Authors: Kat Martin
She didn't know whether to be complimented or insulted. She decided on a safer subject. “Why did you come to England?”
“To see what lay beyond our island was a dream of my brother's.” Thor went on to explain that when a ship had wrecked on the island, providing the timbers needed to build a sailing vessel, Leif had finally gotten his chance to leave. He sailed off with a group of young men but did not return for over a year and they all believed him dead.
Eventually he returned, bringing with him a bride, but he was never meant to stay.
“It was the will of the gods that my brother live here in England. I came back with him. I wanted to learn, see what destiny lay ahead for me.”
She mulled that over, trying to come to grips with the things he was telling her. “Do you ever think of going home?”
“There are times I miss my brothers and my sister. I miss the open spaces and the beauty of the land. But it is beautiful here, too, out in the country where the grass is so green and the hills bloom with flowers. One day I will own my own land and then I can be at peace.”
She wanted to ask him more but the carriage was approaching Mount Street. She needed to get into the house without being seen. She could imagine Aunt Dee's horrified expression at the sight of the awful orange satin gown.
She spotted the big stone mansion up ahead. She hoped Elias Mack had gotten safely back to his room above the carriage house. She knew she could trust him not to betray their adventure tonight and wondered what wild tale he would concoct to explain his cuts and bruises.
Thor ordered the driver to turn down the alley at the back of the house.
“You are lucky you are not my woman,” he said as the vehicle rolled toward an arched wooden gate at the rear of the garden. “I would take the flat of my hand to your pretty behind for risking yourself as you did.”
Lindsey ignored him. Thor was not her husband and never would be. As the carriage rolled to a stop, she looked up at him.
“My brother is in trouble. I have to find the man who murdered those women. After tonight, I realize I can't do it alone. Will you help me?”
He studied her for several long moments, then his jaw hardened. “If I say no, will you do something foolish again?”
“You are more trouble than any two other women, lady.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Aye, I will help you.”
She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thank you. I can never repay you for what you did tonight.” She started to turn away, but Thor caught her shoulders, holding her in place.
“I will take this as payment.”
Lindsey gasped as he hauled her against him and his mouth crushed down over hers. For an instant, time spun to a halt. She could feel the heat of him, the powerful muscles in his chest, the iron-hard strength in his arms. His lips were softer than they looked as they moved over hers, melding perfectly, burning into her. It was a fierce, taking kiss and it completely inflamed her. She was clutching his shoulders, making soft little whimpering sounds when Thor broke away.
Breathing a little too hard, he gave her a last searing glance as he climbed down from the carriage, reached up and helped her down then stepped back out of her way.
“Go inside, Lindsey,” he said gruffly. “Before I forget that we are just friends.”
Lindsey didn't hesitate, just lifted the skirt of the ugly orange gown and ran as fast as she could through the garden, back inside the house.
indsey sat at her desk, her head bent over the sheet of paper in front of her as she scratched out her column for the week.
Or at least tried to.
Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to concentrate with Thor in the office. Though she carefully kept her eyes on her work, she could hear him moving about, lifting heavy crates and boxes in the back room. He had been at the office for hours and yet they had only spoken once, merely a strained greeting upon her arrival and an inquiry as to how she fared after her ordeal last night. She had said that she was fine, though every part of her ached from her brutal treatment in the alley.
They hadn't spoken since.
Lindsey sighed. It was clear Thor regretted his impulsive kiss last night. Lindsey wished she felt the same. Instead, that fierce, burning contact refused to leave her mind and secretly she wondered what it would take to get him to kiss her that way again. She reminded herself it was that sort of thinking that accounted for her wicked behavior with Tyler Reese. She had given Ty her innocence and wound up regretting it later.
But part of her argued that this wasn't at all the same. She wasn't in love with Thor, just wildly attracted to him. She was older now, a grown woman no longer susceptible to a man's persuasion.
Not that Ty had needed to do much of that.
In truth it had been more her idea than his. Certainly, it was her idea to refuse the offer of marriage he had felt obligated to make. She wasn't in love with Ty, she had discovered, and she wasn't ready for marriage.
Having done his duty, the young viscount was relieved, and in the end, they had remained friends.
Now, years later, the old curiosity had resurfaced. Kissing Thor had been different than anything she had experienced with Ty or any other man. The hot, mind-numbing sensations, the weakness in the knees, the wild urge to lose herself in the heat and power that vibrated through his big, hard-muscled body was utterly and completely amazing.
She tried not to wonder what it might be like to make love with a man who could set her blood on fire.
