Duke of Pleasure(6)

By: Elizabeth Hoyt

WHEN HAD THE Ghost of St Giles become a woman?

Hugh hissed as one of his former soldiers, Jenkins, drew catgut thread through the cut on his forehead.

Riley winced and silently offered him the bottle of brandy.

Talbot cleared his throat and said, “Begging your pardon, sir, but are you sure the Ghost of St Giles was a woman?”

Hugh eyed the big man—he’d once served as a grenadier. “Yes, I’m sure. She had tits.”

“You searched her, did you, sir?” Riley asked politely in his Irish accent.

Talbot snorted.

Hugh instinctively turned to shoot a reproving glance at Riley—and Jenkins tsked as the thread pulled at his flesh. Damn that hurt.

“Best if you hold still, sir,” Jenkins quietly chided.

All three men had been under his command at one time or another out in India or on the Continent. When Hugh had received the letter telling him that Katherine, his wife, had died after being thrown from her horse in Hyde Park, he’d known his exile was at an end, and that he would need to sell his commission in the army and return. He’d offered Riley, Jenkins, and Talbot positions if they elected to return to England with him.

All three had accepted his offer without a second thought.

Now Riley leaned against the door of the big master bedroom in Kyle House, his arms folded and his shoulders hunched, his perpetually sad eyes fixed on the needle. The slight man was brave to a fault, but he hated surgery of any sort. Next to him Talbot was a towering presence, barrel-chested and brawny like most men chosen for the grenadiers.

Jenkins pursed his lips, his one eye intent on the stitch he was placing. A black leather eye patch tied neatly over the man’s silver hair covered the other eye. “’Nother two, maybe three stitches, sir.”

Hugh grunted and took a drink from the bottle of brandy, careful not to move his head. He was sitting on the edge of his four-poster bed, surrounded by candles so that Jenkins could see to stitch him up.

The former army private could sew a wound closed with better precision than any educated physician. Jenkins was also capable of extracting teeth, letting blood, treating fevers, and, Hugh suspected, amputating limbs, though he’d never actually seen the older man do the last. Jenkins was a man of few words, but his hands were gentle and sure, his lined face calm and intelligent.

Hugh winced at another stitch, his mind back on the woman who had moved so gracefully and yet so efficiently with her swords. “I thought our information was that the Ghost of St Giles was retired?”

Riley shrugged. “That’s what we’d heard, sir. There hasn’t been a sighting of the Ghost for at least a year. Course there’s been more than one Ghost in the past. Jenkins thinks there were at least two at one point, maybe even three.”

A hesitant voice piped up from a corner of the room. “Beggin’ your pardon, Mr. Riley, but what’s this Ghost you’re talking about?”

Bell hadn’t spoken since they’d entered the room and Hugh had all but forgotten the lad. He glanced now at Bell, sitting on a stool, his blue eyes alert, though his shoulders had begun to slump with weariness. The lad was only fifteen and the newest of his men, having joined Hugh’s service after the death of his father.

Bell flushed as he drew the attention of the older men.

Hugh nodded at the boy to reassure him. “Riley?”

Riley uncrossed his arms and winked at Bell. “The Ghost of St Giles is a sort of legend in London. He dresses like a harlequin clown—motley leggings and tunic and a carved half mask—and is able to climb and dance on the rooftops of London. There are some who say he’s nothing but a bogeyman to scare children. Others whisper that the Ghost is a defender of the poor. That he goes where soldiers and magistrates dare not and runs out the footpads, rapists, and petty thieves who prey on the most wretched of St Giles.”