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'Murder at the Brightwell' Chapters 17 & 18


spinner image illustration of man and woman in formal attire kissing with view of moonlight reflecting off the sea behind them
Illustration by Dongkyu Lim

 

Chapter 17

 

IF I WORRIED that Milo might have questioned my sudden show of affection, I needn’t have. He responded very readily indeed. In the space of a moment, he had embraced me and pressed me against the railing. By the time I became aware of Mr. Hamilton’s heavy approaching tread, I was quite sure that it was Milo who was kissing me, and not the other way around. He was doing a rather thorough job of it, and when he finally pulled away at Mr. Hamilton’s loud clearing of the throat, I could no longer be certain my shortness of breath was entirely due to my mad dash up the steps.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Mr. Hamilton said, a wide smile on his face.

Milo turned his head unhurriedly but didn’t bother to step back or remove his arms from around my waist. “We were out taking a moonlight stroll,” he said with a smile. “I’m afraid we got carried away.”

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So he had correctly interpreted my motives. It was gratifying to know that he could, on occasion, prove useful.

“Perfectly understandable,” Mr. Hamilton said with a wink. “I was just out getting a little air myself. All the better with a little company, eh?”

His manner was as usual, and I detected no sign of skepticism in his tone or expression. I could only hope that Milo and I had made a good show of it. I assumed we had, as my pulse was still racing. I did my best to summon an embarrassed smile as he wished us good evening and continued up the steps.

Milo turned back to me. He still had his hands on my waist, and I was still pressed very neatly between him and the railing. “I find that this investigating business gets more amusing by the hour,” he said in a low voice.

“You can let go of me now, Milo,” I whispered, my traitorous heart picking up pace as he leaned closer.

“He may be watching. Perhaps we should resume where we left off .”

I was prepared to protest, but he kissed me again before I could rally resistance. It had been some time since we had shared any such amorous moments, and I found that I was not entirely opposed to his attentions now. For just an instant, I allowed myself to remember the heady first days of our whirlwind romance, when I had been so very sure of his love. His kisses had been irresistible then, in the blissful blindness of young love.

Those times were long behind us, however, and, though I could not deny my strong attraction to him, I knew perfectly well that now was not the moment to succumb to passion when there were more important matters to tend to.

I mustered up my resolve and pushed him back ever so slightly, my pulse pounding alarmingly.

“That will do, Milo,” I said breathlessly. “I think, my dear, that it won’t do at all.”

The roguish look in his eyes sent a thrill clean through me, and I realized at once we were on dangerous ground.

“Milo ...”

“Perhaps we should go back to our room,” he suggested. So it was our room now, was it? For the briefest of moments, I must admit, I was sorely tempted. He was my husband, after all. Then I strengthened my resolve. He had moved his things into my room without permission; he would not move himself into my bed so easily.

I pushed him back farther and slid from his embrace. “I think that is not a particularly good idea.”

“It seems an excellent idea to me,” he said with a smile as his eyes lingered on mine. Then he glanced up the stairway. “It shall certainly appear strange to Mr. Hamilton if I return to my room this evening, after such an elaborate display of our devotion to one another.”

I hesitated. He had a point, though I hated to admit it.

“Very well,” I said at last. “You may stay in my room. I’m sure you will find the sofa to be quite comfortable.”

Amusement tilted the corner of his mouth. “That’s not exactly what I had in mind.”

“No, I’m sure it’s not,” I said. I stepped closer, braving the risk that he would embrace me again, and lowered my voice. “Mr. Hamilton was searching for something at the base of the cliff . He appears to have located it and shoved it into his pocket.”

“Wasn’t it a bit foolish to go running after him in the dark? If he’s the one who killed Rupert, he’d have no qualms about doing away with you.”

“How did you know where I was?” I asked, ignoring his perfectly valid point.

“I came out of the sitting room just as you slipped out onto the balcony. I thought it best to follow you.”

“I can take care of myself, thank you very much.”

“Yes, I’m sure you could have defended yourself nicely. Perhaps you might have cudgeled him with one of these,” he said, scooping up my shoes and holding them out to me.

I took them from him but didn’t bother to put them back on. We still had most of the long stairway to climb. “I do appreciate your assistance,” I told him grudgingly.

“I assure you, it was my pleasure,” he replied.

“What do you suppose it was he was looking for?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“You’re not being helpful, Milo.”

“No?” He leaned against the railing. “Well, I’m afraid I have other things on my mind, darling.”

I ignored this comment and the tone in which he said it, despite the unwarranted feeling of anticipation that it evoked in me. “Do you really think he might have killed Rupert? He’s a thorough boor and his wife’s afraid of him, but that doesn’t mean he’d kill someone.”

“It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, I suppose, though I can’t conceive of a good reason.”

“No,” I sighed, transferring both my shoes to one hand, preparing to grasp the railing with the other. “Neither can I. Well, come, Milo. We may as well go back.”

He caught my free hand in his warm one. “Must we?”

