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Authors: Kat Martin

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BOOK: Heart of Courage
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“Out late last night?” she asked, nibbling on a slice of toast.

Rudy shrugged. “Not so late. Went to the club for a bit, then stopped by the Golden Pheasant for a few hands of cards.”

She paused as she lifted her teacup.
The Golden Pheasant.
She supposed he couldn't stay away from Convent Garden forever. It was, after all, one of London's main centers of entertainment. “I thought you had decided to give up gambling.”

Since his arrest and the days he had spent in prison, he seemed a little more mature, a little less bent on self-destruction. She hoped his return to the city hadn't changed that.

“You don't have to worry, sis. I played a bit, but mostly just for fun. I'm not as stupid as you think. I know I've got responsibilities. I'm not going to shirk them.”

She flashed him a smile filled with relief and approval. “Good for you.” She ate a few bites of her breakfast and sipped a little more tea, thinking he had given her the perfect opening. “You mentioned the club. I believe Stephen Camden is a member. Do you ever see him there?”

Rudy swallowed a mouthful of sausage. “He's there quite a lot. Second home of sorts when he's in the city.”

“He's in London now, I believe. He said something about returning when we were at Merrick Park.”

“He's here. Seen him last night.”

She tried to hide her interest, shoved her eggs around on her plate then took a bite. “You wouldn't happen to recall whether you went to the club the night Phoebe Carter was murdered.”

He glanced up. “I was there…early on. Only bit of the evening I recall.”

“Do you remember if Stephen was also at White's that night?”

His head came up and he studied her closely. “He was there. I saw him that night. Like I said, I don't remember much after that, but early on, I remember he was there.”

“Any idea what time he left or where he might have gone from the club?”

Rudy's gaze sharpened with suspicion. “Why the sudden interest in Merrick? And what's he got to do with Phoebe Carter?”

Lindsey released a breath. “There's a chance Stephen may somehow be involved in the Covent Garden murders.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When I was at Renhurst there were rumors, gossip that Stephen had murdered a young woman named Penelope Barker. Rumors have also surfaced connecting him to the women who were killed in Covent Garden.”

Rudy yanked the white linen napkin off his lap and slammed it down on the table. “
Rumors.
It is rubbish, is what it is. Merrick is the son of a marquess, for God's sake, and a viscount on his own. He is a friend and hardly the sort to do murder. What's gotten into you, sis? You saw Stephen's name on Mum's marriage list and you're trying to discredit him?”

“This has nothing to do with Mother's list.”

Rudy shoved back his chair and stood up. “Stephen and I went to university together. We've been friends for years. I know the sort of man he is and so do you. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Casting her an angry glance, he turned and stalked out of the breakfast room, a portion of his breakfast uneaten.

Damn and blast.
She should have known her brother would defend the man. He had always looked up to Stephen. At least now she knew the viscount had actually gone to his club, as his coachman had said, the night of the latest murder.

But what time had he left?

And where had he gone from there?

Twenty-Three

T
he office buzzed with activity. It was nearing the end of the week, the Stanhope press chugging, printing copies of the next edition. Lindsey sat fidgeting in the chair behind her desk, though she had already turned in her weekly article. She was there to see Thor. She needed to talk to him, relay the conversation she'd had with her mother and convince him to marry her.

The door swung open, emitting a flash of sunlight accompanied by the sound of heavy boots on the wooden floor. Her heart took a leap at the sight of Thor's tall, muscular frame filling the opening, his nearly black hair slightly ruffled by the breeze. He ducked his head and stepped into the office and Lindsey rose from her chair as if lifted by invisible wings. She moved toward him, stopping him midway across the room.

His gaze swung to hers and her stomach contracted, began to hum with nerves. “Krista said you would be working today. I…um…I was hoping…There is a matter of importance I wish to discuss with you.”

“As you wish. We can go upstairs.”

She glanced away. They were no longer seeing each other and he meant to keep his distance. How could she have imagined this would be easy?

“I spoke to Krista. I asked if we might leave a little early. I thought we might take a walk in the park.” Green Park wasn't far away. The day was surprisingly warm for this late in the year and she couldn't imagine discussing this sort of topic in the room upstairs or even in a restaurant or coffeehouse.

Besides, Thor's apartment wasn't far from the park. If he agreed to marry her, perhaps they could seal the pact with an hour or two of lovemaking. The thought sent a little quiver of heat into her stomach.

Thor was watching her closely. “You have news of Merrick?”

“No, I…This is about us, Thor.”

He shook his head. “I do not think our being together is a good idea. This I have said before.”

