Ballyranna, County Kilkenny, Ireland
looking for Paddy O'Loughlin."
Fronting the bar counter in the Pipe & Drum, Lady Priscilla Dalloway
met the tavern keeper's arrested gaze, and wished she'd thought to disguise
her diction. But then she watched recognition flare in Miller's eyes,
and realized there would have been no point. She'd worn an old habit and
a wide brimmed hat, but there was nothing she could do to disguise her
face; a veil wouldn't help gain Paddy O'Loughlin's confidence.
Miller, a beefy man with a round, bald head, continued to study her as
if she might pose some exotic threat. Inwardly sighing, she leaned confidingly
on the counter. "He's not in any trouble-I just want to talk to him."
She'd softened her already soft brogue, but Miller didn't budge or blink;
she infused a touch more persuasiveness into her tone. "It's just
that my brother's now filling the position from which Paddy recently retired,
and I wanted to know what Paddy could tell me about the work and the place."
That was all she was willing to reveal. She wanted reassurance as to Rus's
well-being, but she wasn't prepared to air the Dalloway's dirty linen
before Miller, no doubt as big a gossip as his peers.
Miller frowned, and glanced around.
It was two o'clock; there were three workmen further along the bar, and
a few scattered at tables, all glancing surreptitiously at the Quality
miss who'd walked into their den. The bar room windows were small, their
glass thick and wavy, admitting little light; the room was a medley of
browns and greens, dingy and drab, with only the gleam of glasses and
bottles on the wall behind the counter to fix the eye.
Miller eyed his other customers, then set aside the glass he'd been drying,
stepped closer and lowered his voice. "You're saying young Lord Russell's
up and taken Paddy's old job?"
Pris managed not to hiss through her teeth. "Yes. I thought perhaps
Paddy could tell me about Lord Cromarty's stables." She shrugged
as if it were perfectly normal for an earl's son to become an assistant
stableman, and equally mundane for his sister to ride for two hours across
country to inquire of the previous incumbent as to the conditions of his
erstwhile employment. "I'm just curious."
And concerned over why a man like Paddy O'Loughlin would leave what should
have been an excellent position. He was a local legend when it came to
horses and horseflesh; he'd helped train a number of exceptional racehorses
over the years. She hadn't met him, but had known he lived outside this
village, known therefore where best to inquire for him.
Miller studied her, then angled his head at a large man in workman's garb
nursing a pint at a table in the dimmest corner. "You'd best ask
Seamus O'Malley. He and Paddy were best mates."
Pris's brows flew up at Miller's use of the past tense.
He nodded portentously. "Anyone can help you, it's Seamus."
He stepped back, adding, "And if it were my brother in Paddy's old
shoes, I'd ask."
Concern tranformed to outright anxiety. Pris straightened. "Thank
Turning, she regarded Seamus O'Malley. She knew nothing of him. Quitting
the bar, she walked across the room.
O'Malley sat hunched over a table, nursing a pint pot between work-roughened
hands. Pausing beside him, she waited until his gaze rose to meet hers.
He blinked owlishly at her, clearly recognizing her but at a loss as to
why she was standing there.
Quietly she stated, "I'm looking for Paddy O'Loughlin - Miller suggested
I speak with you."
"He did?" Seamus shifted to peer at the bar.
Pris didn't turn to see. When, presumably reassured by Miller's nod, Seamus
looked back at her uncertainly, she pulled out the second chair at the
table and sat. "Miller said you knew Paddy well."
Seamus eyed her warily. "Aye."
"So - where is he?"
He blinked, then went back to staring into his almost full pot. "Don't
know." Before Pris could prod, he went on, "None of us do. He
was here one night, a sennight gone it was, and he ambled off home come
closing time, like he always did. But he never reached home." Seamus
glanced at her, briefly met her eyes. "The path to his cottage runs
through the bogs."
Pris tamped down a sharp surge of panic, tried to think of some other
interpretation, and couldn't. "You're saying he was murdered?"
Returning his gaze to his glass, Seamus shrugged. "Don't know, do
we? But Paddy'd walked that path ten thousand times, man and boy, and
he weren't even drunk - barely tipsy. Hard to swallow that he'd lose his
way and die like that, but no one's seen hide nor hair of him since."
Cold dread welled in Pris's stomach. "My brother, Lord Russell, has
taken Paddy's old job." She heard her voice, steady but distant,
was aware of Seamus's instant concern. "I wanted to ask Paddy about
Cromarty's stables. Did he say anything about the place - about the people,
The expression on Seamus's face was a disturbing mix of worry and sympathy.
He sipped, then in a low voice offered, "He'd worked there for three
years. Liked the place well enough at first, said the horses were fine,
he said there was something going on that he didn't
hold with. That's why he left."