“Do you suggest standing out here all night? It seems to be getting rather cold.”

“I’ll keep you warm,” he said, pulling me toward him. He lowered his mouth to mine again, and this kiss was slow and lingering. The cool wind blew around us, and the soft lulling of the waves made for idyllic background music. I could feel my resolve slipping by the second in the comfortable warmth of his embrace, my head beginning to swim. Once again, irrational longing warred with my better judgment. Once again, prudence won the day.

“I think we’d better go back,” I whispered at last against his lips.

He pulled back a little and looked down at me in the moonlight, and it was impossible to gauge what he was thinking. Then he released me with a soft sigh. “If you insist.”

We trudged up the stairway in a sort of companionable silence. It was strange how in moments such as this things could be so easy between us, and in other moments it was as if a wall had sprung up to separate us.

We reached the balcony and stepped into the pool of light cast by the windows.

“I suppose I should put my shoes on,” I said, “though it feels as if I’ve somehow managed to get a stone in my stocking.” Milo offered his arm for support as I bent to slip my shoes on my feet. I straightened, and we looked at one another for a moment before I turned toward the door.

 Milo reached past me to open it. Then he stopped. “Wait.”

He stepped closer, pulling his handkerchief from the pocket of his dinner jacket. “You’ve smudged your lipstick.”

“You’ve smudged my lipstick,” I corrected, noting that he had somehow managed to avoid getting any on his mouth. Another of his many talents, no doubt.

He held my face in his hand and wiped at my mouth before tucking his handkerchief back into his pocket. His hand was still on my chin as he looked down at me.

I raised a brow, some small part of me hoping he would kiss me again. Then he dropped his hand from my face and reached for the door. Hand on the knob, he turned to look down at me once again. “One more thing, darling.”

“Yes?”

He leaned closer, a smile flashing across his face. “I think it only fair to warn you. I have never slept on a sofa in my life, and I don’t intend to start now.”

 

***

 

I let him sleep in my bed, but I did not so much as kiss him good night. I decided it would be unreasonable to make him spend the night on the sofa, which was a good deal shorter than he was.

Charitable inclinations aside, however, I felt now would not be the time to begin a seaside affair with my husband. It would only complicate things, especially considering the uncertain state of our marriage. I still wasn’t sure of my feelings for Milo, and certainly not of his for me.

He was as attractive to me as he had ever been, but that was not a sound basis for throwing myself into his arms. As long as things were unsettled, it would be better to keep a distance between us physically. Milo had made it perfectly obvious that he had no such qualms, but I felt he had very little say in the matter. As for his husbandly rights, should I choose to use such a vulgar term, I was of the opinion that he would be more entitled to them when he started behaving as a husband.

I will admit, however, that the memory of the kisses we had shared was on my mind long after I heard the slow, steady sounds of his breathing signal that he was asleep. It seemed ages since I had felt that rush of passion between us, and the knowledge that he still found me desirable came as something of a relief.

Of course, I was not foolish enough to convince myself that the renewal of his interests had nothing to do with the perceived threat Gil posed to our marriage. I sometimes thought that Milo was very like a bad little child who hadn’t the least interest in a discarded toy until someone else wanted to play with it. I had the uneasy feeling that it was only a matter of time before his interest would wane.

I turned and studied the sleeping face of my husband in the soft darkness of our room. I had always fancied myself a fairly practical, levelheaded woman, but even after five years of less than blissful marriage, I could not fault myself entirely for having been swept off my feet by him. He was too handsome, too charming, and I had been too young not to be flattered. It would have been to my credit if I had realized before the wedding that good looks and charm were not necessarily the basis for a good husband.

If the folly of youth was my excuse, I sometimes wondered what it was that had made Milo choose to marry me. I was not at all the type of woman to which men of his sort were commonly attracted; a dazzling blonde might have suited him better.

There was so much more that separated us than the little bit of empty bed that lay between us.

As they had been wont to do of late, my thoughts of Milo somehow drifted into thoughts of Gil. I wondered if he too was lying awake at the moment. I hoped he was not too terribly uncomfortable in his prison cell. I still could not believe that Gil had been arrested. What a mess this whole thing was. Tomorrow, I would go to see him. I only hoped he would not be too angry with me. I hadn’t meant for anything to come of what I had told the inspector.

I thought of Detective Inspector Jones. That man severely tried my patience. Yet I could not help but feel that there was more to him than met the eye. He was up to something. Of that, I was sure. He had arrested Gil, but he had not said anything about discovering the weapon. As of the inquest, it had still been missing. I would ask him tomorrow just how it was that they could be certain of anything without a weapon.

Thoughts swirled in and out of my head as I edged toward sleep. I was drifting somewhere between wakefulness and a hazy dream when the thought struck me. I sat up, instantly awake.

The weapon.

I looked over at Milo. I felt I needed to share my theory with someone, and he was the closest at hand. “Are you asleep?” I whispered. He didn’t stir.