“Perhaps you will change your mind…when you hear what I have to say.” After her decision had been made, she'd had time to do a great deal of thinking herself.

Money wasn't so important. Thor worked hard; Lindsey had her job at
Heart to Heart
, as well as a small monthly stipend she had inherited from her grandmother. They would manage.

Society wasn't so important, either. They could save enough to buy a small place in the country. Thor preferred country living and she enjoyed it herself. Thor owned the magnificent stallion. Once the stallion was completely tamed, Saber's stud fees would be extremely valuable, and in time they could raise a colt of their own. She didn't really need society to make her happy. As long as she was with Thor, it didn't matter.

“I will leave at four and wait for you on the corner,” he said. “You will talk and I will listen. That is all.”

She nodded. He was tired of their illicit relationship and, in truth, so was she. She couldn't wait to see his face when she asked him to marry her.

Lindsey worked at her desk through the afternoon, going over notes she had made for her next
Heartbeat
article, but it was difficult to concentrate. The hands on the clock seemed frozen in place and each time she looked at them, they only seemed to move more slowly.

Finally four o'clock came. Thor quietly left the office, disappearing out the door. Lindsey left Bessie arranging type and Gerald Bonner and his apprentice, young Freddie Wilkes, working to get ready for the next edition. Lindsey waved goodbye to Krista, grabbed her woolen cloak off the brass hook on the wall and headed out the door.

It wasn't such a bad day for a walk. The sun lingered above the horizon and the temperature was still bearable, though a brisk wind whipped the hem of her cloak and in the distance, clouds had begun to collect at the edge of the city.

“A storm is coming,” Thor said, walking up beside her. “Mayhap we should walk another day.”

“We need to talk and it isn't something that can wait. Besides, the storm is still off in the distance. What I have to say is important. And it shouldn't take all that long.”

He nodded, reached out and drew her hood up over her head against the breeze, took her hand and led her along the street toward the park. They reached a pretty spot next to a small, quiet pond and sat down on a wooden bench in front of it.

Thor turned to face her and she noticed the faint shadow of afternoon beard beginning to darken his jaw. She wanted to run her fingers over the roughness, wanted to bend her head and press her lips against the faint indentation in his chin.

“What is it you wished to say?”

Lindsey banished her musings and took a steadying breath. “Several days ago, my mother asked to see me. She believes it is time I married.”

The muscles across his shoulders tightened but he made no comment.

“She and my father have spoken to several men they believe would suit and—”

“They mean to choose your husband for you?”

“It is commonly done in the upper classes.”

He nodded. “As it is where I come from.”

“I wasn't certain I ever wished to marry—not until I met you.”

She thought he might say something that would make things easier but he didn't. “What I am trying to say is that I do not wish to marry some proper gentleman my parents choose for me. I wish to marry you, Thor.”
I am in love with you.

His eyes widened in shock. He stared at her as if she had completely lost her wits. “You cannot think to wed with me? I have no fortune, no title. My future yet remains uncertain. I cannot take a wife—any wife—and especially not you.”

“Money isn't that important. When you love someone—”

“Do not say you love me.”

“Why not? Surely you know that I do.”

“I know you are not thinking clearly. We cannot wed. This you have known from the start.”

Her heart was beginning to pound. She had thought that he might be resistant at first, but only until he understood. She thought that once he did, he would be eager to marry her.

She sat up a little straighter on the bench. “We have to marry, Thor. You took my innocence. It is your duty to wed me.”

His eyes searched her face, but his expression remained carefully guarded. “You must listen to me, Lindsey. You know we cannot marry. I am not the man for you. I never have been.”

“But—”

“Do not do this. Do not make things more difficult between us than they are already.”

She swallowed, truly beginning to worry. “I thought you would wish to wed me. I thought you would be glad to make me your wife.”

He glanced away. When he looked back at her, his eyes were dark and turbulent, filled with some emotion she could not read. Rising from the bench, he paced off toward the pond, stood with his back to her, his long legs splayed as he stared into the water. A pair of mallards skimmed the surface, the male's green head glinting in the fading rays of sunlight, but Thor didn't seem to see them.

Lindsey held her breath, praying he would realize she was right, that they belonged together, no matter the obstacles ahead of them.

Instead, when he turned and walked back to her, his features looked carved in stone.

“You believe I am obliged to wed you, yet you told me yourself you were no longer a maid. What I took was given freely. Do you deny this?”

A vise was beginning to tighten around her heart. “I do not deny it. I was not…not a maid. You said it did not matter.”

