Emilia jumped at the sudden sound of breaking glass, piercing her finger with the needle. Yelping, she sucked her finger and inspected the damage. There was a bit of blood, but she hadn’t ripped the skin. Why did needles have to be so sharp, anyway? She could hear someone shouting close by, but it was muffled. Then Emilia heard a cry and a loud bang. What on earth was going on? Putting her sewing aside, Emilia rose to her feet and hurried to the door. The downstairs maid was crossing the foyer from the drawing room. She slowed when she saw Emilia and bobbed a quick curtsy. “Miss Hill.” “Jenny. What’s going on? Has someone dropped something?” Jenny hesitated and bit her lip. “Sort of, Miss Hill. It… it’s Mr. Christian.” Emilia groaned.
Of course, it had to be her Uncle Christian. He must be drinking again; it was always the time when things got incredibly noisy in the house. The man liked to throw things around. Her father had told Emilia just to ignore him and carry on, but Emilia argued that Christian’s drinking was getting out of hand. It was a miracle they had anything of value left since Christian came back into their lives. “Where is he now?” “In your father’s study.” “What?” Emilia stared at the other woman. “He knows he’s not supposed to be in there. Father’s not home.” “Roberts tried to tell him, but he got a fist waved in his face.
” Jenny shrugged. “We don’t argue with Mr. Christian when he’s been drinking.” Which meant everyone kept out of his way and Christian was allowed to run rampant. Emilia sighed and waved Jenny away. “I’ll deal with him. Just make Roberts aware that I might need a couple of footmen to drag him to his room.” Jenny’s eyes widened. “You’re going to tackle Mr. Christian?” “Someone’s got to.
” Emilia said as she strode down the hallway. It had been six months since her uncle had turned up on their doorstep asking for a place to stay, and Jonathan Hill, being the kind-hearted man that he was, had allowed his youngest brother to move in. Which meant bringing in his money problems and drinking habits as well. Emilia hadn’t seen her uncle in three years since he moved to Ireland after claiming he was going to start up a business. That hadn’t happened, and now he was being a waster in their home. Her father had argued with her that Christian needed guidance, that he was young. Emilia had pointed out that she was only five years Christian’s junior and she could keep herself in control. She guessed it had to do with the fact Christian was born late in his parents’ marriage, a good fifteen years after the last child. He was given far too much leeway, and it resulted in everyone seeming to enable his behaviour. And Christian knew it.
He played on it. The only one who didn’t let him get away with it was Emilia. She was not going to stand for her family to be disrupted by a wastrel who gave nothing to the family. Christian didn’t like it and they were consistently butting heads. Her father despaired at the two of them, but Emilia knew that he wouldn’t stand up to his little brother. It was like dealing with a little boy instead of a thirty-year-old man. Her father’s study was at the back of the house, overlooking the gardens. They had inherited the house from her grandfather, the Earl of March’s, estate. Her father, Jonathan Hill was a gentleman and he was treated as such. As the second-eldest son of an Earl, he was not particularly in the line to inherit the title, but her father never seemed to be too bothered.
He was content as he was. Emilia wished she could be laidback and calm like her father, but her fiery persona got in the way. She wasn’t one to sit back and let things happen, especially not when she saw an injustice. She headed into the study without knocking. Christian was sitting on the couch by the empty fireplace, a glass full to the brim with an orange-coloured liquid. He had taken his jacket off and it was on the floor near the door, his cravat tossed almost into the hearth with the buttons on his shirt undone. His shoes were strewn around the room, one under the couch and the other near her father’s desk. He was staring into the hearth, and Emilia could see the glass littering the floor. How many glasses had he broken? “Uncle Christian?” Christian looked up, his glazed eyes meeting hers. “Emilia.
I didn’t realize you were home. You’re normally on one of your walks.” “I had some sewing to do.” Emilia strode across the room. “What’s going on? I can hear you throwing things from the other side of the house. And why are you in Father’s study? You know he doesn’t like it when you’re in here.” Christian grunted and raised the glass to his lips. “He won’t have to worry about that now.” “What are you talking about?” Christian downed his drink in one go, lowering the glass and running a hand through his hair. When he looked up again, Emilia saw how red his eyes were, and that he had been crying.
Now she was nervous. Christian never cried. He was an angry man. Tears weren’t part of his emotional makeup. He also looked like he had aged ten years in less than a day. “Your father…he’s dead.” She stared at him in stunned silence. Emilia didn’t think she had heard him correctly. “What…he’s dead? How is that possible? You must be mistaken.” “I’m afraid it is possible.
I received word this morning.” Christian hung his head. “He was found in an alleyway a short while before dawn.” Her father was dead? The words floated around her, but they were refusing to sink in. Emilia tried to grasp at them, but they kept moving out of reach. She counted to five, staring at her uncle willing him say something that made sense. But he said nothing and so the words just hung heavy in the air. With a crinkly to her brow, Emilia said, “I never heard anyone come in this morning.” “They didn’t want to announce themselves. Roberts got me and I met with the constable.
