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Chapter 19

"Are you certain of this information?" Olympia asked. She sat tensely on the blue and gilt sofa, shocked by what Demetria had just told her. Shocked, but not terribly surprised.

"I have many sources of rumors. I have checked and double-checked all of them." Anguish and fear haunted Demetria's beautiful eyes. "There can be no doubt. Chillhurst has engaged to meet my brother in a duel."

"Dear heaven," Olympia whispered. "I was afraid of this."

"You have no cause to be afraid, damn you." Demetria whirled away from the window where she had been gazing out into the garden. "I am the one who is terrified. Your husband means to kill my brother."

"Demetria, calm yourself." Constance poured tea from a silver pot and helped herself to sugar. It was obvious she was as much at home in Demetria's drawing room as she would have been in her own. "There is nothing to be gained from panic."

"That is easy for you to say, Constance. It is not your brother who is about to die."

"I am aware of that." Constance glanced meaningfully at Olympia. "But all is not yet lost. I believe Lady Chillhurst is as alarmed by the situation as you are. She will want to help us."

"If what you say is true, then we must find a way to stop the duel," Olympia said. She rallied herself and tried to think in a logical fashion.

"How can we stop it?" Demetria fluttered restlessly from one window to another, a wild, exotic bird trapped in a luxurious cage. "I was not able to establish the day or the place or even the time of the affair. Such things are kept closely guarded secrets by those involved."

"I may be able to discover those particulars." Olympia got to her feet and began to pace the other side of the room. Her brain was reeling with the implications of what she had just heard.

Jared was about to risk his life in a duel. And it was all her fault.

"You think you can discover the date, time, and place of the duel when I, with all my sources, have failed?" Demetria demanded.

"It should not be difficult," Olympia said soothingly. "My husband is a man of very precise habits."

"Yes, he is, is he not?" Demetria snapped. "Rather like one of those clockwork toys in Winslow's Mechanical Museum."

"That is not true," Olympia said coldly. "But he believes in the value of a well-planned day. If he has made a dawn appointment I suspect it will be noted in his appointment journal along with all the rest of his engagements."

"Good God." Constance's eyes widened. "She's quite right, Demetria. We all know that Chillhurst is a great believer in habit and routine. It would be just like him to write down the particulars of the duel."

Demetria looked at Olympia. "Can you find a way to inspect his appointment journal?"

"Very likely. But that is not the chief obstacle we face." Olympia concentrated fiercely. "The real problem is finding a way to halt the duel."

"I suppose that we could notify the authorities," Constance said slowly. "Dueling is illegal, after all. But such an action might result in the arrest of Gifford and Chillhurst. At the very least it would cause an enormous scandal."

"Dear God," Demetria breathed. "Beaumont would be furious if there is a scandal of that proportion in the family. He would very likely cut Gifford off without a penny."

Olympia drummed her fingers on the arm of the sofa. "And Chillhurst will certainly not thank me if I get him arrested. We must think of another way to stop this nonsense. Have you tried to talk Gifford out of the affair?"

"Of course I have tried." The skirts of Demetria's blue and white morning gown swished furiously as she strode to another window. "He will not even admit that he has planned a duel, let alone listen to me when I tell him that Chillhurst will very likely put a bullet in his heart."

"My husband will certainly not deliberately attempt to kill your brother," Olympia said brusquely. "He will only try to defend himself. I am far more concerned that your brother will kill Chillhurst."

"My brother is no match for your husband," Demetria whispered. "I am told that victory on the duelling field generally goes to the man who possesses the coolest head and the steadiest hand. It is cold blood, not hot, that wins out. And Chillhurst is nothing if not coldblooded."

"That is untrue," Olympia said tightly.

"I know Chillhurst well and I assure you he would not break into a sweat were he to dine in hell with the devil himself," Demetria flung back. "But Gifford will not see that. He is actually looking forward to the event." She closed her eyes briefly. "He says he wants a chance to avenge my honor. He has never forgiven Chillhurst for what happened three years ago."

Olympia exhaled deeply. "Your brother is a very emotional man. As is everyone else involved in this blasted affair."

"In addition to avenging my honor," Demetria went on grimly, "I believe he feels he will be doing you a very great favor if he lodges a bullet in your husband, madam."