Perhaps it could wait until morning ... but, no. My mind raced over the possibilities, and I knew it would be impossible for me to rest.

I reached over and switched on the lamp. Milo’s eyelids did not so much as quiver.

“Milo?”

The smooth, peaceful lines of his face showed no sign that he was anywhere near wakefulness.

“Milo,” I said at last, rather loudly. “Wake up.”

He blinked against the light and covered his eyes with his hand. “What on earth ... what’s the matter?”

“I need to talk to you.”

“Good heavens, Amory. What time is it?”

I glanced at the clock on my bedside table. “It’s just after two,” I said. “Are you awake?”

“No, blast it. I’m not.”

“Don’t be surly, Milo. Listen. I’ve thought of something. I should have realized it before. I think Mr. Hamilton was looking for the weapon.”

He lowered his hand to look at me. “The murder weapon?”

“Yes, he must have been. Perhaps he killed Rupert and then tossed the weapon, what ever it was, over the cliff , where he could retrieve it later.”

“Surely your inspector was bright enough to search for it there.”

“He’s not my inspector, and perhaps it was something that wouldn’t have drawn notice, unless one knew what one was looking for.”

“Like what, for instance?”

I thought of the pile of debris at the bottom of the cliff — driftwood and stones and bits of shells that the sea had flung upon the shore. “It might have been anything, a loose brick from the wall, perhaps.”

“If it was so carefully concealed, why not leave it there?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps he was afraid it would be discovered later. Or perhaps he was afraid the tide might wash it out into the open.”

I rose from the bed, pulling on my negligee and moving to the little writing desk in the corner. My thoughts were all a jumble, and I knew the best way to organize them would be to write them down. I should have thought of this method before. It always cleared my head to write to Laurel. Once I could organize my thoughts on paper, I could begin to make sense of things. I hoped the same would prove true when trying to solve a murder.

“Darling, can’t this wait until morning?”

“It is morning,” I said, pulling out a sheet of paper and a fountain pen. “And before you make any complaints, let me remind you that it was your idea to stay in my room, not mine.”

Milo sighed. “Yes, well, this wasn’t what I had envisioned.”

I wrote “Mr. Hamilton” on the piece of paper and drew a line beneath it. “What motive does Mr. Hamilton have?” I asked. “Do you think Rupert may have trifled with Larissa Hamilton?”

Milo sat up, running a hand through his tousled hair, then across the shadow of a beard that was beginning to darken his face. I tried not to notice how very attractive he looked, disheveled from sleep. He was so seldom anything less than immaculately attired that his current rumpled state held a certain sort of appeal. My mind wandered to our earlier kisses, and I forced myself to focus on the task at hand.

“It’s possible,” he said, “but I shouldn’t say likely. I gather Rupert Howe would have preferred a very different sort of woman. Granted, she’s pretty enough, but there’s that aura of tragedy that hovers over her. She doesn’t conceal her unhappiness well. I shouldn’t think most men would find it appealing.”

“She certainly warmed up under your attentions,” I observed.

“She enjoys it when someone is pleasant to her,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, Mr. Hamilton certainly isn’t.”

“No,” I replied. “I can’t see why she ever married him.”

“You see? You should count your blessings,” Milo noted. “You may not have gotten the best of bargains when you married me, but Mr. Hamilton proves it could be much worse.”

“A moving argument,” I replied dryly. “In any event, I can’t see Mr. Hamilton as murdering in a jealous passion. Might he have killed Rupert for some other reason?”

“Perhaps it’s something to do with Socialists,” he suggested. “According to the papers, everything has to do with Socialists these days.”

“Be serious, Milo.” I directed him with a smile.

“Shady business dealing, perhaps?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps I can enquire of Emmeline or Gil. They might know if Rupert and Mr. Hamilton had any sort of joint venture.”

Milo rose from the bed and put on his dressing gown, moving toward the desk. “From what I’ve heard of Rupert Howe, he would be likely to get involved in something underhanded, if he thought there was a quick profit to be made from it.”

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I turned to him, surprised. “Did you know Rupert? Miss Carter mentioned he was in Monte Carlo.”

“No. I knew of him, but I didn’t know him personally. He didn’t quite move in my circles, I’m afraid.”

“What a thorough snob you are, Milo.”

“It’s true, isn’t it?” he said with a raised brow. “Money doesn’t buy breeding, after all. These people here at the Brightwell aren’t exactly of our class.”

“They are perfectly nice people.” Milo smiled. “Except for whichever of them is a murderer.”

“Yes, excepting that person.”

He was right, of course. I had defended them automatically with a charitable politeness that had been instilled in me from an early age, but the plain fact remained that, aside from Gil and Emmeline, none of the guests here were particularly nice people at all. It seemed to me that each of them had their own hidden agendas, their own secrets to keep. However, somewhere amidst the muddle, there were answers. It was only a matter of separating the inconsequential from the significant.

“You may as well continue the list,” Milo said, glancing over my shoulder. “Get all the suspects together.” He dropped onto the sofa and lay across it, his dark head propped against the arm nearest me.

