The hanging oil lamps swayed and gusted at the opening the door. The wind brought in the stench from the Seine. A man and woman stepped into the Trois Amis tavern and stopped just beyond the door. The man was lean and dark-haired and perhaps taller than he looked. He slouched with a casual ease that took off several inches. A greatcoat was flung carelessly over his shoulders. Beneath, his black coat was unbuttoned to reveal a striped crimson waistcoat. A spotted handkerchief was knotted loosely round his neck in place of a cravat.
The woman, who leaned within the circle of his arm, wore a scarlet cloak with the hood pushed back to reveal a cascade of bright red curls, brilliant even in the murky light of the tavern. Glittering earrings swung beside her face, though surely they must be paste rather than diamonds. Her rouged lips were curved in a smile as her gaze drifted round the common room with indolent unconcern.
The other occupants of the tavern glanced at the new arrivals. It was an eclectic crowd, a mix of sailors, dockworkers, merchants, women who plied their wares along the docks, a few young aristocrats in sporting dress. And soldiers, in the uniforms of Russia, Prussia, Austria, Bavaria, England. These days, less than two months after Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo, one couldn’t go anywhere in Paris without seeing soldiers.
After a moment, the crowd returned to their dice, drinks, and flirtation. The accordion player seated in the center of the room, who had paused briefly, launched into another lively air.
The couple moved to the bar, where the gentleman procured two glasses of red wine. While he was engaged with the barkeep, several men ran appreciative gazes over the lady. One went so far as to put a hand on her back.
“How much?” he asked, his head close enough to her own that his brandy-laced breath brushed her skin.
The lady ran her gaze over him. Her eyes were an unusual color between green and blue. She brushed her fingers against his face and then put a gloved hand on his chest. She gave a dazzling smile. “More than you can possibly afford.”
The man regarded her for a moment, then shrugged and grinned. “Can’t blame a man for trying,” he said, and moved toward a fair-haired girl by the fireplace.
The gentleman turned from the bar and put one of the glasses of red wine into the lady’s hand. If he had noticed the man making her an offer, he gave no sign of it. He touched his glass to hers, and they threaded their way through the crowd to a table neither too obviously in the center of the room nor too deep in the shadows. Experience had taught them that the easiest way to hide was often to remain in plain sight.
The lady tugged at the cords on her cloak and let it slither about her to reveal a low-cut gown of spangled white sarcenet. The gentleman shrugged out of his greatcoat, slouched in his chair, and ran an eye round the room.
“I don’t see anyone matching the description,” the lady said in unaccented French.
“Nor do I,” the gentleman agreed in French that was almost as flawless.
“We’re a bit early.”
“So we are. But I’d give even odds on whether he actually puts in an appearance. He’s never been our most reliable asset.”
The lady tossed back a sip of wine. “Oh, well. At least we’ve had a night out.”
The gentleman grinned at her. “I can think of places I’d rather bring you.”
“But this one has a certain piquancy, darling. An evening without diplomatic small talk. Bliss.”
The gentleman slid his hand behind her neck, then went still, his fingers taut against her skin.
The lady had seen it, too.
The man they had come to meet stood by the door, a short, compact figure enveloped in a dark greatcoat. He removed his hat to reveal hair that was several shades darker than its natural color. A good attempt at disguise, but nervousness still radiated off him.
“Well,” the gentleman murmured to the lady. “People can surprise you.”
The lady touched his arm. “I’ll take care of it, Malcolm.”
Malcolm Rannoch caught his wife’s wrist. “Be careful.”
Suzanne Rannoch turned to look at her husband. “Really, dearest, you’d think you didn’t know me.”
“Sometimes I wonder.” Malcolm pulled her hand to his lips, the gesture flirtatious to anyone watching but his grip unexpectedly strong. “Remember, we’re in alien territory.”
She squeezed his fingers. “When are we not?”
Suzanne moved into the room, her spangled skirts stirring about her, and bent over the accordion player. He gave her a quick smile. A moment later, he launched into a lilting rendition of La ci darem la mano. Suzanne began to sing, her voice slightly huskier than usual. She moved toward the nearest table and brushed her fingers against the face of the portly man who sat there, then bent over a young Russian lieutenant at the next table, her burnished ringlets spilling over his shoulder.