"Your brother's emotions tend to rule his head, do they not?" Olympia shot Demetria a considering look. "A family trait, no doubt."

Demetria gave her a sharp glance. "Gifford told me that you know that he and I are Edward Yorke's great-grandchildren."


Constance arched her finely plucked brows. "It was very clever of you to reason that out, Lady Chillhurst."

"Thank you," Olympia muttered. "But to return to our problem, I would suggest that I first ascertain the particulars of the duel. Once I have done that, I must determine a way to keep Chillhurst from attending the affair."

"Even if you can manage such a feat, what good will it do?" Constance asked quietly. "Chillhurst and Gifford will merely schedule another dawn meeting."

"If we can prevent the first meeting, which has clearly been arranged in the heat of anger," Olympia said slowly, "it will purchase us some time in which Gifford and Chillhurst can calm themselves. We must take advantage of that time."

Demetria wrung her hands. "What do you mean?"

"You must talk to Gifford and I shall undertake to reason with Chillhurst."

"It will not work." Demetria bit her lip in despair. "Gifford believes Chillhurst to be a coward because he would not accept the challenge that my brother issued three years ago. But I know the true reason why Chillhurst would not meet him and it had nothing at all to do with cowardice."

Olympia smiled wistfully. "I am well aware of that."

Constance and Demetria looked at each other and then they gazed thoughtfully at Olympia.

"You are?" Demetria asked delicately.

"Of course." Olympia looked down at her untouched tea. "It is quite obvious that the reason Chillhurst refused to meet your brother was because of his concern for you."

"For me?" Demetria was nonplussed.

Constance gave Olympia a strange smile over the rim of her teacup. "Are you quite certain of that, Lady Chillhurst?"

"Yes," Olympia said. "It's clear that Chillhurst refused to meet with Gifford because he knew how much Demetria cared for her brother. My husband had no wish to cause her the anguish that a duel would create."

"Bah. He cared nothing for me," Demetria muttered. "Chillhurst approached marriage with me as he would any other business arrangement. You obviously know nothing of the truth."

"I disagree," Olympia said. "I have thought about the matter a great deal and have come to some conclusions."

Demetria swung around again. "Let me explain something to you, madam. The reason Chillhurst did not accept Gifford's challenge three years ago was because he was afraid that the true facts of the scandal might emerge and he would be humiliated."

"I assume that you are referring to the rumor that he found you with your lover?" Olympia asked.

A small, brittle hush descended on the drawing room.

Constance finally set down her teacup. "I see you have heard the old tale that circulated for a while after the engagement was broken."

"Yes, I have heard it." Olympia said. "It was not merely a rumor, was it? It was the truth."

"Yes," Demetria admitted softly. "But I told everyone, including Gifford, that the reason Chillhurst called off the engagement was because he discovered that I had no inheritance. We have all, Chillhurst included, stuck by that story."

"It was in everyone's best interests to do so," Constance murmured. "The truth would have done a great deal of damage to all concerned."

Demetria slanted Olympia a sidelong glance. "Gifford considers Chillhurst a coward not only because he refused his challenge but also because Chillhurst never called out my lover."

"Well, he could hardly do that, could he?" Olympia said calmly. "A gentleman cannot challenge a lady to a duel at dawn."

Constance and Demetria gazed at her wordlessly. It was Constance who recovered first.

"So you know that, too, do you?" Her eyes gleamed with wry amusement. "Did Chillhurst tell you? I must admit I am surprised that he would confide the truth to you. It is difficult enough for a man to discover his intended with another man. It is even more awkward for him to discover her with another woman."

"Chillhurst told me nothing about it," Olympia said. "He is a gentleman. He would never gossip about a woman to whom he had once been engaged."

Constance frowned. "I did not think he would tell anyone the truth. But how, then, did you learn that I was the woman he found with Demetria that day?"

"It was not all that difficult to deduce." Olympia lifted one shoulder in a small shrug. "I was told that you had accompanied Demetria to the Isle of Flame three years ago. It has been obvious to me from the first that you and Demetria enjoy a special friendship, just as my aunts did. I merely added the two facts together."

"Your aunts." Demetria's mouth fell open in astonishment.

