Authors: Michelle Diener
Tags: #Regency, #Historical Romance, #Fiction
The look on his face changed, and as she watched him watch her, she suddenly remembered she had a man in her bedroom and that she was only wearing a night shift.
“Good night, Miss Hillier.” He didn’t flinch from looking directly at her, but his voice was rougher than it had been. Deeper. “Remember, keep inside.”
She swallowed. “I can’t stay indoors indefinitely. My aunt will wonder what’s wrong.”
Wittaker swung a leg over and tested the lattice. “I’ll think of something. And I’ll stop by tomorrow.”
“Will you be calling at the front door?” she asked as he disappeared from sight, desperate to claw back the light-heartedness between them. What had replaced it a moment ago was intense. Hungry. Too out of control.
The soft rumble of his laugh drifted up to her, and she grabbed her drapes with relief at the sound.
“I don’t know. I’m becoming quite fond of climbing walls.”
Wednesday, 13 May, 1812
ames couldn’t remember when last he felt so well. He’d gone to bed at midnight, quite the earliest he’d had his head on a pillow in some time. He’d tried to find Dervish at their club after he’d left Miss Hillier’s magnificent house, but he’d been nowhere to be found, and short of trawling London for him, James had been forced to send him a note and go home.
His good night meant he was up early, and as he came down the main stairs he could hear laughter from his kitchens, two deep male voices and a low, musical, feminine one.
Miss Barrington, Aldridge’s fiancée, must be visiting his chef, although why she should do so at seven in the morning, he had no idea.
He hesitated near the bottom of the stairs, debating whether to interrupt them.
He wanted, in a way he couldn’t explain, a piece of the unfettered joy he could hear.
He’d had a thin slice of it last night, laughing with Miss Hillier in her bedroom, with its rumpled bed and scented bath standing full to one side. For a moment they had both forgotten she was in her night shift and they were alone.
And then they had remembered.
He gripped the bannister hard and heard the laughter from his kitchens again.
He took the last step and turned towards it, entering a part of his house he very rarely had cause to go.
“Your Grace!” Completely at his ease, and obviously delighted to see him, Georges Bisset, James’s chef, waved him in, as if it were he who was the host, and not James.
Which, James decided, was quite true in this particular place. Georges ruled here, and no one, not even James, could deny it.
He walked towards the small group, noticing other kitchen staff scuttling about, far more nervous than their commander at his presence.
The scent of lemon and bread hung heavy and delicious in the air.
“Your Grace.” Giselle Barrington gave him as warm a smile as Georges had. “Forgive our early morning visit, but Pierre and I met Georges at the market this morning, and he told us he had come up with a special brioche. We had to come back with him to see it and try it for ourselves.”
“You know Pierre Durand?” Georges asked him, waving his hand at the older man standing next to Miss Barrington. “He was my mentor. I was his sous-chef when we worked together for Giselle’s mother and father, many years ago.”
Which meant the man before him, still in Giselle Barrington’s employ, although more a second father to her than an employee, was likely one of the best chefs in the world.
James murmured a greeting, and wondered if the Prince Regent knew the man existed. He would try to hire him away from Giselle Barrington, if he did.
The Prince Regent had boastfully announced he intended to hire Georges Bisset over six months ago, and James had stepped in and stolen him out from under the prince’s nose, making Georges a better offer, as part of a bet; one smoky, half-lit, drunken night over a gaming table when he’d been in character a little too well.
He had often been a little too well in character, towards the end.
Hiring Georges had been, he realized now, the turning point for him. When Georges had taken up his position, something about the force of the man’s personality, his complete disregard for James’s status when discussing matters to do with the kitchen, had been like a curtain pulled back to let the sunlight into a gloomy room.
There had been something in his demand that James be on time for meals, and present to actually eat them, that had held the warm comfort of coming home.
.” Pierre Durand gave a formal little bow. The Frenchman’s eyes were bright and sharp, and his dark hair was streaked with silver. “You are the one who Georges was able to go to for help when my Gigi needed it.”
James thought back to the way Georges had tracked him down at The Scarlet Rose and pulled him out of a game of Twenty-one to help Miss Barrington a few months ago, and how close they had all come, Aldridge, Dervish and himself, to failure. His eyes lifted to Miss Barrington’s neck, but the place where she had been cut was only a thin pink line now. “My part in it was very small.”
“Bah, we are all heroes.” Georges gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “Now we try my brioche.” The scent of lemon intensified as Georges lifted a small basket and flicked back the cloth covers.
“Lemon rind in the dough?” Pierre asked him. “But surely that is not all?”
“Lemon rind in the dough, and
crème au citron
in the center,” Georges said with a wide grin. “Truly, though I say it myself,
The door to the kitchen opened, and Harding came in, a frown on his face at finding James in a place he had never been before. “Lord Dervish is here, Your Grace.”
James wasn’t sure what was more horrifying to his butler. The fact that James was in the kitchen, or that for the second time in a few days, Lord Dervish had arrived at an inconvenient time.
“I have to speak with him urgently, I’m afraid.” James gave a regretful nod to the brioche. “Perhaps I can try your masterpiece at breakfast? I’ll invite Dervish to join me.”
Georges clapped his hands, loud enough to silence everyone in what had been a gently humming kitchen. “We ’ave a guest. Everyone, to work.”
James grinned, and caught Miss Barrington doing the same, because clearly, everyone had been hard at work before. Although, as he said his goodbyes and left, he noticed the pitch had risen.
