Maybe the words had gone rusty from disuse. Nothing else could explain it.
He walked over to his sister-in-law, and after examining the contents of his pockets very carefully, handed over a banknote. He didn’t dare look Miranda in the eye as he did.
THE PLAN HAD SEEMED so simple earlier: they had to catch Old Blazer in the act of being the Patron.
It had been easy enough to answer his request for an audience. Miranda had agreed to come speak with the Patron, but only if he came in person. Given what Jeremy had implied, she thought he might come. If he did, he’d prove his own guilt.
But as Miranda crept down Temple Street after dark, the prospect seemed fraught with difficulty. Ensconced in the warm, bright hotel room, everything had seemed possible. Now, she felt uncomfortable and out of place. Her cloak was too good, her boots were too new for this part of town. She’d never felt the need to hide on a busy street before. But now, the crowds seemed subtly hostile.
As she came up on the little lane that led to the church, she repeated to herself the arguments she’d made earlier. So far, the Patron had only asked to see her. His representative had spoken of good will. If Old Blazer wanted her dead, he could have ordered it already.
He was looking for a replacement, after all. That made her safe.
It was one thing, though, to talk of safety while surrounded by friends. Here…
She ducked into the dark lane that led to the church and clutched her cloak tightly. She was still surrounded by friends.
That dim figure, leaning against a far-away building—that was the Duke of Parford himself, keeping watch over the front entrance. Smite and Richard Dalrymple stood guard at the back doors. They’d argued for what had felt like hours about whether they needed to bring more men. In the end, they’d decided that secrecy was preferable to a show of force.
But close as the men were to her, nobody walked beside Miranda into the church. The evening service had ended hours past, and the place was deserted. Only softly guttering candles, burnt almost to the stub, lit her way as she walked down the aisle to the confessional.
She pushed aside dusty curtains and took her seat on the stool.
Even through her gloves, her hands were cold. When the curtains stopped swaying, they cut off even the hint of faintly flickering candlelight. She’d started the day cocooned in the darkness of her cell; her memory stirred uneasily in these close, dark quarters.
She smelled wood and soap and wax. But her ears brought her no sound—nothing but the faint creaks of the building around her. No footsteps. No breath.
Each minute seemed to stretch into forever. The darkness slowed time.
There was no warning when things changed—no announcement, no sound except the sudden, sharp crack of the rosewood screen one second, and the whistle of falling wood the next. Miranda scarcely had a chance to lift her hands to shield her head before the wood struck her, hard.
She was too scared to scream. She scrambled backward through the curtains, tripping over her own skirt. Even the dim light in the chapel seemed blinding. Her heart pounded. She launched to her feet and dashed down the aisle.
Her eyes had scarcely adjusted when she caught sight of a silhouetted figure in front of her. She tried to stop but couldn’t. Strong arms grabbed her shoulders.
She let out a gasp of relief. It was Parford.
“Tell me they have Old Blazer,” Miranda said.
“No.” She was now beginning to make out features. Parford’s face was set in a grim mask. “They’re gone. Smite and Richard. They’ve vanished.” The duke ran his hands through his hair. “God damn it,” he swore. “I shouldn’t have let him do this.”
“What are we going to do about it?”
“Rouse the constables,” Parford rumbled. “Rouse every able-bodied man I can find. Muster the militia, if I have to, and tear this city apart brick by brick until I find them.”
“Do you know what will happen if the militia comes after the Patron?” Miranda demanded. “Here? The Patron has been all that’s kept us safe. It will be like the Riots of ’31 again, except this time, the other side will be organized. It will be war.”
“The Patron grabbed a magistrate off the streets.” Parford glared at her. “The Patron took my brother. It already is war. I walked away from him once before. I don’t care if it takes a riot to get him back. I am not leaving him on the streets of Bristol again.” He bristled in fury. “As it is, it’ll take ’til dawn to get everything in readiness. There isn’t any time to spare.”
He turned and strode off, obviously expecting her to follow. She did—but she could scarcely keep pace with him. And when he turned on to Temple Street…
There was almost nobody about at all now. The shops stood silent and closed. Only a hint of music in the distance suggested life. Miranda slowed; Parford hadn’t noticed yet that she’d dropped back.
