The Scottish Prisoner

Page 16

“Damn, Harry,” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had a history with Fraser.”

History, Grey thought. One way of putting it. Just as well he hadn’t arrived in time for tea. He’d no idea what James Fraser might have done—confronted simultaneously and without warning by the man who’d put him in fetters, and by the one who’d had him flogged, in addition to the man who was currently blackmailing him—but whatever he might have done, Grey wouldn’t have blamed him for doing it.

“I’d asked Harry to come so that we might discuss the Siverly affair and so that Harry could tell you what—and who—he knows in Ireland,” Hal went on, turning to Grey. “But I didn’t think to tell Harry about Fraser ahead of time.”

“Not your fault, old man,” Harry said, gruff. He squared his shoulders and straightened his lapels. “I’d best go and talk to him, hadn’t I?”

“And say what, exactly?” Grey asked, out of sheer inability to imagine what could be said in the circumstances.

Harry shrugged. “Offer him satisfaction, if he likes. Don’t see that there’s much else to be done.”

The Grey brothers exchanged a look of perfect comprehension and suppressed horror. The implications of a duel between a regimental colonel and a paroled prisoner in the custody of the colonel of the regiment, putting aside the complete illegality of the proceedings, and the very real possibility that one of them might well kill or maim the other …

“Harry—” Hal began, in measured tones, but John interrupted him.

“I’ll be your second, Harry,” he said hastily. “If it’s necessary. I’ll go and … er … inquire about the arrangements, shall I?”

Not waiting for an answer, he pulled open the front door and ran down the steps, too fast for any following shouts to reach him. He dodged across Kensington Road, ducking under the nose of an oncoming horse and being roundly cursed by its rider, and stepped into the open precincts of Hyde Park, where he paused, heart hammering, to look around.

Fraser wasn’t immediately visible. After yesterday’s savage downpour, today had dawned soft and clear, with the kind of pale bright sky that made one long to be a bird. Consequently, there were large numbers of people in the park, families lounging and eating under the trees, couples strolling on the paths, and pickpockets hanging about the fringes of the crowds round the Speakers’ Corner and the Punch and Judy in hopes of an unguarded purse.

Ought he to go back and ask which footman had been following Fraser and where he’d last been seen? No, he decided, striding firmly into the park. He wasn’t about to give Harry or Hal a chance to interfere; they’d caused quite enough trouble already.

Given Fraser’s height and appearance, Grey had no doubt of his ability to pick the Scot out of any crowd. If he’d been sitting under a tree to begin with, he wasn’t doing it now. Where would he go, he wondered, if he were Fraser? If he’d been living for several years on a horse farm in the Lake District and, prior to that, in a remote Scottish prison?

Right. He turned at once in the direction of the Punch and Judy show and was gratified as he came in sight of it to see a tall, red-haired man at the back of the crowd, easily able to see over the sea of heads and plainly absorbed in the play before him.

He didn’t want to pull Fraser away from the entertainment, so kept a short distance away. Perhaps the play would put the Scot in better temper—though, hearing the shrieks from the crowd as Judy beat Punch into a cocked hat, he began to feel that the influence of the proceedings might not have quite the calmative effect he’d hoped for. He would himself pay considerable money for the privilege of seeing Fraser beat Hal into a cocked hat, though it would cause complications.

He kept one eye on Fraser, the other on the play. The puppet master, an Irishman, was both adroit with his puppets and inventive with his epithets, and Grey felt an unexpected flash of pleasure at seeing Fraser smile.

He leaned against a tree, a little distance away, enjoying the sense of temporary invisibility. He’d wondered how he’d feel, seeing Jamie Fraser in the flesh again, and was relieved to find that the episode in the stable at Helwater now seemed sufficiently distant that he could put it aside. Not forget it, unfortunately, but not have it be uppermost in his mind, either.

Now Fraser bent his head to one side, listening to something said to him by a thin, curly-headed man beside him, though without taking his eyes off the stage. The sight of the curls brought Percy briefly to mind, but Percy, too, was in the past, and he shoved the thought firmly down.

