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Authors: Susan Johnson

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Historical Romance

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BOOK: A Touch of Sin
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It took another two days of wrangling before satisfactory terms were arranged. Ibrahim wanted to use his own ships. An unacceptable premise to the Greeks, who distrusted the word of a Turk.

Who would pay to charter the ships? Ibrahim contended. And what of the weapons? Also, he'd heard there were two beautiful women inside the fort; he wanted them.

Makriyannis and Pasha negotiated each item at length, and even when all the controversial items were settled, Ibrahim tried at the last moment to revoke the entire agreement by holding two groups of Greeks onshore, rather than allowing them to embark as negotiated.

Makriyannis immediately countered by having his troops surround the Turks who had come to take over the fort. He shut the gates and held them hostage, vowing to eat them before he surrendered.

Ibrahim himself rode up to the gates and made good on his promises.

The embarkation proceeded.
13

 

No sooner had the English ships carrying the defenders of Navarino arrived in Nauplia than Makriyannis and his men were ordered to occupy and fortify Lerna. After lifting the siege on Navarino, Ibrahim had wasted no time beginning his campaign to subdue the Peloponnisos.

Commander Kolokotronis had been appointed to bring Ibrahim to battle at the Leondari pass, and all the troops from the Peloponnisos had gone with him along with country folk moving up supplies and ammunition for the battle.

"As usual Kolokotronis abandoned his posts and took to the mountains when he saw an Arab," Makriyannis said with disgust, dropping into a chair in Pasha's bedroom after returning from his meeting with the Minister of War. "Ibrahim moved into the pass without a fight. Our commander, Kolokotronis, is a specialist in stirring up civil wars and factions, but he won't bring his ass within range of the Turks. What are you drinking?"

Pasha was resting on his bed, a tall frosty glass in his hand. "Lemonade and vodka. Nikos had a new shipment of spirits from Odessa this week. Help yourself." He indicated a pitcher of lemonade and a liquor bottle on a bedside table. "Can you reach Lerna in time?" Pasha asked as Makriyannis came to his feet and crossed to the table. Nikos had a host of well-paid informers, and Pasha had just interviewed several of them. "Word has it Ibrahim is nearing the site already."

"We leave within the hour. Which only gives me time for several much needed drinks." It was hot out and both men were near exhaustion.

"And some food, I think," Pasha remarked.

"That would be a pleasant change after a month at Navarino. I'm not sure my relatives would recognize me now. Have you frightened your lady friends?"

Both men had the lean, hard look of hungry wolves.

"I haven't had time for any ladies," Pasha lazily replied, lifting his glass to his mouth.

Makriyannis looked up from pouring the lemonade. "We've been in Nauplia for what—twenty hours?" His brows rose in query. "Surely the Pasha Bey I knew wouldn't have waited so long."

"Nor would you," Pasha countered, not inclined to scrutinize his disinterest in women since leaving Kent.

"I'm too weak from hunger," his friend retorted. "Feed me for a week and I'll think about it."

"We might be dead in a week if Ibrahim has his way."

"Then I'll go to heaven virtuous," Makriyannis said with a grin.

"A convenient time to go, between profligate scandals."

"Who the hell has time for scandal? We barely had a day to rest. Are you in the mood to see the Mills at Lerna with us?"

"After dinner. I'd like one more of Tula's fabulous meals before I meet the angel of death."

"So little faith, Pasha Bey." Makriyannis pulled a chair up to the foot of the bed.

"I'm just a realist. How many men can you even muster on short notice?"

The Greek warrior shrugged. "Two hundred."

Pasha laughed. "Jesus, Ibrahim's hordes will run right over us."

"But then, there's no one else," Makriyannis softly said, sitting down and propping his feet on the bed.

Pasha's mouth quirked in a rueful smile. "True. We are the forlorn hope. I think I'll see that my yataghan is extra sharp for this picnic."

 

When Trixi and Chris arrived in Paris and found their way to Pasha's apartment, Hippolyte opened the door and smiled in recognition. "Master Pasha is away from home, but please come in."

Glancing over her shoulder as she'd done with great frequency since sailing from Ramsgate, Trixi saw no one untoward in the street outside, and breathing a small sigh of relief at having reached safe haven, entered the house.

