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Charming the Spy

Historical Romance Novel
Scandals and Spies: Book 4

 

If there’s anything Joy “Rocky” Rookwood loves more than the plants she tends to at Tenwick Abbey its a challenge, that’s precisely why she’s agreed to become the latest spy in Morgan Graylocke’s household. When she’s tasked with going undercover as gardener in another house to ferret out a high-level traitor she jumps at the chance. The only fly in the ointment is that she has to take fellow botanist, and also newly minted spy, Edgar Catterson III with her as backup. Rocky and Catt rarely see eye to eye.

Edgar “Catt” Catterson III has found new purpose in his role as a spy for the crown so when the Duke of Tenwick gives him an assignment to go undercover he rises to the challenge. Too bad he has to act as assistant to his prickly friend and fellow botanist Rocky. Working with her all day in the confines of the estates hothouse is bad enough, but acting as her subordinate is almost too much to bear.

But as Rocky and Catt try to figure out exactly who the spy is, they discover something neither expected—a growing attraction to each other.

As their relationship heats up, the deadline to unmask the spy before he passes on damaging information at a masquerade ball is looming. Rocky and Catt must meet danger head on even if it means losing each other to ensure the safety of their country.

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Excerpt

Tenwick Abbey

January, 1807

 

Edgar Catterson III, Catt to his friends, paused in the threshold to the Duke of Tenwick’s office. Gideon Graylocke, the duke’s younger brother and Catt’s closest friend, leaned against the mahogany sideboard beneath a rectangular painting of a centuries-old fox hunt. Whatever the duke was saying to him, he didn’t look happy about it.

“That’s hardly my fault. Felicia and I did what you assigned us to do.”

With a sigh, the duke ducked his head and fingered the white streak in his black hair. Already several inches shorter than Giddy—though who wasn’t—Morgan Graylocke’s slumped posture made him look even shorter. He pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I know. I’m not accusing you of wrongdoing. I’m just … frustrated. This spy has been operating beneath our noses for over seven months now. We’re locked in a losing battle with Napoleon and finding this spy could be instrumental to turning the tide. We need this.”

Spy? Catt narrowed his eyes. About three months ago, Giddy had revealed the secret of Tenwick Abbey. The ducal estate served as the training grounds for new British spies, trained by none other than the duke himself, who happened to be second-in-command to the Lord Commander of Spies. More than half of the fifty-odd servants at Tenwick Abbey were spies—new, retired, or between assignments. For a brief time last October, Gideon—also in service to the Crown—had feared that one of them was not loyal to Britain.

Thankfully, the matter had been resolved, but that day had opened an entirely new world to Catt. A world of danger and intrigue, a world he was now enmeshed in, having recently completed his training to become an official spy of the Crown. When his best friend begged for his help, Catt hadn’t been able to deny him. After that, there had been no chance of turning back.

The fact that the Duke of Tenwick was here, at the ancestral estate, instead of in London with his very pregnant wife was troublesome. What had Giddy accomplished—or not—that had led to this visit?

Glancing up, Morgan noticed Catt idling in the doorway. He beckoned Catt forward. “Good, you’re here. We can begin.”

Begin what?

The duke retreated to the far wall of the office, behind a desk piled high with papers. His broad-shouldered figure cut off the cold winter light streaming in through the frosted panes of the window. Motioning for Catt to take one of the two chairs on the other side of the desk, Morgan sat.

“It’s about bloody time.”

Catt faltered as he crossed the oriental rug. He caught his balance and kept from falling flat on his face as the occupant of the armchair leaned around the high back to glare at him.

Joy Rockwood, Gideon’s other close friend and the lead gardener of Tenwick Abbey, crossed her arms across her bosom and leaned back into the chair, disappearing from sight. Catt swallowed against his suddenly dry mouth. He should have known that if he’d been called in, Rocky would have been as well. She’d been brought into the spying fold at the same time as Catt.

Unfortunately, she hated him. The feeling was mutual. Rocky was belligerent, accusatory, loudmouthed, and quite frankly, a brilliant botanist. Just because she was the equal of Catt or Giddy didn’t mean that Catt cared to stomach her presence. They’d worked together in the past out of necessity. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, it was best they avoid each other as much as possible.

Since turning on his heel and leaving the room was not an option when the Duke of Tenwick called an official meeting of spies, Catt adjusted his cravat and lowered himself into the seat next to Rocky.

He didn’t look at her, but he could feel the glower she leveled in his direction. It raised the hairs on the back of his neck. He balled his fists, willing himself not to give her a reaction. It would only encourage her.

