Much to the surprise of Royce Summervilleand the entirety of the tonSavannah Wrightwaite not only agreed to be his bride, but actually arrived at the church for the wedding. Not a soul that could fit inside was prepared to miss the ceremony, not after the surprising turn of events that led to it. Nor were the ones waiting outside, however, they made due with the knowledge that they were present at the event.
First of all, Summerville wasted no time having someone collect his uncle and stripping the roomnay the houseof most traces of the odious man. Some said with flagrant disrespect to the dead and his “family”. Which led Royce to dispose of them faster, at one point sending invitations to a bonfire on the estate’s beach. Several attended, including Lady Savannah, whom Royce spent much of the night entertaining with touches of his hand to her face and laughter in his tone. As he had long ago passed the rating of Scandalous, the depraved Earl was also the most sought after invitation of the season.
The Summerville historical items, however, Royce took great pleasure in finally being able to touch and know. Word was immediately sent to his mother to come to Summervilleshe was present for the bonfireand she quickly took over the dowager home, a vast improvement to her previous state in life. Thankfully, the mostly relieved members of the Earl’s (deceased) household were more than willing to retire to various other households of the Summerville family, promising to care for them for Royce, and they went with his blessingmany taking the young maids who’s children bore the most visible stamp of Summerville: sniffles and dark hair.
Sadly, by the time the Ton discovered the dispersal of the Summerville daughters, it was widely believed that Royce had merely turned them out of their ancestral home with naught but wishes for a well lived future.
When Royce insisted on providing an excellent barrister for the murderer of his uncle, it was then decreed that he was the Lord Demon himself.
Listing the banns for himself and Lady Savannahreportedly without actually asking the Lady to be his bridehowever, was what proved it. The Lady was visibly aggravated, having seen the paper while shopping Bond Street and shortly thereafter shredded it before stomping on it twice and all but daring someone to follow her out into the busy street. According to many servants who breathlessly couriered missives between Summerville and Wrightwaite House, there was a flurry of messages back and forth for days. Finally, angry and all but frothing at the mouthwords only a Wrightwaite butler would feel comfortable uttering when deep in his cups, not that this author takes any responsibility for thatthe Lord Earl arrived at Wrightwaite House late in the night and set up a racket by storming in as if the house were his. Then he stomped up to Lady Savannah’s room where an argument of undefined proportions ran long into the night. Said butler, however, was wagging his eyebrows meaningfully as to what the argument may have been about. All he would admit was that furniture was moved, the Lord left at sunrise and the Lady not only broke her fast with a largely stoned ring upon her finger, but a smile that lasted three days.
It was the longest period of time that anyone had seen Lady Savannah go without arguing.
The engagement was short, though it did not require a special licensea good many claimed it should have, but no one dared mention as much to Lord Summerville. Within a month, Royce Summerville waited at the church to claim his bride. Resplendent in a beautiful white gown, the bride arrived, said her vows and became Lady Savannah Summerville. It was all rather peaceful and lovely.
To say the crowd was disappointed was an understatement.
However, the Summervilles retired to their estate and promptly retired to their bedchambers.
Which was where they lay, sated and nibbling on cheeses, when the Lady finally asked her husband a question. “Why did you steal?”
Royce sighed, toying with the long curling masses of his wife’s hair. “I should ask the same of you, Blossom.”
“But I know why I stole.”
He mused for a while, most likely debating if he were fit to seduce her and shut her up, but such was not the casehis Lady had chosen her time to speak wisely. “My uncle cut my mother’s funds when he met me. He assumed I could never be a Summerville and as such, went to great pains to leave her penniless and destitute.”
Savannah looked up at him. “Is that to say you are a Summerville?”
His brow turned grim. “Do not tell me you believe all the stories.
“I actually do not know all the stories, only the myths which you used to your own ends.”
Placated, the Earl returned to toying with her hair. “Yes, my dear, I am my father’s son. It just so happens that he wasn’t as unhealthy as his cousin. I suspect there was less care with the breeding of only bluebloods by the time my father came around. He chose a French woman of wondrous health and spawned me. I have the birthmark to prove it, but alas, no one has much interest in truth when it comes to this family.”
