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'Murder at the Brightwell' Chapters 21 & 22


spinner image illustration of apothecary shop whose window shelves are filled with bottles of varying shapes and sizes, and words Est. 1776 and Druggist
Illustration by Dongkyu Lim

 

Chapter 21

 

SOMEHOW I PERSUADED Inspector Jones to allow me to accompany him to the hospital. His mood was not at all agreeable, but he had not protested when I asked to ride with him.

Mrs. Hamilton had not yet regained consciousness. Though I knew it would likely be some time before I was allowed to see her, I wanted to be there when she awakened. She had no close friends here to comfort her, and I thought someone should be with her. Though Mr. Hamilton had not treated her well, I knew she would take the news hard.

The atmosphere in the inspector’s car was chilly in the extreme. Disapproval rolled off him in waves larger than the ones that pounded against the shore at the base of the cliff. I had the vague suspicion that had we not developed a somewhat amiable rapport early on, he would not have been entirely opposed to arresting me for trespassing.

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I glanced out the window. The wind seemed to have picked up, and there were dark clouds on the edge of the horizon.

“It seems a storm might be looming,” I said.

“Indeed,” he replied, and I thought that he did not mean the weather.

I felt instinctively that it would not be beneficial to allow the inspector to brood for too long. Perhaps there was still a chance to repair at least some of the damage. I adopted a soft, semirepentant tone. “I do hope you are not too angry, Inspector Jones. I understand that it was, perhaps, imprudent for me to search Mr. Hamilton’s room. However, if I had come across the weapon ...”

“You have no business assuming the duties of the police,” he interrupted, his tone clipped.

“I didn’t mean any harm by it,” I replied, allowing a bit more contrition to seep into my tone. I was not really as abashed as I hoped I sounded, but I knew that it would do no good to make him angrier.

“Perhaps not,” he replied, and I was pleased to note that his voice was not quite as steely as it had been a moment before. “Nevertheless, what you did was not only injudicious, it was very dangerous. Do you realize you might have been hurt yourself? What if the killer had discovered your hiding place?”

I didn’t care to think about that. Then I realized the term that the inspector had chosen to employ.

“Killer,” I repeated. “You think he was murdered, then?”

“I think we can safely assume Mr. Hamilton did not slip and fall while getting into his bath.”

“That is, in essence, the same thing my husband said.”

He glanced at me. “You seem to have patched things up with Mr. Ames.”

I hesitated. Despite our recent collaborative endeavors, I was still not at all certain where things stood between Milo and me. “He is having one of his agreeable phases,” I said at last. “There is no guarantee that it will last.”

“I see. And where does that leave Mr. Trent?”

I was surprised by the sudden turn our conversation had taken. The confusion I still felt regarding Milo and Gil was not something I wished to discuss with a policeman with whom I was barely acquainted. I had learned, however, that Inspector Jones always had very good reasons for the questions that he asked.

“These questions are getting rather personal, aren’t they, Inspector?” I replied lightly.

“Yes, Mrs. Ames. I suppose they are.” Something in his tone said that he still expected me to answer them.

I looked out the window. “I am ... very fond of Gil. I always have been. But in the end, I married Milo. That’s really all there is to it.” Was it really that simple? I wasn’t sure.

Inspector Jones was a very perceptive man. He must have picked up on my uncertainty. “I think, perhaps, the gentlemen in question might not find it so straightforward.”

I looked at him. “Perhaps you’re right. You see, I came to the seaside with Gil, in part because I have always wondered how things might have been different if ... Gil is so very steady; with Milo it is either bliss or misery, nothing in between. So there you have it.” I managed a flat smile. “You must think me a very fickle sort of woman.”

“On the contrary. As evidenced by your marked proclivity for intruding where you don’t belong, I find you to be a very decisive woman, and an intelligent one.”

“Thank you, Inspector,” I replied, pleased by the compliment despite the terms in which it had been couched.

“If I may venture a word of caution,” he said, his tone still pleasant. “I should choose my allies carefully, were I you.”

I looked at him sharply, surprised by the sudden warning. “That is rather a cryptic remark.”

“It was not intended to be. I only mean that things are uncertain right now; watch yourself carefully.”

