Eloquence and Espionage, Book 4 in the Lady Emily Capers
Published June 22, 2015
Sometimes life really is romantic. Bluestocking Ariadne Courdebas never thought she'd play the heroine in her own romantic novel until a chance encounter with handsome intelligence agent Jason Sinclair pulled her into the world of espionage. Now with the help of her sister Daphne and friends Priscilla Tate and Lady Emily Southwell, she's chasing French spies across 1815 London and uncovering treasonous plots that could the shape the outcome of the war with Napoleon, all while pretending to be engaged to Sinclair. It would be perfectly thrilling if she could just manage to secure vouchers for that exclusive club Almack's like all the other debutantes! As secrets and scandals collide, she finds herself wishing for more than just pretend. Can Ariadne use her considerable eloquence to convince Sinclair to play her hero, forever?
"I really enjoyed this story. Humor, adventure, and romance in one." -- Just Judy's Jumbles, top reviewer
"Ariadne's character is in interesting one. She constantly looks at the world around her as if it was a story in a book and she is excited to be playing the lead heroine this time. She can get carried away some times. She also has a secret unknown to Society, which could ruin her if it be discovered. I have come to adore these characters and I am eagerly looking forward to the fifth story." The Huntress Reviews
Ariadne Courdebas, youngest daughter of Viscount Rollings, had earned the reputation as a bluestocking. Not only was she often found with journal and pencil in hand, noting her impressions of various activities, but she saw dramatic possibilities in the most mundane of events. She appreciated a well-placed word, a witty turn of phrase. In literature, no matter how desperate the circumstances, everything was generally resolved between the front cover and the back. Reality was far more messy.
Particularly when one was pursuing a French spy.
She cracked open the shutters on the window of the landau to peer out at the square. As she'd hoped, Gunter's was suitably busy for a sunny afternoon in the middle of May, so that one more carriage even as distinguished as her family's would not be remarked upon. Waiters with white aprons tied around their waists darted across the crowded street to and from the famous confectioner's, taking orders from the aristocracy who waited in their carriages or sat at little tables under the trees. Already she'd seen a half dozen perfectly lovely ices pass her vantage point. But sacrifices must be made to complete an investigation. She puffed out a sigh.
A spear of light from the open shutter brightened the page of her journal, and she smoothed her gloved hand over the writing. How slanted and crowded the letters looked, testimony to the state of her nerves the night she'd written them. But truly, what young lady on her first Season in London could have remained calm after the intriguing events at Lord Rottenford's masquerade ball four days ago?
She would always remember the moment her life changed. She'd been with her dear friend, Priscilla Tate, whose betrothal to the Duke of Rottenford was to be announced that very night. Such a momentous occasion would have been cause for celebration, but for two things: Priscilla had decided she loved someone else, no less than the duke's personal secretary, and someone had been blackmailing her with vague threats of dire consequences. Quite clichéd, actually. Ariadne would have added more specifics: demands for her family jewels, perhaps an order to walk naked past St. George's Hanover Square on Sunday morning. Still, even with unimaginative threats, it had taken the combined forces of Ariadne's older sister Daphne, Priscilla, and their acknowledged leader Lady Emily Southwell to uncover the culprits and bring them to justice.
But that night, while trying to outwit their nemeses, Ariadne had noticed a gentleman following her and Priscilla. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and he carried himself like a celebrated thespian, full of brash confidence and bravado. He'd been dressed like a Roman centurion, hair black as midnight streaming down to his shoulders and face hidden by a dark leather mask. And Ariadne had offered to distract him so Priscilla could make her escape and save the day.
He'd been standing at the top of the stairs where a balcony braced His Grace's massive ballroom. Ariadne had approached cautiously, trying to conceive of the appropriate opening gambit in this sort of situation. Priscilla was the one gifted with the ability to sway a gentleman's thoughts. Of course, it didn't hurt that she had long curly hair of a lustrous gold, green eyes bright as emeralds, and considerable curves that she dressed to accentuate.