“A large splot of brown, looks rather like spilled ink. I had an uncle with the misfortune of having it on his face. His marriage, you can imagine, was arranged.”
“So your uncle financially destroyed your mother and you…because he didn’t like your hair.”
“Or my ability to breathe clearly, but that might have just been jealousy.” He smiled into the crown of her head while she grew indignant at the injustice.
A while later, she remembered what she’d been asking about. “When did you begin to steal?”
“Oh that. I was eight. I found a purse and returned it to the Lady. She gave me a reward. So began my life of crime.”
“But that’s not a crime.”
“Of course it is. The way I began doing it. Fraud, if you must know. I was hired out to steal things and return them to their owners, who kept their cherished jewels…and the money they had it insured for.”
“You…faker!” she cried, truly irritated now and pushing at his shoulder until he had to roll above her to stop her thrashing. “You’ve been stealing with permission! All this time I thought you were the better thief, but you had the way cleared for you!”
“Don’t be jealous, Blossom. You’re an excellent thief.”
“I know that!” she snapped, not willing to be soothed. “But you…you’re…oh, this is a mess.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, I…” She chewed her lip in that way that made him forget all about jewels. “I started stealing to see what would happen. I could buy anything, but it was so much more a challenge to take it. I simply never was caught. Not until you. I thought…I thought it made us two of a kind.”
“But we are, Blossom,” he soothed. “You think I don’t know you returned your prizes? Every single one.”
She batted her tears away. “There was no point in keeping them. I don’t care about jewels, I care about the challenge.” She studied him sadly. “But if you weren’t smart enough to outwit me, what good will our marriage be? I shall eventually get bored of you and your lackwitness. Then where will we be?”
He chuckled. “I never imagined being called stupid would be so arousing.”
“I wouldn’t worry about boredom, Blossom. I’m just as devious as you are and if you like, I shall spend the rest of our lives proving it. When the children come along-”
“Who said anything about children?”
He ignored her. “I imagine it will take the both of us to stay on top of them. They say there’s not a bigger challenge in the world than raising children and ours will be more challenging than most. Strapping boys with brilliant minds. Dangerous combination, that. Almost as dangerous as a beautiful woman with a deadly intent.”
“My only intent was to get the better of you, my Lord,” she murmured, a small smile on her face, the softness returning to her limbs.
“Then be reassured, my Lady,” he said with a smile as he met her lips with his own, smile to smile. “For in this and any other request you make…you shall always have my best.”
And to his dying day, nearly fifty years later, while she held his hand, their lives having been full of adventure, laughter and many, many children, that is exactly what the Lady received.
“The name Royce was printed quite clearly on the clippings, as if they’d been collected over time,” the Constable said with a somewhat smug air. He was not about to be misled by two shiesters of this low caliber. “Furthermore, I believe I know exactly what has occurred here.” He continued walking, plainly in front of the now congealing body.
“I believe you are the London Cat, Earl Kenby. I believe that you, tired of earning your existencesuch as it isdecided to rush nature and off your Uncle at the hand of your love, the Lady Savannah. Then, further besmirch his dearly departed name by claiming he meant to assault her.”
“You sir,” Royce’s voice took on a dark, frigid tone that had even Lady Savannah’s spine tingling with quick fear, “have quite overstepped yourself.”
“No, my lord, I don’t think I do.” He showed them the notated clippings with the wave of a broad palm. Next he crossed to the desk and picked up two more from the pile there, both clearly labeled “Savannah”.
“Why that evil, scheming little monster,” Savannah grumbled, sparing a glance at the Earl (deceased) on the ground. She turned her head to the Earl (surviving) when Royce patted her legthough inappropriately, againin comfort.
“It was your birthday, Blossom. I suppose even a misbegotten blighter like him could have noticed that.”
“Are you admitting to the crime, sir?” The Constable asked, grinning like a hunter too close to realize his kill was escaping.
Royce stood to his full height, more than a foot taller than the unfortunate constable, who was foolishly trying not to look frightened when Prinny, himself, would have given a man Royce’s size a wide berth. “No, my dear constable, I only admit that when your inquisition is over, I will have your job, your interests, in fact, I plan to have your very head on a platter.”
