Her thoughts were interrupted by a crowd gathering outside the club. Frowning, she looked at the amassing vehicles and the darkly garbed figures encircling the building. “What’s happening?” She continued to stare as Jenner’s carriage pulled away. “Are those police officers?”

“Could be.”

“Then they’re going to raid the club? During an assembly ball?”

Jenner’s pale blue eyes glittered with enjoyment. “Looks like it.”

“You’re responsible for this!” she exclaimed.

“Me?” he asked innocently. “I’m just a simple ’azard operator, love.” But his satisfied smirk betrayed him.

“Oh, Mr. Jenner, this is too bad of you,” she scolded as the carriage rattled along the street. “I fail to see what this will accomplish! Poor Mr. Craven has had enough on his hands tonight—”

“Poor Mr. Crawen?” he echoed indignantly. “Ah…women! You’ve taken ’is side now?”

“I’m taking no one’s side,” Sara bent a long, disapproving stare on him. “As far as I can see, the two of you are exactly alike.”

“A raid!” someone called inside the club as officers swarmed in through the doors. The happy disorder of the ball turned into pandemonium. Guests milled through the rooms in disoriented groups while employees deftly covered up tables, hid cards and dice, and concealed cribbage boards and bowls of counters. Police officers swarmed inside the club with swaggering aggressiveness, pausing to eye the scantily dressed whores. Inconspicuously they helped themselves to samples of the lavish buffet and expensive wines, a rare opportunity for the poorly paid members of the city force.

Sourly Derek watched the proceedings from a corner of the central room. “What a night,” he muttered.

Advertisement..

Ivo Jenner had timed his prank to perfection, crowning an evening already rife with indignity. The raid was nothing. It was what had gone before that had proved his undoing. Derek hadn’t been left high and dry since his early days of chasing after saucy street wenches. He liked it even less now than he had then. His skin prickled as if he’d been ice-burned. Every muscle in his body was tight. Everyone knew it was unhealthy for a man to be kept in such a condition. He counted the ways he’d like to punish Sara Fielding for her antics. Now he was finally rid of her, thank God. No more temptation, no more hazy blue eyes, no more note-taking and questions and “research” that provided an excuse for her to poke her nose into every corner of his unsavory life. Fumbling in his coat pocket, he sought the tiny pair of spectacles. His hand closed around them tightly.

“Mr. Craven.” Worthy approached him with great hesitation. The factotum’s long forehead was plowed in deep furrows. “Jenner,” he said succinctly, gesturing to the police.

Derek fixed a brooding stare on the invading officers. “I pay those bastards enough under the table to keep this from happening.”

“It looks as though Jenner pays them more,” Worthy said, and became the recipient of a frosty glare. Nervously he cleared his throat. “I’ve just spoken to Ellison. He’s in quite a pucker.”

“My butler’s never in a pucker.”

Worthy craned his neck to stare at his towering employer. “He is tonight.”

“We’ve had plenty of raids before.”

“It’s not the raid. The reason Ellison is upset is because he just saw a woman he identified as ‘Mathilda’ leaving the club with Ivo Jenner.”

“So Jenner’s gone? Good. That’ll save me the trouble of pounding the slimy little bastard into the ground.”

“Mr. Craven, forgive me, but you’re missing the point. He—”

“What point? That he’s with some woman named Mathilda? I could find a dozen women for you, all pretending to be frigging Mathilda. It’s a masquerade, Worthy.” He began to walk away, speaking brusquely over his shoulder. “Pardon me, but I have a few police officers to knock heads with—”

“Miss Fielding is Mathilda,” the factotum said bluntly.

Derek froze. He shook his head as if to clear his ears. Slowly he turned to face the smaller man. “What did you say?”

“Somehow Miss Fielding evaded me. She must have used the concealed passageway that leads to the card rooms. The ‘Mathilda’ who just left with Ivo Jenner is described as wearing a blue dress and having long brown hair, not to mention a notable pair of…of…” Worthy spluttered into silence and made an explicit gesture with his hands.

“Holy hell!” Derek exploded, turning several shades darker. “No, no, not with Jenner. I’ll kill him if he touches her. I’ll kill her…” Swearing obscenely, he raked both hands through his hair until it was in wild disarray.

“I believe they left in Jenner’s carriage,” the factotum murmured, falling back a few steps. In all the years of their acquaintance, he had never witnessed such a volcanic display from Craven. “Ellison seems to believe they went to Mr. Jenner’s club. Sir…perhaps you’d like a drink?”

