Sweet Revenge

A Nemesis Unlimited Novel

Nemesis Unlimited (Volume 1)

Zoë Archer

St. Martin's Paperbacks

CHAPTER ONE
 
 
Yorkshire, England, 1886
Most prison escapes took months, sometimes years, of planning. Jack Dalton had one day.
He stood in the rock-breaking yard of Dunmoor Prison, hammer in hand, waiting for the warder to secure a shackle around his ankle, chaining him to the other convicts. Unrelenting afternoon sun beat down on him and the two dozen men. Squinting, Jack stared up at the sky.
Bloody perfect. The only sodding day it’s clear on the moors, and it’s the day I have to break out of this shithole.
It didn’t matter if ten thousand suns shone in the sky. He had to get out today.
Lynch, the warder, moved from convict to convict, fastening iron bands around each man’s ankle, and the band attached to a chain that stretched between the prisoners, who stood in two parallel rows. The chain rattled whenever someone moved. A scar encircled Jack’s ankle, a thick ridge of skin he had developed after five years of hard labor. The first few months had been rough. The shackle had dug into his requisition striped worsted stockings, gouging into the flesh beneath until he’d bled. The wound had gone putrid, a fever had burned through him, and he had almost lost not just the leg but his life. Yet Jack was a tough bastard. Always had been. Hatred kept a bloke tough. He lived, kept the leg, and got stronger.
Today he would need all of his strength. Impatience stung like hornets beneath his skin. Lynch was almost done with the first row of convicts. In another minute, the warder would start moving down Jack’s line, and then the window of opportunity would slam shut. Already, Jack’s gaze moved through the yard, looking toward the thirty-foot-high wall that kept the convicts of Dunmoor from the miles of rolling country, and the freedom that lay beyond.
“D.3.7., eyes straight ahead!”
Jack’s gaze snapped back to a blank stare, retreating behind the false front of apathy. No one had called him by his name in over five years. Sometimes he forgot he had a name, just a letter and a number. Once, he’d been Diamond Dalton—not because he favored diamonds. Hell, he had never owned a single diamond, and had seen a real one only a handful of times. No, they called him Diamond because he’d been formed by crushing pressure into the hardest thing to walk the streets of London.
Only Edith had called him Jack. Sometimes, when she was feeling nostalgic for their childhood, she had called him Jackie.
“Jackie,” she had whispered, reaching up to him with a blood-spattered hand. “Jackie, take me home.” And then she had died.
Even after all this time, the memory scoured Jack. The burn of rage pulsed through him. He knew it better than his own heartbeat. It was more important than the beat of his heart, for anger remained the only thing that kept him alive. Anger, and the need for vengeance. He would have his revenge soon.
Lynch reached Jack’s row. It had to be now.
“Oi,” Jack whispered to the convict standing next to him. “Stokes!”
The thick-jawed man flicked his gaze toward Jack, then straight ahead. “Shut it, idiot!” The punishment for talking could be the lash, or if the governor was feeling particularly brutal, time in the dark cell, deprived of light and all human interaction. Sometimes for weeks. Men went mad in the dark cell. God knows Jack almost did.
He didn’t fear punishment now. The only thing that scared him was not making his escape in time.
“You hear Mullens is getting out next week?”
“So what? I ain’t gettin’ out for eight months.”
Jack’s sentence had been much longer, thanks to the manipulation of the justice system. If he didn’t try this breakout, he would be stuck in Dunmoor for thirty-seven more years. Making him seventy-three years old by the time he tottered out the front gate—if he survived that long.
He would likely die today. So long as he took care of his business beforehand, he didn’t much care about dying afterward. It wasn’t as though his life merited clinging to.
“I heard…” Jack glanced quickly at Mullens, who stood in the row in front of them, and then at Lynch, moving closer. “When he gets out, he’s going straight to your mollisher.”
Stokes frowned at the mention of his woman. “Lizzie? But he ain’t even met her.”
