The Kidnapper’s Accomplice – C. J. Archer

For all her whining about not being invited, Willie would have hated Lord Coyle and Hope Glass’s wedding. The vicar’s monotone set the scene for a staid affair that continued at the breakfast reception held at the bride’s London home. Although Lord Coyle’s townhouse was bigger, tradition dictated that Lord and Lady Rycroft host the event and, as Matt stated in a muttered breath as he steered me to a corner away from the beaming mother-of-the-bride, tradition was the glue that kept the upper-classes from falling off the top shelf. “There are very few young people here,” I whispered to Matt as I surveyed the small number of guests in the drawing room. “Where are all of Hope’s friends?” “She probably doesn’t have any.” “Don’t be unkind. Besides, she can be quite charming when she wants to be.” Hope’s charms were on full display at the reception. She smiled prettily, as each guest congratulated her, and clung to her new husband’s arm as if she adored him. It was a rather pointless show. Not a single person in that room would believe she’d married the grotesque Lord Coyle for love. The lifelong bachelor was one of the wealthiest men in the country, and his power and influence were extensive. Matthew’s cousin had made a very good match, albeit a loveless one. Yet I didn’t envy her at all. I rested my hand on Matt’s arm and smiled up at him.

He smiled back. “I hope the food is good. I need something to rub Willie’s nose in.” “Now that is unkind.” “She deserves it after saying I look fat in this suit.” He pressed a hand to his stomach. His very flat stomach. There was hardly an ounce of fat on Matt’s body. “She didn’t say fat, she said you look as though married life is agreeing with you.” “That’s a euphemism for getting fat.

” I rolled my eyes. I never suspected he’d be so sensitive about his looks. “You know Willie is incapable of giving compliments so they’re usually shrouded in sarcastic setdowns. She was really being quite sweet when she said marriage agrees with you.” An elderly lady passed by and smiled at Matt. He gave her a shallow bow. “Don’t let Willie hear you calling her sweet,” he said through his smile. “She’ll shoot something just to prove you wrong.” Aunt Letitia broke away from the clutch of ladies she’d been chatting to and joined us. Her face bore an earnest look, and I steeled myself for what I suspected would be a lecture.

“What are you both doing hiding in the corner?” “Hiding,” Matt said. “You should be mingling. There are people here who haven’t met India and are put out that you didn’t invite them to your wedding.” “Even now?” I asked. “The older we get, the longer our memories are. And our grudges.” She took my hand. “Let me introduce you to Matthew’s second cousins.” “I have second cousins?” Matt asked. His aunt gave him a narrow glare.

“You met them at Patience’s wedding to Lord Cox.” “You can’t call him that anymore,” I reminded her as she tugged me towards Matt’s second cousins. “He lost the barony when the real heir was—er—found.” I glanced at Lord Coyle, conversing with his guests alongside his new wife. He’d been the one to set in motion the events that upturned Patience and Byron’s life by informing the elder half-brother that he was, in fact, the true heir. It was no surprise that the couple hadn’t attended the wedding of the youngest Glass sister to the man who’d orchestrated their downfall. They’d taken Byron’s children on a holiday to Scotland, using the excuse of escaping the London gossip after the news became public, but I suspected it was also to avoid facing Lord Coyle today. They would have to do it at some point, however. “He was Lord Cox when she married him, so that’s how I will refer to him,” Aunt Letitia said. “Come along, India, Matthew.

Duty calls. You must meet every single guest before the breakfast is over.” “Thank goodness they have so few friends,” Matt said. “Many are in the country for Christmas and the winter.” “England is covered in railways, Aunt. They could have come if they wanted to.” “Don’t be impertinent, Matthew. Lord Coyle wanted to keep the wedding to a small number of intimates. That’s why most of the guests are from the Glass side and only a few influential friends of his lordship.” I wasn’t sure if I classed Lady Louisa Hollingbroke or Lord Farnsworth friends.

As members of the magical collector’s club, along with Coyle, they were acquaintances at best. He had not invited other members of the club, only those with a noble title. Not even Sir Charles Whittaker was among the guests, and certainly not the Delanceys, who were extraordinarily wealthy but not titled. “Oh, look,” I said as a procession of footmen entered carrying silver trays. “The food has arrived.” Aunt Letitia pulled me hard alongside her. “No eating until after you’ve met the second cousins.” Matt and I performed our duty and spoke to every Glass family member, most of whom were of Aunt Letitia’s vintage. We even spoke briefly to the middle Glass sister, Charity, and with civility too, even though she didn’t deserve it after claiming Cyclops had behaved abominably toward her when he’d done nothing of the sort. When she asked if Cyclops had mentioned her recently, Matt gave her a tight smile, said, “No,” and steered me away.