"Aunt Sophy was the one who was actually related to me by blood," Olympia explained. "Her very good friend and companion was named Ida. I always thought of her as Aunt Ida because that is what I called her."

"You knew these aunts well?" Constance asked with great interest.

"Very well. Aunt Sophy and Aunt Ida raised me from the age of ten when I was left, penniless, on their doorstep," Olympia said. "They took me in when no one else in the family could be bothered. They were very good to me."

"I see." Constance glanced at Demetria. "Her ladyship is not quite the naive little country-bred girl that you had believed her to be, my dear."

"So I see," Demetria's smile was rueful. "My apologies, madam. I comprehend that you are much more a woman of the world than I had at first believed."

"That is precisely what I keep telling Chillhurst," Olympia said.

The entry in Jared's appointment book was stark and chilling. Olympia shielded the candle flame with one hand while she read the grave words.

Thurs. Morn. Five o'clock. Chalk Farm.

Olympia knew at once that Chalk Farm was to be the site of the duel. She closed the appointment book with a sense of dread and blew out the candle.

Thursday morning. Five o'clock.

She had one day in which to come up with a way to keep Jared from meeting Gifford. It was clear she would need help.

"Olympia?" Jared stirred as Olympia slipped back into bed. "Something wrong?"

"No. I just got up for a drink of water."

"You're very cold." He gathered her close.

"There is a chill in the air tonight," Olympia whispered.

"I'm certain that we shall find a way to keep each other warm."

Jared's mouth came down on hers, hot, fierce, and demanding. His hand flattened on her stomach. Olympia wrapped her arms very tightly around his hard, muscled body. She clung to him as if she could keep him safe by simply hanging on to him for dear life.

He called her his siren, she thought, but she would not allow him to dash himself against the rocks. She would find a way to rescue him.

"You want us to help you save my son?" Magnus gazed at Olympia in amazed confusion. Then he looked at the others who were gathered in the study in front of Olympia's desk.

"I need your help, sir." Olympia turned away from the Earl and fixed Thaddeus, Robert, Hugh, and Ethan with a determined expression. "You must all help me. My plan cannot succeed without your cooperation."

"I'll help you, Aunt Olympia," Hugh said quickly.

"So will I," Ethan echoed.

Robert straightened in his chair. "I say, you can certainly count on me, Aunt Olympia."

"Excellent," Olympia said.

"Hold on a moment." Thaddeus wriggled his brows. "Who says the lad needs saving?"

"Thaddeus is right. My son can take care of himself." Magnus grinned proudly. "Taught him how to use a pistol myself. Don't agitate yourself over this little matter of a duel, my dear. Jared will come out the winner."

"Aye, that he will." Thaddeus laced his fingers across his belly. "Got a keen eye and a steady hand. Never seen a cooler head in a crisis. He'll do just fine."

Olympia was furious. "You do not seem to understand, sir. I do not want my husband to risk his neck in a stupid duel over my honor."

Magnus scowled. "Nothing stupid about it. A lady's honor is damned important, my dear. I, myself, had fought two or three duels over my wife's honor by the time I was Jared's age."

"I will not allow it," Olympia said, outraged at Magnus's lack of concern.

"Doubt you can stop it." Magnus stroked his jaw.

"I must say, I'm surprised my son is showing such spirit. Looks like he's got the Flamecrest fire, after all."

"The lad is turning out to be a credit to the family," Thaddeus said warmly. "You can be proud of him, Magnus."

"Enough of this nonsense." Olympia jumped to her feet and flattened her hands on top of her desk. "You, sir," she said to Magnus, "have never understood your own son." She turned to Thaddeus. "And you do not know him very well, either. You have both been content to take him for granted."

Thaddeus's whiskers twitched. "Now, see here"

"I do not want to hear any more talk about how you feared he lacked the family fire. The truth is, Chillhurst has more fire in him than you will ever know. But he has conquered that fire and kept it under control all of his life because he had so much responsibility to bear."

"What are you talking about?" Magnus demanded.

"Chillhurst could not afford to indulge his wild passions and emotions like the rest of you because he got stuck with the task of taking care of everyone else. He was forever having to rescue the lot of you."

"I say, that's going a bit too far," Magnus grumbled.

"Is it?" Olympia narrowed her eyes. "Do you deny that he had a tremendous responsibility thrust upon him at a very tender age, my lord?"

