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A LADY’S FINDER
When the Blood is Up Book 3
BY EDIE CAY
Lady Agnes is a scandal thanks to her sister’s marriage to a prizefighter. Or rather, she should be, but as a charitable spinster-to-be, she remains firmly invisible, even to those she loves. Always dutiful, Lady Agnes should be the toast of her family, but only if she marries well. Finding the prospect of wedding a man unpalatable, Lady Agnes cannot be the social savior of her sister. Suddenly, receiving attentions from the unpredictable and surprisingly resourceful Mr. Jack Townsend, Lady Agnes finds herself believing he might love her and not her dowry. After being overlooked for so long, can she believe he cares for her, or is she a means to an end as her family insists?
Jack About Town is London’s best Finder of Lost Things. What few realize is that Jack transcends the spheres of men and women, existing as both, or perhaps neither, sex. True, his most lucrative finds are pornographic artifacts for rich toffs. But now he has found Lady Agnes, a meticulous, generous, knock-down incredible lady who wears men’s boots. Best of all, Lady Agnes accepts him in his entirety—a jewel so rare that even Jack is surprised he could find it.
When Jack is commissioned to steal from Lady Agnes’s cousin, can Jack find a way to prove his love and still earn the money he needs to protect himself and his home?
Vasily trailed behind Agnes, which was all well and good, but she needed more room today at market. She had informed him that she wouldn’t have any packages to hand off, but the man insisted on staying close to her all the same. It was unfortunate. How was she supposed to have a sensitive discussion with Jack if Vasily was standing there? How to talk about Lydia’s motherhood issues while he stood there like a giant brooding tree?
It was thoroughly impossible. The idea that anyone would ever trifle with Lady Agnes was laughable. On the best of days, she was invisible. For instance, today, as she took a second lap around the market hoping to spot Jack, people literally stepped on her.
But Jack had never said he’d meet her. She wracked her brain. Did she even say which day she would come? Or what time? Oh, she was such a fool. Perhaps she expected too much. She had rebuffed him, after all. He had no reason to help her, no reason to want to be near her. Instead of healing from Mary Franklin’s severed friendship, she pined after the only person she’d ever met who made her feel seen.
She was not only foolish, she was childish. Lydia would have never made this sort of mistake. Agnes had lost her chance to be bigger than she was, to be daring, to do more than sit at home and mend dresses for women who would actually live their lives.
The lacemaker eyed her as she made her second perusal of her wares. The lace was decent, nothing exceptional, but a fine thing to add to a bonnet or a bit of trim elsewhere. Agnes fingered a bit, as if to test it while she scanned the marketplace again. The lacemaker cleared her throat as she looked at Agnes sharply.
Ah, yes. In an effort to be even more invisible than usual, Agnes had worn her most drab brown round gown. She could be a governess or a down-on-her-heels lady, but she was not mistaken for what she actually was. So that was a success of a sort. Agnes gave the lacemaker a polite smile and moved on.
“You dropped this, miss,” a voice said from behind.
Agnes turned and there he was, looking more of a grown man than he had at dinner the other night. His shoulders seemed broader, the cut of his waistcoat more sophisticated. He held a coin out to her.
“Thank you, sir,” she said, trying to act as if he were any other person in the world and not the only one who sent her heart rioting out of her chest. Even Mary Franklin hadn’t accomplished that feeling. With Mary, she’d felt warm and happy, as if Mary were a candle that helped her see in a dark hallway. Jack was a bonfire, ripping through logs and popping embers, loud and chaotic. A heat that could singe.
Jack stared at her with those large, dark eyes, fringed with thick lashes. He really had the most remarkable eyes. He cleared his throat at her.
Oh, the coin. Yes. Agnes graciously took the coin from his outstretched hand, concentrating so that her hands wouldn’t shake. Was she supposed to pretend this was hers? Or was she to return it? She wasn’t sure how this kind of game was played.
“How kind you are,” she remarked. How was she supposed to engage him to walk with her in this ruse?
“Perhaps you would treat me to a cider or some such as a reward,” he whispered.
“Perhaps I could treat you to a cider or some such as a reward for such gallant honesty,” Agnes repeated, rather proud of herself for adding that bit at the end.
Vasily harrumphed from afar. Agnes couldn’t tell if he wasn’t fooled or wasn’t amused.
“Come, sir,” Agnes announced, perhaps a touch too loud, but she’d never been one for acting.
“Why thank you,” Jack said through gritted teeth and came to her side to walk.
She hadn’t the faintest why he might be so put out—they were walking together in public, weren’t they? “Thank you,” she said, hoping that would at least soften that handsome clenched jaw. It seemed sharp enough to cut paper.
“What did you need, my lady?” Jack asked, his voice pitched for her ears only.
“I have a bit of a problem,” she confessed. “But it’s very private. I can’t let it be widely known.”
Jack looked at her in alarm. She could feel his sudden tension radiating through the air. “What do you need?”
“It isn’t for me. It’s for my sister.”
Visible relief washed over his face. “Of course. I’m happy to oblige.”
“It isn’t something that one speaks about in polite company.”
Jack looked over his shoulder. “I think we’re safely away from that.”
“It’s, well…I mean…I know nothing of these things, but I was wondering if perhaps you might know of someone—through your circles of acquaintances, I mean, not that you yourself would know, of course.”
Suppressing a smile caused Jack’s cheek to dimple, and it had to be the most adorable thing Agnes had ever seen, which only caused her to stammer harder and blush from the bottoms of her feet to the ends of her hair.
“What I mean to ask, that is, is would you perhaps be able to procure an appointment?”
“After all that, I still don’t know an appointment with whom exactly.” The grin on his face was maddening. “Perhaps. Who does she need to meet? The mayor? Old Boney? Prinny?”
