"Are youallright? " Daniel asked, helping her to sit up again once the carriage had stopped.
"Aye, "Valoree assured him, then peered out the window as Daniel turned to check on Henry and Meg. Her gaze moved towardtheroad at the back of Thurborne’s carriage, the direction the wagon had gone. She saw the vehicle had stopped some distance back, lying on its side in the road. The driver was whipping the horses, tryingto get them to moveanyway, todrag the wagonaway. When they wouldn’t budge, hegaveup, and ran off down the road. Muttering under her breath, Valoree then turned to glance to the expanse of road at the front of Thurborne’s carriage.What she sawthere made her blood run cold and hadher scrabbling to get outside.
"What isit? " Daniel asked, noticing her panic, but Valoree didn’t stop to tell him. Stumbling from the carriage, she ran towardthewreckage of thehackher menhad rented.
"One-Eye!" sheyelled, hurrying toward thefirst man she saw.
Flung tothesideof the lane, he satup slowly, shaking his head as shedroppedtoherkneesbeside him. "Areyou all right? What happened? "
"Don’t know, " he answered dazedly, shakinghis head again."I guess we crashed. There wasa bang;then I gotthrown fromthe back of the hack."
"Isanythingbroken? "she asked worriedly as Daniel reached them.
"Don’t think so." He moved one limb, then another with caution. "Nay, I’mfine. Whatabouttheothers? "
"Youstayhere and rest a minute; I’ll go see." She patted his back, then stood and moved toward the front of the spilled carriage, aware that Daniel was following her. She heard him curse ashelooked over what remainedof therented hack, but didn’t look herself. She had seen the wreckage when she had peered out the window of his coach. The hack had tipped, smashing intothestone wall along the frontof a townhouse. The top had beentorn off, itssides hadcavedin, and the bottom was twisted. She doubtedanyone would havesurvived had theybeen inside.
She found Bulland No-Nose off to the side at the frontof the carriage. Bullseemed fine as he knelt by the other man, but No-Nose was not. His legwas broken, the bone poking clean through the skin.
"Sorry, Captain, " No-Nose apologized. "Thatwagon came out ofnowhere. Headed straight forus. I tried to move out of the way, but…"He shook his head.
"Shutup, No-Nose, " Valoreemuttered, kneelingbyhis injured legandbeginning to rip at the hemof her petticoat. "Help me here, Bull. We have to straighten this out. Are you hurtanywhere else? "
"Nay, I – Aaaahhhh, "he screamed, then beganto curse a blue streak as Valoree and Bull set to work onhim.
Valoree pressed her lips together and didwhat hadto be done, or at least as much as she knew. Scratchy wouldhave to have a look at itwhenthey got him back to the ship. Hewas the doc.
Butshe knewNo-Nosewould be lucky to keep the leg.
"Damn, " Henry swore upon spotting No-Nose’s injury as he andOne-Eyereached them. "Howthehell did this happen? "
"A wagon came aroundthe corner, pointed straight at us, " Bull rumbled."No-Nosetriedto getus outof the way, but theother fella wascomin’on too fast. We couldn’t avoid getting hit, and we both jumped off just before ithit."
Henry blew out abreath, then asked, "Hegonnabe all right? "
"He’ll live, " Valoree answered shortly, unwilling to make promisesabout keeping hisleg. Hergazemoved to Bull. "Ican finishuphere.You and One-Eyegotip thatwagonback onits wheels andsee if it willmove. If it still works, bring it back here.
You’ll need it to take No-Nose back to the ship."
"I’llgive ’em a hand, " Henry said, chasing afterthem as the two men hurried away.
Daniel shifted, drawing her gaze to him. She had quite forgotten he was there.
"No-Nose? " he said softly, raising one eyebrow. "Ship? "
Lipstightening, Valoree turned back to trying to stanch the flowof blood from No-Nose’s leg.
"Here." Meg was suddenly beside her, ripping a length of materialfrom her own petticoats and offeringitto Valoree, even as she attempted to reassure the man. "You will be all right, Robert."
Eveninpain as he was, the man managed to grimaceat the use of his proper name.
When she had done the best she could for him, Valoree glanced around. Daniel hadmoved off tohelpthe men. They had the wagonbackon its wheels, but insteadof bringingitback, had pausedto chat with a stranger. The four men she knew were standing in a semicircle, apparently listening to the other, who was gesticulatingwildly.
Clicking her tongue impatiently, shestood and roared, "Quit yerlollygagging, yeshiftless bastards!I’ve a woundedman here!"
