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32

Dear heaven, he put two bullets right through your coat. Louisa stared, stricken, at the back of the coat. You could have been killed.

Except that I wasnt wearing the coat at the time. Anthony crossed the study to the brandy table and picked up the decanter. He watched Louisa hold the coat up to the light, verifying yet again that, yes, one could see straight through the holes in the back. He found her outraged concern deeply touching, but her lack of logic made him smile. I told you, it was draped over the statue.

Hes right, dear, Emma said gently. Mr. Stalbridge explained to you that he was not wearing the coat when he, or rather it, was shot.

Thats not the point. Louisa flung the coat across the back of the sofa and whirled back around to face Anthony. The point is that you should never have taken such a risk. Walking the streets alone at night. Whatever were you thinking, sir?

He swallowed some of the brandy and lowered the glass. I was under the impression that this was a respectable neighborhood.

It is, but that doesnt mean that people should just wander around alone at all hours making inviting targets for every passing footpad.

It wasnt a footpad who shot my coat, he said quietly.

Louisa and Emma both looked at him.

What on earth do you mean? Louisa whispered.

Im almost certain it was Hastings. He paused, reflecting. Although I suppose it could have been Easton. He shook his head. I believe that Easton was too drunk to follow me in the fog, let alone aim a gun. However, given that I could not be absolutely positive, I held my own fire.

Dear heaven, exclaimed Louisa, eyes widening. Youre carrying a gun?

Bought it when I was in the American West. Guns are quite common there. In the wake of Thurlows unanticipated demise, it seemed prudent to keep it on my person. He shrugged. Not that I would have been likely to hit a running target tonight, not in that fog. One of the things I learned in my travels in the Wild West was that revolvers are notoriously inaccurate except at close range.

Oh, my, Emma said. This is a most disturbing development.

What makes you think it was Hastings? Louisa demanded.

Anthony reflected briefly. Right height. Something about the way he moved. I believe he followed me from the club, waiting for an opportunity.

An opportunity to murder you. Louisa sank down onto a chair, appalled. Dear heaven. He knows we are investigating him.

Not necessarily, Anthony said. I think it is more likely that he has reasoned out that I was the one who took the necklace and the blackmail items from the safe. Thats all he knows at this point, but it is more than enough to make him extremely worried. He has no way of knowing what I intend to do with the extortion evidence or the necklace.

Louisas brows snapped together. Why did you come here at such a late hour tonight?

I wanted to warn you that there are some unfortunate wagers going down in the club books.

Emma looked up, eyes sharp with concern. What sort of wagers?

Anthony tightened his grip on the brandy glass. The gamblers are betting on the name of the married woman with whom I am supposedly intimately involved.

Emma frowned. I thought everyone believes that you and Louisa are engaged in a romantic liaison.

Easton is putting it about that I am using an innocent lady, namely Louisa, to conceal an affair with some other gentlemans wife, he explained quietly.

Ridiculous, Louisa said briskly. I am hardly an innocent lady.

Anthony looked at her. So did Emma. Neither spoke.

Louisa raised her chin. I am a journalist.

Out of the corner of his eye Anthony saw Emma lift her eyes to the ceiling and then take a healthy swallow of brandy. He followed suit.

If we might return to the more pressing matter of the shooting? Louisa said with a quelling glare.

Indeed. He inclined his head. I think it is safe to say that it is a good sign.

A good sign? Louisa gasped. Someone just tried to murder you.

And he failed. Anthony contemplated the logic of the situation. He took a wild chance and blundered badly. He will be much more cautious the next time because he knows that I am now on my guard.

The next time? Louisa was beyond horrified now.

Cheer up, my sweet. He savored the little rush of satisfaction that flashed through him. I believe we are making progress.

How can you call nearly getting murdered in the park progress? she demanded, outraged.

Emma gave Anthony a considering look. If you are right about Hastings being the one who tried to kill you tonight, I think it is safe to say that you have shaken his nerve. He must be feeling quite anxious, indeed, if he took the risk of attempting to murder a Stalbridge.

He swirled the brandy in his glass. I certainly hope so. Anxious men make mistakes.


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