Agnes blushed harder, which she didn’t think was possible, her cheeks throbbing red. “Oh, please don’t make fun of me even further. I know I positively resemble a garden vegetable.” Agnes hated to look a fool, especially in front of someone like Jack. It made her feel so ignorant. And she knew she was ignorant in many areas, but couldn’t he be kind to those who didn’t know?
“My apologies. I am particular toward garden vegetables, so you’ll have to pardon my goading.”
Agnes moaned in frustration and tried to get a handle on herself. She should have never asked to see him. This wasn’t her business. She wanted to be useful, to help her sister. Which, in all likelihood, Lydia wouldn’t even appreciate.
“In all seriousness, my lady. I will do whatever you desire.”
The words left his mouth in all innocence, she knew that. But she couldn’t help glancing up, her heart stopping as he’d said them. Her tongue was thick, unable to speak. Even he seemed shocked by what he’d said.
“Oh look,” he said, in a far too casual tone. “Cider.”
She pulled her gaze in front of her, once again struggling with the war inside her body that made no sense whatsoever. She’d never had this reaction to anyone before. Never. Not once. Not even the fantasy husbands she’d constructed in her mind in an effort to make the whole practice of the marriage mart seem appealing. But Jack. Jack was doing something to her that confused her.
“Oh, cider,” she echoed.
They ordered the cold pressed apple cider and stood drinking in wooden mugs near the stand so that they might return the mugs once they were finished. It felt companionable, easy. Not the way things felt when she was in the presence of a man.
“Very refreshing,” Agnes said.
Jack made a noise in agreement as a couple passed them by. Once no one was in earshot, he asked, “So what kind of appointment is needed for your sister?”
Agnes gritted her teeth. If her sister could fight in a boxing ring, or even go through the humiliation of her childhood, then Agnes could manage to say to this, this, this—this veritable street urchin—that her sister needed a midwife of a sort.
Jack wasn’t a street urchin. Agnes didn’t know what it was, but she hated that she’d even thought it.
“My sister had a child not long ago, and I don’t think she’s healing properly. And it isn’t only that her color is off, but also her humor. Even her husband is worried. Oh, I can’t believe I’m saying this.” Agnes pinched at her wrist to keep herself talking. “And the physician that sees her doesn’t seem to be helping. Do you know of a midwife or herb woman that might be willing to come visit?”
The expression on Jack’s face changed as Agnes recited Lydia’s problems. He looked positively understanding.
“And discreetly!” Agnes added. “Of course.”
“Of course,” Jack echoed. “Any particular day or time?”
Agnes shook her head. “Whenever one can be available.”
“I’ll send a note when I find someone to visit your sister’s bedside. Should I send it to you or to Mrs. Arthur?”
“To me, please. I’ll let Lydia know. It’s, well, it’s embarrassing.”
Jack gave her a soft smile, one without bravado or artifice. “It’s the business of life. It cannot be embarrassing.”
The bonfire that was Jack lit inside of her chest. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure. Now. May I ask something of you?”
“Of course. After that, I feel like nothing ought to shock me.”
Jack laughed, and it felt like there was finally sunshine on this overcast and yellowish morning. “Careful of what you say, my lady. You know I like beets.”
Agnes knitted her eyebrows. “What on earth could you say?”
“Don’t challenge me,” he purred.
Agnes’s tongue went thick again, and the odd tumbles and bits that she’d imagined in her bed on those lonely nights came to mind, finally with a face attached to a body. A person attached.
“I would be honored if you would consider—” Jack glanced back at Vasily, who stood a respectful distance away. “Running away with me. Only for a day.”
Agnes couldn’t help but eye him. The same suspicions ran through her as had the night of the ball. A bubble of excitement rose in her chest. Even her toes seemed to tingle. Could she? Would she? She glanced back at Vasily. He wouldn’t mind being alleviated of his responsibilities for a day, would he?
She could still be ruined, of course. But it was daylight. And, well, she didn’t want to marry anyone anyway, so what was the harm?
Her whole body vibrated as she leaned forward and whispered, “Yes.” It felt like drinking champagne to say yes to Jack. Heady and sweet and wonderful.
The reward was a slow smile from Jack, his dark eyes searching her face. “Then we start slow. We’ll walk to the crowded end of the market and disappear down an alleyway. Are you ready?”
Agnes glanced back again.
“Don’t look at him. Look at the shops. The sky. Me.”
Jack was easy to look at. His tight vest, the shaggy, inky fringe of hair visible from his hat, it all made Agnes feel somehow…fizzy. He proffered his arm, like a gentleman, and Agnes took it, despite the fact that she stood taller than him by a good four inches.
“My goodness, are we really running away?” Agnes asked, surprising even herself that she sounded so breathless. So carried away.
That sultry grin split his face again, making her mouth go dry. “Oh no, my lady. I’m not running away. I’m going about my business. You are running away.”
For a moment, Agnes wanted to tell Mary Franklin. To throw it in like a tasty piece of gossip. You’ll never believe what I did the other day. Her own way to say, I’m not so small now, am I?
But when Jack was around, Mary Franklin seemed so dull. Utterly ordinary. Why would she have water when she could have whisky? Not that in this analogy, water was even offered anymore. And the pang she expected to receive with that thought didn’t come. It had been a few months, but could it be that she was over Mary Franklin? How truly odd.
Agnes’s hand was threaded through Jack’s elbow, and he put his hand over hers, signaling to sidestep down an alleyway. Agnes turned to glance back at Vasily.
“No, not at him. Watch me,” Jack said.
So she did. He became her whole world.
And sometimes, she thought dimly as she quickened her steps, that’s all it takes.
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