Authors: Johanna Lindsey
to take much longer getting back to the city than it had taken getting to Heddings’s house. Danny didn’t have a watch, but she wouldn’t have been surprised if the sun had soon made an appearance. She was tired, exhausted really, from so many emotions she wasn’t used to experiencing. She was starting to get hungry, too. And she still had a lot to deal with when she finally got home.
Actually, she hoped Dagger would be asleep so she could get some sleep herself. It would be much easier to offer explanations, or lies for that matter, with a clear mind that wasn’t muddled with exhaustion.
Percy was napping again, smart man. Danny wished she could do the same, but with Lord Malory still wide-awake, she didn’t dare. Not that she thought he’d do anything to her while she slept. She just needed to be alert to watch for an opportunity to escape in an area she recognized.
She didn’t doubt they were going to let her go, now that she’d done what they wanted, but she doubted they’d take her back where they’d found her. Why would they go out of their way, late as it was? And dropping her off in
end of town would mean she’d be hopelessly lost and wasting hours more trying to find her way home. She might have grown up in London, but it was a big town and she was only familiar with her small section of it.
She knew to the second when his eyes were back on her. Glancing at him confirmed it. He had something on his mind. The look he was giving her was much too thoughtful.
“By the by, where’d you leave your shoes?”
The question surprised her. It certainly wasn’t what she’d expected to hear, considering his pensive frown. And actually, she was surprised he hadn’t mentioned it sooner, since he’d had her march through the woods in her stockings. And he’d tied up her ankles earlier. He would have had to be blind not to notice she wasn’t wearing normal footwear.
“These are me shoes,” she replied, and lifted one foot so he could see the soft sole of leather on the bottom of her wool stocking.
She blushed slightly, but only because she was rather proud of her improvised footwear. She’d made them herself. She had a pair of normal shoes, since running around in what looked like her stockings would draw too much comment during the day. These she wore only when she worked.
“Mind if I have a closer look?” he asked.
Quickly she tucked her feet under the seat, as far away from him as she could and gave him a mutinous stare. He merely shrugged.
Then he amazed her when he added, “You’re much smarter than I would have thought. That was quite a tale you told back there on the spur of the moment. Lord Carryway?” As soon as he said it, he chuckled.
Danny merely shrugged. “It fit.”
“I suppose,” he allowed, but his curiosity was still present. “Do you often get caught and have to talk your way out of it?”
“No. Never been nabbed, not once—until tonight. Twice in one night, and both times because o’ ye.”
He coughed slightly. But to avoid tossing around blame again, he instead introduced what was
on his mind.
He tapped the necklace and bracelet on the seat next to him that had been under discussion earlier and said, “Would like to return these two pieces to their rightful owners, anonymously, of course.” He cleared his throat and looked distinctly uncomfortable as he added, “Would you mind, youngun?”
“Why would I mind?”
“Because this pile is yours.”
She snorted. She’d already decided she wanted no part of that glitter. The vision of her being caught and hanged was still too fresh in her mind. But knowing the jewelry was twice stolen made it even more risky and she said so.
“It’s one thing to get rid o’ stuff like that when it’s first stolen, just a matter o’ being quick about it. But trying to dump stolen goods that were already stolen goods is just askin’ to get caught. Some o’ that stuff, if not all, is already being looked for. I’d as soon toss it out the window as touch it again.”
He shook his head. “This won’t do. You were promised a fortune in—”
“Get over it, mate. If I want anything from ye, ye’ll know it.”
Oh, God, his look suddenly turned sensual again, heating her thoughts, turning her innards to mush. If she said anything else just then, it would be utter gibberish. How could he
that with just a look? And what had she said to change his expression like that? The mention of “want”? That would mean he knew she was a woman, but he
know. No one knew. And he couldn’t have guessed. She didn’t even know
to act like a female anymore, she’d played her male role so long, and she’d made no mistakes to give herself away.
He let her off the hook by cooling his carnal stare. Was it the squirming she’d done? He picked up the wad of money, thumbed through it briefly, then tossed it on her seat.
“Not quite a hundred pounds there, but it will do for the moment I suppose.”
Why did he make it sound as if they weren’t done with each other? “That’s more’n I’ve ever seen at one time, or two, or more,” she quickly assured him. “That will do me fine.”
He merely smiled. She went back to staring out the window. Her eyes widened to see London on the other side now.
