Authors: Elizabeth Boyle
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
To the memory of my grandmother,
She was one of the few people I’ve ever known who welcomed each day and explored it with unbridled enthusiasm. May her spirit live on forever in the gardens she loved and tended, and in the hearts of her family who will miss her always.
The sharp pain and darkness that had carried. . .
“How was your trip to the solicitor, my lady?”. . .
“Keates! Keates, where are you, you faithless”. . .
Miss Sutton let loose with a rather eye-opening. . .
Before Olivia could repeat her question a third time. . .
Olivia strained against the ropes binding her to. . .
“What the devil were you thinking, bringing her. . .
Robert’s enthusiasm for returning to the Peninsula . .
“Olivia!” Jemmy said. “There you are! I’ve had a. . .
Robert thought about Colin’s advice for two days . . .
Robert followed Olivia up onto the deck, despite. . .
A cannonball whistled overhead, passing over the. . .
Olivia faced the man who had died in her arms. . .
Olivia didn’t give the laden mules much . .
When the hoofbeats came pounding in from the. . .
Rafe’s troop had suffered the loss of four men in . .
“Olivia, I—” Robert began to say . .
The next day, at the top of the mountain outside . .
Olivia awoke in a small room, curtains drawn . .
he sharp pain and darkness that had carried Orlando into unconsciousness began to lift. He fought the urge to moan, to groan, to rub his throbbing skull. Instead he did as he’d been taught and remained as still as a corpse.
After all, that was what the Marquis of Bradstone, the man who’d just finished rifling his pockets and stealing the missive he carried, thought—that Orlando was dead.
And Orlando had no doubt that if his assailant knew he still lived, he wouldn’t remain that way for very long.
So what was he to do?
In another part of the house, the ball being thrown by their host, Lord Chambley, sounded as if it had reached its height. Music competed with conversations, and the jovial din reached even this secluded part of the elegant and spacious town house.
Ignoring that distraction, Orlando focused instead on the muttered curses and rustle of parchment rising from the other corner of the library, where the Marquis of Bradstone was attempting to decipher the coded missive.
A missive that, in the right hands, would enable the English to unhinge Napoleon’s tight grasp on Spain—or just make Bradstone a very rich man.
Madre de Dios,
I can’t let this happen
With the other man occupied, Orlando did a furtive and silent inventory. His pistol, once tucked into his waistband, was gone, but that much he expected.
His hand slid down to his boot top, his fingers closing over the silver hilt of the stiletto he kept tucked inside.
Orlando would have grinned if he wasn’t supposed to be dead. Instead he stole another glance at the marquis.
The man looked about to have a fit, his face contorted with frustration.
The code had obviously proven harder than the man had expected.
Keep trying, you greedy bastard,
then you’ll not notice when I slit your throat.
Just as he was about to take his revenge, the door to the library sprang open.
“There you are. I’ve been waiting,” Bradstone said, with his usual smooth charm.
Orlando cursed his foul luck, easing back into his spot behind the desk. Now he had two opponents to dispatch instead of just one. That is, until he heard the voice of this newest arrival.
“I’m so sorry, my lord.” The soft whisper of a woman stopped Orlando’s next breath.
A woman? Bradstone was in the midst of stealing a fortune and he was taking the time to have a midnight assignation?
Apparently so, for her footsteps padded lightly across the carpet as she swept past the desk. In her wake fell the delicate scent of perfume. Roses, he thought, drifting over him like a feminine rain.
“I couldn’t slip away until my mother’s attention was completely diverted,” the woman said. “How thoughtful of you to send someone to play cards with her, especially when you know she is unable to refuse a good hand.”
Her voice surprised Orlando with its youthful innocence. She sounded young, far too young to be alone with the likes of Bradstone, or any man, for that matter.
Bradstone was laughing. “Anything to be with you.” The sound of kissing followed.
Orlando had no compunction about killing his enemy, but the man’s mistress, now that was an entirely different matter.
“Oh, Robert, I have missed you so,” she said breathlessly.
“And I you, my dearest Olivia.” More kissing ensued.
Orlando took this opportune moment to peer through his lashes.
Bradstone’s “dearest Olivia” was hardly what he expected. The girl in his arms was no Cyprian, no Haymarket bird. She wasn’t even some ingenue belle, the pretty, breathtaking kind of innocent femininity the
liked to call an Original.
No, Bradstone’s paramour could hardly even be called that—she was, in Orlando’s humble estimation, a rather plain little sparrow of a miss. Sure enough, her auburn hair fell in the requisite cascade of ringlets down over her shoulders, but its coppery luster seemed like a handful of dull farthings rather than some fiery silken mane to inspire such heated passion.