He hadn’t consciously thought what he’d say or how he might start the conversation, but when the play ended, he found himself upright and walking fast, so as to come onto the path slightly in front of Fraser as he turned back toward the edge of the park.

He had no notion what had led him to do this, to let the Scot make the first move, but it seemed natural, and he heard Fraser snort behind him, a small sound with which he was familiar; it signified something between derision and amusement.

“Good afternoon, Colonel,” Fraser said, sounding resigned as he swung into step beside Grey.

“Good afternoon, Captain Fraser,” he replied politely, and felt rather than saw Fraser’s startled glance at him. “Did you enjoy the show?”

“I thought I’d gauge how long my chain is,” Fraser said, ignoring the question. “Within sight o’ the house, is it?”

“For the moment,” Grey said honestly. “But I did not come to retrieve you. I have a message from Colonel Quarry.”

Fraser’s wide mouth tightened involuntarily. “Oh, aye?”

“He wishes to offer you satisfaction.”

“What?” Fraser stared at him blankly.

“Satisfaction for what injury you may have received at his hands,” Grey elaborated. “If you wish to call him out—he’ll come.”

Fraser stopped dead.

“He’s offering to fight a duel with me. Is that what ye’re saying?”

“Yes,” Grey said patiently. “I am.”

“Jesus God.” The big Scot stood still, ignoring the flow of pedestrians—all of whom gave him a wide, side-glancing berth—and rubbing a finger up and down the bridge of his nose. He stopped doing this and shook his head, in the manner of one dislodging flies.

“Quarry canna think ye’d let me. You and His Grace, I mean.”

Grey’s heart gave a slight jerk; Christ, he was thinking about it. Seriously.

“I personally have nothing to say regarding the matter,” he said politely. “As for my brother, he said nothing to me that indicated he would interfere.” Since he hadn’t had a chance. Christ, what would Hal do if Fraser did call Harry out? Besides kill Grey himself for not preventing it, that is.

Fraser made a thoroughly Scotch sort of noise in his throat. Not quite a growl, but it lifted the hairs on Grey’s neck, and for the first time he began to worry that Fraser just might send back a challenge. He hadn’t thought—he’d thought Fraser would be startled by the notion, but then … He swallowed and blurted, “Should you wish to call him out, I will second you.”

Whatever Fraser had thought of Quarry’s original offer, Grey’s startled him a good deal more. He stared at Grey, blue eyes narrowed, looking to see whether this was an ill-timed joke.

Grey’s heart was thumping hard enough to cause small sparks of pain on the left side of his chest, even though the wounds there were long since healed. Fraser’s hands had curled into fists, and Grey had a sudden, vivid recollection of their last meeting, when Fraser had come within a literal inch of smashing in his face with one of those massive fists.

“Have you ever been out—fought a duel, I mean—before?”

“I have,” Fraser said shortly.

The color had risen in the Scot’s face. He was outwardly immobile, but whatever was going on inside his head was moving fast. Grey watched, fascinated.

That process reached its conclusion, though, and the big fists relaxed—consciously—and Fraser uttered a short, humorless laugh, his eyes focusing again on Grey.

“Why?” he said.

“Why, what? Why does Colonel Quarry offer you satisfaction? Because his sense of honor demands it, I suppose.”

Fraser said something under his breath in what Grey supposed to be Erse. He further supposed it to be a comment on Quarry’s honor but didn’t inquire. The blue eyes were boring into his.

“Why offer to second me? D’ye dislike Quarry?”

“No,” Grey said, startled. “Harry Quarry’s one of my best friends.”

One thick, ruddy brow went up. “Why would ye not be his second, then?”

Grey took a deep breath.

“Well … actually … I am. There’s nothing in the rules of duello preventing it,” he added. “Though I admit it’s not usual.”

Fraser closed his eyes for an instant, frowning, then opened them again.

“I see,” he said, very dry. “So was I to kill him, ye’d be obliged to fight me? And if he killed me, ye’d fight him? And should we kill each other, what then?”

