Teaser


Concert with friends

Concert with friends

Happy Friday! In the midst of a busy Merola Opera Program Summer Festival and work on my WIP, Mélanie and I are managing to squeeze in some summer fun, like a picnic and outdoor concert last night with friends and their kids.

I have some exciting news – all the Malcolm & Suzanne books and novellas are now available as ebooks in the UK. You can kind them on Kindle here and they should be available on all platforms by next week. They have gorgeous new covers – here is His Spanish Bride. I’ll have all of them posted on the site soon.

His Spanish Bride3

Though I edit my manuscripts a lot, I don’t often cut whole scenes. But writing in the wonderful program Scrivener, I find it easy to write scenes without always knowing precisely where they will fit in the finished book. Usually they fall nicely into place but I wrote a quarrel between Malcolm and Suzanne for The Mayfair Affair that, though it seemed to fit with where their relationship was, never found a place in the finished book. I thought I would share it here.

Have a great weekend!

Tracy

“Malcolm, I think we should talk about this.”
“No.” His voice had the force of a sword cut. “I think that would prove fatal. Once words are spoken they can’t be taken back.”
“You’re afraid of what you’ll say to me?”
He turned to the drinks trolley, but tension was in the set of shoulders. “I don’t like myself very much just now, Suzette. There’s not much point in inflicting that on you.”
“I hate that I’ve done this to you.”
“Not everything is due to you, Suzette..”
She moved toward him and put her arms round him. “There are other things we could do than talk.”
He spun round and caught her wrists. “No.”
He was so close she could feel the warmth of his breath. “You don’t want—“
“To be manipulated.”
“You’ve been manipulating me since we met, Suzette. Perhaps in bed more than anywhere.”
“You can’t think I was pretending—“
“No.” He hesitated a moment. “Perhaps I’m a fool not to consider it, but no. But how many times have you got me into bed to end a difficult conversation? Or because you wanted me asleep so you could slip out of the house or ransack my dispatch box?”
The memories couldn’t but rush into her mind.
Malcolmreleased her wrists. “Precisely.”
“Darling—“
“I know what we have, sweetheart. But even when we couldn’t talk of love, it was the one place I thought we had honesty.”

CityHallPride

Today was quite a day, from waking up to marriage equality news to walking past the rainbow lights on San Francisco’s City Hall and the War Memorial Opera House tonight and drinking in the full meaning of today’s events. There’s still so much in the world that needs changing, but it’s a very different landscape than in 1818. Particularly when it comes to marriage. I couldn’t but think of a scene I wrote recently in my WIP between David and Charles/Malcolm but focused on David and Simon and the challenges they face. David and Simon have such a stable relationship, that I sometimes don’t focus enough on the fact that not only can they not marry, their very relationship isn’t legal.

OperaHousePride

Minor spoilers in this for the very beginning of the next book. David and Simon are raising Louisa’s children. This is an early draft, so please forgive typos and editing errors!

Simon got to his feet. “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, Charles 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 Charles. It was almost as those the changed circumstances made it more important to establish the reality of their relationship. Whatever the reason, that at least, Charles thought, was progress.
“This can’t be easy on either of you,” Charles said when Simon had left the room.
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,” Charles said, remembering his own mother’s absences.
David tapped his fingers on the sofa arm. “Bel couldn’t have taken the children without neglecting her own. Mary’s got enough to deal with with her own husband’s death. Georgiana’s out of the country. Mother and Father— They found their own children challenging enough. And I told you what I think of Eustace and Lydia.”
“You don’t have to convince me,” Charles 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.” Charles 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,” Charles 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 Charles’s glass. “But still others are only too ready to gossip. And many to condemn.”
Charles looked at his friend, his chief confidante 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.” Charles 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 couch. 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.”
Charles 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.

photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

Happy weekend! After spending last weekend hosting our annual New Year party (now also a celebration of Mélanie’s birthday) I’m in the midst of copy edits of The Mayfair Affair but emerging briefly to post a teaser from my novella-in-progress about Suzanne and Malcolm’s first visit to London. It’s from the first draft without much revising so far!

