She did not realize how tense she had become waiting for Anthony to return until the carriage door opened abruptly. She nearly yelped in surprise when he vaulted up inside the darkened cab.
“Didn’t mean to startle you, Mrs. Bryce.”
He pushed open the trapdoor.
“Arden Square, Ned.”
The vehicle rumbled forward. Anthony dropped down onto the seat across from her.
She knew at once that something had happened. A hot, seething energy emanated from him. She felt as though she was sharing the carriage with a panther that had just scented prey.
“What kept you?” she said a good deal more sharply than she had intended. “I’ve been worried. You were gone for a very long time.”
“Twenty minutes at most. Most of that time was spent in the garden, waiting for an opportunity to gain access to the house.”
“Time does not pass quickly when one is waiting in a closed, unlit carriage.” She peered at him, trying to make out his features. “Are you all right? Was there a problem?”
“Thank you for your concern. I am quite well, thank you. The only problem, such as it was, proved to be quite minor.”
“You sound in remarkably good spirits for a man who has just risked his neck. Do you enjoy your work, sir?”
He gave the question some thought and then shrugged. “The exercise does seem to have elevated my mood. What of yourself, madam? Do you derive a bit of a thrill from creeping about in other people’s bedrooms?”
“No, I do not,” she said tightly. She raised her chin. “And there is no need to make it sound as though I am in the habit of doing that sort of thing.”
“I see. You only flit through strange bedrooms when the fancy strikes, is that it? When was the first time you invaded someone’s bedroom?” he asked.
A shiver of warning slithered down her spine.
You’ve said enough, she thought. In spite of his assistance this evening, the plain fact is you do not know this man. You cannot take the risk of revealing your secrets to him.
“Never mind,” she said. “Tell me what you found. Did you get the safe open?”
“Certainly.” He turned up one of the lamps, reached into the voluminous coat and brought out a handful of papers. “These were all that were inside the safe.”
She stared at him, astonished. “You took all of his personal papers?”
“Yes. There wasn’t time to sort through them to find the specific papers you wanted so I grabbed the lot.”
“Good grief.” What had she expected? He was a thief, after all. “I, uh, just wanted to know if there were any papers relating to the brothel inside the safe. I didn’t actually intend—” She broke off. “Never mind.”
“Here.” He handed the papers to her. “See if you can find what you’re looking for in that bunch.”
Gingerly she took the papers and held them up to the light.
“They all appear to be business-related,” she said, rifling through them. “Most deal with his new investment scheme. I don’t see any relating to—” She stopped when she caught sight of a familiar address. Excitement stirred her pulse. “Ah, here we are. This one mentions the property at Number Twenty-two Winslow Lane.”
She read through the document quickly and then looked up. “You have found the very document I was looking for, sir. According to this, Hastings recently invested a large sum of money in Phoenix House.”
“Nothing like a satisfied client, I always say.” He took several small, leather-bound books out of various pockets. “May I hope for repeat business?”
She ignored the teasing and examined the small books. “What have you got there?”
“I’m not sure yet. I took them because most of them did not appear to belong to Hastings or his wife.”
He handed a volume to her and opened one of the others to examine it.
“This is a private journal,” Louisa said. She paused when she saw the name inscribed on one of the pages. “Good heavens, you’re right. It cannot possibly belong to Hastings. According to this, it is the diary of Miss Sara Brindle. She is set to marry Lord Mallenby at the end of the month. How on earth did it end up in Hastings’s safe?”
“An excellent question.” He held up the book he had been perusing. “This journal belongs to a young lady named Julia Montrose.”
“I’ve met her. She was recently engaged to Richard Plumstead. It is considered a spectacular match. Plumstead is in line for his father’s title.” She frowned. “This is all quite bizarre. Why would Hastings have these diaries?”
“I can think of one very good reason off hand.”
She took a quick breath. “Do you think that he is blackmailing those people?”
“I doubt if young Julia or Sara has sufficient income of her own to pay blackmail. They likely receive only quarterly allowances. If Hastings is extorting money from anyone, it would be from someone else in the family. In the case of Julia, it would have to be her great-grandmother, Lady Penfield. She still controls the fortune in that family.” Anthony paused. “She is quite elderly and not in good health.”
“Lady Ashton said something about Sara Brindle’s elderly aunt having control of Sara’s inheritance.”
Anthony opened the last of the small volumes. “This, I suspect, will prove to be a record of extortion payments.”
“We must return those items to their rightful owners immediately,” Louisa said.
“I agree. But some discretion will be required.”
“Yes, of course. We cannot reveal our own identities.” She paused. “What of the business papers?”
“Those I will keep,” Anthony said coolly.
“But they belong to Hastings. It is one thing to take the blackmail items, but I think we should restore the papers to the safe.”
He looked at her, his eyes pitiless in the soft light. “The bastard is not only a blackmailer, he is also a cold-blooded murderer. I feel under no obligation to return anything to him.”
She felt everything inside her turn to ice. “That is the second time you have said you believe him to be a murderer. Do you have any evidence?”
“I didn’t until tonight.”
He withdrew a black velvet pouch, opened it, and turned it upside down. She watched a cascade of gold and blazing gems spill into his fingers.
“Good heavens,” she whispered. “It must be worth a fortune.”
“It is. And it also proves that Hastings is guilty of murder.”
“I don’t understand. You took that from his safe tonight?”
She stared at the glittering pool, stunned in spite of herself. “You really are a jewel thief.”
“This necklace belonged to a woman named Fiona Risby.”
She jerked her gaze back up to his grim face. “Your fianc'ee? The woman who threw herself off a bridge?”
“I was never completely convinced that Fiona committed suicide. Finding this necklace in Hastings’s safe proves I was right. He killed her.”
“You’re certain that is her necklace?”
He poured the necklace back into the pouch. “Yes. It is quite distinctive. A family heirloom. Fiona wore it the night she died.”
“What are you going to do? Now that you have taken it from Hastings’s safe, it is no longer evidence against him because it is not in his possession.” She paused delicately. “I hesitate to point this out, sir, but if the police discover that you have the necklace they might well consider you a suspect.”
“I couldn’t leave it behind in the safe; it would never be found there. Hastings would never allow the police to search his mansion.”
“I see what you mean. But what are you going to do with it?”
“I’m not sure yet,” he admitted. “But by the time I call on you tomorrow, I hope to have a plan.”
“You are going to visit me in Arden Square tomorrow?” she asked, suddenly cautious.
“Of course.” Anthony’s smile was dangerously enigmatic. “I have yet to collect my fee for this night’s work.”