“Royce,” Lady Savannah said carefully, slipping her gloved hand into his, hoping to calm the waves of rage radiating off him. She’d never seen him in such a state. But, except for a slight pause and the firm grasp of his fingers around hers, there was no sense that his mood had changed.
“You have insulted my Lady, sir, a much higher offense than insulting me. Thanks to that foul, loathsome little man who finally had the decency to die, I am used to such things. I will have no one impugning the honor of my wife, do you understand?”
The Constablewho finally seemed to realize that he was being threatened by a man he considered a murderernodded.
“It does not take a genius to deduce what happened here. My uncle has spent decades trying to ruin or disinherit me, with no success. It’s no secret he breathed like a man through a sponge. Have you considered that his doctors might have informed him that he had limited time? I wouldn’t be shocked if they did not, you could be blind and see that he was not much longer for this world.
“I fail to see-”
“Yes, sirrah, you fail. You will continue to fail as long as you approach a crime from the closed mind of an innocent man. Look around you. Do you not see the many guns on the wall? Each one with angled hooks to keep it hung perfectly.”
The constable peered around, noticing the dozens of firearms that many of the upper levels of society kept on hand, emblems of past wars and adventures in their family.
Royce crossed his arms. “Do you not note that they do not hang perfectly?”
The constable looked around again, surprised to find that many of them were, in fact, haphazardly lain. “I still do not understand what you are trying to prove, my lord.”
“My unclesuch as he wasenjoyed few things in his life. Shooting was one of them. He was an excellent marksman…he also happened to be an impatient mess. He would clean and use any of these guns at any time, then replace them to the walls himself because he didn’t trust his servants with them. I assume because too many of them wouldn’t mind shooting him and he knew it. Look again, Constable, what looks out of place?”
The Constable took several moments pause before crossing to the trophy walls. One by one, he saw a flawlessly clean firearm, laying crookedly in place. Except for one. “This one is placed perfectly,” he noted in surprise. A long-armed pistol, he could even now see the black powder still clinging to the stock.
“Your murderer chose a messy weapon, Constable. If you will note my Lady wearing pristine white gloves, you will note right away that it was not she who did this service, for I cannot call it a crime.” Royce pulled Savannah to her feet none too delicately, extending her gloved palm out to the constable’s frowning perusal. “Now, I will give you the opportunity to apologize to her, but I warn you, sir, if I do not believe you, it will be a long time before you take a breath with any comfort.”
“Royce,” Savannah said again, but oddly, her lips were curved and her eyes were moist as she did so.
“I am most indutably sorry, my Lady. To have cast such aspersions…” The constable continued groveling, but Savannah no longer cared to listen to him.
“No one has ever defended me before,” she murmured, still in awe.
“You don’t make it easy, Blossom,” Royce said, his voice somewhat gritting, but still softer than before.
“You called me your wife,” she whispered.
“You will be,” he replied with a shrug. “Isn’t that what this whole thing has been about, right from Bond Street?” Finally, he turned those familiar blue eyes her way, his typical humor there in the depths. His mouth quirked to the side. “You’d never have married the thug who knocked you to the ground if he hadn’t made himself interesting, would you?”
“I don’t recall agreeing to marry you now,” she replied, but with a smile.
“You will,” he replied, touching her cheek carefully with his large hand. “As soon as we turn this blighter out of my house.”
The blighterer, the Constablewas still frowning at them. “While this proves that the Lady did not commit the crime, it does not clear you, sir, of either the murder or the burglaries.”
Royce sighed. “I am going to have to see that smarter men are placed in seats of authority in this town. My uncle was sick, in body and mind. He was determined to his final breath that I would not inherit. This is not a difficult puzzle. I did not pull the trigger, either, since I was most definitely elsewhere at the time of his death. There was only one other soul here in the house other than my betrothed.”
Royce raised an eyebrow until the Constable bellowed out a command for his second in command.
“Bring me the butler.”
His man scrambled to bring the harried older soul into the room, but once he smoothed his hair into place, he seemed to gather control of his nerves. He’d also just implicated himself.
“Arrest him,” the Constable added grimly, eyeing the dark powder liberally sprinkling the snowy white cuff of the houseman. “Why ever would you kill your master, sir?”
