the first time in days, he was. “If Lord or Lady Gatwell call, tell them to wait for me.”
“Very well, my lord.” Mrs. Harrigut seemed as pleased as he felt at the possibility of progress.
When he arrived at Sedmon’s office, James was shown directly through to the inner office. He wondered if it was because of his title, or if Sedmon had left word, or if they were that slow, or if the Lynster family mess was taking up so much of his time Sedmon hadn’t taken on any other clients. In any case, he’d barely had time to come up with the possibilities when Mr. Sedmon entered the office and took his seat at the desk.
“I am sorry to have kept you waiting. One of the clerks wanted to discuss a point of contract law. Have you spoken to Lord Gatwell?”
So Sedmon did understand what was the most important problem at the moment. “I did. He’s going to see what he can do today. He’s there now, I’d hope.”
“Good. I tried to impress upon him the importance of that issue. Then was there another reason for your visit? You have some new information, perhaps?”
“I do. I spoke with an old servant of my father’s. He had some information on the wines Father bought from Nestore.” James gave Sedmon the most detailed account he could of Roberts’s information. Sedmon sat very still in his chair. If James hadn’t known he was one of the best legal minds in London, he would have thought he’d drifted to sleep. But as soon as James had relayed the story, Sedmon nodded.
“Very interesting. I think I am beginning to see a bit of light. Not quite enough to guide the two of you out of this mess, but a start. Now I need to know what I am authorized to do.”
“Anything that isn’t terribly illegal,” James said at once.
Sedmon smiled. “I should think that, at least, would be obvious. You two are in enough trouble as it is; anything even not-particularly-illegal should be a very last resort. I was thinking more along the lines of money. How much am I authorized to use?”
“As much as it takes. And yes, I mean that literally and am fully aware of what that term means.”
“Then I will begin thinking this through. Courage, my lord. There is hope.”
James found he actually believed him.
James had barely returned from Sedmon’s office and settled into his armchair when Peter opened the door to the library. “Lady Gatwell, my lord.”
Connie was through the door before James could say to admit her. “Allister’s been to see him.”
James waited until Peter had closed the door behind her. Connie noticed his gaze and pulled her chair closer to his so she could whisper. “He said it was awful. I couldn’t get much out of him before he remembered my condition, but apparently, there was something crawling in the bread he was eating, and he had the most horrible chains on his legs and looked completely exhausted. But Allister managed to get him better food and better quarters. He gave me the list of everything. I have it here.” She poked around in her reticule until she produced the invoice. “This is a copy. He sent the original to Mr. Hargrove so he can keep paying and check that Daniel is getting everything he’s supposed to while he’s there.”
Looking at the list of what had to be paid for, it was clear Daniel had been getting almost nothing in the way of necessities, let alone comforts, which seemed small even now.
“He’s sharing a cell with a forger and a thief, which seems horrible but is probably better than where he was. Allister said he appreciated the marzipan, and he thought you would understand that, although neither of us do. You’re smiling. You do understand.”
“He used to give me marzipan when Father was being particularly awful to me.” That should be enough to satisfy Connie’s curiosity. “Let me get the money I owe Allister for this.”
“Don’t bother. You two can settle it up sometime when the crisis is past. I think Allister was more upset than he wanted me to know, and he barely knows Daniel. Are you any closer to getting him freed?”
“I may have found something. One of the old servants had some ideas on the bottles, although I don’t see how it connects to Allister’s bottles, unless they were a blind. I told Sedmon, and he’s trying to figure out how we can use the information.” Mrs. Harrigut came in with a plate of cake and cups of tea, so James knew he’d be obliged to tell Connie the whole tale of the wine and the labels and the shepherdess before she’d be satisfied.
Daniel’s day ended far better than it had begun. When his new cellmates arrived after their time in the prison yard was over, he could see that they were not the violent type that had worried him in the general cell. From the way they looked at him, assessing and finding him lacking, he thought they were most likely some sort of gentlemen or even minor nobility. The shorter one spoke first. “And you are?”
“Daniel Rivers, sir.” It seemed prudent to stay in their good graces.
“And who were you before you came here, Daniel Rivers?”
Clearly they didn’t care what he’d done to be arrested, merely where he fit in the social structure. Although it was curious that the guards hadn’t told them that he might have valuable information and offer to trade for it. “I was a butler in an earl’s household.” No reason to tell them which if they didn’t know already.
The taller one kicked at a chair. “A butler? They have us sharing with a butler?” Daniel decided he must be the thief. A forger needed to hide his thoughts if he wanted the con to go off, and he didn’t think the taller man could manage that if his life depended upon it.
“No, you’re not looking at this correctly. He’s exactly what we need.” The shorter man, the forger by process of elimination, turned to Daniel. “It seems someone has finally gotten around to getting us some coal. See to the fire, and then we’ll go from there.”
Daniel knew it was Lord Gatwell and James who had gotten the coal, but he didn’t say anything and went to clean out the grate and light the fire. When he’d gotten a nice fire going, he tidied the room, something he doubted either man had done since they’d arrived, then stayed quietly in a corner and occupied himself with thoughts of James. Neither man bothered him, which made him think they were used to servants who did their work and stayed out of the way. That suited him fine.
Surely James had been thinking of him. Paying for better treatment was something he would have done for any member of the staff, but the marzipan, that had been meant for Daniel alone. That small gesture carried Daniel through the afternoon. When dinner arrived, he found the food that had been paid for was far better and more plentiful than the bread he’d been living on, but not so fine as what his roommates had, which kept the social order intact and therefore the peace. He served his new masters at the small table without having to be asked then ate his meal in the corner which he had chosen as his butler’s pantry as it was both warm and out of the way. Neither of his cellmates seemed to mind. When they’d finished and he’d cleared away their plates, he curled up on the floor in the corner, leaving the bed for them, still an improvement as there was no one pressed up against him, and listened to his new roommates drink whatever smuggled spirits they’d managed to acquire while his mind wandered back to James. Did James know what an improvement this was? Part of him hoped James didn’t, so he wouldn’t know how much in need of improving his situation had been.
After breakfast the next morning, James went to the library and realized he had nothing more he could do to help Daniel. What remained of the scraps were barely readable, and he doubted there was any more information to be drawn from them now that he had a name and vague idea of how the information was exchanged. There were no new responses from Mrs. Harrigut’s and Mrs. Patterson’s letters. Allister and Connie had done what could be done with money. And Sedmon just kept saying to leave it to him to think about. James felt at a complete loss. Sedmon was very good at what he did, but there had to be something that could be done, some area to explore, something.
The labels seemed to be a clue. That might have been what Father was angry about, not the wine inside. Could that have been the reason? The wine from Berry’s meant as a blind to be given to people like Allister to disguise the true purpose of the gifts, and the ones from Nestore used to deliver the messages? It would explain the two shops, giving Father a way to tell the bottles apart without being obvious. Even if he’d been the one to label them like Allister’s had been, no one would think twice about a bottle being labeled with the name of the shop it came from. So how to get a look at one of the Nestore bottles if there were none in the house?
James heard the bell in the front hall and ignored it. The staff knew to keep callers away from him while he was working on Daniel’s defense. If he could just find a way to work on it. So he was surprised to hear footsteps in the hall outside the study and even more surprised when the study door opened and Peter peered in.
“Mr. Sedmon, my lord.”
James didn’t have a chance to tell Peter to show him in before Sedmon was through the door and saying, “I’ve done the impossible. How quickly can you get £150 together?”
James got to his feet at once. “Very, why?”
“I’ve managed to arrange bail for Mr. Rivers, and I don’t want them to change their minds before we get him out.”
“You’re brilliant. We’ll go at once.” He turned to the safe to get the money. Daniel would be home, safe. And he’d bring him up to his room—no, that wouldn’t do, would it? The only reason to bring Daniel to his room would be to have him act as valet, and surely Daniel would want to rest when he returned, and James couldn’t follow him up to the servants’ floor without causing questions. If he wanted to be with Daniel, he’d have to find neutral territory. “And I think it would be best if we didn’t return to the house directly.” He still hadn’t found an excuse for that, and telling Mr. Sedmon he didn’t want Daniel to feel like a servant when he was preparing to declare his love didn’t seem quite the thing to say, certainly not when Peter was still standing in the doorway.
