1885, Kent England
“You’re looking well.” Quade, on a rare visit to the family estate, never knew what to say to his family members. A compliment seemed the sort of comment that would make his older brother happy. And to be sure, Jack did look glossy and self-satisfied. He was the only one of the Marrills who seemed unaffected by the cloud hanging over them. With his white-toothed smile, and fine wool sack coat open to display a new gold watch chain, he was the picture of health and wealth.
“Ha, I should. I’ve had a fine time in London last month. Without the wife.” Jack tipped him a wink.
“Is Mary here?”
Jack rolled his eyes—and Quade understood he’d been expected to give Jack a congratulatory slap on the back or make inquiries about that London visit. But Jack remained good-natured. “I left the dear thing back at the River. She’s feeling poorly.”
Quade nearly asked how water would help her, until he recalled the River House was Jack’s name for his property, ten miles off—a gift from his in-laws.
The three Marrill men lapsed into silence again, waiting for the butler to bring refreshments. Quade, just arrived from London, would rather retreat to read or perhaps take a walk than eat tea with his glowering father. He looked around the drawing room in search of another neutral topic of discussion, but Jack made the effort first.
“You’re better, Father?” he asked.
“I’m perfectly well.” Mr. Marrill gave Jack a reproachful glance.
“You’ve been ill?” Quade supposed that would account for his father’s weight loss and new halting gait.
“Nothing of the sort.” Mr. Marrill picked up a pile of letters and flipped through them.
Jack caught Quade’s eye, wrinkled his nose, and drew his bottom lip over his top, a perfect exaggeration of their father’s sternest expression. They both stifled a laugh.
“What’s so amusing?” Mr. Marrill demanded.
Jack winked at Quade, then jerked a thumb in his direction. “Quade made a funny face.”
Quade couldn’t help smiling at his idiot brother, though he half agreed with their father, who muttered, “Juvenile nonsense.”
Jack pulled out a cigar, and their father waved a hand. “Not in here,” he said, so Jack sauntered out the French windows to the garden, into the cool, cloudy day.
Their father, now alone in the room with Quade, rose to his feet, and so, of course, Quade did too.
His father scowled. “What’s that bulging in your jacket pocket?”
Quade hadn’t hidden the partial manuscript properly. He considered lying because he knew his father would disapprove, but was unable to invent anything interesting. He said, “It’s from a book about medieval law. I’m compiling the index.”
“Sounds dry and dull as…” His father’s voice trailed off.
Was he going to say as dry and dull as the grave? As Quade’s life? But his father only shook his head. He seemed even more unhappy being alone with his youngest son than usual.
“I’m going to the library. Pray do not forget that we change for dinner,” his father said and walked quickly toward the door, though he had that new limp and seemed to be nursing a pain in his side.
Quade took the risk of calling after him, “What is wrong, Father?”
A slender man, Mr. Marrill was almost gaunt now, though his graying hair was still thick and his dark eyes as he glanced back at Quade were sharp as always. He muttered something about rheumatism.
“I’m so sorry,” Quade said. “It’s only a recent problem, I expect?”
His father gave a choked sound, an imitation of laughter, but didn’t speak again before he left, slamming the door behind him.
Quade went out to the garden in search of Jack. “Why didn’t Father tell me he’s been ill?”
“Best ask him about it,” drawled Jack.
“I doubt he’d tell me. He seems even less communicative than ever.”
“Does he?” Jack still played with the unlit cigar. “He’s always been a suspicious old fogey. This and that has made him worse of late.”
“What does ‘this and that’ mean? Is there some new disaster looming over Father or you?”
Jack gave a short laugh, much like their father’s. “I’m not sure it’s your business.” He didn’t sneer, merely stated a fact. “You are so removed from our daily lives, d’you see? Neither my confidant nor Father’s.”
“No,” Quade agreed. “But I do worry about the old man.”
“No need. He doesn’t worry about us at all.” Jack walked away toward the large garden.