“All right. Mrs. Hamilton next, then.” I hesitated, thinking hard. “Perhaps Rupert paid her unwanted attention. Perhaps it wasn’t murder at all. Perhaps she was forced to defend herself from him, and consequently he died and she was too afraid to tell anyone.”

“She might have picked up a rock and bashed him with it,” Milo conceded. “One can never tell about aggressive bridge players.”

“She might have told Mr. Hamilton, and he went searching for the weapon on her behalf.”

“Uncharacteristically chivalrous of him, I should say.”

“Perhaps. Well, how about Olive Henderson?” I asked. “Rupert insinuated that there had been something between them before he met Emmeline, and Mrs. Hamilton mentioned that they might have had a clandestine meeting. Now, she’s slit her wrists. Perhaps it was guilt and not heartbreak.”

“Yes, they may have had a lovers’ quarrel on the cliff. Perhaps she hit him and he fell over the edge.”

My mind went back to my conversation with Olive in the sitting room. She had asked me if I had ever been in love, and I was certain it had been real sorrow in her eyes. Could it have been guilt for killing the man she had once loved? It was possible, but I didn’t think it likely. Hers had been the wistful sadness of something lost, not the suffering of remorse. “I have my doubts about Miss Henderson,” I said at last. “But it’s always possible.”

“What of the charming Miss Carter?” Milo asked. “Might she have had a reason to kill Rupert?”

I considered. “Perhaps. It seems that Rupert was inordinately successful where women were concerned. There may have been something between them that none of us were aware of. Perhaps she killed him in a jealous rage.”

Milo reached over and retrieved a cigarette from the box on the table. He lit it with a silver lighter from his dressing-gown pocket and smoked contemplatively. “I think it very unlikely that Rupert Howe was having a love affair with every member of this little party,” he said at last. “I never met the man, but it seems that his luck could not have extended that far.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” I replied sweetly. “I imagine even you would have difficulty accomplishing such a thing. And you’ve much more savoir faire than Rupert had.”

He blew a stream of smoke into the air. “You flatter me, my dear.”

I glanced back at the list. “I’m curious about Lionel Blake,” I said. “There’s something mysterious about him.” I related my visit to the abandoned theater. “He was so secretive about the thing, as though there was some reason he should attempt to hide it.

“Theater people are an odd lot,” Milo said dismissively. “It may be nothing. Then again, it may well be that he’s the one tied up with the Socialists.”

I ignored him. “We’ll come back to Mr. Blake. I shall have to ponder over Anne and Edward Rodgers,” I said, moving on. “Neither of them seems to have any real motive thus far.”

“Rather an odd pair, aren’t they?” he commented.

“Yes, that’s just what I thought. She’s very sociable, and he’s so very stiff . I’ve barely seen him smile since we’ve been here.”

“We may as well ascribe to them the familiar motive. Perhaps she was too sociable with Rupert, and her husband objected.”

“I don’t know. I have the impression they’re really very fond of one another.” I glanced over my shoulder at him. “Perhaps you should talk to Mrs. Rodgers. I think she would be more than happy to have a nice, long chat with you.”

“I do believe you are using me, Amory,” Milo said, turning his head on the arm of the sofa to look up at me.

“Yes, well, you have to be good for something, don’t you?”

He laughed. “I should have known better than to match wits with you this early in the morning.”

“Or anytime, for that matter,” I retorted.

“Might I see your list?” he asked.

I handed it to him. Milo took the sheet of paper and ran his eyes across it. “I notice you haven’t included Trent. Is it really wise to be unwilling to consider the possibility that he might actually have done it?”

“He didn’t, Milo. I know it.”

“I see. And does your decree of clemency extend to Miss Trent, as well?”

I frowned. “Emmeline?”

Milo sat up and offered me one of his sardonic smiles. “If you go around eliminating everyone you’ve taken a liking to, you may overlook something important.”

I bit back a harsh retort as the truth of his words sank in. Emmeline, by all appearances, was very distraught at Rupert’s death. But that didn’t mean she was not responsible. It was she who had called attention to the fact that Rupert was missing. Might she have wanted me to be with her to discover the body? Perhaps she had grown tired of Rupert’s philandering. Could her paralyzing grief be an act? No, it was impossible. She couldn’t be feigning the depth of her sorrow. I had felt her sincerity, seen it in the bleakness of her eyes. She and Gil were both innocent. They had to be.

“I know these people, Milo. I’ve known them for years. I just can’t conceive of the fact that either one of them would kill someone in cold blood.”

“Poor darling,” he said, shaking his head, “you’re not coldhearted enough to be a detective. You only want the disagreeable people to be guilty, and I’m afraid you’ll find that life isn’t like that.”

I sighed, suddenly very tired. The realization that he might just possibly be right knocked the wind from my sails. I stood from the desk chair and dropped onto the sofa beside him. “What if it is one of them, Milo?”