"Although the master is away," Hippolyte explained, "he left orders to welcome you should you arrive in Paris."

"Will he be back soon?"

"I'm afraid not, my lady," Hippolyte replied, taking Trixi's small valise. "He sailed for Greece."

"Oh, no." A wave of hopelessness washed over her. In the course of her flight, she'd had time to consider all her lessening choices, and Pasha had loomed large as crucial to her salvation.

"He left instructions for your accommodations, my lady," Hippolyte quickly intervened, her distress obvious. "Let me show you into the Watteau drawing room and I'll send for Jules. He's in charge of the household when the master's away."

"Is Pasha gone far?" Chris piped up, tugging on his mother's hand.

"I'm afraid so, darling." Trixi struggled to maintain her composure when the world was crumbling away beneath her feet.

"Let's go see him, Mama. Let's go. I like Pasha and he always gives me toys."

It helped to hear her son's casual response to calamity; it gave her pause to reassess the possibilities still available to her. "I'm afraid Pasha is too far away, and I don't think we can travel so far." Certainly not with her limited funds, she reflected, her resources further depleted by her hasty passage to France. "Come, darling," Trixi suggested, moving toward Hippolyte, who stood at the opened door of the drawing room. "We'll see what Jules knows."

As soon as he entered the room, Jules kindly said, "Welcome to Monsieur Duras's home. Please make yourself completely at home with us. Could we have some food prepared for you and your son?"

"Thank you, yes. Chris is hungry. We've not had time for more than a snatched meal since we left England. Will Pasha be gone long?" she asked, the length of his absence the overriding question in her mind.

"One never knows, my lady, but presumably he will be involved in the rebellion for several months at least. But we're pleased to have you stay with us until he returns."

How could she, she immediately thought, a virtual stranger to these people? "I'm not sure," she murmured, "that is, I don't know if—"

"Why not wait until you've eaten, and then we could discuss the reasons bringing you to Paris. The master's collection of sailing ships might interest your son," he offered with courtesy. "Giving us an opportunity to talk."

"Thank you… thank you very much," she gratefully replied. She smiled at the small man with spectacles and gray hair. "Chris is very interested in sailing ships."

After they'd eaten and Chris was intently playing with the collection of ships in Pasha's library, Jules came in with tea for Trixi. Asking her permission to sit down with the well-bred courtesy of a man fastidiously aware of social rank, he bowed to her stammered acknowledgment and sat. He politely refused her offer of tea, however, such familiarity too great a breach of etiquette.

"Master Pasha would like to extend the hospitality of his home and staff for as long as you wish, my lady," he began, pouring her tea, putting in two lumps of sugar as though Pasha had left those directions as well. "And if we can be of service in any other way, you need only ask." Infinitely polite, he didn't immediately bring up her flight or Will's letter, which had arrived the previous day. Already Doudeau's office had been consulted.

"I'm… that is… I don't know how much, er, Pasha has told you."

"As majordomo, my lady, my concern is the master's life down to the smallest detail. My function and duty, my orders are to offer his resources to you. We are completely at your disposal."

"How very kind of him," she said on a suffocated breath, awed by both Jules's lofty consequence and his punctilious benevolence. "At the moment—I'm not sure how to say this—but—actually… I'm in fear for my son's life," she finished in a rushing tumble of words. "Although with Pasha gone, perhaps—that is
… I was wondering if you could summon Charles Doudeau for me."

"I took it upon myself to contact his office immediately upon your arrival." He did not mention he was aware of her peril from Will's letter. "I'm sorry to say we were informed Monsieur Doudeau is away in Copenhagen for a holiday."

"Copenhagen?" Trixi softly exclaimed, astonishment in her tone.

"My feelings exactly, my lady. A most unusual destination. Apparently an acquaintance of Mr. Doudeau desires his company for her spring fete. He'll be back in a fortnight, we're told."

"That may be too long to wait," she anxiously replied. "Would Pasha think me forward if I contacted his parents? He'd left their address for me should I need it."

"I wish I were the bearer of better tidings, my lady, but the elder Durases are now in transit to their summer home in Siberia."

"Oh, dear." She felt abjectly alone, just when she'd hoped her fearful journey over.

