Roland thought of London, the chaotic port-o-call that would greet him on his return. He had known fleeting glimpses of happiness here in this strange land. But even in a crowded tavern, with hearty laughter and huzzahs surrounding him, at times he still caught his distorted reflection in a shining tankard and recognized the visage of lonely man who longed for a certain woman.
"To see her once again…" he whispered, gently tracing a carved detail with his finger and thinking about this puzzling, persistent love for Julia that refused to die. But then his mind went swiftly back to his trial, back to the day she'd betrayed him and his expression hardened. He turned to Kinlan. "Why would I return? To catch up with old faithless friends?"
"If you mean to imply Mrs. King, she is equally a victim of his machinations. Besides, I believe you may find her convictions…changed."
Roland scoffed, pushing away fading remnants of tender feelings for her. "Have you come all this way to talk about her rather unfortunate circumstances?"
Kinlan smoked his pipe contemplatively. "No. I've come to talk about yours. It appears this King fellow is resourceful indeed, putting your entire estate at risk of—shall we say—misappropriation? There's to be a masked ball at the end of the social season whereby he will make a grand announcement. Speculation is rife that your father will change his will and recognize him."
Impotent outrage rose up in Roland's throat, imagining Charles—that charlatan!—becoming the master of Belleview.
"Is your father aware of your miraculous survival?"
"No, I couldn't dare risk a letter falling into the wrong hands."
Kinlan stood, went to the window and lifted the sash a few inches. Cold, biting wind rushed into the room, re-invigorating the fire in the hearth. He tapped out the ashes in his pipe, slid the window shut and stashed the pipe in his coat pocket.
Roland turned to his old friend. "Tell my father I'm alive. Tell him—"
"Tell him yourself." Kinlan started for the door. "The Airly Mystic's captain has been missing for a week. I'll lose my shipping contract if she's not delivered on time and you're the man to do it. In three days, we set sail in a convoy. Once home, if you can find the man authoring the handbills, you'll have a chance at extracting a confession from King. And when you do, I believe you'll find a sympathetic public ear."
"Don't you think I haven't considered every last possibility? I have spent every waking moment of my recent life, thus far, thinking about my return and slitting that gutless man's throat. But I've just one life."
He stopped and met Roland's gaze. "Then use it well."
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