Jaw dropping to hischest, Daniel wheeled around to peer at her inamazement. One-Eye and Bull, however, rushed to the wagon and leaped onto the driver’s bench, immediately turning it to ride back toward her. Henry stayed, though, apparently trying to soothethestranger. Theman was getting moreexcited by the moment.
"Sorry, Captain, " One-Eye apologized, holding the horses steady as Bull leapeddown tolift No-Nose into theback of the wagon. "That fella back there is the ownerof the wagon."
"Oh, he is, is he? " shesaid in a snarl, turningtostart toward whereHenry was still talkingwiththeman.
She was given pause when One-Eye calledout, "Aye, but he weren’tdriving it.Somefella stole it from him onthe next block.
Hechased after him on foot andcame on the accident after it happened."
Valoree hesitated, her gaze moving to where One-Eye was strugglingto control the horses.The man was a sailor.He didn’t know the first thingaboutdriving. As far asshe knew, Skully and No-Nose werethe onlymembers of her crew who had any skill with the beasts. Sighing, she turnedback toward the three men still talking down the street. "Henry! Bring thatman overhere!"
Henry glancedtowardher, hesitated, then started to leadthe man back. He wasabout Henry’s height and nearly as muscular, his face covered with soot. He hadbeendelivering coal tothe town houseswhenhis wagon had been stolen, she guessed. The bottom andsides of hisconveyance were stained black fromthe dust of the coal.
"This is your wagon? " Valoreeasked assoon as he was close enough tohearwithout herhaving to shout.
"Aye. The dirtyblighter stole it. I – "
"One of mymen isinjured, " Valoree interruptedshortly as he stoppedbeforeher. "I need toget him to the docks.Can you take him? "
The man hesitated, displeasure shifting over his features. "Why can’t ye just take himinyour damn carriage? He not goodenough todirty the seats? "
Valoree stiffened, her eyes narrowing to cold slits that were usually a warning to her men that they were treading adangerous path. "His leg isbroken.He needs to be kept flat. The carriage is too small for that. He must be returned to the docks in your wagon. What I am asking you, is whether youwish to do the driving and be recompensed for it, or whetheryouwishto stand here andwatchit betaken. Now, which isit? "
The man’s gazeslid from herto Bull, to Henry andDaniel, then lastlyto One-Eye seated on the driver’s bench. "Ah, hell, " he muttered, starting forthebench.
TurningtoBull, Valoree murmured, "Both you andOne-Eye gowithhim.Seehe’s paid when hegetsyou there."
Nodding, Bull turned and hefted himself intothe back of the wagon.The driver climbed up to join One-Eye, who had shifted to make room for him. The vehicle was off almost at once.
Valoree waiteduntil ithad turned the corner before turning to move back to Thurborne’s carriage.
The four of them were silent on the way back to the town house. Valoree was fretting over No-Nose. She almost asked Daniel to take them tothe docksseveral times, but then changed hermind.It would just meanmore questions. She already had enough on her plate whatwithhaving to explain aboutthe ship to him, and she knew she would have to. The nobleman kept looking ather. Of course, he was always looking at her, but he was looking at herdifferentlynow. Now, he kept castingcurious glancesher way.
Sighing, she leaned her head against thewall of the carriage, relievedwhen theystoppedat theirdestination a moment later.
They trooped silently inside and went directly to the salon.
Valoree moved to stand by the fireplace asHenry quickly fixed everyone a drink. He handed these out, then glanced at Daniel questioningly. "Are yestillhungry? "
Thurborne smiled wryly, but shook hishead, as did Valoree when he glanced her way.Henry’sgaze then moved to Meg, who sighed and set her glass on the table, then stood. "Actually, Henry, I think I ammore tired than hungry.Ithas beenamost eventful night. If youwillallexcuse me, I amgoing to retire."
Sheleft the room to their murmurs of good-night; then Henry downed his drink and headed forthedoor aswell.
"I’m goingto talk tothemen. Goodnight, Thurborne." The door pulled quietly closedbehind him before Valoree or Daniel could say farewell.
Nowthequestionswould begin, Valoree thought.She lifted her glassto drink fromit, but Danieldidn’t ask questions. Instead he was suddenlybehindher, his hands on hershoulders, histhumbs rubbing the bare flesh ofher collarbones. He pressed a kiss tothe back of her neck. Swallowing the rum in her mouth, Valoree stood perfectly still, amazed to seethat the handholding herglass was beginning to tremble.
The shaking became much moreviolentwhen his hands slid down her arms, then beneath to reach around and cup her br**sts. Twisting her head, Valoree sought his lips with hers, sighinginto hismouth when he accepted theinvitation.He kissed herpassionately, one handdropping down over herstomach, then lower, until it rested between her legs.There, he pressed gently.