I plucked a tasty looking French pastry off the tray carried by a footman and shot a glance towards the bride and groom, seated on the sofa. While Hope smiled as she chatted to the woman beside her, Lord Coyle alternately gazed longingly at the door then at his wife. When Lord Rycroft tried to engage him in conversation, Coyle gave him a curt response that stole the smile from Rycroft’s eyes. He bowed and moved away. The dining room wasn’t large enough to seat everyone, so the guests congregated in the drawing room where some had to stand. Upon a signal given by her mother, Hope rose from the sofa like a delicate butterfly, clad in white silk and lace, and exited the room. With a strained smile, Lady Rycroft urged Charity to assist her sister. Charity scooped up Hope’s long bridal train and flung it over her forearm like a butler carrying a freshly ironed newspaper. She dawdled behind her sister until Hope hissed something at her over her shoulder that made Charity quicken her pace. The two of them exited the drawing room with Lady Rycroft at their heels.

“Oddest wedding I’ve ever been to,” came the laconic voice of Lord Farnsworth behind me. “The groom looks like he’s ready for a nap and the bride doesn’t look like she minds that her new husband’s as old and dull as dirt.” Lord Farnsworth was dashing in a tailcoat and white bowtie, his burnished blond hair parted down the middle. His blue eyes would have been piercing if not for the half-closed lids that hooded them. I wondered if he hid his best features on purpose before dismissing the notion. Why would anyone do that? Particularly one who declared himself on the marriage market. I’d seen Lord Farnsworth quite a number of times since first meeting him, weeks ago, at a collector’s club soiree where I’d been the guest of honor. He turned up at our house at the oddest times, such as the evening he’d left the opera during the interval and the morning when he’d joined us for breakfast after clearly having no sleep and far too much to drink. That had been Willie’s fault. They’d met at a gambling den and she’d invited him back for breakfast after he complained of losing his cook to an opponent in a game of poker.

“Lord Coyle is not dull,” I told him. “He’s highly intelligent and plays a deep game.” Lord Farnsworth pouted. “I play a deep game too, you know. Played one just last night, in fact. I won a diamond and an evening in a round of skillful card playing, if I do say so myself.” I arched a brow. “You won an evening?” Matt cleared his throat in what could only be described as a warning. Lord Farnsworth didn’t heed it. “Off a lovely widow of a bold nature.

Can’t quite recall her name now, but she has long red hair and fine fingers. Don’t s’pose you’d know her, Mrs. Glass. You and she don’t swim in the same lake, as it were.” I pressed my lips together to stop myself smiling; not because of Lord Farnsworth’s chatter but because Matt looked like he wanted to flee. His tolerance for his lordship grew weaker with every meeting. “Speaking of odd couples, here come Louisa and her newspaperman,” Lord Farnsworth said as Oscar and Louisa approached. “What does she see in him, do you think?” “Magic,” Matt said as he extended his hand in greeting to Oscar. “What about it?” Oscar asked. Lord Farnsworth waggled his fingers.

“It’s in the air at weddings, I find. Don’t you, Louisa?” Louisa eyed Lord Coyle on the sofa. A disinterested crossness had settled over his brow after Hope left the room. “Marriage has nothing to do with magic and everything to do with practical matters,” she said, missing Lord Farnsworth’s meaning. “Some marriages have everything to do with magic,” Oscar said with forced cheerfulness that made his fiancée glance sharply at him. “India, you look very elegant today.” “Thank you.” “No Mr. and Mrs. Swinsbury?” Oscar asked, referring to Patience and Byron, the former Lord and Lady Cox.

Matt’s spine stiffened ever so slightly. “Looking for fodder for an article?” “I’m not that much of a blackguard, Glass. I simply wanted to talk to the fellow, one ordinary man to another. I don’t relish in his downfall.” “It’s not a downfall.” Wisely, Oscar kept his mouth shut. Lord Farnsworth did not. “I agree with the newspaperman. Going from a baron to a nobody is definitely a downfall. I say that with the utmost respect, with no offence intended to those of you who aren’t peers.

” I could almost hear Willie’s voice taking him to task over that comment. Fortunately neither Matt nor Oscar were the sort who cared what someone like Lord Farnsworth thought, or cared about being noble. Even Oscar, who was marrying a peeress, would admit that he was marrying Louisa for her money and not her title, which he could not adopt for himself anyway when they married. “I hear they’re enjoying a holiday in Scotland,” Lord Farnsworth went on. “Away from prying eyes,” Matt added without taking his gaze off Oscar. Oscar bristled. “I’m surprised Sir Charles Whittaker isn’t here,” I cut in. “I thought he and Lord Coyle were friends, of sorts.” Louisa shook her head, making her blonde curls bounce girlishly and reminding me how young she was. Her confident nature made it easy to forget.

“It’s only their mutual magical interest that throws them together,” she said. “I don’t think Coyle likes him.” “Coyle doesn’t like anyone,” Matt said. “I thought I saw he and Whittaker walking together in Belgrave Square, once. They certainly seemed friendly on that occasion.” “They must have both been walking through the garden at the same time,” Louisa said. “I can assure you, Lord Coyle wouldn’t think of inviting him to his wedding. He considers himself above Sir Charles.” I squeezed Matt’s arm, warning him not to say more. We didn’t want to let anyone know that we’d overheard Sir Charles telling Lord Coyle that I’d made inquiries about wool magicians.