The extremely pale man turned a new shade of pasty, but he did not bother to deny his crime. “He paid me, sir. And he owed me. He’s dying. But not before he’d abused three of my daughters. He paid a bundle for me to shoot him when I’d have done it for free. I’m not sorry.” The butler allowed the officer to shackle his hands and walked out of the room as proudly as he’d arrived, leaving an extremely nervous Constable behind.
Royce stood, arms crossed, a glower on his face such as had never been survived by man before.
“I am…so sorry, my lord-”
“No groveling, Constable. I expect only one thing.”
“You will never darken my door again, nor cast so much as an adoring glance upon my wife. My family is a long-standing, very well financed business, Constable. And I am not a forgiving man. Given any kind of impetus, I am sure that I can unearth every secret and misery your family has ever produced. I can rain shame on you that even London has never seen. Do you take my meaning, Sir Constable?”
“Then leave.” Royce turned away, facing Savannah as if the older man didn’t even exist.
“If I may,” the Constable unwisely raised his voice again, making Royce’s lid twitch unpleasantly. “How did you know, sir? The criminal mind?”
“Tis simple, Constable,” Royce said, looking over his shoulder with pinpoint accuracy straight to the heart of the fearful man. “Because I am a criminal. Now get out of my house.”
The Constable all but scrambled to leave and it was only when the door slammed behind him that Royce took another breath, this time of relief.
“Was that very intelligent, Royce?”
He shrugged. And he smiled. Always a bad sign in Savannah’s memory, because it meant she was either going to be kissed out of her own self-cognizance or she was going to be tumbled onto the closest bit of furniture. She backed up, holding her hand out in warning. “Do not even think it, Royce Summerville.”
“Wouldn’t My Lord be more appropriate?”
She snorted in a ladylike manner. “As if you knew what appropriate was. If I gave you two seconds, you’d have my skirts over my head in no time.”
“You do say the loveliest things, Blossom.”
“No,” she said firmly. “I demand two things first.”
Royce stopped his catlike stalking, eyes widening. “Which are?”
“You marry me first.”
He smiled wider. “And?”
“And you do something with that mess over there before I’m ill. I wasn’t joking about his smell.”
Royce’s frown returned and he glanced over at the Earl (deceased). “I’d rather forgotten about him.”
“Yes, well,” Savannah said with a sniff. “I haven’t. Now, I must go. I want to make some arrangements.”
Royce’s face was grim. “Why do I get the feeling that you’re escaping?”
She smiled, sashaying to the door. “We’ll find out if you can’t find me.”
Then she disappeared through it.
Constable Dickers had seen many things in his many years policing the streets of London. But never, in all his years, had he seen the likes of Lady Savannah Wrightwaite. Or rather, the likes of her very obvious lies.
“I’m telling you, sir, I had no business with the Earl.”
“Yet you’re the one who found him.”
“Because he contacted me and I had an appointment.” She attempted to look down her nose at the constable, but despite his much shorter height, the haughty look failed terribly. The Lady was frightened, and he believed it had very little to do with the bloody body four feet from her not so dainty shoes. “Must we remain in this room, the Earl is starting to…”
“To smell, if you must know.”
“I rather thought him somewhat vilely scented when he was alive,” a deep, familiar voice said from the entryway. “That certainly looks like the Earl, excepting the very large hole in him.”
“My Lord, this is Constable Dickers. He’s investigating your uncle’s unfortunate end,” another official said to Royce Summerville. He then turned to the constable. “Sir, as you requested, The Earl.”
The constable nodded, as was proper.
The Earl (surviving) dropped onto the couch next to Lady Savannah and immediately draped a decidedly improper arm behind her. “This is a touch garish, even for you, isn’t it, Blossom?”
“Will all of you stop insinuating I had anything to do with this? The man was dead when I arrived.”
“The servants do verify that story, Constable,” the young officer concurred. “In fact, they were all given today off by the Earl, himself, with extra pay. Only the houseman, a Mr. Shopshire, returned and let in the Lady when he came home for an extra coat to fight off the chill.”
“What about you, my Lord? Where were you most of today?”
“I believe I was visiting my mistress since last night. She keeps better tabs on those things than I do. Then I went to White’s, where I was when your man found me.”
