Reading Group Discussion Questions
He was safe. No, not that precisely. The world wasn’t safe anymore. But he was safer than he’d been on the streets of London, where he’d dodged blows and seen a brawl break out. Safer than he’d been at Harrow, or he wouldn’t have had to leave. Safer than he’d been jolted in a farm cart on the drive here. Safer than he’d be at home. No, not that. He didn’t have a home anymore. Safer than he’d be in his uncle’s house.
He eased the door shut and stepped into the cool, damp darkness. Shadows offered safety, he reminded himself. He could think here. Decide what to do next. He took two steps forwards, then slumped against the wall and slid down to land on the floorboards with a thump. He’d bumped his knee jumping from the cart, and his elbow running from the brawl.
He reached inside his coat, pulled out a hunk of the dry bread the man with the farm cart had given him, chewed a bite. His eyes were heavy. If he could just sleep for a bit, he’d feel better. Then he’d be able to figure out what to do. At least this place had been his father’s. That made it safer somehow. He let his shoulders sink further against the wall.
Something scuttered across his foot. He started, screamed, jumped to the side, wide awake. He put a hand on the ground to keep his balance and touched something. Something soft. Hair. A dog. No, a person. God, someone else was asleep in here. He snatched his hand away. Something dripped from his fingers. Something sticky. He caught the coppery tang, but it was a moment more before he realized it was blood.
Malcolm Rannoch swung down from a hackney in Rosemary Lane. The light mist that had been falling when he left Brooks’s had whipped up into genuine rain, but the street was still crowded. Men and women lounged in doorways, three boys clustered round a sputtering fire under an overhanging roof at the street corner. The sight of a gentleman in a black evening coat, cream-colored pantaloons, and a silk hat stepping from a hackney drew a number of surprised, cautious looks. Malcolm nodded, smiled, and slipped through the crowd to the door of the warehouse.
Jeremy Roth opened the door at once in response to his knock. “Thank you for coming.” The Bow Street runner’s gaze was level as usual, but his dark eyes betrayed his concern. “I’m sorry to have disrupted your evening. Especially on young Colin’s birthday.”
Roth and his own sons had been at Colin’s party at the Rannochs’ Berkeley Square house earlier in the day. Malcolm waved a hand. “We took the children to dinner at Rules after the party. Colin was sound asleep two hours since. I was at an election strategy meeting at Brooks’s. I was bewailing our dim prospects for meaningful gains with David and Rupert and Oliver when I got your message. You saved me from sinking further into wallowing in regret.”
Roth stepped aside so Malcolm could enter the warehouse. Two lanterns had been lit, shedding flickering yellow light over the high beam ceiling and smoke-blackened walls. Even before he noticed the blanket-covered form on the ground against one wall, Malcolm caught a whiff of the sickly sweet stench of blood.
Roth nodded. “Someone seems to have broken in. There’s a hidden compartment in the wall near the body that we found open and empty, so I’d had hazard a guess the dead man broke in to steal something and had a fight with a confederate who took whatever they were searching for.”
“Or someone else broke in in search of the same thing and surprised him.”
Roth raised his brows. “Possibly. The body has begun to stiffen, so it looks as though he was killed between six-thirty and ten-thirty this evening. Given the break-in, I’d hazard a guess it was on the later side. But that isn’t why I sent for you.” He jerked his head to the far end of the room. A small figure sat at a round table, shoulders hunched, feet not quite reaching the floorboards. “He wouldn’t tell me his name,” Roth said. “But I recognized him.”
Malcolm recognized him as well. The body language and the gleam of the fair hair in the lamplight. What Roth didn’t say, but what hung between both of them, was that Roth had met the boy three months earlier when he’d come home from Harrow, angry and sulky over his mother’s death closely following his father’s murder.
“I thought about sending for Lord Worsley,” Roth said. “But the boy’s adamant he doesn’t want to see him. And given that he obviously ran away—”
Malcolm touched his friend’s shoulder. “Quite right.”
Roth’s gaze lingered on the boy. “He was quite resourceful. Used the last of his money to pay someone to carry a message to the nearest constable. I’m not sure I’d have shown such presence of mind at nine.”