Mr. Sedmon filled the silence easily. “To avoid the reporters? That is probably a good idea. I would write ahead to the Clarendon and request what you’ll need. Or were you planning on sending him alone?”
“I think I need a respite as well.”
“And the reporters will be looking for you as well as him. As long as I know where you are, the Crown can find you and you won’t give the impression that you’re hiding from them.”
James wondered if Sedmon suspected the real reason, but he didn’t particularly care. He rang for Tom while he gave Peter orders. “Go up to Mr. Rivers’s room and pack a change of clothes for him, then add a few things for me. I can send for proper luggage once we’ve got him out.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Tom arrived as James was opening the safe. James didn’t notice him until he heard Sedmon say, “Mr. Rivers is going to be released on bail, Thomas.”
“That’s excellent news, sir.”
James leaned around the desk so he could see Tom. “I’ll need you to go to the Clarendon and get rooms in my name at once. Tell them to send up food and have a hot bath prepared when I arrive. If they don’t have anything, start going to the other good places until you find something suitable. I’ll give you some money to secure everything. Either way, see if you can get the key and room number for me, then wait outside the Clarendon and let us know where we’ll be staying, then you can come back here, and the staff can have the afternoon off.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Sedmon took James’s wallet on the desk and counted out enough to secure the rooms while James dealt with the safe.
“Here we are. One hundred fifty pounds. Will we need more, do you think?”
“We’re going to a prison.”
“Right.” James grabbed another handful of coins for bribes and dropped them into the pouch. “How did you manage this? I thought they’d keep him indefinitely because of the charge.”
“Lord Burfield was of some small help. Someone asked him about Rivers helping them, and once he figured out that they were referring to Lord Lynster’s butler, he laughed quite hysterically at the thought of a mere servant understanding their brilliant plans. It bolstered my assertion that Mr. Rivers was, in fact, a loyal subject helping to save the king by watching his master’s actions and collecting evidence where he safely could, such as the burned papers, once he had been alerted to the possibility by the questioning of the Crown’s investigators. Now I can only hope they won’t question him in such a way that he deflates my carefully constructed illusion.”
“I have every confidence in his ability to—” James really did not want to say lie. “To answer in a prudent fashion. Besides, he really did find the burned papers and was the one who noticed the name of the wine shop and recognized it as important.”
Sedmon nodded. “It does help when the argument I present is actually based in fact, even if I didn’t know it at the time.” He stopped speaking when Peter returned with the requested travel case. “I have a hackney cab waiting outside, my lord.”
James started for the door. “Then let’s not waste time.”
“Perhaps you should stop long enough to get your overcoat.” Sedmon seemed amused.
James glanced down to be certain he was wearing shoes then allowed Peter to help him into his coat and retrieve his hat and gloves before he hurried out the door.
At the prison, James didn’t trust himself not to say something impatient or too eager and ruin the best chance he had to get Daniel home, so he let Sedmon do all of the talking. And there seemed to be a great deal of talking and papers passing back and forth as they sat in the office. Then the money had to be paid, first the bond, and then the fees, or perhaps they were bribes—James couldn’t tell from the way they were described, but it was easiest to simply hand the money over to Sedmon and let him take care of everything.
And then it was done. Timmons told the guard to get Rivers, and James realized it was really going to happen. Sedmon glanced at James then got to his feet and followed the guard out. James hurried after him. From the brief glance he had of Timmons’s expression, they had not been expected to follow, but if Sedmon thought it was all right, it must be. More likely he thought it best to get James out of the office before he forgot he was supposed to be Daniel’s employer, not his friend.
The room they were taken to was a far cry from the crowded cell where he’d first seen Daniel, but still sparse and cold. He thought the two men drinking at the small table seemed familiar, perhaps someone he met in passing at some party or the cousins of someone he knew. And then he spotted Daniel, sitting on the floor in the corner by the small window, mending someone’s jacket. “Rivers,” he said without thinking. At least he’d managed to avoid using his given name.
Sedmon jabbed him in the ribs.
Daniel looked up. “My lord.” He finished off the thread as he stood up in one motion from the floor. James had never before appreciated how graceful Daniel could be. He’d start appreciating everything about him now, he promised quietly, if only he could keep him out of this place.
Timmons waved a bit of paper around. “It seems you’ve been granted bail.”
“That is most welcome news.” Daniel was looking at the ground, and James wondered if he was feeling the same swell of emotion that James was. He shuffled towards them, dragging the chains along the floor and making the most mournful scratching sound. Allister had said he’d paid for lighter irons, but they looked as wretched as the ones James had seen before.
“You mean we’re losing our butler? We just got him.” One of the men at the table banged his mug on the wood.
Daniel folded the coat and put it on the table beside him. “I’ve repaired this for you, sir.”
The man shoved the coat out of his way. “Something, anyway.”
Daniel shuffled around the table and over to the door where they were waiting.
“Can we get those things off of him?” James tried to sound bored and a bit irritated as he asked. Sedmon didn’t glare, so he thought he might have done all right.
Timmons nodded to the guard that had accompanied them. James tried to appear uninterested in anything but leaving as the irons were removed. He heard the clank as they hit the floor and a small gasp from Daniel that he couldn’t interpret. It sounded as if he’d been hit by them as they fell, but it could have been relief at getting rid of them. Either way, James glanced at Sedmon, willing the solicitor to take the lead.
Sedmon understood. “If that’s settled, then I think we should be on our way. I don’t want to inconvenience you any further, Mr. Timmons, and I know his lordship is very busy.”
“But not leaving the country,” Timmons all but growled.
“Not even the city.” Sedmon smiled as if everything were perfectly polite between them and started for the door. James followed, and he could feel Daniel behind him.
Once they were out of the prison, James relaxed, not enough to start calling Daniel by his given name or be anything but a bored, condescending lord irritated at having to go bail out a servant, but they were on the right side of the gates, and that was something.
Sedmon climbed into the hackney and said, “We might as well all ride inside, if you don’t mind, my lord.”
So Sedmon worried that they were still being watched. “I suppose. Come along, Rivers.” James clambered and settled himself on the empty seat then allowed himself his first proper look at Daniel.
In the weak sunlight, Daniel looked even worse than he had inside. He was still wearing the ragged remains of what he’d been arrested in, was still grimy and disheveled otherwise, and his face looked haggard and as if he hadn’t slept since he’d been arrested. He climbed into the hack and hesitated, looking from one seat to the other. James patted the spot beside him, and Daniel sank into the cushioned seat. James pounded on the roof, and the driver pulled away from the yard.
“Sedmon, you are worth every penny my father paid you.”
Sedmon allowed himself a small smile. “Then I take it I will still be employed by your family?”
“Forever. Or until you decide to retire, or become fed up with us, whatever comes first.”
“I trust all of those will be a long ways off. I am glad to see you again, Mr. Rivers.”
Daniel smiled. “I will always be grateful to you, sir.”
“Nonsense, merely doing my job. Now, were you questioned during your incarceration?”
“Only the first day. I think the inspector wanted me to see what prison was like in the hopes that I would remember something, true or not, about the family.”
“I see. Well, anything you can remember might suggest the direction of their inquiries could be useful.”
James leaned back against the seat and listened as Daniel described his questioning. He didn’t hear anything helpful in it, but perhaps Sedmon did. He kept watching Daniel’s lips as they formed the words, his eyes as he glanced around trying to remember, his hands as they rested on his thighs. And then the hack was stopping, and Tom ran to open the door. “I have the key, my lord, and I took up the case Peter brought, but they do want you to stop at the desk.”
“And make certain I’m who I say I am. Thank you, Tom. Give the key to Rivers so he can go right up.” James wasn’t at all sure they’d let Daniel in in the state he was in otherwise.
“Very glad to see you, Mr. Rivers.”
“Glad to be seen, Tom. Thank you.” Daniel took the key from him and waited until James was out of the hack and ready to go inside.
Sedmon leaned out to say, “You can ride with me, Tom. I can drop you off most of the way home.”
