The Untamed Bride(4)

By: Stephanie Laurens

Del’s lips twisted cynically. “The possibility has crossed my mind. Consider—it took us a bare two weeks to realize the Black Cobra either had someone in the governor’s office here, or else was himself a member of the governor’s staff. After that it took what?—six weeks?—of watching and noting which convoys were attacked to narrow it down to Ferrar. As the Governor of Bombay’s second adjutant, he and only he had knowledge of all the convoys attacked—others had the details for some, but only he had routes and times for all. Hastings has similar information stretching back for months. He has to have at least some suspicion of who’s behind the Black Cobra cult.”

“Hastings,” Rafe said, “also knows when Roderick Ferrar took up his appointment here—in early ’19, five or so months before the first known appearance of the Black Cobra and his minions.”

“Five months is long enough for a sharp lad like Ferrar to see the possibilities, make plans, and gather said minions,” Logan said. “More, as the governor’s adjutant, he’s had easy and officially sanctioned contact with the disaffected Maratha princelings—the same hotheads we now know have secretly ceded the Black Cobra their private robber gangs.”

“Ferrar,” Del said, “reported to Hastings in Calcutta before joining the govenor’s staff here—a position our contacts back in Calcutta confirm he specifically requested. Ferrar could have had a position with Hastings at headquarters—it was his for the taking, and what eager-to-advance-in-the-company youngster wouldn’t rather work for the great man himself? But no, Ferrar requested a posting to Bombay, and was apparently quite satisfied with the second adjutant’s desk.”

“Which makes one wonder,” Gareth said, “if the principal attraction of said desk was that it was the entire subcontinent away from Hastings’s potentially watchful eye.”

“So, James, m’lad”—Rafe clapped the younger captain on the back—“all that suggests that instructing us to ‘bring the Black Cobra to justice,’ and to use whatever means we deem necessary to do it, is very likely a shrewd politician’s way of taking care of the matter.” Rafe met the others’ eyes. “And Hastings knows us well enough to be sure we’ll do his dirty work for him.”

James glanced at the others’ faces, saw they all thought the same, and reluctantly nodded. “All right. So we bypass Hastings. But how do we do that?” He looked at Del. “Have you heard anything from England?”

Del glanced along the verandah, verifying that no one else could possibly overhear. “A frigate came in this morning, with a very thick packet for me.”

“From Devil?” Gareth asked.

Del nodded. “A letter from him, and rather more from one of his peers—the Duke of Wolverstone.”

“Wolverstone?” Rafe frowned. “I thought the old man was next thing to a recluse.”

“He was,” Del replied. “The son—the current duke—is another matter. We know him—or rather know of him—under another name. Dalziel.”

The other four’s eyes opened wide. “Dalziel was really Wolverstone?” James asked.

“The then-Wolverstone’s heir, apparently,” Del replied. “The old man died late in ’16, after we got here.”

Gareth was counting years. “Dalziel must have been retired by then.”

“Presumably. Regardless, as Duke of St. Ives, Devil knows the new duke well. After reading my letter explaining our predicament, Devil showed it to Wolverstone, reasoning there could be no one better placed to advise us. If you recall, Dalziel was in charge of all British agents on foreign soil for a decade and more, and knows every trick when it comes to couriering sensitive information across the continent and into England. More, as Devil went to literary lengths to point out, Wolverstone is the peer best-placed to oppose Shrewton. Wolverstone owes the king nothing—if anything, the shoe is on the other foot, and His Majesty is well aware of it. If Wolverstone presents evidence that Ferrar junior is the Black Cobra, there’ll be nothing the king or Shrewton will dare do to derail the wheels of justice.”

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