He could only have received such information from Mrs. Delancey. The wool magician was needed for my experiments with Fabian Charbonneau, my magical mentor and spell collaborator, something which Sir Charles had immediately guessed when Mrs. Delancey informed him. We’d not confronted either gentleman or Mrs. Delancey about it, and were yet to do anything with our knowledge of their collaboration. Matt wanted to feed them false information about my experiments with Fabian, but I wasn’t sure that was a good idea. The most sensible course of action seemed to be inaction. Matt, however, didn’t like doing nothing. A flurry of activity by the door announced the return of Hope, now dressed in a seagreen gown trimmed with jade-green velvet and a leafy design embroidered from collar to hem.

With little curls of hair arranged across her forehead, she looked very pretty indeed. From the way she held her head, with her chin slightly out-thrust, I suspected she knew it. Charity looked cadaverous beside her more glamorous sister. She seemed to have grown paler in recent weeks, and the black gown she wore didn’t help. She entered the drawing room with reluctance, as if dragged by the sheer force of her sister’s wake. Lord Coyle rocked until he had enough momentum to push his considerable self up from the sofa. He took his wife’s hands. “Shall we depart, my dear?” Lady Rycroft bustled forward and kissed her daughter’s cheek. It was a signal for other family members to wish the couple well on their honeymoon. When it came to my turn, I didn’t know what to say.

Wishing Hope good luck seemed to imply she was going to need it, and telling them to enjoy their holiday seemed inappropriate. I couldn’t imagine either of them enjoying time outside the city. Lord Coyle in particular was hardly the sort to partake in an idyll stroll along a seaside promenade far away from his business affairs here in London. I simply congratulated them again and said, “Goodbye.” Hope patted my hand. “Perhaps you and Matt can join us for tea upon our return. We won’t be gone long.” I smiled and gave what I hoped she took as a non-committal nod. “We’re both very busy,” Matt said. He must have realized how rude that sounded, because he added, “Send us dates and times and we shall see.

” “No need for you to attend,” Lord Coyle told him. “Just your wife. She can tell me all about her experiments with Charbonneau.” “She won’t be telling you anything, Coyle.” Matt managed to instill a measure of ice into his otherwise amiable tone. Hope’s smile froze, but Lord Coyle merely grunted acceptance. I suspected he expected the rebuke. Aunt Letitia bustled over and tilted her head for her niece to kiss her cheek. “You must hold a dinner for his lordship’s friends upon your return, Hope. Invite Charity.

She needs to mix with good company.” Charity made a sound of disgust in the back of her throat. Her mother tried to cover it with a laugh that only drew everyone’s attention with its falseness. “It’s no longer Hope now, Letitia. She’s Lady Coyle.” Aunt Letitia sniffed. “She’s my niece. She’ll always be just Hope to me.” Lady Rycroft looked as though she would protest until her husband raised his glass and called for a toast to the happy couple. Lord and Lady Coyle departed as quickly as his lordship’s gait would allow.

I let out a breath, thankful I’d managed to get through the event without a bitter word passing between Hope and me, or a threat from her new husband. I hadn’t been sure what to expect now that he knew about my search for a wool magician. I eyed Oscar, making his excuses to our hosts with Louisa. “No,” Matt said, his voice a deep boom in my ear that vibrated through my body. “No?” I echoed. “Care to elaborate?” “I know what you’re thinking, and I’m expressing my displeasure at you asking Barratt if he can put you in touch with a wool magician.” Sometimes Matt’s ability to read my mind was freakish. “You were expressing more than your displeasure. You were forbidding me.” “I’m offended you think that of me, India.

I wouldn’t dream of forbidding you anything.” I pressed my lips together. His fingers lightly brushed mine. “I wouldn’t dream of forbidding you, because I know that would have the opposite effect. I am simply advising you not to ask him. Barratt already knows too much about the watch flying spell you created with Charbonneau, and while he might be trustworthy, his fiancée isn’t.” “You think he’ll tell her, even if I ask him not to?” “I think she’ll get the information out of him, one way or another.” We seemed to be surrounded by manipulators at every turn. “Very well. I won’t ask him.

” Avoiding Louisa altogether proved impossible, however. As soon as Matt left my side to assist his aunt into our waiting carriage, she moved up alongside me. “I noticed you looking at my fiancé with a curious expression, India,” she said smoothly. “Is there something you wanted to discuss with him?” “I was simply wondering when to expect the happy occasion of your wedding day,” I said, equally as smooth. “Today had me thinking about it, that’s all.” “We haven’t set a date yet.” Louisa’s gaze followed the retreating figure of Oscar as he walked off, a hand clamped to his hat to stop it blowing away in the stiff breeze. He had somewhere to be and had declined the offer of a ride in our carriage and that of his fiancée.

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