“Thank you, sir. If it’s all right, my lord.”
“Of course. When you get home, tell the others that Mr. Rivers is out of prison, then you can all have the afternoon to yourselves.”
Tom grinned. “Thank you, my lord.” He hopped into the hack, and James went to tell the driver the addresses. He passed the fare up to the man so Sedmon wouldn’t have to pay then went to confirm his identity.
Daniel entered the lobby of the hotel and immediately felt out of place. He would have felt out of place properly dressed, but in his current state, he knew he didn’t belong.
“Up those stairs there, I think. I’ll join you in a minute.” James patted his arm then went to the desk.
Daniel clutched the key so it would be clear he did belong there and went up the staircase James had indicated. Was that why James had ordered Tom to get the key? So Daniel wouldn’t have to go to the desk and explain his appearance? It made sense, although then the question was whether it had been to save Daniel explanations or himself. And why come here to begin with? Sedmon hadn’t explained that. Sedmon hadn’t explained anything. Neither had James. Not that there had been time to explain anything.
Daniel stopped at the top of the stairs and stood off to the side, almost behind a potted plant but not hidden enough so anyone would wonder if he was hiding. Two groups of people walked right past him, just as they passed their servants, at home he supposed. Being invisible could be helpful. Another reason for him to go to Brighton—he couldn’t bear the idea of being invisible to James, just a servant to be ordered around and walk two steps behind, ready to supply whatever was needed.
“There you are. Waiting to be certain I didn’t forget the room number? Not a bad thought, actually. I barely looked at the key.”
Daniel held the key out without speaking. At least he wasn’t invisible to James now. And he hadn’t been in prison. The memory of the smuggled marzipan still made Daniel’s heart lighten.
“I think it’s this way. Come along.” James stared down the hallway, but he paused and waited until Daniel fell into step beside him.
The room James let them into was like nothing Daniel had seen before. He had never traveled with the family anywhere but to their estate in the country and back to town, so he had never stayed anywhere but coaching inns on the way. This was as sumptuous as a drawing room in a fine house. Compared to his quarters at home, it was luxurious. Compared to his time in prison, it was another world.
James walked around the room and nodded. “Yes, this will do nicely.” He opened a door. “Bedroom, and a valet’s room off to the side. You don’t mind, do you? I think it would cause comment if I took two bedrooms.”
“No, that is what I would expect. I mean, it’s…”
James smiled. “And there’s a bath prepared already. I told them to send up something substantial for tea. That should hold you over until you decide what you’d like for dinner. Sedmon suggested we’re hiding from the press, so no one will think it odd if we stay in the room for a few days. If that suits you.”
“Of course, my lord. Whatever suits you. Would you like me to put your things away?” It was something familiar, something he’d done many times before.
“No, the bath’s for you. And there should be some clothes in the bag for you too. I’ll find them. I should be capable of laying out a suit of clothes on my own.” James smiled, a self-depreciating little grin. “I really brought you here so you could have a break from being a servant for a few days. I thought you might like it after the week you’ve had.” Then he started looking around the room at the window, the fire, the chairs, anything but Daniel. “Besides, you’ll have to get used to it if you’re going to leave service and be a prosperous hotel keeper.” He glanced back at Daniel. “Unless you’ve changed your mind, and you’d like to stay with me.”
“I don’t think that would be wise.” Wonderful, but painful, and definitely not wise.
James nodded. “No, I suppose not. You didn’t want to be a servant anymore.” James stopped looking at him and became very interested in the back of a chair. “I understand, Daniel, really I do. All my life, every time Father upset me, I’ve turned to you for comfort, and you’ve never been anything but kind to me. It’s not your fault that I suddenly read more into it than there was. I never meant to make you uncomfortable, and I know you’ll insist that I can trust you, and I do. There is no one else I would have trusted that day at the pond, and… and…” James clenched his fists and dropped his gaze to the floor. “And I’m sure you want that bath. I’ll go down to the dining room and have something to eat. They’ll leave the tea, and then you can order whatever you’d like after. Charge it to the room.”
Daniel stared at James, not certain what to make of that speech. It almost sounded as if James wanted him to stay as more than a servant. “You’re going to marry, James. I can’t stay when that happens.”
“No, I’m not.” James looked up and gave him a weak bit of a smile. “When you were arrested, I came to my senses about a few things. One of them was marriage. I’m not marrying anyone. There are relatives somewhere who can inherit. And it might not be a bad thing to get the title attached to another branch of the family tree, considering the mess Father made of things. And even if there was no one else, really, what does the title matter? Connie doesn’t need it, and I don’t really care about anyone else, except you.”
Daniel tried to force words from his lips. He was losing his chance to—to ruin everything, most likely.
James stepped forward and pressed something into his hand. “I’ll be downstairs. It was never my intention to make you uncomfortable, not after all you’ve done for me all these years. I hope we can still be friends when you’re running that hotel in Brighton.”
Daniel looked at the small parcel in his hand. A bit of marzipan in the shape of a heart. James had mentioned the pond when he’d visited in prison, and he’d said he wanted to try the experiment again. Daniel had thought he meant something strictly physical, but the sweet in his hand… What if he meant…? Then he couldn’t let the chance go. “I can’t be your friend, James, or your butler, because I’ll always want more if I’m near you.” He stared at the sweet in his hand. “I love you, James. I have for a long time. That’s not going to change, and I…” He wasn’t certain how he planned to finish, but he didn’t need to. James had turned back and was wrapping his arms around Daniel’s waist.
“I wondered for so long,” James whispered against Daniel’s shoulder, “why that kiss by the pond was different, why no one else I kissed ever lived up to it. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure it out, my darling. Don’t leave now that I’ve finally figured out that I love you.”
Daniel pulled away just enough to turn in James’s arms, although even that was enough to make James clutch at him. He pulled James close against his chest and whispered, “I’ll stay, James. I love you too much to leave.”
James looked ready to say something, but there was a soft rap on the door, and whatever he was about to say changed to, “Bath. I’ll handle the food,” and a small push towards the bedroom door.
Daniel went to the bedroom and undressed. Through the closed door, he could hear James talking to the waiter, although not the words. James had said he loved him. Daniel couldn’t stop smiling at that thought as he put the marzipan on the bureau and undressed and sank into the tub. James loved him. He’d never get tired of hearing that. James loved him. He’d been imagining what that night in James’s room would have been like if James had loved him. Now he would know. He grabbed the soap and began scrubbing his hair. The sooner he was done, the sooner he could find out.
Daniel was just rinsing off the last of the soap when James came into the room. “The food looks delicious. I think you’ll be very pleased. Oh, you’re done? I was looking forward to washing your back.”
Daniel grinned at the tone of James’s voice, longing and teasing and sweet at once. “You could help me dry off.”
James smiled at that. “I could indeed.” He started to unbutton his coat and waistcoat. “Wouldn’t want to get wet.”
Daniel leaned against the side of the tub and enjoyed the view. “Certainly not.”
James removed his coat and waistcoat quickly then made a show of removing his shirt and trousers, letting Daniel see hints of each bit of flesh before the whole was revealed. By the time James had finished, even the cooling water wasn’t enough to slow his desire. James picked up the large towel from the chair, and Daniel rose as he approached.
James grinned again. “You look so beautiful like that, with the water sliding down your skin. I want to follow it down.”
Daniel made a soft sound in his throat. He wanted to say something romantic, or invite James to do as he wanted, but he couldn’t force his mouth to make anything but inarticulate sounds. James offered a hand to help him out of the tub then wrapped the towel around him, wrapping his arms around Daniel at the same time so they were embracing by the time the towel was around him. They stood like that for a moment, James’s cheek resting against Daniel’s chest, then James took the towel and began rubbing Daniel’s chest, rubbing the slightly rough cotton against his nipples until they were hard, then licking at the newly dried skin. James pressed his hips forward against Daniel’s and grinned again. “You like that, hmm? What if I continued down?”
