Miss Dorset Sinclair pulled the edges of her cloak together. The slide from summer into autumn had brought a bite to the London air. Of course, some of her chill could be contributed to the fact she was here, seated alone in a hackney, directly disobeying her family’s edict: Never leave this house unescorted.
Now, she and her twin sister had of course done that many times but always had each other for company. Dorrie was in this hackney alone, and not in the most savory of places.
Since her sister Somer had fallen in love, Dorrie had been cast adrift. Somer was her twin, and as such they were two peas in a pod. Until suddenly they weren’t. Gus was who Somer turned to when she needed comfort or advice now, not Dorrie.
“And you are petty and churlish to be jealous of that.”
Two nights ago, she had been approached at a ball by Miss Ellen Nightingale, whom she’d become quite close with since Somer’s engagement. Somer and Dorrie had once thought her snooty and rude. Getting to know the woman, Dorrie realized they’d been wrong. That was a façade for a woman who had a quick wit and sharp mind… and needed help.
Ellen had known that Dorrie, Somer, and their brother Warwick ran an investigative service and had asked her to follow Viscount Seddon, Ellen’s father. Upon further questioning, she’d given Dorrie the reason why.
Ellen had been made aware of her family’s financial circumstances by a man demanding money on behalf of her father’s tailor. Many more had soon followed. It seemed Lord Seddon had not been paying his bills.
She had attempted to speak with her mother, but Lady Seddon had refused to discuss the matter, stating it was no concern of hers. Her two elder brothers were away from London, and her younger siblings should not be burdened with what was unfolding.
Ellen knew that her father had absolute control of the finances but hoped that with proof her mother would at least be forced to see what was happening and speak with him or they would soon be destitute. Dorrie had assured her that Sinclair Investigative Services would get it.
So here Dorrie was, after making that rash promise without first discussing it with her siblings, sitting outside what appeared to be a seedy tavern, watching and waiting for Lord Seddon to reappear through the gloom and darkening sky. It was closing in on late afternoon, and she would need to leave soon or her family would be alerted to the fact she was not at the office with Samantha.
She’d told Samantha she was visiting a friend.
“So many lies,” Dorrie sighed. She would trip over one of them if she wasn’t careful.
Thus far she’d followed Lord Seddon to a list of places, all of which she’d noted down in her notebook to relay to Ellen in the morning.
At the moment he was inside a narrow wooden building close to the docks. She’d asked the driver upon each occasion Lord Seddon had frequented a venue if he knew what lay inside. All but one had been a gambling establishment. That one had been a brothel.
Dorrie and her siblings were not what society termed “normal.” Each had a heightened and overactive sense. Hers was scent; thus the air wafting in through the half open window had her pressing her handkerchief to her nose. It reeked of fish, rotten food, and several other unpleasant odors she had no wish to identify.
The area was disreputable, but there was little she could do but wait and watch. Being a woman made things tricky, as she could not simply waltz into the gambling hell Lord Seddon had entered. She must sit and wait, with her notebook at the ready to jot down times and details.
Warwick was away from London at the moment, questioning a butler about the stolen necklace from Lady Lovelace’s jewelry box. Somer was planning her wedding, so Dorrie had decided she’d follow Lord Seddon herself. She would report her findings to Ellen, and if she wanted to go further, tell Warwick and Somer.
Yes, it was likely reckless, but she wasn’t in danger as long as she stayed inside the hackney. She’d paid the driver a huge sum to run her about without question. He’d also proved a font of useful information.
The acrid scent filled her nostrils so quickly, it was almost hard to breathe. The bitter taste that followed had Dorrie looking out the window, but she could see no danger. Usually this reaction was reserved for her family if they were hurt or in trouble. Scooting across the seat, she looked out the other window and saw him. A man clutching his thigh and staggering. Her eyes went left and found another man, pistol raised.
Dorrie threw open the carriage door. “Stop!” She screamed the word into the chilly London air. It gave the man holding the pistol a fright, and he bobbled it.
“Do not shoot this man!” Dorrie demanded.
He turned his pistol on her, so she hiked up her skirts and pulled her own pistol from the band she’d placed it in. Dorrie dropped to a crouch, and the shot went over her head and lodged into the door of the hackney.
“’Ere!” the driver roared.
Dorrie aimed and fired. She heard no corresponding grunt, but she did hear the sound of retreating feet.
“I will pay you double if you stay there!” Dorrie yelled at the driver. She then ran to the man slumped against a building.
He was upright, but only just.
“Let me help you.” She reached for him.
“Are you mad? Leave here at once.” His voice was tight with pain.
“‘Thank you’ would have done,” Dorrie muttered, then eased him off the wall. “Now move your feet to my hackney.”
“Don’t be foolish,” he gritted out. “I can look after myself.”
“He may come back. Come now, hurry.” She slid an arm around his waist and lifted his good arm over her shoulder. “I will take you home.”
He was big and solid and wore a thick coat buttoned to the neck.
“Where are you hurt?”
“Leg,” he grunted. “Not bad; now let me go.”
