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True Spies

ISBN: 9781402276026

By: Shana Galen

Published: 09/03/2013

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Description

Praise for Shana Galen:

"Galen strikes the perfect balance between dangerous intrigue and sexy romance."—Booklist

He's Getting Tired of Deception...

Baron Winslow Keating is honor-bound to finish one last mission as an elite spy for the Barbican group even though he just wants to go home and be with his family. But after years of secrecy and absence, his daughters hardly know him and his wife has given up on him...

She Wants to Try a Little Intrigue...

Lady Elinor has had enough of domestic boredom. She contemplates an affair with a rakish spy, only to discover a world of intrigue and treachery that she never knew existed. Even more shocking, her neglectful husband is suddenly very attentive—quite the jealous type—and apparently there is much more to him than she ever knew...

Praise for When You Give a Duke a Diamond:

"A thrilling ride, filled with mystery, intrigue and romance."—Fresh Fiction

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Table of Contents

One

Elinor paced the vestibule of her London town house, her slippered steps echoing in the strained silence. She couldn’t see Bramson, but she knew the butler waited nearby. She pictured him shifting from one foot to the other and wringing his white-gloved hands. Elinor glanced at the tall case clock again and let out a disgusted sigh.

She could not believe he was doing this to her. Again. His promises proved meaningless, as usual. She began to tug off her elbow-length gloves. “Bramson,” she called.

“Yes, my lady.” He stepped out from the adjacent parlor, a blank look on his face. But she saw beneath the facade. She saw the sad shake of his head. The all-too-familiar pity. When had she become someone to pity? No more. Elinor couldn’t bear it another day.

She smoothed her gloves back in place. “Have Spencer bring the coach around.”

Bramson’s brow furrowed. It was the only wrinkle in his otherwise seamless appearance. She studied her butler—his clipped white hair, his black coat and breeches, the unrelieved white of his shirt and neck cloth. Her gaze drifted to the black-and-white checked marble of the vestibule and then to the mirror on the wall opposite. She wore white gloves and a black gown with jet beading. Her skin was pale, and her dark brown hair looked almost raven in the dim lighting.

She was surrounded by the staid, the sober, and the severe, and she had had enough of it. Enough! She was not dead. Not yet. But she looked it. No wonder Winn forgot her. And to the devil with him, anyway. The curse, though muttered internally, gave her a zing of elation. To the devil with him!

“The coach, my lady?” Bramson asked. “Has his lordship arrived?”

The man knew very well that his lordship had not arrived. Every person in the household, save her, had known his lordship was not going to arrive. She was the only fool to believe him. “I shall attend the Ramsgate ball without Lord Keating, Bramson.”

Bramson’s dark eyebrows arched. “I see. Very good, my lady.” His tone indicated he thought this turn of events anything but.

Elinor glanced in the mirror again. “And, Bramson? Send Bridget to my room. I wish to change my gown.”

“Eh…” Bramson recovered himself. “Of course, my lady.”

She started up the stairs, her legs feeling ten pounds lighter. She was going to attend the ball and dance the night away. Would Mr. Trollope attend? If he did, would she have the courage to waltz with the gentleman? Allow him to put his arm around her and press her tightly to him?

“Mother?”

Elinor jumped, grasping the banister to keep her balance. It was Caroline. The girl might only be twelve in terms of age, but she was an old soul. She had the eyes of a wizened woman. “Yes, dear?” Elinor reached the landing and turned toward her bedchamber.

“Are you about to change?”

Elinor sighed. Even her daughter knew Lord Keating would forget her mother.

“Oh, good. Georgiana and I wrote the first act of a play, and we wanted to act it out for you.”

Bridget stepped into the corridor, and Elinor nodded at her. “Find something with color for me to wear tonight, Bridget. I must have something blue or—no.” Why not? “Something red.”

“Are you not staying home?” Caroline frowned. For a moment, Elinor wanted to reverse her decision. She loved her daughters, loved playing with them, spending time with them, watching them grow into young ladies. It was not many years ago, she lamented that she spent all her time with her children. It seemed her only entertainment was the juvenile stories of princesses they composed. She’d craved conversation with her peers, and an activity that did not require her to sit on the floor or dress a doll. But the girls had needed her, and it had felt good to be needed.