A flash of the ducal colors of azure and silver caught his eye. Reflexively, he glanced at the woman next to him. She patted down her trousers, snug against the womanly shape of her legs and hips. When she adjusted her shirt to better show the ducal crest of a stag rampant sewn onto the breast, the fabric pulled tight across the ample swell of her chest. She adjusted her spectacles and folded her hands in her lap. Her brown hair, hastily secured in a bun, escaped her coif to frame her cheeks.

Catt forced himself to look at the duke once more, if only to avoid staring at the prickly woman next to him. This wasn’t the first time he’d seen her in men’s clothes and he doubted it would be the last.

Straightening from his position near the mantle, Giddy crossed to perch on the corner of Morgan’s desk. He crossed his long legs at the answer.

“I hope you recall the project Felicia and I were tasked to complete last October.”

Catt nodded. A rustle to his left hailed movement from Rocky. He forced himself not to react, even though the awareness of her raised an uncomfortable prickle along his left arm.

The project in question had cost Giddy his orangery in a dangerous accident, including the exotic orchid he and Catt were attempting to coax to bloom. Without that project, Catt had been at a bit of a loss in the convening months. If not for his training as a spy, he would have been aimless. He tried not to think of it. That accident had been the catalyst which had convinced Giddy to reveal the secret of Tenwick Abbey to Catt and Rocky.

Although neither had been granted the details of the assignment which Giddy and his new wife had been tasked to complete, their lives hadn’t been the same since.

When neither party spoke, Gideon glanced at his brother. The duke nodded. Running his fingers through his hair, Giddy faced forward again.

“Felicia and I created the truth serum.”

Catt raised his eyebrows. “The research that she published in Chemists Quarterly?”

Giddy nodded.

“The reason that you called her a crackpot?”

A muscle in Giddy’s clean-shaven jaw twitched. “I might remind you that you are speaking of my wife.”

Rocky sniggered.

Catt glared at her before turning back to his friend. “Obviously you don’t feel that way anymore.”

Morgan leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow, as if to say, Are you quite done?

Clearing his throat, Catt adjusted his cravat once more. He swallowed before speaking. “It works? The serum, that is.” A year ago, Giddy had been adamant that it wouldn’t. In fact, he had been adamant that F. Albright was a fool.

Of course, that had been before the two had met in person and he’d been captivated by her beauty. Catt had seen the attraction between them from the moment he’d been introduced to Felicia, not that Giddy had been willing to admit it at the time. Somehow, they’d managed to put their differences aside and complete the impossible.

Gideon nodded. “It works.”

“It does.” Morgan rubbed at the white streak by his temple. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t brought the answers we’d hoped.”

Catt pinched his lips together and sat back. What did he mean?

Fortunately, the information was vital enough that the duke didn’t keep it to himself. “Last May, we captured a high-level French spy.”

Rocky frowned. “That’s a good thing, isn’t it? You don’t seem enthused by the notion.”

Morgan grimaced. “It was a stroke of luck for Britain, or so I thought. We couldn’t convince her to talk and give up the ringleader of the French spy network here in England. Monsieur V remained at large.”

Crossing his arms, Giddy piped up. “That’s why Felicia and I were tasked with creating the truth serum.”

Morgan nodded. “It was. And the serum worked—she told us everything she knows. Ciphers to French codes I hadn’t cracked yet, details of the assignments she’d been given, and of course all the information she knew about Monsieur V.”

“So what’s the problem?” Catt and Rocky both made a face as they spouted the same sentence. Catt hated to admit that he shared any commonalities with … her.

Ignoring their twin expressions, the duke informed, “I thought she’d been withholding information out of loyalty or fear. And she had been, what little she knew. She is our only link to Monsieur V, and she wasn’t able to give us a better description of the man other than the fact that he is near six feet tall with an athletic build and usually clean-shaven with brown hair. No name, not even a possible age or a better description of his face. He could be one of thousands of men in London.”

Catt shifted his position, suddenly uncomfortable. How was he supposed to help? Were he and Rocky destined to be sent on a wild goose chase, now that they’d been trained?

With a sigh, Morgan leaned back in his chair. He drummed his fingers on the desk top. “In the months since we’ve learned this information, we’ve managed to use her descriptions of the places where they’ve met and exchanged information to pinpoint the household we believe he is operating from.”

Catt leaned forward. “That’s encouraging, then. You’ve nearly found him.”

Rocky scoffed. Catt gritted his teeth and ignored her.

