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'Murder at the Brightwell' Chapters 27 & 28


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Illustration by Dongkyu Lim

 

Chapter 27

 

I ROSE SLOWLY, the letter still in my hand. “Mrs. Hamilton.”

“That’s my letter, isn’t it?” she asked, nodding toward the envelope. “The one I wrote to Rupert.”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “It’s not signed.”

She smiled, and I thought with a sudden chill how the customary vague politeness had been replaced with a thinly veiled hostility. “I think you know that I wrote it, Mrs. Ames. You’re very clever. Perhaps too clever.”

My mind was working quickly. It was just possible that I had uncovered an illicit liaison and nothing more. I held the note toward her. “It was, perhaps, ill mannered of me to read it. I was hoping I could uncover something. If you’d like it back, I’ll just be going back downstairs.”

Her quiet smile didn’t falter in the slightest as she pulled a gun from her pocket and pointed it at me. “I don’t think that will be possible.”

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I felt a strangely numb feeling steal over me as I looked into the muzzle of her gun. I had not suspected Mrs. Hamilton, had not even had an inkling that she might have been involved. And yet it seemed foolish now to have overlooked her.

“You and Rupert were having an affair,” I said. In the novels, it always seemed best to keep the suspect talking. Inevitably, help would arrive. I really held out no hope for such an opportune occurrence, but it seemed the best course of action would be to distract her until I could determine what to do.

“It wasn’t as tawdry as that,” she said, and her voice was wistful. “Rupert and I knew each other years ago. He was a bit younger than me, but we always got on. He knew Geoffrey, and when he was drowned, Rupert befriended me. He helped me through a very difficult time. We formed an attachment, but we were too poor to wed comfortably, and eventually we went our separate ways. It was about a year ago that I saw him again, in London.”

“But you were already married.”

“Yes, unfortunately. I married Hamilton six years ago, and I have been miserable ever since.”

“Did you ever love your husband?” I didn’t know why I had asked her that. I suppose I was just curious if there had ever been a part of Mr. Hamilton that was worth loving.

She laughed, a pretty, tinkling sound, and I realized that I had never heard her express true amusement before this. “Do you think it would be possible to love someone like Nelson? He delighted in belittling me, in making himself feel superior. No, I never loved him. He was rich, and he was the only chance I had at a better life, so I took it.”

“But then Rupert came back into your life.”

“Yes. We met unexpectedly at a party in London, began seeing each other. We agreed to meet here at the Brightwell. It wasn’t hard to convince Nelson. One only had to make him think it was his idea, and that wasn’t difficult. He knew how much I hated the sea, so it pleased him to come here.” She seemed caught up in the story now, and my mind was searching for some means of extricating myself from the situation. I considered hurling my torch at her, but I was not at all confident in my aim.

“I was terribly in love with Rupert,” she said softly, and I could see the anguish in her eyes as she spoke. “He was very good at making people believe what he wanted them to believe. He had Emmeline wrapped around his finger. He did the same to me.”

I said nothing, waiting for her to continue.

“He made me believe that he still cared for me. He said he wanted us to be together forever, but I think he was really just interested in Nelson’s money. In addition to Emmeline’s fortune, he would have more money than he could ever possibly need.”

“But how would that have worked, with both of you married to other people? Divorces are difficult to obtain, and surely much of the money would be lost in the proceedings.”

She looked at me strangely, as though she had only just remembered that I was there. Her eyes met mine, and I was chilled at how cold they were. “No, I wasn’t talking about a divorce.”

I frowned, confused. “I don’t understand.”

“You see, we had planned to kill them all along,” she said suddenly. “Nelson and Emmeline. With both of them dead, we could be together, have all the money we ever needed.

Horror coursed through me at her words. I never, in my wildest imaginings, could have concocted something like this.

She smiled, a bit sadly. “I know what you’re thinking, Mrs. Ames. And you’re right. It’s a terrible thing. But Nelson was a terrible man.”

“But what of Emmeline?”

“Emmeline is a sweet girl...but I’ve been waiting a long time for happiness.”

