In the library, Susanna went still. There it was again.
The town house was old and had a tendency to creak and
groan. But then she heard it again, and this time she
knew it was not the house. It sounded likeâ€¦a window.
There were two windows behind Daneâ€™s desk, and both
looked out upon the small garden. One was directly across
from where she sat huddled on the floor. The draperies
were closed, and nothing stirred behind them. Was she
imagining the noise, or was something orâ€”God forbidâ€”
someone trying to enter the house?
She peered around the corner of the desk and stared at
the opposite window. Her breath caught when the draperies
rustled with the breeze. The window had definitely not
been open before. It had been cold enough in the room
without allowing the night air inside.
Susanna jerked back, hidden on the far side of the desk
again. Everyone knew London was rife with housebreakers,
but would the thieves be so bold as to try and enter a
house when the family was home? She heard a thump and
Apparently, the rogues were so bold. What would they do
to her if they found her? Kill her? Rape her? Kidnap her
She must escape, but how?
She peered around the desk again and saw two legs
standing in front of the window. It was too late to run.
The thief was already inside. She did a quick inventory
of herself. She had nothing, absolutely nothing that
would protect her from a ruffian.
She could hear the thief breathing now. He was breathing
hard, as though heâ€™d been running. She pressed her back
against the oak of the desk and craned her neck. She
spotted the shadow of a candlestick on the edge of the
desk. She hadnâ€™t lit the candle in it. If she could pull
it off the edge without the thief noticing, she could use
it to protect herself.
She felt the edge of the desk with her fingertips.
Closing her eyes, she stretched her fingers until she
touched the cool silver of the candlestick. She eased her
fingers around it and tugged it soundlessly over the edge
of the desk.
The candlestick shook in her hands. The weight was more
than she was prepared for, but she caught hold of it and
clutched it to her chest just in time.
The thief clomped into the room. He wasnâ€™t worried about
being quiet. She could hear him now. He lifted books and
replaced them. She knew the sound the binding made when
lifted and released. That meant his back was to her.
Her heart thundered so loudly she feared he could hear
her, and she was at risk of swooning at any moment. She
dug her fingers into the ornamentation around the
candlestick until the silver cut into her palm.
She must be strong. She must be brave.
It didnâ€™t appear as though any other thieves were
entering after this one. She could hit him with the
candlestick and prove to her mother that she was an
independent, capable young woman who should be allowed to
go to Vauxhall Gardensâ€”or anywhere she pleased!
Susanna trembled as she moved to her knees and slanted
her eyes up and over the desk.
There he was!
He looked every inch the dangerous rogue! He was tall and
powerfully built and had dark hair covered with a cap.
And he was indeed pawing through her fatherâ€™s books. She
had to stop him.
She ducked down and scooted along the edge of the desk
until she reached the side closest to the shelves. She
was exposed now. If he should but move a little to his
left, he would see her. She forced herself to slide
slowly and with exaggerated care until her back collided
with the sharp edge of the far corner of the desk.
She could smell the thief now. Sheâ€™d expected him to
smell of something rank and evil, but he smelled of the
night air and something else, perhaps sandalwood?
This close she saw the rough hew of his clothing. The
dirt on his boots. He did not belong here, and his
actions left no question as to his intent. She grasped
her skirts in one hand to keep them from tripping her,
and held the heavy candlestick in the other. Soundlessly,
she rose. He seemed to sense her movement, but right
before he could turn, she rushed him and slammed the
candlestick onto the back of his head.
With a groan, he went down, the cap tumbling from his
Sheâ€™d done it! Sheâ€™d really done it.
She gave a small gasp of surprise and horror when she saw
the trickle of blood on his neck. Oh, God. Had she killed
him? What would happen to her if sheâ€™d killed him? Would
she go to Newgate?
She wanted to wake Crawford, but she couldnâ€™t call the
butler if sheâ€™d killed a man. Heâ€™d be forced to summon
the magistrate. Better to ensure the thief was alive
before calling for anyone.
Tentatively, she knelt down, and her hand wavered over
the thiefâ€™s neck. Sheâ€™d seen her motherâ€™s physician touch
the dowagerâ€™s neck at this point to check her pulse.
Susanna had never tried to check a pulse, and sheâ€™d never
touched a man other than her father or her brothers. Her
hand hovered above the manâ€™s neck, until finally she shut
her eyes and forced herself to touch him.
He was still warm. His head was turned away from her, so
she couldnâ€™t see if her hand was in the right position,
but she didnâ€™t feel a pulse. She moved her fingers a
fraction of an inch.
She moved them again, and he groaned.
She snatched her hand away and scrambled backward. The
man tried to rise, lifting his shoulders off the floor
and cupping the back of his head. He groaned again and
turned his head to look at her, just as she was about to
raise the candlestick again. He raised his hand to ward
off the blow, but sheâ€™d paused anyway.
His eyes held her. He faced the hearth behind her, and
she could see the pain in his eyes but also the color.
They were green, a vivid beautiful green that reminded
her of forests and glades and the serenity of the
country. And so she paused.
Later, she would come to realize that small hesitation
had been a mistake.
Later, she would realize that was the moment everything
had gone wrong.
But as she sat with the candlestick held aloft, the thief
staring at her, all she could think was that he was
beautiful. That she wanted to sketch him; that it would
be impossible to find the right color for his eyes.