He looked at me, his gaze searching despite his mild expression. “Would it matter to you so very much?”

“Of course it would.”

Milo leaned to grind out his cigarette in the pewter ashtray on the table in front of us. “Are you in love with him, Amory?”

For a moment, I wasn’t sure I had heard him right. “I beg your pardon?”

“I think you heard me,” he replied easily as he sat back, his blue gaze coming up to mine. “I asked if you are in love with Gil Trent.”

“What a question ...” A rather forced laugh dwindled away into silence, and I could not think of what to say next. The question, coming so unexpectedly, had stunned me. A quick denial sprung to my lips, but I hesitated. What did I feel for Gil? I wasn’t sure.

Milo watched me expectantly, waiting for my answer.

“I married you, didn’t I?” I said at last, as lightly as I could manage.

The corner of his mouth tipped up. “Yes, well. That’s not quite an answer, is it?”

“No,” I said softly. “I suppose it’s not.”

 He offered me a smile that revealed absolutely nothing of his feelings. “Your silence speaks most eloquently.”

He made a move as though to rise, but I caught his arm. “Please, Milo. Let’s not quarrel.”

“I haven’t the slightest intention of quarreling with you, darling, but it’s the middle of the night, and I’m tired.”

“It’s just that I’m so confused ... about everything.”

“Perfectly understandable.”

I recognized the polite, disinterested responses. He was quite done with this conversation, perhaps quite done with me.

My hand dropped from his arm and he rose.

“If you don’t mind, I think I shall try to get a bit more sleep before breakfast,” he said, turning toward the bed.

I stood, suddenly angry with myself and angry with him. “You’re not being fair, Milo.”

He turned back to me, brows raised. “Really? I thought I was being more than fair, considering my wife has just told me she’s in love with another man.”

“I didn’t say I loved him.”

“You didn’t deny it,” he replied, as infuriatingly calm as ever. “You couldn’t even come up with a convincing lie.”

“Now that’s something you know all about, isn’t it?” I rejoined. “Lies are very convenient when you must keep track of the dozens of women you’ve been linked to.”

“I thought you didn’t wish to quarrel.”

“I’ve changed my mind. In fact, I think we’re on the verge of a blazing row.” My voice, though not raised, fairly shook with anger. I realized suddenly that, throughout the course of our marriage, we had never once shouted at one another. Perhaps that little fact said that we simply didn’t care enough.

“I suppose next you’ll be hurling things at me, like a fishwife.”

In that moment I was sorely tempted to do just that. Perhaps an ashtray to the forehead would relieve him of his thinly veiled amusement.

“Tell me something,” he went on. “Have you carried a secret passion for Trent all these years? If so, I wonder why you ever married me to begin with.”

“I’ve forgotten why I married you,” I retorted.

It was a cruel thing to say, and I regretted it the moment it escaped my lips. I opened my mouth to apologize but stopped short when I saw the look on Milo’s face. His eyes glinted, and a dangerous smile played on his mouth. He had obviously taken my insult as a challenge.

“Have you?”

“I ...”

I didn’t have time to formulate my response before he closed the distance between us, and his arms moved around me and he pulled me against him.

“Shall I remind you?” he asked in a low voice.

“Milo ...”

Then he kissed me. It was a kiss that made our encounter on the steps pale in comparison. My heart began to race, and I struggled to maintain my indignation of a moment ago.

Finally, I pulled back as much as I could manage. He was holding me quite tightly and made no move to release me. “Milo, I don’t think ...” I began.

“Yes, Amory. For once, don’t think.”

He kissed me again, and I found it was, indeed, getting increasingly difficult to think clearly. I put my hands against his shoulders to push him away, but I realized suddenly that I didn’t want to. My emotions had been reduced to rubble as of late, and I was so very tired of bearing it all alone. I longed for at least the comforting illusion of a link with someone, and perhaps this was the closest I was going to get.

This man, for better or for worse, was my husband, and at this moment I could conjure no good reason why I should not give in to mutual desire. I hesitated for just a moment before letting my arms slide around his neck as I returned his kiss with equal ardor.   

Chapter 18

I SUPPOSE ONE is allowed to forsake her resolve with her own husband. Nevertheless, as diverting as the night had been, something very like regret hung over me as I rose, bathed, dressed, and went down to breakfast.

Milo was still asleep when I left the room, and I was glad of it. I hadn’t the inclination to face him now. Our romantic interlude had resolved nothing. In fact, it was very likely it had only worsened matters. The lines that had been drawn between us were hazier now than ever.

Nevertheless, if I was very honest with myself, I was not completely sorry. After all, we had only behaved in the natural way of husbands and wives; there was so little of the typical spousal behavior in our relationship, I was glad we had managed something. In any event, unwise though it might have been, there was nothing to be done about it now.

I was rather late coming down to breakfast, and though the dining room was still scattered with guests, the only person I recognized was Lionel Blake. He sat in a corner of the dining room, a book on the table in front of him. He ate his breakfast in methodical bites, not taking his eyes from the book.