The buzz of conversation stilled. The dice ceased to rattle.
Malcolm allowed himself a moment to appreciate his wife’s skill, then picked up his greatcoat and glass of wine and strolled across the room to the corner deep in the shadows of the oak-beamed ceiling where the man he was to meet had taken up his position.
“My compliments, Rivère.” Malcolm dropped into a chair across from him. “I gave even odds on whether or not you’d actually put in an appearance.”
Antoine, Comte de Rivère, cast a quick glance about. “For God’s sake, Rannoch, what do you mean coming up to me openly?”
“You were thinking we’d pass coded messages back and forth instead of having a conversation?”
“If we’re noticed—”
“My wife has things in hand.”
“Your—” Rivère stared at Suzanne, who was now perched on the edge of a table, leaning back, her weight resting on her hands, her skirt pulled up to reveal the pink clocks embroidered on her silk stockings. “Good God.”
“I don’t think you’ve seen Suzanne in action before. We’re both more accustomed to disguise than you are.”
Rivère looked from Suzanne to Malcolm. “The way you’re dressed you can’t help but attract attention.”
“But the man and woman people will remember seeing tonight will seem nothing like Malcolm Rannoch, attaché at the British embassy, and his charming wife.” Malcolm pushed his glass of wine across the table to Rivère. “You look as though you need it more than I do.”
Rivère took a sip of wine. His fingers tightened round the stem of the glass. “I pass messages. I don’t—”
“Indulge in this cloak-and-dagger business. Quite.”
“It’s all very well for you British.” Rivère twisted the glass on the scarred wood of the table. The yellow light from the oil lamps glowed in the red wine. “You’re protected by embassy walls and diplomatic passports. It’s getting more and more dangerous for the rest of us. The Ultra Royalists have been out for blood ever since the news from Waterloo. I sometimes think they won’t rest until they’ve rid the country of every last taint of Bonapartism. I’m not sure even Talleyrand and Fouché can hold them in check.” He grimaced. “Mon Dieu. That I’d ever be calling Fouché the voice of moderation.”
“If nothing else he’s a survivor,” Malcolm said. “As is Talleyrand.” Prince Talleyrand, who had once been Napoleon Bonaparte’s foreign minister, and Fouché, who had been his minister of police, had both managed to survive in the restored Royalist government.
“Even they can’t hold back the tide,” Rivère said. “Look how Ultra Royalists are going after men like la Bédoyère—”
“La Bédoyère was the first officer to go over to Bonaparte when he escaped from Elba. You aren’t on the proscribed list.”
“Yet.” Rivère cast a glance about and leaned forward, shoulders hunched, voice lowered. “Fouché receives more denunciations every day. You’ve heard Royalists in the Chamber of Deputies clamoring for blood. Cleansing, they call it. It’s the Terror all over again.”
Malcolm cast an involuntary protective glance toward Suzanne, who was tugging playfully at the cravat of a Prussian major. He looked harmless enough, but these days Malcolm’s every sense was keyed to danger. There was no denying France in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat was a dangerous place. Frenchmen clashed in the street daily with soldiers from the occupying armies of Prussia, Russia, Austria, Bavaria. And, Malcolm could not deny, England as well. Royalist gangs had ravaged Marseilles and Toulon and other cities. “It’s dangerous,” Malcolm conceded. “But that doesn’t mean you—”
“My cousin’s in the Chamber, and he wants me dead. My father got the title when his father was guillotined in the Terror. He wants it back.”
“There are legal avenues he could pursue.”
“But getting rid of me would be quicker. And it would be vengeance for his father. He’s worked his way into the Comte d’Artois’s set. It’s only a matter of time before I’m arrested.”
The Comte d’Artois, younger brother of the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII, was known for his zeal in exacting retribution on those who had supported Napoleon Bonaparte. It had been easier when Napoleon was exiled the first time. After his escape from Elba and his second defeat at Waterloo, the Ultra Royalists wanted blood.