I realized then that Mrs. Hamilton was not quite sane. She couldn’t possibly be. I desperately racked my brains for some way to distract her, for something I could do to escape.

“So what happened...with Rupert?” I asked at last. I was genuinely curious. If I were to be murdered tonight by a deranged killer, I should hate to do it with questions still lingering in my mind.

“I’d be interested to see what you think,” she replied. It was a strange request, but I took my time considering an answer.

“Your husband found out about your affair, confronted Rupert, and struck him. When you found out what he’d done, you killed your husband.”

She smiled again, shaking her head. “Perhaps you’re not as clever as I fancied you, Mrs. Ames. No, Nelson didn’t do it. He didn’t have the nerve. I killed Rupert.”

This I had not anticipated. I rather expect my mouth gaped a bit. 

“Gil and Rupert were on the terrace that afternoon, arguing about Emmeline, as usual.”

So Milo had told the truth. Gil had been on the terrace. Their argument explained why Gil hadn’t wanted to admit it; no doubt it had been a continuation of their conversation the night before.

“When Gil had gone, I went to speak to Rupert,” she went on. “He said that Gil was willing to pay him to leave Emmeline alone. He had offered quite a substantial sum, and I told Rupert to take it. We could have spared Emmeline then, you see.”

She looked at me as though she expected I would be impressed by her benevolence.

“But Rupert didn’t want to take it.” I guessed, hoping to prod her forward.

A sudden flash of anger crossed her face, harshening the normally sweet lines of her expression. “No, he didn’t want to take it. Do you know what he told me?”

Even in the dim light, I could see that her grip on the gun was tightening in anger. I could guess very well what Rupert had told her, but I wasn’t about to be the one to say it aloud.

“No. What?” I asked.

“He said he didn’t want the money Gil had offered him, that he had suddenly discovered that he truly cared for Emmeline.”

Of all the shocking truths I had learned on this dreadful little holiday, it was this salient fact that surprised me the most.

“He loved Emmeline?” “He thought he did,” she replied, and though she had calmed herself, there was still some strange combination of anger and sorrow lurking in her stormy blue eyes. “He said he thought we should call it off. He said he would marry her, and perhaps we could still see each other from time to time.” Her voice was growing slightly shrill, and I could imagine the hysteria that must have overcome her on the terrace as the only man she had ever loved, the man she had been prepared to kill for, told her that perhaps he didn’t care so very much for her after all.

“I tried to reason with him, tried to tell him how much he meant to me, but he only smiled in that way of his and asked for a cigarette.”

I knew then what she was about to say. I could see it in my head as clearly as if I had been standing with them on the terrace that day.

“I gave him a cigarette, and he lit it with his gold lighter ... the lighter I gave him, not Emmeline. I told him one more time what he meant to me, tried to remind him what we had meant to each other...and then he said...” She paused, as though hearing the words again in her mind. “He said, ‘It’s run its course, Rissa. Let’s be honest, you couldn’t have gone through with killing your husband. You’re much too weak...perhaps that’s why our relationship can’t last.’ ”

Suddenly she seemed to slump ever so slightly, as though all the emotion had drained out of her, and she was once again the Larissa Hamilton to whom I had grown accustomed, the pale, shrinking wife of a total boor who had married her for her looks and then quickly tired of everything but his cruelty toward her. “And so you hit him,” I supplied.

“Yes. I struck at him and hit him with my cigarette case, as hard as I could manage. Before I even really knew what was happening, he fell over the edge.” Her face was ashen, and her voice trembled a little as she looked past me, no doubt reliving the scene in her mind.

“You told me that it was a stupid way to kill someone,” I said, remembering our conversation on the terrace shortly after the murder.

“It was, wasn’t it? With a cigarette case. So very stupid.” She said vaguely, “There was so much blood on the case. It took me a very long time to clean it off .”

“Then it was an accident,” I said. “The police couldn’t blame you for that, not really.”

“Perhaps not,” she answered softly. “But then, of course, I killed Nelson, too.”

I had suspected this, but it was still shocking to hear it flow so calmly from her lips. My mind was reeling at the storm of revelations that were swirling around me. I felt very much as though I might welcome a good faint, but I was quite sure Mrs. Hamilton would do something ghastly to me while I was unconscious.

