Authors: Caroline Warfield
Table of Contents
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
Cover Design by Fiona Jayde
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For my nieces:
the ones who make me laugh,
the ones who laugh at me,
and the ones who read my books.
You are, every one, brave and resourceful.
Thank you for being in my life.
Friends and family enrich my life at every level. This work, like all my stories, owes a debt of gratitude to my husband, the prince among men who makes what I do possible and to my children who believe in me. My friends are legion and always supportive. The romance readers among them give me energy to keep going.
I owe particular thanks in this case my beta readers, especially Jude Knight (the wizard of the Bluestocking Belles) and Kat Sheridan (the genius behind BlurbCopy.com) for many helpful suggestions, particularly their help with timelines and travel times. Any errors remaining are not their fault but mine alone.
I am once again indebted to Tammie Bairen, my most excellent editor at Soul Mate, who keeps me on my toes and makes the work shine. Finally, thanks to all who’ve read my work and taken time to let me know they liked it. Without readers a book has no value. Thank you, one and all.
If women were as easily managed as the affairs of state—or the recalcitrant Ottoman Empire—Richard Hayden, Marquess of Glenaire, would be a happier man. As it was, the creatures made hash of his well-laid plans and bedeviled him on all sides.
“What did we miss now? I can tell you’re unhappy.” Will Landrum, Earl of Chadbourn, and one of the handful of men who would call Richard ‘friend,’ was not fooled by the cool façade and bland expression with which the marquess surveyed his ballroom.
“Who invited Lilias Thornton?” Richard demanded under his breath. His eyes followed a slender young woman who paced out the steps of the Quadrille across the parquet floor of the earl’s ballroom.
“No ‘thank you for turning your country seat into a diplomatic snake pit for an entire week so the haut ton can mingle with exotic visitors from the East while the foreign secretary manages the fate of Greece over Brandy and cards?’” Will demanded.
Richard looked at his friend, one eyebrow raised. “Chadbourn Park fit the need precisely. I thanked your Catherine this morning.”
Will grunted. “My Catherine worked miracles when Sahin Pasha showed up with six extra people in his party.”
“We can’t predict how many retainers the Turks will impose,” Richard growled. The Ottomans danced to their own tune; the Foreign Office never knows what to expect. Richard loathed the unpredictable. He went back to surveying the overheated ballroom.
“Who invited Lilias Thornton?” he repeated while he moved along the mirrored wall of the earl’s spectacular ballroom to a position next to a massive marble urn that gave him a better view of his quarry. His eyes never left the dancers.
Will snatched two glasses of champagne from a footman stationed discreetly along the softly flocked wall, tray in hand. He handed one to Richard who took it without looking.
“Catherine also had to scurry when your mother demanded that she invite three more marriageable young ladies and their eager mamas,” Will complained.
“I would rather that she refused.”
“Refuse the Duchess of Sudbury? Surely you jest.”
Richard nodded without taking his gaze from the dancers. “I jest. I have less control over my mother than I do Sahin Pasha.” He loathed loss of control even more than unpredictability. He had been forced to sidestep the marriage-minded chits for two days.
Right now only one woman interested him, Lilias Thornton. He watched her throw her head back, send auburn curls bouncing, and laugh up at her partner.
She dances with grace, I’ll give her that—grace and unbridled joy. A man could lose his senses over that look.
The last thing he needed was to lose his senses.
Will followed his friend’s line of sight. “Beautiful woman,” he acknowledged. “Catherine called her dress ‘beyond perfection.’”
That dress radiates so damned much continental sophistication she makes the women around her look countrified, my esteemed mother’s protégées included.
The woman laughed freely again, and Richard felt himself harden in spite of his determination; the surge of attraction irritated him.
I have no time for such nonsense.
“Who invited her?” he demanded. “It’s a matter of some urgency.”
Will shrugged. “I believe Catherine included some regular attendees at your sister’s literary salon. She must be one of those. You said to invite women who could provide intelligent conversation to members of the diplomatic corps.”
“So I did. My men tell me she has been in conversation with Konstantin Volkov three times these past two days.”
“You’re tracking her conversations?”
“Volkov’s. He has no official role, yet he follows the Russian delegation and slinks through society in the shadows. I want to know who he works for, why he sought an invitation, and what he intends.”