I filled a plate with food from thesideboard and moved toward where he sat.

“Good morning, Mr. Blake,” I said, sitting at the table next to his.

He looked up, as though noticing me for the first time, and smiled. “Good morning, Mrs. Ames.”

“I don’t mean to interrupt your reading.”

“Oh, no,” he said, closing the book and pushing it aside. I glanced at the title and recognized it as a play. Die Ratten, by Gerhart Hauptmann. “I always read when I have nothing better to do, but I do prefer company at mealtimes.”

“I expect the others had their breakfast earlier.”

“Yes, I’ve seen most of our party this morning. Rather too much of some of them, in fact.”

I raised a brow at this curious statement, but he didn’t elaborate. I wonder if he had had a falling out with one of the other gentlemen.

“I’ll be glad when we can get this all behind us and go home,” he went on. “Back to our normal lives.”

Our normal lives. Though I would be glad to leave the Brightwell and its dark connotations behind, I was not certain that I longed to return to the normal state of things. But these were thoughts for another time.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” I said casually, stirring some sugar into my coffee, “if you’ve had any word from your backer.”

Was it my imagination or did something very like confusion cross his features before it was quickly erased? He nodded. “Ah ... yes, in fact, he’s come across a good venue closer to London. He feels quite certain that he will be able to make a good profit. The show goes on, as they say.”

“I’m glad it’s all worked out for you,” I replied. I shifted the conversation to other things as I ate my breakfast. I was beginning to see that Lionel Blake was a hard man to read. He was always friendly, pleasant in a vacant sort of way. I got the sense that he did not reveal his true self easily. Perhaps it was the actor in him that always wished to maintain a part.

An idea came to me suddenly, and I went ahead with it without pause. “What time was it you told the inspector that you saw Gil on the balcony the day Mr. Howe was killed?”

If I had hoped to throw him off his guard into some sort of confession, I was to be disappointed. He met my gaze without blinking. “I told the inspector no such thing.”

“Oh,” I said, feigning embarrassment. “I’m sorry. ... I must have made the inference. ... You were sitting on the terrace when we were searching for Rupert, so perhaps I assumed that it was you.”

“No, it wasn’t me.” His response was perfectly polite, but I could sense a coolness in his answer. Be it a desire for privacy or something more sinister, he did not care for my prying.

“Good morning! Good morning!” I looked up to see Yvonne Roland sailing into the room. She was wearing a flowing silk gown in an astounding shade of orange. The hazy brightness of the fabric seemed to billow around her as she walked. Looking at her was very like gazing directly into the sun.

Mr. Blake and I greeted her as she moved to the sideboard and began to pile her plate high with sausages.

“So many things happening here lately,” she said. “I am reminded of my second ... no third honeymoon. We were on a Nile cruise and some fellow fell off the boat. I suppose he was eaten by crocodiles ... and then someone contracted some dreadful disease, and then the weather turned beastly hot, and ... well, it was one thing after another. I imagine that Gil is rotting away in a dungeon somewhere. And that poor young thing, so in love, cutting herself all to pieces. It’s all too much for me. I shall be glad to get back to London.”

That said, she took her plate of sausages and sailed out as abruptly as she had come.

I looked at Mr. Blake, and he smiled. “She’s like something out of an outlandish comedy,” he said.

“A very interesting character, to be sure,” I replied. Though she was a strange creature, I couldn’t help but like Mrs. Roland. There was something so very alive about her. I expected that vibrancy had translated to allure in her younger days.

“Well, Mrs. Ames,” said Mr. Blake, picking up his book and rising, “I have some letter writing to attend to. I’m sure I shall see you later.”

“Yes.”

He exited, and I picked at the remainder of my breakfast in silence. His denial did not prove he had not spoken to the inspector, but I could not really see any reason for him to hide the fact if he had. In fact, I could think of no good reason why anyone should seek to deny that they had observed Gil on the terrace.

My thoughts were recalled to the present as I heard the rise and fall of Mrs. Roland’s exuberant tones in the foyer and the low answering tones of Milo. My husband managed to extricate himself in a surprisingly quick manner, for he appeared in the doorway a moment later. His eyes sought me out and he smiled, and for some reason I felt a nervous flutter in my stomach. I smiled in return, though I’m afraid mine lacked warmth. I felt oddly ill at ease.

I noticed the attention he attracted as he made his way toward the sideboard. I had grown accustomed to the way that women’s eyes followed Milo. It was his misfortune, really, that he was so good looking. If he had not been so attractive, he might have turned out differently, less confident and more considerate. As it was, he took advantage of the fact that he had only to exert a minimum amount of effort to bend people, women especially, to his will. Myself included, apparently.

“Hello, darling,” he said, when he was seated at the table with a cup of coffee and plate of food.

“Good morning,” I said somewhat stiffly, fiddling with my napkin. I was uncertain how this latest turn of events would affect the uneasy alliance that had developed between us.

Milo, it seemed, felt no such awkwardness.

