It was late, almost midnight when Oliver arrived at his destination. He estimated that he was about twenty kilometres outside London and without the streetlights and the bustle of the city, the house before him appeared deserted. To add to its bleak appearance was the fact that there were no lights on inside or around the house. He took the steps two at a time and knocked on the door. As he waited for his knock to be answered, he looked around while wondering if he shouldn’t have accepted Geon’s offer to accompany him. She wasn’t happy when he turned her down, saying that the invitation stated clearly that he come alone. If not for Lord Morris, who had issued the invite, he wouldn’t have considered braving the unknown, and the possibility of running into highway bandits, to come here.
The door opened and a woman with a dour disposition and a lantern in her hand, invited him inside then led him through the dark house towards the back. They arrived at a door and he could see a sliver of light coming from under the door.
“They are expecting you, sir.”
“Thank you.” He entered and found Lord Morris standing at the fireplace. With him was the reason Oliver now knew why he was asked to come alone. He closed the door behind him and walked over to greet the men. “Lord Morris. Lord Jenkins.”
The prime minister had recovered well from his ordeal, but after two weeks still seemed to favour his knee as he moved to take a seat on the couch.
“Welcome, Mr. Potts. Please have a seat.”
Oliver joined the man while Lord Morris went to pour him a brandy. He took in the room. The room as well as the rest of the house were surprisingly well-decorated for its desolate exterior.
“It is my hideout when life in the city becomes too suffocating,” Lord Jenkins said with a grimaced. “Which, unfortunately, has happened a lot over the past few weeks. I can’t think what would’ve happened had your friends not come to my rescue.”
“That is what they do, milord. I’m glad that they could be of service.”
Lord Morris handed him his drink and made himself comfortable. “Shall we begin, gentlemen? My wife and daughters get restless when I stay out too late.”
Lord Jenkins leaned back in his chair. “I need to know who your friends are, Mr. Potts.”
Oliver took a sip of his drink, studying the man over the rim of his glass. He had no intention of divulging that information.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, milord. Not unless I have the guarantee from the Crown that it is safe for their identities to be known.” He could see that the man wasn’t happy with his answer, but Oliver didn’t care. He was falling deeper in love with Geon every day and he wasn’t going to jeopardise that by putting her and her friends in danger. Nor would he want them to be exploited in any way.
“You do realise that it is within my power to make you tell me.”
Oliver saw the sharp look that Lord Morris gave the man. It was good to know that his friend wasn’t condoning this intimidation approach. He stood and, straightening his jacket, bowed.
“Thank you, gentleman, but I believe my services are no longer needed.” He turned and without a backward glance walked to the door.
“Wait a minute, Mr. Potts.” He stopped but didn’t turn around. “I apologise for my discourtesy. Your friends saved my life and threatening you to disclose their identities is no way to show my gratitude.”
Oliver turned back to the man. “They are more than friends to me, Lord Jenkins. I accept your apology, but please take note that should you try to threaten me again or in any other way or form try to get me to reveal who they are, I am willing to take that information to the grave with me.”
He saw a flash of admiration in the man’s eyes before he nodded. “Duly noted, Mr. Potts. Please, can we continue with our meeting?”
With a look at Lord Morris, who nodded, Oliver walked over to join them.
Jeremiah held up his hand and Abigail pulled the glass away to dab at his lips. He lay back but didn’t take his eyes off her as she moved away. He was stronger now, but not according to Abigail. She watched him like a hawk and pampered him. She did everything for him, except the one thing he truly wanted.
Being his wife.
On numerous occasions he had woken during the night to find her sitting up, watching him sleep. It hurt to think that he was the reason that she was so restless. He sighed softly when she returned and began to fluff his pillow.
She stopped, instant concern in her eyes.
“Do you want to vomit?”
He grimaced. “No. Please sit with me for a moment.” Abigail hesitated. “Please, Abi, I miss you.”
She blinked in surprise. “I don’t understand, because I…”
Jeremiah reached for her hand. “Not the nurse or the doctor, but my wife. I miss my wife.”
“Oh, Jeremiah.” The dark eyes filled with tears and she squeezed his hand. “I…I wish I…” She stopped to wipe at her tears.