The constable, stunned, stared down at the couple before him, both of whom were staring at each other. It should be said that the Earl (surviving) was staring. The Lady was wriggling away from his touch, muttering through her teeth while the Earl stayed her hands on her lap.
“If you’d just marry me, Blossom, you wouldn’t have to deal with these outrageous fits of jealousy.”
“I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on the planet.”
“If I were the last man, sweeting, I wouldn’t have to bother with marrying you. You’d just be mine.”
Before the Lady could bust the vein standing a disturbing distance off her forehead, the constable found his tongue and went back to business. “So, you did have business with the Earl, Lady Savannah?”
“I am telling you, I did not. His request was as much a surprise to me as it is to you.”
“I’m not surprised,” Royce interjected, catching the constable and the Lady off-kilter.
“I’m not surprised. It’s no secret the Earl was trying desperately to beget an heir and disinherit me. He’s made it a point to ruin as many young women as he possibly can in those efforts.”
All eyes ran to the slightly humped, barely hared form of the Earl (deceased).
“Not that many of them had a choice in the matter. All that railing at God gave the man quite strong arms. I can’t speak for the rest of him, but I have heard there are several new nieces to provide dowries for.”
“And you think the Earl had designs upon Miss Wrightwaite?” the constable asked, appalled.
“Of course he did. Look at her! Beautifully made, finely boned, deucedly smart, but what can you do about that? She’s built quite strongly for bearing sons. I’ve made it a point to try and get a few from her myself over the years, but the Lady is quite stubborn. Did you shoot him to get him off you, Blossom? We’d all understand, if that was the case.”
“Will you kindly shut your mouth?” Savannah snapped, jumping to her feet. “How is a person to think with the way you prattle on?”
“That is rather the point,” he said through tensely smiling teeth.
“I didn’t shoot him.” She tiger smiled right back.
“If you had no business with him, why did you come to his residence, Miss Wrightwaite?”
She turned her head and for a second, faltered. She looked back to Royce, but the thundercloud of an expression there didn’t provide any help. “A…curiosity.”
“Curiosity?” asked the constable, his dark gaze bearing down on them.
“As you can see, I’ve known Lord Summerville for quite some time.”
Now Royce’s eyebrows were raised. As if waiting to see if she could land on her feet as easily as she claimed. Savannah straightened her spine, determined not to be the one holding the bag this time. “And he’s proposed. Often,” she added, earning a grin from him.
“I have,” he agreed.
“Basically, there isn’t a soul that knows him and doesn’t know that he is the only Summerville heir. When Lord Summerville sent a missive of what he termed extreme importance, I naturally wanted to see what kind of wealth I might expect should I finally agree to marry this cad.”
“But as a Wrightwaite, don’t you have your own financial security?” the Constable asked pointedly.
“You, sir, have obviously never been a woman in London. Marriage to a man without funds of his own means my own monies will soon go the way of histo mistresses and gambling, most likely.” She glared down at Royce again, this time with venom.
“I can’t help but bide my time until you’re mine, darling.”
“You sicken me,” she snapped.
“Yes, but you enjoy that about me.”
“If we could,” the Constable interrupted again. “So you came to the Earl’s for the curiosity sake, concerning your soon-to-be-husband’s possible value-”
“I never said I would-” Savannah yelped when Royce yanked her arm so that she was sitting at his side on the uncomfortable settee.
“Please continue, Constable,” Royce indicated, gripping her hands to hopefully shut her quite up.
“Unknowing that he was planning to…ruin you…because you were the amour of his hated heir?”
Both Savannah and Royce leaned forward together, watching for any signs of belief on the Constable’s face.
“But if that’s the case, what ever do the news clippings we found in his hand about a jewel thief in London have to do with his death?”
Of all the things of God’s green earth, there were few thingsin the opinion of Lady Savannah Wrightwaitethat were worse than a rake. Next up would be Satan himself and of course, highest on her listRoyce Summerville.
Golden, powerfula feature of his she knew on a personal level she did not appreciateand worse, intelligent, Summerville epitomized all that was wrong with the world entire. And he smiled while doing it.
