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Forbidden to Love the Duke(96)

By:Jillian Hunter

Chapter 36

Elora stared at the scruffy gentleman in distaste. His jacket hung open. Wine stains soiled his cravat and the cuffs of his wrinkled shirt, but by far his worst offense of all was the gun wobbling in his hand. “What are you doing here?” Elora demanded. “I warned you repeatedly that you were only to speak to me in private, if then. Our association has ended.”

Ainsley grunted. “We’re in trouble—that’s why I’m here. While you’re sitting here sipping tea, Ellsworth and your poet got into a battle like a pair of lions at the duke’s club. Talk of it is all over London. It’s time for a holiday in Venice.”

Ivy’s hands tightened around the whisky decanter. “How did the duke fare?”

He squinted, evidently too inebriated to see straight. “All I know is that they almost killed each other and then, according to witnesses, took off together the best of friends.” He waved his gun at Elora. “I don’t suppose you managed to find out where that treasure might be hidden. That was our agreement. I keep your secret, and you keep me on the dole.”

Elora’s lip curled. “That was our agreement before Oliver and I realized you were willing to attack helpless women and commit murder for what could well be a fairy tale, Ainsley.”

“There is no treasure,” Ivy said wearily. “Don’t you think we would have found it ourselves? Oh, dear heaven. Is that why Lilac was attacked? You hideous fool.”

“You’re up to your pretty neck in this, Elora,” he said, ignoring Ivy.

“Don’t believe him, Ivy,” Elora said. “He’s pathetic. He’s no doubt lost again at the tables tonight, and I have loaned him money for the last time.”

Ainsley stepped into the light. Ivy couldn’t decide whether the stringy hair on his forehead was damp from rain or perspiration, but the effect was off-putting either way. “Don’t you sound like a saint?” he said to Elora. “What’s that beside you? Your latest contribution to charity?”

“They aren’t mine,” Elora said, murder in her eyes. “I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand even if I explained it to you all night.” She rose to face Ivy. “I’m also afraid he has a point.”

Ainsley nodded toward the side door. “And I’m afraid all this chatter and stolen gems will be the end of us. Get your pretty self in the hall, governess.”

“Duchess,” Elora said with a rueful sigh. “She is to become a duchess in a few weeks.”

“Why force me to go with you?” Ivy wondered aloud. “So far, Ainsley, all you’ve done is attack Quigley and behave quite stupidly. Oliver, after all, did save Lilac’s life.”

“Ainsley has assisted me in my career,” Elora said with a sour look at the man.

“Well, who else knows that?” Ivy asked.

“Oliver and now you.” Elora opened the reticule that sat on the tea table. Inside it was a pistol, which she lifted to point at Ivy. “You’re to be our insurance, that’s all.”

“Then I suppose you’ll have to kill me, because I won’t go willingly.”

Elora glanced at Ainsley. “I assume the coach is waiting. Why don’t you go outside and make sure the street is clear? I’ll take care of her.”

Ainsley hesitated. “If she’s anything like her sister, she’ll put up a fight.” He pulled off his coat, moving toward Ivy, and threw it over her head. “Move.”

The smell of Ainsley’s body odor on the coat alone might have incapacitated Ivy had she not immediately begun breathing through her mouth. Her muffled screams would not be heard outside the room. She needed a weapon. She turned, wondering what her sisters would do in this situation.

“I told you not to move.” Ainsley made a grab for her arm. Being a drunken oaf, he miscalculated by several inches, allowing her the chance to dodge between the sideboard and the window.

She wrenched the coat from her head as he swore and staggered into the sideboard. His gun fell under the draperies. Ivy thought she detected hoofbeats on the rain-soaked cobbles. She listened until the clatter receded, taking her hopes for rescue into the night.

“Step out from behind the sideboard,” Ainsley said, flexing his fingers.

“No,” Ivy said.

“No?” He sounded incredulous. “Would you like your neck broken?”

Ivy looked down at the bottles and glasses arrayed on the sideboard. “Why don’t we have a toast to celebrate this momentous occasion?”

“Give me the damn whisky, you impertinent witch.”

“Of course.” She snatched her hand away as he made another attempt to grab her, this time managing to strike her in the shoulder. Unstopping the decanter, she raised it and splashed its potent contents in his face. Allowing him no time to recover, she then brought the empty bottle down upon his dense skull.