Jared remembered the prim little cambric chemisette and the white lace cap the moment he awakened the following morning. He realized that they were both undoubtedly still right where they had been left on the floor of Olympia's study last night.
"Damnation." Jared sat up and reached for the black velvet eye patch on the bedside table.
This business of conducting a passionate affair was going to be even more difficult than he had first envisioned. He wondered how the notorious rakes of the ton managed to slip in and out of various and assorted boudoirs with such reputed ease. He was rapidly discovering that conducting a simple, single affair with one woman was fraught with risks.
Perhaps he simply was not cut out for this sort of thing, Jared thought as he tossed aside the quilt and got out of bed. On the other hand, last night's tryst had to rank as one of the most incredibly spectacular events in his entire life. Perhaps the most spectacular event.
But now the dawn had come and with it had arrived all the pesky, annoying details that were bound to beset such extraordinary ventures. First things first, Jared told himself. He had to rescue the chemisette and the cap before they were discovered by Mrs. Bird or one of the boys.
He quickly located a white cotton shirt and a pair of breeches in his well-organized wardrobe. Rather than take the time to pull on a pair of boots, he chose to go barefoot.
Jared yanked on his clothes and went to the door. He opened it cautiously and warily surveyed the hall. A glance at his watch told him that it was not quite five-thirty.
With any luck, if Mrs. Bird were up and about, she was either still in her room or busy in the kitchen.
Jared went silently down the stairs, his thoughts shifting from the immediate problem of the discarded clothing to the more ominous discovery of the linen handkerchief.
There was no doubt but that someone had been in the garden last night. A thief or a housebreaker looking for a convenient opportunity, most likely. But Olympia did not want to hear such a mundane explanation.
Jared swore softly, aware that Olympia's growing concern about the legendary Guardian was going to make his already chaotic life even more difficult.
He breathed a small sigh of relief when he opened the study door and saw the chemisette and lace cap on the floor in front of the desk. They lay where they had fallen, dainty evidence of a night of glorious, wild abandon. Jared felt the aching heat rise once more in his lower body. He would not forget last night as long as he lived.
He smiled slightly as he reached down to pluck the garments off the carpet. While he was at it he scooped up the three hairpins he had dislodged from Olympia's hair.
"Forgot something, did ye?" Mrs. Bird rumbled from the doorway. "I thought as much."
"Bloody hell." Jared straightened, the cap and chemisette in hand, and turned around with a sense of grim resignation. He smiled coldly. "You're up rather early this morning, are you not, Mrs. Bird?"
Mrs. Bird was clearly not about to be intimidated. She glowered ferociously at him and planted her hands on her hips. "There's some what calls themselves gentlemen who'd be on their way once they'd gotten what they came for. Are ye one of that sort?"
"I do not have any plans to leave, Mrs. Bird, if that is what you are asking."
Mrs. Bird narrowed her eyes in speculation. "Might be better if ye did. The longer ye hang about the more attached to ye Miss Olympia's likely to get."
Jared looked at her with mild interest. "Do you think so?"
Mrs. Bird's face turned a furious shade of red. "Now see here, ye bloody pirate, I'll not have ye breakin' her heart. Miss Olympia's a decent woman in spite o' what ye done to her last night. It's not right for ye to take advantage of her innocent, trusting nature."
Jared recalled the mysterious handkerchief and was struck by a possibility he had not considered until now. "Tell me, Mrs. Bird, how do you come to know so much about what happened in here last night? Were you by any chance spying on us from the garden?"
"Spying? Spying?" Mrs. Bird looked heartily offended. "No such thing. I ain't no spy, sir."
Jared belatedly remembered the scent of perfume that had been attached to the handkerchief. He could not associate it with Mrs. Bird who generally smelled of linseed oil, cleaning polish, and the occasional hint of gin.
"My apologies," he said wryly.
Mrs. Bird was not mollified. "I got eyes and I got ears. I heard all that commotion out in the garden last night. When I opened my window to see what was going on, I noticed the two of ye together talkin' real quiet-like down there. And I saw ye kiss Miss Olympia afore ye went back into the house."
"Did you, indeed?" That last kiss had been primarily designed to take her mind off the Guardian, Jared reflected. He was not certain the ploy had worked.
"That I did. What's more there was enough light to see that poor Miss Olympia weren't wearin' her chemisette under her gown. Which meant someone, more'n likely yerself, had removed it for her."
"You are very observant, Mrs. Bird."
"I knew ye were bent on seducin' her, and I was right. After what I saw in the garden last night, I decided to have a look around in here this mornin' afore anyone else was up. When I seen them things o' hers on the floor I knew for certain what had happened."
