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It was a scene straight out of a nightmare. Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin, stood on the threshold and gazed into the cheerful little anteroom of hell.
There were bones everywhere. Savagely grinning skulls, bleached ribs, and shattered femurs were scattered about like so much devil's garbage. Chunks of stone with teeth and toes and other odd bits embedded in them were stacked on the windowsill. A pile of vertebrae littered the floor in one corner.
In the center of the unholy clutter sat a slender figure in a stained apron. A white muslin cap was perched askew atop a wild, tangled mane of chestnut-brown curls. The woman, obviously young, was seated at a heavy mahogany desk. Her slender, graceful back was turned to Gideon. She was sketching busily, her entire attention focused on what appeared to be a long bone embedded in a chunk of stone.
From where he was standing, Gideon could see that there was no wedding band on the supple fingers that held the quill. This would be one of the daughters, then, not the widow of the late Reverend Pomeroy.
Just what he needed, Gideon thought, another rector's daughter.
After the last one had died and her grieving father had left the vicinity, Gideon's father had appointed another rector, the Reverend Pomeroy. But when Pomeroy had died four years ago, Gideon, who was by then in charge of his father's estates, had not bothered to appoint a new rector. Gideon had no particular interest in the spiritual welfare of the people of Upper Biddleton.
Under an arrangement Pomeroy had made with Gideon's father, the Pomeroy family had continued on in the rectory cottage. They paid their rent on time and that was all that mattered as far as Gideon was concerned.
He contemplated the scene in front of him for a moment longer and then glanced around once more for some sign of whoever had left the rectory cottage door open. When no one appeared he removed his curly-brimmed beaver hat and stepped into the small hall. The brisk breeze off the sea followed him inside. It was late March and although the day was unusually warm for that time of year, the sea air was still crisp.
Gideon was amused and, he admitted to himself, intrigued by the sight of the young woman seated among the old bones that cluttered the study. He crossed the hall quietly, taking care that his riding boots made no sound on the stone floor. He was a big man, some said monstrous, and he had long ago learned to move soundlessly in a vain effort to compensate for that fact. He received enough stares as it was.
He halted in the doorway of the study, watching the woman at work for a moment longer. When it became obvious she was too engrossed in her sketching to sense his presence, he reluctantly broke the spell.
"Good morning," Gideon said.
The young woman at the desk gave a startled shriek, dropped her quill, and shot to her feet. She whirled about to face Gideon, her expression one of dawning horror.
Gideon was accustomed to the reaction. He had never been a handsome man, but the deep scar that slashed across his left jaw like a lightning bolt had not improved matters.
"Who the devil are you?" The young woman had both hands behind her now. She was clearly trying to shove her drawings out of sight beneath what appeared to be a journal. The expression of shock in her huge, turquoise blue eyes was rapidly converting into a look of dark suspicion.
"St. Justin." Gideon gave her a coldly polite smile, well aware of what it did to the scar. He waited for her incredibly brilliant eyes to fill with revulsion.
"St. Justin? Lord St. Justin? Viscount St. Justin?"
Enormous relief rather than disgust flared in her blue-green gaze. "Thank God."
"I am rarely greeted with such enthusiasm," Gideon murmured.
The young lady dropped abruptly back down into her chair. She scowled. "Good grief, my lord. You gave me a terrible shock. Whatever do you think you are about, sneaking up on people in this manner?"
Gideon glanced significantly back over his shoulder at the open door of the cottage. "If you are anxious about the prospect of being disturbed by intruders, it would no doubt be best to keep your door closed and locked."
The woman followed his gaze. "Oh, dear. Mrs. Stone must have opened it earlier. She's a great believer in fresh air, you know. Do come in, my lord."
She sprang to her feet again and swept two large tomes off the one spare chair in the room. She hovered indecisively for a moment, searching for a spot amid the rubble that would accommodate the volumes. With a small sigh, she gave up the task and dropped the books carelessly onto the floor. "Please sit down, sir."
"Thank you." Gideon sauntered slowly into the study and lowered himself cautiously onto the little shield-back chair. The current fashion for delicate furniture was not well suited to his size and weight. To Gideon's relief, the chair held firm.
He glanced at the books that had recently been occupying his seat. The first was Theory of the Earth by James Hutton and the other was Playfair's Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth. The texts coupled with the room full of bones explained a great deal. His hostess had a passion for fossils.