Daniel answered with a small gasp. James took that as encouragement and continued down, rubbing the towel along his chest then his belly, following with his mouth and tongue. Daniel couldn’t imagine anything better than the feel of James against him, James wanting him, James kissing him, not as an experiment, but because he wanted Daniel, not some maid at school, not one of his friends from some club—him, Daniel. And then James’s tongue slid along the underside of Daniel’s cock, and he knew there was at least one thing better than James’s mouth on his chest. He moaned encouragement and felt James’s lips close around the tip, teasing him. Daniel pressed his hips forward just a little to encourage him, and James slid his mouth down further, running his tongue along Daniel’s cock as he let it slide further into the hot wetness. Just when he thought it couldn’t feel any better, James sucked hard, and Daniel couldn’t think of anything but the warm mouth on his cock. He tangled his fingers in James’s hair, just enough to feel that it was him, not to hold him still. “Can’t last,” he hissed.
James sucked harder, pulling his mouth back then allowing Daniel’s cock to sink in deep again. Daniel had meant it when he said he couldn’t last. The second long stroke was too much, and he spent into James’s mouth. James continued to suck and lick until he’d gotten every drop then allowed Daniel’s cock to slip from his mouth. “Delicious,” James murmured and pressed a kiss to Daniel’s thigh.
Daniel wanted to answer, but he wasn’t certain he remembered how to form words. James stood and wrapped his arms around him, letting Daniel rest against his chest. “I take it you liked that?”
Daniel kissed his shoulder. “Very much, my love.” He’d called James his love. What a wonderful sound.
“Good, dearest. I plan to do quite a lot of that.”
James had called him dearest. That sounded even better. He was going to respond, when there was a polite rapping on the door.
“Why are they…”
Daniel pulled himself away from James. “They’ve probably come to take the bathwater away.”
“Oh.” James pulled back, apparently realizing being found standing naked in a room with his equally naked butler was not a good plan. “There should be a bag somewhere. I told Peter to pack a few things.”
“Peter?” Daniel laughed as he picked up the towel from the floor and started for the valet’s room.
“What?” James asked as he followed.
“Peter packing a few things means half your wardrobe is here. Which isn’t a bad thing under the circumstances.” Daniel located the bag that had been packed, which was actually the smaller travel trunk, and rooted around inside. “Here.” He tossed James a silk banyan and closed the door to the valet room with himself inside.
James managed to get himself into the loose-fitting robe, which was a relief as he wouldn’t have wanted to admit to Daniel he couldn’t even manage that on his own, and opened the door to the pair of men who bowed to him then went through to get the tub, just as Daniel had predicted. James reached for a few coins to give them as he always did in hotels and handed them over as they left. “Thank you.”
Both men looked surprised. “Our pleasure, my lord. Enjoy your stay.”
James realized it was the first time he’d spoken to hotel staff apart from the desk clerk. He was a snob and hadn’t realized it. He’d have to do better. He followed the servants out into the sitting room and locked the door behind them and added a chair in front of it for good measure, just in case someone came back for some other unknown reason, then went back to the bedroom and tapped on the door to the valet’s chamber. “They’ve gone, Daniel.”
Daniel opened the door. He’d dried himself but not dressed, and James wondered how it had taken him so long to realize Daniel was his. Or he was Daniel’s. He wasn’t really certain what the exact arrangement was. He reached out and ran his hands along Daniel’s shoulders. “Shall we continue where we left off?”
Daniel responded by stepping forward into his embrace, pressing his lips to James’s mouth. James opened to him at once, pressing his body against Daniel’s as Daniel’s tongue slipped into his mouth and swirled inside, reminding him of how blissful it had felt on his cock. There were too many clothes between them. He wanted to feel Daniel’s skin against his. He fumbled with the fastenings of his banyan while Daniel steered him towards the bed. He managed to shed the robe and lay back on the coverlet, looking up at Daniel, drinking in the sight of him. He ran his hand along the smooth, nearly hairless chest, lean but probably the stronger of the two, down to the dusting of hair that became thicker as it led to his cock. Daniel smiled at him and bent down for another kiss. This time James pressed his tongue up into Daniel’s mouth, exploring and tasting. Daniel rested just above him, letting him do as he would, writhing a bit as he enjoying the attentions of James’s mouth and moaning encouragement when something felt particularly good.
One movement of Daniel’s hips caused their cocks to brush against each other, and James gasped at the feeling of hot, hard flesh against his length. He slid his hand down Daniel’s back to his hip and pressed them together again, bucking his own hips against Daniel. Daniel shifted his weight and slipped his own hand between them, wrapping it around both of their cocks, pressing them together, rubbing as James thrust against Daniel, still pulling him closer. Daniel swirled his thumb along the tips and dragged the fluid there along the shafts, adding slickness to the warm hardness, making it easier to thrust against him. James was tempted to close his eyes, but he wanted to watch Daniel as his face twisted with pleasure.
It was Daniel who came first, gasping out “James, my love,” as he spent over James. Hearing Daniel call him his love was enough for James, and he added his seed to the stickiness that covered them.
Daniel sighed and collapsed on the bed beside him, his hand still touching James’s thigh as if he weren’t ready to lose the connection. James swirled his fingers through the sticky puddle on his chest, mixing their scents together. Something about that seemed erotic and right at once. Once his breathing returned to normal, he slid his hand down to Daniel’s. “I suppose we should have kept the bath water.”
Daniel pushed himself up. “I saved a damp towel.”
“Always the practical one.” He supposed that was required of a butler. He watched Daniel cross the room and retrieve the towel from a drawer where he’d dropped it and bring it back. He gently wiped James clean then cleaned himself and dropped the towel on the floor and climbed back into bed. James nestled against him and whispered, “I love you,” as Daniel drifted to sleep.
When he woke, James found he was incredibly comfortable with no desire to leave the bed. He turned his head slightly and saw Daniel was already awake but was lying quite still, watching him. “I didn’t wake you, did I?”
James shook his head. “I suppose we should get out of bed.”
“I suppose.” Daniel didn’t sound any more interested in moving than he was.
“Although we could consider the matter of the wines from right here just as well as the sitting room.”
“That we could.”
“Then it’s settled.” He leaned over and kissed Daniel’s shoulder. “We’ll think of where we can look in the house.” He licked lightly at Daniel’s chest. “And who we can ask.”
“Perhaps a letter to Lady Gatwell.”
Thanking of his sister was not what he wanted when he was trying to seduce Daniel. He wondered if that was the point. James lay back down with his head resting on Daniel’s chest. “I suppose.”
They were quiet for a few moments, James running his hands along Daniel’s chest and Daniel tangling his fingers in James’s hair, until Daniel said, “We’ve been going about this from the wrong end.”
James rolled over and propped himself up on his elbow. “What do you mean?”
“Your father most likely gave away all of what he had. We need to go to the source.”
“To Nestore Fine Spirits? You think they’d have some kind of proof?”
“They could have the whole plan, how it was done, everything there.”
“Unless they’ve destroyed it all. And they will if we tell them we know about their connection to the scheme.” It wouldn’t do to solve everything only to have the evidence destroyed before it could be used to protect Daniel.
“So we don’t appeal to their fear—we appeal to their greed.”
“You think it will work?”
“I suspect that’s how your father secured their help to begin with.”
James sat up. “Then let’s try it. What do we need?”
“Would you be willing to offer a reward?”
“Whatever you think is appropriate.”
“And can Mr. Sedmon be trusted?”
“With a surprising amount.”
“Then we should send word to him once the office opens and then go home and collect up a good bribe.”
“All right.” James leaned over and pressed his lips to Daniel’s chest, just above the nipple. “But I think it’s too early now.”
He felt Daniel’s chest shake as he chuckled. “You have something more interesting in mind?”
James licked Daniel’s nipple then let his breath brush over the damp skin as he said, “I think I could come up with something.” He pressed his erection against Daniel’s hip to let him know what he was thinking.
“I could be convinced.” Daniel pressed a kiss against the sensitive skin on James’s inner arm the rolled him over and began kissing him in earnest.
Leaving for home took longer than anticipated, but they did eventually manage to get out of bed and into some clothes and then a hackney cab back to the house. James watched Daniel sitting across from him, wishing he could reach out and take his hand, hold it and stroke the palm as he had the evening before when they’d finally wandered into the parlor of the hotel suite and sat beside each other on the settee to eat the meal he’d ordered when they’d checked in, or better yet kiss him as they had when they’d finished the dessert. But that couldn’t happen, not out and about, even in a hack. Or once they got into the house for that matter, not with the servants everywhere. They would simply have to figure something out. It couldn’t be that difficult. It was his house, after all.