Malcolm studied Rivère’s usually cool blue eyes. “The irony being that while you served Bonaparte you passed messages to the British.”
“But there’s no way I can prove it, damn it.”
“We could help. But being a British spy isn’t likely to gain you favor with the French, even the Royalists.”
“Precisely. I’m damned either way.”
“You’re not generally one to talk in such melodramatic terms.”
“I don’t generally fear for my life.” Rivère cast another glance round the tavern. Suzanne was now standing on one of the tables, arms stretched in a way that pulled the bodice of her gown taut across her breasts. A whistle cut the air.
Malcolm reclaimed his glass and took another sip of wine. “What do you want, Rivère?”
“Safe passage out of France.”
“I can talk to the embassy—”
“Not through official channels. That will take too long. Get me out of Paris and across the Channel within the week. Once in England I want a pension, a house in the country, and rooms in London.”
“You don’t set your sights low, do you?”
“Do you have any idea how much I’m giving up leaving France?”
For a moment, Malcolm could smell the salt air at Dunmykel, his family home in Scotland, and hear the sound of the waves breaking on the granite cliffs. It wasn’t easy to be an exile. Even if one had chosen the exile oneself, as he had done. “We don’t turn our back on our own, Rivère.”
“No?” Rivère gave a short laugh. “What about Valmay and St. Cyr and—”
“I don’t turn my back,” Malcolm said. Far be it from him to defend the sins of British intelligence. “But I can’t make you guarantees of that nature on my own authority.”
“Take it to Wellington or Castlereagh or whomever you damn well have to. But I want an answer within twenty-four hours.”
“You seem very confident.”
“I am.” Rivère reached for the glass and took a long drink of wine.
A whoosh sounded through the tavern. Suzanne had jumped off the table and landed in the lap of a red-faced gentleman in a blue coat.
Rivère set the glass down but retained hold of the stem. “Tell your masters that if they don’t meet my demands, the information I reveal will shake the British delegation to its core.”
Malcolm leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. It was not the first time he’d heard such a claim. “It’s not as though the British delegation has never weathered scandal. And the behavior of most delegations at the Congress of Vienna rather changed the definition of scandal.”
“This goes beyond personal scandal.”
Malcolm pulled the glass from Rivère’s fingers and tossed down a swallow. “Enlighten me.”
“Oh no, Rannoch. I’m not giving up my bargaining chip. But mention the Laclos affair to Wellington and I think you’ll find the hero of Waterloo is all too ready to accede to my demands.”
Malcolm’s fingers went taut round the glass. “What the devil does Bertrand Laclos have to do with this?”
Rivère’s brows lifted. “That’s right. I forgot you were involved in the Laclos affair. I think I’ve said enough for now. Just take my message to Wellington and Castlereagh. I doubt either of them wants to see England and France at war again.”
Malcolm kept his gaze steady on Rivère, trying to discern how much was bluff, how much was real.
“I may only be a clerk,” Rivère said, “but clerks are privy to a number of secrets. I didn’t just ask you to meet me because you’re Wellington’s best agent. I asked you because what I know about you should guarantee you’ll help me.”
“Oh, for God’s sake—”
“For the sake of your family.”
“A bit extreme, surely,” Malcolm said in a light voice that sounded forced to his own ears. “My family are a long way from Paris.”
Rivère leaned back, holding Malcolm’s gaze with his own. “Given her varied career, it never occurred to you that she might have had a child?”
Oh, God. Rivère knew—
“Your sister,” Rivère said.
For a moment, the blood seemed to freeze in Malcolm’s veins. His acknowledged sister, Gisèle, was seventeen and safely in England with their aunt, where she had made her home since their mother’s death. Even given Aunt
Frances’s penchant for scandal and his own absence, he couldn’t believe Gelly had had a child without his knowledge. So Rivère must mean—
“Yes.” Rivère reached for the glass and tossed down the last of the wine. “Tatiana Kirsanova.”
The blood roared in Malcolm’s head.
So that it took a split second for him to register the gunshot that had ripped through the tavern.
