Gabriel had been in London for two weeks and in that time he’d found out that since Mary Tudor became queen England was immediately changed from a Protestant country to Catholicism. Queen Mary restored that authority of the Pope, which Parliament didn’t agree with at all. Anyone who resisted was arrested for treason and executed. John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, father of Guilford, was arrested for treason for his part in Lady Jane and Guilford’s marriage. All three were scheduled to be executed. Lady Jane Grey had only been queen for nine days.
It was a trying time for England. Queen Mary’s plans of marriage to Phillip of Spain added to religious unrest. There was a rebellion brewing.
While all of that was going on, Gabriel and Cole worked day and night, trying to find any clues to the man who attacked Natalya. Since the authorities were no longer eager to solve the mystery of the Huntington disappearance, it was up to them.
Cole began to investigate Natalya’s family. Herald Huntington wasn’t the business investor that many of his colleagues thought he was. In actuality he was a spy for the crown. He was in Russia gathering information on Ivan IV Vasilyevich, who was known as an unstable tyrant. It was at that time he met Mariska and married her. When his assignment in Russia was completed he brought his family home.
That left the list of possible enemies open to anyone he spied on or for. Which was an extremely long list. Cole suggested that they looked into Herald’s family’s background. It seemed to be the shorter list to rule out first.
Gabriel agreed. Eliminate the family as suspects first. Herald was older than his sister Estelle by more than fifteen years. They didn’t share the same mother. And all their parents were deceased at the time of Herald’s death.
They also found out that Estelle and Peter were engaged and married just three short months after her brother was murdered. No one had even heard of Peter Winster before Estelle announced their engagement. Upon further investigation. They discovered that Mr. Winster had never been a part of upper class society. He was suspected of numerous crimes, but there was never enough evidence to arrest him.
And that made alarms go off in Gabriel’s head. What he couldn’t understand is why Estelle would marry a man who was obviously beneath her social status? It was puzzling.
Gabriel paid a visit to Huntington Manor to call on Estelle and Peter. A woman saw him in and he waited at the front door alone for someone to come. After a few moments Estelle appeared in the anteroom. Her brunette hair was pulled back in a modest bun and she wore a dark gray dress, a sign of morning.
She looked at him with a stern expression. Angry, yet, he didn’t know why she would be.
“Mrs. Winster,” Gabriel said, slightly bowing his head.
“Lord Devall. What brings you here?”
So she wasn’t going to invite him in to sit. Which would have been the proper thing to do. It didn’t matter. He only had a few questions for her. “I’m in town on business and I wanted to inquire on the progress of the investigation of Miss Huntington’s disappearance.”
Estelle’s eyebrows relaxed a little. “I haven’t heard anything new.”
“I’m sorry. I was hoping there would be good news.”
“Is there anything else?” Estelle asked.
Gabriel could see that she wanted him gone in a hurry, but why? He paused, clearing his mind. What was off? The blatant rudeness? Her edgy behavior? The fact that the servant left him standing at the front door?
“Is Mr. Winster available to talk business?” Gabriel asked.
Estelle filled her lungs with air and poked out her chest. “And what business would you have with my husband?”
“That would be between your husband and I.”
“Well he isn’t available Lord Devall. I have to cut this visit short. Good day to you.”
Gabriel bowed. “Good day ma’am.” He left the Huntington Manor with one thing for certain; Estelle Winster was hiding something.
When Estelle came down to the front door and saw Lord Devall standing there, her heart sunk. Ever since Natalya disappeared they’ve had many people call upon them, offering their help with anything that was needed. But seeing Lord Devall there was a reminder of what they did all those years ago! He was one of the guests that she’d poisoned!
She handled it badly.
She was short and didn’t have the patience to wait out his interrogation.
Which was the wrong thing to do. Robert had come calling, quite a few times, inquiring about Natalya’s disappearance. And the more questions he asked, the more she began to suspect he knew something! And now Lord Devall?
Peter had began drinking more heavily than before and it was growing harder and harder to cover it up. On top of that, he was having dealings with his old cohorts and staying out all night without informing her as to what his plans were.
Estelle felt as if the entire situation was out of her hands and out of control. She should have never married Peter. He was never anything more than a thorn in her side.
