Happy Friday! To those celebrating U.S.Thanksgiving this week, I hope you have a great holiday! I’m hard at work on the closing chapters of London Gambit, so it seemed a good time to post another teaser. This scene between Malcolm and Suzanne follows directly on the excerpt at the end of Incident in Berkeley Square.
Have a great weekend!
Suzanne went down the passage to her own bedchamber. A lamp was lit on the pier table. The glow caught the white of the covers in the cradle over Jessica, her seventeen-month old daughter. The deep even sound of Jessica’s breathing confirmed that she slept. The room was empty otherwise, but the black evening coat Malcolm had been wearing when he went out was flung over the black of the frayed green velvet chair. A sliver of light showed through the gap where the door to the night nursery was ajar.
Suzanne crossed the room and pushed the door further open. Her husband was between the two iron beds where their five-year old son Colin and Laura’s four-year old daughter Emily slept. Malcolm was on the edge of Colin’s bed, smoothing their son’s hair. Suzanne stayed still. Tenderness washed over her, as it did at unexpected times. Perhaps it was the angle of his head or the way his hair fell over his forehead, but Malcolm looked unexpectedly vulnerable. Her throat tightened the way it did when she looked at the children and willed time to stop, trying to commit the moment to memory. It was these unexpected moments that had so very nearly been her undoing a hundred times or more in the years of her deception.The preciousness of life sneaked up on one, not so much in times of danger, when one would expect it, but in seemingly trivial moments. The sort of moments that went to make up a life and a marriage and a family.
Malcolm turned, as though aware of her regard. A smile crossed his face as he met her gaze. He touched his fingers to Colin’s hair one last time, then to Emily’s, got to his feet with his usual catlike grace and crossed the room to her. He took her hand, lifted it to his lips, and drew her into the bedchamber. He closed the door with his free hand and instead of releasing her pulled her into his arms and kissed her with unexpected urgency.
It was a relief to lose herself in his kiss and then to slide her arms round him and bury her face in the starch and lavender smell of his cravat. He rested his chin on her hair for a long moment, then at last drew back enough to look down at her. “How was the Grandisons’ rout?”
“As dull as I feared. Fortunately I had distraction. I received a message from Marthe. Bertrand needed my help settling someone.” Nothing odd in that. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. Better, Raoul had taught her, to stick as close to the truth as possible. She kept her voice level and her heartbeat even. If she hadn’t learned to control it long since Malcolm would have suspected her years earlier.
Malcolm twined one of her side curls round his finger. “Someone you knew?”
“No, but he’d been wounded on the way to meet Bertrand in Calais. I helped with bandaging.”
Malcolm nodded. He now knew the location of a number of former Bonapartist agents who were settled in London. In fact he had helped her settle several of them. He took helping them and keeping their secrets without question. A sign of how far he had come since their marriage. Of how far they had come. Mostly she thought it was a good thing. But every so often she felt a faint twinge. Was she encouraging him to compromise so much that one day he would look back and hate where he had ended up? Hate the wife who had helped him get there?
“My evening was interrupted by a summons as well,” Malcolm said. He drew her over to the green velvet chair and sank into it, holding her against him as he proceeded to recount the message he’d received from Jeremy Roth and finding Teddy Craven at the Whateley & Company Warehouse.
“That’s why you were sitting with the children,” Suzanne said, lifting her head from her husband’s shoulder to look into his eyes.
Malcolm nodded. “One tries so damnably hard to protect them. Sometimes I look round and the world seems full of traps. Growing up is challenging enough for children who are protected and nurtured. For those with added challenges—“
“We both faced a lot of challenges, and we managed to muddle through more or less,” Suzanne said.
He slid his fingers into her hair. “You’re a marvel, my darling. What you went through—”
“But I had more love and security in my early years than you did. More perhaps than Teddy Craven did. I don’t think Louisa and Craven were the warmest of parents.”
“No.” His fingers stilled in her hair. “Simon and David can do a great deal for the Craven children.” A smile curved his mouth. “I never thought to see Simon an expert on putting a two-year-old down. Apparently he’s the only one who can get young Jamie to sleep.”
“I’m not surprised,” Suzanne said. “I remember how easily he held Colin when we first met him.”
“Yes, but it’s a bit more challenging when one can’t hand the child back.”
“If he still going back to the Albany every night?”
Malcolm nodded. “I saw him leave. David was franker than I’ve never heard him about the challenges of a relationship that has to remain secret. About his parents’ veiled disapproval. And the people who think worse.” His brows drew together. “I don’t think I properly appreciate how it is for them.”
“We’ve talked about the pressure on David to marry.” Suzanne was confidant David could withstand that pressure, but Malcolm, she knew, had doubts at times. He was less of a romantic, he said, though Suzanne vehemently denied she was a romantic. Perhaps it was that Malcolm was more clear eyed about just how strong the pressures of being born an aristocrat could be.
“Yes, I worry about what that could do to David. But they’re so comfortable with each other and we—not just the two of us, but Bel and Oliver, Harry and Cordy, Rupert and Bertrand, Crispin and Manon—are so used to seeing them as a couple that I think I forget sometimes that to the rest of the world they can’t be.” His free hand curved round the chair arm. “David reminded me that it’s a hanging offense. According to laws imposed by the Parliament I’m a part of.”