Malcolm sprang to his feet and reached into the pocket of his greatcoat for his own pistol. A Prussian sergeant stood across the room, his arm still extended holding a smoking pistol. No one appeared to be hurt, but the shot was the signal for chaos. A Russian corporal sprang at the Prussian, knocking him to the ground. The gun went flying. Another Prussian made a dive for it. A man in civilian dress jumped on top of him, knocked his head into the floorboards, and grabbed the pistol.
Suzanne, perched on top of a chair, was sensibly standing still. She had her own pistol tucked into her corset, but Malcolm knew she wouldn’t use it except as a last resort. As he moved forward, a table crashed to the floor and a wine bottle smashed into the wall. A girl screamed and ducked under a chair. Another sprang onto a table. A third hurled a tankard at one of the men.
Malcolm dodged past an English soldier and a Bavarian who had begun pummeling each other, took a glancing blow to the shoulder, jumped over the wreckage of a chair, ducked as a tankard sailed overhead.
Metal clanged against metal. The Prussian and the Russian had pulled out their sabres and were dueling in the middle of the room. Two men with their hands locked round each other’s throats lurched toward Suzanne. Suzanne snatched up a wine bottle and hit the nearest man on top of the head, sending them both crashing to the ground.
Malcolm skidded over the wine-soaked floorboards to his wife’s side.
“I was doing very well,” she said as he lifted her from the chair.
“Just trying to keep it that way.”
A hand closed on Malcolm’s arm and spun him round. “Bloody Frogs,” a British dragoon said in a slurred voice. “Taking all the girls.” He landed Malcolm a blow to the jaw.
This was no time to try to explain about nationalities. Malcolm dealt his offensive countryman an answering blow that sent the dragoon reeling to the floor.
Suzanne screamed. Malcolm whirled round to see his wife clutching her arm. Blood spurted between her fingers. “Sabre cut,” she said as he caught her in his arms. Her voice was level, but she swayed against him. “He didn’t mean to get me.”
A Bavarian and an Austrian had also drawn their swords. Malcolm pulled Suzanne beneath the shelter of the nearest upright table, tugged off the handkerchief round his neck, and bound it round her arm. “Can you walk?”
“Don’t be silly.”
He crawled to the side of the table where the tangle of feet seemed least dense and pulled her up.
A pistol shot ricocheted off one of the hanging lamps and buried itself in the wall. Malcolm wrapped his arm round Suzanne and edged toward the back wall. Not unlike making one’s way through the press at a diplomatic reception. Save that at a diplomatic reception one didn’t encounter stray blows, broken glass, and random pistol shots. A stream of ale hit the back of his neck. Several blows glanced off his shoulders. Broken glass sliced through his coat. But he and Suzanne reached the back wall and were able to inch along the edge of the room.
A Prussian captain leaped atop one of the still upright tables, jumped to catch hold of the hanging wrought-iron chandelier, and swung forward to spring onto two of the sword fighters. The three of them thudded to the floor in a tangle of boots and swords.
Malcolm pulled Suzanne to the table where he’d left Rivère. No sign of Rivère. Not surprising he’d fled. No, there he was. He’d taken refuge under the table. Malcolm could see his boots. “Rivère,” he yelled.
No response. The roar from the mêlée was deafening. Malcolm pushed Suzanne into a chair and knelt beside Rivère. “Rivère. Let’s get out of here.” He reached out to tug on Rivère’s shoulder and felt no response. He ducked beneath the table to see Rivère’s staring eyes. A knife protruded from his chest.
Suzanne felt more than saw the tension that shot through her husband. He got to his feet with an appearance of casual ease, picked up his greatcoat and threw it round her shoulders, wrapped his arm round her, and pulled her to the door. Behind them glass shattered and sabres clanged.
A gust of wind and the stench of the river greeted them. Yellow lamplight pierced the gloom. Malcolm paused for a moment, and she knew his senses were keyed to pursuit. Then he drew her down the street, past two Prussian solders arguing over which tavern to visit next, past three Frenchmen defiantly singing the Marseillaise, round the corner, past an alley where a couple were making love urgently against a wall, through the crowds round the doors of two more taverns, and down a side street, where he pushed her into the doorway of a shuttered shop.
“Is Rivère dead?” Suzanne asked.
