Kissing The Enemy
Scandals and Spies: Book 1
Stealing a code book from an enemy spy should be easy for someone like Frederica Vale. As the plain looking older sister, she’s practically invisible at social events. Never mind that she has no experience as a spy or that the codebook rests in the possession of one of the most powerful men in England. Freddie has no choice-she’s desperate to get her younger sister away from the lecherous intentions of their guardian and recovering the book is her only option.
Tristan Graylocke has never been able to measure up to his older brother, the Duke of Tenwick. But being second best has its advantages: no one pressures him to get married and produce an heir, leaving him free to carouse at will-an activity that lends itself perfectly to the brothers’ secret lives as spies.
But when an alluring enemy spy shows up at the house party planned specifically for the purposes of passing along a code book, Tristan finds himself drawn under her spell. Freddie seems innocent and inexperienced. Is her innocence a clever guise, or is she being coerced by someone?
Tristan and Freddie soon find themselves engaged in a seductive game of cat and mouse where each will do what they must for their country, especially if it involves kissing the enemy.
There was no one in all of London that Miss Frederica Vale disliked more than Lord Elias Harker.
Oh, she knew she should like him, and not only because he was a distant relative on her father’s side. Thanks to his so-called generosity, she, her mother and her sister Charlotte hadn’t been turned out into the streets after her father had squandered their money and then had the bad manners to die.
But she just couldn’t bring herself to like Harker. In fact, she would rather stick a fork in her eye than be in the same room with him.
My eyes are several inches higher, you bounder. Freddie wrapped the shawl sewn into the shoulders of her beige walking dress across her upper chest, left bare by the modest curve of the neckline. Harker’s hairy eyebrows waved like little pennants as he craned his neck to leer at the shadow of her cleavage.
With a sigh, he daubed at the sweat on his bald forehead with a monogrammed handkerchief. A glimpse of the embroidered letters made Freddie’s stomach pitch. LV. Louisa Vale. It belonged to her mother! Freddie didn’t want to contemplate how the linen had found its way into Harker’s possession.
Tucking the handkerchief into the pocket of his waistcoat, Harker leaned forward. When his paunch brushed against her arm, Freddie took a healthy step away. Her back collided with the door frame. She knocked her head.
Ouch! She pursed her lips together to keep from making a sound.
“Freddie, are you all right?” From her position in the sun pooling from the wide window facing the cobblestone street, Charlotte lowered her embroidery into her lap. Unlike Freddie, Charlie wore a patterned pink-and-white placket-front dress in the newest style. With the blond ringlet falling from her pinned hair to caress her cheek, she looked the picture of London beauty. A diamond of the first water.
Harker’s attention wavered as he glanced into the ostentatiously-decorated sitting room.
Don’t you dare look at her, swine. Is my mother not enough for you?
Freddie cleared her throat. “I’m fine.” Her voice emerged as a thin whine, but it did the trick. Harker turned back to her.
His beady eyes narrowed as he lowered his voice.
“I’ve secured an invitation to the Tenwick Abbey house party for your mother, you and Charlotte.” He leaned in so close, she caught a whiff of stale cigar smoke and foul breath.
“Impossible.” Freddie clamped her lips shut before she said something else incriminating.
The party at the unmarried Duke of Tenwick’s ancestral estate was the highlight of the season. Hosted by one of the oldest, richest and most influential families of the ton, the party attracted the richest and most powerful eligible bachelors in Britain—including the duke and his younger brothers. Even for the elite, securing an invitation was quite the coup.
The Vales were pale shadows of the ton’s splendor. Ever since her father had left them with nothing, they’d survived on the fringes of Society. The small annuity her mother earned from an inheritance could not support the lifestyle of the fashionable ton. Harker, for all that he welcomed them into his home, refused to spend a penny to keep up their appearance. Even living in his house came at a dear cost.
