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St. Cyre Town House
Grayson Albemarle St. Cyre, Baron Cliffe, read the single page one more time, then slowly crumpled it in his hand. Some letter, he thought, as he threw the ball of paper into the fireplace. Not many words on the page, but most of the few there were vicious and malevolent. He. watched the paper slowly crinkle around the edges, then burst into bright flame.
He walked out of the drawing room and down the long corridor toward the back of his home. He opened the door to the libraryhis roomall somber and warm and filled with books and little else. The heavy, dark gold velvet draperies were drawn tightly against the night, the fire low and sluggish because none of the servants had known he would be coming into this room at this time.
They all thought he'd left five minutes before to visit his mistress.
He thought of the damned letter and cursed, but not as fluently as his father had when he was so drunk he could scarcely walk. He sat down at his desk and took a piece of foolscap from the top drawer, dipped the quill into the ink pot, and wrote: If I receive another threat from you, I will treat you as you deserve. I will beat you senseless and leave you in a ditch to die.
He signed his initials, GSC, slowly folded the paper, and slid it into an envelope. He walked to theelegant Spanish table that sat against the wall in the entrance hall and placed the envelope onto the ancient silver salver that his butler, Quincy, cleaned every other day, at one o'clock in the afternoon, without fail.
He wondered as he walked in the cold, clear, early spring night to the apartment of his sweet Jenny what would happen now.
Probably nothing. Men of Clyde Barrister's stamp were cowards.
There was nothing more to say, damn her. He was panting with rage at her, the ungrateful little bitch. He couldn't help himself. He raised his hand to strike her, then got hold of himself. "If I hit you, Carlton will know it and perhaps not want you."
She whimpered, her head down, her hair straggling long and tangled and sweaty down the sides of her face.
"Silent at last, are you? I never thought I'd see you mute as a tree. It's refreshing for once not having to listen to your complaints and see those looks of yours. Silence and submissiveness are very charming in women, in you especially, though I'm just now seeing them for the first time. Well, perhaps it's over, eh? Yes, you've finally given up. You won't go against me anymore."
She said not a word. When he grabbed her chin in his hand and forced her head up, there were tears in her eyes. But still he frowned. He stared down at her hard, still breathing hoarsely from his pacing and yelling. But his face was no longer as flushed as it had been a minute before, and his voice no longer trembled with rage when he spoke. "You will marry Sir Carlton Avery. He will return tomorrow morning. You will smile shyly at him and tell him that it is your honor to become his wife. I have given him my blessing. The marriage settlements are agreed upon. Everything is done. You will not disobey me, or when I next see you, I will make you very sorry."
He grabbed her chin again, saw the tear streaking down her cheeks, and smiled. "Good," he said. "Tonight you will bathe and wash your hair. You look like a slut from Drury Lane." He swiftly left her bedchamber, humming with his victory. Still, because he didn't want her to forget that he was serious, he slammed the door behind him. She heard his key grate in the lock. She heard his heavy-booted footsteps receding down the long corridor. She drew in a deep breath, looked upward, and said, "Thank you, God. Thank you, God."
He'd forgotten to retie her hands.
She lifted her hands, looked at the ugly, raw bruises on her wrists, and began to rub feeling back into them. She bent over to untie her ankles, then rose slowly from the chair where she'd been trussed up like a criminal for three days. She relieved herself and quickly downed two glasses of water from the carafe that sat on her bedside table. Her breathing calmed. She was very hungry. He hadn't allowed her any food since the previous evening.
But he'd forgotten and left her hands untied. Perhaps he hadn't forgotten. Perhaps he believed he'd finally broken her and tying her hands didn't matter. Well, she'd tried to make him believe that. To hold her tongue had cost her dearly. To squeeze tears out of her eyes hadn't proved so difficult.
Would he come back? That got her into action more quickly than having Farmer Mason's bull Prixil racing toward her across the south field would have. She had to leave in the next three minutes, perhaps sooner.
She'd thought of this so often during the long hours of the past three days, had meticulously planned it, modified her plans, pictured everything she would be able to carry in the small, light valise.
The next two minutes she spent tying the ends of her two sheets together, slinging them out of the second-floor window, and praying that she would fit through the tall, narrow opening. No doubt she was thinner now than she had been three days ago. She'd stared at that window off and on during the past three days, knowing it was her only way out. She would have to squeeze through it. She had no choice at all.
She managed, barely. When she was dangling six feet above the ground, she looked briefly back up at her bed-chamber window, then smiled. She let go and rolled when she landed on the soft, sloping ground. When she stopped, shook herself, and found that she'd gained only a few bruises from her jump, she looked back at her home once more, its lines soft and mellow beneath the brilliant light of the half-moon. A lovely property, Carlisle Manor, one that had belonged to her father, Thomas Levering Bascombe, not this bastard, not this man who'd married her mother after her father had died. And now Carlisle Manor was his, all his, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
With luck she wouldn't be missed until the morning. Unless he remembered and came back to tie her hands. Then things would be a bit more difficult.
At least Georgie was far away from here, all the way up at York, and thus would be safe from their stepfather's rage when he discovered that his pigeon had escaped the cage.
His pigeon also knew where to go.