Sir Vincent crossed Park Lane and hurried to the Hyde Park Gate at Oxford Street. The fog was beginning to swirl in mists as it moved in to cover the city. He could see the outline of a shadowy figure standing near the entrance. As he came nearer, he could distinguish the figure as the Earl of Cranleigh, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Sir Vincent was edgy and glanced around him. He didn't like being out here in the fog, and the eerie atmosphere of the lonely night worried him after he heard of the attack the night before on a gentleman coming home from a party. The thought of the Earl having the money with him gave him the courage to change his pace to a saunter when he arrived at the gate.
Without saying a word, Cranleigh motioned Sir Vincent to follow him into the park entrance. After walking a few feet inside the park, away from the street and entrance, where they were not apt to be noticed, he turned to Sir Vincent.
"Now, tell me," Cranleigh demanded, as he took an envelope from his pocket, and slowly opened it to show Sir Vincent that it contained the money. "Where is the girl?"
When Sir Vincent made an attempt to reach for the envelope, Cranleigh took a step back and put the envelope back in his pocket.
"Oh no . . . you will talk first. Then you may have the money."
"Of course," Sir Vincent said eagerly, anxious to get his money. "You will find your redhead at the new place on Jermyn Street. The Jardin de Plaisir."
"She is not there! I have had men checking, and they have not found any redheaded whores working there," Cranleigh answered angrily.
"Ah, but did I say she was working as a lady of the night? So sorry . . . my apologies . . . your relative is taking care of Lilly's account ledgers, and does not work there at night with the other ladies," he said laughing. "But the fact that she is working in a gaming hell, no matter what her occupation, is just as bad as if she were a whore!" Sir Vincent held out his hand, "And now I will have the money."
Cranleigh put his hand back into his pocket, and his fingers closed around the pistol. "Yes, Sir Vincent, thank you for the information, and it is my pleasure to give you what you deserve."
It happened so fast, Sir Vincent barely saw the movement as Cranleigh pulled out the pistol and fired. At close range, less than two feet apart, the noise was muffled as the bullet struck Sir Vincent in the heart. With an intake of his last breath, Sir Vincent crumbled to the ground. After one quick check to make sure Sir Vincent was dead, the Earl of Cranleigh hastily disappeared into the fog and the night.
Marcus looked up and smiled, as the man moved to the bar. "What would you like, sir?"
"A brandy . . . and information," the Earl of Cranleigh answered, laying a gold coin on the bar counter.
Pouring the brandy in a glass, and sliding it toward the gentleman, Marcus asked suspiciously, "What type of information?"
"I understand you have a girl working here, by the name of Sarah . . . a redhead."
Curiosity aroused at Sarah's name, Marcus asked cautiously, "What's your interest?"
"That's my business, I just want to know if she is here . . . and where I can find her," Cranleigh answered arrogantly.
"If you will wait a moment I will check for you," Marcus said stiffly, still trying to be polite to a customer he did not like, in looks or attitude. He turned away, walked to the far end of the bar, and motion to Karl standing by the buffet room entrance. Karl immediately came over to the bar.
"Tell Lilly there is someone asking about Sarah . . . the man in the dark coat at the other end of the bar . . . I told him I would find out if she was here," he said in a low voice.
With a quick glance at Cranleigh, Karl nodded and left. Marcus came back to Cranleigh and said he was having their man check on her. Cranleigh watched Karl as he left the room, then turned back to his drink.
Karl found Lilly on her way up the stairs to her suite. After he relayed the message from Marcus, Lilly told Karl to keep an eye on him, while she talked to Sarah.
Sarah was in her office sitting on the couch, reading a book when Lilly entered.
"Oh, I am glad you are still up!" Lilly said quickly.
"Is something wrong?" Sarah answered, putting her book aside.
"Come with me, I want you to take a look at a man who is asking for you. We will have to go quickly, before he decides to leave," Lilly said as she turned to go back out the door, taking for granted Sarah would follow.
Lilly went along the hallway to her own suite, and as soon as Sarah was inside the room she closed the door and locked it. Then she headed to the cabinet with the secret passage leading to the observation room. Sarah watched intrigued, as Lilly open the cabinet and touched something on the panel, and the passage was revealed. Bewildered, Sarah followed wordlessly down the stairs to the observation room. When Lilly opened the narrow window, Sarah gasped at the sight of the gaming room. She had never seen the room when it was opened for business, and the sight of the crowd of gentlemen gambling, and all the employees dressed in their evening finery fascinated her.