Jack shrugged. “Maybe he heard you talking about her so nice, he had to see for himself. Said he’d give it to her right good. And she’d want it, too, not having a man around all this time.” He clapped his mouth shut as Lynch approached.
The warder glowered at Jack. “Better not be talking, D.3.7. The governor got a new flogging pillory, and he’s keen to try it.” Lynch’s eyes gleamed with eagerness.
“No, sir.”
“What’s that?” Lynch leaned closer. “Sounded like talking.”
Jack shook his head, hating the bastard. Some of the warders were decent enough, just trying to do a job for rubbish pay, but other screws, like Lynch, enjoyed their power and spent their time thinking up new ways to bully and harass the prisoners. Lynch particularly liked making up perceived infractions.
With a smirk, Lynch bent down and secured the shackle around Jack’s ankle. Damn it. He’d been hoping to goad Stokes enough before the shackle was clapped on, but Lynch had put an end to that plan.
It took everything Jack had not to smash his sledgehammer down onto Lynch’s head, knocking off the warder’s blue shako hat and spilling his brains all over the rock-breaking yard.
Stay fixed on your goal, Dalton. Killing Lynch might be satisfying, but it also meant he’d be taken down by the other warders, locked in the dark cell for months, and then dragged out only to be hanged.
So he let Lynch finish fastening the shackle and move on, keeping the bastard warder’s brains inside his skull.
“Next week,” Jack hissed at Stokes. “Mullens goes for Lizzie.”
Stokes wasn’t known for having a long fuse. He exploded like a burning arsenal at the smallest hint of provocation.
“I’ll beat your damned face in,” Stokes snarled. The convict broke rank, lunging for Mullens. Everyone in the row stumbled forward, pulled by the connecting chain.
Startled, Mullens barely had time to turn around before Stokes tackled him. Convicts fell, shouting out in anger and confusion. Others cheered Stokes on as he rained punches down on Mullens. More yelling filled the yard as warders came running. Chaos filled the enclosure, a blur of the dark blue warders’ uniforms and the pale, coarse uniforms of the convicts. Fists were thrown. Some of the warders had clubs, beating down the prisoners whether they fought or no. Jack grunted when he caught the back of a club across his shoulder, but he didn’t fall.
Bedlam, everywhere.
Now.
Hefting his hammer, Jack brought it down hard onto the chain binding him to the other convicts. The thick links shuddered, but stayed intact. He slammed the hammer down again, and again. The vibrations carried all the way up into his leg, jarring him until his teeth rattled. The weight of the hammer felt like nothing. He’d been swinging it for five years. When he had been tried and convicted of attempted murder, he’d already been strong. Now, years of hard labor had transformed him, and the heavy hammer felt like a bird’s hollow bone.
He kept on pounding until, at last, the chain broke.
He ran from the yard. Sounds of fighting and confusion echoed behind him. No one noticed him amid the chaos.
His thoughts spun out of control, his heart racing like a locomotive, but he forced himself to be cold, logical. In his mind, he pictured the layout of the prison. Six main buildings radiated out like spokes, with narrow walls leading straight out from three of those buildings toward the huge double walls that encircled the whole prison. He’d never be able to climb the outer wall, not without a ladder, and those were in short supply in the clink. Instead of heading straight to the wall, Jack ran toward one of the smaller, two-story buildings that served as a dormitory for the unmarried warders who lived on prison grounds.
Pressing himself back against a low outbuilding, Jack watched as warders streamed out of the dormitory, all of them speeding toward the yard. Too focused on the riot, none of them saw him.
Once he felt certain the warder house had cleared, he sprinted to it. He tried the door. Locked. Jack swung his hammer again. It pounded against the lock, splintering the edge of the door. Finally, the door flew open.
Jack quickly took in the rows of tables covered with the remains of half-finished tea, the potbellied stove in the corner, photographic prints of the queen and the royal family. Nothing here would help him. He ran the stairs two at a time, the wooden steps shaking beneath his heavy boots.
