Read A Lady in Hiding Online

Authors: Amy Corwin

A Lady in Hiding (23 page)

Chapter Eighteen

William stood in the hall for a few minutes, staring at Sarah’s closed door. Then turning on his heel, he strode away, trying to convince himself she was not just going to sneak out and disappear into the night.

Or maybe he only
hoped
she would sneak out and disappear into the night. And leave him the hell alone.

He paused. Why did he suspect she hadn’t agreed to allow him to do his job, when she had? Perhaps because of her strong inclination to follow her own path, regardless of what others— including himself—said.

Although, to give Sarah credit, she had not mentioned Mr. Gaunt after William had taken her case. Even after she was stabbed. And had a pitcher of water smashed over her head. Perhaps she did trust him, if he discounted the occasional sarcastic remark.

Scratching the stubble on his chin, he wearily entered his own room. Still considering his uncooperative client, he rang the bell and ordered a hipbath and hot water to be taken to the guest room. After Newgate, Sarah had more need of a strong bar of soap than he did. He could wait until morning for his own bath.

With a sigh of relief, he let Lindley ease off his jacket. Then he rolled into bed and fell asleep before his valet had even closed the door.

 

Chapter Nineteen

“It is six a.m., sir.” Lindley drew back the curtains.

William rolled over. He glared at his valet’s impassive face. Beyond Lindley’s shoulder, the windows showed a plum-colored sky with a few, faint streaks of pink. William groaned, crooking his arm over his eyes as Lindley lit the lamp next to his bed.

“You did ask to be roused at six, sir,” Lindley reminded him. “Shall I send for your bath?”

“God, yes. Maybe that will wake me up.” What had he been thinking to bestir himself at this ungodly hour? He sat on the edge of the bed, nearly falling asleep again while his valet rang for the maid.

He spoke to her in a quiet voice at the door. When the maid left, Lindley turned and glided to the wardrobe. “Which attire would you like today, sir?” He brushed a few jackets with satisfied hands. “I wouldn’t think the blue—”

“What’s wrong with the blue?”

“Nothing, sir.” Lindley sniffed. “However, you have worn it rather frequently of late.”

“Well, what of it?”

“Why, nothing, sir.”

William eyed Lindley.

The valet stared at the floor, waiting.

Why did everyone insist on treating him like an idiot? He was at least capable of deciding what to wear. He smiled to himself. “The black. I’ll wear the black.”

“The dark green, sir, would be most attractive with your fawn breeches.”

“The black. With trousers.”

Lindley sniffed again, obviously put out. “The gold vest—”

“No. The—the burgundy. That shall do nicely.”

The maid returned with two buckets of water, followed by a footman carrying the tin hipbath. They placed it near the fire that Lindley thoughtfully lit while the maid dumped steaming water into the bath.

Once the maid had left, William pulled off his nightshirt and tossed it at his valet. He grabbed a bar of bayberry soap. As he eased down into the water, someone knocked on his door.

Thinking it was the maid returning with his breakfast, he called, “Come in.”

He closed his eyes and lathered his face and neck, letting the spicy bay scent awaken him.

“Mr. Trenchard?” Sarah’s cool voice asked.

The slippery soap squirted out of his clenched fist and sailed into the air. He opened his eyes. Suds dripped over his lashes, burning and blurring his vision. He rinsed his face and stinging eyes and swore. Then he remembered a lady was present and stopped abruptly.

“Sorry, you dropped this,” Sarah said, holding the soap in front of his face.

He grabbed it out of her hand. “What are you doing? Get out!”

“You told me to come in,” she replied. A fleeting dimple crinkled one cheek. “Are you shy?”

“No. That isn’t the point, you unnatural wretch. Now, get out!” He could feel Lindley watching them.

He refused to meet his valet's curious gaze.

Sarah smiled.

Glancing at her, he saw she was wearing trousers and what looked like a new smock. “Where did you get those clothes?”

“I sent across to Mrs. Pochard’s. It’s my spare. At least she didn’t sell these with my box.”

“What are you doing dressed like that?” He hurriedly rinsed the soap off his face and out of his hair. Then he paused.

While he was not bashful, he didn’t want to shock Sarah by stepping out of the bath.