Quade called out to yet another retreating Marrill back. “You seem on edge as well.”
Jack merely waved his cigar in the air. “I shall see you inside.”
Quade considered following, but he’d had his fill of playing unwanted extra when he’d been a child, trailing after his brothers. And though Jack’s thoughtless comment about Quade’s place in their family held no malice, it had stung.
How childish to allow these snubs or his father’s dislike of him to make him sulky. Quade watched his brother make his way to the hedge bordering the formal garden, and wondered again how soon he might return to London.
With a sense of relief at being left to his own devices, Quade returned to the drawing room, where he settled into an overstuff chair and pulled out the loose pages to check over. He clenched a pencil between his teeth as he read through dense, handwritten passages, looking for words that would appear in the index. A notebook lay on his knee, held open with his elbow as he read.
The manuscript, written by a professor, was exactly as his father had described: dry, dull, filled with dates and facts that would put a normal man to sleep. Quade thought the whole thing fascinating. He loved his work and was grateful to be able to drag it along anywhere he went.
A few minutes later, the glass doors to the garden smashed open, and Jack staggered in. His handsome face was flushed and grossly swollen. His hands clawed at his throat, and he emitted a horrible high-pitched wheeze over and over.
Quade dropped the papers and rushed to Jack, who fell to his knees, still making the dreadful noise.
“Help! I need help,” Quade shouted over his shoulder at the closed door. “We need help, damnation.”
When a servant rushed in at last, Quade ordered, “Fetch a doctor.”
Cursing, he knelt next to Jack, undoing his neck cloth and popping the now far too tight collar stud with shaking fingers. He pushed aside the flailing hands and begged Jack to try to relax, for surely breathing would come easier if he could only stop moving about so violently.
Suddenly, the room filled with people, pushing Quade to the side and carrying Jack away and up to his room.
Quade followed behind, telling the doctor’s assistant all he knew. Even as they rushed up the stairs, the whistling wail issuing from Jack faltered, then ceased. At that moment, Quade understood the only thing worse than that awful noise was silence.
He lurked in the corridor, frozen in horror, until a harsh whisper behind him startled him into taking a step backward. “What have you done?” his father growled.
“Nothing.” Quade turned to face him.
“I saw you out there with him.”
“Only for a few moments. Then I returned inside. Father, what do you think happened with Jack? I don’t know. I don’t understand.”
His father ignored his gibbering and stared down the dark corridor—no one had bothered to turn on the gaslights yet.
The nightmare of a moment was too familiar. Another death? And in this variation of the bad dream, Quade felt even more powerless than ever before, almost culpable. “Truly I have no notion what happened,” he said and stopped when he saw his father’s face drawn into a snarl of pain or perhaps disbelief.
His father, blinked, shook his head, and whispered. “It will be fine. This isn’t like the other times. Not at all. The doctor is excellent.” He was speaking to himself, so Quade didn’t answer. He wanted to agree, but feared agitating Mr. Marrill again.
At last his father made his slow, limping way back down the stairs, and Quade soon followed.
An hour—or perhaps years—later, the doctor slowly descended the stairs to the family gathered to wait in the larger sitting room.
Even before he made the announcement, Quade’s mother let out a single muffled sob, only one, and sat up straighter.
The words were but a faraway echo of what they all knew. Jack was gone. The doctor said that Jack’s heart had failed and the culprit had been an insect bite or sting, though they couldn’t find a mark on the body, only a pronounced swollen area on his wrist.
Reverend Peeler, the vicar, had just arrived at the house to offer kind words and prayers to the family. He sidled up to the physician. “Are you quite sure? It’s rather cold for insects, don’t you think?”
The doctor murmured something Quade couldn’t hear, so he inched closer. He could see the skepticism on the faces of the listening gentlemen, his father’s friends. Quade’s own heart grew heavy with the same suspicion no matter how much he tried to ignore it.