"Very clever, Mrs. Bird."
She angled her broad chin accusingly. "I was about to pick 'em up when I heard yer door open upstairs. Now I know for certain yer guilty as sin, don't I?"
"I congratulate you on your brilliant investigations and logical deductions, Mrs. Bird." Jared paused just long enough to be certain he had her full attention. "With such talents at your disposal, perhaps you'll be able to obtain a position as a Bow Street runner after you've been dismissed from this household."
Mrs. Bird's eyes widened briefly in alarm. Then she glowered at him. "Bah. Don't ye dare threaten me, sir. Miss Olympia ain't about to dismiss me and we both know it."
"Do we? In case you have not noticed, Miss Wingfield has come to rely heavily upon my advice in matters pertaining to the organization of this household."
"She won't turn me off," Mrs. Bird declared. "She's too kindhearted. Yer the one who'll likely get dismissed if she finds out that yer threatenin' me."
"I would not want to put her loyalty to the test, if I were you, Mrs. Bird. Not once she discovers that you've been spying upon her."
"Damn yer bloody soul, I ain't been spyin'."
"Ah, but will she believe that if you tell her that you know all about what happened in here last night? Take my advice, Mrs. Bird. Mind your tongue and your own business."
Mrs. Bird's mouth thinned with outrage. "Yer a devil, ain't ye? Ye come into this household like some sorcerer from hell and ye turn everything upside down and sideways. Ye put a spell on them young hellions upstairs to make 'em behave. Ye produce three thousand bloody pounds with a snap o' yer fingers and now ye've ravished Miss Olympia."
"You have got that last bit wrong, Mrs. Bird." Jared walked purposefully toward the door.
"Ye did so ravish Miss Olympia." Mrs. Bird eyed his expression and wisely took one step back so that she no longer filled the doorway. "I know ye did."
"That only goes to show that you do not fully comprehend the situation at all." Jared strode past her and headed toward the stairs.
"What do y'mean, blast ye?" Mrs. Bird called after him.
"I was the one who was ravished," Jared said politely.
He did not look back as he took the stairs two at a time but he could feel Mrs. Bird's seething disapproval all the way to the landing.
The old harridan was an irritating problem but not an insurmountable one, he thought as he went down the hall. He could deal with her.
Jared stopped in front of Olympia's bedchamber and knocked softly. There was a soft scurrying sound from inside and a moment later Olympia opened the door.
"Good morning, Miss Wingfield." He smiled at the sight of her in her white lawn nigh trail and hastily donned chintz wrapper.
Olympia's dark red hair was a magnificent cloud of fire around her piquant face. She blushed a delightful shade of pink when she saw him. In the pale light of dawn she was irresistible. Jared glanced at the invitingly rumpled bed behind her.
"Mr. Chillhurst, what are you doing here at this hour?" Olympia peered around around him to check the corridor. "Someone might see you."
"I am here to return a few personal items that you apparently forgot about last night." Jared held up the chemisette and cap.
"Good grief." Olympia glanced at the garments. Her eyes widened in shock. She snatched them from his hand. "I am so glad you remembered to collect them."
"Unfortunately Mrs. Bird discovered them before I got downstairs."
"Oh, dear." Olympia sighed. "Was she terribly overset? She has been extremely concerned about your presence in this household and now she is likely to think the worst."
"She does think the worst, but I believe she has enough sense to keep her thoughts to herself." Jared bent his head and kissed Olympia warmly. "I shall look forward to seeing you at breakfast, Miss Wingfield."
Jared stepped back and closed the door on Olympia's flushed features. He whistled softly as he went down the hall to his own bedchamber.
"Good morning, Aunt Olympia."
"You are looking very nice today, Aunt Olympia."
"Good morning, Aunt Olympia. A beautiful day, is it not?"
Olympia smiled at Hugh, Ethan, and Robert who had promptly leaped to their feet as she walked into the breakfast room.
"Good morning, everyone." She waited as Ethan hastened forward to hold her chair for her. She was still not fully accustomed to the boys' new manners. "Thank you, Ethan."
Ethan looked at Jared for approval. Jared nodded slightly. Ethan grinned and took his seat again.
Olympia glanced down the length of the table and caught Jared's knowing eye. The warm, shimmering happiness that had blossomed inside her last night welled up once more. Her fingers trembled a little as she picked up her spoon.
This was what it felt like to be in love, she thought. She had realized the truth last night. There had been no question but that what she felt for Jared was far beyond passion.
