His Lordship Possessed Page 2

“Sorry, no time for anything else,” I told him, and climbed up the side of the stall to swing onto him. The only times I rode horseback were when I dressed as a native male, so I was used to sitting astride. For his part the gelding turned his head as if to inspect me. “For God’s sake, just pretend I’m a man.”

I guided him out of the stall and rode him to the double doors, where I reached up for the latch pull. Dredmore had installed a mechanized opener, the wheels of which whirred as four telescoping bars pushed open the big doors. Through them I saw the indistinct shapes of two men halfway between the stables and the house.

“Now let’s make a run for it.” I thumped my heels into the gelding’s sides, and he trotted out with a sedate, fastidious trot. “I said run, my lad, not mince.”

After two more insistent thumps, the gelding reluctantly stretched his legs and galloped across the lawn away from the manor and across the clearing that led to the cliffs.

I reined in the gelding when I reached a grove of cypress and took cover there to watch for Dredmore’s men. When the horse became restless, I stroked his neck. “I know, George, first time you get a decent rider and now you have to wait. You don’t mind if I call you George, do you? You look like a George.”

George snorted and dropped his head to crop some grass.

I rode horseback often enough not to be sore, but one already tender portion of my anatomy made me acutely aware not only of how daft I’d been, but why women were rarely seen in public the day after their weddings.

“I’ll wager he isn’t suffering,” I muttered to the gelding as I watched several men riding Dredmore’s other horses gallop past. “I imagine he’s swaggering about and bragging of his conquest and feeling quite the master of all he surveys. I should have set fire to that damned hovel of his before I escaped.”

Once the posse had disappeared over the next hill, George and I came out of the cypress and went in the opposite direction, toward the first spread of pasturelands that surrounded the city. The gelding perked up as soon as we were in the clear, and I eased off the reins to let him have his head.

“Go on,” I said as he went into that mincing trot again. “This is probably the only chance you’ll ever have to really run.”

George seemed to understand me and took off in a long, elegant lope that gradually increased in speed until we were fairly flying across the pastures. I glanced back now and then, but no one appeared behind us. Dredmore’s men were too accustomed to dealing with ladies, I imagined.

I stopped the gelding twice: once to water him at a spring-fed trough in a cow pasture, and the second time just within sight of the city’s streets. George had proven himself a worthy steed, so I abandoned my initial plan to turn him loose outside Rumsen and instead rode him through the back alleys to Halter’s, a small stable near my flat that I often frequented.

A few minutes after I rang the service bell, John Halter came out of the barn in his shirtsleeves, his penders still hanging round his hips. “We don’t open ’til dawn, so you can . . . sod me, Miss Kit? That you?”

“No, John, it’s not me.” I handed him the reins and dismounted. “It’s just George here. Say hello to my mate John Halter, George.”

The gelding blew out some air.

“Morning, George.” John gave his neck a few gentle slaps. “So why is this big fellow getting me up out of bed before I’ve had m’tea?”

“Last night George wandered away from home and has since become lost,” I said. “You can tell by the sadness in his eyes.”

“Bugger looks right happy to me.” The stablemaster frowned. “Where’s George’s home, then?”

“That would be Morehaven.”

John swore softly.

“I’ve watered and rested him. He’ll need a rub and some feed, and his master will pay you when he comes to collect him.” I hesitated. “He’ll likely have some questions, John.”

“Then I’ll let George answer what he can.” John sighed. “You’re not here, Miss Kit. Best you go on home.”

Chapter Two

From John Halter’s I did go home, arriving at my door a few minutes before sunrise. I scowled at the row of wardlings nailed above the entry before I went inside and bolted the door behind me.

Glancing down, I saw how my night’s adventures had reduced Bridget’s beautiful gown to little more than a bundle of dirty rags. I stank of horse sweat and my own sweat, and something else.

Beneath it all, I smelled of Dredmore.

I was distracted from my dark thoughts by looking at my bare forearm. Dredmore’s men hadn’t found my pendant but had relieved me of all my other, borrowed jewels before locking me up; hopefully Bridget’s husband could use his influence to get them back, because I could never afford to replace them. A suspicious little trickle between my legs made me crane my head round, and I saw spots of blood on the back of my skirt.

Reminders of more things that could never be taken back.

I ran to my bath, tearing off the gown before I grabbed my sponge and stepped into the tub. The cascade doused me in frigid water as I scrubbed myself all over, washing away the sweat and the blood, the dirt and the tears.