Jack was dead. Murdered perhaps? Dead. Murder. Those two words thumped through his head without cessation, but not distracting enough he couldn’t hear Reverend Peeler continue in a carrying whisper. “And then there’s the other matter. The other brothers, you know, and the cousin. All those deaths… Most peculiar.”
Quade’s father must not have heard the vicar’s gossip, because he didn’t order Reverend Peeler from the house.
“An insect sting. No contagion,” the doctor announced to the room at large. “He can rest in peace in the chapel.”
He was a good man, and a fine doctor. Yet Quade’s troubling thoughts refused to be vanquished, and, he suspected, neither would the gossip.
He slipped away from the crowd, went outside, and by the light of a single candle, searched the garden. The cigar lay in the grass, damp from dew and Jack’s saliva. Quade gingerly picked it up with a handkerchief. Upstairs in his room, he wrapped it in more layers of cloth, placed it in a box, and pushed the box far into the bottom of his valise.
Jack was laid out on a bier in the chapel, surrounded by pale flowers and candles. Above them, the passing bell tolled in the tower.
When Quade walked down the center aisle between pews to pay his respects, the clack of his boots on the flagstones echoed through the vault of the church. He longed to run, to escape the staring congregation. He considered singing. If he bellowed out a good tavern ditty, it would prove he was a madman, and perhaps they’d say the word outright instead of in whispers. Murderer.
Along with the shock, sorrow—the more standard collection of emotions—the single selfish question nagged. Why did he have to be at the hall when Jack died? He was the only person close enough to have helped. He should have done something different, taken some action that might have saved his brother. And now Quade was acutely aware that everyone knew the truth: he was the only one who had been near when the illness seized Jack.
“Jack, are you at peace? Any advice?” he muttered to the gray figure of his brother in an open coffin nearly blanketed in roses to cover the smell. “No, no. You’re gone, and my worry is all for me. I apologize. Give my best to the others.”
He didn’t know what else to say to Jack, nearly nine years his elder and practically a stranger. That cocky smile Jack had flashed only minutes before he’d died seemed to have come from another world, one that had vanished forever with a bee sting. He couldn’t lose everything about his brother. Quade fished through sparse memories and landed on the day Jack had pulled out a pocketknife to repair a toy for him. “Thank you for fixing the top. I wish I’d known you better.”
Quade’s eyes and nose prickled, but he wouldn’t reach for the black-edged handkerchief and make that sort of a show in front of the eager spectators in the pews.
He couldn’t imagine what Jack would have done if he’d caught Quade in tears. Maybe grin at him, ruffle his hair, then saunter away. Jack hadn’t been sour, not like their oldest brother. He’d been the one to laugh, the trickster brother with the lightest heart. A plodder like Quade could never keep up with him, and only recently understood that he hadn’t wished to try.
He stared at Jack’s white face, and the usual phrases filled his mind. Thirty-three was too damned young to die. That wasn’t lively Jack in that coffin, just a badly made imitation.
Quade resisted the urge to pull out his watch to see if he’d stood there too long or not long enough. Time didn’t seem to pass the way it had before Jack’s death.
Might he turn and make his way to the front row of benches without anyone remarking about his time spent with the corpse of his brother?
They’d whisper no matter what he did or said. Jack was the fourth brother to die.
Quade barely recalled his youngest brother, who’d drowned years ago. The second died in an accident while Quade was home on holiday from the university. The carriage had apparently gone over a narrow bridge during a storm. Another had been found in the woods with a broken neck after his saddle horse returned home without him. Now here lay Jack…and only Quade remained alive.
In the last six years, other male relations had met unfortunate ends. Quade’s uncle and cousin died—and the cousin dead after a mysterious assault late at night in a London alley. The only remaining cousin, a small child, lived with Quade’s mother and father.
Much of the dead uncle’s estate had gone to Quade’s father, joining money and lands again, an ever-increasing pile of wealth. And the last son would inherit it all.
Quade could almost hear the thoughts behind the dozens of faces that watched him. No doubt it’s a temptation to put even your own family out of the way for such rich gains, eh?