Love. She had come to believe that she would never experience the emotion. At five-and-twenty a woman of the world had to be realistic, after all.
The sensation was infinitely more exciting than discovering the secrets of a lost legend or exploring the strange customs of other lands.
Her life was a cup that was filled to overflowing this morning. The loneliness she had known since the deaths of Aunt Sophy and Aunt Ida was gone. She had found a man whose soul seemed perfectly tuned to her own.
She would not have him with her long, she reminded herself; weeks, months, perhaps a year or two at best if she was extraordinarily fortunate. There was no denying that one day Jared would leave to take up another position in another household. That was the way with tutors. Young boys grew up and their tutors moved on.
But in the meantime, Olympia vowed, she would indulge herself in this great, passionate love that had come upon her in the guise of a man with the face of a pirate.
"Well, then, where are you all off to today?" Olympia hoped her voice was steady and calm. Her insides certainly were not. Joy was a difficult emotion to conceal, she discovered. She knew from the glint in Jared's gaze that he was well aware of her euphoric mood.
"We are going to visit Mr. Winslow's Mechanical Museum," Robert volunteered.
"They say there is a giant clockwork spider there that moves just like a real spider," Hugh said excitedly. "It frightens the ladies but it won't frighten me."
"I have heard that there is also a mechanical bear and some birds, too," Ethan added.
Olympia looked at Jared, her curiosity piqued. "It sounds very interesting."
"So they say." Jared spread jam on his toast.
Olympia pondered briefly. She was suddenly torn between her own plans for the day and the novelty of touring a mechanical museum. "I believe I should like to go to the museum with you."
"You are quite welcome to come along." Jared bit into the toast.
"Yes, Aunt Olympia, do come with us," Robert said. "It will be great fun."
"And very educational," Ethan said wisely.
"I'm sure it will be." Going to the museum would not only be educational, Olympia thought, it would give her an opportunity to spend the afternoon with Jared. "Very well, then, I shall make arrangements. What time will you be leaving for the museum?"
"Three o'clock," Jared said.
"Excellent. I have an appointment to view some maps in the Musgrave Institution, but I shall be finished in plenty of time."
"I doubt that you will find anything useful in the society's collection, Miss Wingfield." Roland Torbert clasped his hands behind his back as he hovered over Olympia. "Very poor assortment of maps of the West Indies here. Now in my own, personal library, I have an excellent collection."
"I am quite looking forward to viewing them, Mr. Torbert." Olympia edged slightly away from him. Torbert smelled of a combination of musty clothing, sweat, and the perfume he used in a vain attempt to conceal the other odors. "But I wish to do my research in an orderly fashion."
"Naturally." Torbert closed the distance between them. He peered over her shoulder as she unrolled another map alongside the first that was already spread out on the desk. "Do you mind telling me what it is, precisely, that you are seeking on these maps?"
"I am trying to ascertain the correct geography of the area." Olympia deliberately kept her answer vague. She had no intention of confiding in anyone except Jared at this stage of her research. "There appear to be some discrepancies in the records of the area."
"I see." Torbert assumed a learned air. "Difficult to chart all those islands, y'know."
"Yes, indeed." Olympia bent over the two maps comparing them with great care.
There was no sign on either chart of a mysterious, unnamed island to the north of Jamaica. There were one or two small indications of land on the newer map that were not recorded on the older one, but they were not located in the right vicinity of the West Indies.
"Perhaps later today would be suitable," Torbert said. "I shall be happy to have you call upon me this afternoon, Miss Wingfield." He watched her roll up one of the maps and set it aside. "I can arrange to have my maps ready for viewing at that time."
"Thank you, but I shall be busy this afternoon." Olympia unrolled another map. "Perhaps later this week, if it's convenient?"
"Of course, of course." Torbert clasped his hands behind his broad back and rocked on his heels. "Miss Wingfield, I understand that you will also be perusing Aldridge's collection."
"He was kind enough to offer me the opportunity." Olympia frowned intently as she examined the new map.
"I feel I should take this opportunity to give you a bit of advice."
"Yes?" Olympia did not look up from the maps.
Torbert coughed discreetly. "It's my duty to tell you that you should be extremely cautious about revealing any aspect of your studies to Aldridge."
"Really?" Olympia glanced at him in surprise. "Whatever do you mean, sir?"
Torbert cast a swift look around the library, making certain that no one else, including the elderly librarian, was within listening distance. He leaned very close. "Aldridge ain't above takin' advantage of a young woman, Miss Wingfield."