Suzanne Rannoch’s first glimpse of London lived up to its reputation. Gray. Gray stone walls, gray cobblestones, seen through a curtain and gray mist and drizzle. England. The country of her husband Malcolm. The country she had spent the last five years fighting against.
“Does it ever stop raining here?” On the opposite seat, Blanca, Suzanne’s maid, also had her face pressed to the window.
“Oh, we’re sure to get at least a day or so of sun.” Addison, Malcolm’s valet, gave one of his dry smiles. “It’s summer.”
Colin, Suzanne’s one-year-old son, bounced on her lap, also intent on the window. “Russ, russ.”
“Yes, that’s a horse,” Suzanne said, though interpreting Colin’s pronouncements was still largely guesswork.
“There’s the Tower.” Malcolm spoke up, though he’d been more and more silent the closer they got to the city. “They have lions, Colin.”
“La.” Colin turned to his father with a grin.
“That was almost a word,” Suzanne said.
“Almost.” Malcolm caught his son as Colin launched himself across the carriage seat.
It seemed crowded, like all cities. But lacking the formality of Paris or the rambling quality of Lisbon where Suzanne had lived since her marriage to Malcolm a year and a half ago.
The streets widened slightly. “We’re in Mayfair,” Malcolm said. And then their hired carriage slowed to a stop. Malcolm handed Colin back to Suzanne and moved to open the door. “Aunt Frances’s.”
Holding her son, Suzanne stepped from the carriage to be confronted by a smooth facade of pale gray stone, shiny black area railings, and three polished steps leading to a doric portico topped by a fanlight. “Which floor is she on?” Blanca asked as Malcolm handed her down behind Suzanne.
“She has the whole house,” Malcolm said. “It’s actually crowded when all her children are in residence.”
Suzanne’s gaze moved up the building. Four stories. She forgot, dangerously often, just who he was, this man she had married. Oh, she’d always known he was a duke’s grandson, that his father was in parliament, that his best friend was the son an earl. But in Lisbon they had shared cramped lodgings. With her scent bottles crowding his shaving things off the dressing table, it was easy to forget the world he had come from. Dear God. The entire traveling theatre troop she had grown up with would have rattled about on one floor.
Two footmen hurried down the front steps, blue and gold livery, powdered wigs, gleaming buckles that looked to be real silver. As Malcolm took her arm to help her up the steps, a dark-haired young woman carrying a blonde child of about four. “You’re here, I’m so glad. We’ve been waiting for hours.”
“I’m honored you tore yourself away from your equations, Allie.” Malcolm leaned forward to kiss his cousin’s cheek.
“Stuff. You’re my cousin.”
“My cousin, Aline Dacre-Hammond,” Malcolm said to Suzanne. “And Chloe,” he added, ruffling the little girl’s hair.
Chloe was staring at Colin. “It’s nice not to be the baby.”
Aline Dacre-Hammond  had brown hair, wide brown eyes, and a smudge of ink on her nose. She was, Malcolm had told Suzanne, a quite brilliant mathematician.
“Do bring them in out of the rain, Aline,” a voice said from the doorway.
“My dear. We’re so glad to have meet you at last. You’re just as lovely as Malcolm wrote.”
Suzanne seriously doubted Charles had written anything of the sort.
Lady Frances Dacre-Hammond was far from the grand dame Suzanne had been expecting. She must be past forty, but the lines in her face were barely perceptible. Her gown of lilac sarcenet was cut in what Suzanne recognized as the latest Paris fashion, her buttery blonde hair was dressed with a careless abandon that was carefully created, her smile was careless but warm.
“You’re very kind, ma’am,” Suzanne said.
“I fear I’m not in the least kind, but I am excessively grateful to you for making my nephew happy. And to you, young chap.” Lady Frances touched her fingers to Colin’s hair. “Now do meet the rest of the family.”
She turned to the two girls who stood behind her. One, petite, with golden brown ringlets and a pretty face redeemed from the common place by a determined chin, folded her arms across her chest. “Welcome home, Malcolm. If you still consider this home anymore.”
“It’s good to see you too, Gelly,” Malcolm said.
So the girl was Gisèle, Malcolm’s fifteen-year-old sister, who had made her home with Lady Frances since their mother’s death.
“My sister Gisèle,” Malcolm said, turning to Suzanne. “And my cousin Judith, Aunt Frances’s second daughter,” he added, indicating the other girl, taller, with paler blonde hair, who was his cousin Judith.
“It’s lovely to meet you,”  Judith said, in the careful voice of a fourteen-year-old practicing her grown up manners. “I hope you realize we aren’t as odd as we seem.”
“Don’t you believe it for a moment,” Aline murmured under her breath.
“We’ve put you in the yellow bedroom,” Lady Frances said. “I trust you don’t mind sharing, we’re rather overflowing the house. And we’ve put a cradle in for young Colin. I thought you might prefer that to putting him in the nursery with Chloe. I hope you won’t be too crowded.”
“We’re used to sharing,”Suzanne said. “We don’t have a lot of space in our lodgings in Lisbon.” She and Malcolm had always shared a bedchamber, though she knew it was unusual for couples in the beau monde. It had been odd at first, for she was used to being solitary, but now the thought of being on her own brought on a wave of panic, particularly in this alien world.