Malcolm nodded. “Stabbed. By a professional by the look of it.”
“So the fight was started as a diversion.”
“Probably. If— But no sense in refining on that now.”
Suzanne studied her husband’s face in the moonlight and the glow of the lamp across the street. His eyes were dark, his features set in harsh lines. “Am I going to get the lecture?”
“Lecture?” He pushed back the folds of the greatcoat and undid the spotted handkerchief he’d tied round the wound in her arm.
“Where you turn into a combination of Brutus and Hotspur and say you’re a bad husband for letting your wife go into danger.”
“Brutus and Hotspur didn’t let their wives go into danger. Though Portia ended up dead anyway.” He reached into a pocket of the greatcoat, pulled out a flask, and splashed brandy onto her arm.
She suppressed a wince. The cut wasn’t deep, but the brandy stung against her skin. “As I was saying. Portia might have done better if she hadn’t been left behind.”
A faint smile flashed through his eyes. “Never let it be said I’ve learned nothing in the past year. I have my protective instincts well under control.” He tugged a clean handkerchief from another pocket and bound it round her arm. “Will you be all right until we’ve talked to Wellington and Castlereagh?”
“Is that a rhetorical question?”
“It might as well have been.” He knotted the makeshift bandage. “Just remember pushing the stoicism until you collapse isn’t brave, it’s foolhardy.”
“I know my limits.”
He gave her a quick, hard kiss. “My darling, I don’t think you’ve ever reached them.”
She looked up at him. There were ghosts in his eyes that went beyond the fight and Rivère’s death. “Malcolm? What did Rivère say to you?”
“He made some vague threats to shake the British delegation to its core if we didn’t help him.” Malcolm paused for a fraction of a second. She heard the catch in his breath. “And—”
His fingers trembled where they still gripped her shoulders. “He said that Tatiana had had a child.”
Suzanne went very still, her gaze fastened on her husband’s face. “Oh, darling.”
“He could have been lying of course,” Malcolm said in a quick, level voice. “But—”
“We have to learn the truth. And find the child if there is one. Naturally.”
He released his breath and looked down at her for a moment. “You’re remarkable, Suzette.”
“Yes, well, I’d like to think I’d have said it in any case, but it’s much easier to deal with Princess Tatiana and your obligations to her now I know she was your sister rather than your mistress.”
“I’ve put you through an intolerable amount, sweetheart.”
She forced a smile to her face, swallowing the instinctive bite of guilt. For in the scales of guilt in their marriage her own unacknowledged sins weighed far more heavily than he could imagine. “Don’t be silly, darling. But I’m glad I know the truth.”
He drew the folds of the greatcoat about her with gentle fingers. “Say nothing of this to Wellington and Castlereagh. I don’t want Tania’s child becoming a pawn. Even of my own government. Perhaps especially of them.” He paused for a moment, his fingers still on the folds of the coat. “If Tania had a child, the father could be—”
“Tsar Alexander or Prince Metternich.”
“Quite. Or Napoleon Bonaparte.”
Suzanne shivered, considering the implications of Tatiana Kirsanova’s illustrious lovers.
“Or someone else far less well known,” Malcolm added. “We have no way of knowing how old the child is. If there even is a child.”
Suzanne studied her husband’s face, haunted by unanswered questions. “But you think there is.”
He drew an uneven breath. “Yes.”
Lord Castlereagh, Britain’s foreign secretary, advanced into the salon in the British embassy, immaculate in cream-colored knee breeches and a dark coat, his fair hair gleaming in the candlelight. He moved with his customary control but stopped short as he looked from Malcolm to Suzanne, Malcolm in his unbuttoned coat, striped crimson waistcoat, and no neckcloth, Suzanne in her spangled gown and red wig. “Good lord,” he said on a rare note of surprise.
“Your pardon, sir. Your Grace. Sir.” Malcolm nodded at the Duke of Wellington and Sir Charles Stuart, who had followed Castlereagh into the salon. “But I didn’t think this should wait for us to leave off our disguise.”
