Hart wondered what treasure he’d find. A bag of guineas? Some diamond stickpins? A few naughty snuff boxes? All of the pertinent deeds and ledgers and shares were tucked away in the bank, with copies at Calvert’s offices. The key fit smoothly into its lock with a satisfying click, and the wooden door popped open.
He felt a moment of disappointment. Instead of a pile of bank notes, he found a single leather- bound book. Hart took it from its resting place and put it on the desk. It really was too dark to read in the cavernous library unless he lit another branch of candles. Deciding to bring it and his unfinished glass of port upstairs, he extinguished the lighting. Another one of his uncle’s ‘valuable’ books, no doubt. It might make for entertaining bedtime reading, and help dispel the urges he was plagued with.
He’d sent his valet along with the women, so he prepared himself for bed without the hovering McBride’s assistance. Turning the lamps up, he sat by the fire in his banyan and studied the spine. The Education of a Young Lady of Doubtful Virtue. So here was the truly valuable book. The bill for it had astonished him. He wondered if the illustrations were painted with gold leaf. It was not especially thick so it would make quick reading, if in fact there were any words accompanying what were bound to be dirty pictures. His uncle’s collection, while not to Hart’s taste, was probably the finest of its dubious kind.
The pages had already been cut, yet the book seemed quite new, hardly as dog-eared as some of the other volumes Hart had looked at. Somehow that gratified him. He didn’t care to be reminded of what his uncle had probably been doing as he perused each one.
The frontispiece had the gryphon trademark and the book’s title. The author was Lord H.
Hart got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. And when he turned the page, his worst fears were confirmed.
This couldn’t be. With clumsy fingers, he flipped though the book. There was only one model for the artist, yet many illustrations, each one progressively more graphic and tortuous than the previous picture. And she had stopped smiling long before the midpoint of the volume. His uncle had captured the hunted look of a woman, a girl really, who knew her choices were limited, none of them good.
Hart closed his eyes, but he still saw a collage of Eden’s images, her beauty bare, her eyes vacant. This was what she alluded to, and he had been too obtuse to understand.
He forced himself to return to the first page and began to read the words that Ivor had paid so much to have printed.