She didn’t recognize anything, but she still said, her tone somewhat desperate, “Ye can let me out ’ere, mate. I can find m’way—”
“Not a chance, lad. I’ll take you to your door and do any explaining that’s needed, to get you out of the trouble you mentioned. We’ll just drop Percy off first. Won’t take long a’tall.”
And then be alone with him and his bleedin’ eyes that undressed her? Not a chance was right.
“I exaggerated,” she lied. “This money will more’n make up for the time I’ve been missing.”
“I insist,” he said, not buying her lie. “Wouldn’t be able to sleep if I thought this nasty business had repercussions for you.”
“Like I care if ye can sleep?” she snapped churlishly. “Yer idea o’ favors is my idea o’ getting buried, so don’t do me any more. I’d be in even more trouble if I showed ye where me friends live. Waking up in an alley beat nigh to death would be lucky.”
“You expect a beating for—”
“Not me,” she cut in pointedly.
He chuckled. “All right, I get the picture. But I’ll escort you back to that tavern. Very least I can do.”
She didn’t think he’d settle for that once he got that far, so she had no choice but to say, “No.”
“Wasn’t asking for permission, dear boy.”
Danny opened her mouth to snarl something really nasty, but since it wouldn’t accomplish anything, she decided to save her energy for what was about to come next.
ANNY HAD TO WAIT
until the nabob took his eyes off her before she made her move. When he finally did, she didn’t spare another thought on it, just shot toward the coach door, jumped out, and took off at a run down the block.
Too easy, just as she’d figured it would be, though she’d underestimated how much ducking she should have done to get through the door. Not being a frequent rider in coaches, never in one so fine as his, she hadn’t taken her above-average height into account when leaping out that coach door. She was lucky she’d only knocked her hat off and hadn’t knocked herself unconscious.
She’d miss the hat. She was right fond of that hat, had won it in a fight down the block last year. It gave her a certain “flare” that she loved, probably because it appealed to her feminine vanity. But it was gone now, left on the floor of the nabob’s coach, and it would be a sorry day before she’d risk running into that young lord again to retrieve it.
She didn’t slow her pace, didn’t need to as she wasn’t winded yet. But a block away she figured she better stop running before she did wear herself out. She started to, then finally heard someone running behind her. A glance back and she shot forward at full speed.
She simply couldn’t believe it. The bleedin’ nabob was chasing her! And not just a short distance either. He should have given up after the first block, but he was still at it.
It made no sense, since they were done with each other. She’d done what they’d wanted and they had gotten her back to London. Why in the bleedin’ hell would he go out of his way just to get her closer to home when she obviously didn’t want him taking her any farther?
Three bleedin’ blocks now and he still wasn’t stopping! She was getting winded now. His legs were longer. He was slowly catching up to her. She almost stopped and gave up, but she rounded a corner and found a passing hack just approaching it. While she was out of Malory’s line of view for those few seconds, she dove under the hack, grabbed hold of the frame to lift herself off the ground, anchored her feet to it as well to help hold herself up as close to the frame as possible, and waited until she saw his legs run by.
Pressed close to the underbelly of the coach, she was out of Malory’s sight. He kept on running, in the opposite direction from her now, which allowed her to drop back to the ground when the hack turned another corner.
She was still somewhat winded, heart still racing, even more hungry now, and close to toppling over from pure exhaustion. If she didn’t think it would make matters much worse to delay getting home, she’d find a nice alley to curl up in and sleep the day away.
She was lost, of course, in an area of the city she’d never been in before. And she was drawing too much attention. Without her hat to hide the white-gold of her hair, her mop of curls was like a beacon, especially in contrast to her dark green velvet jacket. She was drawing attention wherever she passed, making her more uncomfortable than she cared to admit.
It took another hour to find a landmark she actually recognized so she could stop walking around in circles as she’d been doing and start heading in the right direction from there. It took yet another hour and a half to finally reach home at the slow pace she could manage, as tired and sore as she was by then.
And she still had the feeling someone was following her. She knew bloody well she’d lost Malory, so it wasn’t him. But every time she glanced behind her, she merely saw other people going about their business. There were too many alleys along the way though that someone intent on following her could slip into and just peak out of to keep sight of her. She finally concluded she was being silly, that her exhaustion and overactive imagination were just playing tricks on her.
And she was worried. That was probably the main reason why she was getting jumpy and imagining things. It was getting worse and worse, the closer she got to home, because she wasn’t sure if she’d have a home after today.
