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Chapter 16

Magnus grinned at Jared. "Mr. Chillhurst?"

"Occasionally my wife forgets that I am no longer in her employ," Jared said coldly.

"Her employ?" Thaddeus chuckled. "I say, where did she come by that notion?"

"It's a long story, sir." Jared walked around the desk. "And I do not have time to tell it at the moment. Now, if you will excuse me, I must speak with my wife. As you can see, she is a woman of somewhat volatile temperament."

Magnus slapped his leg and roared with laughter. "Glad to see ye've found yourself an interesting female, my boy. Don't mind telling ye I was more than a little concerned that ye'd end up with some dull, prosing little wren who'd bring out the worst in ye."

Thaddeus chuckled. "She seems to think you're a man of strong passions, lad. Where the devil did she get that notion?"

"It defeats me." Jared's hand closed tightly around the doorknob. "I shall return shortly. There is something that I must make clear to Lady Chillhurst before the day gets any older."

"Go right ahead, son," Magnus said cheerfully. "We'll help ourselves to your brandy while you're gone. Some of Captain Harry's good French stuff from the cellars, I trust?"

"Yes," Jared said. "It is. Try not to consume all of it before I get back."

"Take your time, lad, take your time." Thaddeus waved him out of the room.

Jared stalked from the library, crossed the marble tiled hall, and went up the stairs.

The door to Olympia's bedchamber was closed. Jared's mouth thinned. He raised his hand and knocked loudly.

"Go away," Olympia called in a muffled, distracted tone. "I am very busy."

"Olympia, I wish to speak with you."

"I really do not have time to chitchat about who is in charge around this house, Mr. Chillhurst. I have work to do."

"Hellfire and damnation, woman, you will cease ordering me about as though I were a member of your staff."

Jared dropped his hand to the knob. He twisted it violently, half expecting to find the door locked.

To his surprise, it was not.

The door opened with a great deal more force than Jared had intended. It slammed against the wall with a crash that made Olympia start in her chair.

She glowered at him from her writing desk. "I told you I was busy, sir."

"Too busy to speak with your husband?" Jared closed the door and strolled into the room with a nonchalance he did not feel.

Olympia's brows drew together in a repressive scowl. "I am not feeling very much in charity with you at the moment, my lord. I cannot believe that you did not tell me the truth about yourself."

"Devil take it, Olympia, I have been attempting to put that nonsense about my being the Guardian behind me for years."

Olympia's eyes went to his black velvet patch and her expression softened. "I realize that the title must bring back terrible memories. But it is an important piece of the puzzle. It may be a key to this entire project."

"It is not the key. How could it possibly be the key? I admit I am known as the Guardian within the circle of my family but I do not give a damn about the diary or the treasure. The warning about me is a lot of foolish nonsense. You must not take it seriously."

Understanding lit Olympia's gaze. "That was why you did not tell me the truth in the beginning. You were afraid of how I would interpret the warning. You thought I would assume the worst about you."

"I did not want you to fear me. Bloody hell, madam, I am not the ghost of Captain Jack."

Olympia tapped her pen against a sheet of foolscap. "I never said you were. I do not believe in ghosts, my lord."

"Then how can I possibly have anything to do with the riddle of the diary?" Jared demanded.

Olympia's gaze grew thoughtful. "That is the problem I am attempting to sort out at the moment, sir. I must discover the connection between the warning and the Master of the Siryn and the rest that I have learned. Kindly take yourself off. I know you are not interested in this and I cannot concentrate when you are standing about yelling at me."

"I am not yelling at you."

"Yes, you are. Honestly, Jared, your emotional nature is making this very difficult. I understand, of course, but I really must insist that you remove yourself from my bedchamber."

Outrage washed over Jared. "Do not dare to throw me out of your bedchamber, madam."

"Why not?" She eyed him warily. "It is my bedchamber and at the moment I do not want you in it."

"Is that right?" Jared swooped down on her and plucked her from the chair. "In that case, we shall adjourn to my bedchamber."

"Mr. Chillhurst, put me down this instant." Olympia grabbed her cap as it started to slide off her hair. "I have work to do."

"Indeed you do. It is high time you performed a few of your wifely duties." Jared stormed through the connecting door that linked his bedchamber with Olympia's.

He stalked to the vast bed and tossed Olympia lightly down on top of it. Her cap slipped off and her brilliant red hair spilled out across the pillows. Her gown had climbed above her knees, revealing the enticing length of her stocking-clad legs.

