A Lady of His Own (Bastion Club 3) - Page 97

Except that the front door stood wide open.

Charles slowed in disbelief as he ran into the wide swath of moonlight pouring into the front hall. Realizing, he swerved to the side, out of the light. He heard the scrunch of booted feet fleeing—then nothing.

Walking out onto the porch, he looked in the direction of the last sound, but as he’d expected, the shrubbery was a mass of dense shadows. The man could be standing there or fleeing through it; it was impossible to tell.

Hands on his hips, he stood waiting for his breathing to even out, and softly swore. He was far too wise to give further chase. The man had come to Penny’s room; if he left the house, the villain might circle around and try for her again. He wasn’t leaving her unguarded, not in this lifetime.

But why the hell had the front door been unlocked? Not even the best locksman could get past its heavy double bolts.

He was turning to check the bolts when a shifting shadow made him freeze. Then he stared. Hands in his pockets, Nicholas came walking up along one of the garden paths, one easily reached from the rear of the shrubbery.

Charles waited where he was, in full sight.

Nicholas saw him from some distance away; reaching the steps, he started up. “What are you doing here?”

Charles paused long enough for Nicholas to sense how very wrong things were, then said, “Some man broke into Penny’s room.”

Nicholas stepped onto the porch. His jaw fell. “What?”

It was a convincing performance, yet Charles wasn’t sure, and wasn’t taking any chances. He waved inside. “The front door was left unbolted.”

Nicholas looked at the double doors, both standing wide. “I…I left them shut when I went out.”

“Shut, but not bolted?”

“Well, no…I had to get back inside.”

“Where have you been?”

“Out.” Apparently stunned, he waved vaguely toward the gardens. “I couldn’t sleep—I went for a walk…” Suddenly, he focused on Charles’s face. “Good God! Is Penny all right?”

Charles almost believed him; his horrified expression appeared very real. “Yes.” He paused, then added, “I was with her.?

? He started back into the house. Still apparently in shock, Nicholas trailed after him.

Hauling one huge door shut, Charles added, distinctly grim as he thought things through, “Just as well.”

Nicholas closed the other door; he stood back as Charles threw the bolts. “We’d better check the other doors, I suppose.”

“Yes.” Charles did, confirming that the other doors and windows on the ground floor were secure. Not that that meant much; any trained operative could find a way in, and he was sure, now, of the caliber of the enemy.

Nicholas trailed behind him, watching but not volunteering, also just as well. Aside from the fact Charles knew the house better than he did, Charles wouldn’t have accepted his word for anything, not even that a window was locked.

Finally, Charles climbed the stairs. Nicholas followed. Charles halted in the corridor at the stair head; Nicholas’s room was in the other wing, in the opposite direction from Penny’s.

Nicholas stepped up to the corridor; his gaze moved over Charles’s bare shoulders and chest, slid down to the knee buckles on his breeches, hanging free. Halting, he stared at Charles through the dimness, transparently making the obvious connections.

Charles simply waited.

Nicholas cleared his throat. “Ah…you said you were with Penny?”

Crouched behind her bedchamber door, her ear to the keyhole, Penny heard his question and the inference behind it.

“Damn!” She’d already sworn in both English and French at Charles for having locked her in. Panic of an unfamiliar and unprecedented sort had attacked her when she’d heard the thuds as two men—Charles and the mystery man—had gone flying down the stairs. After that, no matter how hard she’d strained her ears, she’d heard nothing. Her window gave onto the courtyard; she’d seen nothing either.

Now she listened with all her might. The door was old, solid, and thick, but so was the lock; the keyhole, with no key in it for Charles had taken it with him, was large. With her ear pressed against it, with night’s quiet prevailing through the rest of the house, she could hear their words. She had no idea where Nicholas had come from, but he and Charles were standing along the corridor, she thought near the stairs.

“Indeed.” That was Charles at his drawling worst. In the circumstances, pure provocation.

Tags: Stephanie Laurens Bastion Club Historical
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