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Mélanie and I had a very fun weekend with a trip to Children’s Fairyland with friends (pic above) and a reunion of alums and teachers from my high school, Marin Academy.  It was great to see what everyone is up to and to introduce Mel to old friends. Yesterday we had a mid-week treat with a wonderful writer lunch yesterday at Catherine Coulter’s fabulous house. (For pics from all these events see my Facebook page). Now I’m back at work on revisions to my  WIP, and I thought this would be a good time to post a teaser. Here’s a scene I’ve just been going over that shows Malcolm and Suzanne/Charles and Mélanie navigation the uncertain waters of their first investigation since Malcolm learned the truth. Any spoilers are for very early in the book.

 

Malcolm tucked Suzanne’s hand  more securely through his arm as they turned in the opposite direction. “What haven’t you told me?” she asked.
“Am I that transparent?”
“No, it took me years to learn to read you.”
Malcolm saw the realization of what she had just said flash in his wife’s eyes in almost the same instant it dawned on him. So much between them was unchanged and so much would never be the same. She swallowed but didn’t look away. Suzanne was tougher than that. “If you prefer not to tell me, I quite understand.”
“Good of you. Though of course that never stopped you from uncovering things in the past.”
“Darling—“
“Sorry.” He squeezed her arm with his free hand. “No sense in dwelling. In truth I could use your opinion. David revealed rather a lot about Trenchard.” He recounted David’s story about his belief that Trenchard had struck Mary.
Suzanne’s eyes darkened. “Men who strike their wives rarely do so only once.”
He pulled her arm closer against his side, aware of the warm of her skin through the layers of coat and pelisse. “Quite. David knew he was giving a motive for himself and for his father. I don’t think he realized the same about Mary. Perhaps because it’s beyond his comprehension that she could have committed murder.”
“It is beyond his comprehension about his father?”
“No, David made a token protest, but I’d say he’s all too aware of what his father’s capable of. As am I. And as a father myself, I can well understand Carfax feeling the impulse to murder. It’s damnably difficult for a woman to get out of a bad marriage. Money and family help, but even with a legal separation, she’d be likely to lose custody of her children. I find the thought intolerable in general. I can only imagine how I’d feel if it were Jessica and our grandchildren in the equation.”
“Your conscience would stop you. Carfax isn’t given to moral quibbles.”
“No. The chief factor in Carfax’s defense is that he asked me to investigate. It was actually  David who pointed out Carfax might have known I’d investigate anyway, and he wanted me in the open as well as to keep a check on Roth. And that he then brought David in to keep a check on me. David knows his father well.”
He could feel Suzanne considering this as they covered the damp cobblestones between the yellow glow of two street lamps. “It’s possible.”
“I was holding my breath lest Carfax say that Trenchard was a French spy.” He looked sideways at her familiar profile. “He wasn’t, was he?”
“Not that I know of.” She looked up at him, her eyes as hard and fragile as crystal. “I would tell you, Charles. Do you believe me?”
He gave the question honest consideration. “I think so.”
“Impressive.” Suzanne was silent as they turned into xyz Street. “Darling— We haven’t talked about this part of it, but these are your friends.”
“It’s hardly the first time we’ve been involved in an investigation involving friends.”
‘But these are the people you grew up with. In a way they’re family.”
Family. Always a tangled word for him. “Difficult to think of Carfax that way. What concerns me, is that I don’t want him anywhere near you.”