At first glancesince no one in their right might would introduce the most outspoken miss in two centuries to the most outlandish bastard of all timehe’d taken her breath quite away. He’d been knocking her to the ground at the time, but in that fleeting moment between his body impacting hers and the ground rushing up behind her, she’d been just as awed by his beauty as any other miss, Missus or Mr, for that matter. The King himself would probably have been surprised at his thick ringlets, squared jaw, chiseled features of rare, sensual fullness and of course, his brilliant sapphire eyes. She judgedas she was no longer breathing and as such had naught else to dothat he was taller than herself by a good half-foot, something of some notability as she’d be referred to as “Taller than God” on more than one occasion. The breadth of his shoulders was double hers and though she wasn’t supposed to notice (least of all through all the blasted layers of clothing required for someone of her station), the man was made of solid rock. A lot of it.
She’d hoped for an apology. What she got instead was the blighter raising up on his forearms to stare down at her speculatively and murmur, “You’re quite a nice fit, what’s your name?”
Never one to mince with appropriateness, she’d raised her knee the way her brother showed her (brilliant man that he was, he assumed someone would try to kill his sister and that poor fool would most likely be a man) and set the man off her with an unbecoming wheeze. By the time Lady Savannah recovered her feet, quite a crowd had stopped to gawk at the two of them, covered with dust in the middle of Bond Street.
It showed some degree of their infamy that not a single soul was interested in doing more than watching the spectacle.
“That wasn’t very polite, Blossom,” Summerville managed after a few brief coughs.
“I am no one’s blossom, vine or any other plant,” she replied, left with the undignified duty of wiping her bottom free of grime. “You, sir, owe me an apology.”
“And you, my Lady, have ruined my horse.”
“Excuse me?” It wasn’t a shriek. Not by Lady Savannah’s standards. She could quite outdo that small bit of emotion, but to the likes of Royce Summervillewho’d only of late heard cries involving his name, that of God and quite satisfied sighsit might as well have been the battle cry of Napoleon.
“You were standing in the middle of the street, Madam-”
“Miss!” she interjected.
“Really?” he asked, looking her up and down as one would a work animal. “I suppose that’s not surprising. At any rate, your impossible crossing will most likely lame my animal.” (In truth, while the poor gelding had long ago seen his best days, he was no worse the wear for the momentary excitement)
Lady Savannah was much of the opinion that traffic was meant to yield to those of a more pedestrian nature and as such, she often plowed right through it. This was the first time that her actions had ever landed her in any physical harmshe blanched at the idea of the odious man driving a phaeton instead of over-aged horsewhich added insult to injury when she couldn’t come up with a response.
“I am not buying you a new horse.”
“I don’t remember requesting one.”
Drat him, he hadn’t. He’d just accused her of ruining it.
Summerville rose to his feetand kept rising. Soon enough, she was looking up at his beautiful face, touched with an uncomfortable amount of awe.
Until he smiled.
Though it took her several days to admit she did so in a snit, Lady Savannah stamped her foot, spun on her heel and walked through the laughing crowd to the first store she could enter.
It would be only four months later until she saw him again, this time fully armed with his name, station and knowledge of his impeding earldomonce the current earl did the world a favor and died, that was. Sadly, the knowledge did her very little service.
“We meet again, Blossom,” his soft voice resonated in a whisper behind her, his large hand fitting over hers while her fingers caressed the so-recently lifted emerald bracelet of the Duchess of Devlinshire. “Whatever would you be doing here?” he’d asked, moving to the other side of her, his full lip caressing the shell of her ear.
Despite the fact that she’d been caught red-handed in the Duchess’s jewelry box, her body as the audacity to tingle. That and tighten it’s grip on the stolen bracelet.
“I should ask you the same question,” she replied breathlessly, knowing she was already overstaying her timetable before the servants returned to warm the room.
“I was invited,” he replied, boldly pressing his body against her back, using his hold on her wrist to pull against him. “I did remember you right. How very interesting that the first time I meet a woman who fits me so well has the tongue of a viper and the grip of a blacksmith.”
“Really now, there’s no need for insults.” She tried not to lean her head back onto that broad shoulder while his lips continued their oddly interesting canvassing of the spot beneath her ear, but her coiffure was so very heavy.
“It wasn’t meant as one. I believe a woman with a good grip has many redeeming qualities.”