"Something going on?" Pris leaned forward. "Did he say
anything more? Give any hint as to what the something was?"
Seamus grimaced. "All he said was that that devil Harkness - he who's
head stableman at Cromarty's - was in it up to his ears, and that it,
whatever it was, involved some register."
She frowned. "Register?"
"Paddy never said what register nor how it mattered." Seamus
contemplated his beer, then looked at Pris. "I've heard tell your
brother's a great one with the horses, but I ain't never heard him spoken
of as one who'd tip a man the wink, nor be likely to nobble a horse, nor
be involved in any other shady dealing. Lord knows Paddy weren't no saint,
but if there were something going on at Cromarty's stables he couldn't
stomach, then seems likely your brother might have difficulties with it,
Pris stared at him. "And now Paddy's gone."
"Aye. I'm thinking it might be wise to let your brother know."
Seamus hesitated, then more gently asked, "He's your twin, ain't
Pris nodded. "Yes." She had to work to strengthen her voice.
"And thank you. I'll tell him about Paddy."
She started to rise, then paused and fished in her pocket. Standing, she
slipped a silver sixpence onto the table. "Have another pint - for
Seamus looked at the sixpence, then grunted softly. "Thank ye. And
you tell that brother o'yours to watch himself."
Pris turned and strode out of the tavern.
* * *
Two hours later, she swept into the back parlor of Dalloway Hall.
Her paternal aunt Eugenia, a widow who had come to live with the family
on Pris's mother's death seven years before, sat on the chaise calmly
tatting. Curled on the windowseat, Adelaide, Eugenia's orphaned goddaughter,
now her ward, had been idly perusing a novel.
A pretty girl with glossy brown hair, two years younger than Pris's twenty-four,
Adelaide looked up, and set aside her book. "Did you learn anything?"
Grimly stripping off her gloves, Pris headed for the ladies' desk by the
windows. "I have to write to Rus immediately."
Eugenia lowered her needles. "From which I take it you discovered
something disturbing. What?"
Pris dropped her gloves on the desk, swung the heavy skirts of her habit
around and sat in the chair angled before the desk. Both Eugenia and Adelaide
knew where she'd gone, and why. "I'd expected to hear that Paddy
had had a fight with the head stableman, or something of the sort. I'd
hoped his reason for leaving Cromarty's would be simple and innocuous.
Unfortunately, it's not."
Across the faded splendor of the Aubusson rug, Pris met Eugenia's wise
eyes. "Paddy spoke of something going on at Cromarty's that he couldn't
stomach - that's why he left. And now he's disappeared - his friends think
he's been done away with."
Eugenia's brown eyes widened. "Great heavens!"
"Oh, dear!" Hand rising to her throat, Adelaide stared.
Turning to the desk, Pris opened the drawer. "I'm going to write
to Rus and tell him he has to leave Cromarty's employ at once. If there's
something bad happening with the horses - well, you know Rus. He'll get
involved trying to put it right. But I don't want him in any danger, not
if it's the sort where people disappear, never to be heard of again. If
he can't bear to come home and deal with Papa, then he'll have to look
for work training horses for someone else."
To her horror, her voice threatened to quaver; she paused to draw a steadying
Rus had always been horse-mad. His one burning ambition was to train an
Irish Derby champion. While she didn't share his enthusiasm, Pris fully
understood the fervor of his dreams. Unfortunately, their father, Denham
Dalloway, Earl of Kentland, had rigid views on what constituted an appropriate
occupation for his son and heir, namely the care and management of the
family estates. Breeding and training horses was all very well for others,
the implication being others of lesser degree, but was an unacceptable
occupation for the next Earl of Kentland.
Of the earl's three sons, Rus was the least likely to be satisfied with
the role of county landowner as his sole focus in life. Like Pris, he
took after their mother, more Celt than English, wild and dramatic and
mercurially alive. Both twins could see the benefit in the estate being
well-managed, but estate management lacked allure. Luckily, their nearest
brother, Albert, now twenty-one, took after their father - solid, dependable,
stoic; Albert delighted in and would unquestionably excel at all aspects
of estate management.
Pris, Rus and Albert had always been close, as indeed all the Dalloway
children were, but the other three, Margaret, Rupert and Aileen, were
much younger - twelve, ten and seven years old respectively - more to
be protected than viewed as co-conspirators. Even before their mother
had died, the three eldest siblings had made a pact: Rus would do as their
father wished and look after the estate until Albert returned from university
in Dublin, then they would put their plan to their sire, that Albert should
manage the estate in Rus's name while Rus devoted himself to establishing
and running a racing stud.
It was a prescription for the future the three of them could happily follow
and make work.
