seen enough to confirm Thurlow and Brownâs standingâprecisely as Montague had said, stuffily, dustily dull. Heâd learned which room was whose, and through the open doors heâd seen the locked client boxes lining the walls of both partnersâ rooms. They didnât lock the boxes away somewhere else. They were there, within easy reach, and the only lock between the landing and the boxes was the old wrist-breaker on the main door.
There had also been no sign of any junior clerk. Thereâd been only one desk, and little space outside the partnersâ roomsâno area for a clerk or office boy to spend the night.
Entirely satisfied with his afternoonâs work, Gabriel saluted the gatekeeper with his cane and strode through the secondary gateway into the adjoining Fields.
Before him, a small army of old trees, like ancient sentinels, spread their branches protectively over gravel walks and swaths of lawn. Sunlight streamed down. The breeze ruffled leaves, shedding shifting shadows over the green carpets on which gentlemen and ladies strolled while waiting for others consulting in the surrounding chambers.
Gabriel paused in the cobbled forecourt beyond the gate, gazing unseeing at the trees.
Would the countess be impatient enough to contact him that evening? The possibility tantalized, even more so as the realization sank in that her impatience could not possibly match his. While with her, heâd felt he knew her, knew the sort of woman she was; away from her, heâd realized how little he knew of the real woman behind the veil. Learning more, quickly, seemed imperativeâhe especially needed to learn how to put his hand on a woman who thus far had been a phantom in the night.
Unfortunately, he couldnât learn more until she contacted himâat least now, when she did, heâd have something to report.
Shrugging off his distraction, he settled on Aldwych as his best bet for a hackney and set out along the south side of the Fields. Halfway along, he heard himself hailed.
â Gabriel! â
The voices coming from the Fields were assuredly feminine, equally assuredly young. Halting, Gabriel scanned the shaded lawns; two sweet young things, their parasols tilted at crazy angles, were bobbing up and down and waving madly. Squinting against the sunlight, he recognized Mary and Alice Morwellan. Raising his cane in reply, he waited until a dowagerâs black carriage rolled soberly past, then started across the narrow street.
Alathea saw him coming, and had to fight down an urge to screech at her sistersâwhat had they done ? Sheâd seen him walk through the gates of the Inn and pause. Her attention locked on him, sheâd assured herself that he wouldnât notice her in the shadows, that there was no reason for her heart to gallop, for her nerves to twitch.
Heâd remained safely ignorant of her presenceâsheâd been surprised heâd acted so swiftly on the countessâs behalf. That was, she presumed, why he was hereâif sheâd known, she would never have risked coming. Having him find her anywhere near any location he would associate with the countess had formed no part of her careful plans. She needed to keep her two personas completely distinct, especially near him.
As heâd walked along the street, cane swinging, broad shoulders square, sunlight had gleamed on his chestnut hair, gilding the lightly curling locks. Her thoughts had slowed, haltedâsheâd completely forgotten Mary and Alice were with her.
Theyâd seen him and calledânow there was no escape. As he crossed the grass toward them, she drew in a breath, lifted her chin, tightened her fists about her parasolâs handleâand tried to quell her panic.
He couldnât recognize lips heâd kissed but not seen, could he?
Smiling easily, Gabriel strode into the treesâ shadows. As he neared, Mary and Alice stopped