Shegroaned, barely aware of the splash of cold liquid on her skin asthe glass she held tipped dangerously. Then he withdrew his hands, andhis lips, and gave her aquick peck on the nose.
Eyes blinkingopen, she stared in amazement at his retreating back, then whirledtoward the fireplace, throwingher glass inthe fire with a vulgar curse. Leaning herforeheadwearily againstthe mantel, she heard the front door of the town house open and closequietly.She wasstill standingthere several moments later when the door tothesalonopenedagain.
Sighing, Valoree straightened, took adeep breath, thenturned topeeratHenry."Aye, what isit? "
He stared at her uncertainly for a minute, concern flashing across his face. "Are yeall right? "
"Iam fine.Why shouldn’t I be? "she snapped. "Is that all? "
"Nay, Iwantedto talk toyou about the carriage accident."
Sighing, Valoree moved to one of thechairs andsank into it wearily, then gestured for him to sit in the other. "Have you heard from the ship? Is No-Nose going tobe all right? "
"Aye. One-Eye and Bull returned with Skully just a minute ago. Scratchy islooking after No-Nose. Saysitwasa cleanbreak andhe might even keep his leg."
Valoree relaxed slightly at thatnews. "Good."
"Skully’s going toarrange foranother hack first thing inthe morning. We paid for the other."
"Alsogood." Theywere both silent for a moment; then Valoree frowned.
"What is it? " Henry asked, waiting.
Valoreemet his gaze, her thoughts shifting for a moment."I want youto have a coupleof the men go out tomorrow and talk tothat wagonowner again."
"Why? Whatis itye want toknow? Do you not think it was an accident, pure and simple? Thefellow stole thewagon and in his excitement toget away, went toofast and lost control."
"Maybe, " Valoree murmured, then shrugged. "Just have them find outeverything theownercan tellthemabout the fellow he saw stealit."
Henry nodded slowly; thenthey both fellsilent for a moment.
At lasthe asked, "Have yemade upyour mindyet? "
She peeredathim in surprise. "About what?
"About which oneto marry, " he answered. "Scrantom wasthe last of’em on your list. Ye’vevisited with all of them now."
Valoree looked away toward the fireplace. "Nay. But I’ve narrowedthelist."
"Aye, ye’ve done that, all right. Ye’veonly gotHawghton and Beecham left on it."
"Aye, "Valoree agreed.
Whenshe didn’t say anythingelse, Henry said, "Should I send a letter around to those two, inviting them by for ye to have another gander? "
Sighing, Valoree lether head fall backonthe chair and closed hereyes. "Aye, aye. Go ahead."
"I’ll write ’em upbefore Igo tobed so one of the mencan run them around first thinginthemorning. Good night."
She didn’t hear him get up, but shedid hear thedooropen and close. Sighing, she turned her head toward the fireplace and staredintoitfor a moment, picturingHawghton and Beechamin hermind.
Hawghton wasa handsomeman, mayhapeven more handsome than Daniel. He was also a charmer like Daniel. But, unlike Thurborne, who Henry toldherhadspentmostof his time out tendingto his estates since inheriting, Hawghton neglected his affairsand lived inLondon, wherehecould enjoythe high life.
Gambling appearedto be his downfall. He, unlikemost of the others, was not a second son. He wasa firstborn sonwho had inherited a greatdeal of wealth with histitlewhen his father had died three years earlier.Hehad also gambled mostofit awayin the short time since.
Or thrown it away on some mistress or another. Henry had seento looking into eachman. Hawghton liked gambling, women, and drinking. Betweenthe three vices, he couldn’t seemtohold on to a coin.Still, thatdidn’t bother hermuch. Once the child was bornandhe wasno longernecessary, shecould sethim upin town on a nice allowance that he could gamble away as he pleased.
What bothered her was that during their appointment, when they had gone to the theater – the only appointment she had managed without Daniel being there – She had glimpseda flash of fury in the man. It was as they were leaving Drury Lane.
Someonehadjostledhim and he had turnedin a rage, his face suddenly beet red and looking as if he meant to strike the unfortunate passerby with hiscane. Valoree had shifted then, drawing his gaze, and Hawghton hadforced himselfto relax and immediately release one of his charming laughs. All as if the incidenthad never happened. But the momenthadstuckin her mind. The man had a temper, and asecond appointmentwasonly to assure herself of that. Shewould not marry a man whomight raise his cane to her. She’d have to kill the bastard then, and she hadenoughtroubles without that.