A Lady by Midnight / Page 47

Page 47


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The structure was small, round, and fashioned of windowless sandstone walls. It must have been built during the same era as the original Rycliff Castle—in other words, forever ago. The wood ceiling, of course, had long since rotted away. Instead, a lattice of iron bars overhead kept prisoners confined while admitting fresh air and golden shafts of sunlight. Here and there a bit of moss or fern sprouted from a crack in the wall.


As with all things in this village, it was a little too quaint and charming. But it would be effective enough. The only break in the stone walls was the single forged metal door. The handiwork of Aaron Dawes, no doubt, and Thorne knew him to be a capable smith.


A heavy set of iron cuffs encircled his wrists, linked by a chain. The shackles were genuine, taken from Sir Lewis’s collection. The only keys to both cell door and irons were in Bram’s possession, and he’d given his word.


Thorne was well and truly confined.


The night hadn’t been easy. Sitting chained in the dark . . . the silence poked at the wild, feral creature in him. But the restraints were good, and the walls were solid. Even if he went a bit mad and his resolve crumbled, he wouldn’t be muscling his way out of this cell.


Which was fortunate, because if he did muscle his way out of the cell, taking on the guards would be no difficulty.


“Tell me again how is it that you two,” he asked, “are the village gaolers?”


Finn and Rufus Bright sat outside the cell’s grated door with a pack of cards. They were twins, just nearing sixteen years old, and Thorne didn’t like trusting them with a few hours’ watch from the southeast turret of Rycliff Castle. He would have never set them to guard a dangerous criminal.


“Used to be our despicable sot of a father’s duty,” Rufus said. “He was the riding officer, before he switched sides of the law. Better money in smuggling, I suppose.”


“Once he was gone,” Finn said, “the task fell to Errol, as his eldest son.”


“And Errol’s gone to Dover this week.” Rufus split and shuffled the deck of cards. “So lucky you, you get us.”


Lucky them, the youth surely meant. As much hell as Thorne had given Spindle Cove’s youngest militiamen over the past year, he could only imagine they were enjoying this.


He heard Bram’s voice. “Finn, Rufus. I hope you’re treating your prisoner well.”


“Yes, Lord Rycliff.”


“Thorne?” Bram peered through the door grate. “Not yet wasted to bones, I gather.”


“Not even close.”


“Don’t think this isn’t costing me. My wife is not pleased. And in case you’re wondering, Miss Taylor—Lady Kate, I suppose I should call her now—is not pleased, either.”


Thorne shrugged, indifferent.


Katie would be pleased, eventually. In time, she’d see that this was best. Drewe could keep her safe and make her happy. She might have put on a brave face for him last night, told him she’d leave behind everything to be with him—but he knew her too well. She’d longed for a family all her life, and he couldn’t offer her anything to replace the Gramercys. And after last night, he knew he wasn’t fit to be a lady’s husband. He couldn’t even keep her safe.


“So what’s happening?” Thorne asked. “Have they seen the vicar for a license yet?”


“I’m not sure,” Bram said. “But she’s just come through the front door of the Queen’s Ruby.”


“How does she look?”


“Like she’s about to be married.”


A black, bottomless pit opened up in Thorne’s chest. He contemplated jumping into it.


“She’s walking toward the church,” Bram said. “All the rooming house ladies are following her. The Gramercys, too.”


“Tell me what she’s wearing.”


Bram cut him an annoyed look. “What do I look like to you? The Society columnist for the Prattler?”


“Just tell me.”


“Ivory frock. Two flounces and a great deal of lace.”


“Is she smiling?”


Stupid question. Her smile wouldn’t give any clues to her inner emotions. His Katie would be bravely smiling, even if she were walking to a guillotine.


“Her hair,” Thorne asked. “How is she wearing her hair?”


Bram growled. “Good God, man. I agreed to imprison you, not provide fashion reports.”


“Just tell me.”


“Her hair is up. You know how the ladies fix it—mass of curls on top, wound with ribbons. Someone’s stuck little blossoms between the curls. Don’t bother asking me what kind of flower. I don’t know.”


“Never mind,” Thorne scraped out. “That’s enough.”


He could see her in his mind’s eye. Floating in a lacy cloud, tiny stars of jasmine studded in her dark, shining hair. So feminine and beautiful. If she’d taken that much care with her appearance, she must be approaching her wedding with joy, not unwillingness or dread.


This was good, he told himself. The best possible outcome. He’d worried she might hold out longer, strictly for the sake of being stubborn. But she must have seen the wisdom of it, once she had a few hours to reflect.


“Susanna’s with her,” Bram said. “I’ll go inquire about their plans.”


Restless, Thorne paced the small round cell. He lifted and spread his arms, pulling against the irons. Every primal instinct in his body wanted to break free. He’d been prepared for this. This was why he’d exacted the promise from Bram—because when the time drew close, he knew only physical restraints could keep him from going after her.


Less than an hour now, surely, and it would be over. A matter of minutes, perhaps. When the church bells sounded, he’d know it was done.