I frowned. There was something he was not saying, and I could tell that he did not intend to explain further, at least not now.

I intended to take his advice. The danger had become all too clear today. If someone had killed Mr. Hamilton and drugged his wife ...

I drew in a breath. I could not believe that I had not thought of it before now. It was just possible I may have had my own very narrow escape. Mr. Hamilton had been drugged and murdered. If someone had substituted my aspirin for sleeping tablets, perhaps they had meant to kill me, too.

“Inspector, there’s something else ...” I reached into my handbag and pulled out the bottle of aspirin that had been in my room. “I think someone may have tried to drug me as well.”

He glanced at me sharply before returning his eyes to the road. “What do you mean?”

“It was the night Gil was arrested. I took two aspirin from this bottle, and I fell asleep almost immediately. In the morning, I was exceptionally muzzy. I’m quite certain they aren’t aspirin. I know it may sound far-fetched, but ...”

“Why didn’t you mention this earlier, Mrs. Ames?” he interrupted. His voice had not lost its edge, and I rather felt like a poor pupil being reprimanded by a stern headmaster.

“Truthfully, I forgot about it. It seemed highly unlikely at the time. Really, it was only a vague suspicion on my part, but now ...”

“Are there any tablets left?”

“Yes. There are several still in the bottle.”

He held out his hand, and I gave it to him. He slipped it inside his jacket.

“I shall have them tested,” he said. “It may not be as far-fetched as you think.”

“But why should someone want to drug me? It doesn’t make sense.”

“There are a great many things that don’t make sense at the moment, Mrs. Ames, but they are beginning to.”

We said nothing further until we reached the hospital. I started to get out, but the inspector’s hand on my arm stopped me. “A final word, Mrs. Ames.” His expression was still pleasant, but I could tell by the firmness of his gaze and the officious tone of his voice that he was about to give instructions he expected to be followed.

“Thus far, I have been ... lenient, shall we say, because I like you and, quite frankly, the frivolous prosecution of the wealthy and well connected does not sit well with my superiors. But let me warn you: if either you or your husband interferes again, I shall not hesitate to take what ever measures necessary to ensure both your safety and the success of my investigation. No more independent enquiries. Do I make myself clear?”

“As clear as crystal, Inspector,” I replied.

 

***

 

Inspector Jones went to look in on Mrs. Hamilton, telling me I should wait. I knew it would perhaps be a while before I could see her, so I took a seat in the area designated for waiting. I’m afraid patience is not one of my more dominant virtues, so it was not long before I rose from my seat and began to take stock of the building.

The hospital was a clean, quiet facility with long white walls. The scent of the sea mingled with the more astringent smell of disinfectant, and there was a relaxed sort of air to the place, as though people did not often get sick at the seaside. Unfortunately, that did not seem to be the case at the Brightwell Hotel. “Dropping like flies” had been Milo’s succinctly inappropriate, if accurate, pronouncement.

Though it seemed impossible now that she could have had anything to do with the murders, I had intended to talk to Olive Henderson, and this seemed the ideal time to do so. I approached the solid, humorless-looking woman that sat behind the desk. “Might I see Miss Olive Henderson?” I asked.

She looked up at me with a flat expression. “Miss Henderson is no longer receiving visitors today, by the doctor’s orders,” she said crisply.

“Surely she’s well enough for me to drop in for just a moment.”

“Miss Henderson was upset by an early visitor, and the doctor specifically instructed that she receive no more visitors today.”

I frowned, suddenly alert. “What visitor?”

“I’m not at liberty to divulge information. I can only tell you that Miss Henderson is currently under close observation and is not allowed to receive visitors.” She began sorting papers on her desk, and I knew that I had been dismissed.

I turned from the woman, lost in thought. Who might have visited Olive Henderson today? In all likelihood, it was one of the guests from the hotel. What had upset her? It was all very mysterious.

I briefly considered sneaking into her room, but the inspector’s warning was still fresh in my mind. I did not believe for an instant that his had been an idle threat, and I did not relish the thought of being locked up in some dank, dark cell.