“Nor I. The constable sent for you?”
“A combination of the dead body and the boy’s accent and his refusal to volunteer further information. Fortunately I was the one who took the message. At least I could identify him.” He hesitated a moment. “I could send for Worsley now—”
“No. David may not forgive either one of us, but between Teddy refusing to talk and a murder investigation, it’s as well I got here first.”
The boy lifted his head as Malcolm crossed the warehouse. Edward St. John Craven. Viscount Craven since his father had been murdered in Hyde Park three months ago. That, followed by his mother’s death less than a week later, had shaken Teddy’s world. Though he didn’t know that his mother had taken her own life or that she had hired the man who killed his father. At least, Malcolm hoped to God Teddy didn’t know. Given all that had happened, his running away from school wasn’t that surprising. But something must have driven him to take such an action now.
The constable, a fresh-faced lad with white-blond hair, was leaning against the wall near the table, but as Malcolm approached, he gave a quick nod and moved towards Roth. He appeared to have brewed Teddy a cup of tea over a spirit lamp. It was in front of the boy, a faint curl of steam rising over the cup.
“Good evening, Teddy.” Malcolm dropped into the rickety chair across the table from his friend’s nephew. “I hear you showed great presence of mind discovering the body and alerting the authorities.”
Teddy’s chin jerked up. He looked as though he was about to deny his own identity and then realized the impossibility of doing that with someone who had known him since babyhood. “I had to. I mean, I couldn’t just leave him lying there.” His gaze shot towards the blanket-covered form, then away.
Teddy’s hands curled round the cup, though he didn’t lift it to his lips. “Do they know who he is?”
“Not as far as I know.”
Teddy nodded and stared down into the depths of the teacup. It was white, with a blue transferware pattern and a chip at the rim.
“You showed a great deal of initiative, not just in sending for a constable, but earlier,” Malcolm said. “I often felt the impulse to run away from Harrow, but I never actually put it into action.”
Teddy’s gaze jerked to his face. “I couldn’t stay. Not after—And I can’t go back.”
A thousand petty cruelties and unthinking tyrannies shot through Malcolm’s memory. “For what it’s worth, I think your uncle David will understand that better than anyone. Except perhaps for me. We neither of us had a very easy time at Harrow. To own the truth, I’m not sure I want my own son to go at all.”
Teddy’s brows drew together, as though Malcolm’s words shook the order of his world. Which, in a way, they very much did. “So you’ll send Colin to Eton? Or Winchester?”
“I rather think we won’t send him to school at all. He can go on doing lessons at home with his sister.”
Teddy’s eyes widened. “But—”
“David didn’t want to disrupt your life. But if you explained matters to him, I suspect he’d be quite amenable to a similar arrangement.”
Teddy shook his head, so vigorously his fair hair flopped across his forehead. “I can’t. He can’t know. I couldn’t tell him—”
Malcolm looked into the anxious young face. “Is it something to do with your mother?”
Teddy’s eyes widened. “How do you know?”
“I was a schoolboy once. I can remember what would have angered me enough I’d have been tempted to run away. And what I wouldn’t have wanted to share even with a sympathetic uncle.” The sting of casual comments came back to him through the years. Those comments had started questions he hadn’t fully articulated for years and hadn’t answered until a few months ago when he learned the actual identity of the man who had fathered him. Though that answer had raised a whole new set of questions.
“It was vile.” Teddy’s hands curled into fists on the splintery wood of the table. “They can say what they like about me, but my mother wasn’t—she wouldn’t—”
“Impugning the honor of someone’s mother is a sadly commonplace insult,” Malcolm said. “It doesn’t mean anything except that your tormentors displayed a lack of imagination.”
Teddy’s brows drew together. “Do you really think so?”
“As I said, I was a schoolboy myself.” Save that in Teddy’s case, as in Malcolm’s own, those casual aspersions on their mothers’ honor had a grain of truth. In Malcolm’s case, Arabella Rannoch’s reputation had accounted for the rumors. But there was no reason to think anyone, outside a very small, trusted circle, should know about Louisa Craven’s tragic love affair. It certainly shouldn’t be common knowledge among schoolboys at Harrow. Who knew? Who had talked?