Upstairs, beds formed two orderly lines. Unlike the convicts, who had to roll their straw mattresses up every morning for inspection, these beds were all made, tight as a parson’s arse. Jack wondered what it would be like to sleep on actual horsehair, or even feathers. He couldn’t remember if he ever had. What would it matter? His next sleep would be his last.
He ran between the rows of beds, until he reached the window at the far end of the room. Setting the hammer down, he pushed the window open. Unfortunately, he needed both hands for this next stage, so the hammer had to stay behind. Having a weapon was added insurance, but his fists could inflict plenty of damage. He planned on using them later, beating Lord Rockley into pulp, and then wrapping his fingers around the murderer’s throat until his breathing stopped.
Jack smiled grimly to himself. He couldn’t wait.
Climbing from the window, Jack hauled himself out, grabbed hold of the roof’s edge and pulled himself up onto the roof.
Jack crouched down. From his vantage, he could see the continued commotion in the yard, convicts and warders brawling. He turned his gaze from the riot to the rest of the prison. Never had he seen it from so far up. The windows in the cells were tiny notches set high in the wall, and the only way to look out of them would be to stand on a bucket or a stool. But that was a punishable offense, so he seldom tried it.
He didn’t care about the prison anymore. All that mattered was the rolling heath that surrounded the prison, stretching out for miles. That’s what he had to reach. The next stage of his escape.
Still crouched low, Jack moved along the roof, until he positioned himself directly above a brick wall that stood about fifteen feet high. This wall ran straight toward the circular stone walls that surrounded the prison, the last obstacles between him and freedom.
He leaped down onto the brick wall. It was narrow, and he struggled for balance. He felt himself start to slip. Boots dug in for stability, he righted himself, then ran lightly along the top, heading toward the first stone wall. The two walls were the same height, and they intersected. He continued on the brick wall toward the final border at the edge of the prison, looming ahead. Below him was the barren outer yard. No one ever walked among the patches of dead earth and dying weeds. It served as a space for attempted escapees to be caught before they reached the outside world. Sometimes, Jack had heard gunfire, and the shouts of guards. Sometimes, but not often. Few tried to escape, and even fewer made it.
“But I will,” he muttered to himself.
It looked like he would, too. So far, no one had noticed him, too busy beating down the riot in the stone yard.
Jack sprinted the last stretch of the brick wall. The outer wall rose up taller than the one on which he ran, looming high and daunting. He shoved past uneasiness and kept on running, gaining momentum. Though his heavy boots wanted to drag him down, he leaped, scrabbling for a hold on the outer wall. His fingers clutched at the top edge, hands burning as they took the full brunt of his substantial weight.
As he hung there, someone at a distance shouted. “Oi! Escaping prisoner!”
Fuck. Jack did not waste time seeing which warder had spotted him. He pulled, hauling himself up.
“Stop immediately,” the warder yelled, “or I’ll be forced to shoot!”
Ignoring him, Jack continued to draw himself higher, muscles clenching with effort.
A whine, and then chips of granite exploded around him. Jack cursed. The warder had fired on him. Then did so again.
Jack didn’t want to attempt crossing the moors leaking blood. He would lose precious energy, and he needed it to end Rockley’s miserable life.
With a burst of strength, he heaved himself up, then over. Still dangling by his fingers, the ground spun thirty feet below. Here was another hazard. If he landed wrong, he’d break a leg, maybe his back. He couldn’t hesitate, though. The screws and governor would be alerted to his escape, and he didn’t have much time before they massed in pursuit.
Jack drew a breath, forcing himself to relax, then let go.
The ground rushed up to meet him, and he bent his knees in preparation for the landing. He hit the earth boots first, keeping on the balls of his feet. The impact jarred through him, and he quickly tucked his head against his chest and rolled.
Rocks dug into him as he tumbled. He fought to keep his wind and his stability. Finally, he slowed, and straightened to stand.
He staggered for a moment, balance thrown by the impact and roll. As the world settled from its mad spin, he saw the stretches of scrub-covered moor, the merciless blue sky. No walls, save for the ones behind him.
