Authors: Kat Martin
That time was past. Lindsey ignored a sharp stab of pain and ordered the driver to continue on to their destination.
They spoke little along the route. Lindsey tried to concentrate on the book of poetry she was reading, with very poor results. Thor mostly watched the scenery passing by outside the window. A few autumn leaves still clung to the branches of the trees, and yesterday's turn in the weather had chased the clouds away and made today a pleasant one.
Eventually, they reached the town of Alsbury, which was smaller than she had imagined, mostly built of stone, with a pretty little market square, a church on a nearby hillside, and a rippling stream that meandered through the middle of the town. A few stops along High Street to ask directions yielded the location of Martha Barker's cottage, a thatched-roof, white-walled structure on the far side of the village.
“I hope Mrs. Barker is at home,” Lindsey said, beginning to grow anxious as the carriage rolled up in front of the house.
“Someone is there. I see movement on the other side of the window.”
The carriage drew to a stop and Thor jumped down, turned and helped Lindsey alight. Together, they made their way up the few steps to the porch. Several sharp raps and a stoop-shouldered woman with drab gray hair mostly hidden beneath a mob cap opened the door.
“Mrs. Barker?” Thor asked.
“Yes, that's right.”
“We are here about your daughter,” Lindsey said. “We were hoping you might be willing to tell us a little about her.”
Her eyes misted. “Yer friends of Penny's?”
Lindsey managed a smile. “In a way, I suppose we are.”
Mrs. Barker stepped back into the cottage and Lindsey took the move as an invitation to come inside.
“Would ye like a cup of tea?” the woman asked, grateful for the company, Lindsey imagined, or perhaps the chance to talk to someone about her daughter. “I've got water hot on the stove.”
“Thank you, that would be very nice.”
Tea was made and served and they drank it seated at a small wooden table in the kitchen. They spoke pleasantries for a while, then the conversation turned to Mrs. Barker's daughter.
“We were wonderingâ¦” Lindsey said gently, “we would like to know if you've heard from Penny. Perhaps you saw her or received a letter from her after she left Merrick Park.”
The woman seemed to wither before their eyes. “She were a good girl, was Penny. But he were so handsome, such a fine gentleman. She were young and sweet and he wanted her.” Mrs. Barker's lips trembled. “Poor little fool was in love with him. She thought 'e would marry her.”
“Who was Penelope in love with, Mrs. Barker?”
“Why, his lordshipâ¦Lord Merrick.”
A chill whispered down Lindsey's spine. She flicked a glance at Thor, saw that he was scowling.
“We know Penny left his employ,” she said. “We'd like to find out where she went after she left Merrick Park.”
The older woman shook her head, her features grim. “She were supposed to come home. Sent me a letterâ¦said she wanted to come back to have the babe. She was supposed to leave on Monday, be home that afternoon, but she never got here.” A glazed, faraway look came into the older woman's eyes. “No one knows what happened, but I do. I know that fancy viscount kilt her.”
Thor leaned forward in his chair. “Why do you think that, Mrs. Barker?”
“'Cause after he got her with child, the way he treated her changed. Penny were afraid of himâ¦told me so herself.” She lifted the mug of tea growing cold in front of her but set it back down without taking a sip. “A week after she was s'pposed to come home, I got a letter. She must have mailed it before she left his house. She said he'd threatened her, told her to keep her mouth shut about the babe. Said if she didn't, he'd make sure she kept quiet forever.”
“Do you still have the letter?” Thor asked.
The woman looked up. “What?”
“Do you still have the letter your daughter sent?”
She seemed to collect herself, slowly shook her head. “I burnt it. I knew what he'd done and just havin' it in the house gave me a fright. I thought about takin' it to the constable, but Merrick's name weren't actually mentioned and I knew no one would believe me. They'd think Penny just run off to have the babe.”