“Not laws you had anything to do with passing.”
“You could introduce a bill to repeal them. It won’t get anywhere, at least not now. But then neither will your capital punishment bill. And it would lay groundwork. Jeremy Bentham argued for repeal of the anti-buggery laws thirty years ago. And others have more recently. Juliette Dubretton—-”
“Not to mention my wife.”
“That provoked more comments than some of my articles,” Suzanne said. She regularly contributed articles to the Political Register. “But a parliamentary bill would cause more talk. You’d have to consider the position you’d be putting David in though.”
“You mean because there’d be talk if he supported it? There’d be talk about me as well. There already is. Has been since David and I were boys, though it took us both a while to understand it.”
Suzanne pressed a kiss against Malcolm’s throat. “Yes, dearest, but you aren’t at risk of getting caught. At least not unless there’s a great deal going on in your life that I’m not aware of.”
“Given my difficulties sharing myself with you, I really can’t imagine doing so with another person, sweetheart. Of either gender.” He turned his head and kissed her temple. “David would brave the talk. He has the courage of a soldier.” Malcolm’s fingers curled inward. “But I think what’s even worse for David is that the world expects him to marry and produce an heir. Which would be solved if we simply got rid of inherited privilege, as my wife advocates.”
“You advocate it too. In writing. Very cogently.”
“And yet I’ve benefited. Though the man from whom I inherited all this”—he glanced round their room, where so many intimate moments in their life had taken place, in this exquisite house they had inherited from Alistair Rannoch—“has no biological connection to me. What a world we live in.” He laced his fingers through her own. “A bill is a good idea. But it won’t begin to do enough.” His gaze darkened. “I knew I couldn’t leave the intelligence game, not completely. And I had no illusions I be able to get very much done in Parliament. But I thought at least I’d be my own man.”
Suzanne lifted her head to look at her husband, so stubbornly idealistic for all he’d deny it. “And you are, darling.”
“To a degree. Better than in the diplomatic service, where I had to argue for policies that half the time I didn’t believe in. But the I’m still arguing within the terms of a debate set by someone else. And the damnable thing is sometimes I get so caught up in the debate I don’t see the parameters enclosing it.”
“Sometimes—“ She drew a breath. There were still things she tried not to burden him with.
“That’s how you feel as a Republican living as the wife of a duke’s grandson?”
He tightened his arm round her. “Sometimes I think Davenport has the right idea, living a life of scholarship.”
“I think Harry would go mad if he couldn’t help with your investigations.”
“There is that. It’s just hard not to feel tainted by the game. All the games.” Malcolm stared down at his arm, curved round her own. “I’ve never heard David talk with such anger as tonight. In truth, we’ve scarcely talked at all about—about how it is for him.” He was silent for a moment, one of those shifts when he talked of something he’d hitherto held close. “I remember one night the summer before we went up to Oxford. We’d gone to the theatre—As You Like It. And I glanced over and saw David watching the actor who played Orlando. Just watching him. But something about the look in his gaze—. I’d realized years before, sitting in a maths class, watching David have that same look in his eyes as he glanced at another boy. But this time David turned his head as though he realized I was watching him. I think he was embarrassed at first. But then he seemed to understand that I understood. And that was that.”
“You never talked about it?” Suzanne asked.
“Not in so many words. When he met Simon. Well, first I pretended I was deaf and blind and tried to give them as much time together as possible. But I remember telling David a few months later when it was pretty clear which quarter the wind sat in—not that it hadn’t been clear from the night they met—that I was happy for him. That he had something I never thought to have. David started to protest and then said ‘thank you.’ He complains sometimes about the pressure on him to marry, but even that he tends to avoid. I never heard him rail at a world that’s so savagely, insanely set against him. Even tonight he was telling me how much there is to honor in Britain. Christ.”
“Given everything he sacrifices for Britain, he probably has to believe that or he’d go mad.”
Malcolm looked at her for a moment. “Insightful as always, Suzette. Perhaps that’s it.”
“Simon talks a bit more.”
“To you in particular.”
“The outsiders banding together. But even Simon doesn’t complain. Nothing like as much as he has cause too.”
Malcolm frowned at a patch of shadow on the carpet. “I wish I could have found the right words to say to David tonight.”
“It’s not as though you can fix it, Malcolm.”
“No, but—“ He shook his head. “I couldn’t of course tell him that I have a whole new appreciation for the challenges he and Simon face keeping their relationship secret now I know my wife’s story.”
Not for the first time, Suzanne wished Malcolm could talk to David about her and the challenges of their marriage. It would be desperately good for him to have a confidant. But she knew he feared David’s reaction to the truth more than that of any of their other friends. David, Malcolm said, was an Englishman to the core, with very precise ideas about what that meant. She drew a breath. “David—“
“Believes theres much to honor in England. The country with laws on its books that would hang him and Simon. The country—“
“You aren’t an Englishwoman. But I wouldn’t be surprised if David thought I’d betrayed it now if he knew the extent of my actions.”
Her qualms of earlier in the evening came flooding back. “Malcolm—“
“I’m not saying I regret anything, Mel. Quite the reverse in fact. You’ve opened my eyes to things I should have seen earlier. David and I have always seen the world in different ways.”
“The last thing I ever wanted was to come between the two of you.”
His arm tightened round her. “You haven’t, beloved.”