“Freedom,” he said roughly.
But it wasn’t true freedom. He had a responsibility to carry out, an obligation driving him to run toward certain death in pursuit of vengeance.
Voices rose up from the other side of the wall, warders assembling to go after him. He’d come down far from the main gate, though, and it would take the screws a few minutes to reach him.
With his head still reeling, he took off at a run, determined to lose himself in the moors.
*   *   *
Jack threw himself down beneath a thicket of gorse. Thorns scraped his face and tore his uniform, but his attention remained pinned on the sounds of shouting men and baying dogs. His lungs burned and his legs ached. For hours he’d been running across the heath, always staying just a few steps ahead of his pursuers. Mud spattered his clothes and face, blisters burned on his feet inside his heavy boots, and he felt himself more hunted animal than man.
But he was getting close. So close.
He waited, panting, listening.
“Seen him?”
“Think he went this way.”
“We got to round him up soon. Night’s falling.”
“I got some tracks over here! And here’s his jacket.”
Jack held his breath. The screws’ voices faded, and he allowed himself a small exhale. The dummy trail seemed to be working, but he wouldn’t chance a dash until he was well sure the warders were gone.
He wanted to run, feeling time slip away like a slackening noose. His prey was near, and the predator in him wanted nothing more than to make the kill. But he had to be smart.
His mouth quirked in a bitter smile. No one had ever hired him for his brains. Don’t think, Diamond, Fowler used to say. You’re a big, mean bastard. You’re what keeps the riffraff from getting to his lordship.
Fowler might be there tonight. Him, and Curtis. Maybe Voss. But Jack couldn’t count on their friendship. Rockley paid them to do a job, and friendship didn’t buy pints. So when Jack came for Rockley, he’d have to take the others out. Suited him just fine.
Jack’s conscience was a mean thing, no bigger than a pebble. He’d mow down any obstacle to get what he was after, even men he once considered friends. His conscience had room for only two regrets: the first, that he hadn’t protected Edith. And the second, that he’d failed the first time he had tried to kill Rockley.
This time, he’d get the job done.
He listened to the fading voices of the warders as twilight fell in heavy waves. His throat burned with thirst, his lips were cracked. He almost longed for the weak, piss-flavored beer they doled out at mealtimes in the prison.
The warders’ chatter finally stopped. His false trail wouldn’t distract them for long, though. Time to get moving again.
He scrambled out from beneath the gorse and studied the sky to get his bearings. The village of Cambrey was situated some four miles to the northeast of Dunmoor Prison, and that’s where he would find the Queen’s Consort Inn. The same inn where Rockley now stayed.
Keeping low to the ground, Jack ran.
It had been damned lucky, if a man like Jack could ever consider himself lucky. Only that very morning, he’d finished cleaning his cell. Usually, prisoners waited outside their cells during inspection, but as he was stepping out into the corridor, the inspecting warder had stopped him.
“Nice bit of news, eh, D.3.7.?”
Knowing he could not speak, Jack had only looked at the warder.
“That toff you tried to kill, Rockwell, Rockburn? Heard he’s out at Cambrey, lodging at the inn. Guess he’s here to hunt. Can’t think of another reason why some la-di-da gent would come out to Satan’s arsehole.” The warder had laughed. “Ain’t that a pretty business?”
No time to be surprised by the news. He’d had to act on the opportunity given to him. Jack had spent the hours between inspection and afternoon work fixing a plan for escape. Having Rockley so close, when he spent most of his time in London, had been chance, or fate, or, as the chaplain said, providence. And Jack wouldn’t waste this rare opportunity.
Night fell in a thick black shroud. But distant lights served as his direction. He stumbled on, keeping that glimmering in his sight. It had to be the village of Cambrey. The final step of his journey to hell.
He kept well away from the rutted road leading into town, even though he spotted only one cart jouncing down the lane.