She tried not to, but she did.
The bell above the door rang, drawing her attention as the footman, Elias Mack, rushed into the office, bringing gusts of chilly September wind and blowing leaves. Several heads swiveled toward him, but tomorrow the paper went to press and everyone was busy doing his job.
Elias headed straight for her, and Lindsey came out of her chair. “Good heavens, Elias, what has happened?”
He was nearly unrecognizable with his battered face, swollen lip, and puffy, blackened eye. She hadn't seen him since last night, and a pang of guilt washed through her that her actions had resulted in such a terrible beating.
“The police came to the house, miss. They arrested your brother. They carted him off in a police wagon.”
“Oh, my God.”
“What has happened?” Thor's deep voice snagged her attention. For an instant she forgot Elias was there.
Mentally she shook herself. “Rudy has been arrested. I have to go down to the police station. I have to find a way to make them understand that he couldn't possibly be the man who killed those women.” Reaching over, she grabbed her reticule off the top of the desk, rose and started for the door.
“I will come with you,” Thor said, catching up to her in a single long stride.
“I don't need your protection for this. I am going to a police station, for heaven's sake.”
“You asked for my help. I am helping. I will come.”
She sighed and started walking, stopped near the door to gather her cloak and bonnet, then continued outside in search of transportation.
Elias and Thor followed her out.
“Ye want I should come along?” the young footman asked.
“I think you had better go back to the house,” Lindsey told him. “I have gotten you into enough trouble already.”
Elias nodded. “Whatever ye wish, miss.”
“By the way, how did you explain what happened to your face?”
He grinned. “Mostly I told the truth. I went gambling at the Blue Moon and got me purse pinched by a couple of mugs.”
“I feel terrible about the way the evening turned out. I shouldn't have asked you to take that kind of risk.”
Elias's grin broadened. “It were some night, weren't it, miss? I woulda' liked to have got in a few more good licks, but I wouldna' wanted to miss it.” He waved as he started off down the street, back toward her Mount Street home.
Lindsey thought as he disappeared round the corner.
How did a woman ever understand them?
Which reminded her of her brother and the trouble he was in.
“What am I going to do about Rudy?” she said to Thor as they made their way to the corner, not really expecting him to know.
“We will have to find the men who killed those women.”
Until he said the words out loud, it hadn't seemed such an impossible task.
She took a steadying breath. “We'll speak to the police, try to convince them that Rudy is innocent. Then we'll return to Covent Garden, ask a few more questions.”
He frowned. “After what happened last night, you wish to go back?”
She suppressed a shudder at the memory of the men in the alley and their brutal attack. “Going back is the last thing I want. I don't have any choice.”
“You must not go there without me.”
“You needn't worry about that. Rest assured I have learned my lesson.”
Thor did not look convinced.
Lindsey didn't expect to find Aunt Dee pacing frantically in front of the sergeant's desk in the police station when she walked through the glass-paned door Thor held open for her. Though she probably shouldn't have been surprised, since she knew how worried her aunt would be.
“Lindseyâthank heavens you are here! Rudy has been arrested. The fools are convinced he has murdered those two unfortunate women.”
“I know. Elias Mack came to the office to tell me.”
Aunt Dee sniffed in disdain. “Mr. Mack is lucky to retain his position. Brawling like some sort of ruffian. I have forbidden him to show his face in the house until he is healed. If a guest were to see himâ¦well, I can only imagine the gossip that would stir.”
Lindsey glanced up at Thor, who raised a dark eyebrow as if to say,
if you hadn't behaved so recklessly, your footman would not now be on the brink of losing his job, and you would not have been attacked.
Lindsey merely ignored him. She forced herself to smile. “Aunt Delilah, this is a friendâThor Draugr. You are acquainted with his brother, Krista's husband, Leif.”
“Why, yes, I am.” Her aunt looked Thor up and down, taking in his exceptional height and the breadth of his chest and shoulders. “Your coloring is quite different from your brother's, but one can certainly see the family resemblance.”
And it was clear her aunt appreciated the younger brother's masculine charms. She was a woman, after all. How could she not?
“Thor is going to help me find a way to clear Rudy's name.”
“Indeed.” Aunt Dee gave him another assessing glance, trying to determine the level of his intelligence, a question Lindsey had pondered herself. “Let us hope you can.”
A man with thinning brown hair walked up just then, Constable Bertram, she recalled, the lead investigator on the murders.
“Lady Ashford,” he said to her aunt, “I assume you are here in support of your nephew, Rudolph Graham.”