“In a way, I was sorry that Rupert was dead, but knowing how he felt, I mourned him very little. I was hoping the inquest would find that it had been an accident. Then I might have gone on as usual. I still planned on killing Nelson, of course. But I would have done it much later had he not begun to suspect.”

“He found the lighter.”

“Yes, the lighter fell with Rupert. I went down to his body, to try and take it with me, but it wasn’t there. And I couldn’t bring myself to go down to the shore to look for it. I couldn’t bear to be so near the sea. As an afterthought, I put up the ‘closed for repair’ sign, hoping to buy myself a little extra time.”

“You just had to hope that no one found it.”

“Yes, but then Nelson dug it up on the beach somewhere. I don’t know how the police overlooked it, but perhaps they only gave the beach a cursory inspection. Nelson noticed that night when we were playing bridge that my cigarette case matched Rupert’s lighter, which he had used one night at dinner. He noticed stupid things like that. When he remembered the lighter, I suppose he acted on a whim and was rewarded for it. He didn’t know for certain, of course, that I had killed Rupert, only that I had given him the lighter, but he was taunting me with what he had learned and said he would go to the police. He enjoyed making me afraid. And yet...I don’t think he trusted me. He always made sure to lock the door to his room. I was surprised that day to find it open. I had expected to have to force the door from the hall.”

I had left the door unlocked that day. I felt sorry for that now, though I had no doubt she could have easily entered the other way had she set her mind to it. She was, I was learning, quite a tenacious little thing.

“I took Anne Rodgers’s sleeping tablets one evening when we sat in her room looking at magazines. When Nelson and I had gone down to lunch, I put the powder in his drink. He always bathed in the afternoon, and I intended to kill him then. He had this gun, always carried it with him for some absurd reason, but I had taken it before breakfast, just in case there should be any trouble. But the gun proved unnecessary. I had only to slip into his room. He was too disoriented to struggle much.”

“You drowned him,” I said, “despite what happened to your brother.”

Her eyes met mine, and I could detect no trace of remorse in them. “Nelson knew, of course, why I didn’t want to come to the Brightwell, knew how I’d lost Geoffrey, but he said I’d had plenty of time to recover from a childhood incident.” A dazed sort of smile flittered across her face. “Strange, isn’t it? I’ve always been so very afraid of the water, but it was very useful to me this once.”

She was chillingly composed as she related this to me, and I found it almost incomprehensible that this scene was actually taking place.

“That done, I went back to my room and took four sleeping tablets myself. That was a bit of a risk, as I wasn’t sure of the dosage, but it turned out quite all right.”

So there it was, the whole story. Now that it was revealed to me, it all made perfect sense, in a slightly insane sort of way. 

And now we had come to the crux of the matter.

“And what do you intend to do to me, Larissa?” I asked. “You can’t just go about leaving a trail of dead bodies. Sooner or later, they’ll lead to you.”

“Perhaps. But you know entirely too much. I’m afraid you can’t possibly be allowed to tell what you know.”

“Was that why you put sleeping tablets in my aspirin bottle?” I asked. It was one final piece of the puzzle.

To my surprise, she frowned and shook her head. “I didn’t put sleeping tablets in your bottle.”

It was my turn to frown. Was she telling the truth? I could see no reason why she would lie, not now when she had told me everything else.

“I had no reason to drug you. I like you, Mrs. Ames. You’re a very kind woman, and I hoped it wouldn’t come to this. I tried to dissuade you, even to throw suspicion in Emmeline’s direction, hoping you would decide to leave the matter be, but that didn’t seem to work.”

She was right. Despite her story about Emmeline’s overhearing Rupert and Olive planning to meet, I had never really suspected that Emmeline might have killed Rupert in a fit of jealous rage. I simply couldn’t have imagined her doing any such thing. Then again, I certainly hadn’t suspected Mrs. Hamilton. My instincts, it appeared, were hit-and-miss.

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“Sadly, you refused to let it drop,” she went on. “So you’ve left me with no alternative.”

“You’re going to shoot me?” I asked.