"Well, only in a manner of speaking," Magnus said grudgingly. "It was not as if I wasn't around to see to the important things. Isn't that right, Thaddeus?"

"Quite right. You were around and so was I," Thaddeus said. " 'Course neither of us had much of a head for business, Magnus. Got to admit it. Your son was the only one who understood finance and economy."

"And you were both quite happy to take advantage of his talents, were you not?" Olympia fixed each of the men in turn with a challenging look.

"Well, now," Magnus began.

"Hah," Olympia interrupted. "You and the rest of the family are content to spend the money he makes but you condemn him for the very temperament it takes to make that money."

"It ain't that, exactly." Magnus shifted unhappily in his chair. "Making money is all well and good, but the Flamecrest blood is supposed to burn hot, not run cold."

Thaddeus sighed. "Jared ain't like the rest of us, Olympia. Leastways, he didn't show any signs of it until lately. Last thing we want to do is put the damper on him now that he's displaying the Flamecrest fire."

"We are going to save him, not put the damper on him," Olympia said tightly. "And you are all going to help me."

"We are?" Magnus looked skeptical.

"Let me put it this way," Olympia said in a voice that dripped ice, "If you do not assist me in this matter, I will make certain that neither of you ever learns the location of the missing Flamecrest treasure. I will personally destroy the Lightbourne diary and all its secrets."

"Good God," Thaddeus whispered.

Magnus and Thaddeus exchanged horrified looks.

Magnus turned to Olympia with a charming smile. "Since you put it that way, m'dear, I suppose we can give you a hand."

"Glad to do our bit," Thaddeus said cheerfully.

Robert spoke up. "What do you want us to do, Aunt Olympia?"

Olympia sank slowly back down into her chair and folded her hands in front of her. "I have come up with a plan that I believe will work very well. Chillhurst will not be pleased, but I am certain that once he has calmed down, he will listen to reason."

"No doubt," Magnus said sadly. "My son always did listen to reason. One of his chief failings."

Jared held the candle higher and surveyed the crowded storage room at the top of the stairs. "What was it that you wanted me to see up here, Olympia?"

"One of the portraits." Olympia, wearing an apron over her morning gown, struggled with a large, heavy trunk. "It is lodged directly behind this."

"Could the matter not wait until tomorrow? It is nearly nine o'clock."

"I am very anxious to see this particular painting, Jared." She heaved unsuccessfully on the brass handle of the trunk. "I am hoping that it is a picture of your great-grandfather.''

"Very well, stand aside. I shall move the trunk for you, my dear." Jared smiled at the sight of the tendrils of hair that were floating free of Olympia's dainty muslin cap. "What makes you think it's a portrait of Captain Jack?"

Olympia straightened, breathing quickly, and dusted her hands off on her apron. "Because I caught a brief glimpse of it and from what little I could see, the man in the picture looked just like you, patch and all."

"I doubt that very much. But I shall be glad to get the painting for you. Here, hold the candle."

"Yes, of course." Olympia took the candle from his hand and gave him a very brilliant smile. "I appreciate your assistance."

Jared contemplated her smile. "Is anything wrong, Olympia?"

"No, no, of course not." The candle trembled slightly in her hand. "I want to see the painting because if it is of Captain Jack, it may contain some clue to the missing treasure."

"Ah, yes. The bloody treasure." Jared went over to the heavy trunk and shoved it aside. The pale glow of the candle grew more faint as he picked up the next object in his path, a chair draped in heavy muslin. "Olympia, come closer with that taper."

"I am very sorry," Olympia said from the door. Her voice was strangely thin, almost a squeak. "But I fear I cannot do that."

Jared set the chair down and swung around just in time to see Olympia slam the door shut. It closed with a reverberating thud that shook the whole room. The draft blew out the candle that she had set on the floor.

Jared was instantly plunged into a Stygian night. He heard the heavy iron key turn in the lock on the other side of the door.

"I know you are probably going to be very angry for a while, Jared." Olympia's voice was barely audible through the thick wooden door. "And I am really very sorry. But this is for your own good."

Jared took a step forward. The toe of his boot collided with a trunk. He winced and cautiously put out a hand to feel his way. "Open the door, Olympia."