“I am here because of your ridiculous charges. My nephew has had no part in any murder and I demand you release him this instant.”
He sighed as if he actually felt regretâwhich Lindsey was certain he did not. “I wish it were that simple. At the moment, I'm sorry to say there is nothing you can do to secure his release.” But he didn't look sorry at all, he looked smugly satisfied as he turned his attention to Lindsey. “I'm glad you are here, Miss Graham. I would like a word in private, if you please.”
A trickle of worry slipped through her. She glanced up at Thor, strangely glad he was there. “Whatever you have to say, you may say right here, in the presence of my aunt and Mr. Draugr.”
“Then I shall say this. You have given false testimony as to your brother's whereabouts the night of Phoebe Carter's murder. You know it and so do I. I am giving you a chance to withdraw your statement. If you do not and we disprove your brother's alibiâwhich we willâit will mean that you have willfully attempted to impede a police investigation and I will be forced to file formal charges against you.”
“There is no way you can know where my brother was that night. I told you he was withâ”
“Tell him the truth,” Thor commanded.
Her eyes widened. “Whatâ¦what do you think you are doing?”
“I am keeping you out of trouble. That is why I am here. Now tell Constable Bertram the truth.”
She looked over at her aunt, who was nodding in agreement. Hell and damnationâwhat she told the police was none of Thor's business. All right, well, maybe after last night it was.
She sighed with resignation. “I am not certain where my brother was that night. I may have mistaken the date. I am no longer sure.”
Bertram's lips twisted. “That is what I thought.”
“It doesn't mean he was the man who killed Miss Carter.”
“I'm afraid there is evidence that he was.”
Her chest squeezed. “What evidence?”
“A witness has come forward. The woman identified your brother as the man she saw fleeing the murder scene the night Phoebe Carter was killed.”
“But that is impossible! Rudy wouldn't kill anyone!”
Bertram touched her arm in a gesture of sympathy. “In my job I have seen many things, Miss Graham. I have learned that we never really know anyone.”
The words stung more than they should have. Rudy wasn't the innocent youth he once had been, the curious boy who collected butterflies and played with toy soldiers. This was a man who consorted with prostitutes and gambled away his money.
Still, she believed him innocent. “Perhaps in some cases that is so, but this is my brother and I know he isn't capable of murder.”
The constable made no reply, but his gaze held a trace of pity.
“I want to see him. Where have they taken him?”
“Your brother is occupying a cell on the masters' side of Newgate Prison.”
Her stomach knotted. Deep down, she had known that was where he would be taken. Still, she felt a sharp wrenching inside her. Rudy was her brother. When they were children, he was her closest friend. She thought of their shared love of horses, the hours they had spent riding, the pranks they had played.
Wordlessly, she turned and started walking, a thick lump swelling in her throat. As they descended the wide stone steps out to the street, her aunt on one side, Thor on the other, his big hand settled reassuringly at her waist. She was angry at him for making her tell the truth and yet she was glad he was there.
“Tonight,” he said softly, bending his head to hers. “Wear the orange dress and I will meet you at midnight at the back of the garden.”
Her eyes widened. “The orange dress?”
“The men will think you are mine for the night and no one will bother you.”
Lindsey swallowed. The notion of wearing the orange dress brought to mind the awful attack in the alley, the feel of blunt fingers stroking over her skin. It recalled what might have happened if Thor had not come when he did.
The men will think you are mine for the night.
Instead of attending the engagement party for the daughter of the Duke of Pelham as she had planned, she would be playing the role of Thor's doxy. It was ridiculous. She couldn't possibly do such a thing.
And yet there was Rudy to consider.
She was glad she hadn't burned the damnable dress.
Lindsey, Thor and Aunt Dee left the police station together and headed straight for the prison, a miserable gray stone structure that looked as forbidding as it actually was. Both women and men were incarcerated inside the thick walls, and since its beginning, hundreds of its inhabitants had been publicly executed.
Lindsey had read about the prison and about a female reformer named Elizabeth Fry who had begun the fight for improved conditions. Over the years, some improvements had been made, but it remained a fearful place to be locked away. It was a horrific place for a young man of wealth and position to find himself, and Lindsey's heart went out to her brother.
She shuddered as they walked inside. After they paid the required fee, an overweight guard showed them down a long, damp, dimly lit corridor. The echo of their footsteps accompanied them as they walked along, the flickering light of torches illuminating their way. At the opposite end of the prison, criminals survived in even worse conditions, dozens of people crammed into cells barely suitable for the rats that shared their quarters.