Jack Lennox consulted his pocket watch and stared out of the grimy diamond-paned window at the street below. It was raining and most of the beaumonde had disappeared from the deluge, leaving only beggars, street vendors, and the occasional servant scurrying about his master’s business.
He sighed, misting up the pockmarked glass, and turned to the man sitting in the cramped office behind him.
“Do you think Mr. McEwan will be much longer?”
The middle-aged clerk looked at Jack over the top of his spectacles. “As I said, Mr. Lennox, he will see you when he is ready.”
“Is he with another client?”
“That’s not for me to say, sir.”
Jack got to his feet, dusting off his breeches. “Then perhaps I’ll take my leave and ask Mr. McEwan to visit me when he does have the time.”
“Oh no, sir!” The clerk also rose. “That’s not necessary. I’ll go and see if Mr. McEwan is available.”
“At last,” Jack muttered to himself as the hapless clerk scurried across the room and tapped on the closed door. A peremptory voice bade him enter, and he disappeared, shutting the door firmly behind him.
He obviously wasn’t considered important enough to receive the full attention of the solicitor, but that might change. And he really was pressed for time. He had another appointment this morning, and was also expected by his newly married sister before she left on her honeymoon. She’d never forgive him if he didn’t turn up.
The clerk reappeared and beckoned to Jack. “If you would be so kind, sir, Mr. McEwan will see you now.”
Jack entered the solicitor’s office and was immediately struck by the sheer volume of books and parchments stacked on every available surface. In the midst of the towering piles of books was a desk, and behind it sat a large, fleshy man in an old-fashioned white-tie wig.
“Mr. McEwan?” Jack bowed. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“Indeed, sir.” The solicitor didn’t rise and indicated the only uncluttered seat in the room. His accent held a hint of Scots. “Please sit down. I understand you believe you have a claim to the Lennox title and estates.”
“I do.” Jack extracted the sheaf of documents from his coat pocket. “My father, John, was the youngest son of the fifth earl. He ran away from home at the age of twenty to marry my mother, who was considered an unsuitable match. I have a record of my father’s birth, his marriage lines, and details of my own birth.”
“There was a successor to the title after your grandfather’s death.”
“One of my uncles, I presume?”
“The sixth earl was the third son of your grandfather. Two of the original heirs died during the war with France. At that point in time, there was no record of your birth, and he assumed the title without any issues.”
“If he was my father’s older brother, he was the obvious heir. Is he still alive?”
Mr. McEwan sighed. “We understand he recently died. It’s all a bit of a muddle.”
“My father was the fourth and last son, which means that if he was living, he would inherit the title now, yes?”
“If the sixth earl had no son.”
“And did he?” Jack tried not to let his impatience show.
“Not as far as we know.”
“Then my father would be next in line, and as I said, I am his only heir.”
Mr. McEwan sifted through the pile of documents, his eyebrows raised. “You also have very influential friends, Mr. Lennox. I understand these documents were procured for you by Lord Keyes with the current government’s approval.”
Jack modestly inclined his head. “I have performed some services for the monarchy in the past.”
“So I’ve heard.” The solicitor sat back and viewed his potential new client. “When I was apprised of your claim, I took the liberty of instituting a search of the Lennox papers, which we hold as their family solicitors. If your documentation is authentic, you might well be the new Earl of Storr.”
“I will have to consider the matter carefully over the next few days. I have already consulted with the other trustees, and they are more than willing for me to make the final decision on this matter.”
“I’m quite happy to wait for your verdict and at your convenience, Mr. McEwan.”
The solicitor held up his hand. “There is a little more to it than that. You will need to petition the king, who will then turn the matter over to his attorney general for a writ of summons to take your seat in the House of Lords. As your father is deceased, we will require all the documentation you have brought with you, and those items that I can add from the family papers as evidence.”
“I appreciate your help.” Jack rose. “You have my direction. I’ll await your response.”
“There is one more thing, Mr. Lennox. Have you ever visited Pinchbeck Hall?”
“I don’t believe so, sir. I know it is situated in the county of Lincoln.”
“You should visit the place.”
“Even before I am granted the title?”
“I would strongly advise it.”
Jack hesitated, his hat in his hands. “Mr. McEwan, is there something you’re not telling me?”
The solicitor fixed him with a baleful stare. “The deceased earl’s will is missing from the family papers. I’ve also heard rumors that all is not right at Pinchbeck Hall.”
“In what way? Is the place falling down? Has it been mismanaged?”
“On the contrary, sir. One might think that someone has been intent on feathering their own nest.”
“And who might that be? The land agent, or an aggrieved cousin?”
Mr. McEwan folded his hands on his desk and looked down at them. “That I cannot say, Mr. Lennox. It is, after all, hearsay and gossip.”