Suzanne’s fingers tightened round his arm. “I don’t think that’s an option, dearest. Unless we go to a remote desert island.”
“Don’t imagine I haven’t  thought of it.”
“I’ve told you before it isn’t wise to try to protect me, Malcolm. The recent revelations don’t change that.”
Malcolm looked down into her bright eyes. There had always been a hardness beneath the glow. He was just more aware of it now. “I’m not just protecting my wife. I’m protecting the mother of my children.”
“Darling—“
“You’ve always run risks with your safety, Suzette. I understand now just how far you’ve gone. But it’s different now. Colin and Jessica make it different. There’s no room for extravagant gestures. Whether they come from indulging a craving for adventure or trying to expiate guilt.”
Her chin jerked up. “I’ll own to a taste for adventure, but I’m not in the least given over to guilt. In fact one could say I’ve been all too able to commit all sorts of betrayals without showing any proper guilt at all.”
“My dear girl. Don’t show off. I may have been criminally blind to a number of things where you were concerned, but in other ways I can read you rather well. I know you. I know what you’ve been doing to yourself. And it’s folly—it won’t improve matters for any of the four of us.”
She glanced away. “Damn you, Malcolm—“
“Because I think we agreed. Before anything else, we’re parents.”
“I never forget that.” Her voice was low and rough.
“I know. But sometimes you’re so busy looking after everyone else, your forget to look after yourself.”
“All right. I won’t give in to any extravagant guilt-driven impulse—not that I admitting to having them in the first place—if you won’t give in to any extravagant protective impulses.”
“Fair enough. If—”
From the sudden tension that ran through her, he felt her sense what he had in the same instant. Nothing as defined as footfalls or movement in the shadows or a rustle of clothing, but someone was following them.
“Diversion,” she murmured.
The uncomfortable moment was gone. They were a team again. Of one accord, they moved into the doorway of a shuttered shop.

5.21.13TracyMelHappy end of summer and holiday weekend to those in the states! I’m emerging from a whirl of turning in The Berkeley Square Affair, writing The Paris Plot (the novella about Jessica’s birth), revising The Berkeley Square Affair, and doing copy edits on The Paris Plot, not to mention the general fun and chaos of raising a toddler and some summer fun (there are Mélanie and I above in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) to try to get back to more regular blogging.

Here is the cover art for The Berkeley Square Affair, which I really love, and a brief teaser in the form of the Prologue. Several of you have asked about the Fraser Correspondence, and I will try to post a new letter soon and also get back on a regular posting schedule.

Meanwhile, let me know what you think of the cover and the teaser and feel free to ask any questions about the book or the series.

Cheers,

Tracy

the berkeley square affair

Prologue

London

December 1817

The lamplight shone against the cobblestones, washing over the grime, adding a glow of warmth. Creating an illusion of beauty on a street that in the merciless light of day would show the scars and stains of countless carriage wheels, horse hooves, shoes, pattens, and boots. Much as stage lights could transform bare boards and canvas flats into a garden in Illyria or a castle in Denmark.

Simon Tanner turned up the collar of his greatcoat as a gust of wind, sharp with the bite of December, cut down the street, followed by a hail of raindrops. His hand went to his chest. Beneath his greatcoat, beneath the coat he wore under it, he could feel the solidity of the package he carried, carefully wrapped in oilskin. Were it not for that tangible reminder, it would be difficult to believe it was real.

