May’s teaser from Imperial Scandal introduced Lady Cordelia Davenport. June’s teaser introduces Cordelia’s estranged husband Harry. Charles/Malcolm has slipped away from the embassy ball (where Mélanie/Suzanne meets Cordelia) to rendezvous with La Fleur, a French soldier who is a British spy, at a château just outside Brussels. Charles has just realized there’s someone else in the château garden.
Charles tightened his grip on La Fleur’s arm and kept stone-still until he could make out the shadowy form standing just inside the gate. Then he hurled himself across the garden in three strides, kicking up a hail of gravel, and knocked the man to the ground. They crashed through a hedge. Branches broke. Something prickly jabbed Charles in the eye. He gripped his fallen adversary by the shoulders. “Qui êtes-vous?”
“Easy, Fraser. Don’t take my head off.” The other man’s voice was hoarse but acerbic. “Your French is impeccable, but I know damn well it’s you.”
That incisive, mocking tones were unmistakable. Charles sat back on his heels. “Davenport. What the devil are you doing here?”
“Warning you.” Harry Davenport pushed himself up to a sitting position and stared at La Fleur, who had crossed the garden to them. “You must be La Fleur. Hanging back from a fight that isn’t yours?
“Never know what the hell Fraser’s up to. Seemed better to stay back. Who the devil are you?”
“Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Davenport,” Charles said. “Aide-de-Camp to the Duke of Wellington. Currently seconded to Colonel Grant.”
Colquhoun Grant was the head of British military intelligence, keeping watch for movement of French troops near the border.
“Grant sent me.” Davenport pulled himself free of the hedge and reached for his hat. “He intercepted a dispatch that implies the French may have broken one of our codes. Which means you could be compromised, La Fleur. We need to extract you tonight and get you back to Brussels.”
“See here,” La Fleur said, “selling you information’s one thing. If you think I’m going to turn my back on everything–“
“You should have thought of that before you started selling out your fellows,” Davenport said.
La Fleur whirled on him, hand raised. “Damn you–“
Charles grabbed La Fleur’s arm. “Who knows where–”
Shots rang out. Charles flung himself down and heard Davenport and La Fleur slam into the gravel beside him.
Davenport lifted his head. “What the devil–“
Another shot whistled overhead from the direction of the garden wall. Charles rolled onto his back and fired off an answering shot.
“Compromised you say?” La Fleur aimed a shot at the wall. “What the hell have you got me into?”
“Risks of the trade.” Davenport fired as well, as a fresh hail answered from the wall. Whoever they were, they had the devil’s own skill at reloading.
Charles jammed fresh powder into his pistol. A cry sounded from above, and he caught a glimpse of stirring blue fabric and pale hair. A light glowed behind one of the windows of the château. What the devil–
La Fleur flung himself over Charles just as a fresh volley rang out. Charles felt the impact of the bullet that struck La Fleur, an instant before the other man collapsed on top of him.
Davenport dragged La Fleur off Charles. Charles drew a ragged breath and fired off a shot from his reloaded pistol. He reached toward La Fleur and felt the spreading sticky warmth of blood. He yanked at his cravat, undid the twists of linen (there were advantages to favoring simple styles) and pressed the fabric to the wound in La Fleur’s chest.
“Don’t worry-‘bout me.” La Fleur’s voice was a hoarse rasp. “Get the bastards.”
“Got it covered.” Davenport fired off a shot. A scream sounded from beyond the garden wall.
Another hail of fire came from the wall. Another scream sounded, this time from above, startlingly high-pitched.
Charles could feel blood seeping through the folds of linen. The sickly smell choked the air. Davenport jammed fresh powder into his pistol, but the garden had gone almost eerily still. Crashing sounded from the underbrush beyond the wall, not approaching but retreating.
“Made ‘em run,” La Fleur said in a faint voice. “Good for you.”
Charles increased his pressure on the wounded man’s chest. Blood welled between his fingers. “Don’t waste your energy.”
“Done for in any event,” La Fleur muttered. “Listen, Fraser.” He switched to his native French. “The Silver Hawk.”
“Be careful. Don’t trust–”
La Fleur’s head fell to the side. Even in the murky moonlight, Charles saw the life fade from the other man’s eyes. He put his fingers to La Fleur’s neck for confirmation. No blood pulsed beneath his touch.
“Poor blighter,” Davenport murmured. “Though at least he’s out of whatever the rest of us bastards are going to be up against in the next weeks.”
“If he hadn’t flung himself over me–“ Charles stared down at the still features of the dead man in whose place he could so easily be lying. Mélanie’s and Colin’s faces swam before his eyes. Fear squeezed his chest. Sometimes he thought he hadn’t known the true meaning of fear until he was a husband and father. “Why in God’s name–“
“Don’t waste time questioning it, Fraser. Just be grateful that if La Fleur had to be an idiot he was the sacrificial sort. You’re lucky.”
“Not that.” Davenport picked up La Fleur’s pistol and stowed it in his pocket. “You’re lucky that you actually care whether you live or die.”
Do let me know what you think of Harry and feel free to ask questions about Imperial Scandal. I’ve also just posted a new letter in the Fraser Correspondence from Raoul to Mélanie/Suzanne in which he talks about Princess Tatiana and her relationship with Charles/Malcolm.