At the house, they’d barely crossed the threshold when Polly came out of the parlor with her broom and dust cloth. She took one look at Daniel and rushed forward to embrace him. “You’re back, Mr. Rivers. You’re really back.”
James lunged for the broom and caught it before the handle hit the china shepherdess on the table.
“Yes, Polly, I am back.” Daniel gave her a moment to be excited then untangled himself. “Perhaps you should go down and inform Mrs. Harrigut and Mrs. Patterson.”
“Oh yes, sir. Right away, sir.” She started for the staircase with a little hop of excitement.
“Broom,” Daniel said before she’d gone more than a few steps.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I forget. My lord, I’m very sorry. I…”
James handed over the broom and made a small gesture towards the door to the stairs. Polly grabbed the broom and hurried away. James was glad to know Daniel had been missed by the others. It was good to know he’d had some friends during the time he’d worked for Father. He was going to say something to that effect when he felt Daniel’s hands slip around him and begin to remove his coat. James was going to object, to say he could do it himself, until he felt Daniel’s fingers slide along the back of his neck, and he realized removing his coat may have been an excuse and not the motive at all.
“I’d best go and see how things stand downstairs, unless you need something, my lord?”
He’d thought Daniel would need to get used to the change in their relationship, but he was starting to realize it might be more difficult for him. “No, but in a little while, bring some tea up to the library. And two cups.”
“Very well, my lord.” He gave James’s arm a gentle squeeze then hung his coat on the stand and followed Polly downstairs.
James made certain the front door was locked then went to the library. He’d have to become used to the idea that Daniel would not be with him every moment of the day, even if he was staying.
Daniel hurried down the servants’ staircase, wondering how to explain the visit to the Clarendon. No one would really believe it had been to avoid the press, but how strongly would they question it? He wondered if Mrs. Harrigut or Mrs. Patterson could be trusted. It would be so much easier if they could. If there were a way to test without exposing James to suspicion, but what? As he rounded the final turn on the landing, he could see into the kitchen. Mrs. Harrigut and Mrs. Patterson were both at the foot of the stairs, looking up, waiting for him, he realized. Polly was there too, and Nora and Bessie and Tom and Peter. So he had been missed. It was a nice feeling.
Mrs. Harrigut met him at the foot of the stairs. “Polly said you were back. We are happy to see you, Mr. Rivers.”
“Indeed we are,” Mrs. Patterson added, coming to shake his hand.
“It is most gratifying to hear that.” He paused for a moment to enjoy it then returned to business. “Now his lordship would like a tea tray in the library, two cups.”
“So you’ll be discussing matters with him then?” Mrs. Patterson said as she sent Bessie for a tray.
“Bet it’s about hiring,” Tom said at once. “He said he’d be taking your recommendations very seriously.”
“Thomas, not now,” Mrs. Harrigut said.
“What? He told Polly the same thing, didn’t he?”
“He did, Mr. Rivers.”
Mrs. Patterson arranged the teapot on the tray. “His lordship has known Mr. Rivers for a long time. I’m sure he values his opinion.”
“Course he does. And I’d think you’d both be of the opinion that you need to hire those you can trust, seeing as what you’re getting up to.”
Daniel froze. Surely he’d heard wrong. Or misinterpreted. That had to be it.
“Thomas,” Mrs. Harrigut said in her most no-nonsense voice.
“What? We all know they didn’t go to the Clarendon to avoid the hordes of reporters outside the door. Why else would they go? I’m just saying they ought to have people they could trust around.” Then Thomas seemed to understand what he’d said. “I didn’t mean… Mr. Rivers, I’d never… You can’t think….”
Daniel didn’t know how to answer. They all knew, and Thomas… What had Thomas meant? And how many of the others agreed?
He realized Mrs. Patterson was shoving the tea tray at him. “His lordship will be waiting for this.”
His lordship, waiting, James. He’d bring the tray to James. “Yes, thank you.” He took the tray and started for the stairs. As he glanced back, he caught a glimpse of Polly leaning over Thomas with an uncharacteristically fierce look on her face. Mrs. Harrigut was standing off to the side, looking ready to pounce the moment Polly had finished. Perhaps they had a few allies at least.
James couldn’t help smiling as soon as the door opened. “Daniel.” He paused in case Daniel wasn’t alone then stopped when he saw Daniel’s expression. “Is something wrong? They’re not here to arrest you again, are they?”
“No, no, but something Thomas said just now.”
James listened as Daniel related the conversation he’d had in the servants’ hall. “What do you think he meant by that?”
“He’s a good fellow—at least I thought he was a good fellow. But now… I can’t open you to blackmail or arrest, James.”
Daniel was going to try being noble and give him up. James could tell from his tone of voice. And he was having none of it. “Nonsense. We simply need to think. If nothing else, a nice trip to Italy might do. Everyone will think it’s to get away from Father’s foolishness.”
“Provided they allow you to leave the country.”
“Damn, you’re right. There’s that. Then we’ll just have to sort out Nestore.” If only he knew more about how to handle servants, he might have some idea of how to tell what sort of threat Thomas was, if he was one at all. Connie would know. She handled households full of servants. Allister had at least four properties scattered around the countryside. “Daniel, I’ve a sudden desire to see my sister. Send someone round to fetch her if she’s available.”
The relief on Daniel’s face told him that Daniel considered consulting Connie a good idea as well. “I’ll go myself, my lord.”
“And after, we’ll go to Nestore’s and see what we can find.”
After Daniel had left, James found he couldn’t settle to anything and began pacing the room. If it hadn’t been for the distraction of Father’s stupidity—and what a distraction that was—he might have been able to settle the matter of the staff easily enough. Men hid affairs with maids all the time—how much harder could it be to hide a butler? Of course, one didn’t get arrested and pilloried for a dalliance with a maid. But if he needed to, he would travel somewhere, anywhere, with Daniel. But to do that, they needed to clear their names and put Father’s mess to rest. With that in mind, he sat at his desk and stared at the scraps of paper.
James was just thinking that his time might be better spent searching the office again when the door opened and Thomas peered around the edge. “May I have a word, my lord?”
The footman looked so nervous, James didn’t have the heart to snap at him. “Yes, Thomas?”
Thomas came in and stood a respectful distance from the desk with his eyes cast down. It was quite unlike his usual demeanor, which made James wonder. “You wanted to say something, Thomas?”
“I just didn’t want anyone in trouble, my lord. If you’re going to sack someone, just sack me, please. But I didn’t mean anything by it, I swear.”
James sighed. “Am I to understand that you are referring to what you said to Mr. Rivers?”
“That’s right, my lord. We all knew he was sweet on you, and when you were trying so hard to get him released, we all assumed… But none of us would say anything. I really meant exactly what I said. You said you were going to listen to what he said about staff, so he should try to get you to hire people he knows he can trust. That was all I meant, my lord. Nothing else, I swear.”
James stared at his desk. If Thomas was telling the truth… If only he could put his full mind to the problem. “Thank you, Thomas. You may go back to your duties.”
Thomas looked ready to say something else, but he changed his mind, bowed, and left the room.
James had never been so glad to see Connie. She took one look at his expression and laughed. “If I’d known you would be this happy to see me, I would have arranged a servants’ crisis for you years ago.”
“It’s not a joke, Connie.”
“I know, and Daniel’s told me his side of it already, so now I need to hear what you think the situation is.”
“Well, first there is something I need to tell you. About me and Daniel.” That was what he should have been thinking about when he was pacing the room. How to tell Connie about Daniel.
“You mean what I figured out after your first holidays home from Eton?”
James felt his cheeks redden. That had been the holiday he and Daniel had conducted the kissing experiment at the pond. Had Connie seen that?
“Do you realize you two have just turned the exact same shade of red? It’s really rather sweet, although I sincerely hope Allister and I don’t do that. He gets terribly blotchy when he’s embarrassed. Now tell me what you think the problem is.”
