Toad embraced Piero; it had, after all, been nearly six months since they had crossed paths. But it had been longer since either had seen Zajac, who had been overseeing operations traversing Russia, or Bey, who had set out with a steamship, a world map, and a plan to undercut Seventh Sea and Kopet Dag anywhere their ships and buyers could be found, which was to say: everywhere.
For once, however, all four partners were in the same place at the same time, reunited on the Poseidon, the brand-new Delphinus flagship, docked at the fully furnished shipyard in Piraeus, after months of independent work performed in concert.
Toad's Uncle Firthley, owner of Delphinus, and of various wagers on its success back in England, was expected to arrive in Piraeus in a matter of days to see the operation he had funded and take report from them on their successes. He would likely dock in the slip right next door to the steamship they were occupying.
"Your mother and sisters send their love," Toad passed on, "and Lena begs me remind you that you promised Chinese silk."
Piero sighed. "I have an entire trunk of silk for Lena and a second for Mother and a third for the rest of the girls."
"Good man. I've promised fripperies from Paris, but I have three more months to deliver. I've left the problem with Blakeley, so I am sure he has already placed an order to be waiting upon my return. He will have to travel to Paris to see to the apartment by then, in any case."
"You are a devious man, Harburn."
Toad shrugged. "With remarkably few women angry with me."
"You do not speak to enough women to make one angry," Bey said from the doorway, his furrowed brow belying his careless delivery.
It hadn't been a mistake when Bey decided to travel the routes that would take him farthest from Europe, nor that Toad had suggested it, as the Managing Agent. After Bey's dalliance with the comtesse cost Toad his chance with Sally, and cost Sally her dignity and safety, their friendship had never been the same. Not one of the four men was sure how this meeting would go between them. Toad had been thinking about it for days and had yet to decide.
"Nartay Bey," he said, straightening into a formal posture.
"Lord Harburn." Bey's neck stiffened as he made a bow.
Piero shifted a half-step closer to the mid-point between them.
"Lord Harburn, I come with a gift of sorts; a peace offering."
Toad raised a brow and Piero took another half-step.
"I have news of your Sally you cannot have heard elsewhere, which is the gift."
"What have you—?"
Bey held up a hand too imperiously for a man Toad hadn't yet forgiven. "Better yet, the peace offering: with Captain Hawley's assistance and accompaniment, I've brought you her living, breathing would-be rapist, signed and sealed for your delectation, his permanent absence already fully explained."
Everyone stared at Bey, the very air motionless.
"You've brought me Crowhurst?"
"Yes, I have him. Or rather, I have his ghost, as no one on Earth expects to lay eyes on him again. He is a walking dead man."
"Aye, that he is," Captain Hawley said from the doorway. With a nod at Bey, he entered, saying, "Blaggard turned up out of thin air in the islands where your lady is staying and did his best to finish what he started. Might've took Lady Sarah, too, if Missus Bella en't taught her how to shoot straight. Was caught with Lady Sarah's bullet in 'im, o' course, 'cause he can't even be a shagging whoreson properly. Haverford had him and his whole gang locked down for trial, but most of 'em escaped. Pure luck Bey saw him on the docks in Trinidad, and I was there on a job for His Grace. Mebbe Captain St James thinks Navy discipline is enough to answer for Crowbait's crimes, but you can see where that's brought us—a second attempt."
"A second—I'll kill him. I'll break his bloody neck with my bare hands."
"Not to worry, Harburn. We managed it between us," another nod toward Bey, "entirely to your satisfaction, to be sure. His Grace 'lowed we could change out captains, and I brung Crowbait to you posthaste. E'nt told His Grace, y'understand; a duke don't do his own wetwork, after all. 'Tis why Missus Bella send me after them in the first place. But I figger Crowbait got more to answer for to you than the duke. Your job now to pertect Lady Sarah, much as her father won't like to hear it." As he searched the drinks cabinet for nonexistent gin, he ended with, "Secured Crowbait below for Your Lordships' pleasure."
"Pleasure, indeed," Toad said. "You are right, Bey. I cannot think of any other offering that would have bought my total forgiveness, barring bringing me Sally herself. This is a welcome and entirely unexpected turn, for which I offer my sincere gratitude."
Bey inclined his head. "It was the least I could do, Harburn. And I am truly sorry for my previous lapses."
"We were both taken in by Linette."
"It can be argued," Zajac said, following their voices through the gangways, "Bey would not have been in her bed at all, if not for Harburn being there first."
"It is true. She was only using me to do harm to Harburn. As soon as I realized it, I left, but sadly, not soon enough."
Toad was willing to allow Bey a defense, but he wasn't yet willing to listen to it. "You said you also have news of Sally."
"Ah, yes. Both good and bad news, I'm afraid. There is a timetable for the Haverfords' return to London. They plan to leave the islands within a couple of months, if not sooner."
"Excellent. I shall plan a return to England accordingly. What is the bad news?"
"They will leave early because Lady Sarah's mother... Her Grace is not well."
"'Tis true," Hawley said. "Lady Sarah been acting as His Grace's hostess, and Her Grace is taken to her bed."
"Aunt Cherry? No, that can't be—" Of course, it could be. They were halfway around the world and anything could happen. His father's health was proof of that.
"If it e'nt for her mother bein' sick," Hawley grumbled, "I'da hogtied Lady Sarah and brung her back with me when I heard that devil, Crowhurst, had his hands in her—"
Toad could not listen to a description of Crowhurst's crimes against Sally without killing someone, so he held up his hand to stop Hawley going any further. "Yes. Let us go speak with Crowbait, shall we?"
YOU ARE READING
Never Kiss a ToadRomance
[A Victorian romance continuing family stories begun in the various Regency books of Jude Knight and Mariana Gabrielle.] David "Toad" Northope, heir to the Duke of Wellbridge and rogue in the mold of his infamous father, knows Lady Sarah "Sal" Grenf...