Derek stormed back and forth in uncoiling fury. “I tells ’er to go back to bloody Greenwood Corners, an’ instead she traipses off with Ivo Jenner. She’d be safer walking na*ed through St. Giles!” He glared at Worthy. “You stay here,” he growled. “Pay off the bloody police and get rid of ’em.”

“You’re going to Jenner’s?” the factotum asked. “You can’t leave with the officers surrounding the club—”

“I’ll get through the police,” Derek said coldly. “And when I find Miss Fielding—” He stopped and stared at Worthy, his green eyes gleaming with a vengeful light that caused the factotum to blanch. “You helped her with this, didn’t you? She couldn’t come to the assembly without you knowing. If anything happens to her…I’ll fire you and ewery employee in this club. The whole bloody lot of you!”

“But Mr. Craven,” Worthy protested, “no one could have known she would behave so recklessly.”

“The hell you couldn’t,” Derek said in a blistering tone. “It was obvious since the day she got here. She’s been itching for a chance to land herself in trouble. And you made it bloody easy for her, didn’t you?”

“Mr. Craven—”

“Enough,” Derek said curtly. “I’m going to find her. And you’d better pray nothing happens to her—or I’ll send you to the devil.”

During the carriage ride through the city, Sara listened patiently as Jenner boasted about his prize-fighting days, his past victories and defeats, and all his life-threatening injuries. Unlike Derek Craven, Ivo Jenner was a simple man who knew exactly where he belonged. He preferred the world he had come from, with its assortment of coarse people and coarser pleasures. It didn’t matter to him if his money was taken from silk purses or greasy pockets. He sneered openly at Derek Craven’s pretensions…“Talkin with those ’igh-kick words, pretending ’e was born a gentleman. All clean an’ dandified…Why, ’e walks through ’is fancy club like the sun shines from ’is arse!”

“You’re jealous of him,” Sara said.

“Jealous?” His face crinkled in distaste. “I’m not jealous ow a man what’s got one foot planted in May-fair an’ the other in the East End. Pox take ’im! Bloody fool doesn’t know who the ’ell ’e is.”

“So you believe he shouldn’t mingle with social superiors? I’d call that reverse snobbery, Mr. Jenner.”

“Call it what you likes,” he said sullenly.

Oh, he was jealous indeed. Now Sara understood the bitter rivalry between the two men. Jenner represented all that Craven had tried to escape from. Every time Craven looked at him, he must see the mocking reflection of his past. And Jenner was clearly annoyed by the way Craven had reinvented himself from a street urchin into a rich and powerful man.

“If you’re so indifferent to Mr. Craven and his success, then why—” Sara began, but she fell silent as the carriage stopped abruptly. Her mouth fell open as she heard a cacophony of sound: shouts and screams, breaking glass, even explosions. “What’s happening?”

Jenner shoved aside the curtain at his window and stared at the tumult outside the carriage. He made a startling sound, something between a howling laugh and a roar of encouragement. Sara shrank back into the corner of her seat. “It’s a mob!” Jenner cried. He opened the door to confer with the pasty-faced driver and footman. “ ’Ow many streets does it cover?” he asked. Another snatch of conversation, and then Sara heard him say, “Try a roundabout way, then.”

The door closed and the carriage started again, turning sharply. Sara gulped with fear. A few rocks pelted against the side of the vehicle, and she jumped in her seat. The shrieking mob sounded like a demon chorus. “What’s going on?”

Jenner continued to gaze out the window, grinning at the carnage that surrounded them. His enjoyment increased with every second that passed. “I likes a good mob, I do. I led one or two in my time. We’re in the middle ow it now.”

“Why are they rioting?”

Jenner kept his eyes on the window as he replied. “Does the name Red Jack ring a bell?”

Sara nodded. Red Jack was a notorious highwayman who had earned his nickname by murdering at least a dozen people on the busy coach route from London to Marlborough. “I’ve heard of him. He’s being held at Newgate, waiting to be executed.”

A bark of laughter escaped him. “Not anymore. Offed ’imself yesterday—cheated the ’angman’s noose. Can’t say as I blame these lively bastards for runnin’ riot.”

“You mean they’re angry because he committed suicide? Why should they care, as long as he’s dead?”