He wanted to turn and shout at the lines of people sitting in their finest mourning, insist they speak to his face, voice their suspicions out loud. But as he walked to the front, he caught sight of his parents’ blank, pale faces, and he recalled again that his indignation or fear of the truth was hardly the point. Jack’s widow was still in bed, overcome and doused with laudanum, days after the tragedy.
He took his seat next to his mother, who was ramrod stiff and dry-eyed. Her favorite son dead, yet only that unblinking stare and her set mouth and face displayed the depth of her pain. She wouldn’t welcome any touch that might bring emotion to the surface, especially in public, so Quade faced forward, straightened his own back, and raged in silence until it was time to follow his brother’s body to the graveyard.
After they returned home, his father summoned Quade to the library. He sat at his desk, folded his bony hands, and proceeded to lay out the details of Jack’s will, namely that the money their grandfather had left Jack would revert to the estate since it was still in a trust and Jack had left no male heirs. Quade, standing in front of the desk, his hands at his back, was grateful the conversation was apparently simple and short, with no overflow of emotion. But then his father said, “We’re hiring someone to watch you.”
Quade didn’t understand. His hands dropped to his sides. “Watch me do what?”
“We need someone to keep an eye on you day and night.” It sounded like a threat.
“Why? Do you think I’m in danger?”
His father’s gaze, usually steady and unflinching, shifted from his face to something in a far corner, and at last Quade understood. The anger filled him like poison and his blood felt thick. “Are you saying I had something to do with Jack’s death? Or any of the others? And now you want to make sure I don’t go after another victim? You, for instance? My cousin? Is that why you won’t allow the boy to be alone with me?”
“Don’t be an ass,” his father snapped.
He’s also furious about all this, Quade realized, and felt an unaccustomed surge of fellowship with his father. This was his father, who couldn’t be guilty of murdering his own children or his brother. Quade’s father and uncle had been closer than Quade had been to any of his brothers. “I beg your pardon, sir,” he said. “That remark was not called for. But Father, please, there must be something happening to us. To Jack and—”
“Jack’s passing was due to natural causes.” His father rested his hands together, fingers laced, a sign of calm until it grew clear his grip on himself was so tight, his fingernails went white. “As for the rest of it, I have too much on my plate as it is to entertain such nonsense—”
“These deaths of the men in our family. Men and boys,” Quade said, thinking of his youngest brother. “I want to understand what is happening. Don’t you?”
“You have no reason to fear.” His father’s nostrils flared as if he smelled something unpleasant. “Did I not just tell you that I’ve hired someone to watch over you?”
The way he said that initial “you” was almost vicious.
Quade heard an accusation in his tone and responded without thinking. “I swear to you, I have no hand in this.” He could have been speaking at a wall for all the good it did.
His father shuffled the papers on his desk and seemed to examine them. “This conversation is over.”
“That’s absurd,” Quade said. “The conversation hasn’t even begun.”
“Do stop enacting a drama for once,” his father said. “You have expressed your feelings far more strongly than necessary recently.”
What the devil did that mean? When had he ever expressed his feelings to his father or anyone else in the family? At the moment, he was too confused to understand how he felt, much less speak of his emotions.
“I don’t understand what you think I might have done. You know I’m not a violent man.” Quade took a step closer to the desk. He stopped when his father held up a hand.
The older man began to rub at his temples. “Get out, if you please. I must compose a letter to Jack’s lawyer.” He apparently couldn’t meet Quade’s gaze. He hadn’t been able to for several years. It wasn’t merely to do with the deaths haunting their family. They hadn’t had an easy moment since the day his father had gone into Quade’s room and discovered a scandalous book by the bed, Short Essays on Sodomy and Tribadism. His benign jokes about Quade as a monk also ceased that day.
Quade knew his father well enough to know that the discussion was at an end. But he couldn’t simply walk away now.
What was this business about hiring a guard? Or was it a guard? Would his father actually hire a killer to dispatch Quade? Such a bizarre notion, but Quade had no idea what was real and what was invented at this point.