“Indeed.” Jack contemplated the solicitor’s bowed head. “If I should happen to visit the county of Lincoln, would you like me to get my hands on that will?”
“It would certainly be beneficial to the estate and to the speedy outcome of your claim.” The solicitor permitted himself a small smile. “Good morning, Mr. Lennox.”
Jack strolled out into the rain and hailed a hackney cab. It seemed as if he might have become involved in a mystery…. His spirits rose at the thought. Damn Mr. McEwan for suddenly turning coy and refusing to indulge in spreading idle gossip. Whatever was going on at Pinchbeck Hall certainly needed looking into, and Jack was the obvious choice to investigate. He was fairly sure that his claim to the title was unassailable. He might take a trip up to Lincolnshire in the near future to spy out the lay of the land, so to speak.
He smiled even as the rain drummed down on the roof of the cab. It wasn’t far to his next destination at a discreet town house in Mayfair, but he was damned if he’d ruin his new boots by splashing through the puddles. After years of living on air and his wits, affording fashionable clothing was still something of a novelty. His pension from the Crown had been as unexpected as it was generous, and was quite separate from his expectations of the Storr estate. He doubted he’d ever develop the expensive tastes of the average young buck about Town. For one, he was too cynical, and for the other … he was handsome enough not to need all the embellishments of current fashion.
He imagined how his twin sister, Violet, would laugh at his preening self-conceit. But it was a fact. His beauty had endeared him to many and enabled him to carry out his nefarious activities in enemy France with wit and style and …
Damn, he missed that excitement.
The hackney drew up outside his destination, and he handed the driver a coin. The door was opened before he even had the chance to knock, and Ambrose, the distinguished soon-to-be-ex-manager of the House of Pleasure ushered him inside.
“Mr. Lennox, your sister is waiting for you in the family quarters at the rear of the house.”
“Thank you.” Jack removed his hat and gloves and followed Ambrose down the stairs and through to the large, warm kitchen in the basement. “And how is married life treating you, Ambrose?”
“Very well, sir. Emily and I are about to move into the master’s rooms at the new school.”
“Impressive.” Jack paused to wait for his companion to catch up with him. “Will you miss the pleasure house?”
“It has been my home for many years, but it is hardly the place I would want to keep my wife or raise a family.”
“I gather Madame Helene did just that.”
Ambrose grinned. “On the contrary, she did everything to avoid bringing her children up here. They were all educated in France.”
“Which explains both their excellent French and their volatile dispositions.” Jack pushed open the kitchen door and surveyed the crowd of people milling around. “It seems as if the entire world have come to see Richard and Violet leave.”
“Naturally. Despite the unusual circumstances, the Delornay-Ross families are very close.”
He turned to see his twin sister bearing down on him and accepted her embrace with enthusiasm. She wore a dark blue velvet pelisse and matching bonnet suitable for traveling, and sturdy black kid boots.
“I’m so glad you came.”
“How could I miss it?” He looked carefully at her. “You are happy, love?”
Her blue eyes, the same sapphire shade as his own, filled with tears. “Never happier.”
“Then I am content.” He kissed her nose. “Where is your besotted bridegroom?”
She took his hand. “Richard’s over here.”
He allowed himself to be led over to Richard Ross and shook his hand. The possessive look on his new brother-in-law’s face was enough to reassure him that the attraction between the couple was mutual. Even though the thought of being leg-shackled terrified him, he still wished them well.
The couple were escorted into their traveling carriage by the staff and family from the pleasure house, and set out for their bridal journey to the West Country. Apparently, Richard intended to buy property down there, having no wish to live at his father’s palatial mansion in the countryside until he inherited the title and had no choice.
As he waved them off, Jack’s thoughts turned back to his ancestral home. Would he soon visit as the acknowledged owner of both land and title? Having a home was something he’d dreamed about during his more terrifying moments in France. A dream that had seemed doomed to fail until he and Violet had met up with Richard and Lord Keyes again.
It was Richard who introduced him into the private world of the Sinners Club, and the motley collection of ex-spies and adventurers who made up its members. It was Lord Keyes who had assisted him in establishing his claim to the earldom in gratitude for his help with the double spy, Mr. Brown.
Fate was a fickle being….
After saying farewell to Madame Helene, Jack walked around the corner into yet another of the immaculate tree-lined London squares and found the discreet entrance to the Sinners Club. He came into the lobby and closed the door carefully behind him. A man dressed in the club livery rose from his desk and bowed.
“Mr. Lennox. Mr. Fisher is awaiting you in his study.”
