A Death in Sheffield
To Artemis’ relief, Lady Tallyer did not remain with them once Droughm returned in the evening, but instead took her leave, citing a desire to rest after the day’s long journey. Rather than make an appearance downstairs, Artemis and Droughm decided to have their dinner served in their rooms, and sat before the fire to partake. Now that she was on the alert, Artemis covertly scrutinized her husband for signs of distraction, but could find none. Instead, he seemed well-content.
“Do you note I haven’t asked after your arm?” He looked over at her with a gleam. “I have no desire to be knocked about with your splint.”
“I appreciate it,” she replied gravely. “Truly, I do.”
“I met your Constable—”
“Not ‘my’ Constable Pen; for heaven’s sake.”
“No, and a good thing. He’s a rum touch—and insolent, which is not a good sign.”
She teased, “Insolent? That is unthinkable, my lord. Will you throw him in the stocks?”
But he tilted his head, unwilling to joke about it. “Not a laughing matter, I’m afraid. The High Constable of Sheffield should not be insolent to an Earl, and I can only surmise it is because he believes he holds the whip hand over me.”
Sobering, she guessed, “Because he’s part of the counterfeiting scheme, and knows about Wentworth’s murder.”
“No doubt. I will visit the mines tomorrow morning—I have some questions for the Overseer that I’d like to have answered without the Constable listening in—and I’d like you to be there with me, concerned, and very much not guilty.”
Artemis readily agreed, relieved that the shopping expedition would be postponed—she’d a million times rather be with Droughm—and resigned herself to yet another day spent in Lady Tallyer’s borrowed dress. “Do you think I can manage it? I am not very good at pretending things.”
“You’ll have to, I’m afraid—even if they find your uncle’s corpse, and parade it before you.”
Nodding, she decided there was no time like the present to discuss her latest concerns—she could not imagine stewing in silence, afraid to broach the subject; it was not in her nature.
Lifting her face, she met his eyes. “When I first met you, Pen, I thought you were not one for roundaboutation, but now I wonder if perhaps that is not so.”
She noted that the expression in the green eyes was suddenly wary—not a good sign. As he made no reply, she explained, “I would not make a very good spy—I am much better suited for direct action. Can you not tell me what is planned?”
Considering, he regarded her for a long moment, his dark brows drawn together. “What has made you doubt me? You should not believe everything Carena tells you.”
“I won’t, then,” said Artemis, watching him. “What, in particular, am I to disbelieve?”
He ducked his chin to his chest, debating.
Artemis decided to help him out. “I think it was she who re-stitched my doll, and I suppose that means your people have been shadowing us the whole time.”
Holding her gaze with his own, he admitted slowly, “I told them you had the plates. I had to, Artemis; it is too important to take any chances. They are concerned—understandably— that you are working against our interests, and that I am too besotted to take a clear view of the situation.”
Surprised, she thought this over. “You are besotted,” she acknowledged fairly.
With an abrupt movement, he stood and pulled her upright against him in a tight embrace, his cheek against her temple. Alarmed, she felt the tension in his arms and waited for whatever was to come, as she shifted her splint out of harm’s way.
In an intense tone, he spoke from over her head, “They do not know you as I do, and it does not look well. Your uncle—”
“Great-uncle,” she corrected him.
“Who is truly not my great-uncle at all,” she reminded him anxiously, speaking into his neck cloth.
“Artemis, have done. You killed him shortly after you arrived with the plates; you will inherit the mines; your father was French, and Colonel Merryfield has some complicity in the scheme. They cannot look upon all these factors without grave unease.”
Acknowledging the truth of this, she leaned back to look up at him. “But they cannot believe you married a murderess, and a traitor. They cannot think you such a fool, Pen, besotted or not.”
His arms tightened fiercely around her. “I shouldn’t even be telling you this.”
She said slowly, “So it is cat-and-mouse, but between us?”
Making a sound of frustration, he took a long breath. “I suppose that is one way of looking at it.”
Pressing her lips together, she asked in a level tone, “Are we truly married?”
With an impatient gesture he ran his hand down her back. “Good God, Artemis—of course we are truly married; how can you doubt it?”
This was a relief; it had occurred to her that perhaps everything that had happened since the Ballantine House ball had been a sham. She thought over their situation, and asked, “Can you simply tell me the truth—what is planned? I could do whatever is necessary to clear my name—without letting on I am aware you told me.”
“I cannot,” he said quietly. There was a thread of grim emotion underlying the words.
“Because some things are more important than the truth.” She quoted what he had told her, back in London. He couldn’t take the chance—even if it was a very small chance—that she was indeed a murderess and a traitor. “I understand, Pen—truly I do.”
“It is a damnable situation.”
“We’ll come about.” She laid her cheek on his shirt-front. “But I am glad you told me.”
She felt his chest rise and fall, and then he suddenly said, “I may decide it is best to take you away from here—away from England. Be aware that this is a contingency, and do not mention it to anyone, even to Katy.”
“My poor Pen,” she sympathized with some bemusement. “You must be worried indeed, if you think we may have to cut and run.”
“I’ll not take any chances. Circumstances—circumstances may conspire against you.”
“I’m not involved in any of this—except for killing my wretched uncle, of course. I swear it, Pen.”
“I know. But I must at least give the appearance that I am cognizant of the possibility.” He rubbed his cheek against her hair. “Forgive me.”
“I can hold no grudge—no one is to blame in this, except the Colonel.” She could not keep the edge of bitterness from her voice.
“He loved you, Artemis.”
“Not as much as you do; you who are willing to live abroad as an outlaw.” She reached to kiss his chin. “Go ahead with your shadowy plans—I will trust you, come what may.”
He said nothing for a moment, bringing his cheek down to rest against hers, and she had the impression he was debating whether to tell her something.
“What is it?” she whispered. Whatever it was, it was not good.
He drew back from whatever he was on the verge of saying, and said instead, “I love you. You know that—even when I tease you.”
“I do,” she assured him. “I think it is most evident when we do tease each other.”
He spoke with quiet intensity into her ear. “Damn Merryfield, and damn your uncle.”
“No argument here. Shall we go to bed?”
Amused, he drew back and looked at her. “Now?”
“Yes, now. I think I am longing for reassurance.”
“Then by all means.” He steered her toward the bedchamber, where there was no further discussion of treason, or flight.
Afterward, she lay in his arms, relieved by his attentions, even though she wasn’t certain why she felt relieved. That he was in contact with his people shouldn’t surprise her; it was only the fact that she’d been kept unaware that bothered her. But there was nothing for it—he couldn’t take the chance that she was conspiring to bring about the ruination of England. It was understandable, even as it was vexing. And she mustn’t sulk about it, or provoke a quarrel—Lady Tallyer was hovering in the wings, no doubt hoping for a misstep on her part. Despite the woman’s determined civility that day, Artemis had seen her gaze rest on the bed for a long, ambivalent moment.