Authors: Elizabeth Boyce
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency
This edition published by
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
Copyright © 2013 by Velva George
ISBN 10: 1-4405-6195-8
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6195-5
eISBN 10: 1-4405-6196-6
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6196-2
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © 123rf.com
Mama, this one’s for you.
Many thanks to my wonderful editor on this project, Jerri Corgiat Gallagher. My deepest gratitude to Jennifer Lawler, for … everything. Lady, you rock.
To my Crimsonistas: Thank you for the nonstop laughs, commiseration, and inspiration — CR Sisters style.
Carrie Allen, thanks for allowing me use of your eyeball.
Tavish Brinton, midwife extraordinaire, thank you for the wealth of knowledge you imparted.
Oasis, I appreciate the many years y’all have put up with me. Thanks for humoring my history rants, laughing at my bad jokes, letting me brainstorm about grouse hunts and poisoned horses, and telling me those are Great Ideas, even when they’re half-baked and probably not very good yet. When I hit the big time, I’ll pony up the down payment for the island in Fiji.
SareBear and “Hell Shell,” you ladies always help me get it started, even when I don’t want to. In then end, I’m always glad you did. Thank you, sweet dears.
As ever, Jason, your support and encouragement mean the world. I love you!
Finally, thanks so much to my readers who have read and enjoyed my novels. Hearing from you via reviews, blog comments, and emails makes all the pain worthwhile. You’re all the very best!
When the liveried footman in front of Jordan stumbled over a lump in the rug, a bottle of claret and two wine glasses toppled from his laden tray. Jordan sprang forward, caught the bottle ’round the neck in one hand and a glass by the stem in the other. The second wine glass he intercepted with his leg; it rolled down his shin to settle, unharmed, on the treacherous floor covering.
As he stooped to retrieve it, an audience of one applauded off to his side. “Lord Freese, my hero! You saved my rug, wine, and stemware all from unfortunate demise.”
He turned to the speaker and bowed with a flourish. “Your servant, madam.”
Isabelle, Duchess of Monthwaite, smiled warmly as she stepped off the bottom stair and crossed the entrance hall to where he stood. “We didn’t know if you’d come tonight, Jordan. Charity events are not nearly so tempting to single gentlemen as other amusements.”
Jordan affected an affronted demeanor. “And where should I rather be, if not at An Auction for the Benefit of King’s Cross Vocational School for Young Ladies, as the invitation so enticingly described?” He poured wine into the two rescued glasses, then returned the bottle to the red-faced footman before turning to offer Isabelle a drink.
She took both it and his proffered arm as they strolled toward the salon, following the faint sounds of pianoforte music and laughter. “Still, it was good of you to come,” Isabelle continued. “I know Lily will be grateful for whatever material support you offer, and I’m just glad to have another body in the room. This far into summer, it was difficult to fill out the guest list.” Her sigh was thick with fatigue, and she leaned heavily upon his arm.
Jordan looked down at his friend’s wife. Though the arm hooked through his own was still willowy and her face as slender and lovely as ever, Isabelle’s lithe figure had given way to the heavy fullness of late pregnancy. Her breasts were larger than they’d ever been — scarcely contained by the bodice of her light green dress. Even so, they were overshadowed by the great roundness of her belly.
Though politeness prevented him from directly alluding to her delicate condition, he was concerned she might overexert herself. “Are you sure this is not too much?” he asked. “Would you like to take a rest?”
A frown line creased her brows. “I’ve just come down from taking a rest,” she answered testily. “Pray do not stare at me like that, Jordan. I’m perfectly aware of my limitations.”
“Forgive me, Isabelle,” he said with a quick smile. “If I seemed to stare it is only because I am dazzled by the becoming new cut of your hair.” He nodded toward the blond curls framing her face. “That short style suits you — very modish.”
“You’re forgiven, since you not only noticed my new hairstyle, but complimented it. Poor Marshall is mourning the length I cut off.”
They rounded a corner; the salon was directly in front of them, its doors thrown open wide, spilling light and music into the corridor. Inside, a respectable crowd of several dozen mingled over drinks. Jordan smiled mischievously and bent to speak in a low voice near her ear. “Since you’ll not go rest, at least say you’ll leave Marshall and elope with me, Isabelle. I’ll take you to Paris and buy a hundred hats to adorn your new hair.”
Isabelle threw back her head and laughed as they entered the room, drawing admiring gazes from the assembled guests. “You grow more outrageous by the day,” she scolded, her blue eyes swimming with mirth. “If you don’t hurry up and marry, you’ll soon be so scandalous, no decent woman will have you.”
“You’ve uncovered my scheme,” he replied in jest, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the hired musician seated at the pianoforte in the far corner. “If no decent woman will have me, then my dear step-mama must stop badgering me to shackle myself to one.”
Their private conversation ended as Marshall broke away from a group of gentlemen to meet them. His arm slipped protectively around Isabelle’s expanded waist, concern etching his features. “Are you feeling better?” he asked. “You don’t have to do this, darling. I’m sure among Lady Thorburn and Naomi and myself, we have everything well in hand.”
Isabelle laid a reassuring hand against her husband’s cheek. Their sweet, open affection moved Jordan. He was happy for the joy his friends found in one another but very much doubted he was meant for any such relationship. The permanence of marriage scared the daylights out of him. Jordan couldn’t bear to stay in one geographic location longer than a month or two at a time — how could he be expected to remain at one woman’s side for the rest of his life?
