80. Behind the Mask

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No, I told myself, You cannot run away. You cannot run from him, or he will know that you know. And then you will be dead.

But... was this really true? I could hardly believe that this suave nobleman, member of the House of Lords and uncrowned King of Britain's largest Imperial Enterprise, was supposed to be involved in dealings so far beyond the law that they had lapped it and kicked it in the derrière while it was concentrating on catching up. The man owned his own subcontinent, for heaven's sake!

Yes, but the question is: how did he get it? If it's by similar methods as Caesar or Napoleon... Well, they hadn't been squeamish either.

"Lord Dalgliesh. How nice to see you again." I forced my legs to stay where they were and to bend into a curtsy.

Remember the alley in the East-End! Remember the attackers! It was this man who sent them.

But it was hard to remember. Lord Dalgliesh, in his exquisite black tailcoat and blue satin waistcoat, looked as if he had never so much as heard of a place like the East End, let alone paid a visit to some of its occupants.

He wouldn't have to. He could pay somebody else to pay somebody else to pay somebody else to pay somebody to do it.

"Indeed it is, Miss Linton." Taking my hand, he lifted it to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss on the back of it. My reaction now was very different from when Sir Philip had done the same. A shiver went down my back, and my cheeks warmed. Thank the Lord my cheeks weren't fashionably pale. With luck, it wouldn't show.

Think of the alley! I told myself again. Think of the blood!

I tried. I honestly tried. But with images of the alley also came images of what had come after: the ride back, the office, Mr Ambrose, the kiss...

Had I thought my cheeks warm before? It was nothing to the explosion they suffered now. Yet if Lord Dalgliesh saw it, he probably couldn't deduce the reason.

Hopefully. Some part of me, though, was feeling as though it was written all over my face.

"Do you know, Miss Linton, why I have been desirous of renewing our acquaintance?" he inquired.

I swallowed, hoping the reason didn't have anything to do with knives, guns, or locked cells.

"N-no."

Blast! Why was it that I couldn't keep my voice steady just when I needed it to?

"I have been making enquiries into any connection of yours with a certain Rikkard Ambrose, whom you seemed extraordinarily well acquainted with at the last ball where I had the pleasure of seeing you."

What?!

"And lo and behold, I have not found a single shred of evidence to connect the two of you."

Oh. Good.

"Not a family connection, not a bank loan your family is overdue to pay back, not a previous social acquaintance, not even a romantic involvement with heartbreakingly sweet little notes secretly exchanged..."

He said all this in a perfectly conversational voice, as if there were nothing strange about digging into my family's financial affairs or my personal life. Not if he did it.

Once again, I felt in my legs the nearly uncontrollable urge to turn and run. I fought it, and stayed where I was.

"Interesting," I said, meeting his gaze as steadily as I could. "You know, some people might think those sorts of enquiries discourteous. Invasive, even."

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