“Disguise?” Wellington said. He, too, wore evening dress, the civilian dress he often favored, though there was no denying his military bearing. “Oh, that’s right, you were going to meet Rivère, weren’t you?” His sharp gaze moved to Suzanne. “My dear girl, are you—”
“Spoken like a soldier who’s just been hit by grapeshot.” Wellington studied her for a moment, with that gaze she had learned frequently saw more than one wanted, then glanced at Malcolm. “What the devil happened?”
Malcolm pressed her into a giltwood chair. His hand taut on her shoulder, he recounted the night’s events in quick, clipped tones. Save that he made no mention of Rivère’s claims about Princess Tatiana’s child.
Wellington surveyed Malcolm from beneath drawn brows. “You going off to meet agents and the agents ending dead is becoming something of a pattern, Malcolm.”
“Unfortunately, I’m afraid tonight’s events hold more than a glancing similarity to Julia Ashton’s death in Brussels.”
“I knew things had been too quiet.” Stuart leaned against the wall, ankles crossed, arms folded across his cream brocade waistcoat. He was a decade younger than Wellington and Castlereagh and less inclined to formality in dress or speech.
Wellington took a quick turn about the white and gold room as though it were a field he was surveying, hands clasped behind his back. “You think Rivère was deliberately targeted?”
“That knife was wielded by someone who knew what they were doing,” Malcolm said. “And Rivère was away from the main fight. It’s hard not to draw conclusions. Especially given what he told me just before he was killed.”
“Which is?” Wellington studied Malcolm across the crystal and gilt of the salon.
“He said if we didn’t help him he’d reveal information that could shake the British delegation to its core. Then he told me to mention the Laclos affair to you and Lord Castlereagh.”
Wellington’s gaze shot to Castlereagh and then to Stuart.
Suzanne watched her husband glance between the men. Malcolm had served all of them for years, in the Peninsula during the war, in Vienna at the Congress, in Brussels at the time of Waterloo. He respected them, Suzanne knew. That didn’t mean he trusted everything they said. “What don’t I know about the Laclos affair?” Malcolm asked.
“Whatever it is, we don’t know it, either,” Castlereagh said in a clipped voice.
“For God’s sake, sir, I have a right to the truth. I was part of it.”
“Have I mentioned your lamentable tendency to assume there are secrets lurking everywhere, Malcolm?” Wellington inquired.
Malcolm met the military commander’s gaze. “Perhaps because all too often those secrets are there, sir.”
Suzanne looked from her husband to the duke to Castlereagh to Stuart. She could practically see the lines of tension in the air. “Once again I feel as though I’ve stumbled into a play in the middle. What’s the Laclos affair?”
Wellington and Castlereagh exchanged glances. Stuart drew a breath.
“If you want us to investigate,” Malcolm said, “we’re going to need to know.”
“He’s right, you know,” Stuart said.
Castlereagh shot a glance at him. “It’s not your decision.”
Stuart returned his gaze. It was no secret that he wanted to be British ambassador to Paris when Castlereagh and Wellington returned to England, but he was not afraid to confront the foreign secretary. “Perhaps not. But
Malcolm isn’t an easy man to keep things from.”
“No.” Wellington turned his gaze to Malcolm. “He isn’t.”
“Arthur,” Castlereagh said.
“It’s nothing Malcolm doesn’t know,” Wellington said. “Nothing he can’t tell Suzanne. And Malcolm is irritatingly right as usual. We need their help.”
Castlereagh’s mouth tightened, but he turned to Malcolm and Suzanne. “The Comte de Laclos and his family emigrated to England during the Terror. In ’07, their son, Betrand Laclos, returned to France to fight in the French army under Bonaparte. Quite a coup for the French to have one of their own back. As you can imagine, they made [CE2] much of it for propaganda purposes.”
“Save that Laclos had in fact offered his services to British intelligence.” Wellington paced to the white marble fireplace and stood staring down into the cold grate. “He returned to France as our agent.”
“For two years he provided us with excellent information,” Castlereagh said. “Our best asset. It was a very advantageous situation.”
“Too good to be true,” Stuart murmured.
“He was a double?” Suzanne asked.