He knew his way to the private offices at the back of the Sinners Club, and had no hesitation in finding Fisher’s rooms. The ground floor presented itself much like any other gentlemen’s club. It was only if you knew the inner workings of the place that you realized the members were not quite like any other. For one, that membership included women, all social classes and all political leanings. The upper floors offered not only the opportunity to be involved in espionage at the highest level, but a freedom to explore one’s sexuality that existed in very few clubs, especially in the heart of London where women were not usually allowed.
There were not many members present on such a rainy day, and Jack encountered no one he knew intimately. The scent of brandy and cigarillo smoke hung in the warm air, making him feel quite at home.
“Jack.” Adam Fisher rose and held out his hand. “I’m glad to see you. Come and sit down. Can I get you a drink?”
He smiled at Adam, whose bland exterior hid an extremely complex and devilishly cunning brain. Not many people in London knew that along with Lord Keyes, Adam Fisher had been the mastermind behind some of the most daring spying activities in revolutionary France.
“A brandy would be welcome. I’ve just come from seeing my sister off on her wedding trip.”
“From the pleasure house?”
“Yes. Richard was looking very pleased with himself.”
“I’m sure he was. With the threat of Mr. Brown removed, he must feel much more secure with his new bride. As must you.”
“I can’t deny I’m glad Mr. Brown has been unmasked and defeated. I was able to go and see the Lennox solicitors this morning, and start the process for claiming the Storr title.”
“And were they helpful?”
“They were.” Jack accepted the glass of brandy with a grateful nod. “After all the information you have given me to prove my claim to the earldom, how could they not be?”
“It’s the least we could do after that debacle with Mr. Brown.” Adam took the seat opposite Jack by the fire. “We need more men like yourself in the House of Lords.”
“Men who understand the dark side of foreign policy, and the underbelly of a great nation?”
“Indeed.” Adam hesitated. “Are you intending to go to Lincolnshire and claim your estate?”
“I intended to wait until I had the title confirmed, why?”
“I was hoping you might consider a journey in the near future.”
Adam looked up. “It’s Keyes.”
“What about him?”
“He’s still missing.”
“Damn.” Jack sipped his brandy. “Do you have any idea where he might be?”
“You know he disappeared a week or so ago?”
“Yes. Violet and I were worried he’d taken our chance to clear our name with him. At one point, we even suspected him of being Mr. Brown.”
“Mr. Brown, or should I say Lord Denley, is dead now. Keyes wasn’t involved with him in the slightest. We suspect foul play from other quarters.”
“From what I’ve heard, Keyes did have a habit of sticking his nose in where it wasn’t wanted. I’m fairly sure there are several people who might want to take revenge on him. Do you have any idea where he’s gone?”
Adam sighed. “That’s the problem. We’ve tried all the usual channels, and no one has seen or heard from him. There’s been no ransom demand, or offer to exchange prisoners from any of our current enemies either.” He hesitated. “Would you mind if I asked the Earl of Westbrook to join us and offer his opinion on the matter?”
“I have no objection. But I can’t say I know the man.”
Adam turned to ring the bell. “You probably don’t, but he has an office here, as does his wife.”
“Didn’t you know? He and the countess founded the Sinners in 1812. Lord Westbrook was alarmed at the number of his colleagues who received no official recognition from the government for the dangerous acts they committed to safeguard their nation’s future. He wanted to offer them and their dependents a safe place, support in legal matters, money when needed, and a place to stay and enjoy their own kind.”
“I thought that was your and Keyes’s doing.”
“No, we are mere inheritors of the day-to-day running of the place.”
Jack rose as an older gentleman came through the door. He was still a handsome devil, his skin darker than normal and eyes the color of excellent whisky.
He sounded more English than he looked. Jack bowed. “My lord.”
The man glanced at Adam and they all sat down again. “You are aware that Lord Keyes is still missing?”
“So Adam has just told me. How can I help you, sir, and, may I ask, what is your interest in this matter?”
“Ah, Mr. Lennox, you are as sharp as I was led to believe. You are an excellent choice for this adventure.”
Jack couldn’t help but notice the earl hadn’t answered his question. “How do you think I can help?”
“Keyes has family in Lincolnshire. He usually avoids them like the plague.”
“Ah, which is why you’re both hoping I’d be going to visit Pinchbeck Hall.”
Adam sat back and stretched his booted feet toward the fire. “I suspect that whatever happened, Keyes won’t thank us for blundering in there and making an official fuss. His disappearance might not be connected to his work for his country at all. I trust your discretion in this matter.”
“My discretion?” Jack fought a grin. “I’m a born hell-raiser, ask my sister.”
“It is of no matter, if you aren’t going to Lincolnshire anyway.” Adam directed his next remark at the earl. “He intend to wait to visit Pinchbeck Hall until his title is confirmed.”