The air in the waiting area seemed to grow more oppressive by the moment, and I stepped outside. The wind had picked up, but the sky above me was still a bright blue, dotted with wispy white clouds. Though dark clouds still showed in the distance, they did not seem to be approaching very rapidly. If rain was coming, it would likely not arrive until evening.

The hospital overlooked the sea, and I enjoyed a few moments of quiet as I gazed out at the view. Then I looked toward the village. It was not a great distance off, and it looked inviting. Inspector Jones would likely tell me when Mrs. Hamilton awakened. In the meantime, I might try a walk to calm my nerves.

I reached the village a few minutes later. I wandered around for a while, looking in the windows of various shops. Among the villagers and holiday goers, I could almost forget all the terrible things that had occurred in the past week. Almost.

A lovely little antique shop caught my attention, and I spent a few moments browsing through the crowded rows of knickknacks, ranging from cheap plaster busts to very good china. I found a set of gold cufflinks engraved with the letter A and purchased them on a whim. I thought Milo would like them.

I had just left the shop when I spotted Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers exiting a shop at the end of the street. They were walking quickly, their backs to me. I called out to them, but they appeared to be deep in conversation and didn’t hear. A moment later, they got in a car and drove away.

I decided to head back to the hospital, but as I walked down the street, I noticed the building that the Rodgerses had exited. It was the apothecary shop. A thought occurred to me suddenly, and I stopped outside the door, hesitating for just a moment before charging ahead.

I entered the shop, and the little bell above the door jingled a greeting. A single woman stood behind the counter. She had a round, pleasant face framed with flame-colored hair. She smiled brightly as I came in. “Good day, miss. Is there something I could help you with?”

“I just saw my friends leaving,” I said, “but I didn’t catch them in time and they’ve driven off . We’re all staying up at the Brightwell. I don’t suppose they purchased a bottle of aspirin for me? They may have forgotten.”

“No, miss. They didn’t purchase any aspirin,” the woman said.

Almost before I knew what I was saying, I nodded and spoke casually. “I suppose they were picking up the sleeping tablets.”

“Yes, miss. The lady said she had misplaced hers.”

I kept my expression studiously neutral, but my thoughts were racing. Why should Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers come to purchase sleeping tablets immediately after Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton had been drugged? Surely they knew about Mr. Hamilton’s death by now. It seemed a very odd time to make a trip to the apothecary.

I purchased a bottle of aspirin to replace the one I had given the inspector. Instead of falling into place, things only seemed to be getting more and more complicated. One thing was certain: there were enough sleeping tablets floating around the Brightwell Hotel to do away with all of us. As the woman at the counter chatted on amiably, I resolved that I would be very careful of what I ate or drank at the Brightwell from this time forward.

 

***

 

Lost in thought, I arrived back at the hospital. The unhelpful woman at the desk informed me that the inspector had not yet emerged, so I took a seat. Unwelcome thoughts continued to race through my head. If someone had meant to kill me in my room after drugging me, it had been a lucky thing that Milo had decided to spend the night in my room. Yet I could think of no reason why someone should wish to murder me. I had very little to do with the whole affair. If indeed Mr. or Mrs. Rodgers had something to do with it, I could think of no conceivable reason why I should pose an impediment to them. None of it seemed to make any sense.

By the time I saw Inspector Jones coming toward me, my nerves were quite on edge. Despite my distraction, I noticed immediately that his expression was grim.

I stood, bracing myself for the worst. “Is she all right?” I asked.

“She’s alive,” he said, “which is not at all the same thing.”

“She’s taken it very hard?”

“It seems so. She’s not entirely coherent. Whatever drug she was given was exceptionally strong.” He paused, as though considering how much he should say, and then went on. “It’s very likely that Mr. Hamilton was given the same thing. He was faceup in the water, indicating that he was probably held down until he drowned. He would have been too disoriented to struggle much.”

A chill swept through me as I recalled the splashing Milo and I had heard. Mr. Hamilton had been putting up what fight he could, trying to save his life, but it had not been enough. A wave of sadness swept over me. If Milo and I had come out of the wardrobe a moment sooner, perhaps we could have done something ...

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“Are you all right, Mrs. Ames?” Inspector Jones asked. He was watching me intently, and his expression was almost kind.

