Only one man in England can identify her. Unfortunately he’s living next door.
Ten years ago sixteen year old Sapphire, the greatest jewel thief England has ever known, ruined Lord Devorlane Hawley’s life. Now she’s dead and buried, all the respectable widow, Cassidy Armstrong, wants is the chance to prove who she really is.
A man who knows exactly who she is.
But not only does her new neighbor believe he knows that exactly, he’s hell-bent on revenge. All he needs is the actual proof. So when he asks her to choose between being his mistress, or dangling on the end of a rope, only Sapphire can decide…
What’s left for a woman with nowhere left to go, but to stay exactly where she is?
And hope, that when it comes to neighbors, Devorlane Hawley won’t prove to be the one from hell.
The blinding light from Barron’s driver’s lantern dazzled her for a second, so she’d to fight not to shield her face. But not before she saw Ruby was also there, armed with a broom handle. She had perhaps gone a little far. But going a little far was better than going nowhere at all. She clutched her robe tighter. Having started this, she might as well finish it.
Devorlane Hawley would know better than to trouble her again.
“He… He… I—I can’t.” The tears that glistened in her eyes were masterful. “I can’t speak of it.”
Especially not as Devorlane Hawley now swung around and grasped the broom handle. Though why he grasped the broom handle, and what he meant to do with it, was as mysterious as finding herself in a situation where a broom handle was involved in the first place. In some ways anyway.
Her blood pounded as the lantern flew from Barron’s hand. The tinkle of glass was muffled by her shriek. Boiling tallow wax spattered the hem of her robe.
She barely had time to acknowledge it as Devorlane Hawley barred Barron’s throat with the broom handle, pinning his wheezing bulk to the wall. What was that thought she’d had several moments ago, when she’d first opened the door? The one about him seeing it all and experiencing nothing?
This had somehow taken a turn for the worse. If Barron got killed here she was going to look very good explaining that to the magistrates. And the way Devorlane Hawley deliberately turned his head, feasted his eyes on her face, said the choice was hers.
How horrible was that when obviously she couldn’t allow it. Although this, damn it, should be about her being attacked, not Barron. She snatched at the handle. No easy task when she’d a robe to keep shut.
“Let him go.”
“Aye. Don’t ‘ee think ‘ee and yore fancy boots ‘ull get away wi’ this. Oih’ll defend ‘ee, moih lydy. Oih’ll get him. Leave this ter me.”
“That’ll be interesting.” Devorlane Hawley tossed his hair out his eyes. “You.” He jerked his head at Ruby.
He dragged a breath. “Unless you think I am somehow meaning the tree there? Fetch Lord Koorecroft.”
Lord Koorecroft? The county’s most senior magistrate? A turn for the worse? Now it was a somersault. A woman who planked a stolen necklace on this specimen should not blush to say it was rape. She would have to if he fetched Lord Koorecroft, because then there would be the matter of what the damned man could say to Lord Koorecroft. Being dead and buried might not be enough to save her then. Not when her crimes had been dutifully reported by every newspaper up and down the land. She would hang.
“Lord Koorecroft?” Ruby smoothed a copper tendril of hair back from her forehead. “Whot soddin’ fer?”
“What do you think it’s soddin’ for? To accuse me of rape and molestation. It won’t be difficult. He’s at Chessington right now. You can cut through the hedge. Go on.”
“That’ll be shiny bright.” Fortunately Ruby could always be counted on to do absolutely nothing. “What do yer think I am exactly? Yer bleedin’ servant?”
“’Ee got no roight after what ee—”
Barron made a strangled sound as Devorlane Hawley jerked the stick so hard across his windpipe, Cass was almost jerked off her feet.
“I have every right. You all want Lord Koorecroft fetched, don’t you?” He huffed out a breath. “So let’s fetch him. I’m relishing the thought of the little chat I’m going to have with him about our Mrs. Armstrong here.”
Cass’s hackles rose. Why, he himself used the word rape. Did he think she wouldn’t accuse him when her back was to the wall like this? The thought stole that stepping out here, dressed as she was, might require no small explanation.
Would it not be better to placate him? Or best still, push the stick herself in the hope he might take it as an invitation to depart before he got into trouble? She tightened her grip.
“How dare you speak to my companion this way. Ruby, stay exactly where you are.”
Yes, it would be better to placate him. But if anyone was going to order Ruby, it would not be him.
“Wif pleasure, Cassidy.”
Another vicious jerk of the stick. His breath, like hers, like Ruby’s, hit the air in a freezing white puff. It also hit her. “Very well. How about I tell this man here—what’s the name?”
“’Ee touch a solitary ‘air on moih lydy’s ‘ead—”
“How about I tell Barron about the man who will touch not just that solitary hair, Lady Armstrong? The one with the nice length of rope who will touch your whole head, with a sack, who will put that rope ‘round your—”
Dear God, while that would be very nice, if Cass didn’t do something, blood would be spilled. His. Of course it would be his own fault. But it would also be hers if she had to bury him in her herb garden. Besides she was unsure about Barron. Where he would stand on the matter of assistance. A broom handle may have been sawing his windpipe, but it did not mean he was one of them. What might be around the county tomorrow about her?
“Kill ’im! Toffee-nosed snout.”
Ruby sprung and Devorlane Hawley did not hit her back. Cass’s throat constricted, the noise that came from the back of it not one she would usually make. Men, certainly those of her acquaintance, would never do such a thing. Did or did her own back not bear witness to that fact? What Starkadder had done to her that day. And not just that day. Every day she’d refused to steal.
Of course, a corpse would make things inconvenient for her. Who would have thought he’d have retaliated like this, a powerful man like him, who had no fear of arrest, though? Plainly not herself or she’d never have opened her mouth. Let alone row with him over a kiss, a kiss she gave him so she could worm off the hook, a kiss which would be a complete waste if she didn’t stop this unraveling further, if they had to flee the county.
“Ruby. Ruby—no. No.”
“Get orf of me, Cass.” Ruby tried wrenching the handle free—no doubt because her fists weren’t good enough. “I knows whot I’m doin’. Stickin’ it ‘round ‘ere like ‘e owns the bleedin’ place. Smarmy—”
“’E thinks ‘e knows. ‘E don’t know jack-shit. ‘E—”
“What the bloody hell is going on here?”
The voice—given it wheezed worse than a rusty gate hinge—still held that note. Unmistakable. Unbelievable. The one that always knifed right through Cass’s senses, freezing her. Bones. Marrow. Thoughts. To quote what Ruby had just said a few moments ago, wasn’t this just shiny bright?