"See the man at the end of the bar? The one in conversation with Marcus?" Lilly said drawing Sarah's attention.
Sarah peered closer, trying to get a better look. When she finally focused on him, she let out a startled cry.
"You know him, then? He has been asking for you," Lilly said, worried as she watched the color drain from Sarah's face.
"He . . . he is the Earl of Cranleigh, my cousin. He is the one I ran away from when he came to claim my home after my father died. How did he find me?" she said in a trembling voice.
"I have no idea, perhaps Marcus will find out what he wants," Lilly said. She reached up to close the window, then paused as her attention was drawn to the roulette table. Barry, one of the dealers, was standing by the wheel and a very handsome and elegantly dressed man stood near him at the end of the table. Lilly had been a woman of the world for a long time and knew that this man was flirting with Barry, deflecting his attention. She had heard rumors that Barry was homosexual, but this was the first time she witnessed his attraction to a man. Lilly glanced further down the table at a stocky man, also well dressed place a bet after the ball dropped into place on a number. The man had covered the winning number with his chips. Barry had not noticed. She would have to take care of that when she returned to the gaming room, Lilly thought grimly, then closed the window.
"Come, you may return to your room. I will have to go back downstairs to talk with him . . . and do not worry, you will not have to meet with him. As I said before, you have nothing to do with the customers, and are not on duty when we are open.
They hurried back up the stairs and Lilly closed up the secret panel. She assured Sarah again that she need not worry, and went downstairs to the gaming room to speak to the Earl of Cranleigh . . . and then she would decide what to do about Barry.
Cranleigh watched Lilly walked toward him. She was a beautiful woman, but one that was no longer pure in his estimation. He hated her for corrupting his cousin. His Sarah, the one whom he had set all his dreams. The perfect one for having his child, a healthy child, and together they would have lived a perfect life at the estate, away from his wife and that deranged son she had given him thirty years ago. Now all of his plans are ruined because of this place and this woman walking toward him.
Lilly felt a cold chill go down her spine as she looked into the eyes of the man in front of her. She had seen eyes like those before. Eyes of a fanatic.
"M'sieur? You wish to speak to me? I am Madam Monainge the owner of this establishment," Lilly said politely.
"I wish to speak to Sarah. Where is she?" Cranleigh arrogantly demanded.
"I am sorry, m'sieur, I do not know who you are, but I'm afraid that is impossible. Sarah does not mix with our customers, and she does not have visitors, without first going through me and setting up an appointment . . . that is . . . if she wishes to see that person," Lilly answered firmly.
"Madame, I am the Earl of Cranleigh, and Sarah is related to me. I have every right to see her," Cranleigh said in a belligerent tone.
"Related or not, Lord Cranleigh, the rules remain the same. I will let her know you have inquired about her. If she wishes to see you, I will let you know and we will set up an appointment. Now, I believe you should leave the premises. It seems you are beginning to draw attention, and I do not wish to have any trouble," Lilly said, noticing heads begin to turn in their direction. She raised her hand with a slight motion. Immediately Karl was at her side.
"This gentleman is leaving Karl, please show him to the door." With a curt nod to Cranleigh, she turned and walked away toward the roulette table.
Lilly stood just out of Barry's line of vision and watched the two gentlemen at his table. She then noticed a third older man, just as well dressed, standing across the table from the other one, and the three seemed to be of Latin origin. The accent of the one flirting with Barry could be Italian, and it was certain the three men were together, for they would exchange glances frequently.
Barry was being sidetracked by this handsome man . . . no, the man was more than handsome, he was exquisite with perfect features and the longest eyelashes she had ever seen on anyone. Barry was as flustered as any woman would be when Lord Byron entered a room. While Barry was distracted, the other two were sliding bets on the numbers after the ball dropped. None of the customers playing at the table seemed to have noticed, as they were concentrating on the wheel to see where the ball was going to land, or sipping their drinks conversing with the person next to them.
When Karl came back into the gaming room, Lilly raised her hand to signal him, then walked up to the table. She moved between Barry and the man, slipped her hand around the elegant sleeve of this handsome stranger, and smiled. He looked startled, then smiled back at her. Lilly then looked at the other two gentlemen.
"Karl, I would like you to escort these gentlemen to my office, please," Lilly said still smiling. "Come gentlemen I would like to have a private talk with you. Barry, close the table and join us in the office."
