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“Well, then, what is your plan?” she asked. “Other than acting the jailer.”

A knock on the library door kept Archer from answering. Inspector Lane was calling, informed Gilroy. Normally, Archer hated being interrupted, especially when he was with Miranda. On this occasion, however, Winston Lane’s arrival was more than welcome. Archer quickly bid Gilroy to allow Lane entry.

Miranda muttered an oath as he gave her a grin and slipped on his full mask. Lane soon strode into the room, his bony frame lost among a brown sack suit and billowing blue Crispin cloak, his bowler hat tucked under his arm.

“Miranda.” He came near, bringing with him the acerbic scent of the damp London air tinged with an unnerving hint of blood. “Are you well, sister?”

Miranda gave him a strained smile. “Well enough. Hello, Winston.”

“My lord.” He inclined his head to Archer. “I heard you had a coach accident last night. Nothing too dire, I hope.”

“The horses spooked,” Archer said. “It was a nuisance, but we are unharmed.”

Lane’s mustache twitched slightly at the ridiculous understatement. “I am glad.” He cleared his throat. “The CID thought it best, given the delicacy of the situation, that I handle this matter.”

“I’m glad it is you,” Miranda said in earnest.

“I must ask you both some questions. That is, if you agree, my lord.”

Archer gave a nod. “You are Miranda’s family. I should not think you capable of upsetting her.” Or he’d throw the good inspector out on his ear.

“It would grieve me to do so.” Lane folded himself into the nearest chair and pulled a small notebook from his coat pocket, and with it, a stubby pencil. “Now then,” he said, “I am to understand this last victim was your coachman, was he not?”

“Unfortunately,” Archer said. John was a good lad who deserved far better.

“Rather odd as the other victims were all older, titled, and apparently members of a club of which we can find no record, though we know it exists.”

Masks were good for some things, and Lane proved no match for Archer’s silent stare. The inspector looked away and went to the door to call Gilroy. Lane returned with an object in his hand. A dark discoloration marred part of it, and Archer realized with a sick lurch that it was Miranda’s mantle, covered in blood. Lane set it down on a chair, and the scent of her perfume lifted from it, so thick just then that it seemed as though the cloth had been doused with it.

A muscle along his jaw twitched. A woman’s perfume was as good as a fingerprint. Miranda clearly thought so and turned pale as cold cream.

“We found this near the body of your coachman.” Lane peered at Miranda. “Can you tell me when you last had it in your possession?”

“When I entered the Blackwoods’ home last night. I gave it to a footman, but I didn’t remember to retrieve it when we left.”

A small frown worked its way between Lane’s brows. “You didn’t think to collect your cloak upon leaving?”

Miranda colored. “I was feeling ill. I only thought about getting home.”

When Lane merely looked her over thoughtfully, her green eyes narrowed. “You don’t think…” She could not finish.

But Archer could. “You think perhaps Lady Archer had an amorous encounter with our coachman, and I happened upon them?”

“Archer!” she hissed, turning to glare at him. He blinked back, unmoved.

“After all,” he went on, “all of the victims are in close connection with me.”

“Archer, stop! That is ridiculous. We did not even know John was dead when we left the party.”

“I believe, my lady, that Lord Archer would rather place himself as the suspect than have us look to you.” He glanced from her to Archer and his mustache lifted. “Very admirable. However, we have gone over those scenarios and found them unwarranted. More likely, that is what the killer wants us to think. He took Miranda’s cloak, perhaps even killed your coachman, in an effort to place her at the crime scene. But why?”

That Miranda had been brought into it… the sofa back caught in Archer’s grip creaked in protest. “I don’t know,” he said stiffly.

“Hmm…” Lane draped the cloak over the chair. “I am wondering if perhaps the killer approached your coachman disguised as Lady Archer.”

Miranda’s head snapped up. “Rather odd for a man to do.”

“It is at that. And perhaps I am mistaken. However, I cannot think it was you, dear sister, who murdered your coachman.”

“Well, that is gracious of you, Winston.”

Lane gave Miranda a small, apologetic smile. “No stone can remain unturned. Even if it means checking the alibi of one’s sister-in-law.”

Lane snapped his notebook shut and then stood. “This has been a trying time for all. I should let you get your rest.” He gave Miranda a kind look before addressing Archer. “Just one more thing, my lord.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a West Moon Club coin. “Another coin was found with the body.” World-weary eyes pinned him. “Care to speculate as to its meaning?”

Archer faced Lane head on. “No.” Speculation wasn’t needed. It was another invitation to Cavern Hall. And his doom.

As soon as Winston left, Archer went to the window to stare out of it. Sunshine lit over his broad shoulders and caught the rounded curves of his mask, making it gleam. It shut Miranda out most effectively.

She rose and stood beside him. “You knew we could not be considered suspects in this crime.”

He kept his eyes on the window. Tension crackled about him like a storm. “Yes.”

“So you purposely laid blame at your feet to force Winston to reveal what the police thought.”

He turned to look at her. “Is there a point to this line of inquiry?”

“Not really. Only that I find your tactics without conscience and… admirable. Well played.”

He twitched in surprise. “I am shocked, Lady Archer,” he teased in a low voice. “Winston Lane is, after all, your brother-in-law.”

“He is also CID. I cannot think them our friends in this. Not quite yet. That Winston was here to question us tells me as much.”

Beside her, Archer sighed and wrenched off his mask as though wearing it was getting more intolerable by the moment. She turned to survey him.

“Sir Percival’s valet said Percival called the coin a guide. Why?”

Archer’s head fell to the window as he sighed. “Because it is. We each received one. Each set of bumps upon the moon face makes up symbols that work with a cipher, thus revealing the location of the meeting place.” He glanced at her. “It doesn’t mean anything, Miranda. Only another breadcrumb to lead your good brother to my door.”