"I will open it in the morning, I give you my word of honor, sir."

"What time tomorrow morning?" Jared asked.

"Around six or seven o'clock, I should imagine."

"Hellfire and damnation." A clever wife could be something of a nuisance on occasion, Jared thought. "I collect that you have learned of my dawn appointment, madam."

"Yes, Jared, I have." Olympia sounded more sure of herself now. "And since I know that there is very likely no way that I can talk you out of it while you are in the grip of such powerful passions, I concluded I must take drastic action."

"Olympia, I assure you, this is entirely unnecessary." Jared took another step forward and drove his shin into the seat of a draped chair. "Damnation."

"Are you all right, Jared?" Olympia asked anxiously.

"It's as black as midnight in here, Olympia."

"But I left the candle for you."

"It was blown out when you slammed the door."

"Oh." Olympia hesitated. "Well, there are more candles and a tinderbox near the door, Jared. I put them there earlier. Light one of them. I also arranged a cold collation for you. It's on a covered tray near the large box in the corner."

"Thank you." Jared rubbed his shin.

"Mrs. Bird prepared the lamb and veal pie herself. And the bread was baked fresh this morning. There is also some cheese."

"I can see you've thought of everything, my dear." Jared inched his way toward the door.

"I hope so," Olympia said. "There is a chamber pot under one of the chairs. I must admit it was Robert who suggested that item."

"Robert is an intelligent lad." Jared found the door with his hand. He leaned down and groped for a second candle.

"Jared, there is something else I must tell you. The staff has been given the night off. They were told not to come back until after dawn, so there is no use yelling for a footman or a maid."

"I had no intention of yelling for anyone." Jared got the candle lit after the third attempt. "I doubt I would be heard from this chamber."

"Quite right." Olympia sounded relieved. "Also, your father and uncle have taken the boys off to Astley's theater. They will not be back until very late. They have all sworn not to open this door."

"I understand." Jared hoisted the candle and surveyed the walls of the chamber.


"Yes, Olympia?"

"I hope you will be able to forgive me. I realize that at the moment you are probably quite furious. But you must see that I could not allow you to risk your life at dawn."

"Go to bed, Olympia. We will discuss this business in the morning."

"I can tell that you are very angry, my lord." Olympia's tone was resigned but resolute. "However, there really is no alternative. You need time to calm yourself. Time to reconsider your actions. Right now you are no doubt consumed by passion and emotion."

"No doubt."

"Good night, Jared."

"Good night, my dear."

He listened to her footsteps as they receded in the distance. He had been a boy of ten the last time he had explored this room. It would not be easy to relocate the secret entrance that opened onto the flight of stairs in the gallery below.

He would have to move a great many boxes and trunks just to get to the wall. And when he did reach it, he would have a devil of a time finding the hidden spring that operated the concealed door. A layer of dust obscured the old landmarks.

Jared smiled to himself as he contemplated the considerable effort and planning Olympia had done in order to save him from risking his neck in a duel.

All his life he had wondered who would rescue him. Now he knew the answer.

It took Jared over an hour to find the hidden door. When his fingers touched the fine line in the paneling, he swore with soft satisfaction. Then he slipped the Guardian from its sheath and slid the tip into the tiny crevice.

The old mechanism gave a rusty hiss inside the wall but the panel opened. Jared sheathed the dagger, picked up the candle, and started down the flight of stairs that Captain Harry had built.

It was true the Earls of Flamecrest were a flamboyant lot, but no one had ever called them stupid, Jared reflected. They always had reasons for what they did, even if those reasons were not always fully comprehended by others.

If visitors to the house had chosen to believe that the staircase that went nowhere in the upper gallery was merely more evidence of Flamecrest eccentricity, that was their concern. Grandfather Harry had believed in having escape routes in every room.

Jared frowned when he saw that the third floor of the house was completely dark. He descended to the second floor and found it, too, was wrapped in shadows. Perhaps Olympia had decided to work in the library until the Earl and the others returned home.

He had made love to Olympia often enough in a library, Jared reflected as he started down the last flight of stairs. He had no objection to doing so again tonight.

Jared reached the bottom of the stairs and discovered that the hall was as dark as every other room in the house. But he smiled when he saw a faint trace of light under the library door.