Tyrus Dyer had been unable to believe his eyes. He was either losing his mind, because he knew the woman couldn’t have regressed in years to look that young again, or he was seeing the girl who was supposed to be dead. It was one or the other, had to be, and he’d rather not think he was losing his mind, so obviously the girl wasn’t dead. And she’d grown up to look just like her mother.
Tyrus was the one who’d been hired to kill her—her and her father. Getting rid of the man had been no problem. The child should have been even less trouble. But she’d had a nurse guarding her, and that woman had fought like a banshee. Though he was sure he’d mortally wounded her, she’d even managed to knock him out with his own club! He wasn’t out long, just long enough for the nurse to drag the girl out of the house and hide her somewhere.
When he’d been unable to find her, he thought she’d curled up in a hole somewhere to die, her body just never discovered. That had
satisfied his employer, however. Money was involved, a lot of it, and the fellow had been so livid over Tyrus’s incompetence, he hadn’t just refused to pay him, he’d tried to shoot him. But Tyrus had seen it coming and had managed to dodge the bullets and make his escape.
Tyrus had been livid himself for quite a few years after. He’d done half the job. But after that his luck had turned so rotten, it was as if that unfinished job had jinxed him. No matter what he did, he bungled it now. As a result, he’d been fired so many times he’d lost count.
But his bad luck had just showed up. It wasn’t illusive anymore. It was tangible. And he’d just been given the means to actually get rid of it. This required some thought. He didn’t want to be hasty and mess up again. But he knew where she lived. Hiding in the slums all these years, who would have figured! He’d be back….
T WAS TOO MUCH
to hope Dagger wouldn’t be awake. The sun had been up for a while now. And he was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of tea Nan had made him. Six of the children were in the main room, not counting a couple still sleeping there. They all took one look at Dagger staring at her through the arched opening to the kitchen and started vacating the house.
Danny entered the kitchen and dropped down in the seat across from Dagger.
He was a plain-looking man, but the long scar on his chin and the short one under his left eye gave him a mean look. His long brown hair was mussed, his eyes bloodshot. He looked haggard at the moment. Actually, he looked about as tired as she was. She guessed then that he hadn’t slept at all, that he’d stayed up waiting for her to get home. It wouldn’t be because he’d worried about her. No, when she hadn’t returned when she should have, he would have realized she’d given him the excuse he’d been looking for to get rid of her. He wasn’t a stupid man. She could have talked circles around him if he was.
She was too tired to lie about what had happened. She’d trip herself up if she tried. Before he said a word though, she took out the wad of money from her pocket and tossed it on the table between them. None of them had ever brought home so much. A hundred pounds was a bleedin’ fortune to them. She was hoping it might make a difference. It didn’t. He barely glanced at it. And too late she realized it made her look as if she’d willingly broken the rules.
“Will ye ’ear me out, Dagger?” she asked. “I’ve not ’ad many choices since leaving ’ere last night.”
“I know ye were caught, but I also know ye weren’t taken to jail.”
“It were still a trap. They wanted a thief to do some stealing for them.”
“Ye know better, so why didn’t ye refuse?”
“Why do ye think I was carted out o’ there tied up?” she countered.
“But ye didn’t stay tied up, did ye?” he said with a pointed glance at the money on the table. “Ye could ’ave escaped them sooner.”
That was true. Tiredly she explained, “That would’ve stranded me in the countryside wi’ no telling when I would’ve found me way back to London.”
“Ye left London!”
She flinched at the shout. “That’s
I didn’t try to escape sooner. I’ve never been out o’ London before. It probably would’ve taken me a week to get ’ome. But they swore they’d bring me back soon as I robbed the lord for them.”
That shout was even louder than the last one. “I s’pose in ’is own bleedin’ ’ouse, too?”
She could have lied at that point, should have. That was the number one rule, after all. But she knew, could tell by the very questions he’d been asking, that her answer wasn’t going to make a bit of difference.
“Pack up yer things and get out. Ye’ve broken the last rule ye’ll be breaking ’ere.”
Danny didn’t move a muscle. She’d
she was going to hear that, that no matter what she said, she was going to hear it. But still she wasn’t prepared for the tightness filling her chest or the emotion clogging up her throat. Dagger had been “family” to her for fifteen years. That he
her gone was what hurt the most.
She wasn’t going to cry. She wasn’t supposed to be a female who would. She was no longer a child who would. She was supposed to be a man who wouldn’t, so she couldn’t. It wasn’t something she could stop though, so she stumbled quickly away from the table before Dagger could notice the moisture filling her eyes.