Two months ago, Albert had returned from Dublin, his studies at an end.
Once he'd reacquainted himself with the estate, the three had duly put
their plan to the earl - who had rejected it out of hand.
Rus would continue to manage the estate. If he had a mind to it, Albert
could assist him. Regardless, however, no Dalloway would ever stoop to
indulging in horse breeding on a commercial scale.
So declared the earl.
Rus had exploded. Pris and Albert quite saw his point; he'd curbed his
driving desire and done everything their father had asked of him for seven
years, and now felt he was owed a chance to live the life he yearned to
The earl had curled his lip and refused point blank to even consider their
Words had been exchanged, things said, wounds dealt on both sides. Pushed
beyond bearing, Rus had stormed out of Dalloway Hall in a wild fury. He'd
taken nothing more than what he could cram in his saddlebags, and ridden
Seven days later, just over three weeks ago, Pris had received a letter
to say he'd found work at Lord Cromarty's stables, one of the major racing
establishments in neighboring County Wexford.
The schism between her father and brother was now deeper than it had ever
been. Pris was determined to repair the rupture in her family, but the
wounds would take time to heal. She accepted that. But with Rus gone,
out of her world, for the first time in her life she felt truly alone,
truly bereft as if some part of her had been excised, cut away. The feeling
was much more intense than when her mother had died; then she'd had Rus
She'd gone looking for Paddy seeking reassurance, something to soothe
her growing uneasiness over Rus's safety. Instead, she'd learned Rus was
in a situation where his life might come under threat.
Pulling a sheet of paper from the drawer, she laid it on the blotter.
"If I write a note immediately, Patrick can ride over and deliver
it this evening."
"Actually, my dear, before you write I daresay you should read this."
Pris turned to see Eugenia extracting a letter from beneath the endless
fall of her tatting.
Eugenia held out the missive. "From Rus. It was delivered with the
post after lunch. When he couldn't find you, Bradley gave it to me rather
than leave it on the salver in the hall."
Where their father might see it. Bradley was their butler; like most of
the household, his sympathies lay with Rus.
Rising, Pris took the letter. Returning to the desk, she broke her brother's
seal, then, sinking onto the chair, unfolded the sheets, smoothed them,
The only sounds in the room were the repetitive clack of Eugenia's needles,
counterpointed by the tick of the mantelpiece clock.
"Oh, no! What is it? What's happened?"
Adelaide's agitated questions snapped Pris back to the present. Glancing
at Adelaide, then at Eugenia, taking in their worried expressions, she
realized her own must reflect her mounting horror.
"Rus has gone to England - to Newmarket - with the Cromarty racing
string." She licked her suddenly dry lips and looked again at the
pages in her hand. "He says
." She paused to steady her
voice. "He says he's thinks Harkness, the head stableman, is planning
to run some racket that somehow revolves about horse breeding while in
Newmarket. He overheard Harkness explaining to the head lad - Rus says
he's a villainous sort - about how the illicit undertaking worked, and
that it involves some register. He, Rus, didn't hear enough to understand
the scheme, but he thinks the register Harkness was referring to is the
register of all horses entitled by their breeding to race on English tracks."
She flipped over a page, scanned, then reported, "Rus says he knows
nothing of the details in the register, but if he's ever going to become
a breeder of racehorses, he should obviously learn more about it regardless,
and he'll be able to follow it up as that register is kept at the Jockey
Club in Newmarket."
She turned the last page, then made a disgusted sound. "The rest
is full of platitudes assuring me he'll be safe, that it'll all be prefectly
fine, that even if there is anything wrong, all he has to do is tell Lord
Cromarty and it'll all be right as rain, don't worry
.and then he
signs himself 'your loving brother off on an adventure'!"
Tossing the letter on the desk, she faced Eugenia and Adelaide. "I'll
have to go to Newmarket."
Adelaide's chin firmed. "We'll go to Newmarket - you can't go alone."
Pris sent her a fleeting smile, then looked at Eugenia.
Her aunt studied her, then nodded, and calmly folded her tatting. "Indeed,
dear. I see no alternative. Much as I love Rus, we cannot leave him to
deal with whatever this is alone, and if there is some illicit scheme
being hatched, you cannot, to my mind, risk even a letter to warn him,
in case it falls into the wrong hands. You will need to speak with him.
Folding her hands on the pile of tatting in her lap, Eugenia looked inquiringly
at Pris. "What tale are we going to tell your father to explain our
sudden need for a sojourn in England?"
had hoped we'd have longer in reasonable privacy." Letting the door
of the Twig & Bough coffee shop in Newmarket High Street swing shut
behind him, Dillon Caxton stepped down to the pavement beside Barnaby
Adair. "Unfortunately, the sunshine has brought the ladies and their
daughters out in force."