Now, even that was not true. Elinor did not feel needed at all. Her daughters had governesses and music teachers to oversee their studies, they had their own friends and amusements, and more than once she had offered some advice or tried to participate and felt as though she was an unnecessary appendage. Caroline and Georgiana rolled their eyes at her when they thought she wasn’t looking.

Perhaps it was time to seek her own interests and the excitement she’d always craved. She’d read so many accounts of all the bravery during the Peninsular War against Napoleon. She thought of all the daring acts of courage by soldiers and generals. She could not fight a battle, but she could do something less explicit. She could work on the fringes.

She could do something she’d only dared read about and prove she was more than a mother and Society hostess. She could act as a spy.

Excited now, Elinor started for her room. “I told you, Caro, I’m attending a ball tonight.”

Caroline looked about. “What about Father?”

“I’m going without him.”

Caroline blinked. “What about our play?”

“I’ll see it tomorrow, darling.” Elinor put a hand on her younger daughter’s arm. “You girls should go to bed.”

Caroline frowned, looking so much like her father, it cut right through Elinor. “But, Mother, we’re not babies. ’Tis not even late.”

Elinor opened her mouth to protest, then closed it and shrugged. Why not allow the girls their fun? She was tired of always being the one to enforce bedtime. Tired of each and every one of the thousands of rules children and wives were required to obey. Tonight she would forget about those rules and enjoy herself. Tonight was a new beginning. One without Winn.

“You’re right, of course,” Elinor conceded. “Stay up as late as you wish.” She gave Caro a quick kiss on the forehead and proceeded to her room. Caroline followed.

“Mother? Mother. Are you feeling well?”

Elinor laughed. “I feel perfectly well.”

Bridget held out a burgundy gown, and Elinor shook her head. “No.” It was too drab. “Let me choose.” She didn’t miss the look that passed between Caroline and Bridget. Good. Let them look. Let all of London look. She was done living as a hermit because her husband cared more for… anything and everything than he cared for his wife and family. Plenty of married women went out without their husbands. Plenty of men would rather visit their mistresses than escort their wives to the opera or a fête. Elinor almost wished Winn had a mistress. It would have made him more interesting, more human.

Once she would have waited with bated breath for him to return home. Once she would have dressed carefully, anticipating his arrival. But years of whiling away endless hours, nodding to sleep in the vestibule, wearing her best gowns for the sole benefit of the servants, had made her bitter. Winn was never going to change. She did not want to be bitter about the truth. She wanted to escape it—do something exciting and absorbing so she would not have to remember what her real life entailed.

She stepped into her dressing room and scanned the neatly folded gowns. Gray, brown, lavender, black, more gray. Good God! When had she begun dressing like an old woman? There! Her gaze caught on a rectangle of scarlet. She reached for it and tugged it loose, upending the beige gown on top of it and not caring a whit.

“Mother, what is that?” Caroline’s voice was full of shock and censure. Elinor shook the gown out. It was cut a bit lower than she would have liked but was still far from scandalous.

“This is what I am wearing to the ball,” she told her daughter. She carried the gown, its gauzy sleeves and silk skirts trailing like ribbons in her wake, into her chamber. “Here we are.” She presented Bridget with her back, and her maid began the task of removing the black beaded gown.

Caroline stood mutely and watched while Bridget helped Elinor don the scarlet gown carefully, so as not to muss her hair. As the maid fastened the last tape, Elinor caught the shake of Caroline’s head in the mirror. “Mother, you cannot wear that.”

Elinor almost laughed. “Why not?” She turned to Bridget. “Do I have any rouge?”

“Mother!”

“Caroline!” Elinor echoed her daughter’s outraged tone. “I am a mother, not a corpse. I do not want to look like one.”

From somewhere in the depths of Elinor’s dressing table, Bridget unearthed a pot of rouge. Elinor sat to apply it. Caroline’s wide green eyes seemed to grow even wider. “Mother,” she whispered. “I can see the top of your bosom.”

Elinor glanced down at the swells of her breasts. “Good,” she said. She studied the effect of the rouge, then tugged a few tendrils of hair loose about her face and stood. “There.”

Caroline shook her head. “What will Father think?”

Elinor shrugged. “I don’t care.” And she meant it.

