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Finding one person in a city of nearly two million was a formidable task. It helped if that person's behavior was predictable and he could usually be found in a tavern or gin shop. Still, it wouldn't be easy.
Leo, where are you? Miss Amelia Hathaway thought desperately as the carriage wheels rattled along the cobbled street. Poor, wild, troubled Leo. Some people, when faced with intolerable circumstances, simply ... broke. Such was the case with her formerly dashing and dependable brother. At this point he was probably beyond all hope of repair.
"We'll find him," Amelia said with an assurance she didn't feel. She glanced at the Gypsy who sat opposite her. As usual, Merripen showed no expression.
One could be forgiven for assuming Merripen was a man of limited emotions. He was so guarded, in fact, that even after living with the Hathaway family for fifteen years, he still hadn't told anyone his first name. They had known him simply as Merripen ever since he had been found, battered and unconscious, beside a creek that ran through their property.
When Merripen had awakened to discover himself surrounded by curious Hathaways, he had reacted violently. It had taken their combined efforts to keep him in bed, all of them exclaiming that he would make his injuries worse, he must lie still. Amelia's father had deduced the boy was the survivor of a Gypsy hunt, a brutal practice in which local landowners rode out on horseback with guns and clubs to rid their properties of Romany encampments.
"The lad was probably left for dead," Mr. Hathaway had remarked gravely. As a scholarly and forward-thinking gentleman, he had disapproved of violence in any form. "I'm afraid it will be difficult to communicate with his tribe. They are probably long gone by now."
"May we keep him, Papa?" Amelia's younger sister Poppy had cried eagerly, no doubt envisioning the wild boy (who had bared his teeth at her like a trapped wolverine) as an entertaining new pet.
Mr. Hathaway had smiled at her. "He may stay as long as he chooses. But I doubt he will remain here longer than a week or so. Romany Gypsies—the Rom, they call themselves—are a nomadic people. They dislike staying under one roof too long. It makes them feel imprisoned."
However, Merripen had stayed. He had started out as a small and rather slight lad. But with proper care and regular meals, he had grown at a near-alarming rate into a man of robust and powerful proportions. It was difficult to say exactly what Merripen was: not quite a family member, not a servant. Although he worked in various capacities for the Hathaways, acting as a driver and jack-of-all-trades, he also ate at the family table whenever he chose, and occupied a bedroom in the main part of the cottage.
Now that Leo had gone missing and was possibly in danger, there was no question that Merripen would help find him.
It was hardly proper for Amelia to go unaccompanied in the presence of a man like Merripen. But at the age of twenty-six, she considered herself beyond any need of chaperonage.
"We shall begin by eliminating the places Leo would not go," she said. "Churches, museums, places of higher learning, and polite neighborhoods are naturally out of the question."
"That still leaves most of the city," Merripen grumbled. Merripen was not fond of London. In his view, the workings of so-called civilized society were infinitely more barbaric than anything that could be found in nature. Given a choice between spending an hour in a pen of wild boars or a drawing room of elegant company, he would have chosen the boars without hesitation.
"We should probably start with taverns," Amelia continued.
Merripen gave her a dark glance. "Do you know how many taverns there are in London?"
"No, but I'm certain I will by the time the night is out."
"We're not going to start with taverns. We'll go where Leo is likely to find the most trouble."
"And that would be?"
Jenner's was an infamous gaming club where gentlemen went to behave in ungentlemanly ways. Originally founded by an ex-boxer named Ivo Jenner, the club had changed hands upon his death, and was now owned by his son-in-law, Lord St. Vincent. The less-than-sterling reputation of St. Vincent had only enhanced the club's allure. A membership at Jenner's cost a fortune. Naturally Leo had insisted on joining immediately upon inheriting his title three months ago.
"If you intend to drink yourself to death," Amelia had told Leo calmly, "I wish you would do it at a more affordable place."
"But I'm a viscount now," Leo had replied nonchalantly. "I have to do it with style, or what will people say?"
"That you were a wastrel and a fool, and the title might just as well have gone to a monkey?"
That had elicited a grin from her handsome brother. "I'm sure that comparison is quite unfair to the monkey."
Turning cold with increasing worry, Amelia pressed her gloved fingers to the aching surface of her forehead. This wasn't the first time Leo had disappeared, but it was definitely of the longest duration. "I've never been inside a gaming club before. It will be a novel experience."
"They won't let you inside. You're a lady. And even if they did allow it, I wouldn't."
Lowering her hand, Amelia glanced at him in surprise. It was rare that Merripen forbade her to do anything. In fact, this may have been the first time. She found it annoying. Considering that her brother's life might be at stake, she was hardly going to quibble over social niceties. Besides, she was curious to see what was inside the privileged masculine retreat. As long as she was doomed to remain a spinster, she might as well enjoy the small freedoms that came with it.