"Allow me to say, my lady, our staff is fully capable of keeping your son safe. You needn't fear in this home."

"I'm afraid there's more, Jules," she said, nervously touching the rim of the saucer, her teaspoon, the tablecloth. "It's possible the people who wish to harm my son have instituted some legal action against me in France." She clasped her hands tightly to quell her fingers' nervous flutter. Could she be arrested by the police, even while in Pasha's home? she wondered. Could Pasha's staff deter the police? What would happen to Chris then? Her head was swimming with unanswered questions.

"I'm sure Mr. Doudeau's office could serve as advocate," Jules calmly replied. "I'll summon one of his associates to speak with you. In the meantime, might I suggest a bath, a change of clothes, and some rest. You must be exhausted."

She was suddenly overwhelmed, ghastly fears pressing her from every side. The Clouards and Grosvenors were like raptors waiting for her to falter, make a mistake, come out into the open where they could tear her apart and take her son from her. "I
am
very tired," she softly agreed.

"Rest always helps make every dilemma more manageable," Jules soothed. "And I'll see that someone from Mr. Doudeau's office is here when you wake. Do you think your son might like to take some ships upstairs with him for his nap?"

The room she was shown to was light and airy, the Seine directly outside her windows, the rococo decor and furnishings delicate and pale-hued. A beautiful room with a view. But once Chris was put to sleep in the adjoining chamber and Jules and the servant girls had left, she curled up on the painted bed, stared at the joyous, cavorting putti dancing amidst rose garlands on the headboard and gave in to her despair.

Why me? she thought, self-pity inundating her senses, tears streaming down her face. Why should the few months of happiness she shared with Theo put her son in jeopardy? Wasn't she allowed any normalcy or peace? Was she required to live in misery under the Grosvenors her entire life? She hadn't asked to be sold away for the price of a few thousand acres, nor had she ever wished to be married to her monster of a husband.

But before long her tears of misery gave way to a heated resentment. Why should she give up her life, her son's life, to them or to anyone? she furiously thought. Wiping away her tears, she sat up and left the bed. Walking to the washstand, she splashed water on her face, toweled it off, and decided she'd see that she survived this assault as she had all the previous ones. Hadn't she always refused to live as the Grosvenors' poverty-stricken pensioner, turning to her horses as a means of livelihood, however uncertain and modest? Why couldn't she succeed with this as well? But how exactly could she contend with this new allied force? The Clouards and Grosvenors together had made living in England or France nearly impossible.

For the first time the notion of actually going to Greece appeared in her consciousness. She pondered the possibility briefly—at least she'd be out of the Clouards' jurisdiction there. And the flower of romantic youth throughout Europe had been making the pilgrimage to those distant shores for years.

But as quickly as the idea appeared, she rejected it. Traveling to Greece would be outrageously expensive, and she didn't have the funds. A continual problem. Jules had offered her safe haven and she would have to be content with that; when Charles returned, she would speak to him about the Clouards and keeping them at bay during her stay in Paris. In the meantime, she felt a modicum more relaxed, less troubled. A partial dilemma had been resolved—she and Chris would avail themselves of Pasha's hospitality. He'd offered it in friendship and at the moment, she couldn't afford to let pride stand in the way of her son's safety.

 

"Eureka," the man hired by Jerome Clouard softly murmured, his gaze falling on the citation in the records of incoming travelers to France.
14
The frontier post outside of Calais had been the most likely spot, but he was pleased he'd found it and not his colleagues who'd been sent to Le Havre and Dieppe. An extra five thousand francs had been promised to the man who found evidence of Beatrix Grosvenor's entry into France.

Jerome Clouard was suitably pleased when he received the news. Equally gratified, Paul Scheffler pocketed his bonus. But the necessity of discovering Lady Grosvenor's precise location in Paris was the next item on Clouard's agenda, and possible sites were discussed for some time.

At the end, Jerome said, "Once we locate her, would you be adverse to—ah, abducting a child if necessary? Or perhaps if not you, you might know someone who could accomplish the task."

Paul Scheffler steepled his fingers under his chin and gazed across the desk at his present employer. "How much are you willing to pay?" Price determined interest.

BOOK: A Touch of Sin
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