Authors: Meg Brooke
She nodded, willing her lower lip not to tremble. “Of course. I shall get dressed and go to mother and the twins.”
“Good,” he said, and then he turned and strode out, leaving her standing alone in the middle of the bloodstained carpet on her wedding night.
Colin marched down the stairs and through the salon. He met one of the militiamen at the door to the servants’ stairs. “They took him down there, My Lord,” the man said. Colin thanked him and descended, finding the servants’ area bustling with activity. Mrs. Clarence appeared at his elbow.
“Oh, My Lord,” she said, “is it true that that vile man was shot?”
He nodded. “By Lady Pierce, in fact,” he said.
She gasped and put a trembling hand to her face. “Oh, that poor girl,” she said.
With a wry grin, Colin replied, “It’s not her I’d be worried about, Mrs. Clarence.”
The housekeeper looked as though she didn’t believe him, but she nodded. “They’ve taken him to the dressing room, My Lord,” she said. “It’s that door there.”
Colin had not needed her assistance to find it. There were two red-coated guards outside the door, and beyond it he could see Colonel Taylor and Strathmore standing over the dressing table, on which they had laid the man in black.
It was certainly an intimidating room, Colin reflected as he strode in. It had clearly been used recently, for there were fresh bloodstains on the table from whatever animal had been cleaned there. Just like everything else at Sidney Park it was neat and orderly, all the implements used to dress the game brought in from the hunts lined up on a bench to one side.
The Serraray assassin was lying calmly on the table. Someone had untied his wrists and bound him to the loops on the sides of the table’s surface instead, securing his arms and legs. His left boot had been removed and Strathmore, who must have just come in from a patrol, given the mud on his own boots, was cleaning the bullet wound, which was at least a clean through-and-through shot. Still, the foot was a mangled mess of bone and tissue, and Colin doubted the man would ever walk without a limp again.
Strathmore looked up as Colin entered, and then gave the colonel a curt nod. The man went out, closing the door behind him and leaving only Colin and his assistant standing over the man on the table.
As Strathmore secured the bandage around the man’s foot, Colin did a loop around the table, walking slowly, taking in every detail. The man was clothed in black from head to foot. His turban was coming unwound, but otherwise his clothing was far cleaner than Colin would have expected for a man who had endured a sea voyage and a week out in the open on the Broads. It only solidified in his mind what he had previously suspected: someone was helping these men.
Strathmore finished his work and stepped away. Colin paused at the foot of the table. He allowed the silence to hang in the air for a long time before asking, “How many of you are there?”
The man stared up at him in silence.
Colin looked at Strathmore, who said something in Arabic. The assassin looked surprised, but then let out a string of rapid language that might have been Arabic or something close to it. Strathmore listened intently and then turned to Colin. “He says...well, most of what he says I will not repeat. But he says that the princess is doomed, that it is too late to stop them. I believe he also said that we may torture him all we like, but he will never tell us anything.”
Colin smiled what he hoped was a sinister smile. “I did not imagine he would. What is his name?”
“My name Meddur Udad,” the man spat, looking warily at Strathmore.
“Very well, Mr. Udad. Perhaps you would like to be our guest a while longer?” Colin glanced down at his wounded foot. “You are not going anywhere else, it appears.”
Meddur Udad let loose another string of invective. Strathmore’s face turned beet red. “He says he will kill the...well, he says he will kill Lady Pierce for shooting him.”
“What did he call her?” Colin asked, feeling his blood begin to boil at the thought of this man and his new wife in the same room.
But Strathmore only shook his head and refused to interpret.
Colin leaned back against the bench, not bothering to look back at the shining implements arrayed there. Then he looked levelly at the man on the table. “You will tell us about your companions, Meddur,” he said. “You will tell us about their plans.”
“Or you will—”
looked at Strathmore, “torture?” he asked, repeating the unfamiliar word.
Colin pressed his lips together, but said nothing. Udad looked from him to Strathmore and back.
“I think that’s enough for tonight,” Colin said, and he rose. Strathmore picked up the single candle and followed him out of the room. Once they were in the hall Colin turned to one of the uniformed men waiting outside the door.
“I want two men on this door at all times,” he said.
“Yes, My Lord,” one of the men answered.
Colin led Strathmore upstairs and out into the stableyard. “His fellows will be looking for him,” he said as they went. “We should double the patrols for tonight, and set two men on Havenhall as well.”
Strathmore nodded. “I’ll go.”
“Very good. I’ll organize a patrol and take them out around the perimeter of the Park.”
Looking shocked, Strathmore said, “My Lord, it’s your wedding night. We can handle things for tonight.”
Colin looked up at Eleanor’s windows. A light was still burning there. “My wedding night will have to wait.”
Eleanor was still standing beside the chair, looking down at the pistol that lay once more on the cushion, when Lily burst into the room.
“Oh, Miss,” she cried, rushing to her, “we heard the shot, but they wouldn’t let us come upstairs. I was so worried for you! Are you all right?”
