To Save a Fallen Angel (The Fallen Angels series Book 2), page 26
“It will take a few minutes, Captain Stoughton. Please make yourself comfortable,” the man said and waved at the pillows on the dais.
Luc nodded and walked over. He settled on the left side and the man settled on the right with one of the short tables between them.
“Are you Marcus Hennessey? The Earl of Kiterman?” Luc asked, wanting to be sure he had finally found the man they had all been searching for.
The man regarded him closely. “Before I answer your question, captain, I have a few of my own I would like answered.”
Luc imagined he did, so he nodded.
“Are you one of the Europeans that I’ve been told has been searching the city for the Earl of Kiterman?” he asked.
“I am,” Luc replied.
“Why? Why have you been looking for the earl?” the man asked.
“I’m here on orders from the Home Office to gain your freedom, milord.”
“And the woman I’ve been told is looking for the earl? The one dressed as a Bedouin?” the man asked.
Luc flinched. He told Peggy the disguise wouldn’t work. He wondered how long this man had known that Peggy was searching the city. And if anyone else knew about her and her trips into Tripoli.
“Your daughter, milord,” Luc said.
“My daughter?” The man asked. “You are of course assuming that I am the Earl of Kiterman, young man.”
“Are you not?” Luc asked.
The man just gazed back at him stone faced. Suddenly a noise from the back of the tent heralded the arrival of their coffee and tea. The tribesman that had answered the call earlier reentered the tent carrying a large silver tray laden with two steaming pots and a platter of what looked like sweetmeats in between them.
The Bedouin carried the tray to the small table between Luc and the man he assumed was the earl. After laying out the food and drinks, he bowed his way out of the tent.
The man reached over and poured Luc a cup of hot black coffee. Then he poured himself a cup of tea and set the pot down as he regarded Luc closely.
“What is your connection, young man, with Lady Margaret Hennessey?” The man asked.
Luc raised an eyebrow, but did not answer. Something was very off about this conversation. He had not missed the evasions to his questions about this man’s identity.
“I am her escort and protector,” Luc said.
He saw the man’s eyes widen. And it sounded like he was strangling on something. Judging by the look in his eyes, it was merriment or something close to it.
“You. Are. Protecting Lady Margaret? Is that what you are telling me?” the man said.
Luc’s face heated up. “You obviously know the young woman in question. But I can assure you, I am her protector on this adventure.”
“More likely she is yours,” the man muttered under his breath. But not so low that Luc hadn’t heard him.
“Sir?” Luc asked in a harsh voice.
The man waved his hand. “Don’t take offense, young man. I’ve known Margaret Hennessey a long time. And I can assure you, she does not need, or require, your or anyone else’s protection.”
“Nevertheless,” Luc began but was cut off when the man waved his hand again.
“Don’t get in a huff, young man. I wasn’t trying to insult you. I just know my . . . Lady Margaret. And consequently, I know you’re not telling me the truth about your relationship with the lady.”
Luc cocked his head to the side and glared back at the man. “What are you trying to insinuate?” Luc demanded.
The man hesitated then said, “I’ve been watching the two of you for the last two days, trying to decide if you were a friend or a foe. And I’m not blind, young man. I could see the way you look at her. In fact, it is a wonder you didn’t give her disguise away by the way you kept hovering over her. Or the puppy dog looks you kept giving her when you knew she wasn’t looking at you.”
Luc sat up and glared back at the man. He hadn’t hovered. He had looked at her longingly a few times. But no one saw him. Or so he had believed.
“So I’ll ask you once again, Captain Stoughton, what is your relationship with Lady Margaret?”
Luc could feel his blood beginning to boil. He resented this man’s interrogation and his insinuations. “She is my wife,” he said very slowly.
The man startled and jerk back. His eyes had widened and even through the scarf he had over his face, Luc could see his mouth was hanging open.
“Your wife?” The man squealed in a high-pitched tone that sounded more like a woman’s than a man’s voice.
