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Pursuing the Traitor

Historical Romance Novel
Scandals and Spies: Book 5

 

When Lucy Graylocke intercepts a message meant for her spymaster brother regarding the dangerous French spy Monsieur V., she arranges a trip to London to catch the spy herself. After all, she may be the only person in England who could recognize him. But when her efforts to catch the enemy spy throw her in the path of the Marquess of Brackley, she gets more than she bargained for. The Marquess has a rakish reputation of the worst caliber and her brother has warned her away from Brackley many times. Naturally, that makes him all the more intriguing to Lucy. Could the handsome and mysterious Marquess be after the same thing she is?

Alexander Douglass, the Marquess of Brackley, will stop at nothing to capture Monsieur V., the spy who tore his family apart. But when Lucy Graylocke keeps getting in his way, he has to wonder what she’s after. She is, after all, the sister of one of the most influential spymasters in England. Alex knows Lucy’s brothers would never let her get involved in espionage so he fears Lucy doesn’t know what she is getting herself into. It’s up to Alex to make sure she doesn’t get hurt. Luckily, keeping an eye on the raven-haired beauty will not be a hardship.

But just when Lucy gets close to discovering the identity of the spy, a heart-wrenching disaster throws her world off kilter and Alex is forced to choose between the revenge he’s desperately sought for years and his love for Lucy.

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Excerpt

Tenwick Abbey

April 1807

 

Never ever, ever, would Lucy insert childbirth into one of her books. Nor would she have a child. Or put herself in such a situation that risked pregnancy. Her sister-in-law, Philomena, screamed loud enough that she was likely heard in London, two days’ travel away. Given the language she used, Phil never intended to let her husband, Morgan, touch her again.

Although she didn’t intend to put her heroines through quite that much agony, Lucy did scribble down an epithet or two that a ruffian or pirate might say.

Her entire family crowded in the corridor of the family’s quarters, outside the Duchess’s room. Tristan had his arm wrapped around his wife, Freddie, while her sister and Lucy’s best friend, Charlie, bounced on the balls of her feet, anxious. Mrs. Vale, their mother, hovered in the corner, out of the way. Giddy paced anxiously while his wife, Felicia, viciously stabbed at a handkerchief with a needle and thread. Jared, Phil’s lanky brother, fidgeted in the shadow next to the closed door. Catt—Giddy’s best friend, Mr. Catterson—though not technically a part of the family, leaned against the wall as he comforted his anxious wife, Rocky, the lead gardener at Tenwick Abbey.

Rocky wasn’t the only servant in attendance. Behind Lucy’s mother, who appeared serene if one didn’t notice the tight way she clasped her hands or the white rip around her pressed lips, was a barrage of servants, each stopping for a minute to speak with each other and gain an update on Phil’s condition before they moved on. As the first ducal child of the new generation, this birth was an important one. Everyone hoped for a healthy delivery, whether the child was a girl or boy. Morgan’s assistant, Mr. Keeling, made no attempt to pretend to be at work, but headed the swarm of servants and answered the same question over and over again.

“Has she given birth?”

“Not yet.”

Everyone stared at the closed door to the room, waiting anxiously for an update from within. Although they’d tried to while away the time in one of the parlors, when Phil’s contractions had quickened to within a mere minute apart, everyone had barreled into the corridor.

Except for Morgan. He was inside, with the midwife and his wife. He’d insisted, even when the midwife had protested and suggest Mother be in attendance instead. As a Duke, Morgan had gotten his desire.

As Phil cursed him again, Lucy wondered if he wished to reconsider. From inside the room, a bird squawked and repeated the impolite word.

As Lucy slipped closer, cocking an ear to hear what was conspiring inside, Morgan wrenched the door open. He shoved a large, red parrot with green- and indigo-tipped feathers, into Lucy’s arms.

“Take him. He’s not helping.”

The bird cocked his head at Lucy and squawked. “You’re in a…pickle!”

Slim smiles ghosted over the faces of her family members as Morgan shut the door again. They were gone, quickly replaced by worry and anxiousness, in the blink of an eye.

“No,” she corrected softly, “I think you’re in the pickle.”

“Pickle!” the bird exclaimed. As he kicked up a racket, Lucy retreated down the hall into the swamp of bodies.

Mr. Keeling, a thin man with a weak chin in an otherwise forgettable face, stepped up and reached for the parrot. “I’ll take that, my lady.”

Lucy shook her head. “It’s fine, Keeling. I’ll put him with Antonia in the parlor.” When Phil’s contractions had started coming thicker, the family had decided it was better for Lucy to leave her pet behind than have her contribute to the tension of waiting. Phil’s bird, on the other hand, had been with her from the moment she went into labor.

The servants parted as Lucy slipped between them. She kept one hand on Pickle’s claws, wrapped around her wrist, so that he didn’t decide to fly off. Pickle was much more curious than Antonia and could spend days flying around Tenwick Abbey while the family and servants chased him. He was used to having free reign of a much smaller house.

As Lucy left the corridor behind, the amount of anxious faces she passed thinned. She breathed a sigh of relief as she gulped in the cooler air. Truthfully, she was happy for the excuse to leave. Sitting idle was not her strong point.

After she deposited Pickle into the parlor with Antonia, Lucy left both birds behind and snuck through the corridor toward the antechamber of the abbey. It was deserted. Her shoes clicked on the marble floor as she crossed the wide, dim expanse. The only light came from the high cathedral windows along the vaulting stone wall that faced the second-story balcony abutting the family wing. Lucy pressed her lips together, cocking an ear to hear whether or not Phil had given birth. The drone of conversation revealed no decipherable message or tone of congratulations.