“What do you wish, my love?”
She took a shuddering breath. “I wish I could be less afraid.”
He sat up and pulled her into his arms, dragging her down with him until they lay together and her soft sobs were the only sound in the room.
What could he offer her as surety that he wasn’t going to die? Or get hurt again? He had no power over that. Nor was he going to start to lie to his wife just for the sake of comforting her. She would know and she would be angry with him for the deception.
So, he lay there, holding her tightly as she cried. Tonight, he would hold her and watch over her as she slept.
Hirsh rolled onto her side, punching the pillow in frustration. She hated it when she struggled to sleep. Even worse was when she knew what the reason for her agitation was.
She missed Jane fiercely.
A letter had arrived four days ago and even in the writing of her lover, she could sense her sadness. Jeremiah had been poisoned and was recovering at home. Hirsh could tell that the thought of losing her godfather had left the blonde shaken. It frustrated her beyond measure that she couldn’t be by her lover’s side at a time like this. She was about ready to hop on her horse and ride home, but Jane had made her promise that she wouldn’t leave London until it was time to do so. Jane believed that it was important to hang around and not make the prime minister forget that they had saved his life and that some sort of compensation was in order.
Not even that had made her want to stay here. She heard voices downstairs and cocked her head slightly to listen. The others all stayed at Geon’s house but she opted to stay with her uncle and aunt. Since Maeve was working at the Bannon house, she thought it a good idea to keep the elderly couple company. She threw the blankets off and, pulling on her robe, walked to the door. She might just as well go and have a drink with them. It was a ritual in this household to have a late-night drink before bed. She had partaken in it in the beginning, but as her longing for Jane had grown, especially in the quiet of the evenings, she had preferred to spend the time in her room.
She walked down the stairs, following her uncle’s deep voice. She found them in the kitchen, but they weren’t alone; a lady was with them, her back to Hirsh. Her uncle saw her first.
“Hirsh. We were just talking about you,” he called out, and the lady turned with her whole body to see her.
“Jane!” She rushed to the woman's side and pulled her out of the chair and into her arms. Please don’t let this be a dream, she prayed softly as she squeezed the woman tightly.
“Oh, sorry! I’m sorry.” She pulled back to look into the twinkling green eyes. “How…?”
She smiled as she cupped Hirsh’s cheek. “With Jeremiah on the mend and Henry Steed chasing down Stephen Buchanan, I thought to come and see how you were doing before I have to go back.”
“Go back?” She had only arrived! How could she be talking about going back already? “When?”
“A few days, perhaps.” She glanced over to where the elderly couple was watching them with wide smiles. “I would like to get to know your family for a while.”
Hirsh liked the sound of that. She met her aunt’s eyes and read the message in them.
“You must be tired from the trip. Let me show you to your room.” There were only two rooms upstairs; one was Maeve’s and the other she occupied. Her uncle and aunt had their room downstairs. They surely must know that Jane would be sleeping in her room with her. “Where is your luggage?”
“I wasn’t sure about my reception, so I left it in the carriage.”
What was she talking about? “You weren’t sure of your reception? Why?”
Jane blushed as she glanced at the elderly couple again. “You seemed like you wanted to be with your family and I wasn’t sure if my unannounced arrival would be well-received.”
“Nonsense,” her uncle boomed. “Any friend of Hirsh is welcome here.”
Jane smiled broadly. “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re most welcome, young lady. Now off you go. It’s almost midnight and you look dead on your feet.”
Hirsh gave her uncle a grateful smile as she rushed Jane up the stairs. The moment the door closed behind them; they were in each other’s arms.
“Oh, my love, I missed you.”
“I thought I would die if I didn’t come and see you.”
They kissed passionately while, at the same time, trying to undress each other. In the end, Hirsh uttered a frustrated groan and, lifting Jane in her arms, deposited her on the bed so she could lift her skirts. Her attempts to rid Jane of her underwear took longer than she had anticipated since the blonde kept interrupting her for a kiss. When, finally, she had pulled the offending article off, she threw Jane’s legs over her shoulders.
“You might require a pillow unless you want to alert my family as to what’s happening right now.”
She grinned when Jane quickly grabbed a pillow before she lowered her mouth to the waiting prize.