Unraveled (Turner 3) - Page 40

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It was dangerous to entrust him with anything besides the month he’d asked for. But then, her tastes ran to danger. Perhaps that was why she tossed her heart his way without a protest.

“You did that for me,” she said, as he handed her out of the carriage.

“If you think I put you up against a wall and had you without my own self-interest being engaged, you’ve a great deal to learn about men.” He opened her front door.

He made it sound almost vulgar. But he’d thought about her. About what she wanted. What she needed. It wasn’t the act itself that made her heart feel so tender; it was the care he’d put into it. As if she were somehow precious to him.

“It wouldn’t mean the same thing if you did it here,” she said.

“We can test that.”

She swatted at his hand. “Don’t. Don’t try to make something sweet and beautiful into something tawdry.”

Silence. Then: “There’s nothing tawdry about you, Miranda.” He paused, just that tiny amount. “Darling.” His arms came around her in the dark. It was an embrace—one without heat or want, just care. Affection. Love, even if he wouldn’t say it, and wouldn’t want it said. She wrapped her arms around him, holding him close. She held that fluttering sense of new emotion close as well.

She loved him. How could she not?

And then she heard a rustle down the hall. The parlor door opened, and a small head poked out from behind it.

“Miranda?” The voice was rough with sleep, but shaking with terror.

“Robbie.” She let go of Smite. “Robbie, what are you doing here?”

He stepped out into the dim light of the entry and looked up at her. He had dark circles under his eyes. “Miranda,” he said, “I think someone is trying to kill me.”

Chapter Seventeen

“KILL YOU?” MIRANDA SAID. “What makes you think that?”

Robbie hunched. The bony points of his shoulders jutted out beneath his coat, an eloquent statement of his discomfort. But as eloquent as his expression was, it still was not an answer to her question.

“Robbie, please,” she said. “I want to help. Just talk to me.” And consider using actual words.

Beside her, Smite gave her a short shake of his head, and a look. She was probably doing everything wrong again—and here she’d thought, over the last two Sabbaths when he’d visited, that they were getting beyond that—but at least Robbie had come to her when he needed help. That counted for something, did it not?

Smite rang the bell, and when the maid came, he called for a blanket, a glass of warm milk, and a plate of sweet biscuits. While he did so, Miranda bustled them all back into the parlor to sit by the fire.

The maid didn’t ask what Robbie was doing there. It occurred to Miranda, rather belatedly, that she didn’t need to explain herself to the servants. The woman came back in short order with a tray.

Smite gestured. “Those ones, with the sugar on top—they’re quite good.”

Robbie needed no further encouragement. He reached out and took one in each hand. Before she could protest—or even convince him to chew—he’d inhaled first one, and then the other, and was eyeing the still-full plate with zeal.

“Hard to gather thoughts on an empty stomach,” Smite said. “Don’t worry about how you say things, or what order you tell the story in. If I don’t understand something, I’ll ask questions. Just tell us what you know.”

He was watching Robbie carefully. It was easy to forget that he did this sort of thing on a regular basis: asked questions, and tried to piece together what had happened. She hadn’t imagined that Smite was the sort of person who could put anyone at ease. But Robbie slouched into the cushions of the sofa and took another biscuit.

“I want you to think back. When was the first time you realized that something might be amiss?”

“This afternoon, when—no.” Robbie stopped. “Mid-morning, Mr. Allen said his ring had gone missing.”

“What sort of ring was it?”

Robbie frowned. “Gold?”

“A wedding band?”

“I guess.” Robbie frowned. “He wore it here.” He pointed to his ring finger. “Except when he worked. He takes it off to work. He asked us to keep an eye out for it, but I forgot about that, because somebody dropped a hammer on my head.”

Miranda winced. But Smite simply reached forward and rubbed his hand in Robbie’s hair. “You’ve a bit of a lump,” he reported. “Nothing serious.”

Miranda resisted the urge to report that men had been known to keel over after simple blows to the head. By the look on Robbie’s face, it wouldn’t have helped.

“Who dropped the hammer?”