Instead of church bells, however, he heard a scraping of metal in the lock. In response, his body screamed, Make ready. Prepare to bolt.


He turned his back on the door, clenching his hands in fists. “Devil take you, Bram. I told you not to open that door. You gave me your word.”


“I’m not releasing you,” Bram called. “I have a new prisoner, so you’ll have to share the cell.”


“A new prisoner?” Thorne glared hard at the wall as the door clanged shut. “I’m the first prisoner this gaol has seen in years. Now two in one morning? What’s the offense?”


A soft, melodic voice answered him. “Possession of a nuisance animal. Destruction of property.”


No.


His iron chains seemed to double in weight, and they pulled directly on his heart. He turned.


Of course it was Katie.


She was here, in gaol with him. And Bram had no future in Society columns, because his account of her appearance was a mere ghost of the reality. A man might as well witness a comet streaking across the sky and describe it as something resembling a glowworm.


Her frock was gauzy—sweet and revealing, all at once. Her hair was piled in dozens of intricate coils and twists, and her skin could have made angels weep. She was radiant.


A bit of fire flashed on her finger.


Sweet mercy. She was still wearing his ring.


Thorne pushed down the unwelcome surge of hope. His spirits shouldn’t be buoyed by her presence. He shouldn’t want her here at all. She didn’t belong with him in a gaol of any sort—not even a relatively quaint and charming one.


“Well . . . ?” She twisted, trying to catch his approval. “I wanted to look my best for my wedding.”


“You shouldn’t be here,” he said. “What the hell sort of game is Bram playing at?”


“It’s not a game, unfortunately. I’m under arrest.”


“For what?”


She pulled a thick black book from beneath her arm. “You were right. Letting Badger chew books was horrendous neglect on my part. Just look what the little beast has done.”


Thorne couldn’t risk drawing any closer to her, but he cocked his head and peered at the book. It was old, thick, bound with black leather . . . the gold leaf letters on the spine had been mostly destroyed, and most of the pages were shredded.


“Jesus,” he breathed as realization dawned. “Tell me that’s not what I think it is.”


She nodded. “It’s the St. Mary of the Martyrs parish register.”


“Not the one that—”


“Contained my birth record. Yes. As well as the record of my parents’ marriage.”


Thorne couldn’t believe this. “You allowed Badger to do that. On purpose.”


“It doesn’t really signify how and why it happened, does it? It’s done.” She squared her shoulders. “There’s no paper record of Katherine Adele Gramercy. Not any longer.”


The enormity of her words swamped his mind for a moment. He groped for some cord of reason or logic in the vast, nonsensical sea.


“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Destroying that book doesn’t change who you are. You’re still Lady Katherine Gramercy.”


“Oh, I know who I am. And the Gramercys know it, too. But this mishap”—she held up the mangled register—“makes my identity more difficult to prove. Evan says we’ll need more witnesses before we even can approach the courts. It could take us years to have it all sorted out—until well after Lark’s season, I expect, and after Evan has a chance to arrange the finances and prepare me to inherit.”


“So you’re saying . . .”


“I’m saying I’m free, for now, to do as I please.” She approached him slowly. “I’m saying that someday I’ll take the Gramercy name, legally and publicly. But in the meantime . . . I’m hoping to share yours.” Her voice went husky with emotion. “I told you I’d give up everything, Samuel. I can’t fathom any life without you in it.”


Thorne stared at her a moment. Then he went to the door of the cell. “Bram!” He rattled the bars. “Bram, open this gate. Now.”


Bram shook his head. “Not a chance. I gave my word.”


“To hell with your word.”


“Curse me all you like. Rattle your cage as you please. You asked for this. You told me to keep you in gaol until Miss Taylor is married.”


“Well, she can’t get married while she’s locked in here.”


“On the contrary,” she said. “I believe I can.”


He turned to find her gazing at him from beneath lowered lashes. A shy smile played about her lips.


“No. Don’t think it. It’s not going to happen.”


“Why not?”


“For God’s sake, I’m not going to marry you in a gaol.”


“Would you rather we do it in the church?”


“No.” He growled with frustration.


She tilted her head and regarded the sunlight streaming through the lattice of iron overhead. With her fingertips, she brushed a bit of ivy curling through the wall. “As prisons go, it’s rather a romantic one. This is consecrated ground, so there’s no difficulty on that score. We did have the banns read over the past few weeks. I’m all dressed for the occasion, and you’re still wearing that devastating suit. There’s no impediment whatsoever.”


No, no, no. This was not going to happen.


“Lord Rycliff, would you kindly send for the vicar?” she asked.


“Don’t,” Thorne ordered. “Don’t. I won’t go through with it.”


“I thought you might say that.” Katie dropped onto the room’s only bench—a simple wood plank. “Very well. I can wait.”


“Don’t sit on that,” he exhorted. “Not in your wedding frock.”


“Shall I stand and call for the vicar, then?” When he didn’t answer, she stretched her legs out in front of her and crossed them at the ankles. “I’ll just wait until you change your mind.”


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