Luc glared back at him. “Yes, my wife.”
The man leaned towards Luc and returned his glare. “The last time I saw . . . Lady Margaret, she was not married. So, when was this happy occasion supposed to have occurred?”
Something was not adding up, and it was becoming more confusing by the second. But he saw no reason to not answer the man’s question. “We made a layover in Portugal on the trip here, and we were married on board the Coral Sea by a Catholic priest with her guardian Jocqueline Malveaux and the crew of the Coral Sea as witnesses.”
“Joc approved this match?” the man asked.
Luc narrowed his eyes. “He arranged the ceremony.”
The man began laughing heartily and slapping his knee. When he fell over and began laughing so hard he could barely catch his breath, Luc had had enough.
“What in the bleeding ‘ell is so bloody funny?” Luc demanded.
Finally, the man’s hilarity wound down, and he sat back up and just stared at Luc. He seemed to be considering something, whether it was Luc or what he had just said, he could not tell. Then suddenly the man reached up and began unwinding the long scarf that made up the headdress of the Bedouin’s turban.
His right side was to Luc, but as soon as the scarf no longer covered his face, Luc knew without a doubt that he had found the Earl of Kiterman because he greatly favored Peggy. But then the man turned to face Luc, and Luc was shocked speechless, because down the left side of his face, from his temple to his chin was a saber scar nearly identical to the one Luc wore.
“You’re not the Earl of Kiterman,” Luc said.
“In point of fact, young man, I am,” the earl returned. “Or I was until I was murdered six months ago. Now my brother, Marcus, is the forth Earl of Kiterman, and I am but a ghost. And if it is all the same to you, I’d like to keep it that way.”
As Peggy had expected, it took less than five minutes to disable and elude the gun boats. Guerrant had been prepared for their attempt to escape and had a 32-gun French merchant frigate waiting for them once they set sail. But like Peggy told Luc, it wasn’t their first dance with one of the larger and slower ships. The Coral Sea sailed head on at the more heavily gunned ship, staying away from the main battery. Then in a well-practiced move, they cut windward, hitting the French merchantman with a broadside and cutting both its foremast and mainmast. After that, there was no need to engage the frigate as they had no intention of boarding her. So they set sail east toward Egypt. Once they were well out to sea, they turned north and made a wide circle back to the west and to Zanzur.
It cost them eighteen hours. But even Peggy knew the detour was worth it, if it threw Guerrant and Tripoli’s Pasha off their track. So it was after midnight by the time they had found a safe place to drop anchor.
“I want half the men to head toward Zanzur,” Peggy said, taking charge whether Joc liked it or not. “Check any caravans coming from Tripoli. See if anyone knows anything about an Englishman looking for another Englishman. The rest of us will head back toward Tripoli, doing the same thing. From what we learned checking the other routes, there should be only one caravan headed to Zanzur right now. It was the one Luc and Matthew were going to talk to last night.”
“And if we don’t find him?” Joc asked.
“Then I’m going to find this Guerrant and see if he does have him,” Peggy said.
He was quiet and she was sure he was going to argue with her.
She thought about denying it. But she didn’t want to. Worrying about Luc’s safety had crystallized in her mind what she wanted in her life. And at the top of that was being with Luc for the rest of her days. And killing her father would cost her that.
Oh, she still wanted her father dead for what he had done to Eddie. But Peggy no longer felt driven to do it herself. Joc could do it. Even Guerrant or the Tripoli Pasha. As long as justice was served, she could live with it.
“Not giving it up, just allowing you to do it,” she said and his face clouded over. “I can’t go against my husband, Joc. Not on this. And Luc would never forgive me if I killed my father.”
“So that’s it! Yer walking away from this and allowing ye father to get away with murdering Eddie?” he demanded.
“I’m not walking away, Joc. I’m passin’ it on to you,” she said. “I’ll not stop you. But I no longer care who kills him. All I want to do is find my husband and make sure he is alive. And if he is willing, then I’d like to spend the rest of my life with him.”
