Stepping out of the shadows, he strode purposefully toward her, taking grim satisfaction in the horror on her face when she
"Col—Col—" she gasped.
"That would be Colin," he drawled, grasping her arm just above the elbow. His touch was light, but his grip was firm, and there was no way she could think that she might make an escape.
Smart girl that she was, she didn't even try.
But smart girl that she was, she did attempt a play at innocence.
"Colin!" she finally managed to get out. "What a ... what a..."
She gulped. "Yes."
"I'm sure it is."
Her eyes darted to the door, to the nave, everywhere but to the pew where she'd hidden her envelope. "I've—I've never seen you here before."
"I've never been."
Penelope's mouth moved several times before her next words emerged. "It's quite appropriate, actually, that you'd be here, actually, because, actually ... uh ... do you know the story of St. Bride's?"
He raised one brow. "Is that where we are?"
Penelope was clearly trying for a smile, but the result was more of the openmouthed idiot sort of look. Normally this would have amused him, but he was still angry with her for taking off on her own, not giving a care to her safety and welfare.
But most of all, he was furious that she had a secret.
Not so much that she'd kept a secret. Secrets were meant to be kept, and he couldn't blame her for that. Irrational as it was, he absolutely could not tolerate the fact that she had a secret. She was Penelope. She was supposed to be an open book. He knew her. He'd always known her.
And now it seemed he'd never known her.
"Yes," she finally replied, her voice squeaking on the word. "It's one of Wren's churches, actually, you know, the ones he did after the Great Fire, they're all over the City, and actually it's my favorite. I do so love the steeple. Don't you think it looks like a wedding cake?"
She was babbling. It was never a good sign when someone babbled. It generally meant they were hiding something. It was already obvious that Penelope was making an attempt at concealment, but the uncharacteristic rapidity of her words told him that her secret was exceedingly large, indeed.
He stared at her for a very long time, drawn out over many seconds just to torture her, then finally asked, "Is that why you think it's appropriate that I'm here?"
Her face went blank.
"The wedding cake ..." he prompted.
"Oh!" she squealed, her skin flushing a deep, guilty red. "No! Not at all! It's just that—What I meant to say was that this is the church for writers. And publishers. I think. About the publishers, that is."
She was flailing and she knew she was flailing. He could see it in her eyes, on her face, in the very way her hands twisted as she spoke. But she kept trying, kept attempting to keep up the pretense, and so he did nothing but give her a sardonic stare as she continued with, "But I'm sure about the writers." And then, with a flourish that might have been triumphant if she hadn't ruined it with a nervous swallow, "And you're a writer!"
"So you're saying this is my church?"
"Er..." Her eyes darted to her left. "Yes."
She gulped. "It is?"
"Oh, yes," he said, with a smooth casualness to his words that was intended to terrify her.
Her eyes darted to her left again ... toward the pew where she'd hidden her correspondence. She'd been so good until now, keeping her attention off of her incriminating evidence. He'd almost been proud of her for it.
"My church," he repeated. "What a lovely notion."
Her eyes grew round, scared. "I'm afraid I don't catch your meaning."
He tapped his finger to his jaw, then held out his hand in a thoughtful manner. "I believe I'm developing a taste for prayer."
"Prayer?" she echoed weakly. "You?"
"I... well... I... I..."
"Yes?" he queried, beginning to enjoy this in a sick sort of way. He'd never been the angry, brooding type. Clearly, he hadn't known what he was missing. There was something rather pleasing in making her squirm. "Penelope?" he continued. "Did you have something to say?"
She swallowed. "No."
"Good." He smiled blandly. "Then I believe I require a few moments for myself."
He stepped to his right. "I'm in a church. I believe I want to pray."
She stepped to her left. "I beg your pardon?"
He cocked his head very slightly to the side in question. "I said that I want to pray. It wasn't a terribly complicated sentiment."
He could tell that she was straining hard not to rise to his bait. She was trying to smile, but her jaw was tense, and he'd wager that her teeth were going to grind themselves to powder within minutes.
"I didn't think you were a particularly religious person," she said.
"I'm not." He waited for her to react, then added, "I intend to pray for you."
She swallowed uncontrollably. "Me?" she squeaked.
"Because," he began, unable to prevent his voice from rising in volume, "by the time I'm done, prayer is the only thing that is going to save you!"
And with that he brushed her aside and strode to where she'd hidden the envelope.
"Colin!" she yelled, running frantically after him. "No!"
He yanked the envelope out from behind the prayer book but didn't yet look at it. "Do you want to tell me what this is?" he demanded. "Before I look myself, do you want to tell me?"
"No," she said, her voice breaking on the word.
His heart breaking at the expression in her eyes.
"Please," she begged him. "Please give it to me." And then, when he did nothing but stare at her with hard, angry eyes, she whispered, "It's mine. It's a secret."
"A secret worth your welfare?" he nearly roared. "Worth your life?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Do you have any idea how dangerous it is for a woman alone in the City? Alone anywhere?"
All she said was, "Colin, please." She reached for the envelope, still held out of her reach.
And suddenly he didn't know what he was doing. This wasn't him. This insane fury, this anger—it couldn't be his.
And yet it was.
But the troubling part was ... it was Penelope who had made him thus. And what had she done? Traveled across London by herself? He was rather irritated at her for her lack of concern for her own safety, but that paled in comparison to the fury he felt at her keeping of secrets.