His jaw hardened even more. “I am not the man for you. You need a proper husband, a gentleman, and that I will never be.”

Panic made her breathing shallow. “I don't care. I love you. I want us to be together.”

He leaned toward her, his blue eyes fierce. “Do you not understand? I have had you. I have enjoyed the use of your beautiful body but now I am tired of you. I am not a man to settle for only one woman. You must know this. Do what your family believes is best for you. Marry the man your father has chosen.”

She couldn't breathe. Her eyes welled with tears. “You…you don't mean it. You're just saying that because you think it is the right thing for me to do.”

“It
is
the right thing. The right thing for both of us.” He urged her up from the bench and began guiding her firmly back toward the office. Her carriage was waiting. She was fighting not to cry when Thor opened the door and thrust her firmly inside.

“Your future is ahead of you. Mine is yet to be determined.”

She stared at him through the window. “I need to know the truth—is it really other women you want?”

Thor shrugged his powerful shoulders. “We enjoyed each other. It was good between us. But I am a man of strong appetites. This you know, Lindsey.”

She leaned back in the seat, closing her eyes to block the sight of him. Her heart was aching, breaking into a thousand pieces. As the carriage jerked into motion, tears rolled down her cheeks. How could she have been so wrong? How could she not have seen?

Fresh pain stabbed into her heart—for the love she had never really had and the dreams she had lost.

Lindsey began to weep.

 

It was two days later that Thor stood in front of the offices of Capital Ventures, pounding fiercely on the door. Pain and fury lashed at him, fired his temper until he could barely see. If Wilkins hadn't cheated him…

But it wasn't only the money that had forced him to drive Lindsey away. He had told her the truth. He was not the man she needed and he never would be.

His fists made another fierce assault on the door and it finally opened. The young blond secretary stood there, his eyes bulging with fear.

“Where is he?” Thor demanded. “Where is Silas Wilkins?”

The lad swallowed hard. “I am to tell you that he is away on business. I am not certain when he will return.”

Thor reached out and caught the young man by the lapels of his brown tweed coat, lifted him clear off his feet. “Where is he?”

“I'm not…not supposed to tell you.”

Thor shook him—hard.

“H-he has a house in Kent. He left the day after you were here the last time.”

“Tell me where to find this place in Kent.”

The young man spit out the directions to a country house at the edge of the village of Westerly. Thor released his grip and the secretary settled back on his feet. “Please don't tell him I told you.”

Thor grunted. “I do not intend to do much talking.” He meant to get the money he was owed and leave.

“If I didn't need this job, I would quit,” the lad said. “Wilkins is a dishonest man.”

Thor just nodded. Wilkins was a charlatan. He had stolen the valuable stock certificates and replaced them with worthless pieces of paper.

Turning away, he descended the steps and stalked off down the street. Since his conversation with Lindsey, his fury was all that kept him going. He had lied to her, disdained the love she believed she felt for him, and hurt her very badly. It was the last thing he wanted to do.

As he approached his flat, his anger slowly faded, leaving him completely drained. He would get his money—of that he had no doubt. But he would never have Lindsey.

Climbing the stairs seemed a Herculean task; opening the door took every ounce of his strength. He had destroyed whatever feelings Lindsey might have held for him and in doing so, had destroyed part of himself. His heart ached as it never had before. His brother was right. He was in love with her.

Looking back, he realized he had loved her even before he had seen her riding the hills of Renhurst, taking the jumps with the skill of a man, like a Valkyrie, a female warrior, strong and brave, woman enough for a Viking chieftain.

He would gladly give his life for her and in saying the awful things he had said to her, that was exactly what he had done.

Something stirred in the faint light inside the sitting room. “How could you?”

His head snapped toward the sound of the feminine voice coming from out of the shadows. In a chair next to the sofa, Krista leaned forward, outlining her lovely face in the weak light streaming from the street lamp on the corner.

“How could you say those terrible things to her?”

He sank down on the sofa across from her. “I had no choice.”

Krista came up out of the chair. “You had no choice? You had no choice! You crushed her, Thor. You broke her heart into little pieces and I don't think she will ever be the same.”

“She will marry a proper gentleman. She will have the life she deserves.”

“You are a fool, Thor Draugr. I never would have guessed how big a fool you are.”

His throat felt tight. He had said those same words to himself. “I could never make her happy. We are not the same.”

Krista stormed toward him from across the room. “And you think that if she marries another man that will make her happy? She loves you. She will never be happy with another man. She isn't that sort and neither are you. Surely you are not too blind to see that.”

BOOK: Heart of Courage
4.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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