As he jogged nearer, the shapes of the village buildings turned solid and defined. Merchant shops, a church, a few houses lining the high street. The only building that snagged his attention, though, was the inn. It stood at one end of the high street, a two-story structure with a yard and a stable. Light poured from the windows, pushing back the darkness, and the sounds of a piano and cheerful talk tumbled out. Beyond the tuneless, cheerless hymns they sang in chapel, he hadn’t heard music since before his imprisonment. He wanted to soak it in, the sounds of normal life. Music, gossip, and petty grievances that might result in sore feelings but not death.
It seemed everything in Jack’s life resulted in death. Including his own.
Crouching behind a low stone wall, he assessed the inn. Lights shone in the second story. Some of the rooms looked small, cramped. Rockley wouldn’t stay in any of those.
The room at the end, though, looked promising. It appeared larger than the other rooms, with a canopied bed and its own fireplace. The finest accommodations the inn had to offer. Rockley had always flaunted his wealth and rank, and it made sense that if he stayed at this inn, he’d take the best room in the place.
Jack’s gut clenched when a man’s silhouette appeared at the window. With the light behind him, it was impossible to make out details of the man’s face, but he definitely had the size and form of Rockley. Tall, wide shoulders of a sportsman, and upright, proud posture that screamed out privilege and noble blood. The kind that literally got away with murder.
Hatred darkened Jack’s vision, and he choked on bile. He spat on the ground.
Rockley moved away from the window, but he didn’t appear to leave the room. Perfect.
Prowling through the shadows, Jack closed the distance to the inn, until he stood at the base of the inn’s wall. Rockley likely had men in the taproom, if not outside his door. Jack had been one of those men once. He knew where they would be, and that they’d use fists and pistols to keep anyone from getting to his lordship.
Wiping his damp hands on his thighs, he stared up at the second story. Exhausted and thirsty, dizziness swamped him. So bloody close.
He shook his head, forcing it to clear, then began to climb. He grappled for hold into the masonry’s gaps, pushing his fingers into the worn mortar. Biting back curses, he climbed higher, trying to go as quietly as possible. If he got caught now, with Rockley only twenty feet away, he’d lose his sodding mind.
Nearer, nearer. The window to Rockley’s room drew closer. And as it did, Jack’s pulse hammered violently, rage growing with each handhold, each inch higher.
Finally, his fingers closed around the windowsill. Thank the devil the night was a mild one, and Rockley had left the window open. No shattering glass to alert the men stationed in the corridor or downstairs. With a final heave, Jack pulled himself up and through the window, and then he stood in the room.
He’d almost reached his goal, and now he was ready to kill. But he froze before taking a single step.
He faced the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Trim and tall, blond hair, sherry-brown eyes. Angular jaw and unsmiling mouth. Clothing smart but not fancy. And she pointed a revolver at his head.
*   *   *
Evangeline Warrick stared at the man at the other end of her Webley .450. Though calling him a man seemed inapt. The term brute had been coined to describe such a … male.
Dark eyes, wild as an animal’s, burned into her. He took a step toward her.
“Hands, Mr. Dalton.” Eva was careful to keep her voice steady, calm. “Let me see them.”
“Easy, love.” He spoke as though calming a startled horse. “Not here to hurt you.” He took another step closer.
Eva cocked her gun, her aim holding. “Put up your hands, Mr. Dalton. And do not take another step.”
His hands came up, and dear God, were they big. Just like the rest of him.
“I just want Rockley,” he said. His accent was rough, his voice deep.
“You aren’t going to get him.”
Dalton raised a brow. Or she thought he did. In truth, grime coated the convict so thoroughly, she could barely make out the details of his face. Mostly, she saw those eyes, keen and hard. She had seen the gazes of desperate men before, men driven to the very edge, but none of them sent a thrill of caution down her spine the way Jack Dalton’s eyes did.
“Now he’s using women as bullies?” His mouth curled into a sneer. “Gun or no, you’d be wise to be careful around Rockley. Better yet, put a bullet in his brain, not mine.”
“That isn’t how we work,” she answered.
“We?”