Better to believe it wasn’t malicious action by his father. Perhaps he’d hired someone to ferret out the truth. That would be a relief.
But if it was a way to do away with Quade as his brothers had been… He couldn’t ignore that possibility.
“Shall I arrange the person to watch over me?” Quade asked. “I could ask some of the barristers with whom I’m acquainted if they can find a suitable candidate.”
“No. I will.”
“Do you have someone in mind?”
For a moment, he thought his father would refuse to answer until Mr. Marrill said, “I have the name from our London solicitor, a gentleman named Mr. Sloan.”
“That’s familiar. Isn’t he some variety of wealthy philanthropist?”
His father ignored him. “Mr. Sloan has a business partner, a Mr. Kelly, who has an agency that provides services such as this.”
“Protecting victims, or tracking down criminals?”
His father stared down at his hands and didn’t answer. Quade wanted to protest his own innocence again. But then again, he couldn’t even be sure his father didn’t harbor some sort of guilt. All the secrecy…
Much as he’d rather vanquish all the ugly thoughts he couldn’t. He wasn’t a child who covered his eyes, hoping unpleasantness would vanish if he didn’t see it.
“Perhaps there is only horrible coincidence at work,” Quade picked his words carefully, and watched his father. “It could be that there are only victims of fate and not some dreadful scheme. But whether it be men’s plans or God’s will, I should think you’d want answers as well.”
His father looked up and met his eyes. For a moment, he thought his father might agree. Instead he only said, “Enough. Go, please.”
Quade walked out of the library. At least he had that box in his bag.
He’d send the cigar off to Hemner, an expert who’d written a treatise on subtle poisons that Quade had translated from German. Best not to send from the village post office however. Quade had no desire to rouse any more curiosity or suspicion.
Quade left the Marrill estate less than a week later, unable to bear his father’s dislike and suspicions, or, worse, the devastated stare of his mother that he was unable to shift no matter what he said or did.
He returned to London and soon convinced himself there was nothing more he could do. Bad luck or evil, the shadow hanging over the Marrills would never vanish—at least not until after he and his parents drew their last breaths and joined the rest of the family.
He wouldn’t say such things out loud to anyone, of course. He was hardly so dramatic.
A few days after his return, he received a letter that a “valet” would be coming to him, and he must hire the man.
The man was both obsequious and obtrusive and snooped through Quade’s possessions—confirming Quade’s suspicions he was under surveillance—but at least he didn’t try to push Quade down the stairs or smash him over the head with the heavy umbrella stand.
Quade had done his own snooping and discovered that Patrick Kelly’s agency was well regarded. But when he tried to talk to his new “valet,” hoping to engage his help in discovering anything about the Marrill family misfortune, the idiot pretended he had no notion what Quade was talking about.
“I’m a servant, sir,” he’d said. “Nothing more.”
Soon after that, Quade had managed to behave obnoxiously enough to drive off Whitmore, and Quade thought he was safe from anyone else invading his space.
And then the Irishman appeared.
Colm Kelly woke without a headache. He’d had one before, hadn’t he? Yes, and he knew he’d woken more than once. The air smelled of flowers, and the pillow cushioning his head was the softest he’d ever felt. The sheets he lay on were so bright white, his eyes smarted.
A hospital? English hospitals were supposed to be fine establishments, but did they offer their guests four-poster beds and flowers for strangers?
“Mr. Kelly,” someone called to him. “Mr. Kelly? He’s awake.”
“Who’s awake?” Colm croaked an answer. His throat felt as if it had been rubbed with broken glass. His arm ached, but the sharp pains over most of his body had diminished.
“You are.” Someone stood over him with near-black hair and blue eyes, a familiar sight, though this version of a Kelly relation was a tad darker than usual. He had strong eyebrows that gave him an impatient or mocking appearance. “I’ll ask you again. Why the hell did you have my name?” he demanded. He had a most peculiar accent, but Colm had heard it once, perhaps earlier, during a nightmare.