Lindsey mulled over the words, thinking that the woman was right. No body had ever been found, no evidence of foul play. Penelope was just a young woman who had turned up missing. But someone knew what had happened. The person who had written the notes. The same person, Lindsey was sure, who had approached Thor in the village.
“Is there anything more you can tell us?” Thor asked.
The woman looked up, her eyes a dull, listless blue. “She were all I hadâ¦all I had.”
It was clear there was nothing more to say and with a quiet thanks, they left the cottage. Inside the carriage, Lindsey rode in silence. Neither she nor Thor said a word all the way back to Foxgrove.
“Do you think he did it?” Lindsey finally asked.
“Mrs. Barker believes he did. Whoever sent the note believes he is guilty.”
“Merrick is going back to London. He told my aunt he would be leaving in the morning.” She turned to look at Thor, who apparently still meant to help her. “We need to find out exactly where Stephen Camden was on the nights of the Covent Garden murders.”
bleak sky hung over the crowded London streets, flat gray clouds that promised rain. A chill wind whipped leaves and papers into the air as Thor stepped out of the hansom cab in front of Capital Ventures. He turned and paid the driver for his time, then started up the brick steps leading to the impressive front door.
He had returned to the city three days ago, leaving on the same day as Lindsey, her aunt and her brother. She was determined to discover more about Stephen Camden, which meant she might yet be in danger. Though she had made it clear their physical relationship had come to an end, Lindsey meant a great deal to him. Thor intended to see that she remained safe.
In the meantime, he had found a place to stable Saber, not an easy business since the stallion was extremely high-spirited and still not used to people. A large stall in one of the barns at the edge of Green Park was the best he could do for now, and fortunately, he had also found a young groom named Tommy Booker who seemed to have a way with horses.
After a lengthy introduction and a few hours of working with the lad and the horse, Thor had been satisfied that the youth would be able to handle Saber's basic needs.
And Thor planned to continue his daily routine of working the horse in the early morning. In time, the stallion would be as biddable as he had been before he had been mistreated. Thor thought of the stallion and the plans he had for the beautiful Thoroughbred. Most of those plans depended on the stock certificates he had purchased from Capital Ventures.
His thoughts strayed for a moment to Lindsey and the viscount, but he shook his head, driving them away. At present he had business that did not involve murderâat least not yet.
Turning the heavy brass knob, he shoved open the office door and stepped into the elegant interior of Capital Ventures. He was there to see Silas Wilkins about his A&H Railway stock. He wanted answers and this time he meant to get them.
The slender young male behind the desk turned toward him, recognized him as the man who had been there before, and a pasty smile appeared on his face. “May I help you?”
“I am here to see Silas Wilkins.”
“Mr. Draugr, is it not?”
Thor nodded. “Is he in?”
“Give me a moment and I'll just go and seeâ¦”
“Do not bother. I will go myself.”
“B-but you can't justâ”
“Aye, I can.” Thor walked over to the door the secretary had gone through the last time he had been in the office. He turned the knob and shoved it open to see a man with fine, mouse-brown hair parted neatly in the middle rising from behind his desk.
“Mr. Wilkins,” Thor said.
Wilkins managed a smile. “Mr. Draugr. It is good to see you. What can I do for you, sir?”
“I came to find out about my A&H Railway stock. I have been reading the newspaper. The railroad seems to be a great success, but I've had no word about my stock.”
Wilkins smile turned into a frown. “Your A&H Stock? You aren't referring to the Alberton and Hollis Railway, are you?”
“I am. If you have forgot, I invested a good deal of money in that company.”
Wilkins nervously cleared his throat. “Well, now, that isn't quite correct. The company you invested in was a secondary branch of the railroad, the A&H Railway of Chillingwood. I'm afraid that line has done very poorly. In fact, I am sorry to say, your stock is nearly worthless.”
Angry heat rose at the back of Thor's neck. “I gave you the money to buy A&H stock. I know nothing of any A&H of Chillingwood.”
