Authors: Celeste Bradley
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency
Seducing the Spy
This book is dedicated to my dear friend and fellow writer,
Cheryl Lewallen. Friends like you don't come along often
enough in a lifetime.
Every ruler needs a few men he can count on to tell him the
whether he wants to hear it or not
Created in the time of the Normans, when King William the Conqueror found himself overrun with "advisors" more concerned with their own agendas than with the good of the whole, the Quatre Royale were selected from the King's own boyhood friends. Lords all, and bound by loyalty rather than selfish motives, these four men took on the names of ruthless predators while acting as the Quatre, keeping their lives and identities separate from their true roles…
… to act as the shield of deceit and the sword of truth in the name of the King.
Courageous as the Lion
Deadly as the Cobra
Vigilant as the Falcon
Clever as the Fox
The appointment is for life—the commitment absolute. Bonds of family, friends and even love become as insubstantial as a dream when each hand-selected apprentice takes the seat of the master. All else is merely pretense, kept for the sake of secrecy and anonymity. For it is true that the iron bars of duty cage the hearts and souls of…
The Royal Four
I would like to acknowledge the hard work contributed by some people we could not do without—our teachers. Many thanks to the creative and committed women and men who help us raise better human beings.
I am writing to you because you appear to be a somewhat lesser idiot than other gentlemen. The gossip sheets have made much of your cousin Lady Jane Pennington's marriage to a common gambler, yet you continue to acknowledge her, exhibiting excellent judgment for one of your species.
Therefore I choose to trust you with something which has recently come to my attention. I believe there is a plot against the Crown brewing at this moment, the details of which I shall delineate on the following pages.
What you do with this information concerns me not at all. I do not care to further waste my time on the affairs of men.
Lady Alicia Lawrence
Stanton Horne, eleventh Marquis of Wyndham, member of the Royal Four—cadre of the most powerful men in England—esteemed scholar of historical documents, and a damned handsome bloke to boot, looked down at the mess on the floor of his grand hallway and bit back a helpless sigh.
"I'm sorry, milord," the servant said quickly. "I'll clean that up right away, milord. So sorry, milord!" Stanton's stammering footman backed away from him rather like one would back away from a dangerous man-eating beast. Stanton raised a hand carefully to make an easing gesture, but the man squeaked and paled anyway. "S-sorry, milord!"
Stanton gave up. There was no reasoning with some people. He'd only meant to apologize to the fellow for rounding the corner of the hall so suddenly and sending his own tea crashing to the floor. Now, the footman would doubtless carry tales of a close call with the master's notorious temper, and of escaping a blow by the nearest margin.
The fact that he'd never raised his voice in this house in his considerably exact memory seemed to have no effect on the awe that his own dependents held him in.
Yes, he could be a demanding master. True, he was not one to socialize with… well, anyone, actually. Still, he considered himself a fair and equable fellow, not a great hairy beast who frightened beardless young footmen out of their wits and—apparently—their ability to carry a tea tray.
"Yes, Dobbins, of course." Stanton took another calming breath. "When you've done here, I would appreciate another tea tray shortly."
The man dropped to his knees as if he'd ducked a bullet and began to frantically gather the broken crockery. His hands shook so badly that the dripping shards flung droplets of tea onto Stanton's boots.
The fellow nearly fainted at that. "Milord! Oh, milord, I—"
Stanton could bear it no longer. He turned on his heel and strode away. Nothing useful would happen while he was present anyway. It seemed all that was required to send his household into spasms of terror was for him to walk into a room of his own house!
It was always thus. Wherever he went, mothers urged their children from his path and even the most belligerent of men averted their gazes. No amount of careful grooming seemed to erase their impression that he was actually a foul and frightening ogre.
It was enough to give a fellow self-doubts.
So perhaps he'd been a mite tense lately. Why wouldn't he be, when the mightiest spy England had ever faced had escaped him and his fellow members of the Royal Four yet again? True, at least this time the Chimera had come out somewhat the worse for wear, scarred and run to earth, hiding from their search efforts, only one step ahead of their best men.
The thought of the evil French nobleman—who had passed among them so easily as a young Cockney valet for so long—hurting and run ragged was a pleasing notion, but what Stanton truly wanted was to have the man's cold dead body laid out in front of him.
Alas, that cherished hope was proving difficult to fulfill. Though the Chimera's talent for disguises had been destroyed with the slashing of his face, there was nothing wrong with the man's brilliant mind.
Furthermore, the war against Napoleon had come to a troubled standoff with both sides taking heavy losses. Swords drawn at each other's throats, England and France currently stood equal, each uneasily waiting for some factor to tip the balance.
Thus the ample excuse for Stanton's touchy behavior lately. He was simply a bit… tightly wound.
As he walked away, he heard another footman join the first. Their dread-heightened whispers carried clearly down the hall.
" 'Imself 'as been a right terror these past weeks, ain't 'e?"
Dobbins grunted in agreement. "I thought I was a goner, I did!"
"If he was t'ask me, I'd tell him to find himself a woman, I would. Bloke needs to let steam before 'e blows!"
"Won't 'appen. The master's not likely to find a bird who wouldn't run screaming from them cold eyes! Ain't no lady I've ever seen got the heart for someone like that bleak bastard!"
Bleak bastard? That was a new one. Colorful, if a bit alliterative. Stanton found he rather preferred it to "demon's spawn" and "ice-cold devil." He continued on his way without comment. What good would punishing them for their disrespect do him but create yet more fear?
Still, as he settled into his study to await the next version of his tea tray, it was hard to shake that last comment.
"Ain't no lady I've ever seen got the heart for someone like that."
Unfortunately, that appeared to be precisely the case, although not for quite the reason the footman assumed. If his presence ignited fear in the sturdy East End souls of his staff, it was nothing to what his presence did to the tender sensibilities of lovely and eligible young Society ladies.
Not that he was without fault there. He was not a smooth and flirtatious fellow, nor was he able to set ladies at ease with humorous anecdotes—for he could never think of any at the necessary moments. His lack of the pretty conversation that women set such store by did nothing to dissuade them of his reputedly sinister nature.
Still, what did it matter? Stanton had given up on women a long time ago and found himself better off.
The very last thing he needed in his complicated existence was a woman.
The door knocker rapped sharply three times, sending a resounding noise through the largely silent house. Stanton started, for he was unaccustomed to the sound. Voices came from the front hall through his partially open study door.
"I wish to see Lord Wyndham." A woman's voice, clear and strong. "He wishes to see me as well. He simply doesn't know it yet."
"I'm sorry, madam." The butler's tone was frigid. "His lordship is not inclined to be at home to uninvited guests."
Stanton twisted his lips. He rarely had guests at all, invited or otherwise, which was why the knock on his front door was such an unusual occurrence. Fortunately, Grimm wasn't the sort to disobey strict orders. The person would be gone in moments and Stanton would be able to return to his work.
"I cannot see that he is all that busy. He is sitting in his study, staring at the ceiling. I know because I looked through the window before I knocked."
Grimm, the most ruthless butler money could buy, was reduced to sputtering at such a scandalous statement. Stanton found his own well-cultivated curiosity was aroused. He rose to his feet, drawn by his own need to know. Who was that making such a commotion in his front hall? He leaned partway through his study door.
She was somewhat less than tall and very oddly dressed. Her shapeless gown was too long and dragged the ground, as evidenced by the street muck that the hem was now transferring to his own carpets. Her head was crowned with a hat several decades out of date, which sported a heavy veil that hid her profile.