He took one long stride forward and nearly stumbled over a large, soft, very heavy object. Visions of Olympia tumbling down the darkened stairs made his whole body go stone cold.

When he looked down, however, he saw at once that it was not Olympia who lay there. It was Graves.

Jared dropped to one knee and touched the side of the man's throat. The pulse was strong. Graves had not broken his neck in the fall. Then Jared spotted the small pool of blood on the marble floor and the silver candlestick lying beside the prone form.

Graves had not fallen. He had been struck on the head.

Jared glanced at the closed door of the library. The chill inside him grew stronger. He stood and walked silently across the hall. His hand closed around the knob.

He slipped the dagger back out of its sheath, inserted it inside the sleeve of his shirt, and palmed the hilt.

Then he blew out the flame of his candle and opened the door.

The glow of a single candle on the desk revealed Olympia. She was standing near the window. Her eyes were wide with silent apprehension.

Felix Hartwell had his arm wrapped around her throat. In his other hand he held a pistol.

"Good evening, Felix," Jared said calmly. "I was afraid that you had not had the good sense to leave town."

"Do not come any closer, Chillhurst, or I swear, I'll kill her." Felix's voice was hoarse. There was a fine, dangerous tremor in it.

Olympia's eyes were brilliant as she looked at Jared. "He told me that he has been watching the house, waiting for an opportunity to gain entrance when it was empty," she said very steadily. "I fear that my scheme to lock you in the storage room and send everyone away for the evening gave him his chance. He believed no one to be home."

"Had you asked my advice, my dear, I could have told you that there were one or two flaws in your plan," Jared said gently. He did not take his eyes off Felix.

"Be quiet," Felix ordered. "Chillhurst, I must have ten thousand pounds and I must have it at once."

"He is quite desperate," Olympia whispered. "I have already told him that I do not think there is anything worth that much money in the house."

"You are right," Jared said. "There is not. At least, there is nothing small and portable about that is worth that kind of money. You could take some of the furniture, I suppose, Felix."

"Do not mock me, Chillhurst, I'm warning you. I am as eager to leave England as you are to have me go. But I am very deep in dun territory and my creditors are a rather nasty lot. They got word I was about to leave London and they threatened to kill me. I must repay them before I can be free."

"Well, there's some silver," Jared said thoughtfully. "But you will need a large cart to carry ten thousand pounds worth away with you. Somewhat awkward, I should think, when one is in a hurry to flee the country."

"There must be some jewelry about." Felix looked desperate. "You have a wife now. You must have given her some valuable jewelry. A man in your position always buys baubles for a new bride."

"Jewelry?" Jared took a step closer. He would only get one chance, he thought. "I doubt it."

Olympia cleared her throat. "Well, there are the emerald and diamond earrings, my lord. The ones that I wore to the Huntingtons' ball."

"Ah, yes," Jared said. "There are the earrings. Of course."

"I knew it." Felix's eyes narrowed with a combination of triumph and relief. "Where are they, Lady Chillhurst?"

"Upstairs in a box on my dressing table," Olympia whispered.

"Very well." Felix released her and gave her a push. He kept the pistol trained on Jared. "You will go upstairs and fetch them, madam. You have no more than five minutes. If you delay any longer, I swear I shall kill your husband. Do you understand me?"

"Yes." Olympia rushed forward. "Do not worry, sir. I shall be right back with the earrings."

"Do not hurry on my account," Jared said as she flew toward the door. "You will need a candle, my dear. Best go back to the desk and light one to take with you."

"Oh, my God, yes, of course. I'll need a candle." Olympia whirled about and hurried over to the desk.

"Be quick about it," Felix ordered.

"I am trying to hurry, sir." She picked up an unlit taper and reached for the one that was already lit. Her eyes met Jared's.

He smiled slightly.

Olympia snuffed the candle with her fingertips and plunged the room into darkness.

"Damn you," Felix shouted. His pistol roared. Light flashed from the small explosion.

The Guardian fell neatly into Jared's hand. He hurled it toward the spot where Felix had been standing.

There was a high, terrified cry of pain and rage and then a thud.

"Jared?" There was a scratching sound in the darkness. The candle in Olympia's hand flared into life. "Jared, are you all right?"