“You’ve asked me that question before?”
“Yes, and you told me you weren’t interested in whatever I had to sell and to keep my filthy hands to myself. You also cursed me in what I assume is Gaelic.”
“Ah.” The conversation sounded familiar. “When did all this start?”
“They interrupted dinner last night to haul me off to the train station. It’s close to teatime now.”
Colm shut his eyes, trying to bring up the recent past. “I’m in England,” he told the man as he remembered the train. “London?”
“Yes, London, and apparently you’re one of my long-lost Irish relatives. Why’d you have to get yourself found?”
That wasn’t an English accent. “Why d’you talk funny?”
Someone in the room, another man, laughed.
“I’m American. Crazy fool, you came looking for me and you didn’t know that?”
Colm shifted on the bed, trying to sit up, indignant at last. “You’re a Kelly, but I don’t precisely know who you are, ya pisspot.”
“I’m Patrick Kelly.”
Colm examined the well-groomed man standing before him. The Padraig Kelly he knew well didn’t live in an English city. Just last week, during a walk through his little village, Colm had passed the time of day with Patrick. He could see that cousin bent over a horse’s hoof with a file, talking a mix of nonsense and Gaelic to the animal while he worked. He’d offered Colm a drink.
Colm’s longing for the sight of that forge close to his constable’s cottage brought on the nauseating recollection that he’d likely never see it again. Worse, his old friend and relation would likely pretend not to know or see him should they ever met again. The American version of Patrick Kelly stared back. “You don’t have a lot to say for yourself, except did you truly call me a pisspot? That’s quite a mouth you have on you, Colm Kelly.”
Colm considered apologizing, but this seemed to be the sort of man who didn’t like weakness and might take an apology as backing down from a position.
He sank against the huge pillows and admitted, “I’m not myself at all, sir. I’m not sure how I ended up here except, now I remember I had your name and address from my sister. You’ve corresponded with Aileen McConnell?”
“Never heard of her. Why are you here?”
That was a question he hated to think about. After the night from hell, Colm had had just enough money to buy himself a fourth-class ticket to Dublin, harvester’s fare. The steamer packet also included fare to England. The single parting gift he had was that scrap of paper from Aileen, who’d always kept track of family. She’d known about this long-lost family member, though she apparently hadn’t bothered to contact the man herself.
Colm had spent much of the journey to Liverpool huddled on a bench in a far corner of the boat, staring down at Aileen’s note, which was an address in London and a name. Patrick Kelly. This idiot.
The American went on, “You were found sick and passed out on a train.”
“Yes. I’d been injured.” Beaten and kicked.
“They summoned me because the only thing you had was a piece of paper with my name.”
He sounded angry, and weak as he was, Colm didn’t want to hear it from strangers. “I’m sorry I was out of my wits enough to take advantage of you, Cousin Patrick,” he said, attempting to put a sneer in his voice.
Patrick actually smiled. He shook his head. “I’m annoyed because I’ve been forced to have some sort of reunion with a member of the clan that tossed my mam aside as if she were garbage.”
Colm’s flash of anger was over and gone quickly, as always. “Oh? Her as well? I didn’t know. That’s my story too.”
“Go on.” After a moment of silence, Patrick spoke with exaggerated patience. “Tell me what happened. My mother wasn’t forced to leave, but I understand you were?”
Colm must have been daft to open that door. “I had to leave my home. After some trouble.”
“Ah-ha. Perhaps that explains the black eye and bruises.”
“Mm,” Colm agreed.
“Go on.” Patrick waved a hand. “Why?”
“I was a constable.” Was. No more dark blue and brass for him. The position of sergeant had occupied nearly every waking minute, covering all those villages, including his own. What could replace that life and that home in a hostile land like England?
“Truly? Royal Irish Constabulary?” His cousin sounded astonished.
“That trouble you got into must have been serious. Why aren’t you any longer?”
He felt too discouraged to lie. “I broke the law.”
Patrick Kelly growled. “You took bribes?”