“It has been a good morning, hasn’t it?” he replied with a grin. “Though I was disappointed to awaken and find myself bereft of your charming company.”

“We’ve better things to do than ... loll about in bed all day,” I said in a low voice, hoping to avoid being overheard.

“More worthy, perhaps,” he said over his cup, “but certainly not better.”

“I’ve just spoken to Mr. Blake,” I said, ignoring him.

“Besides, I wouldn’t exactly call it lolling.”

“Milo, do pay attention.”

“You’re making it difficult,” he said, setting down his cup and leaning toward me, arms on the table. “When you talk, it only calls attention to your lovely mouth.”

“I thought flattery came before seduction,” I replied tartly. “Not after.”

He sat back in his chair, an exasperated sigh escaping his lips. “Very well. I’m listening. You’ve spoken with Mr. Blake.” He picked up his fork and began to eat as I talked.

“Yes, I tried to get him to admit that it was he who told Inspector Jones that Gil was on the terrace.”

“And did he?”

“No. If he did, he wouldn’t own up to it.”

“Why should it be a great secret, do you think?” Milo asked, echoing my own question, though he didn’t sound particularly interested. “There must be some reason the inspector wishes to keep it quiet.”

“My thoughts, exactly,” I said. “I only wish Inspector Jones would be a bit more cooperative. In fact, I think I shall pay him a visit this morning,” I said. I also intended to speak with Gil, but I kept that fact to myself.

“And what assignments have you for me today?” he asked.

“Continue to glean what information you can,” I said. “Particularly from the ladies. Perhaps you can discover from Mrs. Hamilton what her husband was doing creeping about on the beach last night. There must be some reason he chose that particular time to investigate.”

Milo shrugged. “Perhaps he found a convenient moment and took advantage of it.”

“Perhaps, but I can’t help feeling that there is something we are overlooking.”

Milo listened indulgently to my conjectures as he finished his breakfast. Then we rose from the table and walked together out of the breakfast room and into the lobby. The morning sun shone brightly through the windows, lighting up the walls and giving the room a cheerful countenance. I felt suddenly lighter than I had in days. Perhaps everything would be all right, after all. Perhaps, with Milo’s help, I could find who had killed Rupert Howe and see that Gil was set free.

I was about to turn toward the front door when Milo stopped me, hand on my arm. “Oh, Amory ...”

“Yes?”

“One more thing.” His hand slid to my waist. He leaned and gave me a lingering kiss that I couldn’t bring myself to break away from, despite the very public place in which we stood.

At last, he released me and gave me a smile. “I’ll see you at lunch.”

I nodded and watched him enter the lift. Then I sighed. As much as I attempted to steel myself against his charms, I was finding it very difficult to maintain my barriers. Against my better judgment, I found myself enjoying his company and pleased by his attentions. It was not at all wise, but I was the first to admit that wisdom and matters of the heart seldom go hand in hand.

Doing my best to banish such dismal thoughts, I turned to leave the hotel and found myself very surprised indeed to see that Gil was standing in the entryway.

***

"Gil," I exclaimed. The initial paralysis of surprise wore off quickly, and I hurried toward him. Though he tried to hide it, his expression indicated that he had seen the exchange between Milo and me. With a heavy sort of certainty, I realized just why Milo had chosen that particular moment to lavish me with affection. I felt a strange mix of anger and sadness that settled into a cold lump in my chest. Milo, ever aware of what he was doing, had timed that triumphant display perfectly.

“They’ve released you,” I said, stating the obvious as I reached Gil’s side. I could feel the flush on my cheeks. For some unaccountable reason, I felt as though I had been caught in an indiscretion.

“For the time being.” He smiled a very tired smile that didn’t warm his eyes. “My barrister is top-notch, it seems.” He gave a laugh that was completely devoid of humor. “My barrister. How odd that sounds. I’m to be tried for murder, Amory. It doesn’t seem real.”

I noticed suddenly that he was pale and had dark circles about his eyes, and he looked older than he had two days ago. I felt a stab of compassion and more than a little guilt. I reached out and took his hand. “It’s going to be all right, Gil. I’m so glad you’ve been released. I tried to come and see you, but Inspector Jones wouldn’t let me.”

“I’m glad. It wasn’t a very nice place. I shouldn’t have liked you to visit.” His hand dropped from mine. “

Do you want to eat something?” I asked, at a loss for anything more to say. There was little I could say to comfort him, especially now that I could sense a distance between us. In the midst of everything else, neither of us was willing to address the fact that Milo seemed to have come between us once again. Though, in theory, I had done nothing wrong, it must have been a very unwelcome surprise for Gil, fresh from prison, to arrive back and find me wrapped in Milo’s arms.

“Thank you, no. I’m very tired. I didn’t sleep well. I think I shall go see Emmeline and then rest for a while.”

“Of course. She’ll be glad to see you. Everything has been so hard on her.”

“Yes. I’ll see you later then.” He started to walk away, and I felt unaccountably miserable as he turned his back to me. I couldn’t keep myself from stopping him.

