Heiress for Hire (Duke's Heiress #1) - Madeline Hunter Page 0,1
leveled the pistol firmly. “I am not inclined to trust a housebreaker.”
He gave one furious tug on the ties behind his back. He narrowed his eyes. “I have come to inform you of something that benefits you significantly.”
“What is that?”
“You have inherited some money. A large amount of it.”
* * *
Chase did not like when carefully laid plans failed. Now he grimaced while the servant called Beth dabbed at his scalp to clean the wound of blood.
A good deal of blood. He knew from his time in the army that scalp wounds were notorious for bleeding, no matter how minor.
Not that his felt all that minor. The hammer still banged.
He was sitting on a stool while the stout woman did her nursing. Fifteen feet away Minerva Hepplewhite waited patiently, watching. Lounging, damn it. The pistol now lay on a table next to where she relaxed on a divan.
She appeared composed. At ease. Minerva Hepplewhite had a level of self-possession that unaccountably irritated him.
“Explain yourself,” she said. “If you had information to give me, why didn’t you show up on my doorstep and present your card?”
That was hard to explain without putting her on her guard. “I wanted proof you were Minerva Hepplewhite. I did not want to risk speaking to the wrong woman.”
She frowned over that.
The hands on his scalp lifted, then returned and pressed against his head. He almost cursed the woman, even though he knew she only applied a poultice.
The woman Beth stepped back, taking the scent of cheap rose water with her. “Done. Shouldn’t bleed much now. You will want your valet to wash your hair carefully for a spell. If he soaks your shirt in salt water, it should help get the blood out.” She gestured to his coats. “Not much help for those stains, though.”
The two women exchanged looks. Beth left the library and closed the door behind her.
“How did you find me?” Minerva Hepplewhite asked.
“It is my profession to find people.”
“Ah, you are a runner. Is this not an odd assignment? I thought it was your profession to find paramours of married individuals, then tell their spouses about their misdeeds.”
He did that too. It was the least interesting work, and an assignment he did not seek. Yet it came to him too often, since so many spouses committed so many misdeeds.
“I am not a runner. I am a gentleman who on occasion conducts discreet inquiries.”
“If the fine distinction gives you comfort that you are not a servant, hold to it.”
He stood. His scalp gave a few good hammer blows in response, but they were not quite as bad as they had been.
“Tell me about this inheritance,” she said.
She wore an undressing gown. It sported a good deal of frothy lace around her neck and at its hem, but it had seen better days. Shapeless but soft, it revealed her form while she sat there with it billowing over the divan’s faded rose toile cushion.
“A fortune was left to a woman named Minerva Hepplewhite, currently resident of London, by the late Duke of Hollinburgh.”
He took satisfaction in how her eyes widened. Then she laughed. “How absurd. This must be a joke. Why would the Duke of Hollinburgh leave me a fortune?”
He shrugged. “Believe me, that is my burning question as well. You must be . . . a good friend? A retainer? . . . A lover?”
Her frown dissolved and a broad smile took its place.
“A lover?” She swept her hand—an exceedingly lovely hand, he noticed—gesturing at the chamber. “Do I look like I have enjoyed the favor of a duke? Did you see a footman in the entryway? A fine carriage in the yard?”
Like that undressing gown, only serviceable furniture populated the library, and none of it was new. This certainly supported what she was saying, for this modest house on Rupert Street would hardly satisfy a duke’s mistress. . . at least, so it seemed.
Still smiling, she caught his gaze with her own. She had a talent for captivating one’s attention with that compelling focus. She appeared to invite him to look into her soul, to learn whether she spoke the truth or not. To discover—everything. He was not immune to the lure. She was a damned attractive woman. Distinctive. Unusual. Her disconcerting self-confidence made her interesting.
“Mr. Radnor, not only was I not this duke’s lover or mistress, but I never even met him.”
And with those words, Chase’s current assignment suddenly became much more difficult.
* * *
A fortune. A duke. Minerva tried to