Wilkins tittered nervously. “Well, then, perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps you should go home and check your certificates. If they are indeed original A&H stockâ”
Thor pinned him with a glare. “They had better be. You sold me those stocks. You knew exactly what I wanted to buy when I came in here.”
Wilkins coughed behind his hand, his eyes shifting back and forth from Thor to the door, as if he wished to escape. “As I said, before we go any further, you need to look at your stock certificates, make sure exactly what it is you own.”
“I will do thatâhave no doubt. And then I will be back.”
Wilkins tried for a smile, but it never appeared. Thor turned and stalked out of the office. Nearly all of his savings had gone into the Alberton and Hollis Railway Line. When he had come to Capital Ventures, there had been no doubt as to what he wished to purchase.
By rights, he should already have made a good deal of money. He didn't know how much, but he hoped it would be enough to buy the property he wanted, a large enough piece of land to begin his horse breeding farm. Now that he owned Saber, he would need capital to buy broodmares, to build a proper stable and make the necessary improvements to run a successful business.
Thor's hand fisted. For Wilkins's sake, those stocks the man had sold him had better be the right ones.
Dear God, how she missed him. As hard as she tried to put Thor out of her mind, he was firmly rooted there and Lindsey could not seem to push him away.
She wanted to be with him. She had never wanted anything so badly. She wanted to hear the slow, deep cadence of his voice, bask in his soft smile, feel the strength of his powerful arms around her. She had never felt so safe, so protected as when she was with Thor.
She told herself it was better this way, that it was time she gave him up and got on with her life. Yesterday, her parents had arrived back in London, returned from their journey to the Continent, and frantic with worry over Rudy. They were terrified for their only son, who was still a suspect in the murders. They were happy to see their daughter, of course, but Rudy was their main concern, as clearly he should be.
So far the Covent Garden Murderer had not been found. Lindsey wanted to know where Stephen Camden had been the nights of the murders, but aside from straight-out asking him, she had no idea how to find out.
She sat down at her desk at
Heart to Heart
, glad to be back to work after three weeks in the country. She had written several articles before she left. Coralee had penned several in her stead while she was away, and Lindsey had sent in an article on the house party at Renhurst Hall given while the Countess of Ashford was in residence.
She was home now, back in the office, listening to the familiar sound of the big Stanhope press chugging away in the middle of the room, inhaling the smell of paper and ink, listening to Bessie Briggs railing about a missing piece of type needed for the next edition. She was glad to be back, and yet after all that had happened, it was difficult to concentrate on her work.
Instead, she thought of the viscount and the murders and tried to tell herself that by now the police had surely figured out that Rudy was innocent of any wrongdoing and she could forget about involving herself any further.
Then she would think of Martha Barker and her missing daughter, Penelope, and she knew there was no way she could simply let the matter drop. She had to know if Stephen was responsible, if he was a murderer, as the notes implied.
She bit her lip, considering several different ways she might approach the matter. Then an idea suddenly struck.
The man who laid out his evening clothes would be privy to his movements, or at least have some notion.
“I can see the wheels turning in your head.” Krista stood beside her. Lindsey hadn't heard her approach. “What are you up to now?”
“I was thinking about Lord Merrick and the notes I received. I was thinking about poor Penelope Barker and her mother.” Lindsey had told Krista about the message that had been sent to Renhurst Hall, the accusations made against the viscount, and her meeting with Martha Barker.
“Andâ¦?” Krista asked.
“Well, it occurred to me that the viscount's valet might know something of his whereabouts the nights of the murders. We don't even know if Stephen was in London. Perhaps he was in the country when the murders were committed or has some other alibi that would assure us of his innocence. If I could speak to his valet, perhaps I couldâ”
“So you are still diggingâstill determined to put yourself in danger.”