“I couldn’t tell Uncle David,” Teddy said. “I couldn’t repeat those things about my mother. And then they said—” He drew a sharp breath.
“Teddy?” Malcolm watched the boy’s conflicted face. “Did they say something about someone else? About your father? Or Uncle David?”
Teddy’s face confirmed the latter. Schoolboy slights again welled up in Malcolm’s memory, still fresh as the blood from a blow to the nose. This was at once more and less fraught. Because while Malcolm hoped to God Teddy never learned the truth about his mother, at some point he was going to grasp the truth about David and Simon Tanner, and it was vitally important that he do so in the right way.
“I’m sure anything that was said to you is something Uncle David has heard before and is well used to deflecting,” Malcolm said.
Teddy’s gaze slid to the side. “Yes, but—”
“Teddy.” Malcolm spread his hands on the table. “Your uncle David is a good man. Young as you are, I think you’re old enough to understand that. And I think you know Simon Tanner is a good man as well.”
Teddy’s gaze snapped to Malcolm’s face. “They said—”
“It doesn’t really matter what they said. It matters what you think of David and Simon.”
Teddy’s brows drew together. He was silent for a long moment, then nodded slowly.
“Why did you choose this part of town to hide in?” Malcolm asked.
Teddy cast a glance round the warehouse. The lamps Roth had lit cast giant shadows on the rough walls. “I couldn’t think where to go at first. Then I thought the warehouse might be a good hiding place.”
“You were coming here deliberately?”
Teddy nodded. “It’s my father’s.”
Malcolm cast a glance round the warehouse. “Whateley & Company,” he said, reading a placard fastened to one wall.
“My uncle. Eustace Whateley. He’s married to my aunt Cecilia. My father’s sister.”
“And your father was his partner.” Something of the sort came back to Malcolm from their research into Craven’s affairs after his murder.
Teddy nodded. “He didn’t talk about it much. I don’t think he liked that Uncle Eustace was in trade. I don’t think Aunt Cecilia likes it much either. But I came here once with him. I thought it would be safe. And I suppose—”
Malcolm caught a flash of yearning in Teddy’s blue eyes. “It reminded you of your father?”
“Nothing wrong with that. It’s good to find ways to hold on to people we’ve lost.”
Teddy gave a tentative smile. “What happens now?”
“If I have anything to say about it, you don’t have to go back to school. But I very much hope you’ll let me take you home.”
“To Uncle David.”
“And your sister and brothers.”
“And Uncle Simon.”
Malcolm reached across the table and touched his fingers to Teddy’s hair. “And Uncle Simon.”
Suzanne Rannoch lifted the hood of her cloak and stepped from the carriage. The cobblestones were rain-slick beneath her satin evening slippers. She pulled the black velvet of her cloak close over the pomegranate gauze and sarcenet of her gown. The sign over the building before her swayed in a gust of wind. A gold needle and thimble, indicating a dressmaker’s. The dark windows, now shuttered, would display gleaming bolts of fabric, bright lengths of ribbon, and sample gowns during the day. Suzanne had called here often enough for a fitting or to order a new gown. But tonight she didn’t go through the blue-painted front door with its shiny brass knocker. Instead, she opened a door to the side of the windows that had been left unlatched for her and climbed a narrow flight of stairs, lit by a single glass-enclosed candle. The stairs gave onto another door. She rapped three times.
Almost at once the door opened. A tall woman with reddish-brown hair stood before her. Marthe Leblanc. For all they had been through, she looked little changed from when they had first met in Lisbon, over five years ago.
“Thank you for coming.” The relief in Marthe’s voice showed how concerned she had been.
“Of course.” Suzanne met the other woman’s gaze. They said a woman had few secrets from her dressmaker. That was doubly true when both had been French agents working together against Britain while living among the British.
Marthe stepped aside and gestured Suzanne into the sitting room. “I’ve ruined your evening. And it’s your little boy’s birthday.”