***

Somewhere in London, Autumn 1815

The spy called Baron swayed on the steep roof, finding his footing as a piece of the wood structure gave way. He watched it tumble to the ground, watched it turn end over end over end until, finally, it gave a quiet thwack and splintered into ten thousand pieces. He might have paused to consider the thud his head would make if it made a similar journey. But, as a rule, he avoided the most likely scenarios and tried to be optimistic. A moment later, the sound of voices drowned out his optimism.

He glanced over his shoulder as three men climbed through the rotting door to the roof. A bald man pointed at him, and another raised a pistol. Baron teetered on the ledge and slid forward. “Not very sporting of you to shoot a man in the back,” he called over his shoulder.

“Then turn around!” one of the men called back.

Not bloody likely.

A pistol shot exploded behind him—a French flintlock holster pistol from the sound of it—and he cursed and ducked. Straddling the vee of the roof, he winced in pain. He was getting too old for this. He scooted forward, while behind him the men started after him, taking wobbly steps onto the steep roof. He welcomed their approach. He preferred a real fight to dodging pistol balls.

“This is the end, Baron!” called the bald man, who Baron now saw had a nasty gash on his cheek.

It wasn’t the end. Baron could see the end a few feet away. The roof ended, and the steep drop yawned before him.

“Give us the key, and we’ll kill you quickly,” the man with three broken teeth and long, stringy hair called.

“Tempting offer,” Baron answered, “but I’ll take my chances.” He scooted forward again and frowned at the distance between the roof and the street below. Looking back over his shoulder, Baron thought he preferred the drop.

“You’re dead one way or another,” the bald man told him. “Give us the key.”

Baron stood, carefully, so as to keep his balance. “You want the key?” He slid toward the roof’s edge. “Come and take it.” And with a final step, he tumbled off.

“What the devil?” one of the thugs called.

“I didn’t think he’d do it.”

“Now we’ll have to scrape the key out of all his blood and guts.”

“Wait a moment. Did you hear him land?”

Baron clenched his jaw and dug his fingers into the gargoyle jutting from the roof’s edge. The perfect companion, it grinned madly at him. “Lucky us,” he muttered. “One of them isn’t a complete fool.” He hooked an elbow over the gargoyle’s neck and tried to ignore the way his feet dangled freely in the cool night air.

“Go look,” one of the men—Baron thought it was the one with broken teeth—said. Baron held his breath, listening to the step-slide-step-slide as the man scooted closer. He lowered himself under the gargoyle’s head, using only his damp hands to hold on. Gritting his teeth, he tried not to move, tried to keep his sweat-slick hands locked tightly.

Step-slide-step-slide-step…

A shadow fell over Baron, and in one quick motion, he swung his feet, knocked the gap-toothed man on the side of the head, and sent him tumbling to the street below. The man’s scream rent the air, and then with a smack, all was silent. Using the momentum from the kick, Baron pushed himself back onto the roof and climbed to his feet just in time to deflect a right jab from the man who’d shot at him with the pistol. Both men lost their balance and fell hard on the roof. Baron slid down on his back, twisting in time to catch the peak. He’d begun to lever himself up, when the thug with the pistol kicked out at him. He hit the side of Baron’s head and set his ears ringing. He would have a nasty headache later, but right now he felt only fury. The man kicked again, and this time Baron caught his foot and yanked. The thug lost his grip and slid down the steep roof, clawing for purchase. He caught a pipe near the edge and sent up a thin laugh.

And then, with a creak, the pipe bent, and he slid down and down and down.

Baron rose slowly and let out a breath. The bald man was watching him. The thug took a step forward, then whirled and turned, heading back the way he’d come. Baron let out a sigh and wished he could let the man go. Instead, he started after him, making his way nimbly across the sharp roof. The rotted door slammed shut just as Baron jumped onto the level section. He raced across it, threw the door open, and charged down the stairs after the man.

The building was old, vacant, and black as a crow’s feather. Baron heard the slap-slap of the man’s rapid footfalls echo through the emptiness. He was gaining on him.

And then the footsteps ceased, and Baron went around the last winding staircase and out the door. At the last moment, he veered to the left and avoided the pistol ball that smacked into the door behind him. “Bloody hell!”