The duchess moved on to speak with her guests. Marshall turned nonchalantly to face Jordan, lifted his wine, and swirled it beneath his nose. “There’s someone in my study to see you,” he murmured, his lips concealed by the glass.
Jordan frowned. “Who?”
, Marshall mouthed silently. His dark eyes cut to the door.
Feeling foolish for leaving almost as soon as he’d arrived, Jordan retreated from the social gathering. Curiosity put a spring in his step as he found his way upstairs to the study. He knocked once on the door and entered. The smell of leather and ink greeted him as his eyes sought out his summoner.
A head of close-clipped, graying hair looked up from where it had been bent over papers. Jordan shook his head ruefully as he shut and locked the door behind him. Was there nowhere the man could not engross himself in work?
“Freese.” Lord Castlereagh nodded once and gestured to a chair across the desk.
“Fine,” Jordan said as he took a seat. “Thank you so much for asking. And how does the night find you, Robert?”
The Foreign Secretary’s lips turned up in a small smile. He tossed his quill onto a sheet of paper, his hard eyes glinting in the light cast by the candelabra on the end of the desk. “I don’t waste time on idle chitchat, Jordan Atherton — and if you knew what was good for you, neither would you.”
“I find it singular,” Jordan rejoined, “that I’ve been turned away from your office every time I’ve attempted to see you this year. But here you are,” he said, spreading his hands wide, “running me to ground at a charity auction, pulling my strings as deftly as a puppet master. I should like to have a word with you.”
“And I with you,” Castlereagh said, leaning back in the borrowed chair. “That’s why I’ve come.”
“I’d hoped to accompany you to Paris.” Jordan hadn’t meant to blurt it out. He only hoped he hadn’t sounded like a petulant child.
Castlereagh pursed his lips. “You’d have been no good to me there, Freese. You’re no diplomat.”
Jordan’s teeth ground together. “There was intelligence to gather before the treaty was signed. I could have done that.”
“You have your assignment.”
of my assignment,” Jordan seethed. “Four years is long enough. Send me somewhere, Robert — anywhere. Let me be useful again!”
Lord Castlereagh’s brows shot up. “I
sending you somewhere.” Amusement tinged his words. “Home, in fact. What in the name of God Almighty are you still doing in Town this late in the summer? You’re lucky I haven’t strung you up for dereliction of duty, Freese.”
Jordan swiped a hand down his right cheek; his fingers automatically traced the scar he had obtained carrying out Castlereagh’s orders. It ran from his ear almost to the corner of his mouth.
How could he make the impassive Foreign Secretary see that this assignment was killing him? He was hobbled, tied to England like a dog staked on a short rope, when all he wanted to do was stretch his legs on foreign soil and engross himself in meaningful work once more.
“I’ve always done my duty, Robert,” he protested. “You cannot question my loyalty.”
Castlereagh spread his hands flat on the desk, long, ink-stained fingers splayed wide, and leaned forward, pinning Jordan in his fierce gaze. “Then why are you still here?”
Because Lintern Abbey is the dullest place on Earth,
he wanted to say. Because estate ledgers, crop rotations, and rent tallies bored him to tears. Instead of anything approaching the truth, which Robert would only interpret as sniveling, he opted for sarcasm. “I’ve taken a keen interest in charity schools, you see. I had to stay to lend my support to Her Grace’s benefit.”
His superior leveled an incredulous look at him, his jaw working side to side. Finally, Lord Castlereagh rummaged through the papers before withdrawing one and handing it across the desk to Jordan. “Home may have just become more exciting for you.”
Jordan read the intelligence report with mounting alarm. When he reached the end, he turned disbelieving eyes on Castlereagh. “French agents? Are you sure?”
The Foreign Secretary shrugged.
not sure, but our man in York is, and that’s good enough for me. Frenchmen have been sighted in villages and towns in the North, asking questions.”
“But it doesn’t make sense,” Jordan said in a rush. He swiped his fingers through the mop of black curls atop his head. “The monarchy is restored.” His eyes lit as an idea took shape. “Perhaps King Louis has sent them?”
“No.” Castlereagh shook his head. “Louis would approach the government directly. They’re Bonapartists.”
“But Napoleon is on Elba,” Jordan pointed out.
“Where he is already expanding his army and navy,” Castlereagh snapped. “His exile is not secure, damn it all. And now we have nine, ten, perhaps more of his men nosing around Yorkshire, getting closer to Lintern Abbey.”
With fingers and thumb pressing into his eyes, Jordan growled in frustration. “To what purpose? Do we suspect assassins?”
When he opened his eyes again, he saw the Secretary’s lips drawn into a grim line. “Of course they’re assassins. When have you last laid eyes on Enrique?” The pang of guilt aroused by the mention of his ward’s name must have shown on his face. Castlereagh scoffed. “Go home, Freese. Do your goddamn job.” He shoved another paper at Jordan. “I want you to take these men with you. Set a patrol; do whatever it takes.”
Jordan glanced down at the list. He recognized the ten names as well-placed gentlemen: some sons of tonnish families, some men attached to high-ranking government officials — and all agents of the Foreign Office, as well, it would seem.