Excerpt from His Lordship Possessed by Lynn Viehl
published by Pocket Star
to be released October 2013
Doyle dragged me out of the carri, issued some terse instructions to his driver, and led me up the steps to the front door of the greystone. As I promised to prove everything to him if he would simply go with me to the docks, he pushed me inside and bolted the door behind us.
I paused for breath and took in my surroundings. Instead of a foyer or a hall leading to several flats, we stood in a tidy front room arranged with comfortable-looking walnut and leather furnishings. Someone had banked a fire in the broad-based riverstone hearth, beside which sat a little cart loaded with a filled BrewsMaid, neatly wrapped finger sandwiches, and a cloth-covered mound of tiny jam cakes.
“Sit down.” He prodded me toward an armchair before turning on the brewer. “Not on your life,” he added without looking at me. “You’ll not make it as far as the steps outside.”
I stopped inching toward the door. “Why did you bring me here?”
“I can’t take you back to the Main. They’ll toss you in a cell and lose the latchkey.” He took off his jacket and carefully rolled up his sleeves before he used the basin to wash his hands. “The Crown’s seized everything of yours, so Walsh’s men will be watching your friends.”
“Walsh can’t watch everyone.” I occupied the settee closest to the door. “I have friends in other places.”
“You’re staying here.” He filled a plate with sandwiches before he brought it to me. “Until I sort this out, you’re under house arrest.”
I didn’t want Doyle’s food or protection, but my stomach chose that moment to gurgle loudly, and I needed to rest and think. I accepted the plate he offered with all the ladylike grace I could manage before I attacked its contents.
“Dredmore couldn’t keep me locked up,” I mentioned between bites of some rather marvelous salt-cured ham. “What makes you think you can?”
“Dredmore’s an arrogant ass.” He went back to the cart and returned with a steaming mug of rich, fragrant country black. “I’m your friend, and this isn’t a prison cell.” He offered me the tea. “It’s my home.”
“So I’m under your house arrest. I see.” I put the plate on my lap so I could warm my hands on the outsides of the mug. “Do you mean to shackle me to something immovable? Perhaps that secretary in the corner there. Looks too heavy for me to budge.”
He chuckled. “No doubt you’d find a way, even if you had to drag it out of here after you.”
He may have fumbled things back at the hotel and brought me here against my will, but Doyle did care. He was also a decent man who would be made to pay dearly for becoming involved in this. Especially after I . . . My thoughts turned the food I’d wolfed down into an unpleasant lump in my belly. “You don’t want any part of this, Inspector. If they find out you’ve sheltered me, they’ll take everything. Your shield, your money and property. Maybe even your life.”
“I’m an officer of the law, Kit, and until I’ve sorted this out, you’re in my custody.” He nodded toward the mug. “Now be a good gel and drink your tea.”
I pretended to take a sip. Because it was so strong and bitter, country black was regarded as more of a man’s drink. Customarily served as a morning brew, it roused sluggards from their beds and sent them off braced to build another bit of the Empire. Not at all the sort of thing to be serving to a lady at night, unless of course one had other motives.
I reached into my pocket, springing the back latch on Da’s pocket watch that opened the back of the case, and removed one of the dippers before I pretended to check the time. Then, as Doyle fixed his own mug, I checked the tea.
Fortunately for me Tom’s crockery was all plain heavy white china, the sort a bachelor who hated female frippery bought for himself. When he came to sit beside me on the settee, he placed his own mug next to mine.
“The sandwiches were scrumptious; you should give up being a cop and cater picnics and hen parties instead.” I handed him the empty plate. “Could I have two more of those ham sandwiches? They’re absolutely delicious.”
As soon as his back was turned I took care of the present problem, and smiled when he brought me the cakes.
“Lovely, thank you.” I settled back and let my eyelids droop a little. “Tell me something, Doyle. Why haven’t you found yourself a wife yet?”
“I don’t know,” he said, testing the tea before taking a swallow. “Mum says I’m too particular. Da says it’s the job.”
I used my hand to cover a yawn. “What do you say?”
He gave me the oddest look. “Could be that I was waiting for you.”
“For twenty-odd years? My, you’ve patience.” I uttered a sleepy chuckle as I pillowed my head against my arm and the backrest. With Tommy Doyle it would be courtship, then engagement, then marriage and a house full of little ones. I would never give up what little freedom I had left for that, but still I felt as if I’d been given a tremendous compliment. “Well, whether that’s true or not, I think your Grandda would have approved.”
“He said we were meant for each other, but then he adored you almost as much as I did.” He hunched his shoulders and gulped his tea. “I’m going to send you to my folks’ place in the morning.”
I watched him through half-closed eyes.
“You’ll stay on the farm until I sort this out.” He put down the empty mug and turned toward me, and put his hand over mine. “Then we’ll see if Grandfather was right about us.”
On impulse, I leaned forward and brushed my lips across his mouth. He stiffened, and then reached for me, only to look down at the hands that fell against his thighs. “Kit . . . you . . .”
“I switched the mugs,” I confirmed, catching him as he began to topple forward. “It was the country black that gave it away. It’s the only tea strong enough to mask the taste of sleeping powder.” I eased him back against the cushions. “That’s why you didn’t bother to shackle me to the furniture. You didn’t think you’d have to.”
“Don’t . . . go,” he said, slurring the words. “He’ll . . .”
“I’m sure you’re right.” I got up and retrieved the crazy patch from the armchair and draped it over him. “But I made a promise to the man, and it’s one I have to keep.” I waited until his head slumped over before I helped myself to several things, including the heavy trench and long brim I found hanging on his coatrack. “Good-bye, Tommy.”