Smoke curled through her. That’s what it felt like, as his hold seemed to blanket her, making her feel small and delicate when she was anything but. He snaked his free hand across her throat, touching her with a possession that she’d never imagined. Roughened fingertips grazed the hollow of her throat, spread wide at the fingers so there wasn’t an inch of her chest he didn’t touch before snagging on her décolletage and shocking her into gasping.
And releasing the bracelet.
Which fell right into his other hand.
Looking down, Lady Savannah managed to push him awaysomething she knew only happened because he allowed it, which served to heighten her anger moreand spun against the dressing table. “How dare you!”
He raised a finger to his full lips, his bright eyes twinkling at her. “Now, now, you don’t want to disturb the servants.”
Which, of course, now that he was the one holding the bracelet, she certainly did. As she opened her mouth to scream, he frowned and cupped his huge hand over her mouth.
“Have you no sense of self-preservation? How do you plan to explain your presence here, my Lady?”
She pawed at his hand and reared backward, disturbing bottles and jewels on the table. “I’m quick-minded, I’ll come up with something.”
He nodded. “Well then, that leaves only one option, Blossom.”
“My name is Savannah!” she snapped in a harsh whisper.
The idiot merely smiled at her. Then, probably because he could, he kissed her senseless and put those oversized clubs just about anywhere on her person he felt like. She comforted herself that she ripped some of those fine golden curls out of his head as she kissed him back. But the comfort was cold as he shortly thereafter toppled her over a chair and tied her in place with a bed pull.
“We will see each other again, Blossom,” he said, cheerfully and quickly gagging her while her eyes blazed at him. “I expect this is just the beginning for us.”
“I hate you!” she’d yelled, stomping at the ground as he bowed before her. It lost some of its venom because it sounded more like, “AhPhewfu!”
“See you next round,” he said, tipping an invisible hat and disappearing out of the room.
She convinced herself that she didn’t describe him to the authorities only because she didn’t want to implicate herself, but the truth wasdespite her little penchant for stealing and returning jewelsshe’d much rather tear the impoverished Earl-to-be apart with her own hands.
Beating him at their little game proved harder than she imagined. He made an effort to be at most of the same events as she, even had the audacity to dance with her on a few occasionswhich she assured herself meant nothing and took great pains to rub the glow from her skin after every danceand whenever there was a reported robbery, Savannah had to chalk up a victory to him. In four years, she’d only bested him twice, each time on her birthdaya present from the cad, no doubt.
She’d decided she needed some sort of ally in her war with the handsome rogue. Not that she wanted him dead, but she did rather relish the idea of seeing him turn purple with impotent rage, and took upon her most dangerous challenge to date. She went to find the Earl of Kenby.
But alas, her blasted sense of timing caught up with her…and all she found was the bleeding body on his study floor.
The Earl of Kenby (surviving) had never been very close to the Earl of Kenby (deceased). In fact, were they to pass each other on the streets, it’s not this author’s opinion they would even recognize on another but for the crest on the latter’s carriage. The crest, the Earl (surviving) knew quite well.
It was no secret that James Summerville, Earl of Kenby (deceased) despised the idea that his “nephew” Royce Summerville, a member of the impoverished until inheriting, was the only surviving male of the Summersville family. Related by marriage several cousins up, over, removed and quite honestly forgotten about, he and the Earl (surviving) shared a healthy correspondence of hatred tempered only by intense hatred.
They met once, when Royce was all of eight, after the Earl essentially shot himself in the foot by searching out the nearest male relation when his wife died without producing an heir. (This author also believes that had he Earl died without ever knowing to whom his entailed estates would go, he might have died happier…but that might give the vile little man more credit than he was due.) He could possibly even have liked the boya sturdy, strapping and quick minded child that redefined healthy and halewere it not so widely known that not a single Summerville male had light hair, blue eyes or could ever be described as hale in any dimension, thus their predicament of no viable male heirs.