Perhaps her familiarity with bleached, grinning skulls accounted for her failure to be alarmed by his scarred face, Gideon decided wryly. She was obviously accustomed to grisly sights. He studied her for a moment as she busied herself scooping up the remainder of her drawings and notes. The lady was unusual, to say the least.
The outrageous, untamed mane of hair had long since escaped the confines of her cap and the few pins that had been haphazardly stuck into it. The thick, fluffy mass billowed like a soft, wild cloud around her face.
She was certainly not beautiful or even particularly pretty, at least not in the fashionable sense. Her smile was quite brilliant, however. It was charged with energy and vitality, just like the rest of her. Gideon noticed that two small white teeth overlapped a bit in front. For some reason he found the effect oddly charming.
Her sharp little blade of a nose and high cheekbones, combined with the alert intelligence in her spectacular eyes, gave her an aggressive, inquisitive air. This was certainly not a shy, coy, or missish sort of female, Gideon decided. One would always know precisely where one stood with this woman. He liked that.
Her face made Gideon think of a clever little cat and he had a sudden impulse to pet the lady, but he restrained himself. He knew from painful experience that parson's daughters were frequently more dangerous than they appeared. He had been badly bitten once, and once was enough.
Gideon guessed his hostess was in her early twenties. He wondered if it was the lack of an inheritance that had kept her unwed or if her evident enthusiasm for old bones had put off potential suitors. Few gentlemen would be inspired to propose to a female who displayed more interest in fossils than in flirting.
Gideon's gaze swept briefly over the rest of the woman, noting the high-waisted muslin gown that had probably once been bronze in tone but had long since faded to a vague shade of brown. A pleated chemisette filled in the modest neckline.
Between the chemisette and the enveloping apron, a great deal was left to the imagination. Nevertheless, Gideon got the impression of soft, rounded breasts and a slender waist. He watched closely as the lady hurried back around behind the desk to resume her seat. As she swung around the edge of the desk, the light muslin shaped itself briefly to what appeared to be a lushly curved bottom.
"You have taken me by surprise, as you can see, my lord." The woman shoved a few more sketches out of sight beneath a copy of Transactions of the Fossils and Antiquities Society. She frowned reproachfully at Gideon. "I apologize for my appearance, but as I was not expecting you this morning, I can hardly be blamed for failing to be dressed for the occasion."
"Do not concern yourself about your appearance, Miss Pomeroy. I assure you, it does not offend." Gideon allowed a brow to rise in polite inquiry. "You are Miss Harriet Pomeroy, are you not?"
She had the grace to blush. "Yes, of course, my lord. Who else would I be? You must think me an ill-mannered baggage. Indeed, my aunt is always telling me I have no social polish. The thing is, a woman in my position can never be too careful."
"I understand," Gideon said coolly. "A lady's reputation is a fragile commodity and a rector's daughter is especially at risk, is she not?"
Harriet gave him a blank look. "I beg your pardon?"
"Perhaps you should summon a relative or your housekeeper to join us here. For the sake of your reputation."
Harriet blinked, blue-green eyes widening in astonishment. "Reputation? Heavens, I was not talking about my reputation, my lord. I have never been in danger of being ravished in my entire life and, as I am already nearly five and twenty, the prospect is not liable to become a major concern in the future."
"Your mother did not trouble to warn you about strangers?"
"Heavens, no." Harriet smiled reminiscently. "My father called my mother a living saint. She was gracious and hospitable to everyone. She was killed in a carriage accident two years before we moved to Upper Biddleton. It was the middle of winter and she was taking warm clothing to the poor. We all missed her dreadfully for a long time. Especially Papa."
"If you are concerned about the properties, my lord, I fear I cannot help you," Harriet continued in a chatty tone. "My aunt and sister have walked into the village to shop. My housekeeper is around here somewhere, but I doubt she would be of much help in the event you did threaten to ravish me. She tends to succumb to the vapors at the least hint of a crisis."
"You are correct in that," Gideon said. "She was certainly not of much assistance to the last young lady who lived in this house."
Harriet looked briefly interested in that topic. "Oh, you have met Mrs. Stone?"
"We were acquainted some years back when I lived in the neighborhood."
"Of course. She was the housekeeper for the previous rector, was she not? We inherited her along with the rectory. Aunt Effie says she is extremely depressing to have around and I quite agree, but Papa always said we must be charitable. He said we could not turn her out because she was unlikely to find work elsewhere in the district."
