“And ye think I’ll do it, for the asking?”
Pardloe gave him a level look, smoke purling from his lips.
“Yes, I do. Why not?” He raised the middle finger of one hand. “I would consider it a debt, to be paid.”
“Put that bloody finger back down before I ram it up your backside.”
The duke’s mouth twitched, but he put the finger down without comment.
“I also wished to see you, to determine whether you might be of assistance in bringing Major Siverly to justice. I think that you can be. And what I want above all is justice.”
Jamie drew a breath and held it for a moment, to ensure against hasty speech.
The duke blew a thoughtful cloud of blue-tinged smoke, and Jamie realized suddenly what the sweet, pungent odor was. It wasn’t tobacco; the duke was drinking hemp smoke. He’d smelled it once or twice before; a doctor in Paris had prescribed it to an acquaintance who suffered from a lung complaint. Was the duke ill? He didn’t look it.
He didn’t sound like it, either.
“Siverly has taken leave from his regiment and disappeared. We think he has gone to his estate in Ireland. I want him found and brought back.” Pardloe’s voice was level, and so was his gaze. “My brother is going to Ireland on this mission, but he will require help. He—”
“Did he bloody tell you to fetch me here?” Jamie’s fists had doubled. “Does he think that I—”
“I don’t know what he thinks, and, no, he has no idea that I’ve brought you here,” Pardloe said. “I doubt he’ll be pleased,” he added thoughtfully, “but as I said—whatever disagreements you and he may have do not concern me.” He laid the pipe aside and folded his hands, looking at Jamie straight on.
“I dislike doing this,” he said. “And I regret the necessity.”
Jamie stared at Pardloe, feeling his chest tighten. “I’ve been f**ked up the arse by an Englishman before,” he said flatly. “Spare me the kiss, aye?”
Pardloe drew breath through his nose and laid both hands flat on the desk.
“You will accompany Lieutenant-Colonel Grey to Ireland and there render him every assistance in locating Major Siverly and compelling his return to England, as well as obtaining evidence to aid in his prosecution.”
Jamie sat like stone. He could hear the rasp of his own breath.
“Or your parole will be revoked. You will be taken to the Tower—today—and there committed to imprisonment at His Majesty’s pleasure.” The duke paused. “Do you require a moment to consider the situation?” he asked politely.
Jamie stood up abruptly. Pardloe stiffened, barely saving himself from jerking backward.
“When?” Jamie asked, and was surprised at the calmness in his voice.
Pardloe’s shoulders relaxed, almost imperceptibly.
“In a few days.” For the first time, his eyes left Jamie’s face, surveying him from head to toe. “You’ll need clothes. You’ll travel as the gentleman you are. Under parole, of course.” He paused, gaze returning to Jamie’s face. “And I will consider myself in your debt, Mr. Fraser.”
Jamie looked at him with contempt and turned on his heel.
“Where are you going?” Pardloe said. He sounded startled.
“Out,” Jamie said, and reached for the doorknob. He glared back over his shoulder. “Under parole. Of course.” He jerked the door open.
“Supper’s at eight,” said the duke’s voice behind him. “Don’t be late, will you? It puts Cook out.”
IT HAD COME ON TO RAIN, AND THE GUTTERS WERE STREAMING. John Grey was soaked to the skin and was steaming. He stamped down Monmouth Street, oblivious to pelting rain, ankle-deep puddles, and the soggy skirts of his coat flapping about his thighs.
He’d been walking for what seemed hours, thinking that the exercise would burn away his anger, make it possible for him to speak to his brother without striking him. It hadn’t. If anything, he grew more infuriated with each step.
Even for Hal, to whom high-handedness was as natural as breathing, this was raw. Not only to have ignored John’s plainly stated position with regard to Jamie Fraser but to have decided without a word or a by-your-leave to have Fraser brought to London—and to have bloody done it without a word to him, overriding his authority as Fraser’s legal parole officer … and then—then!—to have compounded the crime by informing John—not asking him, oh, no, commanding him!—to go to Ireland in Fraser’s company.… He wanted urgently to wring Hal’s neck.
The only thing stopping him was the presence of James Fraser at Argus House.
He couldn’t in justice blame Fraser for the present situation. He doubted the man was any happier about it than he was. Justice, however, had nothing to do with his feelings, which were exigent.
The rain turned briefly to hail, tiny balls of ice bouncing off his head and shoulders, and a covey of orange-girls scuttled past him, squealing in a mix of consternation and exhilaration, leaving a delicious scent of chilled oranges in their wake. One of them had dropped a fruit from her box; it rolled at his feet, vivid on the pavement, and he picked it up and turned to call after her, but the girls had gone.
The cold globular feel of the orange was pleasant in his hand, and the slackening hail had cooled his blood a little. He tossed the fruit in the air and caught it again.