And Dredmore.

After ridding myself of all the unwanted reminders of the night before (as well as a layer or two of my skin) I dried my hair and dressed, ignoring the siren song of my sympathetic bed. I’d triumphed over a tragedy of my own manufacture; my life would go on. My monthlies had just finished, so chances were that I would not become pregnant. If anything I could be grateful to Dredmore for smashing the last of my romantic notions.

Men and romance, two notions I fully intended to avoid in the future like the rats and plague they were.

When I arrived at the Davies Building, Horace Eduwin Gremley the Fourth stood hovering just outside the main entry. He rushed over as soon as he saw me turn the corner.

“Mr. Gremley.” I bobbed. “You’re in early today. Making up some hours to allow for an early day on Friday?”

“No. Yes. Ah, Miss Kittredge.” His eyes darted back before returning to gaze at me with a kind of wild distress. “I bear unhappy news this morning. Mr. Davies’s solicitor paid an early call. About you.”

“Indeed.” I looked over his shoulder at the stone-faced doorman who was decidedly not watching us. “What about me?”

“You’ve been evicted,” Fourth blurted out. “This very morning, I fear. The solicitor quite forcefully communicated Mr. Davies’s desire that you not be permitted in the building by the doorman or any of the other tenants. Unfortunately he was not at all forthcoming as to why such a grossly undeserved action is being taken.” He twisted his hands together. “I assured the man that you are the kindest and most considerate of tenants, but he refused to be swayed. I cannot fathom why Mr. Davies would do this to you.”

I could. Walsh, or Dredmore.

I looked up at my office window. “Have they closed it up, or cleared it out?”

“Both. Mr. Docket told the solicitor that he would see to your belongings.” Fourth grimaced. “As soon as he mentioned casting them into the incinerator, the solicitor happily agreed.”

“You needn’t worry,” I told him. “Docket is a mate; he won’t torch my things. If you would be so kind as to drop him a note through the tube and say that I’ll arrange for a cart to come round tonight, after the building closes.”

“Anything,” he said, nodding. “Miss Kittredge, I cannot express how sorry I am about this. I will be writing a letter of protest to Mr. Davies as soon as I return to the office.”

“You’re very kind, Mr. Gremley.” I patted his arm. “But under the circumstances, it would be wiser not to openly associate yourself with me.”

His expression changed to one of unhappy understanding, and he offered me a sad smile. “You should know that your advice to me was brilliant. I was introduced to Maritza Skolnik by her father, who also obtained her consent to be my escort on Friday night.”

Skolnik was no fool; within a fortnight he’d have Mr. Gremley engaged to his daughter. But as she was a lovely, gentle creature, I imagined Fourth could look forward to a very pleasant future. “I’m so glad. I wish you and the lady all the best, sir.”

Fourth hesitated before bending and giving me an awkward peck on the cheek. “As I hope for you, Miss Kittredge.” With his face still turning red, he hurried off.

Davies had always been a conservative man but genial landlord; he wouldn’t have thrown me out unless he’d been given ample cause. Walsh, or Dredmore. Whichever man had made the complaint against me, I knew I would not be invited to renew my tenancy at this or any other of Davies’s buildings.

I might have sought sanctuary with Rina or Bridget, both of whom had been completely justified in their advice to me, but I couldn’t do it, not yet. Not until I found out which man was responsible.

I walked slowly back toward my flat, but had no interest in spending the day alone sulking. I also realized that there might be other reasons I was being hounded. What was Nolan Walsh hiding? Was it as Dredmore had hinted, that I’d inadvertently stumbled onto something that threatened Walsh more than the scandal of divorcing his young wife?

And then there was Dredmore. He was a man of the world, an important man not to be trifled with. Why had he pursued me, and seduced me, and imprisoned me? I was young, healthy, and attractive, but hardly anything beyond that. Rumsen was filled with women whose beauty made me seem a veritable troll by comparison. Hundreds of posh, nubile women Dredmore could take to wife with a snap of his fingers—professional, talented women he could purchase for the night or however long he wished to use them. Lucien was not only rich and mysterious, he was virile and handsome. Virtually any female within the city would be eager and happy to oblige him.

My stomach growled, so I changed direction and went to the fruit market, where the stands were just opening for the morning’s business. There I walked along until I reached the old peach seller, who had just sliced open a red-gold beauty to release the delicious fragrance.

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