Suzanne smiled at her friend. “You’re sweet to remember. After Colin fell asleep, Malcolm went to a meeting at Brooks’s, and I looked in at a rather dull reception I was regretting I’d agreed to attend.” She moved into the room. It smelled of potpourri and Marthe’s violet scent. A lamp was lit on a table covered with a flowered silk shawl. “What is it?”
“I had a message from Bertrand. He’s bringing someone in tonight. And it sounds as though medical help is needed.”
Suzanne’s gaze went to the brassbound box on the shawl-covered table, similar to her medical supply box at home. Bertrand Laclos rescued those who needed to flee France, which had once meant Royalists and now, three years after the Battle of Waterloo, meant Bonapartists who had been proscribed by the restored Bourbon government.
“I don’t like to involve you,” Marthe said. “You have more to lose than the rest of us.”
Suzanne undid the ties on her cloak. “I’m better positioned than many of our friends. My husband knows the truth of my past now. Bertrand brought one of his refugees to our house less than two months ago. We were in the midst of giving a ball. Malcolm took it quite in stride.”
“I know how you worry for him.”
Malcolm’s face shot into her mind, laughing with their son and daughter on his lap at Rules three hours ago. Leaning in to kiss her before he went to his meeting at Brooks’s. She saw his dispatch box, which she had once ransacked for information, and which now held the travel documents prepared should they and their children have to flee Britain at a moment’s notice. Malcolm had been nothing but sanguine about the preparations, but she could not but be aware of what she had brought him to. “Malcolm can take care of himself, as he’d be the first to say.”
“Your husband is a remarkable man.”
“I’m more aware of it every day.”
Marthe had two young daughters and a sympathetic solicitor who wanted to marry her and who hadn’t the least idea she had been a French agent. Suzanne, protected by her husband’s fortune and his position as a Member of Parliament and the grandson of a duke, was in an enviable position, all things considered. Set against that, the fact that she was tearing herself in two over what she’d done to Malcolm shouldn’t be held to matter.
An owl hooted outside. Marthe gave an answering call and a few moments later opened a concealed door in the paper-hung wall. Bertrand Laclos staggered into the room, his auburn hair dusted with gray powder, his nose and jaw disguised by expertly applied putty, half supporting, half carrying a fair-haired man wrapped in a greatcoat.
“Take him into the bedchamber,” Marthe said, hurrying to open the door.
Suzanne snatched up the medical box and ran after. “He was shot on his way to meet me at Calais,” Bertrand said, once he had laid the man on the clean sheets in the bedchamber. “I didn’t realize how bad it was until we had set sail. I cleaned and bandaged the wound as best I could, but we were delayed in the Channel, and I fear he’s turned feverish.”
Suzanne put a hand on the man’s head. It was burning to the touch. He seemed to have passed out, which was just as well, given the pain he’d been in. “Bring some brandy in case he wakes,” she told Marthe, opening the supply box.
“He kept talking on the crossing,” Bertrand said. “He seemed to be trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t make head or tail of it.”
“Who is he?” Suzanne peeled back Bertrand’s makeshift dressing.
“His name is Louis Germont. At least that’s the name he gave me. I don’t ask questions. He was a clerk in the foreign ministry, suddenly facing questions about his past.”
The man who called himself Louis Germont appeared to be in his late twenties. His blond hair was cut fashionably long and the softness of his hands said he did not live by manual labor. He woke in the midst of her cutting away the makeshift bandage from his infected flesh. Marthe came in with the brandy and poured some down his throat. He grimaced but stayed still with the stoicism of a trained agent. By the time Suzanne had a fresh dressing secured over the wound, he seemed to have lapsed into unconsciousness again. But when Bertrand and Marthe had left the room, Suzanne heard him mutter something unintelligible. “It’s all right,” she said, smoothing his hair as though he were one of her children. “You’re safe.”
His fingers closed round her wrist. “Have to warn.”
“Have to warn who?”
“Message.” His fingers tightened on her wrist. “Someone needs to know.”
