Another scene about Serena’s scary reputation. It’s rather silly and I’m glad I cut it from the finished book, but it was fun to write and I’m still fond of some of the jokes.
“Ashton? I don’t think I’ve seen him since Cambridge.” He shrugged. “He’s a likable enough fellow, I suppose, but—well—he never paid his tradesmen’s bills. There were always at least three duns hanging around his rooms. It irked me.”
And then a noise came from the shadows. Serena’s head snapped around but the boy already had a knife to Solomon’s throat, one hand fisted in his blond hair. He yanked him backwards and Solomon’s hand was jerked from her grasp. “I’ve instructions to slice up your gentleman friend for you, but if you give me what’s in that pretty silk purse I might let him go with a scratch or two,” he drawled.
“She hasn’t got anything,” Solomon said. “Let her go.”
Poor Solomon. Even now he persisted in believing she needed to be protected. Well, he’d learn his mistake soon enough. People needed to be protected from her. She was dangerous. After all, if Solomon didn’t know her, he wouldn’t be here now with a knife glinting yellow against his pale, pale throat. Very slowly, she reached up and pushed back the hood of her cloak.
The knife was gone so fast Solomon stumbled. “The Black Thorn!” the boy said. He was probably only fourteen or fifteen, but wiry and tall, with a missing front tooth and a jagged scar on his cheek that pulled his mouth into an involuntary leer. Young as he was, he had probably sliced up his fair share of victims. “I—I didn’t know—”
Serena raised an incredulous eyebrow. “You won’t last long if you don’t make it your business to know,” she said evenly. “You may have heard of a small prohibition I announced recently?”
The boy stared at Solomon in such horror that Solomon froze in the act of massaging his bruised scalp. “That’s Solomon Hathaway?” the boy stuttered, pointing an accusing finger.
Serena nodded wordlessly.
“Mary Mother of God,” the boy breathed. “He didn’t tell me his name—”
“You heard the terms of the prohibition, didn’t you?”
All the blood drained from the boy’s face. “Please,” he said, the word falling incongruously from his narrow, sarcastic mouth, “I’ve got a little sister to look after, she counts on me—”
Serena let her eyes dwell on the boy, who seemed to stop breathing. The seconds ticked by slowly. Finally she said, “If you tell me who ‘he’ is, I might let you off with a warning. This time.”
“I don’t know. He didn’t want me to be able to trace him. He told me to meet him—someplace—tomorrow and he’d give me ten guineas.”
Serena sighed impatiently. “What did he look like?”
“A flash cull, light brown hair going white around the edges, with a fresh bruise right here.” He ran a grubby finger along the left side of his jaw.
Lord Brynweir. Not her father. Serena felt her whole body relax, though she did not take her eyes off her captive. “Thank you. Now let me give you a word of advice—”
“I won’t go near him again, I swear, I would never—”
She cut him off. “Never accept a commission without the money in advance.”
The boy bowed his head, flushing a dull red. “Yes, Thorn.”
“Now what is your name?”
“Jeffrey,” he mumbled sullenly.
“Are you lying to me? I’ll find out if you are, you know.”
“A fellow’d have to be an idiot to lie to you, Thorn,” he said flatly.
Serena couldn’t help smiling a little. “Very flattering. All right, Jeffrey, I would take it as a kindness if you would warn your friends to be very careful not to make the same mistake you did. You’ve heard the terms of the prohibition. Next time I won’t be so lenient.”
“Of course not. Thank you, Thorn!” Jeffrey tried to back away.
“Wait!” Solomon said, and began digging in his pockets. Jeffrey eyed him apprehensively, but when Solomon held out what looked like a half-crown and several pennies in his palm, the boy stared at the few coins with a hunger he could not conceal. Yet he made no move to take them. Smart lad.
“You should make something on the commission,” said Solomon. Jeffrey looked at Serena. So did Solomon. Except Solomon was giving her an admonitory frown. Abruptly, she nodded. Grabbing the coins, Jeffrey made to run off down the street.
“Oh—one more thing, Jeffrey,” she said.