“It’s been a dreadful day,” I said. In truth, I felt on the verge of tears.

“There is one other thing.”

“Indeed?” I asked, something very like dread in my voice.

“I had one of the doctors look at those tablets you gave me. They’ve not yet finished analyzing them, but he is quite certain that they are sleeping tablets and not aspirin.”

It was not really a surprise, but it was still something of a blow to hear my suspicions confirmed.

“Who might have had access to them?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Anyone, I suppose. I’m afraid I am sometimes rather careless about locking my door. But the bottle was exactly where I left it.”

“Was your husband with you that night?”

“Yes, but I can think of no reason why he would have done it. In fact, I don’t understand why anyone should have done it,” I said. “Surely I don’t pose a threat to anyone.”

“You may know more than you think,” he said cryptically. “Come. I’ll take you back now. You should get some rest.”

I nodded. What I wanted now was to lie down in the quiet of my room and share what I had learned with Milo. When exactly he had become a source of comfort to me, I didn’t know, but at the moment I found myself wanting very much to be with him.

Inspector Jones and I walked back to the car in comfortable silence.

I hesitated to tell him what I had discovered regarding Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers; he would no doubt only berate me for my underhanded tactics. However, I couldn’t bring myself to keep the information quiet. Skirting around my methods, I told him what I had learned.

“Indeed,” he said, and I could read nothing in his expression.

“Might the Rodgerses have any reason for killing Mr. Howe?” I asked.

“It may be nothing,” he said, not answering my question. “But you did well to let me know.”

At last, we reached the hotel. The car pulled to a stop, and Inspector Jones turned to me, his face grave. “I believe this will all be resolved soon. In the meantime, please be careful, Mrs. Ames,” he said.

“I intend to, Inspector.”

I walked toward the hotel so lost in thought that I nearly collided with Lionel Blake.

“Oh, excuse me,” I said.

I looked up at him and noticed at once the tension on his features. However good of an actor he might be, he was making no attempt to hide his distress at present.

“Is it true what they are saying?” he asked me without preamble.

I nodded sadly. “I’m afraid so.”

He rubbed a hand across his chin and mumbled something under his breath that I couldn’t quite make out. The only word I caught was “lord.” Then he seemed to catch himself, and I watched with fascination as he deliberately smoothed his features and presented me with the calm, handsome expression I had come to expect from him.

“I’ve been out walking around the grounds,” he said, and even his tone had undergone a transformation. There was absolutely no trace of strain in his well-modulated voice now. “The hotel is beginning to seem so stifling. I will be very glad to leave this place.”

“As will I.”

“Do you think there will be much publicity?” he asked me suddenly.

I thought it a strange thing to ask. But perhaps as an actor he always had to consider such things. “The Brightwell and the police have done a remarkable job of keeping the press away thus far,” I said. “Though I’m sure the papers are still full of sensational tales. I’d almost rather not know what they are saying ...”

“I do hate to give interviews.”

“I shouldn’t imagine that would be necessary,” I answered. “It would be entirely at your discretion to do such a thing.”

He nodded. “Yes. You’re right of course.”

I must have glanced at the hotel, for he was immediately all contrite politeness. “Forgive me for keeping you, Mrs. Ames. I know you must be anxious to rest after ... I do apologize.”

“No apologies necessary, Mr. Blake,” I said, glad nevertheless to be on my way. “I’ll see you at dinner, perhaps.”

“Yes.”

I walked past him, and a final glance over my shoulder confirmed that he had continued his solitary walk. There was something in the encounter that nagged at me, but I was too weary at present to attempt to analyze it.

I entered the hotel feeling more tired and worn than I ever had in my life. I glanced around the people seated in the lobby, hoping to spot Milo. Instead, Mrs. Roland appeared out of nowhere, and before I could retreat, she caught sight of me and headed in my direction.

Today she was dressed in a turquoise dress bedecked with a pattern of huge magenta hibiscus, over which she had layered what seemed to be a dozen necklaces of every description: seashells, pearls, jet beads, and what appeared to be hollowed-out and intricately carved pieces of wood. She fairly clattered as she glided toward me.