“But why you?” When he did not answer, her hand curled into a fist. “Evading CID is one thing. Hiding from me is another, Archer.”

He made a sound of annoyance. “Hiding… how very dramatic.”

Miranda’s fist thumped on the windowpane. “Moon’s members are being systematically killed.” The truth was lurking in his eyes, though he did an admirable job of trying to hide it. “But you remain untouched. Why?”

He glared at her. “I wouldn’t say untouched.”

Miranda waved her hand in irritation. “I remember that day in the museum quite clearly—”

“As do I.” Archer set his hands on his trim h*ps and glared at her. “One tends to remember when one’s wife is nearly murdered.”

Wife. The word gave her pause. At times she nearly forgot what they were to each other. Partners until death. But she could not let sentimentality rule the moment.

“My point being,” she said, “that you did not appear at all surprised when you first laid eyes on the fiend. On the contrary, you appeared to recognize him.”

“What I recognized,” he retorted rather nastily, “was myself. I knew then that the killer meant to appear as me.”

“He could have killed you at the museum, but he did not. It was an easy kill.”

“I am not so easily dispatched,” Archer muttered, turning his head slightly away. Her line of thinking must have been hitting near the mark because no pithy remarks were forthcoming.

“You are quite remarkably strong and agile,” she admitted, eyeing his impressive frame. The speed she’d seen last night was magnificent. “But not indestructible.”

“No.” He spread his arms wide. “One of your little verbal barbs would do me in, I’m sure.” He glanced as his chest at though checking for injury.

“Jest all you like,” she said, strolling around him, caging him in; she’d have the truth from him yet. “It won’t do you any good.”

He paced as well, his boots thudding over the carpet, until they circled each other like two great cats taking the other’s measure. “I am positively shivering with fear,” he said with a smile.

“Aren’t you,” she murmured, and Archer scowled. “What is your true affliction, Archer? How did you survive that tumble from the coach with nary a scratch?”

His mouth thinned. “I could ask the same of you. Your fall was infinitely worse, yet here you are…”—his eyes raked over her and a small shiver took hold of her belly—“unmarred.”

“Pure luck.”

“Luck,” he repeated. “You see? Not so mysterious.” His voice was a caress. She swallowed with difficulty.

“How… how did he get away the second time?”

“I failed to give chase.” His attention was on her lips now. She did not like the look at all, for she knew he aimed to distract her. That he was doing an excellent job only aggravated her further.


“You were stuck in a runaway coach.” He did not lift his eyes from her lips. “I thought it more pressing to save you.”

His dark head seemed to move ever closer. “Have I told you that your mouth is quite lovely?” His lids lowered a fraction. “Lovely and plump.”

Most assuredly trying to distract her. A wash of warmth invaded her limbs. “Perhaps you can write a sonnet about it later. But there is the one question that puts it all into place.” Her eyes held his as she leaned in, crowding him. “Are you immortal?”

The air in the room seemed to vanish with his sharp inhalation. Archer stared at her, shock and horror mingling in his eyes. After a pregnant silence he spoke, his voice thick and rusty. “That’s what Mckinnon told you?”

She refused to be shamed. “The valet said Sir Percival had the coin since 1814. All the other members are old men. No more deflections, Archer. Is it true?”

He whirled away and stalked to the tall windows overlooking the south lawn.

Tears clogged her throat and burned her eyes, but she would not let them fall. “I thought I could accept the distance our secrets put between us. But not if doing so threatens our very lives. This is too important.” Her heart ached as she watched his shoulders move under the force of his unsteady breath. “Let me in, Archer,” she whispered.

Slowly, he turned to gaze at her with troubled eyes. “Miri…”

Something in his eyes turned her cold. Suddenly it all seemed clear, his strength, his speed. Stranger things…And if it is true, was there someone out there intent upon cannibalizing him?

Her stomach rolled as her mind spun with images of Archer cut open, his flesh devoured by an unseen monster, and she pressed her middle, holding down her panic. “It is a nightmare,” she whispered, fingers numb and cold.

Archer straightened with a sharp breath. An odd smile pulled at his lips. “Does this look like the work of immortality?” He gestured casually toward the bruises blooming yellow and blue along his jaw and cheekbone. “Or the torn flesh that you yourself stitched together?”

The mocking in his tone was unmistakable. Nor did she blame him. She could scarcely wrap her head around the idea. She steeled herself as he walked with purpose to her side. “Come.” He took her arm in hand. “You like stories? I have a grand one.”

They marched through the house, her skirts rustling loudly as she struggled to keep up. Expectation and anxiety had her pulse pounding. They did not slow until they were well away from the house, headed back to the graveyard.

Archer led her to a set of weathered headstones, not far from where John’s fresh earthen grave lay. “Benjamin Archer, Third Baron Archer of Umberslade, died in eighteen fifteen,” Archer said, pointing to the grave that bore his ancestor’s name. “I am not that man.” He took a breath, and his body grew stiffer. “Simply a fool who ignored certain destruction and survived.”

Dead leaves danced underfoot as they stood in silence. Goose bumps lifted on her skin where the cold wind hit it.

Archer stirred. “You are chilled.” He touched her elbow.

“I don’t believe you.” Miranda’s words flicked through the air like a whip, and he flinched.

“They searched to eradicate death,” she pressed. “Perhaps your grandfather failed, Archer. But you are here, a man who is now deformed by some grand experiment. And the worst of it is you won’t tell me what it was.” She stepped away from his explosive silence. “If you will not let me in to help, then I will find someone who will.”

Archer caught her wrist and wrenched her against him so fast her head spun. “Mckinnon, you mean?”

“If I must.”

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