“We’ll make sure the message gets through.” With her free hand, Suzanne pressed him gently against the pillow, afraid he would pull on his wound. “When you feel better you can tell us—”
“Heard them. No doubt.” He twisted from side to side against the pillow, lapsing back into his feverish delirium. But before he lost consciousness, she heard him murmur quite clearly, “The Phoenix.”
Suzanne drew a harsh breath. She was still sitting on the edge of the bed in Marthe’s neat spare bedchamber, with the blue-flowered quilt and the cross-stitched sampler hanging over the bed. But her world had tilted on its axis. For a moment she thought she was going to be sick.
Because she knew what The Phoenix meant. It was a code name. Not for an agent. For a plot.
A plot to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte.
The footman who admitted Malcolm and Teddy to the Craven house in Brook Street was the same man Malcolm had shouldered past three months ago when he ran up two flights of stairs to be greeted by the report of a gun that signaled Louisa Craven’s suicide. The footman looked older now, the bones of his face sharper, his eyes more deeply set. The last three months had left their mark on all of them.
David stepped out of the library before Malcolm could address the footman. “Malcolm, did we forget something at Colin’s party—” David stopped short, catching sight of his nephew.
“Teddy was obliged to leave school unexpectedly,” Malcolm said. “He’s had quite an adventure. I’m sure you’re eager to hear of it, but perhaps you could have some food sent in directly.”
David gave a quick nod and turned to the footman.
“Sandwiches and lemonade,” the footman said. “Right away.”
“Thank you,” David said. “And have Master Teddy’s bed made up for him.”
David reached out and touched Teddy on the shoulder, quickly, a little awkwardly. Footsteps sounded on the stairs. “Jamie’s finally down for the third time,” Simon said, his gaze over the rail on David, the only one visible from his vantage point. “I thought he’d never—” He broke off as he came round the bend and saw Malcolm and Teddy.
To Malcolm’s relief, a smile crossed Teddy’s face. “Uncle Simon. I’m glad you’re here.”
“So am I,” Simon said. “I don’t know why you left Harrow, but I suspect you showed a great deal of good sense.”
They repaired to the library. Malcolm let David pour him a whisky, which gave Teddy a couple of minutes to settle in. The footman came in with hastily cut roast-chicken-and-watercress sandwiches and a large glass of lemonade. Teddy took a swallow as grateful as a man gulping a drink, wolfed down half a sandwich, and at last looked at his two uncles and launched into his story. Once he began to speak, he talked quickly and surprisingly coherently, putting in enough detail to flesh out his story. He had the makings of a good agent. He confronted the accusations about his mother in a firm voice, but skipped over any comments on David and Simon.
David’s face went shuttered as he listened, a clear sign to Malcolm of the depths of the emotion he was feeling. At the mention of the dead body in the warehouse, his eyes widened and he shot a quick glance at Malcolm, then turned back to Teddy. Simon listened in silence, a little drawn back in his chair, though Malcolm saw his friend’s fingers curl round the carved arms of the chair. By the end of Teddy’s story, Simon’s knuckles were white.
David got to his feet and dropped down in front of Teddy’s chair when the boy had done. “You handled it well, Teddy. Better than I would have done at your age.”
Teddy’s gaze skimmed over his uncle’s face. “You’re not angry?”
“I wish you’d sent to me rather than running away. I’ll own to feeling a distinct chill at what you went through. But I can understand why you ran away. School can be the loneliest place on earth.”
Something lightened in Teddy’s eyes. “That’s it precisely. It seems odd, because one never has a moment alone. But—”
David nodded. “I was lucky to meet Uncle Malcolm.”
“Which meant we were lonely together,” Malcolm said.
Teddy looked from Malcolm to David. “I can’t go back.”
Malcolm drew a breath. Oh, David, don’t be stupid.
David touched Teddy on the shoulder. “You don’t have to, for this term at least. I’ll send an express to the headmaster in the morning. They’ll be concerned.”
Teddy’s face relaxed a trifle. “I can help teach George and Amy.”
“You’ll do lessons yourself, scamp.” David ruffled his hair.
“Yes, sir,” Teddy said, but he grinned, looking more like a nine-year-old boy than he had all evening.
