Chapter Fourteen: A Dangerous Killer
Sir Holland Dozier-Holland was just settling down in his favorite easy chair by the fire to read the morning papers when all at once his peaceful study erupted in turmoil.
"Sir Dozy! Have you seen this? These lies they put in the London Times . . . have you read them?"
"Ah . . . good morning, my dear." Startled, Sir Holland tried to calm the agitated, strikingly beautiful young woman. "Have you had breakfast yet? Do sit down, that's a good girl." He gestured to the armchair next to his, close to the glowing fire.
"I will not sit down!" Still clad in her robe and slippers, the dark, exotic beauty began pacing the carpeted floor, the crumpled morning paper clutched tight in her fingers. "I cannot believe that the English papers would print such a ridiculous story. Everything here is the opposite of the truth!"
Sir Holland sighed deeply. "I'm afraid I'm responsible for that, my dear. I should have come to see you before the maid took up your tray. But you were still asleep, m'dear. And after all you've been through, I thought you should rest."
"But I cannot understand! You put this story in the paper?" Louise gawked at her guardian.
"Come sit down, m'dear. Here, by the fire. We need to talk."
Louise obeyed, like a sleepwalker moving in a dream. Just then the pretty upstairs maid came tripping into the study with a tray, a worried look on her fresh, innocent features.
"You did give me a start, miss, bolting out of bed like that. Was the coffee not to your liking?"
"The coffee?" Louise watched as the cheerful young woman swiftly prepared her tray, serving breakfast before the fire. "I'm terribly sorry . . . it wasn't the coffee at all! Everything looks wonderful, absolutely delicious. And I am so hungry!"
"That will be all, Alice. Well done." Sir Holland's praise made the maid turn pink with pleasure. She left the study smiling.
"Me, I slept late today." Louise frowned as she sipped her steaming coffee. She wasn't used to servants. She wished she had been awake and smiling when Alice brought in her tray, instead of snoring away with the curtains drawn, enjoying all the comforts of her new and unfamiliar lifestyle.
"Never fear, my dear, you'll get used to country living in time." Fat old Sir Holland watched with twinkling blue eyes as slender young Louise wolfed down her breakfast. "Ah, you've got a country girl's appetite. Splendid! In time you'll learn to wake up early too. Wait till the hunting season begins, and we ride out before dawn to meet our neighbors! Sir Gerald Pettibone and I . . . well, we had some marvelous adventures in the old days." The old man broke off, his round red face flushing to a deeper shade.
"He was your friend," Louise muttered, looking into her empty coffee cup. "He was your good friend, and I . . ."
"None of that, my girl." Sir Holland awkwardly patted the girl on the shoulder. "Gerry was my friend, it's true. But when he betrayed his country, our friendship died. And when he tried to hurt you, he . . . well, he got what he deserved."
"Then why did you twist everything backwards in the newspaper story?" Louise turned to her companion with tearful eyes, her voice cracking with emotion. "Why did you make it sound as if Sir Gerald was a hero? As if he rescued me from those horrible people in Paris? Why does the paper say that he was killed while protecting me from terrorists, when really it was just the opposite? He worked for the terrorists, yet the papers say he died an English hero!"
"I won't lie to you, my dear," the old man said quietly. "I wanted to protect Gerald's family. They're good people, a very old family, and they're my neighbors. They've already lost a father and a husband. Why should they be punished with scandal and disgrace as well? Better they should think Sir Gerald died a hero, protecting a beautiful young woman."
"But the real hero was an American secret agent," Louise objected in dismay. "There's no mention of Mark Ryder, or his partner Emma Cadbury, anywhere in that story!"
"Ah, now that's the real point," Sir Holland agreed smoothly. "You must understand that your two friends were instrumental in creating the story we leaked to the papers. Their lives depend on remaining anonymous, m'dear. They needed to make it look as if they never existed, as if there were never the slightest connection between you and them."
"Never the slightest connection," Louise echoed, in a daze. Mark had vanished from her life as if he had never existed. How foolish she had been to imagine that he loved her!
"I never enjoyed twisting the truth," Sir Holland rumbled, "but what else could I do? That cold, ruthless American insisted that we come up with a story that would keep him out of it – and we needed a story that would protect you too."
"Protect me too?" Louise had been staring into the fire, picturing Mark making love to her in Paris. She looked up to see Sir Holland watching her with worried blue eyes. "But I am safe now, Sir Dozy. I am with you!" She forced a smile.
"Exactly, my dear." The old man seized her small, ice cold hands, engulfing them in his huge warm paws. "You are safe with me. I will protect you like my own flesh and blood. We will all work very hard to help you adjust to your new life. After the funeral we'll make a whole new start!"
"After the funeral?" Louise turned her head sharply, feeling chilled in spite of fire. "I am going to Sir Gerald's funeral?"
"Well, yes. You've got to be introduced properly into local society. Otherwise people will think I'm keeping you under my roof for shady purposes. But I can hardly introduce you to the local gentry as the girl who shot poor Sir Gerald!"
"But I . . . how will I . . . Dozy, I cannot do this!"
"I know it's rough, my dear. Going to the funeral of the man you killed. But you'll manage. After all, it's not like anyone knows the truth!" Sir Holland shrugged his bulky shoulders, as though it were all quite simple.
"It is horrible!" Louise shuddered. This was like a nightmare, one where she had to do something ghoulish and gruesome while smiling and remaining perfectly calm.
"Beg your pardon, Sir Holland, but the young lady's bath is ready. And the black dress from London has just arrived."
"Ah, splendid!" Sir Holland clapped his hands, like a little boy looking forward to a treat. "Louise, be a good girl now, and run along. Alice will help you with everything you need."
"Very well." Louise squared her shoulders, and marched off to her bath. She realized that she had to behave like a lady. Mark Ryder had dumped her, but Sir Holland Dozier-Holland was counting on her. She had to prove that she was a lady, even if she was still a dangerous killer deep inside.