McAlistair's Fortune(6)

By: Alissa Johnson

“Miss Cole.” He bowed, an eloquent bend at the waist perfectly in tune with his attire and so very incongruent with the picture of the wild hermit she still held in her head. He turned to Lady Thurston next and bowed even lower in a sign of deep respect. “Lady Thurston. It is an honor.”

His voice was still rough, Evie noticed, still gravelly, as if he weren’t accustomed to using it. She wished she didn’t find the sound quite so appealing.

Lady Thurston dipped her head in acknowledgment. “It was good of you to come. I assume Mr. Fletcher advised you of the contents of the letter Evie received?”

“Some.” McAlistair looked to Whit before jerking his chin at a side table holding a sheet of paper and envelope. “That it?”

“It is.” Whit gestured at the table in invitation.

With her mind still reeling—what on earth was the man doing here?—and her heart still racing—heavens, he was handsome—Evie watched him cross the room and pick up the paper. He wasn’t illiterate then, she thought somewhat ruefully. That had really been her last hope of an excuse for his silence.

She managed, barely, to refrain from making an unpleasant face at him as he unfolded the letter and began to read. He showed no reaction to the message it contained. Bit disturbing, that. Even she had cringed at the contents, and she’d known them to be a lie.

It was a filthy string of insults and threats—considerably more filthy and threatening than she personally felt was necessary, but it did get the point across. It promised, in no uncertain terms, retribution for her sins.

McAlistair looked to her. “What sins?”

Which sins would likely be more accurate, but she rather doubted he was interested in a list. It hardly mattered, at any rate. She assumed the author of the letter had very specific sins in mind. At least, she certainly hoped so. She didn’t care for the idea that Mr. Fletcher was apprised of all her misdeeds, including the fact that she had kissed a strange hermit in the woods.

Lady Thurston answered for her. “Evie has, with my permission, been quietly active in several women’s charities—organizations with missions some might consider radical, and therefore sinful. We assume that is the author’s point of contention, given the nature of his insults…and the fact that Evie is otherwise quite exemplary in her conduct.”

Evie smiled at her aunt and concentrated on looking suitably innocent—and not looking at McAlistair at all. Exemplary, indeed.

McAlistair set the letter down. “Suspects?”

“None that stand out,” Mr. Fletcher answered.

Whit pulled at his cravat. “We’re working under the assumption the threat comes from a family member or employer of one of the women Evie sought to help.”

Mrs. Summers sent her an approving smile. “Over the years, she has assisted in arranging secret passage out of the country for a number of mistreated women. Wives who suffered violence from their husbands. Women of ill-repute who sought to escape their abusive employers.”

“Those women left a fair number of angry husbands and bawds behind,” Mr. Fletcher added. “Although how they detected Evie’s involvement, we’ve yet to determine. And until we do, I feel it would be best if she is hidden away elsewhere. Somewhere safer.”

“Absolutely,” Mrs. Summers chimed in.

“Absolutely not,” Lady Thurston snapped at the same time.

“He’s right,” McAlistair said, earning a hard glare from Whit and Lady Thurston. “Too many doors here. Too many places to hide.”

“The staff has been instructed to—” Whit broke off with a scowl. “Who let you in?”

McAlistair shook his head.

“Damn it. Did anyone see you?”

Another head shake from McAlistair and a soft stream of expletives from Whit.

He turned to Evie. “Pack your things. You’re leaving in the morning.”

She was? “I am?”

“It’s what you want, isn’t it?”

Not particularly. “Yes. Yes, of course.”

Whit gave a very decisive, very unhappy nod. “Be ready by first light.”

First light? They really meant to send her away? How the devil had that happened?