“Do ye think he’ll become a pirate for ye? Because I don’t,” Joc said.
“I hope not, Papa,” she said. “Because, like I told you, I’ve had enough of being one. I want a home and a family.”
His eyebrow crinkled as he looked down at her. “Oui, I’ve known this for some time. Eddie, he could not see it. But I did. It’s why I allowed yer flirtation with Gustav, even though I did no’ like ‘em. And it eez why I agreed to ye marryin’ the Englishmon.”
Her eyes were beginning to mist over, and she wiped at them. “No, Papa. I’ve never wanted to be the captain of the Coral Sea. I just wanted to be with you and Eddie. And I before now because I didn’t want to disappoint either of you.”
“Oh, my beloved daughter, ye could never disappoint either of us. We were always proud of ye, girl. And I always will be. No matter what ye decide to do with yer life. We both loved ye as if ye were our own daughter.”
“Thank you, Papa. Merci beaucoup. And I have always loved both of you as well.”
He enfolded her in a tight hug and kissed the top of her head. “But why did ye no tell me and Eddie that ye didn’t want the Coral Sea before now?”
Peggy sniffed and cuddled into his chest. “I just couldn’t. It was one of the reasons why I agreed to marry Gustav. I thought it would make it easier to leave the two of you if you thought I was happily married.”
He hugged her tightly. “Is that why ye married this Englishmon?” he asked.
She leaned her head back and glared up at him. “I married Luc because I love him, Papa.”
He stared down at her until her toes began to curl in her boots. “Then, little girl, I think we need to go find this husband of yours.”
“You’re Captain Peri,” Luc said, staring at the scar on the side of the man’s face.
“I was, young man,” his own eyes flickered to Luc’s scar. “But I’m guessing that Sir Walter recruited you to be the next Captain Peri.”
Luc collapsed back onto the pillows. “He recruited me to impersonate you.”
The earl’s eyebrows came together. “Why would he do a thing like that?”
Luc hesitated, then said slowly, “One of the demands of your kidnappers was that Captain Peri personally deliver the gold.”
“But my niece should have been the new-” the earl started but was cut off by Luc.
“Another one of the demands was that Lady Margaret, your niece, as the daughter of the man we all thought had been kidnapped, also be there at the exchange.”
“Guerrant,” the earl snarled.
“Yes, Guerrant,” Luc confirmed. “But I want to know why this Guerrant is so fixated on you and my wife?”
The earl looked away. “He’s not fixated on me and my niece, Captain. He is, as you say, fixated on my brother, Marcus, and his family. Which I am a part of. And so are you, now.”
A cold shiver ran down Luc’s back. He sat forward. “You need to explain yourself, Lord Kiterman. And now,” Luc demanded.
The earl nodded. “First of all, Captain Stoughton, stop calling me that. Marcus, is now Lord Kiterman, not I. As I told you, I am now a ghost. And I want it to stay that way. Secondly, you need to call me Eddie. It is what my friends and family call me. And I prefer it.” He laughed. “And from what you just told me, we’re family now.”
“Even though you are dead?” Luc asked.
Eddie grinned. “Even though, Edward Hennessey, the third Earl of Kiterman, is dead. Eddie Montfort is very much alive. And you are now my nephew by marriage, Captain Stoughton.”
Luc returned his regard and then nodded. “Then call me Lucien or Luc. It’s what my family and friends call me.”
Eddie nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
“Now please explain why this Guerrant has a blood feud with your brother?”
Eddie took a breath. “The short version, young man, is that at the beginning of the French Reign of Terror, my brother was an aide to the English ambassador in France. While working in France, he met and fell in love with a woman by the name of Amelie.” He hesitated, then added. “Amelie Guerrant. She was a distant relative of Dacey Guerrant, the man now trying to kill him.”
“But why?” Luc asked.