Scanning the conveyances thronging the High Street, Dillon was forced
to smile and acknowledge two matrons, each with beaming daughters. Tapping
Barnaby's arm, he started strolling. "If we stand still, we'll invite
Chuckling, Barnaby fell in beside him. "You sound even more disenchanted
with the sweet young things than Gerrard was."
"Living in London, you're doubtless accustomed to far worse, but
spare a thought for us who value our buccolic existence. To us, even the
Little Season is an unwanted reminder of that which we fervently wish
"At least with this latest mystery you have something to distract
you. An excellent excuse to be elsewhere, doing other things."
Seeing a matron instructing her coachman to draw her landau to the kerb
ten paces further on, Dillon swore beneath his breath. "Unfortunately,
as our mystery must remain a strict secret, I fear Lady Kershaw is going
to draw first blood."
Her ladyship, a local high stickler, beckoned imperiously. There was no
help for it; Dillon strolled on to her now stationary carriage. He exchanged
greetings with her ladyship and her daughter, Margot, then introduced
Barnaby. They stood chatting for five minutes. From the corner of his
eye, Dillon noted how many arrested glances they drew, how many other
matrons were now jockeying for position further along the kerb.
Glancing at Barnaby, doing his best to live up to Miss Kershaw's expectations,
Dillon inwardly grimaced. He could imagine the picture they made, he with
his dark, dramatic looks most commonly described as Byronic, with Barnaby,
a golden Adonis with curly hair and bright blue eyes, by his side, the
perfect foil. They were both tall, well-set-up, and elegantly and fashionably
turned out. In the restricted society of Newmarket, it was no wonder the
ladies were lining up to accost them. Unfortunately, their destination
- the Jockey Club - lay some hundred yards distant; they had to run the
They proceeded to do so with the glib assurance that came from untold
hours spent in ton ballrooms. Despite his preference for the buccolic,
courtesy of his cousin Flick - Felicity Cynster - over the last decade
Dillon had spent his fair share of time in the whirl of the ton, in London
and elsewhere, as Flick put it, keeping in practise.
In practise for what was a question to which he was no longer sure he
knew the answer. Before his fall from grace and the scandal that had shaken
his life, he'd always assumed he would marry, have a family, and all the
rest. Yet while spending the last decade putting his life to rights, repaying
his debts of social and moral obligation, and re-establishing himself,
his honor, in the eyes of all those who mattered to him, he'd grown accustomed
to his solitary existence, to the life of an unencumbered gentleman.
Smiling at Lady Kennedy, the third matron to detain them, he extricated
himself and Barnaby and strolled on, casting his eye along the line of
waiting carriages and their fair burdens. Not one stirred the remotest
interest in him. Not one sweet face even moved him to curiosity.
Unfortunately, becoming known as a gentleman with a hardened heart, one
unsusceptible to feminine enticements, had piled additional fuel on the
bonfire of the ladies' aspirations. Too many now viewed him as a challenge,
a recalcitrant male they were determined to bring to heel. As for their
mothers, with every year that passed he was forced to exercise greater
care, to keep his eyes ever open for social snares, those traps certain
matrons set for the unwary.
Even those select ladies with whom he occasionally dallied discreetly
in the capital weren't above hatching schemes. His last inamorata had
tried to convince him of the manifold benefits that would accrue to him
should he marry her niece. Said benefits had, of course, included her
He was beyond being outraged, beyond even being surprised; he was close
to turning his back on the entire subject of marriage.
"Mrs. Cartwell, a pleasure to see you, ma'am." Taking the hand
the haughty matron extended, he shook it, bowed to the vision of loveliness
sitting beside Mrs. Cartwell, then stepped back and introduced Barnaby.
Always interested in people, Barnaby exchanged platitudes with the lovely
Miss Cartwell; cravenly grateful, Dillon stood back and let him have the
Mrs. Cartwell was monitoring the exchange between her daughter and Barnaby,
the third son of an earl and every bit as eligible as Dillon himself,
with absolute concentration. Reduced to the redundant, Dillon's mind returned
to the matter he and Barnaby had retreated to the Twig & Bough to
discuss, until they'd been ousted by the invading ladies. They'd chosen
the quieter shop catering to the genteel element rather than the club
coffee house favored by the racing fraternity for the simple reason that
the subject of their discussion would set ears flapping and tongues wagging
among the racing set.
Another racing scandal was precisely what he was working to avoid.
This time, he wasn't engaged on the wrong side of the ledger; this time,
he'd been recruited by the angels, to wit the all-powerful Committee of
the Jockey Club, to investigate the rumors of race fixing that had started
to circulate after the recent spring racing season.