He’d hardly had a settled life. He’d grown up in Paris during the fervor of the French Revolution and the madness of the Reign of Terror. Here in England, his plays had more than once been closed by the Government Censor. He’d flirted with arrest for Radical activities. He and his lover risked arrest or worse by the very nature of their relationship. But Simon had never thought to touch something of this calibre.

He held little sacred. But the package he carried brought out something in him as close to reverence as was possible for one who prided himself on his acerbic approach to life.

The scattered raindrops had turned into a steady downpour, slapping the cobblestones in front of him, dripping off the brim of his beaver hat and the wool of his greatcoat. He quickened his footsteps. For a number of reasons, he would feel better when he had reached Malcolm and Suzanne’s house in Berkeley Square. When he[TG3]  wasn’t alone with this discovery and the attendant questions it raised.

He started at a sound, then smiled ruefully as the creak was followed by the slosh of a chamber pot being dumped on the cobblestones–mercifully a dozen feet behind him. He was acting like a character in one of his plays. He might be on his way to see Malcolm Rannoch, retired (or not so retired) Intelligence Agent, but this was hardly an affair of espionage. In fact, the package Simon valued so highly would probably not be considered so important by others.

He turned down Little Ormond Street. He was on the outskirts of Mayfair now. Even in the rain-washed lamplight the cobblestones were cleaner, the pavements wider and neatly swept free of leaves and debris. The clean, bright glow of wax tapers glinted behind the curtains instead of the murky yellow light of tallow candles. Someone in the next street over called good night to a departing dinner guest. Carriage wheels rattled. Simon turned down the mews to cut over to South Audley Street and then Berkeley Square. Another creak made him pause, then smile at his own fancifulness. David would laugh at him when he returned home and shared his illusions of adventure.

He walked through the shadows of the mews, past whickering horses and the smells of dung and saddle soap and oiled leather. The rain-soaked cobblestones were slick beneath his shoes. A dog barked. A carriage clattered down South Audley Street at the end of the mews. It was probably just the need to share his discovery that made him so eager to reach Malcolm and Suzanne. If–

The shadows broke in front of him. Three men blocked the way, wavering blurs through the curtain of rain.

“Hand it over,” a rough voice said. “Quiet like, and this can be easy.”

Lessons from stage combat and boyhood fencing danced through Simon’s head. He pulled his purse from his greatcoat pocket and threw it on the cobblestones. He doubted that would end things, but it was worth a try.

One man started forwards. The man who had spoken gave a sharp shake of his head. “That isn’t what we want and you know it.”

Acting could be a great source of defense. Simon fell back on the role of the amiable fool. “Dear me,” he said, “I can’t imagine what else I have that you could want.”

The man groaned. “Going to make this hard, are you?”

Simon rushed them. He had no particular illusions that it would work. But he thought he had a shot.

Until he felt the knife cut through his greatcoat.


Happy March! Hard to believe the publication of The Paris Affair is just over two weeks away. We’ve updated the sidebar with some interviews and events I’ll be doing to promote the book. On March 15 I’ll be doing an interview (and ARC giveaway) on Deanna Raybourn’s blog. On March 25 (they day before the book’s publication) I’ll be on Susan Spann’s blog. On March 30 at 4:00 pm I’ll be talking about and reading from The Paris Affair at Book Passage in Corte Madera. If you can’t make the event but would like a signed, personalized copy, you can order one through the link. And then on April 5, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose will be interviewing me on Word Wenches.

Do check out the interviews, as I have lots more to share about the book and the series. And if you can make it to Book Passage, I would love to see you or love to sign a book if can’t make it but would like to order one. Meanwhile, here’s a new teaser featuring Malcolm and Harry Davenport. More soon!