The entire house party had been arranged to provide a discreet opportunity for the foreign secretary—or more precisely, Richard, his second—to persuade Ottoman officials to moderate their suppression of revolutionary rumbling in Greece. England did not want the kind of chaos that would tempt Russia. Expansionist Russia threatened all of Europe. The weak and floundering Ottoman Empire did not.
“Ask him,” Will suggested. “Unless diplomacy requires a more devious approach.”
“Lilias Thornton accompanied her father to St. Petersburg three years ago. The crown appointed him to the trade delegation at our embassy there,” Richard explained. “She returned without him rather abruptly in early January. I wonder why. Volkov arrived shortly after. It puzzles me.” He did not like puzzles.
“It isn’t unusual for a young woman of marriageable age to seek London before the Season starts,” a woman’s voice cut in. Catherine Landrum, Will’s countess, reached for her husband’s glass and took a sip. She tasted it slowly, seemed to pronounce it fit, and handed the glass back. “Lilias made it clear she’s seeking a good marriage,” the countess told Richard. “Who is Volkov?”
“She’s well beyond the age,” he answered. He ignored her question about the Russian.
“Surely not!” Catherine laughed. “Twenty-two may be somewhat older than the norm . . .” She paused when a young woman of seventeen pranced by and smiled coyly at the marquess over her partner’s shoulder.
“Well, perhaps quite a bit older,” she acknowledged when they passed.
“She served as her father’s hostess in his postings abroad since she turned sixteen. She has shown no interest in the marriage mart until this year,” Richard said. “I don’t care about the gossip. I want to know about her connection to Konstantin Volkov.”
“Ask her,” the countess suggested.
“I intend to,” Richard said as the last notes of the dance faded. He set out in the woman’s direction.
Lily Thornton’s mouth hurt from smiling. Her feet hurt from dancing. Her neck hurt from the effort to keep track of Konstantin Volkov. So far he made no effort to approach her, but she could feel his eyes on her. The skin on the back of her neck crawled with the knowledge that someone watched.
“. . . at Vauxhall next month.”
She smiled up at the speaker, her most recent partner, even though she had no idea what he had said.
He placed her hand on his arm to escort her from the floor.
Was this one’s name Roger Heaton or Beaton?
Ambitious young men with minor positions in the Foreign Office had flattered her with attention all week.
You really ought to pay attention, Lily.
, she thought—beamed at her when they approached.
, she remembered,
has at least been to the continent on some brief mission. He will have more conversation.
Two others she recognized hovered at his elbows.
You really ought to seriously consider one of these,
she chided herself. The need to find a husband weighed her down. The thought of making conversation over breakfast with any of these decent, dim, and woefully narrow-minded young men every morning of her life depressed her even more.
“My dance next, I believe,” Stewart said, offering his arm and shooting a smug look at his friends.
“I think not,” a cold voice cut in from behind her shoulder. She felt the words vibrate through her. “Your lot has danced Miss Thornton off her feet tonight. I believe she would like to sit for a set.”
When Lily turned to see who had so highhandedly up-ended her evening, a man’s cravat and spectacular sapphire stickpin met her gaze. She had to lift her face to look up past his firm chin and stern mouth, to eyes as blue as ice. He glared at the young men behind her who scattered like geese.
Glenaire. No one but the Marble Marquess could have routed the lot of them so quickly. What on earth does he want with me?
Before she could formulate a coherent response to his arrogant demands, he said, “Your admirers melted away rather quickly. Shall we sit for a moment?” He took her arm without waiting for a response.
“Do I have a choice?” She tripped trying to keep pace with him.
“I want to speak with you,” he said as if it were answer enough.
Does anyone ever tell this man no?
She suspected not.
He didn’t lead her to the seats where the chaperones looked after their charges. Lily managed only a glance at her Aunt Marianne sitting among them and smiling vacantly about the room. The Marquess gestured instead to two small chairs placed between massive ferns in marble pots that stood shoulder high. The setting allowed a modicum of privacy but prevented any hint of impropriety.
He handed Lily into a seat but stood for a moment looking down at her.
He looks as if he is going to interrogate me . . . or eat me!