That request was a deliberate and meaningful vote of confidence-a declaration
that the Committee viewed his youthful indiscretion as fully paid for,
the slate wiped clean. More, it was a clear statement that the Committee
had complete faith in his integrity, and his discretion, in his devotion
to the breeding and racing industry that the Committee oversaw, and that
he and his father before him had for so long served.
His father, General Caxton, was long retired, and Dillon was now the Keeper
of the Breeding Register and the Stud Book, the two official tomes that
together ruled the breeding and racing of horses in England. It was in
that capacity that he'd been asked to look into the rumors.
Rumors being rumors, and in this case issuing from London, he'd recruited
the Honorable Barnaby Adair, a good friend of Gerrard Debbington, to help.
Dillon knew Gerrard well, had for years, through their connections to
the powerful Cynster family; Barnaby had recently assisted Gerrard in
solving a troublesome matter of murder. When Dillon had mentioned the
possibility of a racing swindle, Barnaby's eyes had lit.
That had been in late July. Barnaby had duly investigated, and in August
had reported that while the rumors were there, all were vague, very much
of the strain that horses people had expected to win had instead lost.
Hardly a novel happening in the racing game. There'd seemed little substance,
and no real fact behind the rumors. Nothing to warrant further action.
Now, however, with the first races of the autumn season behind them, something
rather odd had occurred. Odd enough for Dillon to summon Barnaby back.
In the peace of the Twig & Bough, he'd related the details of three
separate attempts to break into the Jockey Club, along with reports of
some man asking about "the register" in local alehouses, rough
taverns catering to the dregs of the town.
They'd just finished discussing what was known of the inquisitive man
- an Irishman by his accent - when the influx of ladies had rousted them.
Dillon's office in the Jockey Club was their current goal, the only place
they might conclude their sensitive discussion in some degree of privacy.
But it was slow going. Escaping Mrs. Cartwell, they fell victim to Lady
Hemmings. As they left her ladyship, Dillon seized the chance created
by two groups of ladies becoming distracted by their own gossip to quickly
steer Barnaby between two carriages and across the street. They lengthened
their strides; by the time the ladies noticed they'd slipped sideways
and escaped, they were turning into the long avenue flanked by tall trees
that led to the front door of the Jockey Club.
"Phew!" Barnaby shot him a glance. "I see what you mean.
It's worse than in London-there's few others about to draw their fire."
Dillon nodded. "Luckily, we're now safe. The only females ever glimpsed
within these hallowed precincts are of the horse-mad sorority, not the
There were no others, male or female, presently on the path leading to
the front door; easing his pace, he returned to their interrupted discussion.
"These break-ins - if someone's asking about 'a register', odds are
they mean the Breeding Register, presumably the target of our would-be
thief. Nothing else within the Jockey Club has any real value."
Slowing to an amble, Barnaby looked at the red brick building standing
squarely at the end of the shady avenue. "Surely there are cups,
plates, medallions - things that would be worth something if melted down?
Isn't it more likely a thief would be after those?"
"Most of the trophies are plated. Their value lies more in what they
represent, not in their commercial worth. And this thief's not a professional,
but he is determined. Besides, it's too coincidental - someone asking
about 'the register,' and shortly after, someone tries to break into the
club where the one item referred to in Newmarket as 'the register' resides."
"True," Barnaby conceded. "So how is the Breeding Register
Dillon raised his brows. "I hadn't thought of that, but such a tack
would be dangerous. Loss of the Breeding Register would stop all racing,
so using it in such a way, essentially holding the entire racing fraternity
to ransom, would very likely prove an unhealthy experiment. If the Breeding
Register disappeared, I would expect to see it magically reappear within
three days." He glanced at Barnaby. "This industry isn't short
of those prepared to take the law into their own hands, especially over
a matter like that."
Barnaby frowned. "But I thought you said it was the Breeding Register
our would-be thief was after?"
"Not the Register itself - the set of books - but the information
it contains. That's where the gold lies."
"That," Dillion admitted, "is something I'm not precisely
sure of - it's a function of what the information is to be used for. However,
in light of our earlier rumors, one possible use leaps to mind."
He met Barnaby's blue eyes. "Horse substitution. It used to be prevalent
decades ago, before they implemented the present system. One horse would
gain a reputation for winning, then, in one race, the owners would substitute
another horse, passing it off as the previous winner, and the punters
would lose. The owners would be in league with certain bookmakers, and
would pocket a nice cut from the lost bets, as well as pocketing even
more from bets they or their friends laid against their 'champion' winning."
"Aha!" Barnaby's eyes narrowed. "Unexpected losses - as
have been rumored to have occurred over the spring season."
