Authors: Susannah Bamford
He did not take the threat seriously. But he had not lived with Claude for five years. He had not seen the look in his dead yellow eyes. “You don't understand, Tavish. He has more power than you knowâjudges, and policeâ”
He patted her hand. “Now, don't worry about it, love.”
She stopped so abruptly his hand was jerked from her. “Don't do that. I've had enough of that to last a lifetime, Tavish Finn.” Darcy felt exasperated and angry. She didn't think it would be possible to be so angry with him. And he was still smiling at her! He took her arm again, but she shook it off. “If you don't stop smiling at me,” she said deliberately, “I am leaving.”
Her eyes were blazing, and Tavish stopped smiling. “All right,” he said quietly. “I'm sorry. I didn't meant to smile at you that way. I suppose I feel too much pleasure in simply being with you again. I was taken up with watching your face. I'm not discounting your concern about Claude's threat. I take it very seriously indeed. It's only that I don't want you to worry, Darcy. You've been through so much.”
“Exactly. I've been through so much, more than you could possibly imagine. And I've lived with coddling for too long. I will not stand for it, ever again,” she said grimly. “And if we are toâto be together, you must stand with me, shoulder to shoulder.”
“You've been talking to Columbine.”
Darcy looked at him. “Perhaps some of your sister's good sense should rub off on you.”
“Perhaps I â¦ my sister? She told you?”
“I guessed. Perhaps you won't underestimate me again, then.”
“I will most surely attempt not to.” He held out his arm again. “May I?” She nodded stiffly, and they resumed their walk. “You're absolutely right, Darcy. There are times when I try to protect too much. You shall have to watch me, and I shall have to try to be better.”
“Good,” Darcy said grudgingly. “Just make sure you succeed.”
He laughed. “Agreed.”
She looked at him carefully. “Are you still playing with me, Tavish Finn?”
He seemed genuinely surprised. “Absolutely not.”
“Oh. Do you mean that you truly listened to me?”
“Of course I did. You were right.”
“Oh.” Darcy's breath caught. So this was the way things could be. He would listen to her, and he would try. And she would listen, and she would try. And they would be together.
“I wish I had longer, Darcy,” Tavish said as they rounded the northeastern corner of the park again. “But I have an appointment.”
“And I should get back to my uncle's. What is your appointment?”
“It's just a man who has helped me with information in the past.” At Darcy's arch look, he grinned and elaborated. “A man who worked for the pool through a dummy company and then was blackmailed to keep him in line. Artemis Hinkle.”
“Mr. HinkleâI haven't met him, but I have met his daughter, Julia. She is marrying a cousin of Adelle's by marriage. I liked her.”
“Yes, I like her, too. Hinkle is worried that the marriage will not come off.”
“But I've heard that it is a love match. I quite envied her at the time.”
“But he is being blackmailed, you see.”
“Ah. And it could come out and ruin Julia's chances. Oh, Tavish! We must do something. I liked Julia so. Even though that day is hazy in my memory, I do remember that. And I remember her stepmother,” Darcy said thoughtfully. “I mean, I remember the portrait.”
“I've seen it. A Sargent, over the mantelpiece? A titian-haired woman in a yellow robe?”
“Yes.” Remembering that day and her confusion, her whirling brain, Darcy shook her head. She had been so struck by the portrait. What had she been thinking? She'd been trying to remember something â¦ Her steps slowed. “It couldn't be,” she murmured.
“What couldn't be?”
She shook her head. “No. And yetâ”
He joggled her arm. “Darcy!”
“Extraordinary.” She turned to him. “Tavish, the woman in the portrait looked familiar to me at the time, and just now I realized why. She could be the twin of a maid we had onceâthe very maid that Claude is using to blackmail Edward.”
“But Artemis met his second wife in California.”
“I'm not saying it's the same woman, but it
be. The likeness is so exact! And my father had fired Annieâshe could have gone anywhere.”
Tavish frowned. “Annie?”
He gripped her hand so hard her bones hurt. “You're sure?”
“Of course I'm sure. She was with us for several years. What is it? Have you met her?”
He relaxed his grip, but only so that he could pull her into a hug and kiss her soundly. “You've solved the case, and don't I love you for it, woman.”
