Unraveled (Turner 3) - Page 47

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Once inside, she turned to her. “Do you need—”

Mrs. Blasseur rescued her load of laundry. “Shoo,” she commanded with a shake of her head. “Go talk to Jeremy.”

Miranda smiled. The store was like Temple Street itself: the same as always, and yet substantially dingier. The bolts of fabric looked cheap to her eyes, the ribbons pale and faded. She was almost afraid as she made her way to the back of the shop. Afraid that she herself would have altered so much that…

But no. Jeremy sat in his usual spot on a stool, mending a seam on a pair of trousers with infinite patience. He didn’t look sullen or scuffed to her eye. He still looked utterly dear.

“Jeremy,” she breathed.

“Miranda!” He stood up, smiling. “Oh, you look fabulous. What are you doing here?”

She crossed over to him and put her arms around him. He stiffened slightly, but hugged her back. “I’ve come to say farewell,” she whispered. “I’ll be leaving soon—leaving Bristol. Possibly forever.”

He nodded sagely. “Going with your protector?”

“No.” She took a deep breath, and dropped her voice. “It’s not safe for me here. I have to leave. The Patron threatened Robbie—set him up for a hanging offense. I don’t want to be next.”

Jeremy turned utterly white. “Robbie? The Patron threatened Robbie? Who—no—why—” He took a breath. “How do you know?”

“He sent a note, mentioning me. The Patron wants something. I can’t fathom it, either, but I don’t intend to wait around to find out what it is.” When the danger had passed, of course…

“Ah,” Jeremy muttered. “God. Not again. This isn’t happening again.” He set his needle down and looked across the room, his eyes shadowed.

“I don’t know what he wants,” Miranda said, “but the Patron has proven that he’ll pursue the ones I care about. Jeremy, I’m worried about what he might do to you.”

Jeremy didn’t look at her. “I’m not in any danger from the Patron.”

“I don’t care if you’ve paid for protection. Something different is going on. The normal rules are suspended.” Miranda looked away. “Assume the Patron knows everything. He knows we’re friends. He knows I’d want you to stay safe. Maybe you should…”

But of course Jeremy wouldn’t come with her, not with his mother in such straits.

Her eyes fell on a display of top hats—rat-eaten, battered, and coming apart at the seams. So limp, they’d scarcely stay on a head. They were in a bin next to some shabby coats. Someone had pinned a label to one of them: “Old hatts for the Guy. 2d.”

It was close to the Fifth of November. But the possibility of buying a hat wasn’t what caught her attention. She reached and picked up the foolscap label. That handwriting… That spelling. It couldn’t be.

Her world swirled around her.

“Trust me,” Jeremy said behind her. “I’m not in any danger from the Patron. I’m certain of it.”

She knew that hand.

“I see,” she heard herself say. Someone from the shop must be working with the Patron. Closely. She’d received letters from him.

Could it be Jeremy himself? No; she knew how he spent his days. She knew his writing, too.

But that left…

The smell of tobacco smoke wafted into the room. Up front, Old Blazer had lit his pipe. She’d smelled that scent before—that exact same smell, that same dreadful blend. It had come drifting to her through a rosewood screen once. And…and on the two days when she’d visited the Patron, Old Blazer hadn’t been in the shop. He’d been out—sick, Jeremy had said, but how was he to know? Jeremy had been left alone. Old Blazer hadn’t been in.

The writing, the tobacco smoke…none of those things added up to proof. But she knew Old Blazer. He was canny: he saw too much, bargained too well. He was reasonable—until he was crossed, and then his temper could not be controlled. The man had little love for the law. She’d heard his diatribe about the magistrates. He blamed them for the death of his only son.

She spoke very softly. “So. One of the Patron’s trusted workers is in this room.”

Jeremy grimaced. “Not quite. The Patron wants…damn, there’s no good way to say this.”

Miranda sucked her breath in on a sudden, cold certainty. How would Jeremy know what the Patron wanted, if he wasn’t working with him? How would Jeremy be so certain of his own safety?

There was only one way. Old Blazer wasn’t working with the Patron. He was the Patron.

Miranda unpinned the note from the hat and slipped it into her skirt pocket.

“Tell me, Jeremy. What is it that the Patron wants with me?”

He looked around and then leaned in. “The Patron,” he whispered in low tones, “is planning to step down. The Patron will do whatever it takes to win the compliance of the heir apparent.” There was a bitter hint to his words. “Why do you think George disappeared? Of course the Patron wants to talk to you. He needs a replacement. George is just leverage. As was Robbie.”

It would have made just as much sense if Jeremy had told her that the Rat-King of Andor had chosen her as his successor. She could think of absolutely no reason that the Patron would have picked her to take her place. “I don’t understand. That doesn’t make any sense.” But then, it didn’t make any sense to threaten Robbie. And senseless as it seemed, it fit the evidence. The Patron was desperate to talk to her.

Jeremy gave her a grim smile. “The only thing you need to understand is that I’m the one person the Patron won’t endanger. How do you think I’ve felt, all these weeks?”

She knew how Old Blazer looked at his only grandson. The old man adored him.

Across the room, Old Blazer puffed on his pipe. He watched her so idly, she never would have guessed his interest. He saw her looking at him, and slowly he raised his hand. The greeting seemed all the more sinister for its nonchalant friendliness.

“Get out of here, Miranda,” Jeremy said softly. “Don’t worry about me. Just get out.”

She nodded. “Farewell.”

“Maybe, in a few years…” He trailed off.

She didn’t know what to say. It was too much, to lose Jeremy and Smite and Robbie, all within the space of twenty-four hours. She felt as if she might be losing herself. All of her friends…

But she hadn’t lost Smite. Not if she knew who the Pa

tron was. It was her duty to tell him, no matter how that recounting might affect Jeremy and his family. She simply had to walk out of here as if this were one last good-bye. She embraced Jeremy again and slipped out the door.

But outside posed a greater problem. The cart had disappeared. Dryfuss had vanished. Her maid was nowhere to be seen. Miranda was utterly alone in Temple Parish—a wealthy-looking woman without luggage. Without protection. For the first time, as she looked around streets that had once been familiar to her, she felt truly unsafe.

She swallowed and started up the street toward the bridge. Even though the insistent beat of fear in her throat suggested otherwise, she had to hope they’d gone to the station to load her luggage. Once she found Smite, all would be well once more.

But the passersby brushed against her. The shoves grew more aggressive the farther she walked. Her heeled boots hadn’t been made for long journeys. She’d never been so glad to turn the final corner, to see the gray stones of the Bristol Bridge in front of her. Even without her driver, she’d made it.

The blue uniforms of several constables, waiting at the gate, seemed even more welcome. She raised her head and strode forward.

One of the constables stepped in her way. “Your pardon,” he said. “But we’re looking for a woman answering to your description.”

The first thought that went through her was that Smite had changed his mind. A bolt of hope shot through her. He’d not given up on her—on them. But then the constable put his hand about her wrist and held her tightly.

“We’re told you’ve got something that doesn’t belong to you,” he said. Behind him, his companion reached out and put his hands into her skirt pocket. He rummaged about, and then pulled out a watch. It was tarnished and battered, but it ticked complicitly in the man’s hands.

She stared at it blankly. “That’s not mine,” she protested.

“We know.” The grip on her wrist tightened. “Make a note of it. She admits it.”

“No! I mean I don’t know how it got there.”

“They never know, do they, James?”

“Oh, no. It’s always planted there. You’re all innocent—the lot of you.”

Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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