Read Jenna Petersen - [Lady Spies] Online
Authors: From London,Love
My thanks go to Miriam Kriss for being my friend and my cheerleader, as well as my “barracuda.” Also to Susanna Carr, who said, “What about
?” You were kidding, but you got it right on! And I can’t forget Shelley Bradley, who always poses the questions I need to know the answers to. Even though I whine, I appreciate it. Finally, to Joely Sue Burkhart, who pulled out her fine-toothed comb for me when I asked.
This book is for Michael, who listens to me talk and talk and talk, but hasn’t run screaming from the room…yet.
“Leave convincing the Crown to me, Charles.”
Meredith Sinclair held her breath as she knelt before the…
As Meredith passed through the massive mahogany doors into Lord…
Before she spoke a word, Emily’s face revealed everything Meredith…
Tristan’s face was going to freeze with this unnatural smile…
“Tristan, did you hear me?”
Meredith smoothed her gown as she took one last glance…
Too shocked to do anything else, Tristan watched Meredith walk…
Tristan watched the party from the balcony above the ballroom,…
The letter. She had to get the letter. The letter…
Meredith stared out her chamber window, watching the breeze flutter…
“There is no word regarding Augustine Devlin’s letter.” Meredith read…
Tristan’s door was unlocked. Meredith’s heart swelled with irrational joy…
Meredith was awake, but didn’t have the energy to open…
Tristan slammed the parlor door and spun on Meredith. Before…
Tristan shifted uncomfortably. The moment Meredith had hurried from the…
Meredith thought she had experienced torment before: after the deaths…
The word “treason” cut through Meredith. It wasn’t a surprise…
“Lord Carmichael, your cooperation in this manner would help your…
Tristan drew another deep breath. He hadn’t realized it would…
A sense of peace filled Meredith the moment she said…
Meredith watched Tristan devour another slice of cake. They had…
Tristan dropped his mouth to Meredith’s and a thousand starbursts…
Though it was summer, a brisk breeze blew off the…
Meredith released her held breath in relief when the worn…
eave convincing the Crown to me, Charles.”
Charles Isley leaned back in the comfortable seat in his companion’s theatre box. Through the shadows, he could hardly see her face, though he knew it well. She was, after all, one of the most influential and well-liked matrons of the
. If her equals knew of her daring scheme, they would never believe it.
And that was a key element of her plans.
“Very well, my lady.” He gave a nod. “I’ll defer to your greater influence on that subject. But that
still leaves us with matters to resolve. You wish to form a group of female spies. Widows, so they will not be shocked by the reality of the world of underground criminals; ladies of society, so they might have access to the most powerful people in the Empire. Have you anyone in mind?”
“We will need more than one lady, of course. They can assist each other if they work together. But I want you to approach them individually, so we can keep this as quiet as possible. I have decided on the first lady.”
Her ladyship’s skirt rustled as she reached for a reticule from a maid who stood beside her shoulder. She withdrew a list of names Charlie had collected for her a few weeks prior, unfolded the page and looked at it. In the dim lamplight, he saw that she had made notations beside many of the names, though he could not make out the words.
“Keep me in suspense no longer, then. Who have you chosen as your first lady spy?”
He heard the smile in her voice. “Meredith Sinclair is a fine candidate from the collection you presented me.”
He nodded. “I agree. She is very popular, as well as intelligent. And she lost her husband a few months ago.”
“She has always been a shining diamond in society. And she has a certain grace about her, a strength in her movements that leads me to believe she could
handle the more physical aspects of the training she will have to endure.”
He pulled a small notebook from his pocket and wrote down the lady’s name. A thrill of excitement rushed through him as he stared at the swirl of his handwriting.
“I shall contact her immediately, my lady,” he said with a smile.
