Rivals in the City

Free Rivals in the City by Y. S. Lee

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Authors: Y. S. Lee
home, but it took him longer than usual to get there. His ribs ached, he limped slightly and he was unable to shake the ghostly pressure of the thief’s knee in his back. More than all that, however, he was distracted. Actually, he wasn’t: he was furious. It wasn’t the loss of the actual drawings that troubled him most. They were of an older project, already completed, copies of which he’d wanted for his home office. The originals were safe at the office and one of his draftsmen could make a new set. It was a matter of what else the incident suggested.
    Between the return of Maria Thorold and his new commission at the Bank of England, it would be hopelessly optimistic to think the robbery random or coincidental. No, it was connected. The difficulty was that he couldn’t know how. Had the thief aimed to snatch highly confidential plans of the most secure building in London? Or was the theft of the drawings merely a blind? Perhaps the assault was intended as a warning to James, to frighten him away from the Bank’s offer. Or, just possibly, the thief had been interrupted before he used his knife to send Mary a message written in blood.
    James shook himself, mentally and physically. He was running away with himself, here. There was still no clear public evidence of any connection between him and Mary. He had to believe that, if he wasn’t to shake with fear every moment of every day. It was easier said than done, though, and he was still brooding when he stepped into the warm, bright hall of his home in Gordon Square.
    “There you are, Jamie!” called a beloved but presently most unwelcome voice. George strode through the hall to greet him. As he approached, however, his expression changed from impatient welcome to indignant perplexity. “What on earth happened to you? You’re not injured, are you? Oh heavens, you need a doctor! Mrs Vine!” He bellowed these last words, and their housekeeper popped into view half a moment later.
    Normal speech was trampled in their joint uproar. “Please!” James shouted, after a minute’s doomed effort. “I’m fine. I should like a wash, and then a peaceful dinner, if you please. I’ll tell you what happened afterwards,” he added.
    “I say,” said a new voice from the first floor. “I do hope I’m not intruding. Ought I to come back another time?”
    James stared up the flight of stairs. “Oh, it’s you, Alleyn,” he said after a moment. “Pay no attention to us. George likes a good bellow when I get home from the office.”
    “Well, I couldn’t help but overhear his call for a physician. I’m at your service, as ever,” said Rufus Alleyn, in his unruffled way.
    “You forgot, didn’t you?” muttered George. “Alleyn’s invited to dinner, and so are the Ringleys.”
    James suppressed a sigh. The Ringleys – George’s fiancée, her parents and her two younger sisters – were far from his favourite people. They were pleasant, well-meaning and deadly dull. After ten minutes in their company, James was always tempted to climb out the drawing-room window. “Sorry, George, I did forget. Give me a minute to tidy up, and I’ll join you in the drawing room.”
    “He’s your friend,” persisted George, under his breath. “I can see your forgetting about the Ringleys, but I thought you liked Rufus Alleyn.”
    James flushed. Was he so very transparent in his preferences? “The Ringleys are excellent people,” he said. “I like them for your sake, George.”
    Some of George’s obvious hurt faded, and he patted James’s shoulder gently. “Take your time,” he said. “I ordered dinner for eight. And Jamie…”
    James turned to look at him.
    “You would tell me if you were injured, wouldn’t you?”
    James swallowed. “Of course I would, George.” He began to climb the stairs, making an effort not to limp. I just can’t tell you why .

    An hour later, James sat in the dining room, a glass of wine at hand, wishing he was anywhere but here. It was a

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