‘It wasn’t him,’ Jane declared vehemently. She and Mr Pierce once again stood in the study, this time, alone. It seemed…gloomier, though candles had been lit, and the fire roared, shadows licking at the walls.
After their discovery, Mr Pierce had no choice but to inform the magistrate, who’d summarily placed Mr Willcombe under arrest, content to consider the matter settled, citing young Mr Willcombe’s problematic finances as motive, and last night’s argument, as a final straw.
The house had been a buzz, that spectacle even more titillating than the last. Shock rippled through the servants, and sadness too, for Mr Willcombe’s inevitable fate once the roads cleared, and matters could proceed.
Focusing on the present, Jane warmed the untouched brandy in her hand, glancing at Mr Pierce, leaning on the mantel, his own drink hovering at his thigh. Since finding that bottle… He’d seemed wilder. Untethered.
More magnetic, but heartbreaking, for the doubt flickering in his gaze.
‘He didn’t do it, Mr Pierce. I’ve known him since I was a child. Mrs Willcombe would let us play… The only passion I’ve seen him ruled by is passion for…life. He wouldn’t hurt his father, no matter the enmity between them.’
Mr Pierce turned to look at her, stormy grey eyes dancing in the firelight.
He smiled crookedly, straightening.
‘I know,’ he said, eschewing…everything, and coming to sit beside her on the sofa, far enough that Jane nearly said please sit closer so I can feel your warmth, and…breathe in your delectable scent.
Instead, she took a breath, relieved to know he hadn’t given up on his friend.
Sipping her brandy, she let motives, suspects, and questions swirl about in her head.
No one unusual asking questions about Mr Willcombe’s habits.
No monkshood on the property.
Mr Willcombe was last to retire—anyone might’ve slipped in to taint the water.
Anyone might’ve slipped into Fred Willcombe’s room to conceal the bottle.
Preparation. Planning. Opportunity.
Money? Vengeance? A woman spurned?
‘How did you know about the monkshood?’ Mr Pierce asked, cracking through her thoughts.
Jane nodded, glancing down at her drink to not be ensnared in his eyes, entangling herself instead in pleasant memories.
‘He taught me all the dangers of the land,’ she smiled wanly, remembering the bear of the man who’d been…everything. ‘Always said my sense of smell was excellent.’
‘It certainly was useful today. The truth would’ve been lost without you.’
His voice vibrated deeply inside her, silky, and warm.
She dared to look over, and everything about him melted into her like butter on warm toast.
‘You aren’t going to ask if I did it?’
‘No,’ he breathed, and…
Their now undeniable attraction, laced with a profound understanding that went beyond words, flowed between them.
The circumstances, the danger…should make her wary, but instead, Jane felt for the first time…
I’m right where I belong. Doing what I’m meant to.
‘Someday soon, I’ll ask you what you’re holding on to,’ he added. She realised they’d drifted closer, and felt hypnotised. ‘Why there was guilt in your eyes this morning.’
Clenching her jaw, Jane pondered briefly giving in to her desire, closing the distance, tasting his lips as she’d wanted to…
His eyes flicked down to hers, and she wasn’t so inexperienced that she didn’t know what might happen if she allowed…
But although she wanted it, dearly, his words chilled her, and…
When I kiss him, it will mean something. It won’t be a distraction.
‘Good night, Mr Pierce,’ she whispered, setting her glass down, and rising.
‘I’ll be questioning the guests tomorrow morning.’ She glanced back to find challenge, and cheeky satisfaction in his gaze. ‘I’d appreciate your opinion.’ Jane nodded, her heart swelling with…pride. ‘Good night, Miss Powell.’
A curtsey, and she was gone.
Her vivid, and body-blush-inducing dreams ensuring she indeed had a good night.
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