“Very good, Charlie.” Her ladyship lifted a hand in farewell as he got to his feet and made for the hallway in the theatre. “Very good.”
eredith Sinclair held her breath as she knelt before the safe, a lock pick clamped between her teeth and a candle flickering on the floor as she gave the door a pull. Her lips tilted into a smile around the pick as the safe door swung open, revealing two identical velvet boxes.
Withdrawing them both, she pulled a tiny magnifying glass from the pocket of the fitted gentleman’s trousers she wore as a disguise and removed the first necklace from its box. She barely held back a gasp of pleasure at the beauty of the piece. The diamonds sparkled in the glow of the candlelight
and the amethysts reflected a violet so rich and deep that it was worthy of a king.
She dipped her head and examined the piece. When she didn’t find what she had been looking for, she opened the second box, to reveal a necklace that was identical to the first in all ways.
“All ways but one,” she murmured to herself with a smile as she found the tiny mark on one stone that indicated a forgery. She replaced the real necklace in its case and put it into her bag, then got to her feet.
Carefully, she slipped from the room and down the dim hallway to the servants’ entrance she had paid a disgruntled footman to leave open for her. The home was silent as a grave, its occupants at a party across London, where they were no doubt scouting out their next piece of jewelry to steal. The servants had the night off or were in their quarters.
It was all too easy.
Meredith stifled another smug smile as she made her way into the garden behind the estate. In a few short steps she would be in her waiting carriage hidden around the corner and on her way back home. Another case solved.
The thought had no more than passed through her head when she heard a shout behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to see three men burst from the home in her direction.
“Damn it,” she muttered as she started to run.
The door leading from the garden onto the street was still a good twenty feet away.
That was when the first shot whizzed past her ear. Without breaking stride, Meredith looked back to see the second man lifting his gun as the first man fell behind to reload.
She dropped her shoulders and darted to the left as she reached the garden door, just as a second bullet slammed into its wooden face and splintered wood flew in all directions. She grabbed the door handle and pulled…
Only to find it had been relocked since her entry into the home not half an hour before.
A wide variety of curses passed through Meredith’s mind, but she didn’t utter them. For one, she had to save her breath for running, and two, since she was in disguise, she didn’t want her pursuers to know she was a woman. That would only complicate matters.
She bounded along the garden wall in hopes she would find something to be her salvation. And then it appeared. A wheelbarrow propped against the wall by some helpful gardener.
“Thank you patron saint of spies,” she murmured as she jumped onto the rounded top of the wheelbarrow, balanced for a brief moment, then braced her hands along the garden wall and pushed herself over the top.
She hit the cobblestone below with a jarring force that made her teeth rattle, but was instantly
on the move again. Her carriage was parked in sight in the dark shadow of a nearby building, and her driver had turned, looking for her. Likely he had heard the gunfire inside the garden, for his own rifle was raised to cover her if need be.
With a yank, Meredith pulled the carriage door open and dove inside.
“Go, Henderson!” she called as another bullet shattered the glass window on the door. She reached back and pulled the damaged door shut as she flattened herself against the floor in case her pursuers fired again. “Drive!”
The horses had already begun to move before the second order left her lips. They roared forward under Henderson’s skilled whip, leaving her hunters behind, their loud curses echoing along the quiet streets.
Ah, the life of a lady spy. Running from gunmen at midnight, overseeing a charity meeting by tea time. Meredith smiled. Somehow she doubted that the gentlemen who protected the Empire were doing the same.
“That is all the old business we have to review,” Anastasia Whittig, one of her partners, said as she removed her wire-rimmed spectacles. “As always the Sisters of the Heart Society for Widows and Orphans’ charity ball was an enormous success.”
Their other partner, Emily Redgrave shrugged. “These events always are. But who cares about
some stuffy ball?” She turned her sparkling blue stare on Meredith. “You have new business, don’t you?”
Meredith couldn’t suppress her wicked grin. She’d been fighting the urge to crow from the rooftops since her arrival. “I do.”