“Don’t know.” Robbie shrugged. “It hurt too much at first to look.”

“Can you make a guess?”

“Could have been almost anyone. There was a crew working above me.” He cast Smite a defiant glance. “Besides, I didn’t want to fuss over it like a baby.”

“Naturally.” Smite waited, and Robbie took another biscuit. It vanished as swiftly as its predecessors; Robbie washed it down with a hefty swallow of milk.

“Half an hour before the dinner bell, a crane came loose. It swung across the deck. Knocked me clean off my feet and into the water.”

Beside her Smite had tensed. “How far above the water was the deck?”

Robbie shrugged. “Twenty feet?”

“You…you can swim, can’t you?”

“A little. Hard part was getting out of the water. The nearest stairs were on the north wall, and when you’re neck-deep in water you can’t see them.” Robbie’s nose wrinkled. “They had to send a boat for me.”

Smite stood. He picked up a biscuit himself and passed it from hand to hand. His breath was a bit ragged, and Miranda suspected that he had his own memories of water to contend with. But after a few minutes he turned back to Robbie.

“I hope you weren’t too cold,” was all he said.

“Freezing,” Robbie reported. “And everyone ribbed me.” He frowned, as if that was more disturbing than attempted murder. “They sent me back to my bunk to change into something dry.” Robbie reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled twist of paper. “That’s when I found this.”

He passed it over to Smite, who untwisted the paper. As he did, a worn gold ring fell out. Smite caught it midair, and then glanced at the containing foolscap. His eyebrow raised, and he handed the message to Miranda.

The paper held words written in a spidery hand—one that she recognized from the last note she’d received. And the message… Tell her that it will be you innstead, it said. She needs to come speak with me.

“The Patron is a poor speller,” Smite noted.

Miranda lifted the paper to her nose and inhaled. There was a faint scent of stale tobacco smoke. It could have meant anything, but… “The Patron smokes a pipe,” she said. “But no. It’s possible the Patron didn’t write this himself.”

“If they thought I stole the ring, they’d hang me, wouldn’t they?” Robbie whispered.

Smite gave a slight shrug of his shoulder.

“You’re staying with me,” Miranda said flatly. “You’re not to leave this house, hear?”

“I have to leave.” Robbie hunched deeper into the cushions. “It’s a crime to desert an apprenticeship. Besides, I can hardly stay here forever.”

“You can’t go back out there.” Miranda stared at the paper. “Or I have to—” Her eyes darted away and met Smite’s briefly.

His expression was frozen in hard contemplation. “It’s not any kind of life either of you will live, hidden away inside a building.” He frowned. “Robbie, how did you get in here? I sincerely doubt the maids would have let you simply take up residence in the parlor upon application.”

Robbie looked sheepish. “I, uh, I picked the lock. It’s easy enough. You just need a hairpin, and you slide the tumblers up and to the right.”

“Don’t tell me where you learned that.” Miranda put her head in

her hands.

“Joey,” Robbie offered anyway.

“This doesn’t make sense,” Miranda said. “I’m not worth the bother. The Patron has plenty of other minions. He’s going to extraordinary lengths to get my attention. Why?”

Smite stalked across the room to the window. They’d not lit any lamps in the room, but he pulled the curtains shut, regardless. “Does it matter? You’re not safe here.” His gaze swept the room, encompassing both Miranda and Robbie in that sweeping statement.

Robbie spoke first. “So what do we do?”

Smite looked at Robbie. “You’ll have to leave Bristol.”

Robbie’s eyes jerked down. “Why?” He swallowed. “By myself? Am I…am I going to another apprenticeship? Because I don’t really mind when Mr. Allen clouts me over the head. Aren’t they going to force me to come back?”

“No,” Smite said. “It’s only a crime to leave when you abscond without permission. That can be obtained easily enough. This will be somewhere temporary. Secure.”

“A prison?” Robbie gulped.

“A home in the country.” Smite turned.

“It’s an orphanage.” Robbie stared at the wall, his spine rigid. “A place for unwanted children.”

Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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