“Solved the case! Kiss me again, please. That's better. Now tell me. Do you know Annie?”
“No,” Tavish said, taking her hand and pulling her down Twenty-first Street. “But I've heard of her. She
Hinkle's wife, I'm sure of it. And she's met Dargent. That means that we can tie Claude to this whole thing, if in fact he's Dargent. We can blow the pool wide open, Darcy! We have to see Hinkle. We have to get him to send for AnnieâI mean Anne.”
“But what is it that ties her to this business, Tavish? How do you know she's met Dargent? I'm confused.” Darcy struggled to keep up with him. She wondered if she'd ever feel free enough to go without a corset, for with all the running and laughing and crying she'd been doing in this new life, she often found it difficult to breathe. “It's a coincidence, yes, butâ”
“I can't tell you.” Tavish slowed his pace a bit when he heard her labored breathing.
“Tavish, you cannot mean to tell me that after all I said you will conceal this from me.”
“You don't understand. I have to. It has to do with the blackmailing threat against Artemis Hinkle. He swore me to secrecy, Darcy. And if he were to know that I told youâespecially you, a Snow, related to Adelle ArcherâI would lose his trust.”
She pulled him to a stop. “You think I could not keep it secret?”
“Of course I know that you could,” Tavish said impatiently. “But it should be Artemis Hinkle's decision to tell you.”
“Then take me to him.”
“I am trying to, love. If you would move those lovely limbs of yours.”
Darcy laughed, and they walked on quickly through the dark streets. They blundered onto the parade again when they reached Broadway. Tavish cursed under his breath and held her hand tightly as he darted through the crowd, pulling her along.
Darcy kept pace with him, uneasy once more by the moonless night, by the strange shadows of the torches, the animals prowling in their cages, the high, excited voices of the children, all of it a background to their desperate haste.
They passed by the parade, by the monkeys, the hyena, the magnificent, stately lion, the chariot with Cinderella and Mother Goose, Tavish half laughing in exasperation at the whole impossible assemblage. But as they moved away, seeking the quieter streets and a hack, she once again saw the rolling cage of the wolf. He stalked across the tiny space, his yellow eyes gleaming in the orange wavering glow. Watching her. She gazed back at him, not able to tear her eyes away, as Tavish gripped her hand tighter and they plunged into the blackness beyond.
Hinkle could not help them. It was a broken man who received them, who shuffled in front of them toward his study. With only one quick, questioning glance at Tavish, he willingly told Darcy his story. But it was too late for all of them. Anne Hinkle had written him that morning to tell them that she'd left him. She could not bear disgracing him, she could not bear chaining him to a job that sickened him, and said it would be easier for him if she was gone from his life. He did not know where she had gone. She did not say.
There was nothing for Tavish and Darcy to do but go home. He took her arm and led her outside. But before the door closed behind them, he touched her arm.
“Wait one moment.”
He stopped the door from closing and explained to the butler that he'd forgotten something. The butler gave his usual sneer to Tavish, but he went past him and hurried back to Hinkle's study.
Hinkle was sitting at the desk, staring into space.
“Where did your wife say she came fromâbefore you knew the truth about her. Where did she say she had lived?”
Hinkle's eyes flickered. “Denver, Colorado. She received letters from there. She had a friend there, a woman.”
“Do you think she'd go back there now?”
Hinkle shook his head slowly, expressionlessly. “No. I do not.”
“Why not?” Tavish demanded impatiently.
“Because she does not look back, Mr. Finn. No, I discounted Denver from the start.”
Tavish said good night again and returned to Darcy. Anne Hinkle couldn't have disappeared. There had to be a way to track her down. Hinkle could be wrong. Perhaps she would return to a place where she'd been happy or had a friend.
“Anything?” Darcy asked?
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
Darcy stared at Tavish's compressed lips. She knew what she had to do. She had to get back into Claude's study. There would be evidence there. She had to gather her courage in her two hands and walk into the house again. Perhaps offer herself to her husband again. For Tavish, yes. For Julia Hinkle, of course. But most of all, for Edward. For her father. Sometime tonight, somehow, she had found her love for him again. She slipped her hand inside of Tavish's pocket and prayed that the man she loved would never find out what she might be forced to do to free them all.