"Quite all right, my dear. Next time I trust you will consider my potential usefulness before you lock me away in a storage room for the night."

On the floor, Felix groaned. He opened his eyes and looked up at Jared. "You always were so bloody clever."

"I thought you were clever, too, Felix."

"I know you will never believe me, but I am truly sorry that it came to this."

"So am I." Jared crossed the room and knelt beside Felix. He examined the hilt of the dagger as it protruded from Felix's shoulder. "You will live, Hartwell."

"Not much point in that," Felix whispered. "I do not care to hang, sir. I wish you had killed me while you were about it."

"You will not go to prison," Jared said. "I will see to it that your creditors are repaid. In exchange you will leave England for good."

"You actually mean that, do you not?" Felix searched his face. "I do not understand you, Chillhurst. But, then, I have never really understood you."

"I realize that." Jared glanced up at Olympia who was hovering nearby. "There is only one person on the face of the earth who understands me."

Graves stumbled into the doorway. He had his hand pressed gingerly to the back of his head, but he looked reasonably alert. "M'lord. I see I'm a bit too late."

"All is well, Graves. How are you feeling?"

"I'll live, thank you, sir."

Olympia whirled around in concern. "Graves. You've been hurt."

"Nothing to worry about, madam. Been hit on the head more'n once in the course of me career. Never does much damage, I'm proud to say." Graves grinned his skeletal grin. "Trust ye won't go tellin' Mrs. Bird how hardy I am. I'm plannin' to play on her sympathies a bit, y'see."

"She'll be horrified," Olympia assured him.

Graves's smile disappeared as he looked at Jared. "Sorry about what happened, sir. I snuck back to the house after madam sent me and the rest of the staff off for the evening, but I got here too late. He was already inside. Never saw him come up behind me."

"It's all right, Graves. We have survived the evening."

A loud knock on the front door interrupted Jared.

"Perhaps you had better answer that, Graves."

"I'll get it," Olympia said quickly. "Graves is obviously not up to performing his duties tonight." She lit a second candle and went out into the hall.

Protesting vehemently, Graves followed her to the door.

Jared touched Felix's wounded shoulder.

"Damn." Felix sucked in his breath and passed out.

"Demetria. Constance," Olympia exclaimed out in the hall. "What are you two doing here? And why have you come at this hour, Mr. Seaton? Now see here, if it is to discuss the duel, I may as well tell you that it is not going to take place. Is that quite clear?"

"You may set Chillhurst free," Constance said dryly. "Demetria has told her brother everything. Gifford wishes to make his apologies and call off the duel. Is that not correct, Gifford?"

"Yes." Gifford's voice was very subdued. "Please tell your husband that I wish to speak with him."

Jared glanced toward the door. "I'm in here, Seaton. Before you make your apologies, would you mind very much summoning a doctor?"

Gifford came to stand in the doorway. "Why in God's name do you want a doctor?" Then his eyes went to Felix. "Damnation. Who is he? Why is there so much blood about?"

Olympia stood on tiptoe to peer over Gifford's shoulder. "That is Mr. Hartwell. He tried to rob me of my emerald earrings just now. That's his pistol over there on the floor. He threatened to shoot Jared with it."

"But what happened to him?" Gifford stared at the fallen man with sick fascination.

"Chillhurst used his dagger to save us." Olympia's eyes glowed with wifely pride. "He threw it at Mr. Hartwell just as Mr. Hartwell fired his pistol."

"Chillhurst downed him with a dagger?" Gifford asked weakly.

"Oh, yes. Chillhurst always carries it with him, you see. It was the most amazing thing because it all took place in the dark. I had just snuffed the candle and"

Gifford made an odd sound as Jared took hold of the dagger and pulled it quickly out of Felix's arm. Blood flowed in the few seconds that it took Jared to bind Felix's cravat snugly around the wound.

"My God," Gifford looked distinctly ill now. "Never saw a man with a dagger stuck in him."

"If you think this is unpleasant," Jared said easily, "You should see a man with a bullet in his chest. That's why I sent you a note reminding you to make certain there would be a doctor present at our meeting."

"You're a bloody pirate after all, aren't you?" Gifford's face turned an ashen color. He sank gracefully to the floor in a dead faint.

Chapter 18 | Deception | Chapter 20