This was worse than the latest Penny Dreadful published in one of the papers. It might have been ironic, funny even if it weren’t real. He’d always considered these rubbish stories exaggerations fit for female imagination and cheap thrills. They were after all a pile of unrealistic sensational adventures that would never happen to decent people.
As it was, Commander Jeremiah Thornhill, Master of the seas and saviour of the heir apparent during the assault in Grenada, was in the grip of a fear unlike any he’d ever felt and both his famous self-control and strategical genius failed him. He perused the note that a kid delivered in the morning. No answer had been requested but he’d kept the boy and terrified him. All for nothing: the child was as ignorant as he was.
How could he be so foolish? He’d known there was a threat against him and still he met with Lady Theodora in a place where anonymity was the only defense one usually needed. Except it hadn’t been enough: he’d left her to fend for herself when he should have organized for her safety. That she’d refused to comply with his request for an escort was irrelevant. He should have insisted. Particularly after the latest episode in his dreary adventure. He should have known the Club was no longer safe when he was attacked two streets away from it.
A tidal wave of anger washed over him anew. When he found the perpetrator they would wish they were dead. But the anger was nothing compared to the guilt. He’d lied to Philip and he put his sister in danger. The slight might be forgiven if it were anyone else; but Jeremiah knew Philip wouldn’t forgive him for keeping Theodora’s secret. That any reference to the establishment where she spent most of her evenings could destroy her reputation would mean nothing to her brother. No he had to speak to Philip. Like his sister, the man was a great strategist. Besides, the fact he had received the note proved the abductors had yet to identify their victim.
“Jamison!” He called.
His butler was in the room within moments. And he looked concerned.
“My Lord, Captain Glendale is at the door. He says his sister has disappeared.”
“Show him in.”
Philip limped in. The man must have paced or walked for a while for his leg to bother him so. Jeremiah was in trouble: that Philip knew to come here proved his friend knew more than Jeremiah could guess.
“Where is she, Thornhill?” He pointed the seat to him. “I don’t give…”
“Sit down Philip.”
His tone brooked no argument. Thankfully his friend took the seat. Choosing his words, Jeremiah revealed the secret Philip tasked him to discover two months before. It was a testament to his friend’s character and temper that Philip remained calm throughout. He listened and didn’t interrupt once. Not when Jeremiah mentioned the relationship he and Theodora entertained, not when he explained how she wound up a collateral for men who sought to destroy him. The sedate tone Philip used when he eventually asked questions about his sister’s abductors chilled Jeremiah to the bone: now he was terrified. And he wasn’t familiar with the feeling.
“I must speak with my father.” He concluded. “We will figure this out.”
“I’ve got my best men on this Philip.”
“No.” His voice dripped with ice and contained fury. “You will stay away from this mess. It’s your fault. We will take care of it. And once we have Teddy back, you will disappear from our lives. And… whatever that was will never have happened. I won’t even tell Father or Brent. If you try to approach her, I will kill you.”
“Watch me Thornhill.”
He sighed. He understood. Just as his friend – former? – reached the door, he called to him in a soft voice.
“Philip. Whatever you think I didn’t set out to hurt your sister. I love her and I would marry her.” He hadn’t known he would admit it. At least, that stopped Philip. The man turned; his gaze was murderous.
“Don’t you dare.”
“I did offer Philip. But she refused me.” That had hurt more than he expected; but he knew why she did. She was as afraid of her feelings as he was of his. “And you can try, but she won’t let you take it away.”
“She will.” He snarled.
“She hadn’t waited for me.” Again the self-control sleeping from him. He took a deep breath. “You knew she had a secret before you asked me to find out what it was. Do you truly think she’ll stop when I’m gone?”
“She will for me.”
“And she will die a little every day.”
Philip slammed the door. He must realize Jeremiah was right. But that didn’t mean he would forgive him any time soon. Their friendship seemed moribund. He might regret it but it didn’t matter: at least not until Theodora was safe. He would try to salvage the rest after.
In response to Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Wordle #131 prompt.
1. Grip 2. Wave 3. Penny Dreadful (a cheap, sensational novel of adventure, crime, or violence; dime novel.) 4. Sedate 5. Stelliferous (Having or abounding with stars.) 6. Episode 7. Plasma 8. Slight 9. Reference 10. Moribund (In a dying state; near death. On the verge of extinction or termination. Not progressing or advancing; stagnant) 11. Famous 12. Fend