It was rumored, actually, that the Earl himself had been born coughing and that he simply had no idea how to breathe silentlyanother Summerville regularity that may have had a hand in the declination of their species. The introduction led to investigation after investigation, meaning the boy was well versed with the word “bastard” before he reached his first decade. Upon having no male issue himselfdespite efforts that just short of ruined his reputationthe previous Earl sought to find a loophole of any sort that might allow him to pass the title onto one of his hand-chosen sons-in-laws, who would no doubt fear him even in death and see that the Earl’s wishes were paid attention to. He was stymied again and again. Worse, though he had made several efforts to quash the scoundrel, Royce was well-received by the Tonwho found his obvious bastardy a hilarious counterpoint to his natural charm, wit and typical rakehell qualities.
In the end, none of the Earl’s machinations were able to prove Royce’s mother’s unfaithfulness (the lad’s resourcefulness must needs have originated at some point) and so it waswith a wry twist of his lipsthat the Earl of Kenby (surviving) took on the properties, stocks, seats and , most importantly funds of the Earl of Kenby (deceased).
It was also how he, at the stout age of thirty and three, found himself the only suspect in the murder.
Lady Savannah Wrightwaite survived to the age of twenty and two due only to a very smart mind and a very smart mouth, although there was definite dissention as to whether the latter had done her very much good, as it had not done any for those it had been unleashed upon. Pretty, if one liked their women to be dark of hair and eyes and wasn’t at all disturbed by a knowing gleam to the eye or secret smile on full, pink lips. Unfortunately for Savannah, she didn’t often find men who weren’t put off by at least one of those attributes, if not all.
What got Savannah into trouble, though, was unfailingly her abysmal sense of timing.
She was born premature, worrying her parents to near apoplexy, though she coasted through the process just fine and still in a bit of a hurry to inspect her new world.
She developed a terrifying case of fever at the age of seven, going out to the countryside on a perfect, blue day she was sure belied the warnings of naysaying weathermen claiming all but a typhoon would fall upon them. So sure was she that she dallied about her tea set until the air was starting to cool so that her walk to the lake would be pleasant.
By fourteen, she found she had a terrible habit of walking in on her beautiful and well-dowried sisters in the parlor while they were being attended to by suitors. Many a kiss did she interrupt, earning her the dislike of many of the ton’s eligible bachelorhood. While her sisters simpered or threw fits and the not-so-gallant men considered throwing daggers, she would simply remind them that if they’d left the door open, as they were supposed to, she never would have come in. Reminders that closed doors required knocking were equally unheard. After her eldest sister, Sarah, was interrupted and required a special license a few days later, it was deemed by the interested suitors that Savannah was not, perhaps, the plague they once believed. Until they began speaking to her and quickly reassessed their machinations.
At eighteen, during her second season, she happened upon a robbery during a house party at the country estate of the Duchess of Devlinshire. Found wriggling, tied to a chair and blissfully gagged, it was the opinion of the men who found her to leave her in such a state until the authorities deemed the scene safe to enter. The jewels lost were never recovereda sadness for the Duchess, who rather missed that emerald bracelet from a love lost at Waterloobut a well remembered party for its lack of argument, excellent food and scandal as to which of the ton might well be a thief. That, it turned out as well, was never discovered either.
By age twenty, Savannah decided that men were utter fools and informed them of such as often as humanly possible. Either they completely ignored her take on politics, spoke at her as if she were a five year old incapable of understanding that retiring for port and cigars was simply a euphemism for escaping the annoying women of the party for good discussion and a damn sight better drink than watery lemonade, or they ignored her as if she could spear them alive with words alone. (Though she never mentioned it to them, she was giving it a ripplingly good attempt.)
If it weren’t for the fact that her parents, who sadly had passed on, leaving Savannah the only unmarried of their two sons and four daughters, bestowing on her quite a lot of money, she was sure she’d be well out of popularity with the ton. Since the size of her dowrygranted upon her marriage and in the hands of solicitors until that hopefully blessed dayleft little speculation as to the desperation of her parents, however, she was often buffeted with the attentions of those she’d least like to deal with and virtually no one to step in and save her. But such was her lot and so, when she stepped into the path of trouble (she still claimed no responsibility whatsoever for the terrible maiming of that fortune hunter who so unwisely tried to follow her into the street despite the oncoming carriage), invariably, the hapless fools out for her money came after.
So, of course, it came as no great surprise to anyone that Lady Savannah was the one to find the slain body of Earl of Kenby one spring afternoon in 1815. No great surprise at all….