A shot rang out, and they both dropped to a crouch. The man groaned as, Dorrie was sure, pain shot through his thigh.
“You cannot stay here or you will be found floating in the Thames in the morning!”
“I care little about that. Now leave.”
“You care little about death?” The thought horrified her.
He grunted something and tried to rise. She helped him, his full weight forcing her sideways for a few steps.
“No one wants to die, sir. Now move your feet.”
Dorrie was used to large men. Her family were full of them, so she ignored his attempts to stop her and stepped out from under his arm. She braced her hands on his back and pushed.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Moving you,” she gritted out. The going was slow, and she kept searching for the gunman; so far she had not found him. Once they’d reached the hackney, which was thankfully still there, Dorrie urged the man inside, which wasn’t easy, as he was clearly in pain and not being helpful. He slumped on a seat.
“That was foolish,” he gritted out.
“My siblings often call me that; it is not an insult that bothers me. Now, I will take you to my sister.”
“No. Take me to the Freedom.”
“What is the Freedom?”
“My ship. I have men there who will help me.”
“Very well.” She leaned out the window. “Do you know where the ship the Freedom is, driver?”
“I do, miss.”
“I would be most grateful if you could take us there. I will ensure you are paid handsomely for the inconvenience.”
“He’s a driver. He won’t be inconvenienced if he gets paid,” the large man seated across from her said as she sat.
“And yet manners cost nothing. Let me see your leg.”
She was also used to men who did not like fuss or anyone to help them when they were hurting. She moved to sit next to him as the hackney jerked, then rolled forward. She pulled his fingers from his thigh. They were bloodied.
“What woman of sound mind shoots a pistol at someone after they fired at her?” he ground out. “Then runs to aid the man who he was trying to shoot?” The words were said through his teeth.
“Me,” she muttered, removing the scarf she’d wrapped around her neck before leaving the office what now felt like hours before. “He would have killed you had I not.”
“How do you know I didn’t deserve to die?” He moaned as she tied the scarf tight to try and stanch the bleeding, just as her eldest sister had taught her.
“No one deserves to die. Be incarcerated, yes. Die, no.” She stood then lifted his leg onto the seat. His legs were long enough that they settled on the wall of the carriage. Elevated, just as she wanted.
“Are you one of those do-gooding types?”
He was hurting and likely growing weaker. She could hear it in his voice.
“Be quiet. You need to save your strength. I cannot lift you if you faint.”
“I do not faint,” he said in that slow, concise way people did when they were trying make sense.
Dorrie looked at him then. He wore no hat and had maybe lost it when he was shot. His hair was to his shoulders and a wavy nutmeg brown. Brows dark, nose big like the rest of him. Handsome, she thought as she acknowledged the little flutter in her chest. His coat was black and double-breasted. He was dressed as a seaman but said he owned the ship.
She detected an accent but wasn’t sure of the origin. His speech wasn’t rough; there was a cultured edge to it. His eyes were focused on her.
“You should not have done what you did.”
But she’d had to, Dorrie realized. Had to save him because of the scent in her nostrils and acid taste in her mouth. Both had told her she must. But why?
“Who are you?” Dorrie asked.
“Who are you?”
He was so close now, those eyes dark and fathomless. Their gazes caught and held, and Dorrie felt her stomach clench. Felt herself leaning toward him as he leaned in to her. Their lips were cold, and yet when they touched her entire body seemed to fill with warmth. One large hand held her jaw as he took her mouth in a deep kiss. Only when the hackney rocked to a stop did he ease back. His eyes inches from hers.
“You should not be here. Should never again come to such a place or anywhere alone. The world is too dangerous for someone as beautiful and kind as you.”
“Y-You don’t know me,” she whispered.
“I know that you are not from my world.” His breath brushed her lips.
She couldn’t deny that.
“I must leave now.” He moved away from her, and Dorrie wanted to grab him and keep him close.
“You will fall if you attempt to leave without my help.”
He threw open the door. “Baron!” he bellowed in a surprisingly loud voice.
“Let me out. I will help you.” Dorrie shook her head to clear it, then pushed against his back, but he didn’t budge. The man was as solid as a bloody oak.
Dorrie heard the sound of feet drawing near.
“You are hurt?” She thought that accent may be Jamaican. Dorrie looked out the window. A very large man stood there. Taller than any she’d seen. His face was dark, hair dark, and he had huge hands that reached for the man she’d helped.
“I was shot.”
“Let me help you then,” the man who’d just arrived said.
“One moment.” He turned, and her eyes went to those lips that had kissed her like she’d never been kissed before.
“Thank you for saving my life,” he rasped. “Even if it was a dangerous thing to do.”
“Every life is worth saving,” Dorrie whispered.
“Not mine.” The words were hard and cold. “Goodbye, and don’t leave your house alone again. It was foolhardy.”
He limped with the help of the other man to speak to the driver.
“Take her away from here at once.”
“At once, sir.”
Dorrie heard the clunk of coins, then was thrown back as the hackney moved. She grabbed the window frame and looked out for a final glimpse of the man. His eyes were on her, and then he was gone.