T WAS AN
overcast Sunday, gloomy and threatening a hard rain that never arrived. Incredibly, Claude had sent over three trunks of Darcy's dresses the night before, and she'd had her sapphire-blue velvet dress, Edward's favorite, pressed by Marie's maid in preparation for her visit. But Edward sent a message that he had caught a terrible cold and could not receive her for Sunday dinner. Disappointed, Darcy spent a quiet day with Lemuel and Marie. She skipped church, unwilling to face everyone there; there was no sense pushing her new-found courage.
Strangely, she did not think of how she would fare the next day with Claude. She had made her decision: she would go to the house in midmorning, after he'd left for his office. If she could not gain access to his private office or his files, she would wait for him to return. And then she would see. If she could get the key from his watch, she could perhaps slip upstairs in the early-morning hours. Anything was possible, anything could be attempted. She would find a way, she told herself as she fell asleep to the sound of the pattering rain, which had finally arrived in full force.
She slept badly, awakened several times by the sound of a high wind. When she woke, she could hear the difference before her senses were fully alert. Her room faced the front of the house at Thirty-eighth Street, but she heard no sound. It couldn't be, she thought, rising and pushing back the lace curtain. It couldn't be snow. Not now, not after such lush, springlike days.
But it was. And it was deep, wind-swept, and still falling. It was an odd sight, for the south side of Thirty-eighth Street, where Lemuel's house was situated, was almost clear of snow. But the opposite side was piled high with drifts, all the way up to the front doors. A few showed signs of shoveling, but the snow had almost filled the paths up again. She wondered if the Fifth Avenue horsecars would be able to get through the snow.
As she stood at the window, she saw a woman coming down Thirty-eighth Street, holding her black coat collar up near her face. Probably a maid heading for work. She was on the south sidewalk, but she was walking carefully, taking small steps, and Darcy realized that the sidewalk must be a sheet of ice. Suddenly, a great gust of wind cameâDarcy saw the telegraph wires fly overhead and the bare tree limbs rattleâand the woman's feet flew out from underneath her. Darcy watched, horrified, as the woman slid into the gutter. Luckily, there was a pile of soft snow to cushion her. She saw the woman shake her head, then begin to crawl back to the sidewalk again.
Darcy would have to wrap herself well, that was certain. She hoped that Claude had sent her fur-trimmed coat and fur-lined boots, her warmest items of clothing. If she couldn't find a hansom cab on Fifth, she'd have to walk the fifteen blocks to Claude's. She'd walked in snowstorms before; it could be exhilarating.
But when she came down, dressed and ready to face the storm, her usually mild aunt put up a fuss.
“No, Darcy, I cannot let you go. You don't realize how bad the storm is. Why, the second chambermaid barely made it here this morning. She turned up half-frozen, poor dear. She had to climb down a ladder from the El tracks, can you imagine such a thing!”
“I am not taking the El, aunt. I'll find a hack on Fifth Avenue and be snug as can be.”
“Darcy, I must insist. I don't know why you feel this need to see Claudeâwill he even be there?âLemuel would be horrified. And I would worry so dreadfully. I am half out of my mind about Lemuel already. I don't know why he went to work at all this morning!”
I'm sure he'll be fine.”
“What will I do if he can't make it home!” Marie twisted her hands. “And now with your leaving I'll be alone.”
“Only for a few hours, I promise. I'll be back for lunch, Aunt. We'll have a nice lunch together.”
And she left, with Marie protesting behind her. Her aunt shrieked when Darcy opened the door and a gust of wind sent fine snowflakes swirling into the front hall. It took Darcy, Marie, and the maid to close the door behind her.
be a madwoman,” Darcy said as she stood on the stoop. Then she put one foot on the top step and went flying. She landed on the third step unhurt and slid down the rest of the way. As she sat, befuddled, on the sidewalk, something plopped on her hat. She plucked it off with difficulty, her gloved fingers moving clumsily through the fur of her hat. She nearly screamed when she brought her hand back to examine the object. A tiny frozen sparrow lay in her palm.