He realized with surprise as he pushed the kitchen door open and stepped into the hallway that he was still smiling. And had no inclination to stop.
wasn’t caging breakfast, arriving so early.” Dervish sat down at the table and eyed the dishes that had started coming in from the kitchen.
“Georges is thrilled to have more than one person to make breakfast for. And you’ve arrived on the morning he’s trying out his new brioche.”
Dervish looked up. “I wouldn’t have thought you that aware of what goes on in your kitchens, Wittaker.”
James quirked a smile. “I’m not, usually.” He took a sip of coffee. “Thank you for coming so quickly. I’ve made some headway.”
Dervish shook his head. “I got your note. But I’m afraid I wouldn’t have come at this hour except that I have some news for you.”
James lifted his brows.
“Lord Sheldrake is dead. I saw the bulletin just before I went home last night from Whitehall. He was killed in a carriage accident.”
James gripped the table. “I thought he’d fled the country.” His thoughts flew immediately to Miss Hillier. To how she would take this news.
“Looks like he intended to. His accident was within ten miles of Dover.”
“He’s the reason I sent you that urgent message last night. He posted a letter to Miss Hillier from an inn he stayed at on the way. It proves he was involved somehow with Bellingham.”
Dervish stopped cutting open his brioche and stared. “He admitted it in a letter?”
“No. He said nothing in the letter. And now I understand why. He was careful not to incriminate himself in any way. But he enclosed something. I couldn’t understand why he would send it to Miss Hillier. It would have been better for him to destroy it, but it may have been he was using it as a way to keep the men he’d fallen in with from interfering with his escape.”
“An insurance policy, you mean?”
James nodded. “Which means the document must incriminate someone other than himself. It would have no value, otherwise.”
“He may have realized he was being followed, or hunted down, and sent the only thing he thought could save him somewhere safe.”
James tapped a little rhythm on the table. “It would also explain why someone tried to murder Miss Hillier last night.”
“What?” Dervish dropped his silver cutlery with a clatter. “You think they knew she had the document?”
“If we think Sheldrake’s accident wasn’t an accident at all, he may have been forced to say where the document was before they killed him. And given his personality, if he thought they would spare his life if he told them, he would have endangered Miss Hillier to save his own skin, I have no doubt.
“In fact, that would fit her assassin’s actions last night better.” He thought of how the man had aimed at Miss Hillier, but had not taken the shot, giving James time to get between them. “If they know she has the document, then the intruder would have wanted to find out where it was before he killed her. He hesitated. That’s how I was able to stop him.”
“We’d better get that document—” Dervish stopped short as James pulled it from his inner jacket pocket and handed it over.
“A petition?” Dervish scanned it, his eyes widening when he saw whose name was on the document. “But that’s strange…”
“Yes, something is niggling me about it, too.”
“It’s having the thing at all.” Dervish studied it thoughtfully. “Somewhere in the committal proceedings that were conducted after they arrested Bellingham, he spoke of sending a petition to the Prince Regent.”
“When did you see the transcript of the proceedings?” No wonder Dervish looked pale and dark-eyed. He could hardly have slept.
Dervish rubbed his forehead. “I skimmed it at Gibbs’s office into the early hours of this morning. There is only one copy and he won’t let anyone take it away, which I agree with. But I can’t remember what Bellingham said about the petition. We’ll need to check it again to find out when he said it was submitted, but he spoke clearly as if it had been received—that was part of his grievance, that even the Prince Regent had denied him justice.”
“So that begs the question,” James held out his hand and took the petition back to look at it again himself, “if this was submitted to the Prince Regent, how are we holding it in our hands?”
Dervish rubbed his forehead again. “We shouldn’t be.”
James drained his coffee. “I’ll take a look at the transcript. I was going to, anyway. I heard something about that hearing that I’d like to check for myself.”
“You were able to get information from Bellingham?” Dervish leaned forward.
James shook his head. “All I got from Bellingham was an impression, nothing definite. I think he was helped. How much, I don’t know, but he had advice from someone. Someone convinced him the law would be on his side if he killed the prime minister. He’s spouting legal terms, but he doesn’t understand them properly.” James thought back to the calm, the focus of the man, and he felt pity. There would be no saving Bellingham on Friday. He had killed Perceval in cold blood, no matter what he kept telling himself and everyone around him.
“The information I have about the proceedings is that Gascoyne outright lied during them. I’d like to read what he said for myself.”
Dervish paused with a coffee cup halfway to his lips. “Gascoyne lied?”
correspondent who was right behind Perceval when he was shot, said his testimony was false. He couldn’t work out why, though. Could just be self-importance. Or something more sinister.”
“Good God. Won’t that go down well in all quarters? Especially as Gascoyne’s the assassin’s member of parliament.” Dervish leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “Do you have any good news?”
“Depends what you think is good.” James tucked into his omelette. Georges might resign if he didn’t eat it while it was hot. “One of your Home Office spies was there when Bellingham shot Perceval, as well.”
Dervish opened his eyes and stared at him, his bright blue gaze patient and flat.
James grinned at his air of exasperation. Dervish needed a little teasing in his life. “Vincent Dowling. I’ve read some reports by him when I’ve sat on that radicals committee you chair.”
“You’re sure it’s the same person?”
“I checked. It is. Jerdan mentions him as arriving on the scene at the same time as Gasgoyne. His real employment, when he isn’t spying for the government, is as the political correspondent for the
“Someone needs to speak to him.”
“I plan to.” James leaned back. “I’ll be very interested to hear what he has to say.”
But there was something he had to do first. “Who will the authorities approach with news of Sheldrake’s death?”