Connie had always been a good listener, and James was able to tell her everything without interruption. When he’d finished, she stared into space while he fidgeted and Daniel began checking the statuettes on the mantelpiece for dust.
Connie sat up straight quite suddenly and looked at him in a way that reminded him of their old nurse. “All right, do you two have some clue you can follow up on that is not within the house?”
“We were going to see if Nestore Wines could tell us anything.”
“Excellent. Naturally, I will want to stay and find out what you discover. Daniel, you are to go downstairs and have Mrs. Patterson make a fresh pot of tea for me and have Polly bring it up with some cake. A fresh pot, mind you, and Polly is to bring it up. That will give the pair of you time to get away conspicuously. Understood?”
They both nodded.
“Then go to it.”
James and Daniel both hurried for the door. “I’ll manage my coat. You go and take care of her tea.”
Daniel nodded and made for the baize door.
Nestore Wines and Fine Spirits was on a small street in a part of town that had been fashionable a generation ago and was now falling slowly into poverty. The shop itself was not at all the sort of place the late Lord Lynster would have frequented. Nothing at all like Berry’s. James wondered how his father had even found out that such a place existed. As they climbed out of the hack, he whispered, “What do you think?”
“If any of the staff had driven his lordship here, I’d know about it. It would have been the talk of the servants’ hall for a month.”
James nodded and paid the driver to wait for them. “Shall we?” He led the way into the shop.
The door made a great deal of noise when they pushed it open, mostly from the hinges, not the bell. The man who came to the counter at the sound matched the shop, run down, not too clean, and not too honest. He gave them a large, insincere grin, which got wider when he’d finished cataloging James’s clothes and calculating their worth. “Leo Nestore of Nestore’s Fine Wines and Spirits, founded in 1745, at your service, gentlemen.”
The man was as Italian as boiled mutton. James nodded his greeting, polite but not too familiar, and looked around the shop. “In business since 1745—a family concern then?”
“No, not anymore. The old man died, and the family sold it cheap. I know a bargain when I see one. You wanted to buy something?”
“My father used to buy from your shop. Lord Lynster?”
“Aye, I remember him. A good customer. Wouldn’t have thought he’d go to the bad. Very sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. We’re trying to discover anything we can about his actions in recent months; if you could tell us what your business with him was, it might help.”
“His crimes were nothing to do with me, my lord, I assure you.”
James wished he’d thought to buy a newspaper and find out if anything had been mentioned about the burned papers.
Daniel leaned forward. “Your name—well, the shop’s name, came up frequently when we were going through his lordship’s desk. If you had any information that could be useful to us, I believe his lordship, his current lordship, is offering a reward.”
Nestore seemed to perk up at the mention of a reward, but he said, “I sold him wine and spirits, nothing more.”
“Of course, but if you could tell us how that came about, there may be something that would suggest something else to his lordship, and then you could collect the reward.”
“You’re not going to prove him innocent if that’s what you’re wanting. Have you seen the papers? That other nutter’s condemning him left and right. You’re lucky he offed himself.” Nestore noticed James’s gold pocket watch, which he had just removed from his waistcoat and was pretending to consult, and added, “Sorry for your loss.”
“As he says, there is the possibility of a reward for information.” James snapped the watch closed. He’d always thought it made a very nice sound when it closed, showing quality, which in Nestore’s eyes would mean wealth, and Nestore seemed to consider it another sign of his visitor’s ability to pay a worthwhile reward.
“I had nothing to do with all of his plans. His lordship came into my shop one day and asked if we bottled our own wines, which we do. War and all made it hard to get certain vintages.”
James wondered how much actual wine went into the bottles but nodded as if he believed the story. “Do you know how he found you?”
“Didn’t think to ask. Maybe I should have; I might have gotten some more of his class of client. So he asked about bottling the wines, and then if we would make him up a special batch with the labels he provided. I didn’t see any reason not to oblige him.”
“What sort of labels were they?”
“They looked like regular wine labels.”
“Known vintages?” Maybe there was some clue in them, a code perhaps.
“Yes, they looked like they’d been copied from other bottles. So I made him up a batch and pasted the labels on.”
“Even if the labels didn’t match what was in the bottles?”
“He was buying it for himself, not to deceive. I didn’t see that it mattered.” Or at least he could say he didn’t know they were meant to deceive, which was probably just as good to his mind.
“And how often did this happen?”
“Every few months. He’d bring the labels fresh from the printers and smelling like sour milk and tell me what color wine and bottle he wanted, and I’d get it made for him.”
“Color wine and bottle, but not vintage?”
“We’re not as elegant as what you’re used to, my lord. We don’t have the selection you’re accustomed to.”
“Of course. And every few months—did that mean every two months, six months, once a season?”
“Every two or three months, I’d say.”
“And how many bottles did he order?”
“As many as he had labels for. Some months it was three, some six, some eight. It varied.”
That was more than James had anticipated. So he was giving them to more than the traitor lords that were known to the government. “When was the last time he came?”
“A week before he died, I think. More or less.”
“You don’t have any of the labels, do you?”
“The last batch he brought. He always said I was only supposed to give the orders to him, no servants or relatives. In my business, that’s not unusual. Prevents pilfering. When I heard he died, I halted the order.”
James wondered which business that applied to. Nestore seemed the sort to have several concerns of varying legality going on at once. “Do you still have them?”
“I’ll get them.” Nestore went to the back of the shop. James stared straight ahead so he wouldn’t be tempted to turn and ask Daniel’s opinion. Nestore returned quickly with the stack of labels. He held them up so they could be seen but didn’t hand them over.
“We will have to tell the investigators about this, and they probably will come, but you should have time to—tidy up the shop and make it look nice for them.”
“You’re certain you can’t say you found them in a drawer?”
“This is important evidence”—and James certainly wasn’t protecting a dishonest merchant and probable smuggler over Daniel—”but if you tell them what you told us, they will probably see that you had no idea what was really happening, particularly if you emphasize that you believed the wine was being given as presents or for personal consumption.”
“And there is the reward,” Daniel said quietly.
Mr. Nestore’s hearing improved at once. “Yes, the reward. When do you think they’ll be coming to speak with me?”
“I think you’ll have a day or two to tidy up.”
“A day or two. Better than nothing, I suppose. The dust, you know.”
“Of course.” And whatever was hidden in the cellar. James pulled out his wallet and counted out a fair number of coins. He’d have paid any amount to keep Daniel safe, although he made certain Daniel had the labels before he handed the coins over.
Back in the carriage, Daniel handed over the labels. James flipped through them. All were for the same vintage. He tried to study the details, but he didn’t see anything that looked like a clue. “These look like regular wine labels.”
Daniel held one up to the light. “This one is a little thin around the edge there. They look like they were soaked off of a bottle, not freshly printed.”
“But Nestore, if that’s even his name, said they came freshly printed.”
Daniel shrugged. “It doesn’t make any sense, but then very little of what your father did does.” He held another one up to the light, and James could see what he meant about thin patches. “Of course, if these were soaked off of bottles…”
“That would explain Father’s mystery bottles. If he took the labels and added the code to them, but then why put them on Nestore’s bottles?”
“Perhaps he didn’t know how to reattach them and didn’t want to trust any of the staff with that job. We would have told the investigators at once if we’d have been given a task like that, to save our own skins, I’m afraid.”
James grinned. “Pity you didn’t know about it. It might have saved a good bit of trouble.”
Daniel smiled back. Then he looked back at the labels. “Maybe the bottles from Nestore looked different, different enough that he wouldn’t confuse them.”
“That could be. If we could just crack the code.”
“First we should try to find it. Perhaps there are some actual bottles of this in the cellar, the ones he’d give to Lord Gatwell and the others to cover the exchange of information. I would think those would be the original vintage, or the recipients might notice something odd and comment on it, especially now. We could compare them.”
James nodded. “That’s an idea. Connie said they tried one or two of the bottles and didn’t care for them. She’d have mentioned Allister’s reaction if he’d drunk some of whatever that man bottled. It would have been memorable.” He tucked the labels into his pocket and hoped Daniel would take the hint and stop talking about them.
