Chapter Eleven

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Rebecca had already sent the younger girls upstairs to do their homework when Alex wandered into the library and told her his plan to meet the blackmailer. She was aghast.

"You can't meet him alone," she argued. "What if he is armed?" She disregarded his news of more paintings in the attic as irrelevant, his attempt to distract her from the important issues. Captain Alex Woodward was one sneaky fellow, and she wouldn't put anything past him.

"I'm armed too," he said. "I have a pistol and I know how to use it. I'll be fine, Rebecca. I've been a soldier for more than a decade. I can take care of myself."

"You're planning to spend hours outside. It's raining and horribly cold."

Alex shrugged. "Look at you. Not even a running nose after your yesterday's dunking."

"I have always been hale," she said dismissively.

"So have I. I've been on the march in some ghastly weather too."

"You were wounded recently." She looked him up and down. "Although you don't use your cane all the time anymore. You don't limp badly either. You're healing. You shouldn't jeopardize your recovery."

"Rebecca, nobody but me can talk to this man, you know that. We can't risk him opening his trap and spouting some nasty gossips, not before we lay the foundation for the news. We must control the information delivery, not him."

"How? He'll talk anyway as soon as he discovers that you're not the right Alex."

"I'm the right Alex. That's the trick." Alex grinned, his eyes sparkling with mischief. "I'll tell him that I represent the army headquarters. That we suspected Alexander Carlyle, and I was sent here to search for his associates, in case anyone shows up. I'll tell him I've been waiting for him and the entire brother-impersonation charade was my idea. I forced you into it. I bet, he'll run away. He wouldn't want to get caught."

Rebecca stared at him with her mouth open, although his outrageous solution appealed to her. "You'll let him escape?"

He winced. "That's the only sour part. I'll try to catch him but I'm not sure I can. My leg is much better than it was a couple weeks ago, but I still can't run. More is the pity. It goes against my grain to let the traitor free, but we'll catch him later. I'll visit some friends in London. One of them is a major with the Horse Guard. I'll tell him an edited version—that I alone suspected Carlyle and wanted to discover his partners. That's why I came to New Oaks and impersonated your brother. Of course, I shouldn't have done that alone, I should've informed the army command, my fault, I'm sorry, I made a mistake, etc. They'd probably slap my wrists and let it go. And the Joshua chap would be their business from then on. You will tell the same story to all your neighbors while informing them of your brother's death. Blame me. I won't show up here after tomorrow. I'll sell some of your paintings, maybe a few watercolors, and rent a house for you in London, so you can pack up and leave. We'll celebrate Christmas in London. How about that?"

Rebecca shook her head in admiration. She couldn't resist his gleeful chuckling and smiled too. "It's such a beautiful tale, and almost true. I'd have loved it if I didn't worry about you so much. What if he kills you?"

"He won't," Alex said. "I have a secret weapon—my cane. I don't need it anymore, not much anyway, but I'll take it with me. I'll pretend to limp. I want him to underestimate me."

"Oh, Alex." Rebecca sighed. "I'll be sick with worry. At least take Tom, the footman, as a backup."

"No. Come here." Alex glanced around, noted the closed library door, and caught Rebecca in his arms. "Just a little something to keep me warm."

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