"Just so. And that's where the Breeding Register comes in. It's an
obligatory listing of a horse's bloodlines confirming its right to race
on English tracks under Jockey Club rules. Bloodlines are fully documented
in the Stud Book, while the register is essentially a licensing listing
- every horse has to be approved and entered before being allowed in any
race at any track operating under the auspices of the Jockey Club. However,
along with the horse's name and general details, each register entry contains
a physical description supposedly sufficient to ensure that a given horse,
with given name, age, bloodlines and racing clearance, can be distinguished
from any other horse."
Dillon snorted. "Impossible to be a hundred percent certain always,
yet armed with those descriptions the race stewards at the tracks monitor
all the starters before every race, and re-examine and verify all the
placegetters after the race has been run. That's why horses have to be
entered for races weeks in advance, so the stewards can be issued with
copies of the descriptions each starter should match."
"And those descriptions come from the Breeding Register held here
"Making the stewards' copies is what my register clerks do, at least
during the racing seasons."
"So why would our would-be thief be interested in the descriptions
contained in this register? How would it benefit him?"
"I can think of two ways." Dillon looked ahead; they were nearly
at the Jockey Club's door. "First, if his master was planning to
substitute for a champion he owned, he'd need to be sure what points feature
most highly in the register description, because the substitute horse
would absolutely have to possess those points to make the substitution
Halting before the pair of shallow stone steps leading up to the club's
double doors, he faced Barnaby. "The second possibility is that whoever
has sent our thief is planning a new substitution, but haven't yet located
a suitable substitute horse. Scanning the descriptions in the register
would take time, but would unquestionably identify the best possible match
for a substitution."
He paused, then added, "Bear in mind that in a substitution racket,
the substitute only has to pass the pre-race check, which is the least
detailed. Because the substitute finishes out of the places, they're not
subjected to the more stringent check conducted after the race."
Barnaby frowned. "So what we might have here is an already established
racket that ran certain substitutions last spring, and escaped detection,
plus an Irishman, presumably acting for some owner, looking to gain access
to the Breeding Register to facilitate further substitutions."
Dillon nodded. "And as to whether the former is directly linked to
the latter, logically there's no reason it has to be. But I'd lay odds
Barnaby softly snorted. "It certainly has that feeling."
They turned to the Club's front door. Both paused as through the central
glass pane they glimpsed the club's doorman, inside, hurrying to reach
for the latch.
Sweeping the doors wide, the doorman bowed obsequiously, almost tripping
over his toes as he stepped aside to allow a lady to pass through.
Not just any lady. A vibrant vision in emerald green, she halted on the
top step, taken aback at finding herself facing a masculine wall.
Her head, crowned with a silky tumble of blue black curls, instinctively
rose. Eyes an even more intense emerald than her elegant gown, rose, too;
widening, they locked with Dillon's.
Barnaby murmured an apology and stepped back.
Dillon didn't move.
For one incalculable moment, all he could see - all he knew of the world
- was that face.
Brilliant green, glinting gold, they lured and promised.
She was of average height; standing two steps up, those glorious eyes
were level with his. He was dimly aware of the classical symmetry of her
heart-shaped face, of perfect, very white skin, fine, almost translucent,
of delicately arched brows, lush black lashes, a straight little nose
and a mouth a touch too wide. Her lips were full and blatantly sensual,
yet instead of disrupting the perfection of her beauty, those distracting
lips brought her face alive.
Like a callow youth, he stood and stared.
Wide-eyed, Pris stared back, and tried to catch her breath. She felt like
one of her brothers had punched her in the stomach; every muscle had contracted
and locked, and she couldn't get them to relax.
Beside her, the helpful doorman beamed. "Why, here's Mr. Caxton,
Her mind whirled.
To the gentlemen, he said, "This lady was asking after the register,
sir. We explained she had to speak with you."
Which one was Caxton? Please don't let it be him.
Tearing her gaze from the dark eyes into which she'd somehow fallen, she
looked hopefully at the Greek god, but fickle fate wasn't that kind. The
Greek god was looking at his sinfully dark companion. Reluctantly, she
did the same.
His dark, very dark brown eyes that before had appeared as startled as
she felt - she doubted he often met ladies as dramatically beautiful as
he - had now hardened. As she watched, they fractionally narrowed.
The precise diction, the arrogantly superior tone, told her all she needed
to know of his social rank and background. The flick of inherent power
brought her head up, brought the earl's daughter to the fore. She smiled,
assured. "I was hoping to view the register, if that's possible?"
Instantly she sensed a dramatic heightening of their interest - a focusing
that owed nothing to the quality of her smile. Her gaze locked on Caxton,
on the dark eyes in which, unless she was sorely mistaken, suspicion was
now blooming, she mentally replayed her words, but could see nothing to
explain their reaction. Glancing at the Greek god, she saw the alert look
he sent Caxton
it was her accent that had triggered their response.
