Duke of Pleasure(7)

By: Elizabeth Hoyt

Bell’s brows drew together in confusion. “So… he’s not real, sir?”

Hugh grunted, remembering soft flesh. “Oh, he—or rather she—is real enough.”

“That’s just it,” Talbot interjected, looking intrigued. “I’ve spoken to people who have been helped by the Ghost in years past, but the Ghost has never been a woman before. Do you think she could be the wife of one of the former Ghosts, sir?”

Hugh decided not to examine why he didn’t like that particular suggestion. “Whoever she was, she was a damned good swordswoman.”

“More importantly,” Jenkins said softly as he placed another stitch, “who was behind the attack? Who wanted you dead, sir?”

“Do you think it was the work of the Lords of Chaos?” Riley asked.

“Maybe.” Hugh grimaced as Jenkins pulled the catgut. “But before I was ambushed I was at the Habsburg ambassador’s house. It was a large dinner party and a long one. I got up to piss at one point. I was coming back along the hall when I happened to overhear a bit of conversation.”

“Happened, sir?” Riley said, his face expressionless.

“Old habits die hard,” Hugh replied drily. “There were two men, huddled together in a dim corner of the hallway, speaking in French. One I recognized from the Russian embassy. No one official, you understand, but certainly he’s part of the Russians’ delegation. The other man I didn’t know, but he looked like a servant, perhaps a valet. The Russian slipped a piece of paper into the servant’s hand and told him to take it quickly to the Prussian.”

“The Prussian, sir?” Jenkins asked softly. “No name?”

“No name,” Hugh replied.

“Bloody buggering hell.” Talbot shook his head almost admiringly. “You have to admit, sir, that the man has bollocks to be passing secrets to the Prussians in the Habsburg ambassador’s house.”

“If that’s what the Russian was doing,” Hugh said cautiously, though he had no real doubts himself.

“Did he see you, sir?” Riley asked.

“Oh, yes,” Hugh said grimly. “One of the other guests bumbled up behind me calling my name. Drunken fool. The Russian couldn’t help but know that I’d heard everything.”

“Still, there would be very little time to find and hire assassins to target you on your walk home from the dinner,” Talbot said.

“Very true,” Hugh said. “Which brings us back to the Lords of Chaos.”

Jenkins leaned a little closer now, his one brown eye intent, and snipped a thread before sitting back. “Done, sir. Do you want a bandage?”

“No need.” The wound had mostly stopped bleeding anyway. “Thank you, Jenkins.” Hugh caught Bell trying to smother a yawn. “Best be off to bed, the lot of you. We’ll reconvene tomorrow morning after we get some sleep.”

“Sir.” Riley straightened and came to attention.

Talbot nodded respectfully. “Night, sir.”

“Good night, Your Grace,” said Bell.

Then all three were out the door.

Hugh picked up a cloth, wet it, and wiped the remaining blood from his face, wincing as the movement reminded him of the bruises up and down his ribs.

Jenkins silently packed his surgical tools into a worn black leather case.

Hugh glanced at the window and saw to his surprise that light was glowing around the cracks of the curtains. Had it been so long since he’d staggered home from St Giles?

He crossed to the window and jerked the curtain open.

The bedroom looked over the back garden, dead now in winter, but it was indeed light outside.

“Anything else, sir?” Jenkins asked behind him.

“No,” Hugh said without turning. “That will be all.”