Bridget, the nursery maid, who struck Malcolm as a sensible young woman, rapped at the door to say that Master Teddy’s bed was made up, and if he promised not to wake them he could peep in at his brothers and sister before he went to bed. Teddy grinned, took a last sip of lemonade, and got to his feet. He hesitated a moment, then gave David a quick, awkward hug. “Thank you, sir.” He stepped back. “Thank you, Uncle Malcolm.”
“I’m glad I was there,” Malcolm said.
“Me too.” Teddy turned to Simon. Simon gave a quick grin and an answering smile broke across Teddy’s face.
“Well done,” Malcolm said, when the door closed behind Teddy and Bridget.
Gaze fixed on the closed door, David grimaced and ran a hand over his hair. “I didn’t know—I thought it was better to disrupt his routine as little as possible.”
“It was a good assumption,” Simon said.
“I forgot what a hell school can be.” David strode across the room, picked up his whisky, and tossed down a swallow. “He can stay here until the next term. But what the devil are we going to do then?” He glanced at Simon. “Do you think he’d do better at Winchester?”
“Based on my experience?” Simon got to his feet and splashed more whisky into his glass. “No. Save that I wasn’t very happy in my grandfather’s house, I’d have much preferred to forgo school altogether.”
“That’s all very well for you, but—” David bit back his words.
Simon regarded his lover, the decanter held in one hand. “But Teddy’s destined to be a viscount, not a Radical playwright?”
“Of course not. Damn it, Simon, you know—”
“We don’t plan to send Colin to school,” Malcolm said.
“You’ve already decided that?” David asked.
“To own the truth, I don’t think Suzette would stand for it,” Malcolm said with a grin. “I see no reason to put my son through what we went through. Besides, I’d miss him.”
David took another swallow of whisky. “I just want him to be prepared for the life he’s going to lead.”
Simon went still for a moment. There it was, Malcolm saw. The life of a peer that Teddy was destined for, that David himself was destined for. The life that threatened to divide Simon and David. But Simon merely took David’s glass and splashed some more whisky into it. “One could argue a life that gave him a bit more perspective would better prepare him for the life of a viscount. We can find him a good tutor. And George, and Jamie when he’s old enough. Amy too.”
David stared at Simon. “How long have you been thinking this?’
Simon shrugged and went to refill Malcolm’s glass. “I think my feelings on public school are fairly clear.”
“You never said.”
“You had a good point that it made sense to disrupt Teddy’s life as little as possible. Besides, you’re their uncle.”
David opened his mouth as though to argue, then took a drink of whisky and dropped down on the sofa. “Who was this dead man found in the warehouse?”
“He appears to have broken in,” Malcolm said.
“To steal money?”
“Unclear. Just as it’s unclear if he was killed by a fellow conspirator with whom he had a falling out or someone else who broke in.”
David and Simon stared at him. “You think two different people broke into Whateley & Company tonight?” David asked.
“It looks possible. What do you know about Whateley & Company?”
“Very little,” David said.
“Eustace and Cecilia Whateley came to our ball in April, but I can’t say I got much sense of either of them,” Malcolm said.
“I’ve only met them a handful of times. Cecilia seems kind, if a bit colorless. I remember Whateley more from Harrow than recently.”
“So do I,” Malcolm said. Eustace Whateley had been a couple of years ahead of him and David. “He always seemed to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder. But I don’t think I had the least appreciation of how hard it was to be at Harrow as a banker’s son whose grandfather had been a tin miner.”
“Refuses to hide the fact that he’s in trade,” Simon said. “I rather admire that. Not easy when one’s married into the beau monde.”
David swirled the whisky in his glass. “To own the truth, I rather forgot Craven had invested in the business. But then Craven was enough of a snob not to make a big point of it.” He looked at Malcolm. “You’re going to assist Roth in the investigation?”
“He’s asked me to. When it comes to the beau monde, it’s often easier for Suzanne and me to make inquiries than for Roth to do so. And someone will have to talk to your father.”
