Home > Heiress for Hire (Duke's Heiress #1)

Heiress for Hire (Duke's Heiress #1)
Author: Madeline Hunter

Chapter One

Did you kill him?

The voice spoke in his head vaguely, as if traveling through distance and fog. Not as the voice of his conscience, the way he so often heard the question. A different voice now. A female one.

I doubt it. Help me here.

He looks dead to me.

I promise that he isn’t dead. Now, take this and hold it while I . . .

A bit clearer now. Closer. So close it made his head bang with pain. Each word created a hammer blow. The more words, the more blows, and the closer they sounded.

I should call Jeremy to come here.

We do not need Jeremy. See?

Bam. Bam.

Bad enough already, without that.

We are not the ones at fault here. Hold the lamp closer, so I can make sure it is safe. Wait, give the lamp to me . . . This is no ordinary thief, from the looks of him.

What are you doing with that?

Bam, bam, bam.

Bringing him around so I can find out who he is and why he is here.

Bam—

The fog disappeared, washed away by an onslaught of liquid that forced him back to full consciousness. He tipped his tongue out to lick some drips on his lips. Not water. Wine.

He did not open his eyes right away. He spent a few moments accommodating the pain screaming on his scalp. His legs felt strange and his arms hurt. He tried to move both and could not. He realized they were both tied behind him, and together, bowing his body. Someone had trussed him like a sheep, only backward.

He opened his eyes to see the end of a pistol mere inches from his head. His gaze traveled up the arm that held it, until he looked into the furious dark eyes of a very handsome dark-haired woman. She held the pistol like she knew how to use it. Her bright gaze said she hoped he gave her a good reason to.

Hell. Tonight was not progressing at all the way he had planned.

* * *

“He looks to be coming to,” Beth said. She raised the bed warmer as if to give another blow.

“Put it down. He is tied and I have my pistol.”

“He looks big. The ropes may not hold him. He may overpower you. I should be ready just in case.”

“He will not attack me.” He had indeed come to. His long lashes moved. After a moment he strained against the bonds. Minerva waited for him to accommodate his situation.

His garments appeared very high quality. Blood now stained a cravat once pristine and crisp. His face might be called handsome if not for the strong bones that made the angles more severe than now fashionable. Something about him made her inner sense send out warnings that prickled her spine. He appeared to be a wealthy gentleman and . . . official. Whatever his reason for entering this house, it had not been to steal a few shillings.

Various reactions assaulted her while she trained her pistol on his harshly handsome face. Fear. Vulnerability. She experienced a surge of the unsettled spirit that had plagued her for over a year once, and that she thought she had banished forever.

Finally those lashes rose. Sapphire eyes focused on her pistol, then his gaze moved up until he looked right into her eyes. He again strained at the ties that bound him.

“Minerva Hepplewhite, I presume? My name is Chase Radnor. I apologize for the lack of a proper introduction.”

Beth sucked in her breath. “Odd for a thief to be so particular about etiquette and such.”

Except he was not a thief, was he?

“You can untie me,” Radnor said. “I never take chances with pistols, and I am not a danger in any case.”

“You are an intruder. I intend to leave you like that while I swear down information against you,” Minerva said.

“If you do it will come to naught and will only delay my mission. Now, untie me. I have something important to tell you that will explain why I am here.”

She hated how that provoked her curiosity, and also her trepidation. He might tell her that the investigation into Algernon’s death had been revived. Then again, he might reveal that at long last the poacher involved in that accident had been found. Or he might tell her that he had come to take her to gaol.

She collected herself. It was foolish to build monsters out of this stranger’s presence. There had been nothing to indicate he knew about her former identity and life.

“Explain yourself first.” She leveled the pistol firmly. “I am not inclined to trust a housebreaker.”

He gave one furious tug on the ties behind his back. He narrowed his eyes. “I have come to inform you of something that benefits you significantly.”

“What is that?”

“You have inherited some money. A large amount of it.”

* * *

Chase did not like when carefully laid plans failed. Now he grimaced while the servant called Beth dabbed at his scalp to clean the wound of blood.

A good deal of blood. He knew from his time in the army that scalp wounds were notorious for bleeding, no matter how minor.

Not that his felt all that minor. The hammer still banged.

He was sitting on a stool while the stout woman did her nursing. Fifteen feet away Minerva Hepplewhite waited patiently, watching. Lounging, damn it. The pistol now lay on a table next to where she relaxed on a divan.

She appeared composed. At ease. Minerva Hepplewhite had a level of self-possession that unaccountably irritated him.

“Explain yourself,” she said. “If you had information to give me, why didn’t you show up on my doorstep and present your card?”

That was hard to explain without putting her on her guard. “I wanted proof you were Minerva Hepplewhite. I did not want to risk speaking to the wrong woman.”

She frowned over that.

The hands on his scalp lifted, then returned and pressed against his head. He almost cursed the woman, even though he knew she only applied a poultice.

The woman Beth stepped back, taking the scent of cheap rose water with her. “Done. Shouldn’t bleed much now. You will want your valet to wash your hair carefully for a spell. If he soaks your shirt in salt water, it should help get the blood out.” She gestured to his coats. “Not much help for those stains, though.”

The two women exchanged looks. Beth left the library and closed the door behind her.

“How did you find me?” Minerva Hepplewhite asked.

“It is my profession to find people.”

“Ah, you are a runner. Is this not an odd assignment? I thought it was your profession to find paramours of married individuals, then tell their spouses about their misdeeds.”

He did that too. It was the least interesting work, and an assignment he did not seek. Yet it came to him too often, since so many spouses committed so many misdeeds.

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