Ariadne was not so blessed. Her straight hair was merely light brown, and she generally wore it in a bun at the top of her head with a few contrived curls framing her round face. That night, she'd worn it undressed and flowing down her back, in keeping with the white diaphanous silk robes and laurel wreath that made up her costume of Athena, goddess of wisdom. Her eyes were an ordinary blue that was not dark enough to be termed sapphire or bright enough to be called cornflower. And her figure, to her ongoing consternation, tended to look more plump than perfect.
Had she been cast in one of Mr. Sheridan's wonderful plays, she would likely have been the understudy to a minor character. So she thought it particularly bold of her to sashay up to the powerfully built centurion and say, "Have you no legions to lead that you must chase after us, sir?"
He was surveying the ballroom, bare arms crossed over his bronze breastplate, scarlet cloak draping his back, quite as if he had not noticed her approaching. Now his gaze swung to meet hers. The mask shadowed his eyes, but she thought they were dark, brooding.
Quite suitable, actually.
"And how could a gentleman fail to follow where beauty leads?" he countered with a practiced drawl. The perfection of it sent gooseflesh up inside her long white evening gloves.
"Yes, my friend is particularly lovely," she acknowledged with a smile. "I would offer to introduce you, but she is promised to another, I fear."
He straightened, raising his head above hers and making her feel surprisingly petite. "Why would you think I meant your friend?"
His Grace's elegant ballroom was terribly warm from all the bodies crushed inside it, but she didn't think its coziness was making her face feel as if she were on fire. For a moment, she couldn't think of a thing to say. That was generally the case with her and boys. She remained tongue-tied; they tended too often to speak of unimportant matters like horses and carriages and hunting.
As if he knew how his words had affected her, he leaned closer, raising his hand to touch her cheek below her mask with tender fingers, and she found herself trembling.
"You do not give yourself enough credit, my dear," he murmured, and her breath hitched in her chest. "I imagine entire legions would march to the ends of the earth at one word from those pearly lips."
Her nerves evaporated. Ariadne sighed. "Oh, and you were doing so well. My lips are not pearly, sir. No woman would appreciate that compliment. Who wants to think of her lips as white and round?"
His fingers touched her lips, soft as a feather, then withdrew. "I meant because they are delectably plump."
Ariadne rolled her eyes. "Plump? I cannot think why I would approve of that adjective being applied to any part of my person."
He straightened. "So you are proof against seduction." She thought he sounded disappointed.
"I am proof against poor imagery," she replied. "Syntax too. And don't get me started on misplaced modifiers."
"Here," she said. "Allow me to demonstrate." She leaned closer, reached up to touch his cheek, imagining the pebbles of stubble rough against her gloves. "Your hair, madam, puts me in mind of pure honey, and I would wager my last guinea that you taste as sweet."
"That's very good," he said, and now his voice betrayed his admiration. "I may use it."
Ariadne dropped her hand with a wave. "Feel free. Just avoid talking about skin like alabaster. Have you seen some of the alabaster in London? All mottled brown and white. Not a compliment that I can see."
"You seem to have spent considerable time thinking about all this," he said, resting his hip against the balustrade of the balcony so that his long legs below the scarlet tunic were all the more evident. "What would you do if you were trying to convince a gentleman to share his secrets? Gentleman to gentleman, of course."
Ariadne pursed her lips in thought. "Gentleman to gentleman, eh? Hmm. Is he particularly vain about some characteristic: his looks, his intellect?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Then does he have some favorite pastime, say riding or racing his yacht?"
She thought his mouth turned up below the bottom of the mask. "I don't believe he owns a yacht."
She threw up her hands. "You must know something about him, sir. How else would you know he has secrets?"
He shrugged. "Everyone has secrets."
"Only in books and plays," she retorted. "Some of us are distressingly normal."
He leaned closer again. "Are you?"
For a moment, she thought he knew her secret, the one only she and her three dear friends shared, for his eyes searched hers so deeply. And they were brown, a warm shade that drew her in.
But she'd learned enough from Priscilla and the many plays she'd watched to raise her chin and meet his gaze even though her heart was hammering. "Yes, completely, unapologetically normal. Rather boring, actually."