She made her way back upstairs to her bedroom where Peter lay in his drunkenness with a wet rag over his eyes. She couldn’t let Lord Devall see him like this. It was too disgraceful for her! He laid there, the foul smell of vomit and strong spirits was heavy upon him. To say she was disgusted was an understatement. Sighing, she slapped his foot. It was hanging off the edge of the bed.
“Wake up Peter,” she said firmly. “We have another problem.”
Moaning, Peter released a barrage of vile curses. Sluggishly he rolled himself into a sitting position. He tossed the rag to the side. Then gave her an annoying look. “What is it now?”
“Would you like to guess who came to inquire about Natalya’s disappearance?” Estelle asked walking to the side of the bed where Peter sat.
“Don’t play with me woman. I’m not in the mood for it!” His mood had become fouler.
Estelle wondered what happened to the agreement he made not to drink. Before he was trying. Now he just didn’t care! “Lord Devall. He’s suspicious. I could tell by the tone of his voice.”
Angry, Peter cursed some more. “Why does he care what happened to that little wench? He didn’t know her!”
“Keep your voice down,” Estelle reminded him. She walked to the door and closed it. “And maybe he had more vested in this situation seeing how he was there when you killed her parents.”
Peter laughed crudely. “Let’s not forget how you tried to kill her and failed.”
Estelle inhaled slowly, the muscles in her jaw tightened. In a weak moment that night, she gave in to her resentment towards her niece. She gave Natalya double the amount she was supposed to. It was something she regretted. And she couldn’t make it right for the girl because of what she had done to Herald out of jealousy. “That matters not.”
“Oh Estelle it matters a lot. Your hands are just as dirty as mine. Yet you act as if you’re so much better than me.”
“I am better than you,” Estelle snapped angrily. “You’re nothing but a pathetic drunk!”
Peter laughed even louder. “At least I’m not an attempted child murderer!”
“No, you’re just the idiot that raped her and let her get away!”
The grin fell slowly from his face. His eyes darkened and he stood up, carefully making his way to his wife. She took a small step back, not wanting to show any fear, but he knew it was there. He knew that deep down she was afraid of him and that made him feel powerful. His hands rose to the collar of her dress. He caressed the silver buttons that held her breast enclosed. He backed her against the door, letting his fingers wrap around the top button and yanked it down.
Estelle gasped as the front of her dress was torn open. “What madness is this?”
“You jealous that I had your niece? Does it burn you up inside that I parted those young legs and had my way with her?”
“You’re vile and perverse,” Estelle whispered.
Peter kissed her hard. Then threw her to the bed and climbed on top of her. “You want me to take you like I took her? You want me to ravish you Estelle?”
Staring at his angry, lust filled eyes, Estelle thought to give in willingly. At least then it would be over quickly. “Yes,” she lied.
Smiling, Peter kissed her again while his hands lifted her skirts and removed her under garments unceremoniously. She helped him out of his breeches.
It was over in moments.
Lying there, satisfied, Peter looked at her. There was warmth in his eyes now. Just as there always was when he released himself sexually. “I’ll take care of Devall.”
“How? He’s a Lord.”
“I have connections too my love. I’ll make all of this go away.”
Estelle believed him, but she was curious as to how he would pull it off.
When Gabriel got back to the inn, he decided he needed to talk to Robert. The man was Natalya’s fiancé. Perhaps he would have a better insight on her aunt and uncle. Estelle didn’t play the part of grieving aunt very well. It was more like a woman with a dark secret.
Cole looked at Gabriel, waiting for the next order.
“The Winsters are hiding something,” Gabriel told him. “I want you to track Peter. Find out what he’s hiding.”
“Tomorrow I’ pay Mr. Thurman a visit. I think we’re closer to the truth than we know.”
It was a surprise to have Lord Gabriel Devall show up at Robert’s home that morning. He wondered if they had business to tend to. Ever since Natalya disappeared he hadn’t been able to focus on work. He had called in quite a few favors to try to find her and as of yet, came up with nothing. With all the money he had, he still couldn’t find her. Aside from feeling like a failure and a fool, he had to deal with rumors now! That she had run off because she didn’t want marry him! He knew Natalya. She would never leave him.
Robert showed Gabriel to the sitting room. He poured them both a glass of bourbon and sat adjacent to him. Gabriel was at the house for the engagement week. That’s the last time Robert had seen him. Other than business they didn’t have any dealings with each other. So why was he there now?