When she tipped her face toward him and Orlando could make out her features, again he found himself astounded. The girl was young, there was no doubt there, but her features were not the kind that would make a man sit up and take notice when she entered the room.
Even her gown was rather dull, a soft yellow muslin that only made her hair look more orange than red and did nothing to add color to her already pale cheeks and brow.
Orlando’s gut filled with ill-ease. Something was not right. Not at all.
What the devil was Bradstone doing summoning some innocent into his treasonous scheme?
“Come, my dear,” Bradstone was saying to her, his hands brushing back her wayward curls. “You know I find you irresistible.”
“You are too kind, my lord,” she said, a hint of wistfulness to her words. She paused for a moment. “Did I decipher your note correctly? Did you really mean what you said? That you love me? That you have something special to ask me this night?”
Most of her astounding disclosure was lost on Orlando for one word had caught and held his attention.
“Of course you read my note correctly,” Bradstone told her. Again the sound of kissing filled the room. “You always do, my little bluestocking.”
? Orlando thought it an odd endearment between lovers, but the girl didn’t seem to mind, for she laid her head on the marquis’s shoulder and sighed.
Something unfathomable began forming in Orlando’s mind. Could Bradstone possibly intend to use this girl to decipher the code?
Impossible. It was the throbbing in his head that was giving him such crazy notions.
Very quickly he realized that he’d once again underestimated his adversary.
“I promise tonight will be like no other for you,” Bradstone began. “That is, if you can do this one thing for me.”
Orlando heard the familiar rustle of parchment. The missive. He couldn’t keep his eyes shut. To his shock, Bradstone handed the future of the Peninsula and Britain to this mere slip of a girl.
“Oh, Robert,” the girl said breathlessly. “Anything.” She clutched the most coveted secret in the history of Spain to her bosom as if it were nothing more than a bit of heartfelt verse dashed off by an earnest lover.
The pair kissed again, while Orlando tried to fathom how Bradstone could believe this girl was capable of deciphering what eleven hundred years of learned men and treasure hunters had found unintelligible.
“Come, now, we mustn’t,” Bradstone told her. “We cannot succumb to this madness.
The Marquis purred those words like a triumphant alley cat, sure of his success and position.
Orlando’s noble-bound honor bristled at the thought.
She may not be comely, she may not even be of high and lofty rank, but it was obvious she was gently bred and innocent of heart—and her now inevitable fall from grace would destroy her.
English society wasn’t so unlike the strict rules of his homeland. Once tempted into a man’s arms, a young woman could give up any hope of living a respectable life.
And if what Bradstone implied was true, Olivia was thus tainted. Irretrievably so.
“No more,” Robert was saying, the kissing finally coming to a stop. “Not until you tell me what this says.”
The girl sighed. “If you insist.”
Orlando heard her gown rustle again and then her footsteps as she padded toward him.
He held his breath for what he knew was coming.
Sure enough, a shrill gasp began and was quickly muffled.
“Yes, I was going to warn you about that bit of business,” Bradstone said. “Now, if I take my hand away from your mouth, will you promise not to scream?”
She must have agreed, for a moment later, she asked in a soft, tenuous whisper, “Is he—” Her question faltered.
“Dead?” Bradstone finished. “I fear so.”
Yes, you go on believing that, you arrogant dog,
Orlando mused silently.
“Who is he?” she asked.
“A French agent. Here on Napoleon’s devilish business.”
? Orlando bristled. The blood of seventeen generations of Castilian grandees flowed though his veins and enough English blood for him to be thoroughly indignant. Then he spied the girl moving closer to him, so he held his indignation and breathing in check.
“He doesn’t look French to me,” the girl said. “More likely Spanish.”
“Yes, well, he’s one of the Corsican’s Spanish lackeys,” Bradstone declared impatiently, pulling his unwitting accomplice away from Orlando and back into his arms. The marquis lowered his voice. “The man was a Napoleon lackey come here to bedevil our good King and country. It was up to me to stop him.”
The girl glanced back at Orlando. “He looks rather young to be as nefarious as you say.”
“Yes, so I thought, until he tried to kill me with this,” Bradstone said, brandishing Orlando’s pistol. “Thankfully, I was able to surprise him before he could carry out his plot.”
“Oh, Robert, how brave you are,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. “But what were his plans? Don’t keep this from me. If I am to be your . . . wife”—she said the word with a soft little sigh before continuing—“then you must tell me.”
“And so I shall,” her lover said, disentangling himself from her embrace.
Once again Orlando heard the rustle of the missive.
The marquis continued, “He carried these instructions. They are in an ancient code, and you my dearest girl, being as extraordinarily skilled as you are at deciphering, I knew you could help me.”
“ ‘Twas your good fortune and a happy coincidence that we met at Lady Bloomberg’s puzzle party in May,” she said.