What manner of man, p.4
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       What Manner of Man, p.4

          
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Chapter 4

  "Bouchard too. Although he doesn't seem to be here tonight. "

  So Aubrey was wrapped around Bouchard's little finger. Wrapped tightly enough to spy for the French? Henry wondered.

  The return of a familiar voice diverted his attention. He turned to see Sir William once again playing court to Carmilla. When she giggled and looked away, it only seemed to inspire Sir William the more. Henry moved closer until he could hear her protests. She sounded both flattered and frightened.

  Now that's a combination impossible to resist, Henry thought, watching Wyndham respond. With a predator's fluid grace, he deftly inserted himself between them. "I believe this dance is mine. " When Carmilla giggled but made no objection, there was nothing Wyndham could do but quietly seethe.

  Once on the floor, Henry smiled down into cornflower blue eyes. "I hope you'll forgive me for interfering, Miss Amworth, but Sir William's attentions seemed to be bothering you. "

  She dropped her gaze to the vicinity of his waistcoat. "Not bothering, but a bit overwhelming. I'm glad of the chance to gather my thoughts. "

  "I feel I should warn you, he has a sad reputation. "

  "He is a very accomplished flirt. "

  "He is a confirmed rake, Miss Amworth. "

  "Do you think he is more than merely flirting then?" Her voice held a hint of hope.

  Immortality, Henry mused, would not provide time enough to understand women. Granted, Sir William had been blessed with darkly sardonic good looks and an athletic build but he was also ¨C the possibility of his being a spy aside ¨C an arrogant, self-serving libertine. Some women were drawn to that kind of danger; he had not thought Carmilla Amworth to be one of them. His gaze dropped to the pulse beating at an ivory temple and he wondered just how much danger she dared to experience.

  Obviously aware that she should be at least attempting conversation, she took a deep breath and blurted, "I hear you saved Captain Evans last night. "

  Had everyone heard about it? Varney would not be pleased. "It was nothing. "

  "My maid says that he was set upon by robbers and you saved his life. "

  "Servants' gossip. "

  A dimple appeared beside a generous mouth. "Servants usually know. "

  Considering his own servant, Henry had to admit the truth of that.

  "Were they robbers?"

  "I didn't know you were so bloodthirsty, Miss Amworth. " When she merely giggled and shook her head, he apologized and added, "I don't know what they were. They ran off as I approached. "

  "Surely Captain Evans knew. "

  "If he did, he didn't tell me. "

  "It must have been so exciting. " Her voice grew stronger and her chin rose, exposing the soft flesh of her throat. "There are times I long to just throw aside all this so-called polite society. "

  I should have fed before I came. After a brief struggle with his reaction, Henry steered the conversation to safer grounds. It wasn't difficult as Carmilla, apparently embarrassed by her brief show of passion, answered only yes and no for the rest of the dance.

  As he escorted her off the floor, Wyndham moved possessively toward her. While trying to decide just how far he should extend his protection, Henry saw Aubrey and Ruthven leave the room together. He heard the younger man say "Bouchard" and lost the rest of their conversation in the surrounding noise.

  Good lord, are they both involved?

  "My dance this time, I believe, Fitzroy. " Shooting Henry an obvious warning, Sir William captured Carmilla's hand and began to lead her away. She seemed fascinated by him and he, for his part, clearly intended to have her.

  Fully aware that the only way to save the naive young heiress was to claim her himself, Henry reluctantly went after Aubrey and Ruthven.

  By the time he reached King Street, the two men were distant shadows, almost hidden by the night. Breathing deeply in an effort to clear his head of the warm, meaty odor of the assembly rooms, Henry followed, his pace calculated to close the distance between them without drawing attention to himself. An experienced hunter knew better than to spook his prey.

  He could hear Aubrey talking of a recent race meeting, could hear Ruthven's monosyllabic replies, and heard nothing at all that would link them to the missing document or to Yves Bouchard. Hardly surprising. Only fools would speak of betraying their country so publicly.

  When they went into Aubrey's lodgings near Portman Square, Henry wrapped himself in darkness and climbed to the small balcony off the sitting room. He felt a bit foolish, skulking about like a common housebreaker. Captain Evans' desire to avoid a scandal, while admirable, was becoming irritating.

  "Here it is. "

  "Are you sure?" Ruthven's heart pounded as though he'd been running. It all but drowned out the sound of paper rustling.

  "Why would Bouchard lie to me?"

  Why indeed? A door opened, and closed, and Henry was on the street waiting for Ruthven when he emerged from the building. He was about to step forward when a carriage rumbled past, reminding him that, in spite of the advanced hour, the street was far from empty.

  Following close on Ruthven's heels ¨C and noting that wherever the dour peer was heading it wasn't toward home ¨C Henry waited until he passed the mouth of a dark and deserted mews then made his move. With one hand around Ruthven's throat and the other holding him against a rough stone wall, his lips drew back off his teeth in involuntary anticipation of the other man's terror.

  To his astonishment, Ruthven merely declared with gloomy emphasis. "Come Death, strike. Do not keep me waiting any longer. "

  His own features masked by the night, Henry frowned. Mouth slightly open to better taste the air, he breathed in an acrid odor he recognized. "You're drunk!" Releasing his grip, he stepped back.

  "Although it is none of your business, I am always drunk. " Under his customary scowl Ruthven's dull grey eyes flicked from side to side, searching the shadows.

  That explained a great deal about Ruthven's near legendary melancholy and perhaps it explained something else as well. "Is that why you're spying for France?"

  "The only thing I do for France is drink their liquor. " The peer drew himself up to his full height. "And Death or not, I resent your implication. "

  His protest held the ring of truth. "Then what do you want with Yves Bouchard?"

  "He said he could get me. . . " All at once he stopped and stared despondently into the night. "That also is none of your business. "

  Beginning to grow irritated, Henry snarled.

  Ruthven pressed himself back against the wall. "I ordered a cask of brandy from him. Don't ask me how he smuggles it through the blockade because I don't know. He was to meet me tonight at Almack's but he never came. "

  "What did Maxwell Aubrey give you?"

  "Bouchard's address. " As the wine once again overcame his fear ¨C imitation willpower, Henry realized ¨C Ruthven's scowl deepened. "I don't believe you are Death. You're nothing but a common-cutpurse. " His tone dripped disdain. "I shall call for the Watch. "

  "Go right ahead. " Henry's hand darted forward, patted Ruthven's vest, and returned clutching Bouchard's address. Slipping the piece of paper into an inner pocket, he stepped back and merged with the night.

  Varney would probably insist that Ruthven should die but Henry suspected that nothing he said would be believed. Besides, if he told everyone he'd met Death in an alley, he wouldn't be far wrong.

  As expected, Bouchard was not in his rooms.

  And neither, upon returning to Portman Square, was Maxwell Aubrey. Snarling softly to himself, Henry listened to a distant watchman announce it was a fine night. At just past two, it was certainly early enough for Aubrey to have gone to one of his clubs, or to a gaming hell, or to a brothel. Unfortunately, all Henry knew of him was that he was an easily influenced young man. Brow furrowed, he'd half decided to head back toward St. James Street when he heard the crash of breaking branches coming from the park the square enclosed.

 
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