60. I realize I danced with a Criminal Mastermind

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His head jerked up and around to look at me, but I didn't see him. Instead I saw a dozen images, whirling in my head, connecting together for the first time:

Mr Ambrose shaking Lord Dalgliesh's hand with enough force to whiten his knuckles.

Mr Ambrose staring across the ballroom to a table where only two people stood – Miss Hamilton and Lord Dalgliesh.

Mr Ambrose cutting a lock of hair from Simmons' head in the dark cellar beneath Empire House.

Lord Dalgliesh opening the envelope that contained a single lock of golden hair – hair of exactly the same shade and texture as that on Simmons' head.

"But..." I steadied myself against the wall. "But he's one of the peers of England! One of the most wealthy and respected gentlemen of the Empire! He wouldn't be involved in something like this!"

"He?" Mr Ambrose asked, his face expressionless. "Who?"

"Don't play dumb with me!"

"Mind your language, Mr Linton!"

"Fine! Don't play dumb with me, Sir! You know exactly who I am talking about."

The only answer to this was silence. That is, outside of my head. Inside, a multitude of voices and pictures were clamouring for attention. Rapidly, I went through everything I had seen that night at the ball, when I had first met Lord Dalgliesh.

"You went there to meet with him," I whispered. "That's why you came to the ball! To meet with him and let him know that you knew what he was up to. To warn him off!"

"I went to the ball to court Miss Hamilton," he said with a facial expression that was about as passionate as a piece of dried cod. "I went to be with the pearl of my heart, the girl for whom I feel the most ardent love which ever a man has experi-"

"Oh, put a sock in it!" I cut him off with a hand gesture. "We both know you have no romantic interests whatsoever!"

"Do we indeed?

"Yes! They would waste too much of your precious time and money."

He almost nodded in agreement, but caught himself and suggested, almost defiantly: "Love could have overwhelmed my defences and made me weak with longing."

"No it couldn't."

"Yes it could!"

"No it couldn't!"

"You don't know that for certain. I could feel the most ardent passion—"

"No you bloody well couldn't! Not for her, anyway!"

His eyes narrowed infinitesimally. "And why is that, Mr Linton?"

"Well... she... she... she's obviously not the right girl for you! Much too impractical and time-wasting. She's probably after your money, too."

"Thank you for the warning." I might have been mistaken, but I thought I saw the corner of his mouth twitch. It wasn't a smile. It wasn't even half a smile. He was far too miserly with his facial expressions for that.  It was about the quarter of a smile, at the most, but it was there. "Though I seem to remember that back at the ball, Mr Linton, you seemed quite convinced of my attachment to Miss Hamilton, in spite of her many defects. If my memory serves me right it was even you who originally suggested the idea that I might have feelings for her."

I flushed, guiltily.

"In fact," he continued, "you seemed quite extraordinarily interested in the subject—and not very pleased by it. Very interested indeed..."

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