“Why, ’anging’s a good spectacle. Ewen the old women an’ the chiwdren come to watch ’em piss an’ twist in the wind. Would’ve been a good show. Now they want a taste ow ’is blood.” He shrugged and regarded the rioters sympathetically. “They dug ’im up tonight to pull ’is guts out. I say let ’em ’ave a bit ow fun.”

“F-fun to publicly dismember a c-corpse?” Sara gagged at the notion and stared at him in horror. Her disgust was lost on him, however. Jenner cheered lustily for the drunken mob engaged in looting, breaking windows, and setting fires. Several heavy thumps caused the carriage to lurch and rock. The vehicle ground to a halt. As Jenner pushed the curtain aside, Sara saw hands and faces wedged against the window. They pushed and shoved, threatening to turn the carriage over.

“Driver’s gone,” Jenner said. “I wondered ’ow long ’e’d last.”

“Oh, God!” Sara cowered in the corner, staring at him with wide eyes. “They’ll tear us to pieces!”

“Don’t worry. You’re safe with these to look after you.” He held up his heavy fists as if they were dangerous weapons.

The ceiling shuddered and sank downward as people piled on top of the carriage. Sara scrambled wildly for a way to protect herself. God knew what she had done with her reticule. She was defenseless without her pistol. The door burst open like a clap of thunder, and Sara screamed at the nightmarish sight of dozens of hands reaching for her.

Enthusiastically Jenner flung himself through the opening, landing on three men at once. His arms swung in a steady rhythm, plowing through the rioters like a scythe through grain. Sara leapt after him. Reaching for the back of Jenner’s coat, she clutched handfuls of the thick fabric and followed him with her head lowered. She gritted her teeth as she was jostled and elbowed by the crowd. Miraculously they broke through the free-for-all. Sara gripped her companion’s burly arm.

“Mr. Jenner,” she begged, “get me away from here.”

He laughed down at her, his eyes bright with excitement. “No taste for a little brawl, eh?”

Sara glanced back at the carriage, which was being demolished. “The horses,” she said anxiously fearing for the animals’ safety. The rioters had unhitched the team from the carriage and were leading them away.

Some of Jenner’s amusement faded. “My ’orses! I paid a king’s ransom for ’em!” He left her to stride after the thieves. “Stop, you thieving scum, those are mine!”

“Mr. Jenner,” she pleaded, but he appeared not to hear.

It seemed she was going to have to fend for herself. Carefully Sara made her way through the street while looters rushed by her with armfuls of stolen goods. A bottle flew past her ear and shattered on the pavement nearby. Sara flinched and drew closer to the shadows. She looked in vain for a night watchman or a stray police officer. Fire cast a ruddy glow over the ramshackle buildings. She didn’t know what direction she was walking in, only hoped the path she was taking wouldn’t lead to a thieves’ kitchen. She passed a gin shop and an evil-smelling ditch. People swarmed from one street to another, scuffling, quarreling, giving bloodthirsty cries as they hurled rocks and sticks through the air. Sara pulled the hood of her cloak over her face and stumbled around a row of wooden posts rising from the flagged pavement. All the giddy warmth of the wine she had drunk was driven away. She was sober and terrified.

“Damn,” she said under her breath with each step she took. “Damn, damn, damn…”

“Egads, what have we here?”

Sara stopped short as she saw a man’s broad silhouette before her. He was dressed in a dandy’s clothes, fine and disheveled. Precisely the kind of young buck who frequented Craven’s club and went slumming to attend blood sports in Covent Garden and visit prostitutes at the Strand. They gambled, drank, and went “skirt-hunting” to relieve their boredom. Profligates, libertines, yes…but gentlemen by birth. Sara began to feel relieved, knowing that this man would be honor-bound to see her to safety.

“Sir—”

He interrupted her with a cry to unseen companions. “À moi, my good fellows—come meet the enchanting wench I’ve discovered!”

Immediately Sara was surrounded by three chortling young men, all reeking of liquor. Crowding around her, they gloated over their new acquisition. Alarmed, Sara spoke to the first one. “Sir, I’ve lost my way. Please guide me safely away from this place, or…at least stand aside and allow me to pass.”

“My sweet bit o’ skirt, I’ll lead you ’zactly to the place you belong,” he promised with a lecherous grin, sliding his hands down the front of her body. Sara jumped back with a muffled cry and found herself restrained by the rake’s companions. They held her tightly, laughing at her struggles.