"A very praiseworthy attitude. Nevertheless, it does leave you saddled with a rather grim housekeeper, unless Mrs. Stone has changed considerably over the years."
"Apparently not. She is very much the Voice of Doom. But Papa was a kind man, even if he lacked a sense of practicality. I do try to continue on as he would have wished, although at times it is exceedingly difficult." Harriet leaned forward and folded her hands. "But that is neither here nor there at the moment. Now, then, if I may return to the subject at hand."
"By all means." Gideon realized he was actually beginning to enjoy himself.
"When I said I could not be too careful, I was referring to the necessity of protecting something infinitely more important than my reputation, sir."
"You amaze me. What could be more important than that, Miss Pomeroy?"
"My work, of course." She sat back in her chair and fixed him with a knowing look. "You are a man of the world, sir. You have no doubt traveled a great deal. Seen life as it is, so to speak. You must be well aware that there are unscrupulous rogues lurking everywhere."
"Are there, indeed?"
"Absolutely. I can tell you, sir, that there are those who would steal my fossils and claim them as their own discoveries without so much as a flicker of remorse. I know it must be difficult for a well-bred, honorable gentleman such as yourself to acknowledge that there are men who would stoop so low, but there it is. Facts are facts. I must be constantly on the alert."
"Now, then. I do not like to appear unduly suspicious, my lord, but have you some proof of your identity?"
Gideon was dumbfounded. The scar on his face was all the identification most people needed, especially here in Upper Biddleton. "I have told you I am St. Justin."
"I fear I must insist on proof, sir. As I said, I cannot be too careful."
Gideon considered the situation and did not know whether to laugh or curse. Unable to come to a decision, he reached into his pocket and withdrew a letter. "You sent this to me, I believe, Miss Pomeroy. Surely the fact that it is in my possession is sufficient proof I am St. Justin."
"Oh, yes. My letter." She smiled in relief. "So you did get it. And you came at once. I knew you would. Everyone says you do not care about anything that goes on here in Upper Biddleton, but I knew that could not be true. After all, you were born here, were you not?"
"I have that distinction, yes," Gideon said dryly.
"Then you must have firm ties to the soil. Your roots are forever grounded in this place, even though you have chosen to settle on one of your other estates. You are bound to feel a sense of duty and responsibility to this region."
"You could not turn your back on the village that nurtured you. You are a viscount, heir to an earldom. You know the meaning of obligation and"
"Miss Pomeroy." Gideon held up a hand to silence her. He was somewhat surprised when the tactic worked. "Let us be clear about something here, Miss Pomeroy. I am not overly concerned with the fate of Upper Biddleton, only that my family's lands here continue to be productive. Should they cease to provide a suitable income, I assure you I will sell them out of hand."
"But most of the people in this area are dependent on you in one way or another for their livelihood. As the largest landholder in the neighborhood you provide the economic stability for the entire region. Surely you realize that."
"My interests in Upper Biddleton are financial, not emotional."
Harriet looked briefly disconcerted at that pronouncement, but she rallied instantly. "You are teasing me, my lord. Of course you care about the fate of this village. You have come in response to my letter, have you not? That is proof that you care."
"I am here out of sheer, undiluted curiosity, Miss Pomeroy. Your letter was nothing less than a royal command. I am not accustomed to being summoned by young chits whom I have never even met, much less being lectured by them on the subject of my duties and responsibilities. I must admit I was extremely interested to meet the female who felt she had the right to do so."
"Oh." Harriet's expression grew cautious. For the first time since he had arrived, she appeared to comprehend the fact that Gideon was not altogether pleased by the meeting she had arranged. She tried a tentative smile. "Forgive me, my lord. Was my letter perhaps a shade peremptory in tone?"
"That is putting it mildly, Miss Pomeroy."
She nibbled briefly on her lower lip, studying him intently. "I will admit that I have a slight tendency to be a bit, shall we say, blunt?"
"Forceful might be a better word. Or perhaps demanding. Even tyrannical."
Harriet sighed. "It comes of having to make decisions all the time, I suppose. Papa was a wonderful man in many respects, but he preferred to concern himself with the religious concerns of his flock rather than the practical matters of daily life. Aunt Effie is a dear, but she was not raised to take charge of things, if you know what I mean. And my sister is just leaving the schoolroom. She has not had much experience of the world."