Sarah stood there, staring at him with her sparkling gray eyes brimming with humorous warmth. Her amused expression seemed to confirm his worst suspicions that she was waiting for him to stand.

“You said you were going to find my box today. So I thought I ought to go to work. To pay for all these adventures. I just wanted to let you know.” She stepped toward the door, although her eyes drifted over his bare chest.

When she caught his glance, she had the grace to blush and look away.

“You can’t go to work.” He surged out of the water and turned his back to her. Lindley unobtrusively handed him a towel to wrap around his waist.

Then Lindley busied himself brushing off William’s jacket and rather pointedly pretending not to notice anything unusual.

“Lindley, have one of the maids escort Sara—Sam to her—his room. Keep him there.” He eyed Lindley’s thin, bland face and added, “Mr. Sanderson’s life is in danger. We disguised him as a female last night. If he goes out at all, he must be dressed in skirts. See to it.”

“Very good, sir.”

“It’s no use,” Sarah said, opening the door. “I’m going to work. I’m expected.” She frowned at Lindley. ”And I can’t wear a dress laying bricks. It wouldn’t be proper.”

“You are not going to work. Furthermore, I’ll send word to Mr. Hawkins that you won’t be returning. Now, get out.” Noticing the familiar mulish set of her jaw, he said, “Wait.”

“Wait or go, what’s it to be?”

“Go to your room and wait for me to dress. I’ll be along shortly. We need to discuss this matter under more…appropriate circumstances.”

“Appropriate?” She snorted.

“Yes!”

“How long do you think you’ll be?” She eyed him with a certain speculative gleam in her eyes.

“Five—ten minutes at the most.”

“That quick, eh? I wouldn’t have supposed it possible, all things considered.”

“Get out! And wait in your room until I get dressed!” William held his arm straight, finger pointing at the door. “Now, out!”

When the door closed behind her, William turned, to Lindley. “Quick, go and make sure he doesn’t leave.”

“If he’s intending to leave, it's most likely too late already, sir.”

“Go!” He pointed his finger at the door again.

Lindley nodded and left in haughty silence.

Rubbing the towel over his hair, William jerked around at the sound of the door opening. He held the towel at his waist, prepared for the worst.

Lindley stepped back into the room.

“Is he here?”

“Yes, sir. He's in his room, drinking a cup of chocolate. We thought it best to feed him while he waited.”

“Good. Good notion.” William finished drying off and sat down for Lindley to shave him. The operation seemed to take an excessively long time. Impatient, William moved his head, resulting in several nicks.

“Please, sir, if you would simply relax—”

“Just finish, will you?”

“Certainly.” Lindley wiped the soap from Williams face with a damp cloth and carefully cleaned the razor before tucking it away in its leather case.

“What are you doing now?”

“Just one moment. If you please, sir,” his valet said. He glided over to the wardrobe and rifled through the folded clothing.

Ten minutes later, when William finally tucked the ends of his neckcloth into his waistcoat, he noticed his reflection in the mirror. He had been in such a hurry that he hadn’t realized Lindley had flouted his previous orders. His valet had arrayed him in the dark green superfine jacket and fawn breeches, despite William's stated desire to wear his black jacket and trousers.

“I thought I told you the black!” William said, repressing his amusement.

“Indeed, sir? I’m terribly sorry. I apologize. Would you care to change?”

“No—no, I would not. It’s been twenty minutes, already.” William yanked open the door and strode out into the corridor toward the guest room.

The door to Sarah’s room was closed. He had a brief urge to turn the key in the lock and leave her there. Except she’d probably climb out the window. And like as not, she'd break her neck.

He knocked.

“Come in!” Sarah called. She was sitting near the window, munching on a large bun.

“Now,” he said, coming to a halt in the center of the room. “I want to make it perfectly clear. Under no conditions will you leave this house today.”

She eyed him before pouring another cup of hot chocolate. “Even if it’s on fire?”

“Yes,” he replied savagely. “
Particularly
if the house is on fire.”

She giggled, but noticeably failed to agree.

“You’ll give me your word that you’ll stay?” he asked.

“Can’t. I told you, even if I don’t work, I’ve got to talk to Mr. Hawkins.”

“Is the conversation you must have with Mr. Hawkins worth your life? “

“I—” She had the grace to appear abashed.