He hadn’t tried to strike Hal in anger since he was fifteen. It hadn’t gone well. He could probably do it now, though. Hal was still quick and an excellent swordsman, but he was nearly forty now, and the years of campaigning had told on him. Still, what would be the point of hammering his brother, or even pegging him with an orange at short range? The situation would still be what it was. He put the orange in his pocket and sloshed moodily across a flooded street, kicking floating cabbage leaves out of the way.
“Lord John!” The shrill hail made him look up, in time to be deluged by a massive wave of filthy water thrown up by the wheels of a carriage. Spluttering, he wiped mud and offal from his face and saw a young woman in the window of the coach, her own face convulsed with laughter.
“Oh, your lordship—how wet ye are!” she managed through her giggles, shielding the red velvet flowers on her very stylish hat from the blowing rain with a spread fan.
“Yes. I am wet,” he said, giving Nessie a marked look. Agnes, she was called; a young Scottish whore he’d met three years before. Apparently, she’d come up in the world considerably since. “Is that your coach?”
“Och, no,” she said with regret. “If it was, I’d offer ye a ride. I’m on my way to see a new swell; he sent it for me.”
“Well, I shouldn’t like to spoil your client’s upholstery,” he said, with exquisite politeness.
“Ye’ll catch your death standin’ there,” she advised him, ignoring this. “But ye’re no far from my new house. The end o’ Brydges Street. If ye go there, Mrs. Donoghue will gie ye a wee dram against the chill. And maybe a towel,” she added, surveying him critically.
“I thank you for the suggestion, madam.”
She flashed him a brilliant smile and waggled her fan.
“Nay charge. Get on wi’ ye, then, ye stocious bugger, before I’m drowned!” she shouted toward the coachman, and, withdrawing her head, promptly snapped the window shut.
He leapt back but not quite in time to avoid receiving another discharge of cold water and wet manure across his legs as the coach surged into motion.
He stood still, dripping and breathing heavily, but then realized that there was some virtue in Nessie’s suggestion. He should seek shelter, if he didn’t want to die of pleurisy or come down with la grippe. And the only thing worse than going to Ireland in Jamie Fraser’s company would be doing it with a bad head cold.
Not at a brothel, where the dram and towel would doubtless be provided at extortionate charge, and unwanted female companionship urged upon him, as well. His encounter with Nessie had jolted him out of his bad temper and into an awareness of his surroundings, though; he was no more than a few streets away from the Beefsteak, his favorite club. He could get a room there—dry clothes, perhaps a bath. And certainly a drink.
He turned and set off up Coptic Street with determination, trickles of water running down his back.
AN HOUR LATER, bathed, dressed in dry—if slightly too large—clothing, and having ingested two large brandies, he found himself in a slightly more philosophical frame of mind.
The important thing was to find Siverly and bring him back. His own honor was at stake in that venture, both because of his promise to Charlie Carruthers and because of his duty as an officer of His Majesty’s army. He’d done unpleasant things before in pursuit of that duty. This would be one more, that’s all.
And it was somewhat reassuring to realize that Fraser would be as uncomfortable as himself. No doubt that discomfort would prevent anything awkward being said.
He thought the philosophical frame of mind was coming along fairly well but might be further assisted by food; agitated by his conversation with Hal, he’d missed his tea and was feeling the effects of brandy on an empty stomach. Glancing at himself in the looking glass to be sure he’d got all the manure flakes out of his still-damp hair, he twitched the ill-fitting gray coat into better adjustment and made his way downstairs.
It was early evening, and the Beefsteak was quiet. Supper was not being served quite yet; there was no one in the smoking room and only one member in the library, sprawled asleep in a chair with a newspaper over his face.
Someone was in the writing room, though, shoulders hunched in thought, quill twiddling in one hand in search of inspiration.
To Grey’s surprise, the hunched back proved to belong to Harry Quarry, senior colonel of the 46th. Quarry, straightening up with an unfocused look in his eye, suddenly caught sight of Grey in the corridor and, alarmed, hastily slapped a sheet of blotting paper over the paper on the desk before him.
“A new poem, Harry?” Grey asked pleasantly, stepping into the writing room.
“What?” Harry tried—and failed utterly—to look innocently bewildered. “Poetry? Me? Letter to a lady.”
Grey made as though to lift the blotting paper, and Quarry snatched both sheets away, pressing them to his chest.
“How dare you, sir?” he said, with what dignity he could muster. “A man’s private correspondence is sacred!”
“Nothing is sacred to a man who would rhyme ‘sanguineous’ and ‘cunnilingus,’ I assure you.”
He likely wouldn’t have said it had the brandy warming his blood not loosened his tongue, as well. Seeing Harry’s eyes bulge, though, he wanted to laugh, in spite of his regret.
Harry leapt to his feet and, going to the door, glanced wildly up and down the corridor, before turning to glare at Grey.
“I should like to see you do better. Who the devil told you?”
“How many people know?” Grey countered. “I guessed. You gave me that book for Diderot, after all.” He hadn’t guessed but didn’t want to reveal the source of his information, that being his mother.