“We,” answered Simon, stepping from the shadows in the corner. Marco came forward, as well. Neither of them had their weapons out, though they were both armed. They knew she could handle herself with a gun, and trusted her to keep Dalton reasonably controlled. She knew precisely where to shoot a man to incapacitate him.
Dalton snarled, his gaze darting back and forth between Simon and Marco. Then back to her. “Where’s Rockley?”
“Not here,” she replied.
“Tell me where he is.” Menace poured from Dalton in waves, and Eva wondered if she truly was going to use her revolver. She didn’t want to. Shooting a man could be loud and messy, and complicate things unnecessarily.
“In London, I presume.”
“I was told—”
“That Lord Rockley was staying here,” Marco supplied. “It’s what is known as baiting the trap.”
Dalton moved far more quickly than his size would suggest, and too quickly for even an experienced shot like Eva to fire. One moment, he stood near the window, hands upraised. The next, he had Marco on the floor, one hand around Marco’s throat. Marco fought against him, but Dalton’s sheer size and brawn rendered Marco’s training almost useless.
Simon got himself behind Dalton and looped his arm around Dalton’s neck. He grasped his wrist to capture Dalton in a headlock.
Stepping close, Eva placed the muzzle of her Webley against Dalton’s temple, making sure that, if she had to fire, she wouldn’t hit her colleagues.
“If you want your chance at vengeance,” she said, low and quick, “release Marco immediately.”
Slowly, Dalton’s hand uncurled from around Marco’s throat. The only sound in the room came from Marco, dragging air back into his lungs and coughing. Simon kept his arm tight around Dalton’s neck, slightly loosening the pressure so the convict would not asphyxiate.
“Go sit on the bed, Mr. Dalton,” Eva commanded. “And I ought to warn you, this gun of mine has been complaining for weeks that it hasn’t had a drop of blood. Do not give me a reason to satisfy its thirst.”
Dalton stared at her from the corner of his eye. This close, she could see that his eyes were the color of darkest coffee, verging on black. A feral intelligence shone in his gaze, like a wolf learning the ways of man in order to stalk and kill human prey.
He had enough astuteness to recognize that he had to comply. He nodded tightly.
Simon released his hold on Dalton and stepped away. With that peculiar savage grace of his, Dalton rose up. Marco scrambled to his feet, rubbing at his throat and scowling.
Eva edged back, not wanting to be within striking distance of Dalton. And his size made her distinctly uncomfortable. She was not a small woman, nor especially delicate, but she knew with absolute clarity that Dalton could snap her into matchsticks.
He sent her a glare, then walked toward the bed. As lightly as he moved, his boots still shook the floorboards. She had heard that the boots of prisoners were especially heavy, weighing as much as fourteen pounds, as if trying to pin them to the ground. Yet the sheer muscle mass of Dalton seemed to rattle the whole inn. Did the governors of prisons realize that hard labor turned rough men into weapons? Dalton’s arms appeared to be as thick and tough as coiled rope.
Approaching the canopied bed, he eyed it warily.
“Sit,” she ordered.
Teeth gritted, he did so. Strange—he looked almost uncomfortable. Eva had sat upon the bed earlier and felt its plush softness. One could have a very good sleep there. Or a very pleasant night with the right company.
Realization struck her. For the past five years, Dalton knew only his crude bed in Dunmoor Prison. At best, that meant a straw mattress on an iron-slatted frame, with coarse woolen blankets for warmth. Such luxury as this feather mattress and the fine-combed cotton bedclothes must feel alien to him, or worse, a taste of comfort he had not experienced in a long time—if ever.
She shook her head. Dalton was a means to an end. Likely he would crush the life out of her without a moment’s hesitation. She could not afford to feel sympathy for him, or endow him with a sentiment he probably didn’t feel.
In his filthy and torn prison uniform, radiating animal energy, he presented a strange picture as he sat upon the rosewood bed, lacy fabric hanging from the canopy. Everything looked impossibly fragile in comparison.
“Talk,” Dalton growled. “Tell me who you lot are, and how you know my name.”
