Destined to Last(9)

By: Alissa Johnson

William raised a brow. “And have them keep her locked away at Haldon?”

“Does seem the safest course of action.” Not necessarily the course he would choose, but certainly the safest.

“In this case, the safest course of action is not the wisest course.” William twisted his lips. “If Lady Kate fails to attend the house party so, likely, will her admirer.”

“What sort of smuggler ignores his operation in favor of chasing after a woman?” Hunter scoffed.

“The sort that fancies himself in love.”

“Idiot.” Hunter sat back once more, a sneer firmly set on his face. “We’ll have him in under a fortnight.”

“Not necessarily,” William countered, scratching at his nose. “He’s either the venturer or the sole investor or both, but he’s hardly the type to dirty his hands unloading cargo on the beach. I highly doubt he would make the trip to the coast at all if there was nothing else there for him. He’d arrange for the goods to be brought to him.”

Hunter’s lips pressed into an annoyed line. “We won’t catch him in the act, then.”

“It is unlikely, but with any luck, he’ll use his father’s house to store the goods, or meet with his cohorts…that sort of thing.”

“Lord Brentworth is a suspect as well?”

William shook his head. “I know Brentworth well. The man’s not got a thing to do with it.” He tapped a knee with his finger. “His leg has been giving him trouble since he took a fall from his horse last year. By his own admission, he hasn’t been in the basement of Pallton House in over a year.”

Hunter found it difficult to imagine anyone would be bold enough to store smuggled goods right under his father’s nose, but then, one never knew with the nobility. They had a tremendous capacity for conceit. “What sort of goods are we in search of?”

William didn’t trouble himself over the transport of everyday items. He was, he often remarked, head of the War Department, not an excise man. Hunter had noticed William was more likely to point this out when near a fine bottle of French brandy.

“There will be the usual sort of smuggled items brought over, no doubt, but it’s a bit of paperwork we’re after,” William responded. “I can’t provide you with further detail.”

Hunter gave him a humorless smile. “Afraid I’ll slip back into old habits?”

“If I were worried over you slipping back into old habits, I’d not have you slipping in and out of locked doors, would I? You were a thief longer than you were a smuggler.”

He’d been better at it too. “You’ve no proof of that.”

“Don’t need it, do I?” William asked with a smile before waving his hand dismissively. “I can’t provide you with further details because I haven’t any. As I said, the information I’ve acquired is vague. It’s possible we’ll not find anything beyond a bit of brandy.” William shrugged. “Acquiring paperwork isn’t your objective at any rate. I’ve decided to task another agent with that matter. There’s a London connection for him to explore, and he’ll take primary control of the investigation at Pallton House after that.”

“While I play nursemaid.” In truth, Hunter had no intention of limiting his role to nursemaid, but he saw no reason to advertise as much to William with an easy capitulation.

William raised his eyebrows. “Would you prefer the alternative?”

The alternative, unfortunately, was to stand trial for his own ill-fated foray into smuggling almost seven years ago. Apparently, that time round, William’s source hadn’t been at all vague on what sort of paperwork was to be found among the harmless crates and barrels. “I prefer my neck the length it is, thank you.”

William gave him a disgustingly patronizing smile. “Cheer up, Hunter. Another six months and your obligations will be met. Out before you’re thirty, eh? And perhaps the prince will see fit to grant you something extra for your service. Wouldn’t you like to be a baron?”

A corner of his mouth hooked up. “Prinny can keep his titles.”

“I rather thought you aspired to be a member of the elite.”

“I aspire to wealth,” he corrected, “and what it can acquire.”

“It can’t acquire happiness,” William pointed out.

“True, but insufficient amounts of it will certainly afford a man a great deal of misery.” Cold, hunger, and loneliness came to mind.

William brushed his hands along his thighs and rose from his seat. “Well, then, if having coin and what it can acquire is what you seek. I would venture to say you are a success.”

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