“I’m afraid so. If I wait until the next flash of lightning, the thunder may cover my shot,” she said. “I’m sorry to have to kill you, Mrs. Ames. I’m sure your husband will be sorry to lose you; he’s very fond of you, you know.”

As she finished speaking, as if on cue, a brilliant flash of lightning lit the room. Almost before I knew what I was doing, I hurled my torch at her. To my everlasting gratitude, it hit her squarely in the stomach. She jerked back reflexively, and I threw myself at her. We fell to the ground, grabbling for the gun. I fell atop her, my hand clamped on her wrist. She struggled violently. For a small woman, she was remarkably strong. I was fighting for my life, however, and I had no intention of giving up.

She tried to pull her arm from my grasp, and the gun went off with a deafening boom, shattering the window. With all my strength, I pounded her arm against the floor, and the gun fell from her grasp. I grabbed for it as she heaved me off of her. She was almost on top of me when I swung the gun up and hit her across the head with it as hard as I could manage. It connected with a startling loud crack, and she slumped to the floor in a sad little heap.

I sat up, breathing heavily, a great lock of hair hanging across my face. I looked down at her. She was still breathing, and I was glad I had not done to her what she had done to Rupert. Seeing her still, crumpled form, I felt almost sorry for her. Almost, but not quite.

I heard footsteps running down the hall before the door to the room burst open. Inspector Jones rushed into the room, followed by Gil.

“Amory, are you all right?” Gil said, rushing to my side and helping me to my feet.

I brushed back the hair that had fallen across my eyes. “I’m very well, thank you.” I couldn’t quite hide the triumph in my tone. “And now that I’ve flushed out the murderer, you shall be all right, too, Gil.”   


Chapter 28

 

IT WAS NOT UNTIL Inspector Jones had had his men take Larissa Hamilton away and I had given him a complete account of the evening’s events that the full impact of the situation hit me. Then I felt weak with exhaustion and the dregs of fear. My head fairly spun with it.

Gil and Inspector Jones accompanied me back to my room. When I was settled in my chair, the inspector asked me a few more careful questions, jotting down the answers in his little book. He must have noticed my pallor and the trembling of my hands in my lap, however, for, after a moment, he flipped the book shut and put it into his pocket.

“I think that will do,” he said. “Shall I get you a drink, Mrs. Ames?”

“Thank you, no.” Against all reason, what I really wanted was Milo. I had the feeling, however, that he would not prove sympathetic to my encounter with a murderer after I had as good as accused him of the crime. “How...how did you know where to find me?”

“I had just arrived at the hotel,” Inspector Jones explained. “I encountered Mr. Ames in the foyer, and he told me that you would no doubt want to speak to me about having caught the murderer.”

Milo, ever mocking, had sent Inspector Jones along to receive my woefully erroneous theory. “I was coming to speak to you as well...” Gil said, his voice trailing off.

I wondered if he had spoken with Olive about our conversation. “I had no answer at your room, and then I heard the shot.”

“We reached Mr. Howe’s room at the same time,” Inspector Jones finished.

“I was hoping someone would hear the shot, though I feared they would mistake it for thunder. That was her intention.”

“I knew immediately it was a gunshot.” Inspector Jones smiled wryly. “Though it seemed you had the situation well under control by the time we arrived.”

“I’d have never thought it was Mrs. Hamilton,” Gil said. “I would never have imagined that she could do such a thing.”

“I wondered when she was drugged,” Inspector Jones said. “It seemed just possible that she might have done it herself. Unfortunately, several facts seemed to point to someone else.”

“Me, you mean,” Gil said.

Inspector Jones glanced at me. “No...”

“Milo,” I said.

The inspector nodded. “You knew that I suspected.”

“I suspected him myself,” I replied. “And I told him so.”

“Oh, dear,” I heard Gil murmur under his breath.

“That day I first interviewed you, I felt something was amiss,” Inspector Jones said. “I later discovered that he had not arrived when he said he did. Then I spoke with him again the day of the inquest. That was when he reported having overheard the conversation between Mr. Trent and Mr. Howe. It all seemed too neat, somehow. Adding to the unlikely coincidences, he was in the room when you were drugged and when Mr. Hamilton was killed. When he left for London with barely a word, everything seemed to be confirmed. And I had to wonder how much you knew.”

