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Available Dec. 7, 2021

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With A Little Help From My Lord

Alex had been discussing the Irish bill with Lord Holland when he looked up and saw Bitsy. What the devil? His gut plunged. Something terrible had happened to her. It wasn’t just the misery he saw on her face. Her straw hat was askance, her dress torn, and her arms bruised and bloodied. He dropped the papers he’d been holding and rushed to her.

As he came close, those luminous blue eyes filled with tears. He fought his first reaction to demand to know what had happened to her. A surge of protectiveness made him want to shield her from the prying eyes of other members of the House of Lords. He put his hand on her shoulder and led her to the small adjacent chamber. No one else was there.

Once he closed the door to allow them privacy, their somber gazes met. Without being conscious of what he was doing, he held out his arms, and she flowed into his embrace, sobbing into his chest as he patted her back.

“What’s happened?” he asked in a tender voice.

“I was abducted by the murderers.”

He did not know what he’d expected to hear, but it did not encompass a murderous abduction. Unlike earlier in the day, though, this time he believed her. “What do you mean by murderers?” He could not believe he was having a conversation about murderers.

“Those men who abducted me.”

How in the blazes could she have been snatched in broad daylight? He was seized with anger. Why hadn’t she listened to him? If anything happened to Bitsy, Devere would never forgive him. He would never forgive himself. “Did I not tell you not to leave Asquith House alone?”

Her head shook. “But I . . .” Sniff. Sniff. “Didn’t. I was snatched from Great-aunt Margaret’s back garden as I read in the sun.”

He held her tightly, as if he alone could protect her from ever again having to endure such a threat. “Dear saints in heaven! How did you end up here?”

“First, I was bludgeoned senseless, then thrown into a coach. When I regained consciousness, I leapt from the moving carriage.” Sniff. Sniff. “That’s how my dress got torn and bloody. I looked up and saw the Palace of Westminster and knew I had to come to you.”

Being her protector now seemed his foremost duty. He did not want to let go of her. What a terrifying ordeal she’d been through. “Poor Bitsy,” he murmured. “Are you hurt?”

“What do you think?”

He pulled back and looked into her face. A red, swollen bump the size of a woman’s fist protruded from her forehead. How could any man do that to a young lady? Alex would like to get his hands on the brute.

Without thinking of what he was doing, he bent and pressed soft lips to her bruise. It’s what his mother had always done to him. But this was not an adult with a child. This was a grown man with a lovely young woman. He had no business kissing Lady Harriett’s forehead. Even if he had known her all her life. Especially since he’d known her all her life.

“Are you saying the savages actually bashed in your head?”

She nodded.

“Good Lord, it’s a wonder they didn’t kill you.”

“Exactly what I thought. I believe they wanted to kill me and carry me away like they did the man on the doorstep.”

Why in the devil hadn’t he taken her earlier story more seriously? “I’m much concerned about that blasted blow to your head.” He moved closer and stared into her eyes. It seemed as if he’d heard that serious head injuries could dilate the pupils. Thankfully, hers looked normal.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“I’m trying to see if the pupils of your eyes are enlarged.”

“Whatever for?”

“I’m not precisely sure, but I think it could be a sign of something serious. You can’t be too careful about head injuries, you know.”

“Except for a headache, I’m fine. I am still in possession of my faculties.”

“Allow me to be the judge of that,” he said with a grin. A little levity was called for after all this poor girl had been through.

She cast a mock glare at him, and their eyes locked. It troubled him to see hers reddened and moist.

“Oh, Alex, I’m so frightened. Those men meant to kill me just like they did my book thief.”

“But I thought you said you didn’t see the book thief’s killer.”

“I didn’t, but it has to be the same men.”

She must be right. His brows lowered. “We need to discuss this.” He went and pulled out a chair. “Come. Sit here.”

She limped to where he stood.

Dear lord, she’d sustained more injuries than the knot on her head. “You injured your foot, too?”

She stopped, eyed him, and shook her head. “It’s my knee. I hurt it when I leapt from the coach. At first, I feared I’d shattered my kneecap.”

“You need medical attention.”

“I think I’ll be all right.”

“Would you permit me to . . .” He felt deuced awkward mentioning something so intimate. Lady Harriett was no longer the little girl with plaited hair he’d once tugged.

She had become a lovely young woman. He swallowed. “I think I should . . . examine your knee to make sure it’s not broken.”

Deep pink rose in her cheeks. “How would you know about such things?”

“I am the eldest of eight siblings—most of whom have broken bones over the course of their lives. I’ve become most adept at diagnosing breaks.”

“I . . . would not object to you examining my knee, then.”

He pulled up another chair for her to rest her foot upon. Then she tugged at her bloodied dress, lifting it past her exposed knee.

“It’s difficult to tell anything for all the blood,” he said. “I’ll fetch some water and cloths to clean the wound first.”

He dashed off and located the middle-aged woman who cleaned the main floor of the palace and managed to procure some clean cloths and a tall glass of water. He was able to wash away the dried blood. The knee was badly swollen and marred by scrapes of open flesh. He eased her lower leg up and down without causing her any significant pain. “I think you may have escaped broken bones.”

“But it’s my belfry that really concerns you,” she challenged.

“I was only teasing.”

When he finished, he tied fresh clothes over the oozing wound as a bandage. “I’m happy to pronounce you free of broken bones but must advise you to stay off that leg for a few days while it heals.”

She gave a half-hearted little laugh. “Now Great-aunt Margaret and I will both be infirm.”

“I would have thought you’d be safe at Lady Asquith’s. I was wrong. You need additional protection.”

“If I stay inside resting my leg, I should be fine. My great-aunt employs several strapping footmen as well as a butler—all of whom are there all the time.” She frowned. “Except when they dine.”

“They weren’t handy when your book thief was shot by the arrow.” He couldn’t believe he was talking about a man being felled by an arrow in modern-day London. He was shocked that he’d come to believe her preposterous story, but he no longer had any doubts. Lady Harriett Beresford’s life was in danger. And he was not about to allow anyone to harm a hair on her pretty little head.

The murder and abduction had to be related. Why else would she be targeted? Even though she had not seen the archer who slayed her book thief, the killer must have thought Harriett could identify him.

“You’re not going back to you aunt’s.
            Her eyes widened as she regarded him, a querying expression on her face. “Wherever will I go?”

“You’ll be staying with me.”

 

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