Like all the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, she spoke perfect English, but no
amount of elocution lessons would ever remove the soft burr of her brogue,
the stamp of Ireland on her tongue.
And Rus, naturally, was the same.
Tamping down the sudden surge of emotion - trepidation and expectation
combined - she looked again at Caxton. Meeting his eyes, she arched a
brow. "Perhaps, now you've returned, sir, you could help me with
She wasn't going to let his beauty, or her unprecedented reaction to it,
get in her way.
More to the point, his reaction to her gave her a weapon she was perfectly
prepared to wield. She would do anything, absolutely anything without
reservation to help Rus; running rings around an Englishman and tying
him in knots barely rated.
Dillon inclined his head in acquiescence, and gestured for her to re-enter
the building - his domain. Her distracting smile still flirting about
her even more distracting lips, she swung around, waiting for the doorman
to step back before passing through the portal and into the foyer.
Climbing the steps, Dillon followed her in. He'd noted the calculation
that had flashed through those brilliant eyes, was duly warned. An Irish
lady asking to see the register? Oh, yes, he definitely would speak with
Pausing in the foyer, she glanced back at him, an innately haughty glance
over her shoulder. Despite the dictates of his intellect, he felt his
body react, yet as he met those direct and challenging eyes, he had to
wonder if she, her actions, her glances, were truly calculated, or simply
And which of those options posed the bigger danger to him.
With a distant, noncommittal smile, he gestured down the corridor to the
left. "My office is this way."
She held his gaze for a heartbeat, apparently oblivious of Barnaby at
his shoulder. "And the register?"
The suggestion in her tone had him fighting a grin. She wasn't just fabulously
beautiful; she had wit and a tongue to match. "The latest volume
She consented to walk down the corridor. He followed by her shoulder,
half a stride behind. Far enough to be able to appreciate her figure,
her tiny waist and the curvaceous hips the prevailing fashion for slightly
raised waistlines did nothing to disguise, to imagine the length of leg
necessary to run from those evocatively swaying hips to the surprisingly
dainty half boots he'd glimpsed beneath the hems of her emerald green
A small flat hat sporting a dyed feather sat amid the thick curls at the
back of her head. From the front, only the tip of the feather was visible,
curling above her right ear.
He knew enough of feminine fashion to identify both gown and hat as of
recent vintage, almost certainly from London. Whoever the lady was, she
was neither penniless nor, he suspected, his social inferior.
"The next door to the right." He was looking forward to having
her in his office, in the chair before his desk, where he could examine
and interrogate her.
She halted before the door; he reached past her and set it swinging wide.
With a regal dip of her head, she moved into the room. He followed, waving
her to the chair facing his desk. Rounding the wide desk set between two
tall windows, he took the chair behind it.
Barnaby quietly closed the door, then retreated to an armchair set to
one side, opposite the bookcase in which the latest volume of the Breeding
Register resided. Briefly meeting Barnaby's eyes, Dillon understood he
intended being the proverbial fly on the wall, leaving the questions to
him, concentrating instead on watching Miss
Returning his gaze to her, he smiled. "Your name, Miss
Apparently at ease in the straight-backed chair, comfortably padded with
arms on which she'd rested hers, she smiled back. "Dalling. Miss
Dalling. I confess I've no real idea of, nor interest in racing or racehorses,
but I was hoping to view this register one hears so much about. The doorman
gave me to understand that you are the guardian of this famous tome. I'd
imagined it was on public display, like the Births and Deaths Register,
but apparently that's not the case."
She had a melodic, almost hypnotic voice, not so much sirenlike as that
of a storyteller, luring you to believe, to accept, and respond.
Dillon fought the compulsion, forced himself to listen dispassionately,
sought, found and clung to his usual aloof distance. Although uttered
as statements, he sensed her sentences were questions. "The register
you're referring to is known as the Breeding Register, and no, it's not
a public document. It's an archive of the Jockey Club. In effect, it's
a listing of the horses approved to run on those racetracks overseen by
She was drinking in his every word. "I see. So
if one wished
to verify that a particular horse was approved to race on such tracks,
one would consult the Breeding Register."
Another question parading as a statement. "Yes."
"So it is possible to view the Breeding Register."
"No." He smiled, deliberately a touch patronizingly, when she
frowned. "If you wish to know if a particular horse is approved to
race, you need to apply for the information."
At last a straight, unadorned question; he let his smile grow more intent.
"You fill out a form, and one of the register clerks will provide
you with the required information."
She looked disgusted. "A form." She flicked the fingers of one
hand. "I suppose this is England, after all."
He made no reply. When it became clear he wasn't going to rise to that
bait, she tried another tack.