“Someone is doing their best to kill you. They’ll be waiting for you. And if the murderer doesn’t get you, the police most assuredly will.”

“The police are no longer interested in me. And it’s your responsibility to ensure I don’t return home with a bullet in my back.”

“No, it’s my job to find out who killed Major Pickering. And who apparently plans to do the same favor for you, if you insist on behaving like an idiot. I can’t play nanny to you and investigate at the same time. Give me your word you won't leave this house.”

“There are matters you don’t know—” she said before they were interrupted by the maid’s arrival at the door.

William grabbed the maid by the arm and dragged her forward. “You’ll help Mr. Sanderson with his clothing. You’re to remove his smock and breeches. And his shoes. In fact, you will confiscate them. And any other articles of outer wear in this room. Then bring them to me. I’ll be waiting in my office. Mr. Sanderson’s life is in danger. He's going to pretend to be a female. Is that clear?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” the maid agreed quickly and with evident relish. She flashed a quick, provocative glance at Sarah and winked.

William turned on his heel.

“But—” Sarah said, clearly ill at ease.

“But,
sir
, what about a dress?” the maid objected with evident relish.

“Leave him naked if you have to. I’ll be waiting for his smock and breeches.” Before he closed the door, he added, “You should have given your word, Sanderson. It would have been much simpler.”

While he waited at his desk, he wrote a note to Sarah, telling her what he intended to do. He emphatically reiterated his request that she stay at Second Sons. It was time to initiate a serious inquiry, starting with the contents of Sarah’s box.

Distractions like Sarah had to be dealt with forcefully. He hoped a lack of clothing was vigorous enough. However, he wouldn’t put it past her to wrap herself up in the draperies and do precisely as she pleased. He couldn’t help chuckling at the thought.

Should he consider ordering all sheets and draperies removed, as well? While he contemplated this course of action, the maid entered the office. She stood near the door with Sarah’s smock and breeches draped over one arm and the pair of stout boots in the other.

“I did as you asked, sir.”

He rose and opened a drawer in a locking cabinet normally reserved for client records. Many asked that he keep objects for them, letters and things they did not want family members to discover. The heavy lock reassured even the most nervous customer that anything in William’s keeping would be safe until he placed the items back into their trembling hands.

“Put them here,” he said. He watched impatiently as she placed the boots inside first and then carefully folded and added the clothing on top.

“That were all, sir?”

“Yes. You can fetch him books to read. The newspaper—anything. Give him
Le Belle Assemblee
if you can find a copy,” he added with an irony entirely lost on the blank-eyed maid. “Give him anything he wants. But he mustn’t leave.” He studied the maid’s perplexed face. “His life is in danger if he should set even one foot outside. Mr. Sanderson doesn’t comprehend the serious nature of his predicament.”

The maid bobbed a curtsey. “I see—that were why he came dressed as a woman last night?”

“Precisely. However, his disguise may have been penetrated. We must do our best to keep him safe.”

“Oh, yes, sir. He were safe here with us. We’ll see to it.” The maid’s rather breathless assurances would have to do.

As he approached the front door, William paused and told the butler the same thing. When he agreed to ensure Mr. Sanderson did not escape, William crammed his beaver hat onto his head and left, heading for Mr. Carnaby’s house.

He arrived at the gate to the Carnaby town house after a brisk, head-clearing walk. One last time, he poked his walking stick into the soil at the base of the tree, searching for the box. It wasn’t there. He eyed the busy street and considered checking a few of the nearby shops. If anyone had found the box and broken it open, they may have taken the money. However, a chance remained that they had not found the papers inside under the false bottom.

Then they would undoubtedly seek to sell the container. Why keep it?

Unfortunately, the box might have been found because someone had been actively searching for it. Mr. Carnaby knew the thief had not had the item when the police arrested him. He may have guessed it was hidden nearby.

Tapping the dirt off the end of his stick, William resettled his hat on his head. He watched the passing Londoners.

A fair-haired girl sitting next to a dapper gent in a gig caught his eye. She smiled and gave him a slight nod before glancing down modestly at her gloved hands clasped in her lap. William turned away, amused. Whoever, or whatever, she thought he was, she was most likely mistaken.

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