Jeffrey, sure that this time his luck had run out, paused in his flight. “Yes?”
“Where did his lordship wish to meet you tomorrow?”
“Leicester Square. At one.” He paused in sudden speculation. “Did you plant him a facer, Mr. Hathaway?” he asked Solomon appreciatively.
Solomon grinned at him and nodded.
“Hunh,” Jeffrey said. “You don’t look like you’d be much with your fists, but you must have a punishing right!”
Solomon looked like he didn’t quite know what to say to that.
“Thank you, Jeffrey, that will be all,” Serena said sardonically. “Now run along. I’m sure your dear little sister, if you really possess such an article, must be wondering where you are.” Jeffrey flushed, nodded, and melted back into the night.
When he had turned a corner out of sight, Serena raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Solomon. He shrugged sheepishly. “He looked hungry.”
She raised the other eyebrow. “I was asking if you were all right,” she drawled. Solomon looked faintly wounded by her nonchalance. What he didn’t know was that she was restraining herself with all her will from grabbing him by the arms and examining him for damage inch by inch—and the images that evoked were so absorbing that Serena nearly jumped when Solomon replied.
“Oh, yes, fine—actually, I think he nicked my throat a little.” He saw her face and added hastily, “But only in his hurry to let me go when he saw you.”
“I told you I was dangerous. Now maybe you’ll believe me.”
He looked at her consideringly. Suddenly his eyes lit up. “You asked him his name!”
Had fright unhinged his mind? “Yes…”
“You don’t know every rogue in London by their Christian name at all!”
“I do now,” she pointed out.
“Pure sophistry. It’s all a façade!”
Serena was decidedly put out. “He knew who I was. That’s what counts.”
“You don’t know every rogue in London by their Christian name! That’s—that’s false advertising. It’s probably illegal.”
“What, a law against false advertising?” Serena scoffed. “Every business in London would be shut down.”
“Not Hathaway’s Fine Tailoring,” Solomon said primly. “Unlike you, we deliver on our promises.”
She was so taken aback by the direction the conversation was taking that she actually sputtered. “I can’t believe you’re trying to turn what is clearly evidence of my dangerousness into…into something else!”
“Thou shalt not bear false witness, Serena! I’m shocked, very shocked. I don’t know if I can trust you any more.”
All of a sudden Serena was focusing on him very intensely indeed. “Did you trust me before?”
He smiled. “Not an inch,” he declared. “I daren’t take my eyes off you for a moment for fear you will lure me to my doom, suck out my soul, and gnaw the very flesh from my bones.”
Serena felt at that moment that she could learn to live with Solomon never taking his eyes off her. Just now they were sparkling easily. His coat was askew and it made her want to shove him up against the lamppost and kiss him again. But his next words were like a bracing bucket of cold water. “Serena, what are the terms of the prohibition?”
She looked away. “You’re too squeamish to know.”
“Why did you want to know where Lord Brynweir asked him to meet him?”
“So I can make sure he doesn’t try anything like this again.”
Solomon was silent for a few minutes. “Don’t do anything but frighten him. Please.”
Serena looked at him. Too magnanimous by half, as always. And if she hadn’t been with him he might be dead. She pulled her cloak round her more tightly and nodded.
“Are you very sorry you haven’t spent the past five years happily married?”
She was silent a long time before answering. She thought about how she’d ached, all those months at Mme Deveraux’s, to be married to Harry, even as she’d hated him for leaving her to her fate. How she’d ached to work all day at some menial job and come home and sit by an inadequate fire and smile at him. But that was years ago now. “No,” she admitted bluntly. “It’s awful, isn’t it, that for me it’s for the best? I don’t think we should have suited.”
“Why, because he was a footman?” Solomon asked with swift resentment.
“Not in the least,” she said with a quelling glare. “He was fresh-faced and cheerful and always saw the best in people. He would have driven me mad.”
Solomon rolled his eyes, and they walked in more or less companionable silence the rest of the way back to the Arms. Some tipsy young men spilled out into the street, stumbling and laughing, and warmth and light spilled out with them.