"Siren," Jared whispered. Desire surged through him, a powerful wave that threatened to sweep him away.

He fell on top of Olympia, pinning her to the counterpane. His body was already hard. He could feel the fire in his veins and the driving need in his loins.

Olympia's eyes widened in astonishment. "Good heavens, Mr. Chillhurst, it's the middle of the day."

"Allow me to inform you, madam, that it is the custom in certain lands to make love in the middle of the day."

"Really?" The astonishment in Olympia's eyes turned into sensual speculation. "In broad daylight?"

"The notion would no doubt shock certain dull, narrow-minded people who are not of the world. But we are different, Olympia."

"Yes." Olympia's smile was slow and infinitely tender. Her eyes filled with sensual welcome. "We are different, sir."

He kissed her throat and felt her melt. She thrust her fingers into his hair and arched against him.

A hot, pulsing joy seized Jared. Olympia's intoxicating response to him opened the floodgates of his own passion. She was his, he thought exultantly. She could not resist him even when she was annoyed with him.

She must love him. She had to love him.

With sudden, searing understanding, he realized that he had been waiting to hear the words from her. Why had she never spoken them aloud? he wondered.

Surely she loved him.

He pushed the matter aside as passion had its way. Olympia smiled her siren's smile and drew her slippered foot up along his leg.

"It is very fortunate that we found each other, is it not, my lord? I do not believe there is another man on the face of the earth who would be in tune with me as you are."

"I am pleased that you think so." Jared cupped one soft breast possessively. "Because there is certainly no other female on the face of the earth who understands my nature as you do."

A long while later Jared reluctantly rolled off Olympia and relaxed against the pillows. He put one arm behind his head and contemplated the ceiling with a sense of bone-deep satisfaction.

Olympia stirred and stretched beside him. "Making love in the middle of the day is a very pleasant custom, sir, is it not? We shall have to experiment with it again soon."

"We will most definitely do so." Jared cradled her close against his side. "I trust you will not attempt to throw me out of your bedchamber again in the near future."

"I shall certainly think twice about it," Olympia said very seriously.

Jared scowled. "I meant what I said earlier, little siren. You may bewitch me with a glance or a smile, but you will not order me about as though I were still in your employ. I will be master in my own home just as I am the master of my business affairs. And I will be master of my wife. Is that quite clear?"

"That's it." Olympia sat straight up in bed, heedless of her nudity. She looked down at Jared, her eyes alight with excitement. "Master of your wife."

"I am glad you agree, madam." Jared studied the beautiful curve of her bare breasts. "A man's got to put his foot down at some point."

"Master of your wife. Jared, you have always called me a siren."

"So I have." Jared traced the outline of her left nipple with the tip of his thumb. "That is because you are one."

"Do you not understand, sir?" Olympia knelt beside him amid the tumbled bedclothes. "You have just called yourself the master of the siren. Captain Jack was the Master of the Siryn and you are his descendent. You are the new Master of the Siryn."

Jared belatedly comprehended the direction of her logic. He groaned. "Olympia, you have stretched logic too far."

"No, I have not been stretching it far enough." Olympia bounced out of bed. "I must get back to work immediately. Be off with you, Jared. You distract me."

"Madam, I happen to be in my own bedchamber."

"Oh, yes. So you are. Then you must excuse me. I must get back to my bedchamber." Olympia whirled about and rushed through the open door.

Jared contemplated the view of her sweetly curved derriere until it vanished around the edge of the door. Then he sighed and sat up slowly.

He surveyed the discarded clothes that littered the bed and the carpet. He picked up Olympia's little white cap and smiled faintly.

He glanced up and frowned when his gaze fell on the clock. It was nearly one and he had an appointment at the docks in forty-five minutes.

"Damnation."

Jared reached for his shirt. Marriage played havoc with a man's daily schedule.


Forty-five minutes later Jared alighted from a nondescript hackney and walked across a busy street to a small tavern. The man he had employed to ask questions along the docks was waiting for him.

Jared sat down in the booth and waved away the buxom tavern wench. "Well then, Fox, what have you learned?"

Fox wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his shirt and belched. "Just what you suspected, m'lord. The man was badly dipped six months ago. So far under the hatches, everyone figured he'd never climb out. Then he somehow managed to pay off all his debts. Same thing happened three months ago. Lost everything and then found a way to cover his losses."

"I see." Jared pondered that for a moment. "I knew what was happening, I just did not know the why of it. Now I do."

Gambling. Well, it seemed that everyone had his secret passion, Jared thought.