Simon gave a wry smile. “Better you than me.” He got to his feet. “I have to be at the Tavistock early. With Measure for Measure about to open even Manon isn’t balking at morning rehearsals. I should be getting back to the Albany.”
David and Simon had shared rooms since their Oxford days, but after Louisa’s death, David had moved into the Craven house while Simon still, at least nominally, lived in the rooms they had once shared in the Albany. Simon, usually careless of appearances, was careful to preserve them for the children’s sake. The arrangement, Malcolm thought, couldn’t be comfortable for any of them.
Simon bent and gave David a quick, hard kiss. There was a time when they’d have avoided such displays, even in front of Malcolm. It was almost as though the changed circumstances made it more important to establish the reality of their relationship.
“This can’t be easy on either of you,” Malcolm said when Simon had left.
David grimaced. “Simon’s a marvel. He’s the only one—including Bridget—who can get Jamie to sleep. We all nearly went mad one night when he had a late rehearsal.” He took a drink of whisky and stared into his glass. “It’s odd, I don’t think they saw Craven or even Louisa that much, but they sure as hell notice their absence.”
“There’s a difference between absence and knowing one will never see one’s parent again,” Malcolm said, remembering his own mother’s absences.
David tapped his fingers on the sofa arm. “Bel would have taken the children, but it would have strained her to the breaking point with her own three, especially since Rose had the measles last March. Mary’s got enough to deal with, with her own husband’s death and the baby about to arrive. Georgiana’s out of the country. Mother and Father—They found their own children challenging enough. And Eustace and Cecilia barely knew them.”
“You don’t have to convince me,” Malcolm said. “I agree it was the best choice.” He leaned back in his chair. “I always thought you and Simon would make good parents.”
David shook his head. “I never thought—Simon didn’t ask for any of this.”
“I don’t see him complaining.”
“He’s being a saint. I hope—I keep thinking we’ll get back to something like normal.”
“I think every parent thinks that. Until they realize the new reality is normal.” Malcolm hesitated. “I don’t know that anyone would say anything if Simon stayed here. Rupert and Bertrand live together.”
“Rupert is married to Bertrand’s cousin. An uncomfortable situation for all of them, but it has advantages.”
“True. But if Simon stayed here—”
“There’d be talk.” David drained his glass. “The children—”
“The children love you both. They’ll sort it out eventually.”
David shot a look at him. “Not everyone does.”
“I’m sorry,” Malcolm said. “I don’t mean to belittle the challenges.”
David got to his feet and refilled his glass. “A few of our friends accept us. Others—notably my parents—choose to be blind to what’s in front of them. Some others really are blind, I suppose, or simply don’t have the imagination to see it.” He poured more whisky into Malcolm’s glass. “But still others are only too ready to gossip. And many to condemn.”
Malcolm looked at his friend, his chief confidant since they’d both been schoolboys Teddy’s age. He had shared things with David he hadn’t even shared with Suzanne. And yet—”You don’t talk this way often.”
David shrugged as he clunked down the decanter. “Nothing to be gained by dwelling. But it’s still a hanging offense.”
“My God.” Malcolm set his glass down hard on the chair arm. “We live in an appalling country.”
His wife would have said You only just discovered that? But David shook his head. “You don’t mean that. There are challenges, but they don’t outweigh all the things to honor and admire.”
“A country that condemns two of the finest people I know for loving each other has a lot to answer for.” And he was a member of that country’s government. As was David, though they both sat in the Opposition.
David sank down on the sofa. He moved as though his bones ached. “It’s not as though every other country would welcome us with open arms. One grows used to living with secrets.”
Malcolm took a swallow of whisky that burned his throat. He knew a great deal about living with secrets since he’d learned his wife had been a Bonapartist agent. But for once he couldn’t confide in David.
Bertrand looked up as Suzanne came back into Marthe’s parlor. He had removed the putty from his face, though traces of powder still clung to his hair. He was alone in the room, sitting on a stool, hands linked round his knees, gaze mild. “Did he talk to you?”
Suzanne drew a breath. She’d always wondered how much Bertrand knew. They’d never discussed it, but given what he’d seen in Paris three years ago, not to mention in her own house last April, he probably knew or guessed a great deal. “Only incoherent ravings. I’m not sure what to make of it.”