Wellington gave her a bleak smile. “As usual, my dear Suzanne, you’re two steps ahead of us. Yes. In 1811 we discovered that Laclos was giving us just enough accurate information to ensure our trust while passing along false information to us. And giving information on our activities to the French.”
“What happened?” Suzanne asked. The air in the room had turned as heavy as if it held the promise of a thunderstorm.
Wellington’s gaze met Castlereagh’s again. “He knew too much,” Castleereagh said. “Names of British agents. Codes. He was too dangerous a liability.”
“So you got rid of him.”
“He died in a tavern brawl,” Castlereagh said in an even voice.
Suzanne glanced at her husband. She’d heard the guilt in his voice when he first mentioned Laclos. “Darling? You said you had something to do with it?”
“I was the one who discovered Laclos was a double.” Malcolm’s voice was controlled, but his hand tightened on her shoulder. “I intercepted communications he’d sent to a courier. I took the information to—”
Malcolm bit back his words. Castlereagh met his gaze. “My brother.”
“Lord Stewart was my adjutant general at the time,” Wellington said.
Suzanne began to see the dangers. Lord Stewart, Castlereagh’s half brother, was a hotheaded man given to impulsive behavior and bursts of temper. Suzanne could well imagine him leaping to the conclusion that Laclos must be got rid of.
“The evidence seemed conclusive,” Malcolm said. He looked from Castlereagh to Wellington to Stuart. “Sir,” he said, in a voice taut with strain, the word addressed to all three of them. “Could we have been wrong?”
“Nonsense,” Castlereagh said. “There’s nothing to suggest—”
“Rivère said what he knew about the Laclos affair could shake the British delegation to its core.”
“And he implied it could bring about renewed hostilities between us and France.”
“A preposterous suggestion—”
“Laclos’s father is a crony of the Comte d’Artois,” Malcolm persisted. “If he learned the foreign secretary’s brother gave the order for the death of his son, who was in fact working for us—”
“It’s a theory, Malcolm.” Wellington advanced into the center of the room, as though laying claim to the Aubusson carpet. “But Rivère was a desperate man. Desperate men will say anything.”
“But this desperate man was murdered just after he said it.”
Wellington’s gaze flickered to Castlereagh again.
“The intelligence was good,” Castlereagh said. “We had no reason to doubt it.”
“But—,” Malcolm said.
“But that doesn’t mean we haven’t wondered,” Stuart said.
Wellington grimaced. He was not a man to shirk harsh truths. “We didn’t misread the intelligence. It would have to have been faked. Which would mean Laclos was set up.”
Silence hung over the room for a moment, as the implications reverberated off the gilded moldings and damask wall hangings.
“If the French had learned Laclos was our agent—,” Malcolm said.
“Why not simply kill him themselves?” Castlereagh said. “Or feed us false information through him.”
Stuart moved away from the wall. “If it wasn’t the French it would have to have been one of our people.”
Castlereagh drew a sharp breath.
“Only stating the obvious,” Stuart said.
Wellington gave a curt nod. “One way or another we have to know. What happened to Laclos. What Rivère knew. And who killed him.” He looked from Malcolm to Suzanne. “It looks as though you needn’t fear being bored in Paris.”
“Malcolm,” Suzanne said to her husband when at last they were in the privacy of the bedchamber in their lodgings in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. “Even if you were wrong about Laclos, it’s not your fault. All you did was pass along information.”
“If the information was wrong, I should have seen it.” Malcolm cut off a length of linen with a sharp snip of the scissors.
Suzanne looked up at him from her perch on the dressing table bench. She knew that set mouth and those hooded eyes. She knew the weight of guilt it meant he was trying to hold at bay. “I hate to break it to you, darling, but you aren’t superhuman.”
“I should be able to recognize faulty intelligence.” Malcolm placed a pad of lint over the wound in her arm, then secured the dressing with a strip of linen. “A man’s dead, Suzette.”
“Which is tragic. But not your fault.”
He knotted off the ends of the bandage. “You’re stubborn, sweetheart.”
“I’m practical.” She pulled her dressing gown up about her shoulders. “Tell me what else you know about Bertrand Laclos.”
