Tempt Me at Twilight Page 93

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After questioning Michael’s manservant as to his whereabouts, Leo and Poppy went to Marlow’s, a club so exclusive that one could only belong if his grandfather and father had been counted among its former members. The ennobled crowd at Marlow’s looked down on the rest of the populace—including less-privileged bluebloods—with undiluted disdain. Having always been curious to see the inside of the place, Leo was more than pleased to go there in search of Michael Bayning.

“You won’t be allowed past the door,” Poppy said. “You’re precisely the kind of person they want to keep out.”

“I’ll merely tell them that Bayning is a suspect in a kidnapping plot, and if they don’t let me look for him, I’ll see that they’re charged as accessories.”

Poppy watched through the carriage window as Leo went up to the Marlow’s classical white stone and stucco façade. After a minute or two of conversation with the doorman, Leo went into the club.

Folding her arms tightly, Poppy tried to warm herself. She felt cold from the inside out, ill with panic. Harry was somewhere in London, perhaps injured, and she couldn’t reach him. She couldn’t do anything for him. Remembering what Catherine had told her about Harry’s childhood, that he had been locked in a room for two days with no one giving a thought to him, she nearly burst into tears.

“I’ll find you,” she whispered, rocking a little in her seat. “I’ll be there soon. Just a little longer, Harry.”

The carriage door was wrenched open with startling suddenness.

Leo stood there with Michael Bayning, who was shockingly ravaged by his recent habits of excess. His fine clothes and meticulously tied cravat only served to accentuate the bloat of his jaw and the ruddy web of broken capillaries on his cheeks.

Poppy stared at him blankly. “Michael?”

“He’s halfway pickled,” Leo told her, “but coherent.”

“Mrs. Rutledge,” Michael said, his lip curling in a sneer. As he spoke, the scent of strong spirits wafted into the carriage. “Your husband’s gone missing, has he? It seems I’m supposed to spout some kind of information about it. Problem is . . .” He averted his face and suppressed a quiet belch. “I haven’t got any.”

Poppy’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe you. I think you had something to do with his disappearance.”

He gave her a distorted smile. “I’ve been here for the past four hours, and before that I was at my home. I’m sorry to say I haven’t arranged any underhanded plot to harm him.”

“You’ve made no secret of your animosity,” Leo pointed out. “You’ve made threats against him. You even came to the hotel with a revolver. You’re the most likely person to have been involved in his disappearance.”

“Much as I’d like to claim responsibility,” Michael said, “I can’t. The satisfaction of killing him isn’t worth being hanged for it.” His bloodshot eyes focused on Poppy. “How do you know he hasn’t decided to spend the evening with some lightskirt? He’s probably tired of you now. Go home, Mrs. Rutledge, and pray that he doesn’t come back. You’re better off without the bastard.”

Poppy blinked as if she’d been slapped.

Leo interceded coolly. “You’ll be answering scores of questions about Harry Rutledge in the next day or two, Bayning. Everyone, including your friends, will be pointing fingers in your direction. By tomorrow morning, half of London will be looking for him. You could spare yourself a great deal of trouble by helping us resolve the matter now.”

“I’ve told you, I had nothing to do with it,” Michael snapped. “But I hope to hell that he’s found soon—facedown in the Thames.”

“Enough,” Poppy cried in outrage. Both men glanced at her in surprise. “That is beneath you, Michael! Harry wronged both of us, it’s true, but he has apologized and tried to make reparations.”

“Not to me, by God!”

Poppy gave him an incredulous glance. “You want an apology from him?”

“No.” He glared at her, and then a hoarse note of pleading entered his voice. “I want you.”

She flushed with fury. “That will never be possible. And it never was. Your father wouldn’t have consented to have me as his daughter-in-law, because he considered me beneath him. And the truth is that you did, too, or you would have managed everything far differently than you did.”

“I’m not a snob, Poppy. I’m conventional. There’s a difference.”

She shook her head impatiently—it was an argument she didn’t want to waste precious time on. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve come to love my husband. I will never leave him. So for your sake as well as mine, stop making a spectacle and a nuisance of yourself, and go on with your life. You were meant for better things than this.”

“Well said,” Leo muttered, climbing into the carriage. “Let’s go, Poppy. We’ll get nothing else out of him.”

Michael grabbed the edge of the door before Leo could close it. “Wait,” he said to Poppy. “If it turns out that something has happened to your husband . . . will you come to me?”

She looked into his pleading face and shook her head, unable to believe he would ask such a thing. “No, Michael,” she said quietly. “I’m afraid you’re too conventional to suit me.”

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