She went straight to her pallet on the floor in the main room. It was hers. She’d roll it up and take it with her, though she couldn’t imagine where she’d lay it down next. Her sack of clothes was beside it, not a very big sack. The outfit she was wearing was her favorite so she wore it daily, changed to her only other outfit just to wash it. Her pet was there in his little box. She managed to stuff it into the sack for ease of carrying.
The two children who had still been sleeping were sitting up on their pallets now openly crying. She stopped by each to give them a hug. Ordinarily she would have tried to cheer them, but she still couldn’t get any words out past the lump in her throat, so she didn’t try.
Opening the door, though, she found the rest of the children lined up outside it, most of them crying, too. They’d listened at the door, knew they wouldn’t be seeing her again. It was breaking her heart. She’d been their hero for the longest time. They’d probably follow her if she gave the word. But she couldn’t do that to Dagger, despite how callously he’d treated her. They were all Dagger had. She tore herself away from them and headed down the street.
Ironically, she’d wanted to leave for years, to find a real job, a respectable job, so she’d never have to steal again. Dagger was just forcing her to realize that dream sooner than she’d expected. She hoped she could be grateful to him someday for that, that the hurt wouldn’t last too long.
Reminding herself that this was something she had wanted to achieve wasn’t helping to ease the pain. She’d wanted to leave on good terms, to be able to come back and visit, to maybe help the other children find respectable jobs, too.
She swung around with a gasp, saw Dagger marching determinedly down the street toward her. The hurt eased up immediately. She’d known, deep down, that he couldn’t do this to her. He’d only wanted to scare her is all, so she’d stop breaking the rules and set a good example for the other children.
He reached her and she saw that his expression wasn’t conciliatory at all. Her brief burst of hope was dashed. He was still angry. In fact, she’d never seen him quite this angry before.
“Ye want to know why, Danny?” he hissed at her. “Yer too bleedin’ pretty for a man. I’ve found m’self wanting ye, and that makes me so disgusted wi’ m’self I can’t think sometimes. But I’d as soon kill ye as touch ye, so the better choice was to get rid o’ ye, now weren’t it? Ye’ll make do. I’ve no doubt o’ that. I taught ye well. But ye’ll make do somewhere else. Now be gone wi’ ye ’fore I change me mind and we both end up regrettin’ it.”
She could have told him right then that he didn’t need to be disgusted with himself for wanting her. She was a girl after all. But that confession would probably produce a serious rage the likes of which she’d never seen, because she’d deliberately deceived them all these years. And besides, he’d just admitted he wanted her. If he knew she really was a woman, he’d want her in his bed for a time, then probably set her to whoring—or both. And why had she hidden her sex for fifteen years if not to avoid that very fate?
She turned away and walked on before she said something that
would regret—and ran into Lucy around the next corner.
“Cor, where’ve ye been, Danny? I’ve been looking every— wot’s wrong?”
It was her undoing. The tears started rolling down her cheeks. She could have controlled it, gotten away without having it all ripped out of her, if she hadn’t run into Lucy. Anyone but dear Lucy, her sister, her mother, her only true friend…
“He did it, didn’t ’e?” Lucy guessed immediately. “Kicked ye out?” At Danny’s nod, she added, “Ah, luv, don’t take it so ’ard. This is yer chance, ye know, to do something wi’ yer life that ’as some meaning. Ye talked o’ gettin’ yerself a husband, raisin’ some kids, teachin’ them proper. Ye’ve wanted to do that, but ye couldn’t begin while ye were still ’ere.”
“I know,” Danny replied, barely able to get the words out past the lump in her throat.
“Then buck up, eh?” Even as she said it, Lucy’s own tears were starting. She turned her back on Danny, as if that could hide the emotion welling up in her.
“I’ll send word, once I’m settled,” Danny promised.
“Ye better. I’ll worry m’self sick till you do. Now go. This is a good day for ye, luv. Ye ’ave to believe that.”
Danny tried, she really did, to dredge up that optimism, but she couldn’t. She started to hurry past Lucy. This good-bye was much more painful than she could have imagined. But the other woman’s hand caught her shoulder, stopped her for one last minute.
“Be yerself, Danny lass,” Lucy whispered through her tears, as she put her arms around Danny and hugged her tightly. “It’s finally time. Just be yerself, and it will all turn out right for ye.”