"You have long since taken control of this household and have, therefore, gotten in the habit of taking command and issuing orders in other matters as well," Gideon concluded. "Is that what you are saying, Miss Pomeroy?"
She smiled, obviously pleased at his perception. "Precisely. I see you do comprehend. I am certain you are aware that in any given situation someone has to make decisions and supply direction."
"Rather like on board ship?" Gideon stifled a fleeting grin as he imagined Harriet Pomeroy in command of one of His Majesty's ships of the line. She would look quite arresting in a naval uniform, he decided. Based on what he had observed thus far, he was willing to wager a sizable sum that Miss Pomeroy's derriere would do interesting things to a pair of breeches.
"Yes, just like on board ship," Harriet said. "Well, in this household, that someone who makes the decisions is generally me."
"Now, then. I seriously doubt that you have come all this way from your estates in the north simply to satisfy your curiosity about a female who wrote you in somewhat forceful terms. You do care about matters here in Upper Biddleton, my lord. Admit it."
Gideon shrugged, inserting the letter back into his pocket. "I will not argue the point, Miss Pomeroy. I am here, so let us get on with the matter. Perhaps you will be so kind as to tell me exactly what this dark menace is that you alluded to in your letter and why it must be handled with grave discretion?"
Harriet's soft mouth curved wryly. "Oh, dear. In addition to sounding somewhat peremptory, I did express myself in somewhat sinister tones, did I not? My letter must have sounded like something out of one of Mrs. Radcliffe's gothic novels."
"Yes, Miss Pomeroy, it did." Gideon saw no reason to mention that he had reread the letter on several occasions. There had been something about the spirited appeal for assistance and the lively, if overly dramatic turn of phrase which had made him very curious to meet the author in person."Well, the thing is, sir, I wanted to be certain to get your full attention."
"I assure you that you have it."
Harriet sat forward again, clasping her hands in front of her once more in a businesslike manner. "To be perfectly blunt, my lord, I have recently learned that Upper Biddleton is apparently being used as a headquarters for a ring of dangerous thieves and cutthroats."
Gideon's wry amusement dissolved. He wondered suddenly if he was dealing with a madwoman. "Perhaps you would care to clarify that observation, Miss Pomeroy?"
"The caves, my lord. You must recall the vast array of caves in the cliffs? They lie beneath your lands." She waved a hand impatiently toward the open front door, indicating the stark cliffs below the rectory that guarded the lands along the coast. "The villains are using one of the caverns in the cliffs above the beach."
"I recall the caves well enough. They were never of any use to the estate. My family has always allowed fossil hunters and curiosity seekers to explore them at will." Gideon frowned. "Are you telling me someone is using them for illegal activities?"
"Precisely, my lord. I discovered the fact a couple of weeks ago when I was exploring a new passage in the cliffs." Harriet's eyes lit with enthusiasm. "I have made the most promising discoveries in that particular passage, sir. A lovely femur, among other things" She broke off abruptly.
"Is something wrong?"
"No, no, of course not." Harriet wrinkled her nose in a small self-depracating grimace. "Forgive me, my lord. I digress. I tend to do that when I get on the subject of my fossils. You cannot possibly be interested in my explorations. Now, then, as to the matter of the caves being used for criminal purposes."
"Pray continue," Gideon murmured. "This grows more interesting by the moment."
"Yes, well, as I said, I was exploring a new passageway the other morning and"
"Is that not a rather dangerous pastime, Miss Pomeroy? People have been lost for days in those caves. A few have died in them."
"I assure you, I am very careful. I use a lamp and I mark my route. My father showed me how to explore properly. Now, then, on one of my recent trips I came across a marvelous cavern. As big as a drawing room. And filled with the most promising formations." Harriet narrowed her eyes. "It was also filled with what appears to be ill-gotten loot."
"Loot, booty, swag. You must know what I mean, sir. Stolen goods."
"Ah. Loot. Yes, of course." Gideon no longer cared if she was a madwoman. The lady was quite the most intriguing female he had encountered in ages. "What sort of loot, Miss Pomeroy?"
She frowned thoughtfully. "Let me see. There were some excellent silver serving pieces. Some very fine gold candlesticks. A bit of jewelry. It all appeared to be of the first quality, my lord. I suspected at once that it did not come from around Upper Biddleton."