“I didn’t suspect him then. It was only tonight that I thought he might have done it.”

There was a moment of somewhat strained silence before Inspector Jones rose from his seat. “You were very brave to night, Mrs. Ames,” he said. “Perhaps we’ll talk again tomorrow. I know you must be tired.”

“Yes, thank you,” I whispered. I felt myself on the verge of tears again, and I was ready to be alone.

Gil rose after Inspector Jones. He took my hand in his. “Get some rest, Amory.”

“I’ll try.”

He nodded, releasing my hand, and turned to go. He paused at the door. “Do you want me to send Milo up?”

It was a sweet thought, and I felt the tears welling in my eyes. “I...don’t think so, Gil. But thank you.”

“I’ll...be in my room if you need me.”

I nodded, and he left. I locked the door behind him, drawing in a deep breath. So many things were spinning though my mind that I felt almost faint. What I needed was a good night’s sleep, though I knew that I would not be getting one.

Still a bit shaky, I changed and went right to bed. Despite my exhaustion, my thoughts kept me awake. It was not, however, the night’s events that preyed on my mind. Instead, I found myself wondering where Milo was and feeling utterly miserable that he hadn’t come to me.

 

***

 

If the murders had cleared the hotel of guests, Mrs. Hamilton’s arrest had done its part to clear the Brightwell of the rest of our party. Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers left before dawn. They were, as I was, more than ready to leave this place behind them. Veronica Carter had departed in a sea of fur and perfume, and, though my feelings toward her had softened ever so slightly, I was glad to see her go.

I had packed my bags, leaving the rest of Milo’s things untouched. He could do with them what he pleased.

I reached the lobby, when a voice called out to me. “Mrs. Ames.”

I turned to see Lionel Blake approaching. “I wanted to say good-bye before you left. It was my great pleasure to meet you,” he said. He held out his hand to me, and I shook it.

“It was nice to meet you, Mr. Blake. I wish you great success in your career.”

Mr. Blake smiled. He seemed to hesitate for just a moment, and then he spoke. “I feel that perhaps I should apologize if I have acted mysteriously, Mrs. Ames.”

“You needn’t tell me anything,” I said, though I was immediately curious. My nearly lethal experience with investigation had not managed to staunch my inquisitive streak.

“I was hesitant to share information with you, but I have learned of your heroic behavior last night, and I feel that I should explain. You see, I have built up a careful reputation for myself as an actor...an English actor. But, you see, I am not English. I am German.”

I was surprised. I had thought his careful diction was a mark of his trade, not a cautious attempt to hide an accent that was still not warmly welcomed on English shores.

“You understand that things are not so easy for my people in this country as they once were. The memory of the war still hovers like a dark cloud.”

This explained much. I recalled our conversation the day Mr. Hamilton had been killed, when I had encountered him outside the Brightwell. The word he had mumbled under his breath had not been “lord” but “mord,” the German word for murder.

“I would not have guessed you were German,” I said, thinking of the play he had been reading that morning at breakfast. “Though I did notice you read the language.”

He smiled. “A clumsy mistake on my part. I should not have read that book in public. In any event, my backer is also German and has suffered because of it; he asked me to find a venue, somewhere out of the way, where he could stage a play. Luckily, we were able to find a place in London. However, I feared that if anyone found out, he would have further difficulties. That is also why I abhor undue publicity and interviews. Sometimes, under strain, my accent slips.”

“I think you’re quite a marvelous actor, Mr. Blake,” I said with a smile. “I should like very much to see you in a play sometime.”

He returned my smile. “You do understand?”

“Yes, certainly. Thank you for telling me.”

“Amory darling!” I turned to see Mrs. Roland sweeping down the stairs.

Lionel Blake gripped my hand once more, leaning close to my ear. “Be careful what you tell her. She works for the gossip magazines.” Then he released my hand and was gone.

I barely had time to digest this startling, though very enlightening, information before Mrs. Roland was upon me, depositing kisses on both of my cheeks. “You saved the day, I hear. How clever you are, Amory! To think of you, wrestling the black-hearted murderess to the ground...”