In the shadows stood the bald thug with a man dressed in a sweeping ebony greatcoat. A pistol glinted in his hand. The man looked down to prime it again, but Baron wasn’t going to stand still and wait to be shot. With a grunt of frustration, he took off running, the two pursuers all but stepping on his heels. In the distance, the clock of St. Sepulchre tolled. Even though Newgate prison now had its own bell to mark the time of imminent executions, the sound reminded Baron of a death knell. He raced through an alley and dove through a gate as the tenth bell clanged.

“Devil take it,” he swore, running toward a high wall and climbing over. One of the men grabbed his ankle, and Baron’s kick landed somewhere soft. Soft… Elinor! He jumped down, paused to find his bearings, then arrowed for Mayfair. He was late, and he was damned if he hadn’t promised Elinor he would escort her to Lord and Lady Ramsgate’s ball. She was going to kill him, he thought as he took a sharp corner, raced across a street, narrowly avoiding a collision with a carriage, then stumbling to the other side. He chanced a look over his shoulder and swore. The thugs were still following him and showed no signs of flagging.

Baron ran, keeping his head down lest he be recognized once he neared Mayfair. He almost would have preferred for Elinor to attempt to kill him. Outright violence would have been preferable to the disappointed look she would bestow upon him in its stead. He hated to disappoint. Ironically, he never disappointed when working. But at home… his record was far from exemplary.

More streets and more alleys, and his breathing grew labored. The carriages multiplied like rabbits, street lamps grew more numerous with each passing street, and Baron knew he was in Mayfair. He ducked into a dark shop doorway and looked to the right. The Ramsgate town house was that way.

He looked left. Home was that way. Should he go home or attempt to make it to the ball? Surely Elinor had not gone to the Ramsgate ball without him. She was too reserved, too meek and nervous to attend a ball unescorted. But he couldn’t lead the two thugs to his home.

He ducked back into the shadows when he heard the men approaching. They made more noise than hounds in a fox hunt. At the last possible moment, when Baron was certain they would rush past him, he stuck out an arm and knocked one of the men down. The other raced by, and by the time he’d turned back, Baron had knocked the bald man’s head against the window of the shop, shattering the thick glass and rendering the thug bloody and unconscious.

Unfortunately, that left the man in black. The man with the pistol pointed at Baron’s head. “Give me the key, Baron.”

“You know I can’t,” he said, keeping his gaze on the pistol. Had the man in black had time to prime it? Was this a bluff?

“You can’t run forever.”

“Neither can you.” Baron was going to take a chance. Standing here, an easy target, was not a position he enjoyed. Carriages streamed past them on the busy street up ahead. The man would not risk the sound of gunfire with so many close by. Baron narrowed his eyes. Would he?

“Don’t make me shoot you.”

“Have it your way,” Baron said and darted toward the busy street. He zigzagged in the event the man in black had primed his pistol, but when Baron didn’t feel the hot slap of a ball in his back, he assumed he’d guessed correctly. He looked over his shoulder, saw the man ramming a ball down the pistol’s barrel, and cursed. He wouldn’t escape so easily next time. The man in black looked up with a grin and ran after him. Baron turned his attention back to the street, almost colliding with a passing coach. He dove around it and continued running, glancing up in time to narrowly avoid a coach-and-four coming from the opposite direction.

Hold. He slowed. Those were his Yorkshire Trotters. That was his coach! Was Elinor inside? The irony of being all but run down by his own coach did not escape him.

Baron reached the far side of the street and had no time to consider. He turned on his heel and started for the Ramsgate town house. The man in black followed, his ebony greatcoat whipping behind him like a raven’s wing. As Baron neared the ball, he ducked down an alley to avoid the lights and the throng of arriving carriages. He heaved himself over a garden wall and tumbled unceremoniously into the Ramsgates’ garden. The earl and his countess had strewn Chinese lanterns throughout, lighting the beautifully manicured lawns. Baron hissed and sank back into the more comfortable shadows. He hissed again when he heard the man in black clambering over the wall. He couldn’t stay where he was, and that meant he had one option open to him.

One very, very bad option. Dusting the leaves from his lapels, Baron started toward the glittering chandeliers and crescendoing music.

Reviews



“Galen’s action scenes are exciting... This lighthearted, fast-paced cloak and dagger romp will amuse even the most discerning Regency reader.” - Publishers Weekly...

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Specs

Format: Paperback

Dimensions
Length: 6.875 in
Width: 4.1875 in
Weight: 0.00 oz
Page Count: 352 pages

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