The three men glanced worriedly around them, no doubt deciding their
chances of escaping the place. Other customers' attention has already been
drawn to them, watched suspiciously. Lilly holding the arm of the handsome
one, and Karl moved in to take an arm of each of the other two. The gentlemen
had no choice but to comply with Lilly's invitation.
In the office, Lilly moved to her chair behind the desk and motioned for the three men to have a seat. Barry knocked gently on the door then entered. His face was flushed with embarrassment, and he averted his eyes, not looking at any of them as he moved into the room. Karl locked the door and motioned for Barry to stand next to him.
"Now gentlemen, I have noticed your little game you played, and I am sure that it is not allowed in your country, whatever that country may be, any more than it is elsewhere in the world. So if you'll be kind enough to place all of the chips on my desk, we will let you leave quietly, otherwise I will hold you until the British Bow Street men arrive. I assure you, they do not take kindly to foreigners entering England for the purpose of swindling," Lilly said in a cordial, but stern, manner.
"Barry, how long have these gentlemen been coming into the gaming room and have they played at the other tables that you were working?" Lilly asked, glancing up at Barry who still stood with his head lowered.
Barry looked up startled when she spoke to him. He was completely mortified that Lilly had walked up while he had been flirting with the man, and he still was not sure what was going on . . . but apparently they had been cheating at his table and he hadn't noticed.
"Just this evening. I haven't seen them before this, and that was the only table of mine they played," Barry answered anxiously.
"Karl? Have you seen them before?" Lilly queried.
"No, I believe this is their first time. They came in together about two, maybe three, hours ago," Karl answered.
The older man said something to the others in a clip, Italian dialect. The others nodded.
Lilly noticed that was the first any of them had spoken since she came up to the roulette table.
"If you don't mind, please speak English. I do understand a little Italian and have caught part of what you were saying. No matter what you tell them, I will have my money back that you cheated me out of at the table. So start emptying your pockets . . . or Karl will do it for you. You are not leaving this room until then. Is that understood?" Lilly said harshly.
The three looked at each other and following the older man's lead, they began to empty their pockets of chips and put them on the desk. When they were finished, Lilly nodded to Karl. He stepped forward to search each one thoroughly, and added more chips to those on the desk.
Lilly glanced over at Barry. He was standing with his hands jammed in his pockets, staring sadly at the fire burning in the fireplace. She had no doubt that he was contemplating his chances of keeping his job.
"That's it . . . they're clean," Karl said, stepping back from the last one. The three had stood stoically as they were searched. Lilly had to give them credit for having some class when they had been caught red-handed. Not screaming in outrage as others might have done, or act indignant at being searched.
"All right gentlemen, you may leave. I do not expect to see any of you near my place again. A word of caution if you attempt this at other gaming houses . . . your treatment there may not be as lenient as mine. The more probable conclusion would be having your throat slit and dumped in an alley," Lilly said, getting up from her chair. "Show them out Karl."
The three men left quietly without a word, followed by Karl. When the door closed after them, Lilly turned her attention to Barry. He had not moved or turned to acknowledge that the men were leaving.
"Barry?" Lilly said gently. When he turned to look at her, his watery blue eyes were full of remorse. She smiled, and motioned for him to sit down.
Barry moved to the chair in front of Lilly's desk and sat down. He ran his hand through his light brown hair, sighed and shook his head.
"I had no idea they were cheating. I'm sorry, I let you down and . . . I don't know how to make it up to you for the trouble this has caused you. I'll understand if you fired me . . . Lord knows I deserve it," Barry said looking at the floor in front of him.
"Everyone makes mistakes . . . but if you can learn by it, then the mistake had some value. This mistake could have been costly, but luckily it was caught in time. I know you had not known they were cheating . . . I also know that you would never intentionally let anything like that happen. And . . . I also know you are different from the other men. I have heard rumors, for you must know that such things are hard to keep secret no matter how hard you may try," Lilly said compassionately, and watched as Barry turned his flushed face away, blinking the tears back.
"Barry, it's all right . . . I understand. You are just . . . different. There are many others like you on the Continent, and they are more open about it there, then here in England. I am not going to hold that against you . . . and I am not going to fire you," she paused as Barry turned to look at her gratefully. "I want you to use this as a lesson in the future. There is a time for work and a time for socializing. Just remember to keep them separated. When you're on the floor, you need to concentrate on the game your working . . . nothing else . . . is that clear?"
"Oh yes. Yes, I understand, and I will concentrate. I do not think I will ever forget this . . . this total humiliation and failure at not being aware of the cheating. I was such a fool! You will never have to worry that it will happen again . . . I promise you," Barry said fervently.