“Gil, wait.”

He turned, and I was no longer sure what I wanted to say. This was neither the time nor the place for an intimate discussion. Nevertheless, there was one thing, at least, for which I could attempt to make amends.

“I never meant for Inspector Jones to misconstrue what I had told him,” I said. “I should have spoken with you about your conversation with Rupert before I mentioned it; I never thought it would cause you any harm. I’m very sorry.”

“Please don’t apologize,” he said. “You mustn’t feel it’s your fault that I was arrested.”

“But it was my fault, wasn’t it,” I stated flatly.

He stepped toward me, his expression gentle, and this time it was he who took my hand in his. “It was I who dragged you into this mess. I’m the one who should apologize. I don’t know what I was thinking, asking you to ... Perhaps I wasn’t thinking. If I hadn’t asked you, you would have been spared all of this.”

“No, I was happy to help, and I still am.” I squeezed his hand. It was, as ever, warm and dry, his grip firm and reassuring. “I know it will come out all right in the end.”

He smiled but did not look assured. “Thank you.”

“I’m going to find who did it, Gil. I know you didn’t want me to, but I’ve been asking questions and ...”

A shadow crossed his eyes, and his grip on my hand tightened. “Please, Amory. I meant it, what I said before. You mustn’t do that. You can’t put yourself in danger.” He glanced around, as though he feared being overheard, but we were speaking quietly, and there was no one within earshot. “I don’t want you to involve yourself. Do you understand? Keep back and let the police take care of it.”

“I can’t stand by and let you take the blame for something you didn’t do.”

His eyes met mine, and there was an intensity in them that had not been there a moment ago, a spark that warmed the weary coolness of his gaze. “Do you really believe I am innocent?”

“With all my heart.”

He smiled, a real smile, and I felt my chest constrict with that familiar affection. “That means a great deal, Amory.”

“Did you honestly believe I could think you capable of such a thing?”

“I ...” His gaze flickered away before returning. “I wasn’t sure. It’s been a long time, Amory. We’ve both of us changed.”

I knew that he was thinking of how we had been happy and content before Milo had appeared to alter both our lives. “Things are different, yes,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe the best of you.”

“Thank you.” His gaze was searching for a moment. “There’s more to be said, isn’t there? But I expect it will keep.”

“Yes,” I said, relieved both that he had brought up the conversation that loomed before us and that it was to be postponed for the time being. “It will keep.”

“Promise me you’ll leave this murder business be, Amory.”

“I can’t do that,” I said, meeting his gaze. “You know I can’t.”

“Then at least promise me you’ll be careful. If something happened to you ...”

“I’ll be careful, Gil. I promise.”

He nodded and released my hand. “I had better see to Emmeline.”

Gil departed, and I decided to walk for a moment on the terrace to clear my thoughts. My emotions were in a greater state of turmoil than ever. I was no longer sure what was true of anyone; worse, I was no longer sure what was true of myself.

For that one sunny moment this morning as Milo kissed me, I had allowed myself to believe that, perhaps, we could make a go of it. Perhaps my leaving for the seaside without him had been enough to inspire some semblance of connubial devotion, to make him realize that he really did care for me, after all. And then, when I looked up to find Gil there, watching my husband’s cleverly staged scene, I had realized, not for the first time, that Milo was always playing the game. It had left me oddly sick to my stomach.

And what of Gil? Milo had asked if I loved Gil, and though my first impulse had been to deny it, I could not pretend, even with myself, that there was not some link between us. Whether it was the bond of an old and comfortable friendship or something more, I couldn’t be certain. I only knew that I saw in Gil something that Milo lacked.

One thing I could be very sure of, however. The emotional tumult I found myself in was not going to provide any assistance in finding Rupert Howe’s killer. Breathing deeply of the fresh, salty air, I forced myself to focus on the task at hand.

I walked to the edge of the terrace and looked down. The seaside terrace sat empty below, the white tabletops gleaming brightly in the morning sun. The terrace had been cleaned and reopened once the police had done their part, but there was no one sitting there. I could not blame the guests for staying clear of it. It seemed ghastly to take tea on the spot where a man’s life had spilled out.

My gaze dropped from the terrace to the bottom of the cliff . What had Mr. Hamilton been searching for last night? It seemed he had found it, what ever it was. My conjecture that it had been the weapon had seemed logical, but now I frowned as a thought came to me. It seemed clear to me that, if it had been the weapon that struck the fatal blow to Rupert, he would want to dispose of it. Why then, if Mr. Hamilton had discovered it among the debris at the base of the cliff , had he not flung it into the sea? That is most certainly what I would have done; yet he had put the object in his pocket. There was only one reasonable explanation for such a thing. It was something he wished to keep. It followed, then, that the object would still be in his possession. There was one logical place to look and only one way to look there.

I was going to have to find a way to sneak into Mr. Hamilton’s room.

NEXT: CHAPTERS 19 & 20

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