“Because she chose to marry my brother instead of Dacey Guerrant. And he saw that as a personal attack against him.”
“This is all over unrequited love?” Luc asked, incensed.
Eddie shrugged. “That and thousands of francs in gold. Amelie was an heiress. A very rich one. And Dacey believes my brother stole that money from him.”
“The two oldest motives for murder in history, greed and jealousy,” Luc said.
Eddie nodded. “That and pride. Dacey blames my brother for his fall from grace.”
Luc looked up at him questioningly.
“Dacey Guerrant was a part of the Committee of Public Safety. The week after my brother and Amelie ran off and married, Guerrant was kicked off the committee. He believes he lost face with the other members because he had bragged about marrying a rich merchant’s daughter. But the truth was, he had become too radical for most of the members.”
“So he blamed your brother,” Luc said.
“Quite so,” Eddie replied. “And a year later, just days after Peggy was born, Guerrant found Marcus and his wife. He murdered Amelie and tried to murder three-day old Peggy.”
Luc sat up. “That’s why he sent her away.” Eddie nodded. “Peggy told me her father sent her away because of his job.”
“In a way, it was true. But not totally. You see my brother not only worked as an aide to the English ambassador, he also worked as a spy for the Home Office. And he was afraid that between his work and this Guerrant’s vendetta, her life was in danger. So he packed her off to me with Joc and another man by the name of Edgar Morton. Her existence was kept a secret for several years.”
Luc squinted at the man. “Peggy told me she only spoke French until she was five years old. Is that why?”
Eddie laughed. “Partly. I’ve always loved the French language as my mother was French. And When Joc first showed up with Peggy in tow, it was the only language he spoke. So it just kind of happened that way. We hired only French refugees fleeing the Reign of Terror. And we told everyone that Peggy was my daughter.”
“And this Guerrant has been searching for your brother all this time?” Luc asked.
“We don’t know,” Eddie said. “Marcus moved around a lot because of his job. But two and half years ago, he ran into his late wife’s sister, Marianne. They spent time talking about Amelie, and eventually fell in love.” Eddie paused. “When Guerrant learned about it, he was furious and renewed his vow to destroy Marcus. And he also vowed to end all trace of Marcus or Amelie by wiping out their bloodlines.”
Luc set forward. “Including you and Peg
Eddie nodded. “And now you and Marcus’s new family as well. His wife, Marianne, and their son, André.”
“We have to stop him,” Luc said.
“We will, young man. I have men out looking for him even as we speak. Guerrant left the city searching for you and for my brother.”
“For you? Or for your brother?” Luc asked.
Eddie laughed. “Both I guess. But I suspect he is looking for me right now. Or the person he thinks is my brother.”
Luc had wondered about how this man came to be alive when so many people saw him die.
“You faked your death, didn’t you?” Luc asked.
“No, my brother and I faked it,” Eddie said.
Luc raised an eyebrow.
“I no longer wanted to be the earl. And Marcus wanted a stable life for his new wife and young son. So we came up with a plan. We staged a huge row in front of my crew. Then we planned it out so that I was to be shot, in front of witnesses, as I was leaving the ship.”
“What happened?” Luc asked.
Eddie shrugged. “The plan worked. I fell into the water near the ship, and swam to a predetermined location, and got out of the water. I put on some of my brother’s clothes,” he pointed to the scar on his face, “concealed this with some of my niece’s stage makeup, and walked away as Marcus Hennessey. But that’s where it all went wrong. I was captured by a man by the name of Chevalier.”
“I’ve met him,” Luc said.
Eddie nodded. “Well, he took me to the Pasha’s palace, and I was put in the dungeon and allowed no contact with anyone but the man who brought me my meals every day.”
Luc remembered the look on Peggy’s face when she talked about her uncle’s murder. “Why didn’t you tell anyone? Or at least your niece or your first mate?”
“We needed everyone to believe I was dead. And the plan was for me to sneak back on board later that night and tell them what we had done.”