He…” Christian rubbed a hand over his face. “Your father, he…he had several head injuries. His skull…let’s put it this way, his head was bashed in.” Emilia’s ears were starting to ring. She felt the room sway around her. And then it tilted. She staggered, grabbing onto a chair to stop herself from falling. Christian shot off his seat and hurried to her, catching her as Emilia collapsed. “Whoa, Emilia, steady there.” He eased her into the chair and knelt before her.
“I didn’t know how else to tell you.” “Not like that!” Emilia could feel her chest tightening. She was going to start hyperventilating in a moment. She swallowed hard and counted to ten. And then again. And once more. Her father was dead. It couldn’t be possible, could it? He often went out early in the morning, and Emilia was sure she heard him come home the night before. This had to be a mean trick. “Are they sure it’s him?” “They are.
He was wearing the family ring.” The ring he never took off. Emilia felt her throat closing up and swallowed hard. It didn’t help. “Was…was it a mugging?” “The constable believes it was, but…” Christian hesitated. “I think it was murder.” “What?” Emilia stared at him. “Murder? Who would want to murder Father? He was a good man.” Christian gave a lopsided shrug and rose to his feet. Glass crunched under his feet as he went to the fireplace and put the empty glass on the mantelpiece.
“You know what people will do when they’re giving out punishment. It can often go too far and then they panic.” “What are you talking about?” For a while, Emilia thought her uncle hadn’t heard her. Christian stood staring into the empty hearth. She sat up, the room tilting as she tried to rise to her feet. Emilia sat back down heavily. “Uncle Christian, talk to me. What are you talking about?” “I know who killed my brother. He’s said as much to my face before. And with his temper…” Christian turned, his reddened eyes locking with hers.
“I never thought he would carry it out, though. I thought it was just talk to frighten us.” “You’re not making any sense.” “It was Thomas Andrews.” Christian blinked a few times and then looked away, rubbing his eyes hard. “He’s the one who runs Drake’s.” Emilia knew about Drake’s. It was a gambling hall in Cambridge, a very popular place where many members of Society would go when they were at their country estates. Her father and Christian went to it on a regular basis, Christian more so. Emilia knew that both brothers were not very good, and they did get into debt, but her father always settled his quickly.
He never let it get pushed to one side. “Why would the owner of a gambling place murder Father? What would he gain from that?” “Non-payment of debts.” “But Father always paid his debts.” Christian grunted. “He doesn’t always tell you everything, Emilia. Jonathan was in more debt than you realize. And he refused to accept it until Andrews addressed it. Andrews threatened to do some damage to him if he didn’t pay it last night. Now look what’s happened.” Thomas Andrews.
Her father’s murderer. Even as that sank in, Emilia could feel a part of her fighting that logic. “A gambling owner wouldn’t murder someone who owes them money.” “You don’t know Thomas Andrews.” Christian said darkly. “He’s a very vindictive, hottempered man. He’ll do anything to get his own way, and he’s always close to snapping.” “But to murder a man because of an unpaid debt…” “Maybe it went too far, and Andrews panicked. That alley is often used for some of his clientele to sneak in and out.” Christian shook his head and ran his hands through his hair, making it stand up on end.
“I warned Jonathan that we shouldn’t be going there as he scared everyone into submission, but Jonathan said he could handle it. He always thought he could handle it.” He began to shake, and then he started towards the door. “Excuse me, Emilia, but I… I need to be alone.” Emilia stared after him as her uncle left, the door slamming behind him hard enough to make the vase on a nearby table topple off and smash to pieces on the floor. “Come on, Father!” the girl on the back of the yellow gelding called as they waited at the top of the hill. “I swear you and Midnight are getting slower every day!” Thomas rolled his eyes as he guided his stallion up the incline. Anna was far too lively at this time of the morning. He would prefer to be still in bed trying to catch up on the sleep he wanted. But Anna was an early-morning person and she always wanted to go riding, and with no chaperone Thomas had to go with her.
He didn’t bother to hide a yawn as Midnight reached the top of the hill. “Anna, we’ve been riding for over an hour now. Shouldn’t we be heading back now?” His daughter laughed. God, looking at her was a lot like looking at her mother. Her blonde hair was wildly whipping about in the wind, refusing to stay in the simple braid Anna had managed to do herself a short while ago. But her hair seemed to match her perfectly. She had such a lively spirit that made Thomas envious. He was getting too old to be so spritely, especially so early in the morning. It had to be the reason his dark hair was already going grey at the temples. Anna teased him about that, calling him an old man and pointing out the lines around his eyes.
Thomas had simply argued that he wasn’t getting old, but he certainly would if Anna kept making him get up at the crack of dawn. He was not a morning person anymore. Dark eyes that matched Thomas’ met his with sparkle and amusement. “Stop complaining. It’s only riding!” “Not everyone has your spirit.” Thomas yawned again. He needed his bed. “And certainly not at this time of the morning. Your father was up until two in the morning making sure everyone went home and nobody stole any money.”