“Amory darling!” she exclaimed. “You’re still here! I thought you’d gone with your husband.”

I was only half-listening. As much as I liked the woman, there was only so much my nerves could take at present.

“Gone where?” I asked, my gaze caught momentarily by an emerald-encrusted tortoise on a long gold chain that hung around her neck.

“Back to London, of course. I assume that’s where he went.”

I looked up sharply. “Milo’s gone?”

“Why, yes, darling. Your charming husband left not long ago. I assumed you’d gone with him.”

I felt as though I had been dealt an unexpected blow.

“Surely you must be mistaken.”

“Not at all, dear.” She gave me an exaggerated wink. “It’s impossible to mistake your husband for anyone else.”

“Excuse me, Mrs. Roland. I must see to something.”

“Yes, of course. You really should get some sun, Amory,” she called, as I walked away. “You’re looking rather pale!”

I approached the desk with as much calmness as I could muster. Surely she was mistaken. Milo would not have left without saying anything. The very idea was ridiculous.

“Have I any letters?” I asked the clerk. “Mrs. Amory Ames.”

“Yes, Mrs. Ames. There’s a note for you. It was left by your husband about half an hour ago. He asked that we give it to you upon your return.”

I took the envelope and recognized Milo’s personal stationery. Perhaps he had gone to the village and I had missed him. I opened the envelope and pulled out the note, written in his familiar bold script.

 

Had to dash off to London, darling. Not sure how long I shall be gone.

M.    


Chapter 22

 

I SHOULD NOT have been surprised, but I was. In fact, I was utterly astounded. I stared at the note for a long moment before crumpling it in my hand. I resisted the sudden impulse to burst into tears. Truth be told, I was too tired to cry.

This was my fault; I should have known better than to begin to rely on him. I had known, deep down, that he was capable of something like this, but I hadn’t wanted to believe it. Now, I was paying for my stupidity.

“Amory ...” Gil’s voice broke into my thoughts, and I turned to find him and Emmeline emerging from the lift. I attempted to keep my feelings from showing on my face, but Gil was not easily fooled.

“Is everything all right?” he asked, a concerned frown crossing his brow.

I mastered my emotions and managed a smile. “Yes, Gil. Thank you.” I turned to Emmeline. “I’m glad to see you’re feeling a bit better.”  

“Gil insists I need some sun and fresh air,” she said. “Will you take tea with us?”

“I ... I think not today, thank you. I’m not feeling very well.”

I could feel Gil’s gaze on me, though I could not meet his eyes.

“Emmeline, will you wait for me in the dining room?” he asked her.

“Yes. I’ll see you later, Amory?”

“Yes, Emmeline. I should like that.”

She left us, and Gil turned to me. “Let’s go into the sitting room a moment, shall we?”

I followed him. Finding the room empty, he turned to me. “Now then, what’s wrong?”

I pushed my thoughts of Milo away for the moment. There were more important things to discuss. “I suppose you’ve heard about Mr. Hamilton.”

He nodded. “Inspector Jones stopped by to ask me my whereabouts.”

“He doesn’t think that you ...”

Gil smiled, but his eyes were dark. “It only happened after I had been released. I expect I’d hang just as easily for two murders as for one.”

I felt ill at his words. “Don’t say that.”

“They haven’t taken me back in charge, at any rate,” he said. “I suppose they want to make sure that it was murder. I’ve telephoned Sir Andrew. It seems he will have his work cut out for him.”

That reminded me of something I had been wanting to ask him. “Mr. Rodgers said that you sent for Sir Andrew before your arrest,” I ventured. “Were you so certain it would happen?”

“I thought it might. I ... you see, I’d written Rupert some pretty strongly worded letters. I was sure they would turn up.”

“But they haven’t.”

“Not yet. I suppose it’s only a matter of time. More coals heaped on the fire.”

“I can’t believe this is happening,” I said, almost to myself.

I felt Gil’s eyes on me, assessing me. “But Mr. Hamilton’s death and my arrest weren’t what you were thinking about when I came up to you. There’s something else, isn’t there?”

I smiled tiredly. “It’s no good trying to hide things from you, is it, Gil? You may as well know. Milo’s gone.”