"What made you think that?"
"We have one or two houses in the district that boast such excellent pieces, to be sure, but the theft of any items from those homes would have been news. There have been no such reports."
"I suspect the items are being brought in at night from elsewhere and stored in the caves until the owners have quite given up on locating them. I was once told that the Bow Street Runners frequently apprehend thieves when the villains try to sell the goods."
"You are well informed."
"Yes, well, it is obvious some particularly clever villains have hit upon the notion of storing stolen goods in my caves until such time as the furor and concern have died down. The items are then no doubt removed and taken to Bath or London to be sold to various pawnshops and jewelers."
"Miss Pomeroy." Gideon was beginning to wonder for the first time if there really was something dangerous going on in the cliff caves. "May I inquire as to why you have not taken this matter up with my steward and the local magistrate?"
"Our local magistrate is quite old now, sir. He could not possibly deal with this situation and, if I may be frank, I do not have a great deal of faith in your new steward, Mr. Crane." Harriet's lips pursed. "I hesitate to say this, my lord, but I feel it is possible he is aware of the ring's activities and is turning a blind eye to them."
Gideon narrowed his eyes. "That is a very serious charge, Miss Pomeroy."
"Yes, I know. But I simply cannot trust the man. I have no notion of what made you hire him in the first place."
"He was the first one to apply for the post when it became open," Gideon said, dismissing the matter. "His references were excellent."
"Yes, well, be that as it may, I still do not care for the man. Now, then, on to facts. I have on at least two occasions witnessed men going into the caves late at night. They carried parcels into the caverns, but when they returned to the beach they were empty-handed."
"Late at night?"
"After midnight, to be precise. Only when the tide is out, of course. The caves are inaccessible when the tide is in."
Gideon considered that news and found it deeply disturbing. The thought of Miss Pomeroy running about unprotected in the middle of the night was a distinctly unpleasant one. Especially if she happened to be correct in her conclusions about what was going on in the caves. The lady was clearly not well supervised.
"What in God's name were you doing down on the beach in the middle of the night, Miss Pomeroy?"
"I was keeping watch, of course. From the window of my bedchamber I can see a portion of the beach. After I discovered the stolen goods in my caves, I began maintaining a regular vigil. When I spotted lights down on the beach one night, I grew suspicious and went out to have a closer look."
Gideon was incredulous. "You actually left the safety of your house late at night for the purposes of following men you suspected to be thieves?"
She gave him an impatient look. "How else was I to learn exactly what was going on?"
"Does your aunt know about this odd behavior of yours?" Gideon asked bluntly.
"Of course not. She would only worry if she found out there were villains about. Aunt Effie tends to fret about things like that."
"She's not alone in her reaction. I can fully comprehend her feelings on the matter."
Harriet ignored that. "In any event, she has enough on her mind right now. I have promised to try to find a way to give my sister, Felicity, a Season, you see, and Aunt Effie is concentrating on the project."
Gideon's browse rose. "You are trying to finance a Season for your sister? By yourself?"
Harriet heaved a small sigh. "Obviously I cannot do so on my own. The small pension my father left does not stretch far. I supplement it from time to time by selling a few of my fossils, but there is simply no way I could afford a Season for Felicity on what I obtain by that method. However, I have a plan."
"Somehow I am not surprised to hear that."
She beamed enthusiastically. "I have hopes that Aunt Adelaide can be persuaded to help out, now that her miser of a husband has conveniently passed on to his reward. He accumulated a fortune, you see, and contrary to his expectations, he was quite unable to take it with him. Aunt Adelaide will soon take control of everything."
"I see. And you are hoping she will finance your sister's Season?"
Harriet chuckled, obviously pleased with her scheme. "If we can get Felicity to London, I feel certain we can get her married off. My sister is not at all like me. She is actually quite stunning. The men will fall at her feet in droves with offers. But in order to bring that off, I must get her to London. The Marriage Mart, you know."
"Yes, indeed." Harriet's expression turned shrewd. "We must dangle Felicity like a ripe plum in front of the Beau Monde and hope that some obliging gentleman will pluck her from the tree."
Gideon set his teeth, remembering all too well his own brief experience on the London Season several years earlier. "I am well aware of how the system works, Miss Pomeroy."