"I believe you. Now I want you to take a break, pull yourself together, then I'll have you relieve someone else at another table. I doubt that you will want to work the roulette table again tonight," Lilly said smiling, standing up as Barry reached across to take her hand in a warm clasp.
He was at the door about to open it, when he turned back to her. She looked at him expectantly.
"I just wanted to ask you . . . does the other's know? I mean about my . . . my preference?" he asked anxiously.
"Yes, I believe they do, but have they ever treated you different from the others?" Lilly asked.
"No . . . no they seemed to like me well enough, and always treated me the same as they would have Spencer or Marcus or anyone else," he said thoughtfully.
"Well, there you are! You see, they like you for your kindness, your personality, not what you do in your private life. But, Barry, remember . . . keep that private life outside of my gaming room," Lilly admonished.
Smiling, Barry nodded in agreement before closing the door after him.
Lilly remembered that Sarah was waiting for the outcome of the conversation with the Earl. She hurried up the stairs and found her sitting in the chair with her hands clasped, staring into space. As soon as she saw Lilly, Sarah jumped to her feet with an anxious look.
"I am so sorry I took so long to get back to you, but I had another crisis after talking to the Earl. You can relax, my dear, he is gone. I told him he could not see you without first making an appointment . . . and only if you wished to see him," Lilly said taking Sarah's hands in hers with a gentle squeeze.
"Oh, thank you! I was so frightened!" Sarah said with relief.
"Come, sit down. Would you like to tell me about it?" Lilly asked gently, guiding Sarah over to the sofa.
Nodding Sarah sat down, with Lilly beside her. She explained how it happened that she ran away from the estate, and how the earl was constantly touching her, and leering at her. She told Lilly of how the son would follow her around, and that he was considered mentally unstable. When the Earl had made clear his plans to have her wed his son, and the son tried to assault her, she had fled in the night not letting anyone know where she had gone.
"I cannot understand how he found me here! No one knows except the vicar and his wife. They are the ones I had been staying with before I came here, and the earl did not know that I had been there. You do not think that Lord Townsend would have mentioned it to him, do you?" Sarah asked.
"Well, it is possible they had talked about you. But, I doubt seriously he would tell him where you were, since Lord Townsend seemed to be worried about anyone finding out you were here," Lilly answered.
"I guess it really doesn't matter how he found out. It only matters that he knows where I am," Sarah said with a shudder.
The rest of the week went by quietly. Sarah did not hear any more
about the earl returning. Neither did she hear from Adam since the night
she broke their dinner engagement because of her headache. She did not
have much time to worry about Adam, as everyone was excited about the forthcoming
wedding taking place this Sunday, when Lilly and Jacques would leave for
France on Saturday evening. Marcus and Karl were to be in charge while
they were gone, and arrangements had to be made for Jacques's absence at
the tables. It was decided to close two of the gaming tables for late Saturday,
after Jacques leaves. Sunday the establishment was not open, being their
normal day off, and if the newlyweds have not returned by Monday night,
they would close two tables again.
Adam was deliberately keeping his distance from Sarah. He kept himself
busy with his usual routine of making the rounds of the parties and his
clubs, where talk of the murder of Sir Vincent in Hyde Park had been on
everyone's tongue as they pondered over the reason, speculating it was
connected to his heavy gambling, since he was not robbed. Adam wondered
if Sir Vincent had been the customer Sarah had exposed, but he steered
clear of Lilly's establishment, and did his gaming at White's, while he
listened to the gossip in case there was further information about the
murder. One thing he found hard to return to, and that was acquiring a
new mistress. He had plenty of opportunities, but the vision of Sarah's
red hair, and shimmering green eyes would get in the way, when he started
to show an interest in another woman. Still, he remained determined to
stay away from Sarah.
The Earl of Cranleigh was also staying away from Sarah, but with another purpose in mind. He was busy collecting information on everything that went on at the exclusive gaming club. When he heard that Lilly was getting married to one of the dealers, and going away this coming weekend, he was elated. That meant the usual routine of the place would be altered. The employees left will be busier than usual, and no doubt not as alert, he thought, as he formulated a plan. Early Monday evening would be the time to make his move. First he would need to disguise his appearance, so he would not be recognized. Then, he needed to hire a few men, dress them properly to blend unnoticed in that exclusive club, and create a diversion, while he searched for Sarah. It would be expensive, but it would be worth it to get his revenge.
* * * *
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