“Gone? Where?”

“To London. No explanation.” I managed a laugh that I hoped didn’t sound as forced as it felt. “It’s very typical, you know.”

I found I couldn’t quite meet Gil’s gaze and looked down at the crumbled paper in my hand instead.

“Why do you let him do it to you, Amory?” he said suddenly.

I looked up, surprised by the question, and saw that his eyes were hard and dark. I realized suddenly that he was angry — not only at Milo, but at me.

“You deserve better.” His voice, though calm, held an edge. “Isn’t five years of it enough?”

“I suppose this is really between Milo and me,” I said, finding my own ire rising at the accusation in his tone. “After all, he is my husband.”

“I would have made you a much better one.”

I felt myself pale at the words, and we stared at one another. My lips parted, but I found I could think of nothing to say.

“I think perhaps I better check on Emmeline,” he said after a moment of heavy silence. “Excuse me.”

I watched him go, still unable to think of any sort of appropriate response.

He hadn’t gone far when he stopped and turned. “Does Inspector Jones know? About Milo’s leaving, I mean.”

I hadn’t thought of that. “I ... I don’t suppose he does.”

“If you can get in touch with Milo, you’d better do it. Tell him to hurry back. It won’t look well, his running off after two murders.”

 

***

 

I spent the rest of the miserable evening in my room. Gil’s words echoed over and over in my head. It had been terrible, looking at the hurt and disapproval in his expression. Even worse, I wasn’t sure I disagreed with him. I had made a hasty decision to marry Milo, and I was reaping the consequences. Gil might not have made life as exciting as Milo did, but he would not have made me miserable, and he would not have deserted me when I needed him the most.

I barely touched the dinner I had sent up. Perhaps Gil was right; perhaps five years was enough. As much as I had hoped Milo and I might reach some sort of harmony in our union, I needed someone I could rely on, someone who would be at my side when I needed him. Milo simply wasn’t. Perhaps it was time that I simply admitted my mistake and acknowledged that we couldn’t make a go of it.

The knock sounded on my door, and for a fleeting moment I thought it might be Milo. Then I realized that he probably wouldn’t have knocked.

I pulled the door open and was not completely surprised to see who was standing there.

“Hello, Gil.”

“I need to talk to you, Amory,” he said.

I hesitated a moment before stepping back and pulling open the door. As he entered, I noticed that his gait was somewhat unsteady and that the strong scent of alcohol followed after him.

“You’ve been drinking,” I said, surprised. Since I had known Gil, I had never known him to indulge in more than the occasional glass of wine. From the looks of things, he had had something much more substantial since our conversation this afternoon.

“I have, a little,” he replied. He turned to me, his features somber. “I need to talk to you.”

“Perhaps you would rather do it tomorrow, when you’re feeling better.”

“No. I need to tell you something.”

“Would you like to sit down?”

“Not now, thank you.”

We stood facing one another.

“I’m sorry about today,” he said. “It seems I’m always making a mess of things.”

“We’re all strained at the moment. You needn’t apologize.”

“I shouldn’t have said what I did,” he went on. “It’s none of my business.”

“Let’s just forget it, Gil.”

“I knew that first night, you know,” he said suddenly. “When you met him, I knew that ... well, I had a feeling that things were going to change.”

I remembered the night I met Milo as though it were yesterday. Gil and I had been at a large party given by some lord or the other. Milo had arrived late, just as we had sat down to dinner. It hadn’t been cliché, locking eyes across a crowded room and all that sort of thing. I had noticed Milo when he walked into the dining room, of course; most of the women present had. I hadn’t given him much thought, however. Dinner finished, Gil had gone off to speak to someone, and Milo had appeared at my side and asked me to dance. I had known who he was before he introduced himself. His reputation was wild even then, but he had been pleasant, polite. It would have been ill mannered of me to refuse. He led me to the dance floor, and, looking into those bright blue eyes, I had felt a strange sensation the first moment I was in his arms ...

“I came back into the room, looking for you, and saw you dancing with him,” Gil said. “I saw the way you looked at one another. And somehow I knew ...”