"I don't believe you." He straightened once more. "But it doesn't matter. The gentleman in question has far more secrets. He's a spy."
Like him. He didn't say as much, but she felt as if the words hung in the air, ready to plunge into her journal and shake her world. Despite herself, she backed away.
He stiffened as if he knew he had overstepped himself. "I meant he is dressed like a spy. That's his costume tonight."
She didn't believe him. People generally dressed like obvious characters at a masquerade. Priscilla was gowned as one of those charming Dresden shepherdesses the ton so loved to collect. Daphne was dressed very similarly to Ariadne, only she was supposed to be Diana, goddess of the hunt. Emily, in her usual dark fashion, had chosen to come as Death. No one came as a spy, for the very reason that no one knew what a spy looked like. He could well be the person standing next to you.
Dressed as a Roman centurion.
"How interesting," she said, taking another step back. What was she doing, conversing with a spy as if he were an old friend? Had she no sense at all? "Well, I do hope you locate him. Excuse me." She'd started to turn, but he'd caught her arm, pulling her into his embrace.
"Do nothing to give me away," he'd murmured, and then he'd pressed a kiss against her lips, so sweet he once more robbed her of speech. When he'd released her and swept away, it had been all she could do to stand there, gathering her wits around her before going to find her friends.
Her fingers were tightening on her journal now, and she released the leather-bound book. She hadn't given him away, but neither had she been able to forget the encounter. In the last four days since the masquerade, she'd done everything she could imagine to find her gentleman spy, with no luck. It was time to call in a more enlightened investigator.
Hearing footsteps approaching, she peered out the window again, then swung open the door of the carriage. Her footman handed in Lady Emily Southwell.
"What's wrong?" she asked as she settled her navy skirts next to Ariadne, dark curls bobbing with her movements. "Why did you ask me to meet you here? And how can I help?"
Across the square, a gentleman with broad shoulders, midnight black hair pulled back in a queue, and warm brown eyes sipped his coconut ice. A waiter approached the wrought-iron table offering a second helping, but the gentleman waved him away with one gloved hand. Gunter's confections were famous throughout the capital, but he was more interested in the coach beyond the trees. The perfectly matched black horses and the crimson landau they pulled were known to belong to Viscount Rollings. Why did Ariadne Courdebas think she was hiding?
He knew something about hiding. He'd been burying his feelings, his hopes, under a cloud of ennui for ten years. Only a few trusted friends had known the truth, and they were all gone, lost on a foreign field.
She was more dangerous than the cannon they'd faced. Someone so clever might easily pierce the façade he'd worked so hard to erect and uncover his secrets. Her seemingly guileless conversation had already tripped him up once.
And she'd proven particularly dangerous to his peace of mind. With her lustrous brown hair, sky blue eyes, and nicely rounded figure, she embodied the very flower of English womanhood. Wait, was flower the right word? Essence. Yes, the essence of English womanhood. She'd approve of that. It was alliterative.
Ariadne Courdebas had gotten under his skin, and that was no cliché. Protecting good, kind, well-intentioned people like her was the reason he'd gone into the profession to begin with. True, he'd only been performing his duties for a couple years now, and this was the first time his superior had trusted him with an assignment of this magnitude. All the more reason he had to succeed.
She was equally determined. He'd observed her from a distance for the last four days, and from what he could gather, she was trying to learn the identity of a centurion she'd met at Lord Rottenford's party. That was unthinkable. But if he spent his time throwing her off the scent, he'd have less time to find and stop his quarry.
Hunt or be hunted. Difficult choice. He knew what his superior would advise. With Napoleon sweeping across France, every moment counted. He had to act.
There was only one problem. His superior had likely never met Ariadne Courdebas. Certainly he'd never sparred with her on an empty balcony, never touched her creamy, no silky, cheek, inhaled the honeysuckle of her perfume. No spy had ever been so tempting.
Or so tempted.
He rose, leaving the remains of his ice melting in its glass. He had a job to do. Nothing was more important than that. If Ariadne Courdebas inserted herself into the center of things, he would have to neutralize her.
For all his heart protested otherwise.