As her friends watched, she reached into her reticule and withdrew the box she’d pilfered the night before. Ana and Emily leaned forward in anticipation when she removed the top and held up the necklace that lay within the folds of protective velvet. The jewels flashed sparkles in the afternoon sun.
For a moment a heavy silence hung in the room, but then Emily let out a sigh of delight and carefully took the piece from Meredith’s hands. She held it against her throat.
“My God, Merry, it’s beautiful! Even more exquisite than the sketches led us to believe,” Emily squealed as she turned to the mirror above the mantelpiece and examined herself with the diamonds draped around her neck.
“Yes. I could scarcely draw breath when I took the piece from the safe.” Meredith sighed.
Anastasia eyed the two women with a purse of her lips. “Is it wise to bring the jewelry here? It’s against protocol.”
Meredith looked at Ana with a wry grin. Her friend was talented and beautiful, but she lived by rules
“I decided to hang regulations and protocol this once.” At Ana’s gasp of horror, she continued quickly, “At any rate, Charles gave me permission to let you see the fruits of our latest labor. He’ll be by to retrieve the necklace in just a few moments and deliver it to the Watch.”
Emily spun from the mirror with a scowl. She set the jewels back into their case and folded her arms with displeasure.
“It seems so unfair that we do all the hard work, put our very lives at risk and some ridiculous officer of the Watch, who probably couldn’t find his own—”
Meredith arched a brow. “Emily.”
Emily shook her head. “Whether I’m vulgar or not, the sentiment remains the same. The Watch will get recognition for the recovery. For heaven’s sake, Meredith, you were shot at during this investigation! Don’t you feel you deserve some acknowledgment for that?”
Meredith folded her arms. “And just how do you know I was shot at?”
“I have investigative skills, remember?” When Meredith lifted her eyebrows in disbelief, Emily shrugged. “Oh, very well. Henderson said something about needing to replace the glass in the carriage door. But you are avoiding the question!”
Meredith sighed. “Emily, when we were chosen to join The Society we realized what hard and dangerous work spying would be, and that
others would always receive the accolades for our efforts.”
Emily threw up her hands in disgust and paced away.
Meredith continued, “At any rate, Lady Devingshire’s property will be returned and that is what matters most.”
Ana nodded. “And if we were given credit for our work, Lady M wouldn’t be able to give us new cases. Our lives as spies would be over. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”
Emily let out a low sigh. “No, Ana. I wouldn’t. I’m being silly, as usual. We did our duty.”
“You did, indeed, ladies,” a male voice said as the parlor door opened. “And Lady M thanks you, much less reluctantly than the Crown.”
Meredith spun toward the door with a wide smile as she watched the middle-aged gentleman enter. Charles Isley was portly through the stomach, and the thinning hair that swept across his bald spot disguised the shining skin beneath. But his rosy cheeks were filled with cheerful color, and his smile for Meredith and her friends was genuine.
“Charlie!” she said as she got to her feet, crossing the room with both hands outstretched. He took them and gave them a squeeze.
“Fine, fine work, Merry,” he said with a crooked grin. “Though we could have done without the theatrics last night.”
She shrugged as she tossed a smile over her shoulder at her companions. “I had no choice but to jump over the wall. It was that or be shot.”
He tried to look stern, but the twinkle in his eyes was anything but. It reminded her of the night he first approached her and changed the course of her life forever. He’d offered her a place in the small band of female spies being formed by a mysterious woman of power in society.
Within weeks she found herself standing in this very home, meeting the other two women who were to be her partners. The training had been long and arduous, over two years honing their mental and physical skills.
And then the assignments had come. Investigations into treachery in the war against Napoleon. Cases that involved murder. Theft. Even thwarting an attempt on Princess Charlotte’s life. The last four years had been thrilling, and it was all thanks to Charles Isley and their mysterious benefactress, whom they only knew as Lady M.
“Meredith?” Charles cocked his head. “I asked if you have the necklace.”
She shook away her thoughts with a nod. “My apologies, Charles, I was wool-gathering. Of course I do.”