“I’m sorry, Gil,” I whispered, and I truly was. I couldn’t help the way I had felt about Milo, but I could have done more to spare Gil’s feelings. I had been young and inconsiderate. I regretted it now.

“I wanted you to be happy.” He laughed, somewhat hoarsely. “I waalmost relieved when you said you were going to marry him. At least I knew that his intentions were honorable.”

“I was happy,” I said. “For a while.”

“I know I have no right ... but I want to protect you, Amory. I don’t want you to be hurt.”

I wasn’t sure if he spoke regarding Milo or the murders. Perhaps he spoke of both. I only knew that he had somehow chosen just the right thing to say.

“Thank you. That means a lot.”

He swayed a little, and I reached out a hand to steady him. Somehow, he fell against me, and in the space of a moment his arms were around me. We looked at one another. Had it only been today that I had been pressed against Milo in the wardrobe? It seemed so very long ago. And now here I stood, in Gil’s embrace. He was so very close; I could feel him breathing. I felt at once that I should step back, but I couldn’t seem to make myself move.

“Amory,” he said. “I ...” Then he leaned down and his mouth met mine.

For just a moment, my mind flashed back to the last time he had kissed me: the night I had told him I was going to marry Milo. I had broken the news as gently as possible, and he had taken it with a grace born of refinement and his own good nature. After all had been said that there could possibly be to say, he had turned to leave me for the last time. Then he had stopped and come back to where I stood. His hand on my face, he had leaned down and kissed me.

There had been so much emotion in that gentle farewell kiss. As in love with Milo as I had been, something about it had left me heartbroken. I had wept when Gil left, utterly miserable. I felt the same thing now: a deep, aching sadness and a forlorn sort of longing that I could not precisely explain.

Then Gil’s kiss deepened, his embrace drew me more tightly against him, and I was pulled back to the present. Things were different now than they had been then. Whatever my feelings, I was still married to Milo. I pulled back, my hands pressing gently against his chest, creating the smallest space between us. “We can’t do this, Gil,” I said softly.

He blinked, as though he was only just realizing this himself, and his hands dropped from my waist as though I were made of hot coals. “I’m sorry.” He stepped back quickly, wavered, and I worried that he would fall.

“It’s all right,” I said, moving to take his arm. “Please, sit down. I’ll have some coffee sent up.”

I rang for coffee as he sank heavily into the sofa and his head dropped into his hands.

“Love makes a mess of things, doesn’t it?” he said, as though he was speaking to himself. “People are always falling in love with the wrong people. It happens over and over. It would be so much simpler if ... I didn’t know how she felt, you know ... I didn’t think that she really meant it ...”

He wasn’t talking about me any longer. Whom did he mean?

I sat on the sofa beside him. “Did you ... do you need to talk about something, Gil?” I asked him.

“I thought she was young and infatuated. I didn’t realize she really meant it.”

It could only be Emmeline he was referring to. But what was he trying to tell me?

He sat back and leaned his head against the sofa. “I feel terrible,” he said.

“I know, dear. You’ll feel better when you get some coffee.”

As much as I wanted to know why he should have suddenly brought up the subject of Emmeline and her feelings for Rupert, I was silent and let Gil rest. I still didn’t believe for a moment that Gil had killed Rupert, and yet it seemed very odd he should be lamenting Emmeline’s grief at this particular moment. Then again, he was completely soused. I supposed it all made sense to him.

When the knock came, I answered it and took the tray from the maid, so she wouldn’t see Gil in my room. Closing the door, I walked back to the sitting area and set the tray on the table in front of the sofa. “Here’s the coffee,” I said brightly. “It will be just the thing.”

Gil didn’t stir.

“Gil?”

I looked at him closely. He was sound asleep or, more likely, out cold.

I sighed. I couldn’t have him moved without creating a scandal of immense proportions. He would just have to sleep it off on my sofa.

I removed his necktie and slid off his shoes before easing him into a recumbent position. Then I covered him with a spare blanket and turned out the lights. I couldn’t help but think that, if anyone should find out he had spent the night in my room, I was going to have a devil of a time explaining it to Milo.

NEXT: CHAPTERS 23 & 24

 

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