“Do you plan to loom over me or to sit and talk?” she demanded. “My neck will ache from the effort.” The pulse in her throat pounded; she couldn’t calm it.
She thought perhaps a hint of a smile played at the edge of his mouth just before he sat next to her in one graceful movement.
“Better,” she said. “What does mighty Marquess of Glenaire wish to speak to me about so urgently that he ignores basic manners?”
Eyebrows, slightly darker than his white-blond hair arched up.
she thought absently,
hair that fair is wasted on a man.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
Whatever she expected, it wasn’t that. She thought of several facetious answers, but the Marble Marquess would not tolerate trivia.
“Broadening my acquaintances,” she said. “A woman who hopes to marry requires a wide circle of friends.”
“How do you know Konstantin Volkov?” he demanded.
Lily’s heart beat faster. Even the thought of what had passed between Volkov and her naïve self in Saint Petersburg brought a flush of shame. She had been a fool where that man was concerned.
Could Glenaire possibly know about Konstantin?
People said the Marble Marquess knew everything.
“We met at embassy functions in Saint Petersburg,” she said.
“What is your relationship with Konstantin Volkov?” He ground out the words, skewering her with a gaze that would freeze water.
“I have none. We met at a function. That’s all,” she lied, tamping down panic.
“You’ve been seen in conversation. What is between you and Volkov?” he persisted.
“Nothing. There is nothing between us.” That much was the truth. Any “conversation” consisted of veiled threats and an attempt to get her alone. She had avoided him as much as she could.
What lies between us is not the business of the Marquess of Glenaire.
The marquess’s face became a mask of concentration. She could almost hear the gears turning in his clockwork mind weighing her answers.
“Do you have me watched?” she asked.
“My dear Miss Thornton. You will have noticed this is no simple house party. The entire Ottoman delegation is here, as well as a sprinkling of diplomatic officials from across Europe. We watch everything.”
She had noticed. “The Ottomans,” she murmured.
Delicate diplomacy indeed.
“I don’t know how Volkov got himself invited, or why,” he told her. “But I mean to find out.”
She would do the same in his position. She knew perhaps more than she should about Russian intentions
“What did Volkov want with you here?” he asked.
“This morning he begged that I save a dance for him. I declined. He’s a terrible dancer,” she said.
Easy, Lily. It is always better to stick to as much of the truth as you can.
“Tell me what you know. I will find out eventually,” he said. His graceful, long-fingered hands, splayed over knees encased in fine black silk, drew her attention.
“Miss Thornton, what do you know?” he demanded.
“Did I say I knew something?” she asked, eyes firmly on his hands. She did not look up. He wore a large sapphire set in hammered gold on his left hand, its intaglio design an elaborate coat of arms.
Cold beads of sweat dripped down her back. What Lily knew might interest the Foreign Office, but she dared not mention it.
“I will find out eventually, Miss Thornton,” the marquess repeated. He stood and took her hand to help her rise, drawing her attention back to his face.
A frisson ran up her arm at the feel of her hand in his. His knowing eyes never left hers when he bowed over her hand.
My, but the man is gorgeous! Impossibly arrogant, but lovely to look at.
“Until later,” he said, and he melted into the crowd.
Lily stared after him. She looked in vain for the circle of admirers she had worked hard to cultivate.
Damn you, Glenaire! I’ll have to start over.
A hand snaked out from behind her and clamped on her arm.
“My dance, I believe,” Volkov said in a voice that just avoided being a snarl. He pulled her arm over his in a mockery of a gentleman’s protection and held it there. “Smile, Lilias. Walk with me.”
The iron grip tightened. She had no choice.
“Darling Lilias, it is good to meet you again,” he said loud enough for bystanders to hear. “Smile!” he hissed.
Lily put one foot in front of the other and tried to do as he ordered. He leaned toward her, mimicking a lover’s concern.
“Your father must miss you,” he murmured in her ear. “Do you know he walks out every evening after dinner since you left?”
He has Papa watched
of course he does.
“What do you want?” she whispered back between clenched teeth.
“Why, the pleasure of your company. You’ve run from me all week. You will talk to me now.”
Lily’s knees threatened to buckle when he led her to French doors and out into the shadows.