The Scandalous Lady Mercy(5)

By: Maggi Andersen


Grant generally avoided whirling a debutante around in the waltz under her mama’s avid gaze at that most exclusive of clubs, Almack’s. But this Season, he must shelve his boredom while squiring his sister, Arabella in her first Season.

It was a rare evening that he attended a brilliant gathering at a fashionable house like this one. And he wished he hadn’t had to come tonight, but Black had requested a meeting. He frowned, no doubt the gossip would spread farther north and add fuel to the fire of his soiled reputation.

“Was it? You haven’t yet heard that the earl, Nathaniel Haighton, has been murdered?” Black’s words cut through his reverie like a knife through butter.

“No!” Grant stared at him. “What happened?” He gripped the arms of his chair. Nat murdered?

“Shot down in cold blood.”

“Shot?” Grant shook his head disbelievingly. “He was a good friend of my father’s. I’ve known him all my life, and his wife, Jenny. They have a brood of children.”

Black gave a curt nod. “You’ll be aware that Stockton and Darlington’s first steam train will run in September.”

“Spoken of tonight as a matter of fact. But what has that to do with…”

“The newly laid train line was found ripped apart within shouting distance of where Lord Haighton was found on his northern boundary.”

“You believe he came across the men wrecking the rail line?”

“We don’t know. When his horse came back to the stables they began to search for him. Found him hours later. Difficult to say if the two things happened concurrently, but it’s certainly possible.”

“Fiends!” Horrified, Grant curled his hands into fists. “What lies behind this sabotage?”

“The reasons are not yet clear.”

“A beef against the company? There’s plenty of opposition against progress.” Grant shook his head. “But murder!”

“They might have panicked,” Black said on a puff of smoke. “And this might have nothing to do with Haighton’s murder.”

“Nat rode along his northern boundary to the river every morning,” Grant said. “My father and I often accompanied him during house parties.”

“They’ll strike again.” Black stubbed out his cheroot. “The government wants the matter kept quiet for now, it will cause some panic on the ’Change. The Duke of Rotherham’s estate lies in Yorkshire, so visiting your grandfather would go unremarked upon. I suspect the trail will lead you back to London. This was neither a local matter, nor insignificant. Talk to the Justice of the Peace and the parish constable. The North Yorkshire magistrate, too if need be.

“Because the canals proposed to move coal have never been built, this rail line has become part of a long-term plan that will eventually be extended to link industry, particularly iron, steel production, and shipbuilding, as well as coal, to other Durham towns. A vital step in English industry. Which is why the government wants to keep this matter low key. Find out what you can. But be careful, we remain too much in the dark.”

Grant breathed deeply to ease the rage tightening his chest. How distressed his father and grandfather would be when the news of Nat’s death reached them. He wanted to be there to somehow help ease their pain.

*

How Lord Gunn managed to sweet talk her mother, she didn’t know, but he led Mercy onto the floor for a waltz. She felt light as a feather in his arms as he guided her over the floor. “You’re a wee lassie,” he said in his heavy Scots brogue. “Different to your sister.”

“Yes, Hope and I are more alike.” It was all she could manage to say to his broad chest, for she’d become quite breathless.

“The Duchess is Junoesque,” he commented, as Charity waltzed past with Robin.

Mercy detected a note of regret in his voice with a pull of sympathy. To be spurned in love must be the most dreadful thing in the world. She liked him and sought to cheer him. He moved well for a big man, his large feet managing to evade hers. “You are an excellent dancer, Lord Gunn.”

“It helps that ye are as light as a sprite. We might dance again this evening, if your dance card isn’t full, which I suspect it will be.”

She smiled. Her father had joined her mother, and if his expression was anything to go by, such an event was most unlikely.

When Gunn turned her, Mercy spied the tall man with the smoldering intensity she’d found so thrilling. Northcliffe wove his way through the crowd gathered around the fringes of the dance floor. A pretty, dark-haired woman in magenta silk, stepped into his path. A moment later, he took the lady’s arm and hurried her out of the French doors onto the terrace, closing the door behind them. Mercy almost shivered as she considered what lay in store for the lady. Somehow, she knew that Northcliffe was nothing like Lord Burleigh, who’d begged Mercy for a kiss on the terrace earlier. Northcliffe would not beg.