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Page 17

Now even the constable looked amused. No constable would dare march to the house of Edward Sutton in Park Lane and tell him to release poor Mr. Mortimer from his debt, which was likely an illegal one. The solicitor, likewise, was pretending he didn’t hear this part of the conversation.

“Figure the price for the house, and then knock off seven thousand from that,” Daniel said. “Give me your note of hand to Sutton, and I’ll run round and pay it for you.”

Mortimer stared in astonishment. “What the devil? Why would you do that?”

“In return, you’ll promise to abandon any chase of Mademoiselle Violette and leave her to her fate.”

Mortimer bristled. “But she—”

Daniel held up his hand. “I buy the house, I pay off Sutton for you, and in return, you leave Mademoiselle Violette alone. The price of assuaging your pride is this house plus me settling your debt. Take it, or I can tell Sutton about this lovely abode you have. I’ll guess he’d take it in lieu. Of course, he wouldn’t give you the money to make up the price of it, and your family might have something to say about that. What a right mess. I’m your best bet.”

The solicitor cleared his throat again. They did that, solicitors, gave a dry cough that preceded sage advice. They must learn it when they apprenticed—morning lessons featuring precise throat clearing.

“Mr. Mackenzie’s offer is good, Mr. Mortimer,” the solicitor said. “One that will save you much trouble in the end.”

Mortimer’s indecision was comical. He so much wanted to lay his hands on the Bastiens to satisfy the bully in him, but likewise he wanted the threat of Edward Sutton out of his life. Would he lord over the weak, or keep the strong from lording over him?

Fear won. Mortimer gave Daniel a nod. “Very well. My solicitor will draw up the agreement. My father will comply. He’s been wanting to sell the house for ages.”

“Excellent,” Daniel said. “Thank you, constable. You can go now. No longer needed, I think.”

The constable touched his hat and backed away, happy to be out of it. Daniel pulled a card from his coat and gave it to the suited man. “Make an appointment with my solicitor, and we’ll sort this out. Meanwhile, I’m off to pay a call on Mr. Sutton.”

“Hum,” Mortimer said, eyes glittering in dislike. “Don’t play fast and loose with me, Mackenzie.”

“I said I’d pay your note, and I will,” Daniel said, taking up the hat he’d left on the hall table. “Sutton won’t be interested in you once he’s been paid, so he won’t send more men after you. The one he sent last night works for me now, anyway.”

Daniel liked the worry in Mortimer’s eyes. Daniel was effectively taking Sutton’s place on the bully scale, and Mortimer, in his way of thinking, now had to placate Daniel.

Whatever he liked. Daniel had no more interest in Mortimer. As long as the man stayed away from Violette, all was well.

Daniel left the house and walked back to his hired carriage, whistling.

Daniel’s errand to Edward Sutton in his Park Lane house didn’t take long. In sharp contrast to the overloaded parlor at Mortimer’s house, the study in which Sutton received Daniel was the epitome of plain elegance. In evidence were the clean lines of the new Arts and Crafts style—everything fashioned by artisans, nothing factory made. Priceless paintings from around the world hung on the walls.

Sutton, a thin, spare man with graying hair and eyes that saw too much, was happy to receive five thousand for Mortimer’s debt and tear up the note.

“Thank you,” Sutton said, his voice as dry as Mortimer’s solicitor’s. “I dislike Fenton Mortimer and was tired of dealing with him. Serves me right for giving him the money in the first place. And you say you’ve stolen the man I sent after him?”

Daniel shrugged, pretending he didn’t notice the other bone-breakers Sutton had stationed around the room. “I need a man, and I like one who’s good with his fists. I lead an adventurous life.”

“You will if you entice good servants out from under the noses of men like me.” Sutton’s cold eyes pinned Daniel. “But I’ll surrender him with good grace, since you’ve paid Mortimer’s debt. Some advice, Mr. Mackenzie. Don’t be so hasty to do good services for men like Mortimer. They’ll come back for more.”

“Not in this case,” Daniel said. “And as I said, I had my reasons.”

“To do with a woman, no doubt,” Sutton said, his voice even drier. “I see it in your eyes. An even more foolish motivation, Mr. Mackenzie. But you come from a family of fools. They were formidable until they went soft.”

“But they’re happy, Mr. Sutton. My uncles are so much easier to live with now that they’re family men.”

“If you say so. Go after your woman, Mr. Mackenzie. And if you ever need a favor—not about a woman—feel free to come to me. I prefer to deal with honorable men.”

Daniel agreed to keep it in mind, but he made no promises. Sutton was the kind of man to twist a favor into lifelong servitude. Even Uncle Hart wasn’t as cold-blooded as Edward Sutton.

Daniel entered his carriage again, but when the coachman asked where he wanted to go, Daniel had to debate. What now?

If he wanted to find Violette, Daniel had resources at hand. Hart Mackenzie, the Duke of Kilmorgan, had a network to rival that of the best police force in Europe. But Hart, as head of the Mackenzie family, would demand to know why Daniel wanted to find the Bastiens, would want every detail, and wouldn’t help until he was satisfied with Daniel’s explanation. Or he’d refuse point-blank. Even if Hart did help, his assistance always came with a price. If Sutton was a cunning man, Hart Mackenzie was the very devil. Who knew what he’d ask from Daniel in return?

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