Harriet turned pink. "Yes, I imagine you are, my lord. Well, then, back to this matter of cleaning out my caves."
"Tell me, Miss Pomeroy, have you discussed your findings with anyone else?"
"No. Once I realized that I could not trust Mr. Crane, I was afraid to mention my observations to anyone else. I was concerned that anyone I took into my confidence might, in all innocence, feel obliged to go straight to Crane. If that were to happen, the evidence could be made to disappear. In addition, to be quite honest, I do not particularly want anyone else in that cavern."
"Hmm." Gideon studied her in silence for a long moment as he contemplated what she had just told him. There was no denying Harriet Pomeroy was serious. He could no longer dismiss her as a madwoman or an amusing eccentric. "You are convinced you have seen stolen goods in that cave, are you not?"
"Absolutely positive." Harriet lifted her chin. "Sir, it is very important to me that you act at once to clear those villains out of there. I must insist you deal with the matter as quickly as possible. It is your responsibility to do so."
Gideon allowed his voice to become very gentle. Those who knew him well generally ran for cover when he used this particular tone. "You insist, Miss Pomeroy?"
"I fear I really must." Harriet appeared totally oblivious to the soft menace in his words. "Those villains are in my way, you see."
Gideon wondered if he was losing the thread of the conversation again. "Your way? I do not understand."
She gave him an impatient look. "They are in the way of my explorations, sir. I am most anxious to search that cave for fossils, but I have hesitated to do so until the thieves have been gotten rid of. There is a possibility that if I start work in there now with my mallet and chisel, the villains will notice someone has been in the cavern."
"Good God." Gideon forgot his annoyance over her attempt to order him into action. Her impetuosity was of much graver concern. "If only half of what you are telling me is true, you are not to even think of going anywhere near that cave again, Miss Pomeroy."
"Oh, it is quite safe to go there during the day. The thieves frequent the place only at night. Now, then, about our plans to capture this ring of criminals. I have a scheme you may be interested in hearing. You probably have some ideas of your own, of course. It will be best if we work together on this."
"Miss Pomeroy, apparently you did not hear me." Gideon got to his feet and took one stride forward so that he was towering over the desk.
He braced both hands on the mahogany surface and leaned over it in what he was well aware was a thoroughly intimidating fashion. Harriet was forced to gaze straight up into his savagely scarred face. Her eyes widened in surprise at his unexpected tactics, but she did not appear unduly alarmed.
"I heard you, my lord." She started to draw back.
Gideon halted the small attempt at retreat by reaching out to catch Harriet's chin on the edge of his hand. He realized with a rush of sudden pleasure that her skin was very smooth and incredibly soft. He also realized just how very delicate she was. The fine bones of her jaw felt fragile in his massive hand.
"Let me be quite plain," Gideon growled, not bothering to conceal his intent behind a polite facade. Harriet Pomeroy would run roughshod over a polite facade. "You are not to go anywhere near those cliffs again until I have had a chance to consider this entire matter in more detail and have determined upon a course of actions. Is that quite clear, Miss Pomeroy?"
Harriet's lips parted on what Gideon knew was going to be a protest. But before she could voice it, she was interrupted by a shattering scream from the doorway. Harriet jumped and turned toward the door. Gideon followed her gaze.
"Mrs. Stone," Harriet said, sounding thoroughly annoyed.
"God in heaven, it be him. The Beast of Blackthorne Hall." Mrs. Stone's trembling hand went to her throat. She stared in horror and revulsion at Gideon. "So ye've come back, ye lecherous, murderous bastard. How dare ye put yer hands on another pure lady? Run, Miss Harriet. Run for yer life."
Gideon felt his stomach clench in fury. He released Harriet and took a determined step toward the woman. "Silence, you old biddy."
"No, don't touch me," Mrs. Stone shrieked. "Don't come near me, you monster. Oooh." Her eyes rolled up in her head and she slid heavily to the floor in a dead faint.
Gideon stared at the fallen woman in disgust. Then he glanced back over his shoulder at Harriet to see how she was taking this. She sat gazing at the housekeeper's still form in dismay.
"Good heavens," Harriet said.
"Now you see why I do not spend a great deal of time in the vicinity of Upper Biddleton, Miss Pomeroy," Gideon said bleakly. "I am not held in high esteem in these parts. There are, in fact, one or two people such as Mrs. Stone, here, who would just as soon see me dead."