“I suppose I’d call a surgeon to dispose of your bodies and then commit suicide,” Grey said, a little testily. “But let us not be rhetorical. You have no intent of calling him out, do you?”

“I’ll admit the prospect has its attractions,” Fraser said evenly. “But ye may tell Colonel Quarry I decline his offer.”

“Do you wish to tell him that yourself? He’s still at the house.”

Fraser had begun to walk again, but stopped dead at this. His gaze shifted toward Grey in a most uncomfortable way, rather like a large cat making a decision regarding the edibility of some small animal in its vicinity.

“Um … if you do not choose to meet him,” Grey said carefully, “I will leave you here for a quarter of an hour and make sure that he is gone before you return to the house.”

Fraser turned on him with such sudden violence as to make Grey steel himself not to step backward.

“And let the gobshite think I am afraid of him? Damn you, Englishman! Dare ye to suggest such a thing? Were I to call someone out, it would be you, mhic a diabhail—and ye know it.”

He whirled on his heel and stalked toward the house, scattering loungers like pigeons before him.

THEY SAW HIM COMING; the door opened before Jamie reached the top step, and he walked past the butler with a curt nod. The man looked apprehensive. Surely to God he must be familiar with an atmosphere of violence, Jamie thought, working in this nest of vipers.

He had an overwhelming urge to smash his fist through something and refrained from punching the walnut paneling in the foyer only because he realized just how much it would hurt—and realized also the futility of such action. He also didn’t mean to meet Colonel Quarry again dripping blood or otherwise at a social disadvantage.

Where would they be? The library, almost certainly. He stalked round the corner of the hallway and nearly trod on the duchess, who gave a startled squeak.

“Your pardon, Your Grace,” he said, with a creditable bow for a man still dressed like a groom.

“Captain Fraser,” she said, a hand pressed winsomely to her bosom.

“Christ, you, too?” he said. It was rude, but he’d no patience left.

“Me, too, what?” she asked, puzzled.

“Why have ye all begun calling me ‘Captain’ Fraser?” he asked. “Ye weren’t yesterday. Did His Grace tell ye to?”

She dropped the winsome hand and gave him a smile—which he distrusted just as much.

“Why, no. I suggested it.” A slight dimple appeared in one cheek. “Or would you prefer to be called Broch Tuarach? It is your proper title, is it not?”

“It was—a thousand years ago. Mr. Fraser will do. Your Grace,” he added as an afterthought, and made to pass. She reached out, though, and laid a hand on his sleeve.

“I wish to talk to you,” she said, low-voiced. “You do remember me?”

“That was a thousand years ago, as well,” he said, with a deliberate look that ran over her from upswept hair to dainty shoe, recalling exactly how he remembered her. “And I have business with Colonel Quarry just the now, if ye please.”

She flushed a little but didn’t otherwise betray any sign of discomposure. She held both his eyes and her smile and squeezed his arm lightly before removing her hand.

“I’ll find you.”

THE BRIEF INTERRUPTION had served to take the edge off his inclination to hit things, and he strode into the library with a decent sense of himself. Rage would not serve him.

Quarry was standing by the fire, talking to Pardloe; both of them turned round, hearing him come in. Quarry’s face was set; wary, but not afraid. Jamie hadn’t expected him to be; he knew Quarry.

Jamie walked up to Pardloe—just close enough to make the little shit look up at him—and said, “I must beg pardon, Your Grace, for taking my leave so abruptly. I felt the need of air.”

Pardloe’s lips twitched. “I trust you feel yourself recovered, Captain Fraser?”

“Quite, I thank ye. Colonel Quarry—your servant, sir.” He’d turned to Quarry without a pause and gave him a bow correct to the inch. Quarry returned it, murmuring, “Your very obedient, sir.” But Jamie had seen the tension go out of Quarry’s shoulders and felt a little slackening of the tightness in his own chest.

He felt Pardloe look beyond him and knew John Grey had come in. The tightness came back.

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