Daniel slid his hand along the seat until it brushed James’s fingers. “I suppose this means we’re going back to the house.”
“I suppose it does.” James sobered as he remembered what was waiting for them. “Maybe Connie’s had a chance to sort things out there.”
He could tell from Daniel’s expression he’d also forgotten about Thomas while they’d been preoccupied with Nestore. “There is that.”
James slid his hand over a little further and hooked his smallest finger into Daniel’s. “And I was just beginning to enjoy myself at the Clarendon.” He glanced at Daniel out of the corner of his eye. “But we’re registered for three more days. We could always go back. Unless you’re in a hurry to leave for Brighton.”
“Brighton has become less appealing in recent days.”
James could feel himself grinning like a fool, but Daniel didn’t seem to mind, and that was all that really mattered.
When they returned to the house, Daniel went straight to the wine cellar and found a bottle of the claret in question. James went to find Connie in the sitting room. As he approached, Mrs. Harrigut was coming out. She smiled at him but didn’t say anything. Connie was seated on the settee with the remains of tea and cake in front of her. “Did you find anything?”
“We may have.” While he waited for Daniel, he gave her a brief report of what Nestore had said. When Daniel returned with the bottle, they all pored over it with a magnifying lens, but they couldn’t find any differences of note. Nothing filled in on the lettering, nothing marked, nothing at all.
James was leaning against Daniel’s shoulder, trying to find a pattern in the thin areas of paper, although how his father would have had the skill to manage to hide something like that was a question still to be answered, while Connie stared at the bottle as if it would start speaking and tell her something, when Peter opened the door. “Mr. Sedmon, my lord.”
James pulled away from Daniel as the solicitor came in. He couldn’t tell if Sedmon was pretending not to have seen or if he’d been quick enough. “Good afternoon, my lord. I came to see how Mr. Rivers was doing.”
“Happy to be back where I belong, sir. And thank you again for all your assistance.”
James couldn’t help smiling when Daniel said he was where he belonged. Was it too much to hope that sitting beside him was part of it?
“Think nothing of it, Mr. Rivers. Part of my job, really. I also came to see if there were any developments. The note I received was rather cryptic.”
James realized he couldn’t remember what he’d written in the note to Sedmon. It had been about their plans to investigate Nestore, that much was certain, but he’d been leaning against Daniel when he wrote it, in bed, with his writing desk propped against his legs and Daniel holding the inkwell for him, which had been something of a distraction. “We went to visit the mysterious wine merchant.”
“I gathered that much. Was he helpful?”
“I think so.” James began the tale of the morning’s adventures again, in more detail as Sedmon kept asking questions when he glossed over something. Daniel slipped away and returned with tea and scones and more raspberry tart for Connie. He produced the labels at the appropriate moment. James spread them out on the table. “He didn’t appear to know anything else. Father would bring the labels to him and tell him to paste them on the bottles. Apparently, they were freshly printed and smelled like sour milk, and he had to be careful not to smear the ink.”
“Sour milk, you say? You didn’t mention that before.” Connie seemed very interested in that bit. “Daniel, do you have an iron nearby? The sort of thing for pressing clothing.”
“Of course.” Daniel hurried out of the room and returned almost at once with the object in question and a towel.
“You made it to the kitchen and back that fast?” James asked.
Daniel went to the fire and selected a few coals to put inside. “His lordship kept this in his dressing room. I always thought it was odd, as we do most of the laundry that’s not sent out in a room off the kitchens, as you say, and he was not the sort to go through mounds of cravats, retying them, or really take much interest in his appearance at all.” Daniel licked the tip of his finger and tested the iron. “You wish me to iron the label?”
Daniel glanced at James, who shrugged. Connie seemed to think it was worth a try, and she wouldn’t if she didn’t have some reason.
Daniel spread the towel out on the end table then arranged the label on it and began ironing. As the heat passed over the paper, dark-brown marks began to appear and form into random letters.
“Invisible ink?” James asked. “It seems like something out of a novel.”
“That’s probably why I know about it. I must have read it somewhere. Milk. When it’s painted on paper and allowed to dry, it can’t be seen until you apply heat. Now this looks like some kind of a code.”
“Knowing Father, it can’t be very difficult. Let me see.” James took the label and scanned the jumble of letters. “A simple substitution, I would think.”
Daniel leaned over his shoulder. “That at the bottom is eight letters. Could it be ‘Thaddeus’?”
“You think he signed the notes?”
“The middle two characters do repeat. And the first word of the message begins with that same letter and is four letters long.”
“Oh lord. Bring me some paper.”
Daniel obliged and James wrote out the characters in question. “If that is ‘Thaddeus,’ then it starts ‘D,’ ‘E,’ ‘A,’ something. He not only signed them, he addressed them to the recipients.”
Sedmon sighed. “And I thought Lord Burfield was a fool. How did they manage a conspiracy that went undetected for four years? Give me the lot, and I’ll bring it to Mr. Williams as soon as I’ve figured out the best way to present it to him. May as well let him do his own ironing, Mr. Rivers.”
Daniel handed over the stack of labels.
“So this is over?” James asked.
“I sincerely hope so. This should be enough to convince Mr. Williams that you are on their side at least. Will the pair of you be returning to the Clarendon?”
James glanced at Daniel. “I think it’s best.”
“The Clarendon?” Connie asked.
“Avoiding the press,” Sedmon said as he stacked the labels together.
“The hordes outside, you mean? I counted four cats, I think, and that boy who’s always waiting to bring notes around.”
Sedmon nodded. “The cats are most persistent, I find. Good afternoon, my lady, my lord, Mr. Rivers.”
Connie stared as Sedmon left the room. “Has he developed a sense of humor after all these years?”
“I think he always had it, just didn’t like to show it around Father.” James stood. “Well, we’re off to the Clarendon, Connie. Feel free to stay until you’ve finished your cake.”
“Wouldn’t you like to hear the results of your other problem?”
James was almost dreading that more than the Crown’s answer. “All right.”
“Mrs. Harrigut and I made up a list of suggestions for you to consider. Obviously, you and Mr. Rivers will be making the final decisions, but these were what we considered prudent.” She handed over the list she’d made. Daniel came to read over his shoulder.
James started to relax as he read the list, which contained every name on the staff in one way or another. “So you don’t think there’s a problem?”
“Polly said everyone had already figured it out, and they were simply waiting for the pair of you to sort yourselves out, which took long enough, I must say. And Thomas couldn’t construct a tactful sentence if his life depended upon it. He really did mean what he said in the most literal sense.”
James glanced at Daniel as he finished the list. Daniel nodded. Apparently, it met with his approval as well. “I don’t know how to thank you, Connie.”
“I seem to remember being promised novels.”
“As many as you can read.”
Connie grinned, and James suddenly remembered the holidays he’d spent with Daniel at the pond. Connie had spent all of them curled up in the window seat reading novels. She grinned even wider at his expression. “So you do know what you’ve just promised. You’ll need someone strong to deliver them. It might be a suitable punishment for Thomas. I’d best get home before Allister misses me. I’m sure he’ll want to know all about Nestore. I’m glad you’re safe, Daniel. Enjoy your holiday.”
When Connie had left, James picked up the staff list and looked at it again. He remembered Thomas coming to apologize to him, how worried he’d been. Daniel came to lean over his shoulder. James nestled back against Daniel’s chest. “Do you think this will work?”
“I’ve always thought Lady Connie had very good intuition, and she did ask for Polly specifically, and Polly is a good, sensible girl. Yes, I think it might.”
“Then let’s not leave them in suspense. Would you assemble the staff, and we can let them know their fates?”
But when they left the sitting room, they found the staff had assembled itself. Everyone had found tasks that required their presence in the front hall. Even Mrs. Patterson had decided she was needed to sort out the fruit bowl on the table by the staircase. James pitched his voice to be heard by everyone and tried to sound casual as he said, “I suppose you’re all wondering about the staffing problems at my townhouse.”
Everyone shuffled uncomfortably. It was Mrs. Harrigut who said, “We don’t wish to rush your decisions.”
“Quite kind of you, but I have discussed it with Mr. Rivers and sincerely hope you will agree to accept an offer of employment as my housekeeper.”