Malcolm snapped closed the lid on her medical supply box, which seemed to get as much use in peacetime as it had during the Peninsular War and the Waterloo campaign. “He was a couple of years older than me. He went to Eton, so as a Harrovian I didn’t see a great deal of him until we both got to Oxford. He tended to keep himself to himself. He was serious, but he had a quick wit. He was a decent man. I liked him.” He put the medical supply box on the chest of drawers.
Suzanne drew her legs up on the dressing table bench and hooked her arms round her knees. “And after he went to work for the French? And supposedly really for the British?”
“I didn’t have any contact with him in the Peninsula. He must have reported to someone in military intelligence. I’ll see what Davenport knows.” Malcolm leaned against the bedpost. “Bertrand Laclos made a rather interesting friend in the French cavalry before he was sent to the Peninsula. Edmond Talleyrand.”
Suzanne frowned. “You said he had a quick wit. Edmond Talleyrand can’t talk about anything but horses and gambling. And women.”
“Yes, well, Laclos was playing a part.”
Suzanne rested her chin on her updrawn knees. “Did Edmond’s uncle have anything to do with the two of them becoming friends?”
Edmond’s uncle, Prince Talleyrand, who had 0survived Napoleon’s downfall to now head the government under the restored Louis XVIII, was a master manipulator. He was also an old friend of Malcolm’s family. “You mean did Talleyrand put Edmond up to it because he guessed Bertrand Laclos was a British agent? Or because he knew Laclos was in fact working for the French?” Malcolm shook his head. “I wouldn’t put it past him. But I’ve no proof.”
“I’ll talk to Doro. Though she’s not exactly on terms of intimacy with Edmond even if she is his wife.” Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord had had served as hostess for her husband’s uncle, Prince Talleyrand, at the Congress of Vienna. When she returned to Paris, she had taken up residence with Talleyrand, rather than with Edmond himself.
Malcolm nodded. “I’ll talk to Talleyrand, though as usual I have precious little hope of getting much out of him. But I also need to ask him about—”
Malcolm’s mouth tightened. “Yes.”
Malcolm rarely mentioned Tatiana, but Suzanne knew he carried the guilt of his sister’s death like a talisman. Sometimes she would catch him staring off into the distance and know he was replaying some moment of his time with Tatiana, especially those last weeks, wondering what might have been different. “In Vienna Tatiana supposedly said becoming pregnant was one mistake she’d never made.”
“So she did. But then Tania wasn’t above lying. Especially about something like that. Quite the reverse in fact.”
“And even a clever woman can make a mistake,” Suzanne said. Her chest tightened as she framed the word, but Malcolm, so quick to see so much, didn’t seem to notice anything amiss.
“As I’ve said before, I’d like to think she’d have told me if she’d had a child,” Malcolm said. “But I can imagine any number of reasons she’d have kept it secret.”
“Including to protect you. If the father was someone powerful enough.”
Malcolm shot her a surprised look.
“I understand Tatiana rather better now than I did at the start of things in Vienna,” Suzanne said. “She had her own sort of honor. And she cared about you. A great deal more, perhaps, than even you realized.”
Malcolm swallowed. “Sometimes I argue with myself until it seems blindingly obvious that there was a right course of action I could have taken. That would ensure she [CE3] here now. Much good it does. Except to ensure sleepless nights and endless questions.”
Suzanne stared at him, startled not by what he had admitted but by the fact that he had admitted it at all. A year, even six months ago, he would not have spoken so to her, nor would have he let her see his face as raw and cut with torment as it was now. She, too, knew what it was to carry guilt, too keenly to try to argue his away. She got to her feet, went to his side, and took his face between her hands. “All we can do is do the best we can within the moment, dearest. You do that better than anyone I know.”
He gave a bleak smile. “‘Render me worthy of this noble wife.’”
She returned the smile, her own deliberately playful. “You promised not to turn into Brutus.”
“Brutus appreciated his wife’s strength. I can at least do that. While not making the mistake of not confiding in her.”
She slid her hands behind his neck and kissed him, the tang of guilt on her lips. Because when it came to confiding in one’s spouse, she had her own sins on her conscience.