"Advantage?" Olympia wrinkled her nose as the scent of Torbert's heavy perfume assailed her. "Of me?"
Torbert looked flustered and immediately straightened. "Not of your person, Miss Wingfield," he muttered. "Of your work."
"I see." There was something oddly familiar about that perfume, Olympia thought.
"My dear, it's well known that you specialize in studying old legends as well as the customs of other lands." Torbert chuckled conspiratorially. "It's also a fact that there's often a hint or two of treasure involved in some of those old tales you publish in the society's journal."
"True." Olympia lifted one shoulder in a tiny shrug and bent over the maps. "But I have never heard of anyone actually locating a real treasure, sir. It is the task of exploration itself that is the reward."
"Only for those of us who have an intellectual appreciation for such things," Torbert said smoothly. "For others, I fear, the base lure of gold and jewels is far stronger than the more refined appeal of study and exploration."
"You are probably quite right, Mr. Torbert, but I doubt if such people would be members of a learned group such as the Society for Travel and Exploration."
"Sadly, my dear, that is where you are wrong." Torbert smiled bleakly. "Human nature being what it is, a certain number of rude, uncouth treasure seekers are in our midst." He drew himself up. "And I regret to say that Aldridge is one of them."
"I shall bear your warning in mind." Olympia frowned as she caught another hint of his perfume. She almost recognized it, she thought. She knew she had smelled it recently. Very recently.
Last night, in fact.
"I say, it's rather warm in here, is it not?" Torbert pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his perspiring brow.
Olympia stared at the linen handkerchief. It was an exact duplicate of the one she and Jared had found in the garden.
The large clockwork spider crawled relentlessly across the bottom of the glass case. It moved with a jerky, unnatural stride that was nonetheless fascinating. It pursued a mechanical mouse that moved with a similarly uneven gait.
Olympia crowded close to the glass along with Ethan, Hugh, and Robert. They all peered into the case with rapt attention. Jared stood on the other side and watched the spider's progress with an indulgent expression.
"I say, it's awfully huge, isn't it?" Ethan glanced hopefully at Olympia. "Are you frightened, Aunt Olympia?"
"Of course not." Olympia looked up and saw the disappointment in his eyes. "Why would I be frightened when I have you three to protect me from the beast?"
Ethan grinned, satisfied. "Do not forget Mr. Chillhurst. He'll protect you, too. Won't you, Mr. Chillhurst?"
"I shall do my best," Jared vowed softly.
"It's just a mechanical spider," Robert said with the scorn only a ten-year old boy can affect. "It cannot hurt anyone, can it, Mr. Chillhurst?"
"Probably not," Jared said. "But one never knows."
"That's right," Ethan said with relish. "One never knows. If it got loose in here, for instance, I'll wager it could cause all sorts of trouble."
Robert glanced across the room to where visitors were observing the actions of a mechanical bear. "Just imagine what that lady over there would do if she suddenly felt the nasty limbs of a spider on her ankle."
"I'll wager she would scream," Hugh said. He gave the latch on top of the glass case a speculative look.
Jared's brows rose. "Do not even consider the notion."
All three boys groaned with regret and went back to studying the spider.
Olympia glanced quickly around and then moved to Jared's side. This was the first opportunity she had had to talk to him in private. She was anxious to tell him about her discoveries regarding Torbert's handkerchief.
"Mr. Chillhurst, I must speak with you."
He smiled. "I am at your service, Miss Wingfield."
"Privately." Olympia moved into another room full of clockwork oddities.
Jared leisurely followed her to a case that contained a mechanical soldier. "Yes, Miss Wingfield?" He twisted the knob on the base of the case. The soldier started to stiffen and stand tall. "What was it you wished to discuss?"
She shot him a triumphant, sidelong glance and pretended to study the clockwork figure. "I believe I have discovered the identity of the intruder. Perhaps of the Guardian himself."
Jared's hand froze on the knob. "Have you, indeed?" he asked without any inflection.
"Yes, I have." Olympia leaned closer on the pretext of getting a better view of the mechanical soldier. "You will never credit this, but it is none other than Mr. Torbert."
"Torbert?" Jared stared at her. "What the devil are you talking about?"
"I am virtually certain that the handkerchief that we found last night belongs to Mr. Torbert." Olympia watched as the mechanical soldier began to raise his small rifle. "He used one this morning in the society's library and it looked just like the one we discovered."
"Most handkerchiefs look very similar," Jared said dryly.
"Yes, but this one carried the same scent as the one we found."
Jared frowned slightly. "Are you certain?"