Eleanor nodded stiffly. “Of course,” she said. “Everything’s fine. Would you help me dress for dinner, Lily?”
Her maid’s concerned expression did not change, but she said, “Yes, Miss—I mean, My Lady.”
“You don’t have to call me that, Lily.”
Looking scandalized, Lily said, “You are Lady Pierce now. You will be a countess one day.” Then, as if that were explanation enough, she turned and disappeared into the wardrobe, coming out with a dark blue evening gown. “What do you say to this one, My Lady?”
Eleanor allowed her maid to lace her into the dress and refresh her hair. She tried to ignore the bloodstain on the carpet. Lily seemed determined to do so as well, though as Eleanor was rising to go down to dinner, she did say, “I’ll have Beth come up and get to work on that carpet before it stains, My Lady.”
“Thank you, Lily,” Eleanor managed. Then, as an afterthought, she turned back and scooped the pistol up off the chair. She crossed over to the little table beside her bed. There was a jewelry box there, a long, wide wooden thing in which Eleanor had never kept any jewelry, only a few small mementos from her father. But it was just the right length and depth to conceal the pistol, and she laid it inside now, closing the lid carefully. Then, without another word to Lily, she swept out of the room and down into the salon.
Her mother and sisters were waiting in the drawing room. Georgina leaped up when she entered, rushing over and putting her arms around Eleanor’s waist. “Oh, Eleanor,” she said softly. “I’m so sorry.”
Putting a hand on her sister’s shoulder, Eleanor said, “It’s all right, Georgie. There’s no harm done, except to the carpet.”
True to form, Maris said, “How thrilling! I suppose you’ll tell your children all about this someday. I’ll wager there’s not another woman in England who can claim to have had such an exciting wedding day.”
“I very much doubt that,” Eleanor said, looking past the twins to her mother, who was sitting very straight and upright on the sofa. She crossed the room and took the seat beside her, reaching out to hold her hand. Lady Sidney appeared to have aged a year in the last few days, and Eleanor felt a deep swell of regret at her mother’s distress.
"That man, Eleanor—they took him downstairs?"
"He isn't...he's not dead, is he?"
"No," she answered. "No, I shot him in the foot. I think he's in a great deal of pain, but he was very much alive when they removed him from my room."
"But what was he doing in there?" Georgina asked. "How did he get there in the first place?"
"I don't know," Eleanor said. "Perhaps he climbed up the side of the house."
"How horrifying," Maris murmured.
Leo came in then. Eleanor looked past him, expecting Colin to follow him, but he was alone.
"Well?" her mother asked.
"I've just been with Colonel Taylor," he said, dropping onto the sofa across from them. Georgina and Maris took their seats as well. "He's going to station six men around the house, and they've set several patrols. Mr. Strathmore went out with the first one, and Colin went with another." He glanced at Eleanor, who kept her face carefully neutral. She would not show her disappointment, no matter how keenly she felt it. She had known that this was how her marriage would be, that there would always be something that took precedence over her relationship with Colin. She had not expected it to start so soon, but she could not say she was surprised.
"Do they think there are others still out there?" Georgina asked.
Leo shook his head. "I don't know, but I would imagine so."
"How did the man get into the house?" Lady Sidney asked, repeating her earlier question.
"Colin did not say, and I have not spoken with him at length, but it is my belief that he came through the Priest's Passage."
Eleanor gripped the arm of the sofa. "Why do you say that?" she asked.
"I followed them down to the dressing room—"
"You put him in the dressing room?" Their mother cried. "As if he were a dead deer?"
"We could hardly put him in one of the bedrooms, mother," Eleanor said. "And there is a padlock on the door of the dressing room, at least."
"Anyway," Leo sighed, "I took a good look at his boots as I followed them down the stairs. The one was pretty badly damaged by the bullet—nice shot, by the way, Eleanor—but the other was in pristine condition. It was not scuffed at all, and there was no mud on the sole. He did not come overland, and he did not climb up the outside of the house. The only other way in is that infernal tunnel."
"But the entrance to that tunnel is practically in the Holliers' front yard," Lady Sidney said. Her expression became grave. "Leo, you don't think that—"
"Of course not," Leo said sharply. He got up and began to pace. Everyone watched him, wondering if he would say something more, if there was some defense of his childhood friend he could offer, but he stared silently at the carpet.
“Eleanor,” her mother said, turning back to her and tightening her grip on her fingers, “Lord Pierce won’t have to...that is, you don’t think he would ever stoop to...”
Trying to look her mother in the eye, Eleanor said, “I have only known my husband a week, mother. I hardly know whether he has the wherewithal to torture a man.” She found that as she said the word ‘torture’, she was unable to meet her mother’s frightened gaze. Could Colin torture someone? Had he been trained to do such a thing? He insisted that he was not truly a spy, but wouldn’t any spy worth his salt deny his profession? Suddenly a fearful uncertainty gripped her. Had she married a man who would stoop so low as to torture information out of an enemy?