If the Patron was confronted with force and backed into a corner, who knew what he might do with his hostages?
Parford didn’t realize when they passed Blasseur’s Trade Goods & More, but Miranda surely did. There had to be a better way.
She was going to have to find it herself. Before Parford noticed her absence, Miranda slipped into an alley and stole away.
MIRANDA GAVE UP AFTER a few seconds of tossing pebbles at Jeremy’s window. The tiny stones weren’t drawing attention. Instead, she searched in the rubble against the building for a rock. She had just found a likely candidate when the scrape of wood against wood sounded above her. She looked up. Jeremy leaned out over the sill.
“Miranda, what are you doing here?” Jeremy asked.
What she could see of his hair was tousled; most of it was hidden under a voluminous nightcap. A heavy nightshirt covered his torso.
“Where is Old Blazer?” Miranda hissed.
Jeremy frowned down at her from his window, rubbing his eyes. “God, Miranda. That’s all you have to say? Last I saw you, you said you were leaving town. After—” He looked about. “I heard you were set free. Why in God’s name did you stay, when you’d had the dangers spelled out so clearly?” He frowned down at her. “It’s not safe out. I’ll go down and let you in.”
But he’d already ducked back into his room, and her words were swallowed in the screech of his window closing.
She waited at the back door. A few infinitely long minutes passed before Jeremy opened the door. He’d pulled on trousers and a shirt, but his feet were bare. He folded his arms about him against the cold, and jerked his head, indicating that she should come inside.
She tapped her toes stubbornly on the doorstep. “Where is Old Blazer?”
“Asleep. Listen—you can hear him snoring.”
She could, very distantly. Miranda shook her head. “Then I’m not going in. It’s not safe. He’s got to be furious at me right now. Jeremy, we need to do something.”
Jeremy rubbed his chin. “Furious? Why would Old Blazer be furious?”
“This whole thing…” She blew out her breath furiously. “God. I wish I’d never been involved. I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. Everything I do just digs me deeper, and now—”
Jeremy caught hold of her shoulders and pulled her inside. He shut the door quietly behind her. “Calm down. Take a breath. What has you so upset?”
“Smite,” she said. Just saying his name brought to mind her deepest fears. What if he’d already been killed? What if his throat was slit, and he’d been tossed—but no. She couldn’t think that. She couldn’t let herself.
She nodded. “There’s no good way to say this, Jeremy. The Patron had his men arrest me after I left your shop the other day.”
“I know,” he interjected. “I thought you’d had the good sense to leave town after you got free.”
She took a deep breath. “Lord Justice didn’t think much of the Patron using hi
s constables and his court for personal gain. And so he came up with a plan to…to, um, to, um...”
“To bring the Patron to justice?” Jeremy’s voice grew a hint chillier. “That would comport with what I have seen on this end. Don’t tell me: it didn’t work as planned.”
She nodded. “The Patron took Lord Justice.”
Jeremy scrunched his hair with one hand and screwed up his face. “Damn it.”
“It’s worse than damning. His brother, the Duke of Parford, is threatening to turn Bristol upside down in the search.”
“Of course he is,” Jeremy muttered. “It wanted only that—she’s holding the entire city hostage now. I’ll get the message shortly.” He blew out his breath. “Miranda, I wish you weren’t here. But it is so good to have even one person to turn to. I can’t do this.” He began to pace the floor. “But I have to. But I can’t. I couldn’t do it even for George.”
“We can stop it,” Miranda said. “While all his men are busy with Lord Justice. Jeremy, I know he’s your grandfather, but the two of us could tie Old Blazer up, take him in right now. We could avert the entire crisis.”
Jeremy stopped mid-pace and cocked his head. “Old Blazer?” he asked. “What does Old Blazer have to do with any of this?”
There were no words to describe the feeling of sick, sinking vertigo that assailed Miranda. “What do you mean?” she whispered.
“You think Old Blazer is the Patron?” Jeremy asked.
All of Miranda’s certainty came to a tumbling halt. There had been that letter, written in the same hand as those prices. Jeremy had told her the Patron was Old Blazer. Hadn’t he?