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Harry stared after him as the door closed and his footsteps retreated down the stairs. “Wellington gave you no clue?”
“None.”
“Interesting man, our duke. Do you think Rivère approached him about the Laclos affair himself?”
“Then why Rivère’s dramatic approach to me last night?”
“Cover?”
“They wouldn’t need the cover for the Laclos affair, since Rivère brought it up to me. But if he approached Wellington about something else—”
Harry met Malcolm’s gaze for a moment. “Wellington can be ruthless.” It was a flat statement about the man they had both served for years and risked their lives for. “We considered in Brussels that he might be capable of murder.”
“But in the end he wasn’t behind Julia Ashton’s death.”
“Which doesn’t mean he isn’t behind Rivère’s death. Julia was an English lady. Rivère was a French double agent who was trying to blackmail the British.” Harry kept his gaze on Malcolm. Uncompromising, yet oddly compassionate. “War isn’t played by gentlemen’s rules. You know that.”
“Neither are politics or diplomacy.”
“Go carefully, Malcolm. Wellington can be dangerous.”
“At least I know him.”
“That’s precisely what makes him dangerous.” Harry cast a glance round the room. “You take the boxes on the left. I’ll take the right.”

THE PARIS AFFAIR SIDEBARThis week brought a lovely gift courtesy of UPS – ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of The Paris Affair. In honor of their arrival, I’m posting a teaser from the book and one commenter on the teaser will receive an ARC of The Paris Affair. This is a scene between Malcolm and one of the real historical characters in the series who is a major presence in his life – Prince Talleyrand. I love writing scenes with Talleryrand, and it was a delight to return to him in this book.

Let me know what you think! And be sure to also check out the new Fraser Correspondence letter I just posted from Charles/Malcolm to David in January 1816.

__________________________________________________________________________________

“Malcolm.” Prince Talleyrand extended his hand. He was, as usual, faultlessly arrayed, in a frock coat that would have been quite at home in the ancien régime, a frilled shirt, a starched satin cravat, and diamond-buckled shoes. “I saw you dancing with your exquisite wife. You make a charming couple.”

“I thought you had far more important things to observe in a diplomatic ballroom.”

Talleyrand turned his walking stick so the diamonds on the handle flashed in the candlelight. “I’d scarcely have survived as long as I have could I not observe more than one thing at once. I’m glad you dance more than you used to.”

“Even if it is with my own wife?”

Talleyrand’s thin mouth curved in a smile that also lit his pale blue eyes. “On the contrary Unfashionable, perhaps, but then you’ve never been one to care about the fashion. It’s good to find you circulating instead of spending the evening in the library.”

Malcolm had been four when he first met Talleyrand. It was both an advantage and a disadvantage in their relationship. It gave Malcolm inside knowledge of the prince, but it also gave Talleyrand inside knowledge of Malcolm, and Talleyrand was a master at using it. “I’m not quite such a recluse, sir,” Malcolm said. “Though as it happens I was hoping I could have a word with you in private.”

Talleyrand’s shrewd gaze slid over him, but the prince merely said, “Of course. I confess I frequently find society stifling myself these days.”

They moved along the edge of the dance floor, Talleyrand stopping several times to exchange greetings, and at last reached a white-and-gold antechamber, empty though the candles were lit. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” Talleyrand asked.

“Do I need an excuse to talk to you?”

“These days none of us does anything without an excuse.” Talleyrand dropped into a gilded armchair. “Is it to do with Rivère’s death last night?”

“What do you know about Rivère?” Malcolm asked, settling into the chair across from the prince.

Talleyrand leaned back in his own chair, stirring a faint dusting of powder from his hair. “I’d hardly be doing my job if I wasn’t aware that Rivère was selling information to the British.”

“You didn’t tell anyone. Did you?”

“By the time I acquired the knowledge I was dealing with the British myself.”

Malcolm set his hands on the arms of his chair, his gaze steady on Talleyrand’s face. “Who killed him?”

“My dear boy. I’m not as omniscient as you think.” Talleyrand smoothed his frilled cuff over his fingers. “I assume Rivère wanted you to get him out of France?”

“Was he about to be arrested?”

Talleyrand pressed a crease in the frill. “You’d have to ask Fouché.”

“Rivère’s cousin had been pressuring to have him arrested.”

