The distance from the Adell’s gate to their front door, felt every inch a mile. Though I’ve never found it amusing, I have always been struck by pain’s ability to make anything more arduous or endless seeming.
The desire to take the weight off my knee made it quite impossible, at the time, to be concerned that we were hobble-walking up to the house of a woman who was intimately connected with the very man whose death we were investigating. Even as I painfully skipped from step to step, I still had no reservations about knocking on her door and asking her for a seat.
Now, at this present moment, when the memory of the pain is such that it causes no phantom twinge in my kneecap, I am horrified at our very intent. How could we have been so presumptuous? How could we have been so intrusive? Surely, she was in a state of grief. Losing someone as close as Corbet had been, even though their relations were broken off, must have been devastating.
But, my mind at that time, was absorbed with calming my breathing and concentrating on holding my weight with my uninjured leg. The flush of pain rising through my cheeks was such that I heard Cross’s heavy-handed knocking, but it didn’t register that we were about to break the protective wall of anonymity until the door opened and we were greeted by a fresh-faced young maid.
“Forgive me,” Cross began. “We don’t mean to impose, but my friend here has injured himself and if it wouldn’t be too much of a disruption, we’d very much appreciate a chance to rest and perhaps clean his wound.”
The maid eyed us suspiciously, as well she should have, but Cross gave such a sincere expression that she didn’t guard herself nearly as long as she should have.
“I do believe we have a mutual friend with your mistress, or rather, we had a mutual friend. Surely, your mistress wouldn’t mind if a couple old friends of Corbet Adams rested on her steps.”
A gasp choked from the maid’s lips and her eyes glared wild. The very mention of Corbet’s name sent the maid backwards into the entryway, and the door slamming in our face.
“Well, that wasn’t necessary.” The sound of his voice related mild frustration, but one look at his sly expression and I knew he was reading volumes in the startled maid and the slammed door. I could see it suggested something to him, but, exactly what that was, I had no idea.
With no energy to move either forward or back, I took the opportunity to slip down to the top step. Permission or no, sitting on their step was all I was capable of at that moment.
Cross stood next to me, his gaze fixed on the door. His jaw line pulsed regularly, the muscles in his cheek showing remarkable definition, as someone who’d been accustomed to grinding their teeth while in concentrated thought. And, as I believed Cross to always exist in concentrated thought, it’s a wonder he had any teeth left.
Only a few moments passed when the door opened once more. This time, the figure of the maid was replaced by the graceful form of Miss Mary Adell. She was indeed a magnificent creature, a hint of the exotic blended with an air of grace.
I stumbled awkwardly to my feet, hoping that my exposed wound wouldn’t disturb Miss Adell too badly. Cross’s steadying hands served to keep me upright.
“Miss Adell, we do apologize for the abruptness of our arrival, but, as you can see, there were extenuating circumstances.” Cross smiled earnestly before indicating my torn leg.
“Yes, of course, gentlemen… please, come inside.” The melody that danced from her lips, made me forget, not only the pain in my leg, but the fact that I even had legs at all. With Cross on one arm and Miss Mary Adell on my other arm, I very well could have floated over the threshold and would have known no difference.
Once inside the nearest sitting room, I was lowered to the long couch, my wounded leg pulled from the floor onto one of the more decorative cushions by Miss Mary’s own hand. For those few moments, I was blind to anyone else and anything else around me.
“Helena, bring clean water and bandages,” the maid hovered close to her mistress, wringing her hands. “And something to drink for our guests.”
“Really, you shouldn’t go to any trouble on my account.” I bit back the pain of my trouser leg being pulled from the gash on my knee.
“It’s the least I can do for any friend of Corbet.” Her eyes flashed up to Cross. Her expression was, for my part, unreadable, but she obviously communicated exactly what Cross wanted as a knowing grin stretched across his face.
Ten minutes later, my leg thoroughly cleaned and expertly wrapped, Miss Mary Adell turned to both of us. “Now, gentlemen, if you’ll be so kind to explain to me why, exactly, you are here. As I am well aware that neither of you has ever been friends of Corbet. And you would be well advised to speak the truth.”