She leaned forward, just a little. Confidingly fixed her big green eyes
on his face, simultaneously drawing attention to her really quite impressive
breasts, not overly large yet on her slight frame deliciously tempting.
Having already taken stock, he managed to keep his gaze steady on her
She smiled slightly, invitingly. "Surely you could allow me to view
the register - just a glance."
Her emerald eyes held his; he fell under her spell. Again. That voice,
not sultry but something even more deeply stirring, threatened, again,
to draw him under; he had to fight to shake free of the mesmerizing effect.
Suppressing his frown took yet more effort. "No." He shifted,
and softened the edict, "That's not possible, I'm afraid."
She frowned, the expression entirely genuine. "Why not? I just want
"Why? What's the nature of your interest in the Breeding Register,
Miss Dalling? No, wait." He let his eyes harden, let his deepening
suspicions show. "You've already told us you have no real interest
in such things. Why, then, is viewing the register so important to you?"
She held his gaze unwaveringly. A moment ticked by, then she sighed and,
still entirely relaxed, leaned back in the chair. "It's for my aunt."
When he looked his surprise, she airily waved. "She's eccentric.
Her latest passion is racehorses - that's why we're here. She's curious
about every little thing to do with horse racing. She stumbled on mention
of this register somewhere, and now nothing will do but for her to know
all about it."
She heaved an artistic sigh. "I didn't think those here would appreciate
a fluttery, dotty old dear haunting your foyer, so I came." Fixing
her disturbing green eyes on him, she went on, "And that's why I
would like to take a look at this Breeding Register. Just a peek."
That last was said almost tauntingly. Dillon considered how to reply.
He could walk over to the bookcase, retrieve the current volume of the
register, and lay it on the desk before her. Caution argued against showing
her where the register was, even what it looked like. He could tell her
what information was included in each register entry, but even that might
be tempting fate in the guise of someone allied with those planning substitutions.
That risk was too serious to ignore.
Perhaps he should call her bluff, and suggest she bring her aunt into
his office, but no matter how intently he searched her eyes, he couldn't
be sure she was lying about her aunt. It was possible her tale, fanciful
though it was, was the unvarnished truth. That might result in him breaking
the until-now-inviolate rule that no one but he and the register clerks
were ever allowed to view the Breeding Register for some fussy old dear.
Who could not be counted on not to spread the word.
"I'm afraid, Miss Dalling, that all I can tell you is that the entries
in the register comprise a listing of licenses granted to individual horses
to race under Jockey Club rules." He spread his hands in commisseration.
"That's really all I'm at liberty to divulge."
Her green eyes had grown crystalline, hard. "How very mysterious."
He smiled faintly. "You have to allow us our secrets."
The distance between them was too great for him to be sure, but he thought
her eyes snapped. For an instant, the outcome hung in the balance - whether
she would retreat, or try some other, possibly more high-handed means
of persuasion - but then she sighed again, lifted her reticule from her
lap and smoothly rose.
Dillon rose, too, surprised by a very real impulse to do something to
prolong her visit. But then rounding the desk, he drew close enough to
see the expression in her eyes. There was temper there - an Irish temper
to match her accent. It was presently leashed, but she was definitely
irritated and annoyed with him.
Because she hadn't been able to bend him to her will.
He felt his lips curve, saw annoyance coalesce and intensify in her eyes.
She really ought to have known just by looking that he wasn't likely to
fall victim to her charms.
Manifold and very real though they were.
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Caxton." Her tone was cold, a
shivery coolness, the most her soft brogue would allow. "I'll inform
my aunt that she'll have to live with her questions unanswered."
"I'm sorry to have to disappoint an old lady, however
He shrugged lightly. "Rules are rules, and there for a good reason."
He watched for her reaction, for some sign, however slight, of comprehension,
but she merely raised her brows in patent disbelief and, with every indication
of miffed disappointment, turned away.
"I'll see you to the front door." He went with her to the door
of his room, opened it.
"No need." Briefly, she met his eyes as she swept past him.
"I'm sure I can find my way."
"Nevertheless." He followed her into the corridor.
The rigidity of her spine declared she was offended he hadn't trusted
her to go straight back to the front foyer if left to herself. But they
both knew she wouldn't have, that if he'd set her free she'd have roamed,
trusting to her beauty to extract her from any difficulty should she be
caught where she shouldn't be.
She didn't look back when she reached the foyer and sailed on toward the
front doors. "Good bye, Mr. Caxton."
The cool words drifted over her shoulder. Halting in the mouth of the
corridor, he watched the doorman, still bedazzled, leap to swing open
the door. She stepped through, disappearing into the bright sunshine;
the doors swung shut, and he could see her no more.
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