"Typical case, m'lord." Fox's world-weary sigh of understanding was somewhat marred by another belch. "Man gets sucked into the gaming hells and gets himself bled dry. Sad, but all too common. Only difference this time, is that the cove managed to come about afore it was too late. Fortunate for him, eh?"

"Yes, very fortunate, indeed." Jared got to his feet. "You will receive your payment through Graves this afternoon, as we arranged. Thank you for your services."

"Anytime, m'lord," Fox took another swallow of his ale. "As I told Graves, I'm always available."

Jared strode out of the tavern and stood for a moment on the sidewalk. He started to hail a hackney and then changed his mind. He needed to think about what he had just learned.

He walked slowly with no particular direction in mind. He was vaguely aware of the taverns and coffeehouses he passed. Even at this hour they were filled with the usual assortment of laborers, sailors, pickpockets, whores, and thieves.

A part of Jared's attention remained on his surroundings as it always did. The weight of his dagger rested comfortably against his ribs.

As he walked, he sorted through the facts that he had learned. Now he knew the motive behind the embezzlement scheme but it did not make matters easier.

The time had come to confront the person who had betrayed his trust but Jared was in no rush to do so. He did not, after all, have very many friends.

The man with the knife emerged from the alley with virtually no sound. It was his shadow that Jared saw first. The dark shape of it flickered briefly on the brick wall as he launched himself forward.

The instant of warning was just barely enough. Jared threw himself to the side. His assailant's blade sliced through thin air instead of flesh.

The man whirled about, dancing nimbly to catch his balance and then he struck out a second time.

Jared was ready for him. He raised his arm to block the knife thrust and simultaneously slipped his dagger out of its sheath. Sunlight glinted on the good Spanish steel.

The attacker sucked air between his teeth. "No one said anythin' about you havin' a blade o' yer own."

Jared did not bother to answer. He circled his opponent, aware that the man's eyes were riveted on the dagger. When he was certain the villain's whole attention was focused on the blade, he lashed out with one booted foot.

The blow connected with the man's thigh. He howled in pain and rage and flailed wildly in an effort to catch his balance. Jared feinted with the knife and the man jerked backward, toppled, and fell to the pavement.

Jared kicked the knife out of the man's hand and leaned down to put the tip of his own blade against his victim's throat.

"Who hired you?" Jared asked.

"I don't know." The man stared at the hilt of the dagger. "It was just a business arrangement made through me usual arranger. I never saw the cove what paid me."

Jared straightened in disgust and resheathed the dagger. "Get out of here."

The man needed no second bidding. He scrambled to his feet and started to reach for his own blade which lay on the cobbles.

"Leave it," Jared ordered softly.

"Aye, sir. Whatever you say, sir. More where that one came from."

The villain ran off down the street. A moment later he disappeared into a narrow lane between two massive warehouses.

Jared looked down at the blade that his attacker had left behind.

No, he thought, there was no point in putting off the inevitable confrontation any longer.


An hour later Jared went up the steps of the premises that Felix Hartwell had occupied for nearly ten years. A sense of weary sadness pervaded him as he opened the door and walked into the small outer room. He was not altogether certain what one said at a time like this.

Finding the proper words proved unnecessary. When Jared opened the door of the inner office he discovered that he was too late.

Felix was gone.

A letter lay on top of the desk. It was addressed to Jared and had obviously been scrawled in a great rush.

Chillhurst:

I now realize that you know everything. It was only a matter of time. You were always so bloody clever. You may have a few questions. The least I can do is answer them.

I was the one who let word slip about your presence here in town and about the odd arrangement you had with Miss Wingfield. I hoped that once you were discovered, you would make haste back to the country. It was worrisome to have you in the vicinity, Chillhurst.

But you chose to stay in London and I decided to see if I could use one of your charges to gain the money I needed. I would have you know that I meant no harm to the boy. I merely intended to hold him for ransom. But you foiled me once again. So damn clever.

You will no doubt seek justice because that is your way but I trust that you will not find me before I leave England. I have had everything in readiness for months because I knew this day might come.

I regret everything. I never intended for matters to go this far. My only excuse is that I had no choice.

Yrs,

FH

P.S. I know you will not believe this, but I am rather glad you survived this afternoon. It was the action of a desperate man and I regretted it as soon as I had given the order. At least I will not have your death on my conscience.

Jared crumpled the note in his fist. "Felix, why in God's name did you not ask me for help? We were friends."

He stood gazing at the surface of Felix's orderly desk for a long while before he turned and walked back out onto the street.