Bertrand regarded her for a long moment. “People talk to me,” he said. “I see no reason to share what I overhear. But I thought perhaps you were the right person to talk to our friend here.”
Suzanne met Bertrand’s clear gaze. It looked very blue just now, while at other times it seemed just as green. “You’re a remarkable man, Bertrand.”
“Most people are remarkable when one gets to know them.” He unfolded himself from the stool and got to his feet. “I’m sorry I missed Colin’s birthday party.”
She swallowed, warmed by the memory of the crowd gathered in her drawing room that afternoon, torn by the possible future. “We missed you. But I knew it must be something important.”
He moved to her side and squeezed her hand. “At least Rupert and Gaby and Stephen could represent the family.” A smile crossed his face. “Odd that, having a family. Still takes my breath away.”
Suzanne returned the pressure of his hand. “Mine too.”
Half an hour later, in the privacy of her lacquered sapphire barouche, Suzanne pressed her hands to her face. The watered silk walls and mahogany fittings of the barouche enclosed her in luxury. The luxury that typified her husband’s life. She had a few moments of privacy before they got back to Berkeley Square. The most privacy she was going to get to think through the night’s shocking revelations.
Bonaparte. St. Helena. Freedom. Dear God, no had been her first thought on hearing the wounded man’s hoarse words. Surely it couldn’t all begin again now. The plotting, the scheming, the fighting. The killing. The conflict that had come close to tearing her in two those last weeks before the battle of Waterloo.
And yet—closely following on the dread had been a stab of wonder. She saw the redcoated British troops milling about in the Bois de Boulogne, thronging the quais and boulevards of Paris. The inscription Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité scraped from the Porte Saint Martin. The cells of the Conciergerie crowded with her friends. Those who hadn’t fled into exile or gone to their deaths. Neither her father nor her spymaster, Raoul O’Roarke, had ever forgiven Bonaparte for making himself emperor. Even before that he’d been a flawed leader for what remained of the dream of the Revolution. But if one had ever doubted he was infinitely preferable to a return of the monarchy, the years since Waterloo had proved the point.
If there was a chance to get him off St. Helena, to change the government of France—how could she live with herself if she tried to stop it? And if she told her husband what she had learned, she would be doing just that. Because Malcolm would be honor-bound to go to his spymaster, Lord Carfax. And Carfax would do anything in his considerable power to stop such a plot.
And yet, if she didn’t tell Malcolm, if Malcolm learned the truth—when Malcolm learned the truth, because if there were a plot, at some point he would hear of it. Suzanne shivered. Her husband had come to understand her divided loyalties in the past. He accepted them when it came to protecting her comrades. He’d even assisted her. But an active, present-day plot—a plot that was almost certain to involve people she knew and cared about.
Her fingers closed on the velvet folds of her cloak. She saw Raoul O’Roarke as she had last seen him, six weeks ago, sprawled on their drawing room carpet, arranging Malcolm’s prize chess pieces into an imaginary court with five children clustered round him. His face had been alight with laughter, relaxed as she had seldom seen it in all the years he’d been her spymaster, the shorter time he’d been her lover, the years since in which they’d been comrades.
But she knew, none better, how he could lose himself in the moment and then change back into a hardened agent when the task required it. It was the only way for a spy to hold on to sanity, he had often told her.
Close on that memory came another. Malcolm and Raoul laughing together over a Shakespeare folio. That same evening? Or the night before? A trivial night, talk and laughter, dinner and lottery tickets and charades with the children. Except that she’d caught something between Malcolm and Raoul. For a moment they’d been more than agents who had been on opposite sides. More than husband and wife’s former lover. They’d been father and son. Which, in fact, they were, though Malcolm hadn’t learned it until recently.
Suzanne chewed on the finger of her silk knit glove. If Raoul was involved in the plot to restore Bonaparte, if Malcolm had to expose him to Carfax—
It wasn’t just herself she was protecting. It wasn’t just her own allies. It was her husband. Because she knew instinctively such a choice would tear Malcolm in two.