She almost smiled at this. The gun was in her hands, and yet he had the boldness to issue a command.
“We know all about you,” she replied.
“There’s a file at headquarters,” added Simon. He held his fingers an inch apart. “This thick.”
Eva had studied the file thoroughly, including the photograph from Dalton’s admission into prison. Sometimes, prisoners fought against having their pictures taken, since it meant having their face on record. More than a few photographs showed prisoners contorting their faces to disguise their features, or being held down by force. Not Dalton.
He had stared at the camera boldly, defiantly. Take a good look, his expression seemed to challenge. The countenance of a man who had nothing left to lose.
But he did have something to lose. Eva and her colleagues counted on it.
“Headquarters.” Suspicion sharpened Dalton’s gaze. “You’re coppers?”
“Strictly a private organization,” she said. “We operate entirely outside of official channels. No one in the CID or government knows we exist.”
“Which is precisely how we want it,” Marco added.
“Mercenaries,” Dalton surmised.
Eva smiled a little at that. “Of a sort.”
“So, Rockley hired you to lure me out of Dunmoor.” He snorted. “Couldn’t kill me behind bars, so he finds a way to kill me on the other side of the wall.”
“We do not work for Rockley,” she insisted, voice tight. The very idea that they would work with someone like the baron filled her with a toxic sickness.
“Then who do you work for?”
“A girl. You wouldn’t know her.” She kept her gun pointed at him. He would be waiting for her to drop her guard, but that was not going to happen. “About a month ago, this young woman, whom I’ll call Miss Jones, was mostly wickedly seduced and abandoned. Her reputation was destroyed. Now she and her parents seek restitution, which we will help obtain.”
“Some gentry mort falls for a line, winds up on her back, and I’m supposed to care?”
“The ruin of any woman isn’t to be taken lightly.” Simon spoke through gritted teeth. “And she isn’t gentry. Just a merchant’s daughter.”
“Little difference.” Dalton shrugged. “Girl gets charmed into opening her legs, winds up with a bastard child or nothing at all. And the gent goes about his merry business. Not saying it’s right, but it’s an old story.”
“This time,” said Eva, “the story will have a different ending.”
“Cheers if you can make the cove pay.” Cynicism dripped from Dalton’s voice. “But what happened to the girl ain’t my business.”
“It will be,” she answered.
He crossed his arms over his chest, and the coarse fabric of his shirt pulled against his muscles. Both Marco and Simon were exceptionally fit men—their work demanded it. But Dalton possessed an animal strength, brutal and uncivilized. Simon, Marco, and her other male colleagues were trained warriors. Dalton was a beast.
“Love,” he rumbled, “I’ve got the screws hot on my tail. They’ll be here in an hour—”
“Less,” Marco said.
Dalton shot Marco a glare before returning his gaze to Eva. His words had been terse and impatient, but the way he stared at her made her think he hadn’t seen a woman in a very long time.
“So either speak plain or shoot me,” he continued, “’coz I don’t plan on lingering.”
She drew a breath. “The man who seduced Miss Jones is Lord Rockley.”
Dalton’s arms uncrossed as if readying for battle. His smirk fell away, replaced by cold, brutal hatred. Even knowing the details of Dalton’s history, she had not fully anticipated seeing such naked enmity, devoid of all pity. A shiver struggled to work its way through her body, but she ruthlessly suppressed it. Dalton was the sort of man to exploit any weakness. She could show none.
“We’re going to make Rockley pay.” She made certain to keep her voice level, as though the slightest hint of emotion would tip Dalton into crazed fury. “And you, Mr. Dalton, are going to help us. If you do not agree to do so, we’ll keep you here until the warders arrive. Escaping from prison is a serious crime. One that will see you well punished.” She stared coolly at him. “Time is running out, Mr. Dalton. A decision has to be made.”
For a moment, he did not move, did not speak. Then, “Who the hell are you people?”
She spoke before Marco or Simon could answer. “Nemesis, Unlimited.”


 
Copyright © 2013 by Zoe Archer