Morgan shook his head. “All we suspect is that he’s operating from within Lady Belhaven’s household. I assume you’ve heard of her?”

“The genius behind the nursery that caters to everyone with even a lick of sense in le bon ton?” Catt raised his eyebrows. His family might not be of the same caliber as the Graylockes, but he’d been around them long enough to have learned the trappings of high Society. “I don’t think men with titles accept proposals for their daughters anymore unless they come with a posy from Lady Belhaven.”

“Exactly so.” The drumming of Morgan’s fingers increased in pace. “The deliveries provide the perfect excuse for her servants to be in any household in Mayfair.”

Catt pressed his lips together as Morgan turned his attention to Rocky. She straightened as though her spine had been affixed to a lamppost.

“I’ve had to field off multiple inquiries of buying your services over the years, Rocky. Your work around the estate is unparalleled.”

Something sharp unfurled in Catt’s chest. He clutched the arms of the chair to keep from crossing his arms defensively. He knew that Rocky was a talented botanist; she, Giddy, and him exchanged ideas and information all the time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone other than the Graylockes wanted her services. If she was poached from the Tenwick estate, Catt wouldn’t have to face her or her sharp tongue day in and day out. Not that he believed for a second that Morgan would relent to one of these requests. More likely, if someone offered more money for Rocky’s services, he would match the amount. She might only be twenty-two, three years younger than Catt, but she had been working for the Graylocke family for years.

The duke continued, “With the orangery out of commission until the spring, I’m getting more offers than ever. Including, ironically, one from Lady Belhaven. Her eyesight isn’t what it once was and she’s offered to give Rocky temporary employment over the winter until the orangery is fixed.” His piercing gray eyes rested squarely on Rocky. “This is the opportunity we need to gain access. I’d like you to take the offer and work from inside the house to uncover Monsieur V’s identity. This is an information gathering assignment only, you are not to confront him. Once we know who he is, we can decide how best to deal with him.”

Rocky’s expression was fierce and determined as she nodded. “Of course. I won’t let you down, Your Grace.”

Morgan’s mouth twisted at the formality—he’d long requested that she, as his brother’s personal friend, address him familiarly—but he didn’t comment. He looked content.

Clearing his throat, Catt caught the duke’s attention. “Forgive me, but where do I come in?” It sounded as though they could have held this meeting without him.

His expression like granite, Morgan said, “I don’t feel comfortable sending one of my spies into a dangerous assignment without backup. I’ve arranged to send both her and an assistant to work in Lady Belhaven’s hothouse.”

Catt nodded slowly. He still didn’t see how this affected him. Were any of the gardeners Rocky oversaw a part of the spy network?

The duke added, “You will be that assistant, Catt.”

Catt’s mouth dropped open. He shot a bewildered glance toward Rocky—a mistake. She all but radiated smugness and superiority. He held her brown gaze for a moment before looking away. What a nightmare.

Weakly, he protested, “We’ve only just been trained. Wouldn’t you prefer to match her with a more seasoned spy?” Not that he wanted to back out of the mission. To the contrary, hunting down a slippery French spy sounded like just the purpose Catt needed in his life.

But with Rocky?

With an impassive expression, Morgan answered, “You both will have duties from Lady Belhaven that you’ll need to complete. I need someone with equal botanical expertise to Rocky. I need you, Catt.”

Damn and blast. It made sense. Catt clenched his teeth to keep from saying another word and sounding ungrateful or worse, provoking an argument from the woman next to him.

Smug, she leaned forward to ask, “Does this mean that I’ll be taking the lead in the investigation?”

Please say no.

Morgan shook his head. The muscles in Catt’s body relaxed marginally. He still couldn’t forget Rocky’s presence next to him.

“You are equals in the investigation, but for the sake of appearances, Catt you will have to play her subordinate.”

In other words, the duke of Tenwick had just taken their positions—a friend of the Graylocke family and the servant of said family—and reversed them. Rocky needed no encouragement to pretend as though she was his superior.

“Can you do it?” Morgan asked, even though his tone warned that it was an order. “The only other person I could possibly send in is Giddy.”

Meaning the poor man would be separated from his new wife for Lord-only-knew how long. Catt couldn’t do that to his best friend, not when he’d finally found such happiness. He swallowed hard.

“It won’t be a problem. I can do this assignment.”

“Good. Then I’ll see you both to London and into your new positions at once.”

Catt risked a glance toward Rocky, now his partner. Her gaze crackled with satisfaction. That looked promised that working with her would not be easy.

No, if anything, this assignment was going to be a living hell.