“Yes, I believe so.” Talleyrand crossed his clubfoot over his good leg. The diamond buckle on his shoe flashed in the light from the branch of candles. “What did he threaten if you didn’t help him?”

“Vague claims to wreak havoc on the British delegation. What did Rivère have to do with Bertrand Laclos?”

Talleyrand’s brows drew together. His hooded eyes were suddenly more hawk-like than usual. “What did Rivère tell you?”

“Nothing specific. But his threats of havoc centered on Laclos.”

Talleyrand stared at his signet ring. “Laclos was an embarrassment. We were so proud when he returned to the fold. We should have suspected he might be a British asset from the first. I should have. I pride myself on knowing how the British think.”

“But in the end he wasn’t.”

Talleyrand frowned. “As is often the case, you’re too quick for me, Malcolm.”

Malcolm swallowed. Unease coiled within him. “Laclos was a double. I intercepted the communication that betrayed his work for the French myself.”

Rare surprise shot through Talleyrand’s blue eyes. “My word. So his death—”

“He was deemed to know too much.”

Talleyrand settled back in his chair. “Either I am a lamentable fool—which is entirely possible—or you’ve been deceived.”

Unease gave way to sick certainty. “You didn’t know Laclos was a double?”

“No. Of course I scarcely know the name of every French agent, but I like to think I would have done with someone so high profile.”

Guilt tightened Malcolm’s throat. “When did you learn he’d been working for the British?”

“Not until after his death. I could hardly fail to investigate with so important an asset. I had someone go through his papers. There was evidence he’d been working for the British. Given the embarrassed ripples that sent through French intelligence, if he’d actually been one of ours someone would have spoken up.”

Malcolm pushed himself to his feet and strode to the unlit fireplace. “I was afraid of this.”

He could feel Talleryand’s gaze on him. “You blame yourself too much, Malcolm.”

Malcolm spun round and looked at the man he had known since boyhood, his grandfather’s and mother’s friend. “An innocent man may have been killed because of me.”

“And in your line of work, I highly doubt he was the first. Or the last. You reported the evidence, Malcolm. Evidence which must have been fabricated.”

“By whom?”

“A fascinating question.” Talleyrand tented his fingers together. “I must say this is interesting. I can certainly understand Rivère’s claims that he could shake the British delegation.”

“I’m glad our difficulties amuse you, sir.”

“You must allow me to take my amusements where I can, Malcolm. There are few enough of them these days.”

Malcolm crossed back to Talleyrand. “Laclos was friendly with your nephew.”

“So he was.”

“Did you arrange it?” Malcolm dropped back into his chair and leaned towards the prince.

“My dear Malcolm. I choose my agents with care, for their keen understanding and discretion. Which is why I’ve always regretted I couldn’t have you for an agent. And why I’d never want Edmond for one. I did suggest it might be a good idea for Edmond to show Laclos round Paris.”

“And you got reports on Laclos from him.”

“I found it useful to get Edmond’s rather unsophisticated view of Laclos. Later when I learned Laclos had been working for the British, I wondered if Laclos had encouraged the friendship because Edmond was my nephew. Perhaps he thought my avuncular affections went further than they do.”

“You got Edmond his wife,” Malcolm said, perhaps unwisely.

“So I did.” Talleyrand’s fingers tightened. He unclenched them and curved them round the arms of his chair. “Speaking of actions which haunt one.”

“Actually knowing Dorothée makes it clear she’s not a chess piece?”

“Regrets come with age. God knows what that means lies in store for you, considering the number you already appear to have at—what? Eight-and-twenty?”

“Come October.”

“When I was eight-and-twenty—” Memories drifted through Talleyrand’s eyes. “I thought I knew a great deal, but in many ways I think I was much younger than you. I certainly hadn’t yet learned the meaning of regret. Or of love.”

Malcolm watched the prince for a moment. “Sometimes the two go hand in hand.”

“Yes.” Talleyrand’s fingers tensed on the chair arms. “So they do.”

“Rivère said one thing more.” Malcolm drew a breath, his throat raw. “Sir, is it possible Tatiana had a child?”

