The realization filled Leo with furious despair. Because the one thing worse than finding Catherine with Latimer was not finding her there. He leaped on the bastard, clenched his hands around Latimer’s thick, clammy throat, and hauled him to a standing position. The bottle dropped to the floor. Latimer’s eyes bulged, and he choked and spat as he tried to pry Leo’s hands free.
“Where is she?” Leo demanded, giving him a hard shake. “What have you done with Catherine Marks?” He loosened his bruising grip just enough to allow Latimer to speak.
The bastard coughed and wheezed, and stared at him incredulously. “Sodding lunatic! What the bloody hell are you talking about?”
“And you think I have her?” Latimer let out a disbelieving bark of laughter.
“Convince me that you don’t,” Leo said, clenching his neck more tightly, “and I may let you live.”
Latimer’s bloated face turned dark. “I have no use for that woman, or any other harlot, because of the … the stew you’ve put me in! You are tearing my life apart! Investigations, questions from Bow Street … allies threatening to turn on me. D’ you know how many enemies you’re making?”
“Not nearly as many as you.”
Latimer writhed in his merciless grasp. “They want me dead, damn you.”
“What a coincidence,” Leo said through clenched teeth. “So do I.”
“What has become of you?” Latimer demanded. “She’s only a woman. ”
“If anything happens to her, I’ll have nothing left to lose. And if I don’t find her within the next hour, you’ll pay with your life.”
Something in his tone caused Latimer’s eyes to widen in panic. “I have nothing to do with it.”
“Tell me, or I’ll garrot you until you swell up like a toad.”
“Ramsay.” Harry Rutledge’s voice sliced through the air like a sword.
“He says she’s not here,” Leo muttered, not taking his gaze from Latimer.
A few metallic clicks, and then Harry placed the muzzle of a flintlock in the center of Latimer’s forehead. “Let go of him, Ramsay.”
Latimer made an incoherent sound in the sepulchral quiet of the room. His gaze locked with Harry’s.
“Remember me?” Harry asked softly. “I should have done this eight years ago.”
It appeared that Harry’s ice-cold eyes frightened Latimer even more than Leo’s murderous ones. “Please,” Latimer whispered, his mouth shaking.
“Give me information about my sister’s whereabouts in the next five seconds, or I’ll put a hole in your head. Five.”
“I don’t know anything,” Latimer pleaded.
“I swear it on my life!” Tears sprang from his eyes.
“Please, I’ll do anything!”
Harry hesitated, giving him an assessing stare. He read the truth in his eyes. “Damn it,” he said softly, and lowered the pistol. He looked at Leo, while Latimer collapsed in a sobbing drunken heap on the floor. “He doesn’t have her.”
They exchanged a quick, bleak glance. It was the first time Leo had ever felt a kinship with Harry, sharing this moment of despair over the same woman.
“Who else would want her?” Leo muttered. “There’s no one with a connection to her past … except the aunt.” He paused. “The night of the play, Cat happened to see a man who worked at the brothel. William. She knew him as a child.”
“The brothel is in Marylebone,” Harry said abruptly, heading for the door. He motioned for Leo to follow.
“Why would the aunt have taken Cat?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps she’s finally gone mad.”
The brothel was sagging and flat-breasted, with trim that had chipped and been painted a thousand times until someone had finally decided the effort was no longer worth it. The windows were soot-darkened, the front door askew like a lascivious half-smile. The house next door was far smaller, stoop-shouldered, a maltreated child standing next to its promiscuous older sister.
It was often the arrangement that when a brothel was a family business, the owners lived in a separate dwelling. Leo recognized the house from Catherine’s description. This was where she had lived as a naïve young girl, unaware that her future had already been stolen from her.
They rode through a cross-street to a fetid alley behind the brothel, a crumbling mews with tilting sides, one of many in the labyrinth of nooks and tiny streets concealed behind the main thoroughfare.
Two men lounged in the doorway of the larger building, the brothel, one of them possessing a massive physical stature that distinguished him as the Bully of the house. In the world of prostitution, the office of Bully was to keep order at a brothel and settle disputes between whores and clients. The other man was small and slight, a hawker of some manner, with a pocketed apron knotted around his waist and a small covered handchaise at the side of the alley.
Noting the attention the visitors paid to the back entrance of the brothel, the Bully spoke in an affable tone. “Sporting ladies aren’t working yet, guvnahs, you ’as to come back at nightfall.”
Leo summoned all his will to keep his tone pleasant as he spoke to the strongman. “I have business with the mistress of the house.”
“She won’t see you, I ’spect … but you can ask Willy.” The Bully gestured toward the dilapidated house with a meaty hand, his manner relaxed, his eyes sharp.