"Quite certain." Olympia saw that the mechanical soldier was taking aim with the rifle. "But there is one other possible explanation."
"What is that?"
"Torbert and Aldridge are apparently fierce rivals. Torbert, in fact, took great pains to warn me about Aldridge this morning. It's possible that Lord Aldridge deliberately planted that handkerchief in the garden last night."
"Why in blazes would he do that?"
Olympia slanted him an impatient look. "In hopes that it would make me think the worst of Mr. Torbert, of course."
"That assumption presupposes that you would be able to identify the handkerchief," Jared pointed out.
"Yes, I know, but that is precisely what I did."
"Aldridge could not have guessed it would be so easy for you to recognize it. No, I seriously doubt that he had anything to do with it." Jared turned toward her with a thoughtful expression. "Olympia, I do not want you getting involved in this matter."
"But, Mr. Chillhurst—"
"Leave it to me."
"I cannot do that." Olympia lifted her chin. "This affects my studies, sir. I have every right to protect the diary from the Guardian or anyone else who happens to be after the treasure." She nibbled on her lower lip reflectively. "Although, I must admit, I cannot see Mr. Torbert as part of a legend. I do not think he can possibly be connected to the Guardian."
"Damnation, woman," Jared said between his teeth, "I will protect you from Torbert, the Guardian, and anyone else who comes along. If you require protection, that is."
Olympia stared at him in astonishment. "Whatever do you mean by that, sir? Of course precautions must be taken."
"Miss Wingfield, you will leave this matter of the handkerchief in my hands. I will see that Torbert is made to understand that there are to be no more incidents such as the one that occurred in the garden last night."
"You will speak to him?"
"Rest assured he will get the point."
Olympia subsided, satisfied. "Very well, sir, I leave everything to you."
"Thank you, Miss Wingfield. Now, then—"
Before Jared could finish, a woman's voice cut through the background murmur of conversation and the tick and clink of clockwork mechanisms.
"Chillhurst. What on earth are you doing here?"
Jared's gaze flashed past Olympia to someone else who was approaching from behind her. "Bloody hell."
Olympia barely had time to register the chillingly enigmatic expression he wore before the woman spoke again.
"Chillhurst, it is you, is it not?"
Olympia turned to see a strikingly beautiful woman gliding across the room toward them. The lady came to a halt and smiled coolly at Jared. Her light blue eyes were filled with amused recognition.
For a moment, Olympia could only stare at the lovely stranger. The woman's pale blond hair was elegantly pinned beneath an extremely clever and no doubt exceedingly expensive, little blue hat. She wore a dark blue spencer over her sky blue afternoon gown. The matching kid gloves, Olympia knew, had probably cost more than her own gown, shoes, bonnet, and reticule combined.
The woman was not alone. She was accompanied by an equally fashionable lady garbed in yellow. The second woman was not beautiful in the same sense as the blonde, but there was an unmistakable air of exotic attractiveness about her. She was a brilliant contrast to her friend. Her hair was a deep, rich brown beneath her feather-trimmed hat. Her eyes were dark. Her figure was fuller and more rounded than her sleek companion.
"I could not credit it when I noticed you a moment ago, Chillhurst," the blond woman said. "I had heard that you were in town but I doubted the truth. You never come to London."
"Good afternoon, Demetria. Or should I say, Lady Beaumont?" Jared inclined his head with cold civility.
"Demetria will do." Demetria glanced at her companion. "You remember Constance, do you not?"
"Only too well." Jared smiled coldly. "Lady Kirkdale."
"Chillhurst." Constance, Lady Kirkdale, smiled politely. Her eyes went to Olympia.
Demetria's gaze followed that of her companion. "And who is your little friend, Chillhurst? The on dit is that you are living with her in a house in Ibberton Street. But I refused to credit that tale, too. So unlike you to become involved in a liaison of that sort."
"Lady Beaumont, Lady Kirkdale, allow me to present my wife," Jared's voice was as unruffled as ever but there was a clear warning in the otherwise unreadable glance he gave Olympia.
Olympia became aware of the fact that her mouth had fallen open. She promptly closed it and pulled herself together to face the crisis. It had been her idea, after all, to claim that she and Jared were married in the event that they were questioned by anyone who knew him. Jared's reputation was at stake.
The poor man was only following her instructions. She had no choice but to support him.
"How do you do?" Olympia said briskly.
"How absolutely fascinating." Demetria surveyed Olympia as if she were one of the exhibits on display in the museum. "What a stunning surprise. So Chillhurst has at long last done his duty by his title and found himself a viscountess."