Talleyrand went still. His eyes became even more hooded than usual. “Rivère knew how to wound.”

“Is it—”

Talleyrand folded his hands together. “It’s possible Tatiana did any number of things.”

Malcolm studied the man his grandfather had trusted with the secret of his unmarried mother’s pregnancy thirty-some years ago, the man his mother had trusted to keep an eye on her secret daughter in France. The man who had made Tatiana his agent. “Are you saying you knew—”

“My dear Malcolm. If I’d known your sister had a child I’d have told you.”

“Would you?”

“After Tatiana died.” Talleyrand’s gaze was now unusually open.

“You might have thought I was better off not knowing. You might have made a promise to Tania.”

Talleyrand’s mouth curved in a rueful smile. “I’m not as protective as you think me. And I’ve learned to take a flexible attitude towards promises.”

Malcolm pushed himself to his feet, crossed the room in two strides, and leaned over the prince’s chair. “What do you know?”

Talleyrand looked up at him with the same open gaze. “A few stray comments, that might, in retrospect, mean something.”

“What comments?” Malcolm’s fingers bit into the fabric of the chair.

“An uncharacteristically wistful look in her eyes when she saw a small child once or twice. A comment, on hearing of a courtesan or actress who’d found herself in a delicate situation, that at least she herself had learned the value of precautions. And—”

“What?” Malcolm tightened his grip on the chair, holding Talleyrand’s gaze with his own.

“She asked me to help arrange time away from Paris for her. She needed a rest, she said. She needed not to be troubled by any of her various lovers. She was gone for about five months.”

“When was this?” Malcolm did calculations in his head.

“The spring of 1807.”

Malcolm straightened up and paced across the room. “More than three years after Tania left Russia. So the father couldn’t have been Tsar Alexander . Who could have fathered the child?”

“My dear boy. No offense meant to your sister—I hardly consider such behavior offensive—but keeping track of Tatiana’s conquests would have left me quite without time to tend to the business of France. I was still foreign minister at the time.”

“And Tatiana was your agent. Whom else did you have her collecting information from?”

“You can’t be so crude as to think the only way of collecting information—”

“Perhaps not the only but certainly one of the most likely with a beautiful woman like Tatiana.”

“She was establishing herself in Parisian society. She was indulging in flirtations with attachés from the Austrian and Prussian embassies. I don’t know if they went further. Even if they did, I see no reason for a child born of such a liaison to be kept secret.”

Malcolm locked his gaze on the prince’s own, trying to see behind that enigmatic stare. “Is there any chance Tania was involved with Napoleon Bonaparte that early?”

Talleyrand hesitated a fraction too long before he answered. “Not that I know of.”

“Not that you know of?”

Talleyrand smoothed his ruffled shirt cuff over his fingers. “I’d be lying if I said Bonaparte hadn’t noticed her. And it was like Tania to set her sights on men in the highest positions of power. It’s possible something had begun and she had reasons for keeping it from me. But even if it had, even if he was the father of her child, there’d have been no need then for such excessive secrecy. Bonaparte was generous with his bastards.”

Malcolm paced back to Talleyrand’s side and stood looking down at him. “What else?”

Talleyrand looked up at him, gaze bland as butter. “I don’t believe there is anything else.”

“Doing it much too brown, sir. You admit yourself you suspected Tania had had a child. And that she might have been Bonaparte’s mistress. You can’t expect me to believe you didn’t ask her about the child’s parentage.”

Talleyrand’s mouth curved with appreciation. “I could deny it, but I suppose there’s no point now. Yes, as it happens I did ask her. Tatiana didn’t deny there was a child. But she went as serious as I’ve ever seen her. She begged me not to ask any questions about the baby’s parentage. Not for her sake, but for the child’s.” He shook his head. “I’ve never been the sort to take vows seriously.”

“She made you swear not to ask more about the child’s parentage?” Malcolm asked.

“She made me swear not to tell anyone there was a child.” Talleyrand met Malcolm’s gaze, his own deceptively clear and direct. “Especially you.”

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