Freddie glanced into the sitting room. Charlie hunched over her embroidery hoop, her clear blue eyes squinting as she focused on the fine details of a flower petal. Thank Jove Charlie didn’t take after Freddie. If Freddie tried to sew, she’d probably wind up as bloody as if she’d fought Napoleon. Charlie’s accomplishments with the feminine arts, paired with her beauty and vivacious wit, would be the key to landing her a rich husband and removing them all from beneath Harker’s thumb. In fact, it had probably been what had earned them an invitation to the Tenwick party. That, and Charlie’s friendship with the Duke’s sister, Lady Lucy Graylocke.
Harker followed Freddie’s gaze, a smug smirk teasing the corners of his lips. “This will be a good opportunity for her to make a match. Even better, with a dowry.”
Freddie wrapped her arms around her middle to hide a twinge of regret. “She has no dowry.” Their father hadn’t left them any advantage.
Harker’s eyebrows danced a cotillion as he waggled them. “Not at the moment. But she could.”
Freddie held her breath. Her arms tightened reflexively around her waist. What was he saying?
What was the cost?
Freddie chanced a glance at her sister again. Only seventeen, her first Season out in Society. With her blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty, she was their only chance at marrying well. Freddie’s brown hair, hazel eyes, and dusting of freckles certainly wouldn’t attract a rich man. Or any man, come to think of it. Without a fortune, she had no allure.
But, of course, it wasn’t only about money. Since the untimely death of her father, Freddie had seen it as her duty to watch over and protect her sister and their mother. She intended to insure Charlie married a good man, a man who would love and cherish her, even if he didn’t have the means to lift Freddie and her mother from Harker’s company.
The odious man leaned closer. “I will give your sister that dowry…if you do something for me.” Once again, his gaze drifted down the front of her old dress, which had become uncomfortably tight around her increasing chest size of late. He wore the same leer as when he stared at her mother. It was not at all the way a gentleman should look at a gently-bred woman, especially one young enough to be his daughter.
Freddie’s stomach threatened to turn itself inside out. What would she do to give Charlie a good life?
Heaven help her, but she would do anything.
She licked her cracked lips. “What would you have me do?” She rasped, her throat as dry as if she’d swallowed ashes.
Her stomach turned a somersault as she backed into the room. Her leg stung as she bumped into a table. It teetered. She lunged for it, and put it between her and Harker as she righted it. Thankfully the table had been divested of any curios years ago due to Freddie’s wretched clumsiness.
Across the room, Charlie shifted in spot, cocking one ear toward the conversation. Harker turned his back to her, shutting her out.
“I need you to find something for me in Tenwick Abbey,” he whispered. “Something important.”
That’s all? Freddie breathed a sigh of relief. Wait…why can’t he procure this thing of importance himself?
She narrowed her eyes. “Do you intend to tell me what this important item is, or must I guess?”
He peered over his shoulder toward Charlotte, presumably to ensure she couldn’t overhear, then glanced toward the stairs. Not a soul lingered, not even the servants.
“You mustn’t tell anyone about this.” His whisper was so low that Freddie had to lean toward him to hear. “I need a book. A code book.”
“Shhh!” Harker stepped around the table to hiss in her ear. He didn’t have to lean down much to do it—they were almost the same height. She cringed as drops of spittle fell on her earlobe. “Yes, a code book. For spying.”
“Spying.” Freddie couldn’t keep the disbelief from her voice, though this time she matched his pitch.
“Yes. One of my contacts assures me that it is ensconced in Tenwick Abbey.” At her blank look, he added with an impatient look, “I’m a spy for Britain, of course.”
“You. A spy.”
“Yes.” The wrinkles around his nose and mouth deepened as he sneered. “Are you bird-witted? I thought I spoke with the more intelligent sister.”
Freddie curled her fists. Simply because Charlie prefers balls and shopping to reading books does not make her stupid.
Harker added, “If I was wrong…” He took a step away, half-turning toward Charlotte.
“No.” Freddie almost grabbed his sleeve before she stopped herself. “Forgive me. I just…never thought of you as a spy.”
A pig would make a better spy than Harker. If Harker’s indolent, self-indulgent manner was an indication of the types of spies Britain employed, then it was a wonder Napoleon hadn’t overrun them already.