“No, God help me, I’m not an animal. Thank you for your aid, Mr. American Kelly, but now I’ll be on my way.” Colm pushed down the covers. He was in his own underclothes, and someone had washed and bandaged his injuries.
“Where will you go?” Patrick Kelly folded his arms and stared down his nose, which had clearly been broken at least once. He looked like any roughneck cousin back in County Wexford. No, this relation’s eyebrows were thicker and darker—a foreigner after all.
“Not your concern,” Colm said.
The other voice spoke up. “You’ve wanted more family, Patrick, and here you have one as a surprise gift.” That was an Englishman, and one from the upper crust—Colm had heard that sort of voice on stage once. The English gentleman continued, “We must take our relations as they come to us, flaws and all. I believe you told me that once.”
Patrick flicked an annoyed glance at that corner of the room and growled again.
Colm tried to crane his head to see who was speaking, but his attention was brought back to his American relative, who’d grabbed a chair and sat down next to the bed.
“Look here,” Patrick said, then stopped.
“I’m looking,” Colm said. “What’s to see?”
Patrick leaned close. “When my mother arrived in America, the aunt and uncle she’d been sent to refused to take her in. She was all alone. She made me swear not to treat any blood of ours as badly as she’d been treated. Family is sacred, she told me. That’s what she thinks.”
Colm, who’d been surrounded by relations all his life, had never considered the ties of kin anything worth mentioning. “You don’t owe me a thing.”
He’d had little enough time to plan after fleeing Ireland. He’d worried about his horse—would they return her to the barracks? He said, “I’ll write to the RIC and see what can be done. They might find another place for me. I don’t think the people who…the villagers…I don’t think they will protest.” Oh, that was a joke, and he knew it. Someone would tell about his moral turpitude or some such fine phrase. He’d never work as a guard again.
His cousin said, “Tell me what happened. Did you get a girl pregnant? Did you bugger a sheep?”
Something about the word bugger must have made him flinch, because Patrick Kelly suddenly leaned forward, interested. “Not a sheep, then.”
“Shove off, Cousin Patrick. If you hand over my clothes and my belongings, I’ll be on my way and thanks to you for your aid.”
“You had nothing. Someone must have stolen your bag when you were passed out on the train. Like I said, you only had that paper.”
He closed his eyes and cursed under his breath.
“You’re trapped here with us for the time being.”
“I live here with my pal, Mr. Sloan.”
Something in the way he said the odd word pal seemed to imply something. Was it about Colm himself or those two together?
“I got to know,” his cousin said. “All these injuries. You a combative sort of guy?”
He leered at Colm, who froze, covers most of the way down his thighs, then he pushed himself up into a sitting position. “No, I’m not. I might be battered, but I think I can take you on if you try anything. You and your friend together.”
Patrick snorted. “You flatter yourself. So far, you’ve called me names and insinuated that we’re going to do unholy things to your person. And instead of tossing you out on your rear, I’m going to help you. You worked for the Royal Irish Constabulary, you said? That should be easy enough to find out.”
That sounded like a threat to Colm, but apparently not to the Englishman in the room, who spoke up again. “Your mother would be proud of you, Patrick. I’ll have to make sure she finds out you’re lending a hand to a relation.”
Colm said, “I apologize if I mistook your intent. But I don’t think my plans need—”
His cousin interrupted. “Colm Kelly, unless you have a better invitation, you should probably stay with us, and once you’re healed, we’ll find work for you. Care to go into service?”
“Be a house servant? Never.”
“Yes, I’m guessing you’d rather be a ditch digger. You have the build for it.”
Colm suspected it was supposed to be an insult, but he immediately answered, “All right.”
“Hold up. Tell me, when you were a constable, did you do anything like an investigation while you wore the uniform?”
“Nothing more than finding lost sheep.” Of course he’d had to track some sheep hidden in a cave once, but that would take too much explanation.
“I hear you guys couldn’t serve in your home counties.”
“True enough. I managed to be near, though.”