soil should be counted a slave. If you wish to seek freedom, and you need help . . . ?”
Her smile touched her eyes for a moment. “Thank you, sir, but I was born free. Slaves cannot breathe in England. ”
“If their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country and their shackles fall,” Dominic completed. He loved the Cowper poem and had had a blistering argument over it with the brute. I’ll listen to your sentimental slop when slavery’s against the law and Englishmen not profiting from it. “I’m glad to know it, mistress.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said again and led the way up the stairs. Dominic followed, wishing she’d keep talking. He needed some sort of human connection, urgently.
He’d said he was going to meet Silas, and Richard’s face . . .
He didn’t think he could explain to anyone. Not to Richard, not even to himself. The only person who might understand why he was going to meet Silas now was Silas, assuming the brute didn’t want to kill him.
“Is he there?” Dominic asked.
“In the room? Not yet, sir.”
“I don’t think—I didn’t order wine.” He hadn’t been able to decide what it would mean if he did or didn’t, if it would be contemptible to do so or contemptuous not to. In the end he hadn’t done it and now, panicking, wished he had.
“No, sir,” Zoë said. “I took the liberty of bringing up a bottle of claret from the cellar, in case it was wanted. Shall I remove it?”
“No. No, leave it. Thank you. You do an excellent job here; you always have.” Was he looking for sympathy from a brothel keeper now? “Thank you.”
“Your servant, sir,” she murmured, and opened the door.
As always in cold weather, a blazing fire waited, along with a bottle of wine and two glasses on the table. He had no idea what would happen now. His hands were shaking a little and not with pleasant anticipation.
It seemed a very long time until the door opened and the brute—Silas—walked in.
He hadn’t shaved. That was the first thing Dominic saw, and his heart sank further. He’d a jaw you could break rocks on as it was, aggressively set, and now it was covered with several days’ scruffy beard that made him appear the ruffian he was.
Silas shut the door. He looked Dominic up and down, nodded to himself, took three paces toward him, and punched him in the eye.
The pain flared white through his senses, blotting out everything else. He doubled over, clutching his face, aware at some level there would be another blow coming but utterly incapacitated by the intense, throbbing agony. All he could do was brace himself, but the second punch didn’t come.
He straightened, still holding his face. Silas stood, stance aggressive, but he looked a little shocked.
“I suppose you had to do that,” Dominic managed.
“Aye, I did. My fucking shop torn apart, I accused of arson and murder, Harry being set up for God knows what, and you stand and watch!”
“Did you want me to intervene?” Dominic took his hand away from his face, cautiously. “That hurt.”
“Good. And go bugger yourself.”
“You’re Jack Cade.” Silas’s face darkened. Dominic lifted a hand. “I’m not trying to trick you into an admission. I could hardly use one, under the circumstances. But I know. You’re Jack Cade, and you’re spreading sedition, and it is my duty to prevent that.”
Silas folded his arms. “All right, then, say it’s so. Why don’t you arrest me?”
“Good question.” Dominic went to pour two glasses of wine, splashing some on the table. He didn’t try to conceal the tremor of his hand. “Here.”
“Christ’s sake.” Silas didn’t take the glass. “You think this is a social call?”
Dominic put the glasses back down hard. “Listen, curse you. We have each other’s lives in our hands. You could see me hanged as easily as I could you, and we’ve both earned it, come to that. Harry has not, and I’m damned if I’ll allow this