At that moment Jared wanted only to talk to Olympia. She would understand.


"Jared, I am so very sorry." Olympia scrambled out of bed and went to where Jared stood gazing out into the night. "I did not know of your friendship with this man, but I understand how you must feel."

"I trusted him, Olympia. Over the years I gave him increasing responsibilities. He was as familiar with my business affairs as I was. Damnation. I do not usually make mistakes of this sort."

"You must not blame yourself simply because you placed your trust in the wrong person." Olympia put her arms around him from behind and hugged him fiercely. "A man with a passionate nature such as yours often listens to his heart rather than his head."

Jared braced his hand against the window frame. "My friendship with Hartwell had been tested by time. He knew me better than anyone. He was the one who arranged for me to meet Demetria."

Olympia frowned. "Well, I do not see that he did you any great favor there."

"You do not comprehend. No one felt worse about the outcome of that meeting than Hartwell did."

"If you say so, Jared."

Olympia had known that something was seriously wrong as soon as Jared had returned to the house late in the afternoon. She had tried to talk to him earlier, but he had not wanted to speak of the matter until now when the household was finally abed.

"I have conducted some investigations and I believe I know how it must have started." Jared took a sip of brandy from the glass he was holding. "Felix developed a passion for the gaming hells. He won at first."

"But his luck changed?"

"Yes." Jared took another swallow of brandy. "His luck changed. It always does. He appears to have covered his early losses with money paid to him by some of our investors. He replenished those accounts with money received from other sources. As long as he kept shifting things about, he could conceal what was happening."

"His scheme worked for a time so he no doubt grew bolder."

"You are quite right. His play grew deeper. The losses grew larger. Six months ago I realized that something was wrong and decided to look into the matter." Jared's mouth hardened. "Naturally I asked my trusted agent to investigate."

"He must have been very clever to conceal the evidence of his thefts from you for so long."

Jared shrugged. "Hartwell was a very clever man. That was why I employed him."

"I wonder how he came to realize that you had finally tumbled to his tricks," Olympia mused.

"He obviously realized it this afternoon when the man he hired to kill me failed to carry out his task."

"What did you say?" Olympia tugged furiously at Jared's arm, obliging him to turn around so that she could see his face. "Are you telling me that someone tried to kill you, Jared?"

Jared smiled faintly as he took in the sight of her horrified expression. "Calm yourself, my dear. It was a matter of no great moment. As you can see, the man failed."

"It is a matter of very great moment to me, sir. We must do something at once."

"What do you suggest?" Jared asked politely.

"Why, summon the magistrate." Olympia started to pace furiously back and forth. "Hire a Bow Street runner. We must find this mad fiend and have him clapped up in irons immediately."

"I doubt that would be possible. It was obvious this afternoon that Hartwell had planned for the possibility that I would find him out. He left me a note informing me that he has left England."

"He did?" Olympia spun around. "Are you quite certain that he has gone?"

"Reasonably certain." Jared swallowed the last of the brandy. "It is the obvious course of action and Hartwell is nothing if not a careful, logical man." His mouth twisted again. "Rather like myself. It was one of the reasons I employed him."

Olympia scowled. "This is most annoying, Jared. I would very much like to see him pay for his attempt to have you murdered. He must be a coldblooded monster."

"No. I think he was simply a very desperate man at the end. He probably had creditors hounding him, perhaps threatening him with physical harm or exposure."

"Bah, you are too kind, my lord. He is clearly a monster. I shall not sleep a wink tonight for thinking of what might have happened to you today. Thank God you escaped."

Jared's eyes gleamed. "I appreciate your concern on my behalf."

She glared at him. "You need not make it sound as though I'm merely being polite. It's perfectly natural for me to be alarmed by this incident."

"True. I suppose a dutiful wife is expected to show some concern when her husband tells her he has narrowly escaped death."

"Jared, are you mocking me or yourself this time?"

The amusement in his eyes faded. "Neither. I am merely wondering how deep your concern goes."

She stared at him, appalled. "That is a very stupid question, Mr. Chillhurst."

"Is it? You must forgive me. I am not at my best today. The excitement, no doubt."

"How could you possibly question the depth of my concern for even one small second?" Olympia demanded, outraged.

Jared smiled. "You are very loyal to those in your employ, are you not, madam?"

"You are something more than a mere employee, sir," Olympia snapped. "You are my husband."

"Ah, yes, there is that, is there not?" Jared put down his brandy glass and reached for her.


Chapter 15 | Deception | Chapter 17