“I know this visit is unexpected,” Gabriel said taking a drink.
“I have to admit, I don’t recall us having any business. So, I have to wonder why you are here.”
Nodding, Gabriel took another drink. “I wanted to know how the search for Miss Huntington was going.”
The right corner of Robert’s mouth lifted slightly. “It’s stalled,” he said bitterly. “But why do you care?”
Gabriel held his eyes. “I was there when her parents were murdered. She was almost killed that night as well. Don’t you see a connection?”
Honestly, Robert never thought of the connection. Mainly because he suspected Peter had something to do with Natalya’s disappearance. He never thought of the man as a killer. But it wasn’t that farfetched to believe. When Estelle married him, everyone just thought she’d rebounded badly after the death of her brother. Why else would she marry Peter Winster, a suspected criminal?
Gabriel could see the revelation fall over Robert’s face. He knew who had attacked Natalya!
Robert swallowed the rest of his spirits and stood up. He went to the bar and poured himself another drink. What he couldn’t figure out is why Peter decided to get rid of Natalya. It was obvious why Estelle would have him get rid of Harold and his wife. With them dead, Estelle could control the Huntington estate until Natalya became of age. Then they could marry her off and be done with her.
So why get rid of Natalya now?
Looking at Gabriel, Robert wondered what his part in all of this was. A man like Lord Devall didn’t give casual hints or suggestions. He was more decisive than that. He knew something, but wasn’t letting it be known until he had all the pieces himself.
“You believe the same person who killed her parents tried to kill her?” Robert asked.
“Or killed her,” Gabriel said. He didn’t want Natalya’s fiancé to suspect he had her safely kept away. He wanted Robert over run with raw emotion so he would lead Gabriel to her attacker. “I know she’s your fiancée, but you have to consider that she might be gone. And that her parents’ killer might be the culprit.”
Robert felt his hands began to tremble. He brought his glass to his lips and swallowed its contents in one breath. “If… she is dead there will be nothing to keep me from killing him.”
He really loves her, Gabriel thought. If I were a better man I would tell him the truth. He finished his drink and rose to his feet. “I’ve seen what this man did to her parents. I’m just trying to prepare you.”
Nodding, Robert walked Gabriel to the door. Before letting him leave, Robert grabbed him by the upper arm. “Thank you for opening my eyes.”
Gabriel looked down at the hand constricting his arm. Robert released him. Gabriel met Robert’s gaze. “Don’t take him out alone. When you decide to do it, I want to help.”
Robert nodded. He would keep that in mind.
“What did you find out?” Gabriel asked.
Cole sat down across the table from Gabriel. He leaned in close so no one at the inn could hear them. “Mr. Winster is dealing with some very dangerous men.”
“They are very low key, but major under lords in the criminal world. They run London’s crime scene. They seem to be well connected.”
Gabriel frowned. “He doesn’t come across as a man high up in the criminal ranks.”
“He isn’t. He is an underling for certain. But when you want someone gone you go to him.”
A waitress came up to the table asking if they wanted a drink. They ordered a mug of ale. Then resumed their conversation.
“Peter Winster is an assassin?” Gabriel asked. “It hardly seems likely.”
Cole nodded his agreement. “That’s largely because he spends his days and nights in a bottle of spirits. That said, he has managed to collect a lot of favors.”
The waitress returned with their ale, winking at Cole as she sauntered off.
Gabriel noticed the exchange. “You’re bedding the waitress?”
Cole shrugged. “A man has needs.”
True. Gabriel thought about the fiery temptress waiting for him at his castle. She wanted to punish the man who hurt Linda. How would she feel when she found out it was her family that had done the awful deed?
“I should think,” Gabriel began. “That Estelle knows about Peter’s underworld dealings.”
Cole took a drink of his ale. “I would have to say she must. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking.”
Nodding, Gabriel sighed. “She paid him to kill her brother’s family to get control of the Huntington estate.”
“It would appear that we have our attacker. Now I just need to decide on what to do with him.”
“You don’t want to take him out?” Cole asked.
“Of course I do. I’m just planning how. Humiliation before death? I haven’t decided yet.”
“To avoid legal complications, perhaps proof should come first.”
“And that will have to be carefully done. Find out anything you can about Peter’s cohorts. What they might be up to. I want a clear understanding of what I have to do.”