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  • Home > Lisa Kleypas > Mine Till Midnight     

    "Neither will they let you inside," she pointed out "You're a Roma."

    "As it happens, the manager of the club is also a Roma."

    That was unusual. Extraordinary, even. Gypsies were known as thieves and tricksters. For one of the Rom to be entrusted with the accounting of cash and credit, not to mention arbitrating controversies at the gambling tables, was nothing short of amazing. "He must be a rather remarkable individual to have assumed such a position," Amelia said. "Very well, I will allow you to accompany me inside Jenner's. It's possible your presence will induce him to be more forthcoming."

    "Thank you." Merripen's voice was so dry one could have struck a match off it.

    Amelia remained strategically silent as he drove the covered brougham through the highest concentration of attractions, shops, and theaters in the city. The poorly sprung carriage bounced with abandon along the wide thoroughfares, passing handsome squares lined with columned houses and tidily fenced greens, and Georgian-fronted buildings. As the streets became more lavish, the brick walls gave way to stucco, which soon gave way to stone.

    The West End scenery was unfamiliar to Amelia. Despite the proximity of their village, the Hathaways didn't often venture into town, certainly not to this area. Even now with their recent inheritance, there was little they could afford here.

    Glancing at Merripen, Amelia wondered why he seemed to know exactly where they were going, when he was no more acquainted with town than she. But Merripen had an instinct for finding his way anywhere.

    They turned onto King Street, which was ablaze with light shed from gas lamps. It was noisy and busy, congested with vehicles and groups of pedestrians setting out for the evening's entertainment. The sky glowed dull red as the remaining light percolated through the haze of coal smoke. Crowns of lofty buildings broke the horizon, rows of dark shapes protruding like witches' teeth.

    Merripen guided the horse to a narrow alley of mews behind a great stone-fronted building. Jenner's. Amelia's stomach tightened. It was probably too much to ask that her brother would be found safely here, in the first place they looked.

    "Merripen?" Her voice was strained.

    "Yes?"

    "You should probably know that if my brother hasn't already managed to kill himself, I plan to shoot him when we find him."

    "I'll hand you the pistol."

    Amelia smiled and straightened her bonnet. "Let's go inside. And remember—I'll do the talking."

    An objectionable odor filled the alley, a city-smell of animals and refuse and coal dust. In the absence of a good rain, filth accumulated quickly in the streets and tributaries. Descending to the soiled ground, Amelia hopped out of the path of squeaking rats that ran alongside the wall of the building.

    As Merripen gave the ribbons to a stableman at the mews, Amelia glanced toward the end of the alley.

    A pair of street youths crouched near a tiny fire, roasting something on sticks. Amelia did not want to speculate on the nature of the objects being heated. Her attention moved to a group—three men and a woman—illuminated in the uncertain blaze. It appeared two of the men were engaged in fisticuffs. However, they were so inebriated that their contest looked like a performance of dancing bears.

    The woman's gown was made of gaudily colored fabric, the bodice gaping to reveal the plump hills of her br**sts. She seemed amused by the spectacle of two men battling over her, while a third attempted to break up the fracas.

    " 'Ere now, my fine jacks," the woman called out in a Cockney accent, "I said I'd take ye both on—no need for a cockfight!"

    "Stay back," Merripen murmured.

    Pretending not to hear, Amelia drew closer for a better view. It wasn't the sight of the brawl that was so interesting—even their village, peaceful little Primrose Place, had its share of fistfights. All men, no matter what their situation, occasionally succumbed to their lower natures. What attracted Amelia's notice was the third man, the would-be peacemaker, as he darted between the drunken fools and attempted to reason with them.

    He was every bit as well dressed as the gentlemen on either side ... but it was obvious this man was no gentleman. He was black-haired and swarthy and exotic. And he moved with the swift grace of a cat, easily avoiding the swipes and lunges of his opponents.

    "My lords," he was saying in a reasonable tone, sounding relaxed even as he blocked a heavy fist with his forearm. "I'm afraid you'll both have to stop this now, or I'll be forced to? He broke off and dodged to the side just as the man behind him leaped.

    The prostitute cackled at the sight. "They got you on the 'op tonight, Rohan," she exclaimed.

    Dodging back into the fray, Rohan attempted to break it up once more. "My lords, surely you must know"—he ducked beneath the swift arc of a fist?that violence"?he blocked a right hook?never solves anything."

    "Bugger you!" one of the men said, and butted forward like a deranged goat.

    Rohan stepped aside and allowed him to charge straight into the side of the building. The attacker collapsed with a groan and lay gasping on the ground.

    His opponent's reaction was singularly ungrateful. Instead of thanking the dark-haired man for putting a stop to the fight, he growled, "Curse you for interfering, Rohan! I would've knocked the stuffing from him!" He charged forth with his fists churning like windmill blades.

    Rohan evaded a left cross and deftly flipped him to the ground. He stood over the prone figure, blotting his forehead with his sleeve. "Had enough?" he asked pleasantly. "Yes? Good. Please allow me to help you to your feet, my lord." As Rohan pulled the man upward, he glanced toward the threshold of a door that led into the club, where a club employee waited. "Dawson, escort Lord Latimer to his carriage out front. I'll take Lord Selway."

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