Her heart sputtered then jerked to life at the sound of Thor's familiar deep voice. She looked up at him, into those blue, blue eyes and wondered if he could see how much she missed him, how deeply she had fallen in love with him. His gaze met hers. For an instant, his nostrils flared and she glimpsed the heat, the hunger that always sparked between them.
Then his expression turned shuttered and he fixed his attention on Krista. “The woman is always looking for trouble,” he grumbled.
Lindsey spoke to Krista as Thor had doneâas if she weren't there. “That didn't seem to bother him when I went to the trouble of winning that race for him.”
His jaw firmed. They were back to their sparring, the only way they could be together without touching, without wanting. Lindsey was grateful.
“I was a fool to let you ride,” he said. “You are a woman and you could have been injured. I never should haveâ”
“But I wasn't injured and because of me you are now the owner of a very valuable horse!”
“You are the mostâ”
“Stop it, you two.” Krista's voice rang with authority. She was, after all, their employer as well as their friend. “Arguing won't solve anything. And I will not tolerate it in here.” Turning, she led the way into her office, waited for them to follow her inside and firmly closed the door.
“Nowâ¦Lindsey, your idea is a good one. Why don't we send a note to Lord Merrick's valet? We'll ask him to meet us, tell him he'll be well compensated for his time. We'll say the rendezvous is of a private nature and ask him to keep his silence.”
“If he is loyal to Merrick, he will tell the man what we discuss,” Thor said.
“Perhaps he will,” Lindsey agreed. “Perhaps not. Besides, you said yourself most of the viscount's employees don't like him.”
Thor didn't argue. “I have been thinking about this, as well. I will speak to his coachman. The driver should know something of Merrick's movements the nights of the murders.”
“An excellent idea,” Krista agreed.
For the next few minutes, they worked to come up with a plan. They had just chosen a rendezvous spot to set up the meeting with the valet when a light knock sounded at the door.
A second, tall, incredibly handsome man walked into the room, and Krista smiled at her husband, obviously pleased to see him. “I thought you were busy down at the docks.”
“One of the men said my brother came looking for me. I knew he would be working at the office today. I thought it might be important.”
Lindsey glanced up at Thor. She could tell by the set of his jaw that it was, indeed, important.
“There is a matter I wish to discuss.”
Leif tipped his blond head in the direction of the stairs outside Krista's office. “Let's go up to the professor's study. We can talk there.”
Lindsey watched the two big men walk out the door. She wondered what Thor wanted to discuss with his brother and wished they were still friends enough that he would discuss it with her.
“What is it?” Leif asked Thor as they walked into the professor's makeshift office and closed the door.
“Before I came in search of you, I went to see Silas Wilkins at Capital Ventures. He is the man who sold me the A&H Railway stock.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Wilkins claims the railway stock I bought was for a different line than the one that has been so successful. He says the stocks I bought were A&H of Chillingwood. He says they are nearly worthless.”
Leif's jaw hardened. “I helped you with that purchase. Everything was completely aboveboard. There was no mention of a second railway line, none but the one whose stock you bought.”
“I went home and examined the certificates. They look the same but slightly different, with the word Chillingwood printed on the paper. I think someone took the original certificates and put different ones in their place.”
“Where were they?”
“A chest at the foot of my bed.” On the island where he and Leif came from, the certificates would have been safe. It should have occurred to him that things were different in London.
Leif swore softly. “Have you confronted Silas Wilkins?”
“I went back to his office this morning. Wilkins wasn't there. His secretary says he doesn't know exactly when the man will return.”
“I'll bet he doesn't.” Leif paced over to the window. “By Odin, that man is not going to cheat you out of your money. You worked too damned hard to get it.”
Thor clenched his jaw. “I do not intend to let him cheat me. I came to you because you are a better businessman than I am. I wanted to be sure that I was not wrong.”
Leif reached over and clamped a hand on Thor's shoulder. “You are not wrong, brother. We'll figure out a way to get the money you investedâalong with the money you've earned.”