May 15, 1780
Berkeley Square, London
Elliott relaxed in his library alone with a glass of whisky in his hand after having sent Piefke to bed. The house was blessedly quiet, which gave him the opportunity to think without interruption.
Sandy and Lady Jane were affixed, at least temporarily, and Iddlesleigh had been put on notice that Elliott knew of his alliance with Sandwich. Not that he cared in the least because, as Fury had so astutely pointed out, Elliott had been a goodly portion of the Americans’ makeshift navy, but he would not hesitate to use information to his advantage.
Camille had narrowed her list down to one or two of the gentlemen with Viscount Merrill leading by a nose. The girl knew her business, he had to admit. Merrill was the heir to a minor Irish noble, was finishing his course at Cambridge, and seemed to have a stiffer constitution than Elliott had initially thought. Her single-minded determination to marry herself off by the end of the Season was no less forceful than anything her sisters and mother could muster. In fact, Milly was still out at some ball with Merrill, chaperoned by his mother, who didn’t seem terribly managing at all.
Niall had gathered some courage to request two dances from the Duke of Croftwood’s youngest daughter. In fact, Elliott had observed his singular, but bashful, attention upon the girl for quite a few moments more than proper because it amused him to no end. For a man who could stand in a courtroom with the utmost of poise to charm judge and jury into believing every word out of his mouth, this was rather concerning.
It was only because the house was so quiet that Elliott heard someone scratching at the servants’ door, likely one of the housemaids being summoned to the stable for a turn in the hay. Thus, he was rather shocked when a sleepy Lynch knocked on the library door and, at Elliott’s gesture, ushered in Fury’s lieutenant.
“Close the door, Lynch.”
Elliott eyed Papadakos warily and waved a hand toward the liquor cabinet. “Rum’s over there, if you’re of a mind. Then sit and tell me what I have done this time to make Fury furious.”
“Many thanks.” Elliott watched him choose the Greek spirit Fury was rather fond of, but did not drink very often, as it laid her flat with a sip or two. “I answered your summons once Jack granted permission, but your mother,” he spat, “thought me a dirty Gypsy beggar and ordered her staff to run me off the property. I have wasted precious time trying to catch the attention of someone from your crew who knows me.”
Elliott’s jaw ground. “I apologize for her and I will remedy that. You have a message for me, then?”
“Yes. We depart within the fortnight,” the young man said after he sat back and took an appreciative sip.
“Depart?” Elliott asked sharply. “Why?”
“She has her reasons,” he muttered, eyeing Elliott with some suspicion. “She simply wanted to inform you so you will not feel compelled to continue your search for her.”
“What does she want from me, Papadakos?” Elliott demanded with a great deal of frustration. “A declaration of undying devotion? Done. She has it. An offer to accompany her to Algiers? Done. I will do it. Tonight, if I must. A proposal of marriage? I can’t or we would be wed already.”
Papadakos took a deep breath, released it, then opened his mouth—
“Elliott!” Camille barked as she burst into the library, “I cannot abide another second—”
Stared at Papadakos, who returned it, his mouth slightly agape.
Turned on a heel and left the room as abruptly as she had entered it, slamming the door behind her.
“That was interesting,” Elliott drawled.
“I am not accustomed to seeing so many beautiful women so finely dressed,” he said with a shrug. “Captain Jack sent me to say goodbye. That’s all. We will not be returning to England even if we escape Algiers, and if we do, we will not be mooring in Rotterdam again.”
Elliott closed his eyes and fell back into his chair, feeling as if she had ripped his heart from his chest.
“I want to see her,” he rasped. “One last time. Please.”
Papadakos cast a glance at the door whilst he considered. “I’ll deliver the message, but she is angry. In that respect, she is no different from any other spurned or grieving woman.”
Spurned?! Was that how she thought of it? Hell’s bells, no wonder she was livid.
Then Elliott’s brows drew together. “Speaking of grief, were you present when Skirrow murdered her husband?” The man paled and his hand trembled slightly. Elliott cleared his throat. “Apologies, Officer,” he murmured. “I meant no harm.”
“I didn’t know the man but I grieve him,” Papadakos whispered, staring down into his glass. “We all who witnessed it do.”
“And that is why you’re willing to go with her to Algiers?”
His head popped up and his eyes narrowed. “I would follow her to the grave. I came up from a ship’s boy, as many of us did. I owe her my life many times over and for a surety, not the least bit for killing Skirrow. And it is a far better life than I could have imagined for myself.”
Elliott nodded and decided further questioning was useless. It was done. “I have a request, if you please. Instruct Croftwood to send a letter to his father. He is himself grieving for a son he believes is dead.”
The lieutenant blinked, then nodded. “I will. Thank you, Captain.” Papadakos arose and set the glass down. “Oh, one other thing. She bade me inform you that if you attempt to deceive her about a lack of wife to regain access to her bed, she will make sure you can never father children. And she will do it in the most painful way she can devise.”
Elliott laughed piteously. He should have known she would anticipate such a tactic.
“Understood,” he said low, gaining his feet and offering his hand to Papadakos. “Please . . . tell her I love her.”
Papadakos shook it and looked at him soberly. “I should not speak for her in this, but I believe she reciprocates, Captain.”
Elliott stood and looked at the closed library doors for quite a while, then picked up Papadakos’s glass and pitched it into the fireplace, where it shattered.
Like his heart.