Mrs. Harrigut smiled. “Gladly, my lord.”
“And Mrs. Patterson, I hope you will consider staying as cook.”
Mrs. Patterson looked as if she wanted to say something pert but changed her mind.
“I promise I’ll be eating more once everything is settled.” James could tell by her grin that she had wanted to say something along those lines. “And Mr. Rivers will be staying on as butler. However, I will be depending on him more as there are more properties to look after, so an under-butler seems in order. Mr. Rivers felt that Peter might be up to the task.”
Thomas clapped Peter on the back as the footman nodded.
“Thomas, that means you would be promoted to first footman, although I would try to learn a bit more tact.”
Tom looked shocked at the news that he wasn’t being tossed out on his ear. “I’ll get Polly to help me, my lord.”
“And speaking of Polly, I was going to offer you the position as parlor maid, while Bessie and Nora would go on as upstairs maids. That means we will need a couple more footmen. I believe, Mrs. Harrigut, you had some candidates?”
“My nephew Nicholas and his very dear friend.”
“Then if you wouldn’t mind writing. And Peter, I believe you have a sister who might be interested in the position of downstairs maid?”
“Just old enough to go into service, my lord. It would be a great weight off of mother’s mind to have her somewhere with family. The vicar’s wife will give her an excellent reference, I’m sure.”
“My sister’s already in service, my lord, but she doesn’t like her place at all. The master’s all hands, if you understand.”
“Then if the pair of you would write as well.”
Thomas spoke up. “Weren’t thinking of a hall boy, were you?”
“Tact,” Polly hissed.
“Sorry, my lord. Just it’s my littlest brother, same as Peter, just ready to go into service. Be nice if his big brother were there to keep an eye on him. Doesn’t have any references, but…”
“Schoolmaster,” Peter hissed.
“Schoolmaster’d tell you he’s a good, clever boy,” Thomas said without missing a beat. “And he don’t take after me at all when it comes to speaking when he shouldn’t.”
“Then it seems you have a letter to write as well. Leave them on my desk, and I’ll frank them when I return, as they are being sent on my behalf.”
“Going back to the Clarendon then?” Thomas said then remembered himself and added, “Don’t want the press hounding you.”
James made a mental note not to trust Thomas with any important guests, at least not the easily offended ones. “Exactly. We’ll be back in three days, but you can reach us there if you need to. Come along, Mr. Rivers.”
“I’ll get you a hackney cab, my lord,” Thomas offered and ran for the door.
James smiled. At least Thomas was trying to make up for his gaffes.
Daniel and James were just enjoying their last dinner in their room at the Clarendon when there was a knock on the door. Daniel hurried to answer it. “Mr. Sedmon, my lord.”
It sounded strange to hear something other than “James” from Daniel’s lips, but James knew he would have to learn to keep the two parts of their life separate. Although now that he knew his staff could be trusted, such mistakes were less of a worry. Maybe he would stop entertaining altogether and retire to the country and not have to worry about it at all. “Show him through. Would you like some coffee?”
“A fleeting visit, but I thought you’d want to know at once; you need have no more worries about prosecution.”
“You’re certain?” James asked. It seemed too good to be true.
Daniel sank down in the chair beside him and grabbed his hand.
“I gave Mr. Williams a full account of the evidence you found and pointed out that, as differing quantities of the spirits were purchased, it seemed to suggest that there were coconspirators who did not attend all of Lord Lynster’s little parties. Mr. Williams is now champing at the bit to go after them.”
“And that convinced him we weren’t involved?” Somehow James couldn’t see Mr. Williams giving up so easily.
“Not immediately. However, when I pointed out that I would be recommending a defense which emphasized your cooperation and the pivotal role you both played in finding the meaning of Tributary and the possibility of more conspirators, which could only be proved by detailing every step you took to find the hidden writing, he realized you were not involved.”
“Considering he also realized that your defense would include a detailed description of what we know of the bottles and the code and that information would most likely appear in every newspaper in the country, thereby tipping off the conspirators and causing every one of them with any intelligence whatsoever to destroy any bottles they received from the previous Lord Lynster, yes, I am confident that he is done with the pair of you. He’s working on figuring out who else the bottles were addressed to. Your father only used given names, but it does narrow things down considerably. Particularly as Mr. Rivers was able to provide guest lists for all of the events in question.”
“Then it really is over.” James leaned back and squeezed Daniel’s hand.
“Lord Burfield will be going to trial, so it will be in the press for quite a while, and that might be unpleasant for you, but otherwise, yes, it is over as far as you are concerned. You might want to consider spending some time in the country away from the press and the gossips. Lady Gatwell might like to follow the same advice.” Sedmon stood. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call on me, although I would prefer if it involved some nice legal contracts or a land dispute, not prison, and definitely not treason.”
“I’ll try to oblige. Thank you, Sedmon, for everything.”
“Always a pleasure, my lord, Mr. Rivers. I’ll show myself out.”
As soon as Sedmon was gone, James relaxed and leaned against Daniel. “What do you think of retiring to Lynfield Hall for a few months? Or is the appeal of Brighton still calling?”
Daniel wrapped his arm around James’s shoulder. “I think the Millford Hotel, Brighton has gotten along quite well without me this long. It will survive. While the Lynster family seems to still need me.”
“Want you, definitely.”
Daniel smiled. “Besides, I can’t leave you without a valet.”
“Thinking of changing careers? But I would have thought that was a demotion.”
“As we are promoting Peter to under-butler and hiring new footmen, I should be able to continue as butler and fill in as your valet until you find someone suitable. The accommodations seem most convenient.”
James thought of the small room off of his own that Andrews had occupied many nights. “They do indeed. I ought to warn you, I’ve been known to pass up many fine stallions in my search for a unicorn.”
“Then we’ll have to word the advertisement very carefully. It may be a long while before I find copy you approve of. The footman position should be easier to fill, I would hope. Particularly as Mrs. Harrigut’s nephew has already arrived in town.”
“That does simplify things, but pick anyone you like, as many as you like, and quickly, so you can begin your new position as soon as possible.”
Daniel leaned over and brushed his lips against James’s ear. “That is certainly motivation to be quick about it. Perhaps I should practice my new duties again.”
James grinned. “I was hoping you’d let me practice being a valet, in case I need something to fall back on.”
“I think I could give you a few lessons in undressing a gentleman. Shall we retire to the bedroom?”
James was already fumbling with waistcoat buttons, so he didn’t argue as Daniel steered him towards the bedroom, pressing kisses to his neck as they went.
Laurence, Lord Heathborough, hired his handsome new solicitor to distance himself from his father’s treason. Robert took the job hoping for enough references to start his own firm. But when the Crown suspects of Laurence of being part of stock swindle, he’ll need to decide if he can trust his new solicitor, or if Robert was part of the plot all along.
Available June 13, 2017
For more information, visit http://AdellaJHarris.wordpress.com
Adella J. Harris lives in Ohio where she writes, watches far too much British television, and reads anything with words on it. You can find a complete list of her books at www.AdellaJHarris.com
Three traitor lords plotted to kill the king; now their sons must deal with the aftermath. When butler Daniel Rivers finds his employer, the Earl of Lynster, has shot himself, confirming he was one of the traitor lords plotting to kill the king, Daniel’s only thought is to protect his childhood friend James, the new Lord Lynster, from the scandal. He’s been quietly looking out for Lord James ever since the day by the pond when James’s “experiment” of a kiss proved to Daniel that he loved the young lord. James had heard rumors of traitor lords and a plot to kill the king, but he didn’t realize his father was one of them until he read a newspaper story hinting the traitors were on the verge of being arrested and finds his father has shot himself rather than be tried, making James the new Lord Lynster. Fortunately, his father’s butler, Daniel Rivers, found the body. Daniel knows James’s deepest secret, and James knows he can trust Daniel, even when the Crown decides they’d like another traitor lord to put on trial. When it’s discovered there may be more traitors involved in the conspiracy than the ones the Crown already knows about, James will need all his resources to prove he isn’t one of them. And Daniel will do anything he can to keep the former Lord Lynster’s scandal away from the son, even if it means allowing himself to be suspected.