“I am. You mustn’t tell a soul.”
Freddie nodded. “Of course.”
Harker’s eyes narrowed, his eyelashes sticking straight out like little daggers. He must have decided to trust her because he continued. “The two eldest Graylocke brothers are French spies.”
Freddie’s mouth dropped open. “Not the Duke of Tenwick!” Why would one of the oldest and most powerful in Britain turn his back on his country?
Harker’s glare convinced her to hold her tongue.
“Yes, him. His brother, Tristan, too. I need you to get a book in Tristan Graylocke’s possession before he passes it on to the French military. The book is coded with Britain’s strategy for winning the war with France. If Napoleon gets his hands on it, it could be the end of Britain as we know it.”
Freddie shook her head. “The Graylockes are one of the oldest and most trusted families in Britain! Is the entire family involved?”
“Apparently, they are not above the lure of money. I’m sure Napoleon is paying them very well. And I’m not certain about the rest of the family. Tristan and Morgan are undoubtedly the enemy.”
“But why me? I don’t know anything about spies or books…or the Graylockes.”
Can’t Harker find someone more experienced to ferret out the book?
“My movements will be limited at the party. The Graylockes already suspect I might be working against them so they’ll be watching me. But they won’t suspect someone like you. You’re the perfect candidate to find the book.”
Freddie narrowed her eyes at him. He did have a point. No one ever paid any attention to plain Miss Frederica Vale.
Since attending the soirees this year for her first Season, she’d felt invisible. Not that she minded. In fact, she liked it that way. She could probably scour the entire abbey from top to bottom, looking in every nook and cranny, even under the Graylockes’ very beds and no one would notice.
“Will you do it?” Harker’s eyes bored into hers.
Freddie furrowed her brow. “What you’re asking sounds dangerous.” She fought a tingle of excitement. Balls and soirees usually bored her to tears. For the first time since her late come out this year at age nineteen, she looked forward to a two-week-long party.
Still, it could be dangerous—what would the spies to do her if she were caught?
Harker must have sensed her hesitation. “I’ll make it worth your while.”
Harker nodded anxiously. “If you succeed in bringing me the book, not only will I see your sister gets a decent dowry, but I’ll deed a small cottage in the country to you and your mother. You’ll be able to live there forever—rent free.”
Freddie’s heart raced.
A dowry and a cottage?
A cottage to live in meant Freddie and her mother would be able to live comfortably on their small annuity. Charlie wouldn’t have to marry for money—she could marry for love. They’d be free of Harker.
“How will I know what this book looks like?”
“It’s very distinctive. Red leather, about so big.” Harker motioned with his hands to indicate the size of a small pocket book. “Inside, there will be handwritten text in code. Oh, and there is a gold seal on the front.”
Freddie sucked on her bottom lip. She didn’t relish the idea of being hanged as a spy, but, since she would be working to uncover French spies for Britain, that hardly seemed likely to happen. The promise of the dowry and cottage more than made up for the risk she would be taking.
“I’ll do it.”
“Excellent.” Harker bowed slightly. “This is very important and you’ll be doing your country a great service…but you mustn’t tell anyone. Not even your sister.”
Freddie felt a swell of pride. She’d never done anything important before. If she discounted the possibility of being at the mercy of French spies, it sounded like a fun adventure. She nodded her agreement. “I won’t tell a soul.”
Harker motioned for Freddie to follow him into the hall. He accepted his topper from the stoic butler by the front door and turned toward Freddie as the butler opened the door, letting in a gust of the cool April air.
In a dismissive tone, Harker said, “I’m off to the club. I’ll arrange for the carriage to await you tomorrow at nine of the morning to collect the three of you and take you to Tenwick Abbey. I’ll travel separately and meet you on the road.”
At least she wouldn’t have to suffer the stench of his breath throughout the two-day drive.
The butler shut the door behind Harker with a note of finality. Freddie’s ears rang. Had she really just agreed to steal a spy book from the brother of one of the most influential men in Britain?