She turned to the table and handed him the box she had set there earlier. Charlie opened it for a
quick peek and gave her a swift nod. “Very good. Thank you.”
“Don’t only thank me,” she insisted with a wave to her friends. “It was Ana’s inventions that helped me find the correct vault and break the lock. And Emily’s meticulous research helped determine which necklace was the forgery.”
He nodded. “You know I thank you all. But I’m afraid I can offer you no respite from work this time.”
“You have a new case for us already?” Meredith leaned forward with giddy anticipation. She hated the quiet times between cases.
Ana shook her head. “Honestly, Charlie, there isn’t any way I could take a field assignment right now. I’m working on a new project here and I shall have to encode my notes on this case for the records—”
Charles held up a hand. “Don’t worry, Ana, Meredith will be the one doing the fieldwork.”
As Anastasia breathed a sigh of relief, Emily pursed her lips. “That isn’t fair! Merry got the last field assignment.”
Meredith stuck out her tongue playfully and got the same in return from her best friend.
Charlie rolled his eyes at their girlish display. “Fair or not, this is the only way. Would you like the particulars?”
Meredith nodded. “Go ahead, Charlie. What’s the case?”
He pulled his pipe and a bit of tobacco from his front pocket. As he tamped the tobacco into the bowl, he took a seat beside the fire. “I’m sure you’ve all heard of the upcoming auction at the Genevieve Art House?”
Meredith nodded. “Of course. It promises to be quite an event. It was all the talk at The Society’s ball last week.”
“Recently there have been two incidents at Genevieve’s. In the last, a painting was stolen.”
“Is that all?” Emily asked with a burst of exasperated breath. She threw up her hands in disgust. “Whatever happened to defending Crown and Country? I thought
was our duty, not to return stolen jewels to a spoiled duchess or find some silly painting for an art house auction.”
He shook his head. “There is more to this case than a mere stolen painting, Emily!”
Meredith met his eyes. “What is it?”
Charlie looked at her evenly. “We believe the person who stole the painting is a man of rank and title. A man with whom you had an acquaintance in the past.”
Meredith sucked in her breath through her teeth. “Who?”
The room spun off kilter as Meredith struggled to keep her face benign and unaffected. It took all her training to prevent herself from physically backing away.
“The Marquis of Carmichael?” she croaked out, her voice strained by the effort it took to remain neutral.
“The very one.” He watched her carefully, scrutinizing her every move and affectation.
She reacted accordingly, letting out a light laugh that didn’t reflect her inner turmoil. “Charlie, that is madness. Tristan Archer has twenty thousand pounds a year at minimum. He is the owner of over five thriving properties. He would have no reason to steal a painting.”
He took a puff from his pipe. “That may be so, but this is not the first time the auction house was tampered with. About a week ago Genevieve came down from his apartments above stairs to find the very same painting taken from its place and left propped against a wall. At the time, he believed he or his staff might have done it themselves and simply forgotten. But when he found the item missing, he realized no one would have cause to move the painting.”
Meredith nodded as she clicked another bit of evidence together in the puzzle of her mind. “Could a robbery have been interrupted the first time?”
He shook his head. “No. There was no evidence a thief was disturbed in the midst of a robbery. Lady M believes the first attempt was not about
She thought of the possibilities, mulling over why a thief would remove a piece of artwork from
its rightful place, but not take it outright when given the chance.
Meredith’s mouth dropped open as a possibility occurred to her. “Whoever tampered with the painting the first time was
something to it, not taking something away. And whoever stole it was retrieving the information the first thief put there, possibly because the painting had already been sold and he couldn’t buy it outright.”
“That is our belief,” Charlie said with a small nod.
“By God,” Emily said from behind her.
Meredith started. She’d been so wrapped up in her investigative process, she’d all but forgotten her two friends.
Ana smiled. “You’re brilliant, Merry! But what does Lady M believe was added?”