“Oh,” I answered with a smile. “Nothing as dramatic as all that, though I’m glad to be putting it behind me.”

“To think of it, Mrs. Hamilton drugging herself and her husband so that she could hold him down in the bathtub. It’s unthinkable!” I did not know where she was getting her information, but it was astoundingly accurate.

“She must have drugged me, as well,” I said, almost to myself. Though she had denied it, I could think of no other explanation for the tablets that had made their way into my bottle.

“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” Mrs. Roland said. “I think it must have been Veronica Carter. She was after your husband, you know. I think she thought she would have a better chance of succeeding if you were safely out of the way for the evening. A nasty trick, very much in her style.”

“I...don’t know...” I had seen her on my floor that day. Perhaps it had been she who put the sleeping pills in my aspirin bottle. If so, I could forgive her. Milo had spent that night in my room, after all. “I’m rather confused on that point.”

“I’m sure you are, dear. And your charming husband?” she asked. “Where is he this morning?”

“I was just about to go and find him,” I said. “If you’ll excuse me, Mrs. Roland.”

“Yes, yes, of course, dear. It was lovely seeing you.”

And with that, she fluttered out the door. I watched her go for a minute, trying to take in what I had learned about her. She was really the perfect choice to work for the gossip columns. People were always telling her things without thinking anything of it. I expected this past week had given her fodder for quite a while.

I went to the desk. “Have you seen Mr. Ames this morning?” I was half-afraid that he had left again without my knowing.

“He’s there, madam,” the clerk said, nodding behind me. I turned to see that Milo had just emerged from the sitting room. I thought that he saw me, but he continued out onto the terrace.

Thanking the clerk, I hurried toward the doors leading out to the terrace and exited. The wind was low today, the storm having died down sometime in the night. Milo stood there, looking out at the uneasy sea. “Milo...”

He turned to look at me, and it was terrifying how little showed in his eyes. It was as though he had shut me out completely. And what was worse, I felt, in some ways, that I deserved it.

“Aren’t you a bit afraid I’ll toss you over the edge?” he asked with a humorless smile.

“I’m sorry, Milo,” I said.

“I understand you captured a killer last night. I suppose you were bound to guess right eventually.”

I flinched at the words and the tone in which he said them. “I didn’t want to believe it was you.”

“And yet you thought me capable of it.”

“I didn’t know what to think. You claimed you hadn’t met Rupert, and then I found that photograph.”

“As I told you, I didn’t know Rupert Howe. We just happened to be in Monte Carlo at the same time.”

“There were so many things. For one mad moment, all of the evidence seemed to point in your direction...”

“The evidence pointed to Trent at one point, I believe. And you never wavered in your staunch defense of him.”

He was right, of course. “I’m sorry,” I said again. “Can you forgive me?”

“Of course, darling. It’s really of very little consequence.” It was his dismissive tone, the one he used on people of whom he had tired, and when the corners of his mouth turned up it did nothing to warm his eyes.

We stood there in a tense silence. At least, I felt tense; Milo seemed almost bored. I half-expected him to walk back into the hotel at any moment. But before he did, there was one more thing I needed to know.

“I...there’s something else I want to ask you.” I hesitated to question him now, especially after all that had happened, but I had to know. Before anything else, I needed to be sure.

“Yes?” His tone held the vaguest hint of impatience, but I plunged ahead.

“Who is Winnelda, Milo?”

A cynical amusement flickered across his face. “Ah. You find I am not guilty of murder, so you adopt a lesser charge.”

“She answered the telephone at the flat.”

He leaned against the railing, looking back at the sea. “Winnelda is the maid.” “We haven’t any permanent staff at the flat.”

“We have now. She’s the most horrid, clumsy little thing.” He pulled a cigarette from the case in his pocket and lit it. “I had to hire her, to learn about the Hamiltons.”

“What do you mean?”

“She worked for them in London. I didn’t have a chance to tell you. She had some interesting things to say about Mrs. Hamilton, though it proved you had little use for my information.”

