The Wild Adventure of Jasper Renn
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Jasper shook his head. He wasn’t wearing his hat, which made him look like less of a cowboy. “We’re taking one.”
“But if we find Sparrow...”
He shot her a glance. “Then you’ll either take a hack back to your hotel and I’ll drive the cycle, or you’ll come back here, in which case I’ll just run.” He shrugged as if it wasn’t any big concern.
When had he become so comfortable with his abilities? When she’d first met him, he had been using his talents for nefarious reasons, and he’d seemed pretty torn up over it. He had not been made for a life of crime. Neither had she, it turned out—though she had been very good at it once.
She’d turned to crime to feed herself and her sister, to help people less fortunate and, yes, for money. She was now at a point where she didn’t need much where money was concerned, and stealing, dealing and wheeling just didn’t hold the same allure they once had.
Jasper, on the other hand, was as fascinating—or more so—as he had been on that first meet. The scoundrel.
He straddled one of the cycles, leaving her room to climb onto the padded seat with him. “You’ll have to put your arms around me. You all right with that?”
Was he teasing her? “I think I can handle it.”
“But can you control yourself? I wouldn’t want to drive you into a state of histrionics.”
She glared at him—because she wanted to laugh. “All this English tea and pudding has gone to your head and turned what brain you had to mush.”
“Used too many big words for you, did I?” he asked with a grin. “I’ve been workin’ on my vocabulary, my elocution, my verbosity, my... Damn me, but I can’t think of another word.”
She would not laugh. She would. Not. Laugh.
She laughed. Jasper’s grin grew.
“Don’t be mad at me, Cat. I lied when I said it would be better if you didn’t like me.”
Was that cracking ache in her chest her heart breaking? “I lied, too.” She wasn’t about to point out how many times. “And I’m not mad at you, Jas. Not really. Not much. But you hurt my feelings, boyo, and I can’t forgive you for it.”
His grin slid from his face. “I know, and I’m sorry for it.”
Of course he was. So was she. She climbed onto the cycle behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter anymore. We’re over. Just help me find Sparrow.”
He started the velocycle, the low rumble of the engine coming to life like a purring lion. “All right,” he said.
Cat didn’t know which of the three he was in agreement with, and she was afraid to ask. It didn’t matter, she told herself, but she was lying again.
It mattered quite a bit.
* * *
Jasper didn’t know Sparrow that well—he’d met the girl only a few times. She’d been in school most of the time he’d been with Cat. He might not know her, but he knew her sister, and he knew enough girls to have an idea of where Sparrow might go.
Straight into the middle of trouble, which made it all the more important that they find the girl. No one at King House would be upset that he’d left to help Cat. She’d helped them in New York, and like he’d said earlier, they really didn’t need his help to find Emmy. He’d left the report of his search on Griffin’s desk earlier, and a note on his door that he was with Cat and would be back soon. They could reach him on his portable telegraph if they needed him.
Covent Garden was one of the entertainment centers of London. It had theaters, dance halls, taverns and shops where a young woman might get employment. It also had many boardinghouses nearby where those same girls could live if they hadn’t any family. It was one of the first places he’d gone when he arrived in London, so he’d wager that Cat’s little sister had gone there, as well.
It was also the sort of place where predators hunted for naive little girls.
Damnation, but Cat had to be out of her head with worry. And he’d taken advantage of that when he kissed her. True, she’d kissed him back and made him happier than he should have been, but it had been wrong of him.
He’d do it again in an instant. Obviously, he had no willpower where she was concerned.
He drove to an area not far from the Theatre Royal and parked the velocycle in the lengthening shadows. Nighttime was when this place truly came alive.
“Did you bring something of hers for scent?” he asked, slipping his leg over the machine as she climbed off. “A photograph?”
He nodded. “All right, then, let’s go ask some questions. Best let me do most of the talking. Folks won’t be inclined to trust you.”
“Because of my skin, or because I’m a woman?”
The defensive edge in her voice gave him pause. “Because they don’t know you.”
He would have laughed at her expression if he didn’t think it might get him disemboweled. Those claws of hers could be nasty when she brought them out.
“C’mon,” he said, inclining his head. “Let’s find that little bird.” He offered her his hand, not really expecting her to take it. She stared at it for a fraction of a second, and then slid her fingers around his. Joy exploded in his stomach. He’d told himself this wouldn’t work. Told himself she was the wrong girl for him, yet every instinct and emotion he had was against him. He couldn’t help himself. He’d help her, spend time with her—kiss her as often as she liked—and then he’d have to let her go. He’d already done that twice. Wasn’t it madness to do it again?