“You didn’t tell me where you had gone. I didn’t...”

“It had occurred to me that I might be able to glean some interesting tidbits in London. I located this maid, and she related tales of the Hamiltons’ unhappy marriage and noted that Mrs. Hamilton seemed to have a gentleman friend on the side whose description bore an uncanny resemblance to that of Rupert Howe. Winnelda is a shockingly observant girl for one so inept.”

“Then you knew last night who the killer was.”

“I had my suspicions.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”asked, though I knew perfectly well why he hadn’t.

“It didn’t seem the time,” he said expressionlessly. “I intended to relate my news to the inspector. Mrs. Hamilton wasn’t in the sitting room when I went down last night. I thought she had stayed in her room. It didn’t occur to me that you might be in danger...but I suppose it didn’t matter, not with the inspector and gallant Trent to the rescue...” He offered me a hollow smile. “All’s well that ends well.”

There was something in the way he said it that gave me an uneasy feeling.

“And that, my dear, explains away my unexpected jaunt to London and the mysterious Winnelda. Of course, I had to offer her a job to pry her tales from her,” he went on. “Hopefully, the flat will still be standing when you get back to London.” I noticed his use of “you” rather than “we” immediately. So he was not planning on coming back with me.

“I wish you had told me,” I said. “You left, and then the inspector told me you had claimed to see Gil. I thought...it was all so confusing.”

“As you know, I came down directly after you did. I arrived at the Brightwell the day of the murder and happened to overhear some of the rather heated conversation between Trent and Howe. I decided perhaps it would be best to come back later.”

“Why didn’t you tell me, Milo? If I had known...”

“It wouldn’t have mattered.” He blew out a stream of smoke. “It has become very apparent that you’re always willing to believe the worst of me.”

“You’ve never given me cause to doubt it,” I replied. There was no malice in my tone. Only sadness. Things were not going as I had expected. “The facts seemed to implicate you. And then a strange woman answered at the flat. What would you expect me to think?”

He looked at me. “Perhaps the same thing I thought when I heard the rumor that Gil Trent spent the night in your bedroom.” His voice, beneath his nonchalance, was terribly cool.

“Who told you that?” I asked softly.

“Is it true?”

“He came to talk to me, but he’d had too much to drink and passed out.”

“Then it is true.”

“Nothing happened, Milo.”

“Nothing?” His brow went up, and I read the challenge in the gesture.

As much as I hated to, I felt compelled to tell him everything. It was harder than I imagined it would be. “He...I...we kissed. Just once.”

“And?”

“And then he fell asleep and didn’t wake until morning.”

Something very like mockery flickered across his features. “Poor Trent. He waits five long years and then succumbs to unconsciousness once he finally has you in his arms.”

“I wouldn’t have done anything more...”

“Wouldn’t you?”

“Of course not,” I retorted, my ire raised. “I don’t behave as you do.”

He smiled, and it was a very hard smile. “You think very highly of me, don’t you, my dear?”

“I’m sorry,” I said with a sigh. “I shouldn’t have said that. With everything that’s happened, emotions are running high.”

“Yes. Well,” he said, “as charming as this little seaside escapade has been, I think it’s time I head back to civilization.”

He ground out his cigarette, and I couldn’t help but feel he had just done the same with our relationship.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Back to Monte Carlo. Or perhaps to Switzerland. I’m not certain.”

I looked down at my hands, noticing suddenly that I had never put my wedding ring back on. “When can I expect you back in London?”

“I’ll drop you a line.”

My eyes came up to his, and we looked at one another, neither of us willing to say what needed to be said in order to set things right.

“Good-bye then, Amory.” He leaned and brushed a kiss across my cheek. His lips were warm against my wind-chilled skin.

“Good-bye, Milo,” I whispered.

I longed to allow myself to lean into his arms, but I could not make myself do it. Pride is not an appealing quality, but I possessed too much of it to tell him that I didn’t want him to go.

He left me then, and I turned toward the sea so I didn’t have to watch him leave.

Was it my fault or his? It was really too much of a tangled mess to know. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps we should give it some time before making any rash decisions.

NEXT: CHAPTERS 29

 

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