She slipped through the wide double doors and onto the front steps. The gray sky showered her with a fine drizzle like wet powdered sugar. It clung to her skin and hair, leaving a bit of a film, but refreshing her at the same time. The steps, having endured such treatment for more than a few moments, were dark with moisture. Lucy elected to remain standing. She fished out her hand-sized notebook and shielded it with her body as she flipped through the pages, studying her shorthand notes as she mulled over whether anything written recently could be usable in her book.

Her book was missing something. Over the past year, she’d made great strides with the heroine, a swashbuckling princess who after fleeing her country to sail the high seas had become an expert in fencing and inventing her own weapons, namely guns. The story was an adventure, in which the heroine learned more about herself and her true place in the world despite her pampered upbringing. Although Lucy had written at least one hundred pages of her book, she didn’t know how it would end, how her heroine would find her place. She needed to find something else, some way to make her characters grow and reveal more of themselves.

She sighed. Aside from a few epithets, nothing she’d scribbled today would help.

A rider galloped down the long drive, between the double row of trees. As he reached the stables, a hostler emerged to tend to him and his horse. The man lunged from the saddle and barely spoke for a second to the hostler before he jogged toward the abbey proper. Frowning, Lucy tucked away her book.

The man—or boy, Lucy should say, since up close he looked to be no more than fourteen years old—wore charcoal-gray clothes and a gray-green cloak to shield the weather. There was nothing about him to indicate wealth, heritage, or even allegiance. He was the kind of boy one might slip past on a London street without thinking twice about him.

As he reached the front steps and started to mount them, Lucy stepped between him and the door. She lifted her chin. “What business do you have here?”

“That’s between me and the duke.”

She narrowed her eyes. Was it estate business? If it had been, the boy would have been wearing the ducal colors of azure and silver, or at the very least had the family crest on his clothes. If the matter didn’t pertain to Tenwick or any of the family’s collective lands…

Then the boy must be a spy.

Lucy wasn’t daft. She’d known for years that Morgan and Tristan hid a secret from the rest of the family. They were good at sneaking around, experts in concocting believable lies or turning the conversation, but Lucy loved a good mystery. She’d known they were involved in Britain’s spy ring since before Morgan had married. Since she suspected Mr. Keeling knew or contributed, sneaking into Morgan’s office at Tenwick Abbey was tricky but not impossible. And copying the ciphers she found there, a delight. She’d almost made the heroine of her book a spy, but she hadn’t been able to find a way to fit that in with the plot. Besides, if one of her brothers ever read it, they would know that she’d caught on to the secret and work harder to conceal their affairs in the future.

Although, at first, she’d been relatively certain that Giddy was too swept up in his plants to take notice of the affairs blossoming beneath his nose, he’d spent too many late nights with Tristan of late. Her two oldest brothers had likely welcomed him into their spy ring. It was unfair! Lucy was every bit as capable as they were, but she couldn’t even put on a pair of breeches and walk the London streets without one of her brothers nearly suffering an apoplexy. Because she was so much younger than them, they thought her a petty, pampered child and that was far from the truth.

Lucy barred the boy from entering the estate. “The Duke is otherwise occupied at the moment.”

It wasn’t a lie. Morgan would likely send Tristan or Keeling to attend to whatever business this boy had for him.

Lucy added, “If you’ve a message for him, I can take it to him.”

The boy’s lips pressed together. “I was told to deliver the missive directly into the duke’s hands, no one else’s.”

Raising an eyebrow, Lucy donned an air of confidence as she bluffed, “This is Tenwick Abbey. You can trust the missive to me.” She held out her hand.

She had no proof that anyone save for her brothers was involved in the spy network, but her instincts had long raised the question that it was more than that. If Morgan was involved, Phil must know—Lucy couldn’t imagine Morgan withholding such a pivotal aspect of his life from her. The same with Tristan and Giddy’s wives. That numbered at least six spies in the household, not counting Keeling, if he were also involved. It wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination for her to fool the boy into thinking she were also an operative of the Crown.

He looked uncertain.

“The Duke’s wife is in labor and has been for hours. He won’t be at liberty to see you for hours still. If this missive is important, it’s best I handle it.”

Cautiously, the boy said, “Britain is cold,” as if that were a valid reason not to hand over the message.

No—wait! Why did that phrase sound familiar? Frowning, Lucy tugged the notebook from her reticule once more and flipped through the pages, starting at the beginning. She didn’t have to look far. It was one of the copied phrases she’d purloined from Morgan’s office, the basic phrase used as example in one of the ciphers.

The answer was… She flipped the page. “Only in spring.”

When she glanced up, the boy’s face was slack with relief. He thrust an envelope into her hand. “The duke will want to receive this as soon as possible.”

Lucy nodded. “Of course.” She’d give it to him…after she had a peek herself.

Slipping back inside for a bit of privacy, she used her thumbnail to painstakingly open the envelope while leaving as little trace of her tampering on the seal as possible. She’d have to melt the wax back into place, but hopefully Morgan would be too distracted with the arrival of his first child to pay close attention.

When she folded open the letter, she discovered that it was written in code. She used one of the few blank pages left in her notebook and flipped back and forth to the cipher as she decoded it. The missive was from Lord Strickland. Clearly, he had some involvement in the spy business as well.

I know your wife is coming to term, but Monsieur V is back in London. As you know, we haven’t seen hide nor tail of him since Lady Belhaven’s masquerade. I need you in London posthaste, along with your best spies. We must catch this spymaster before he disappears into smoke once more. We must catch his face this time.

Lady Belhaven’s masquerade? Lucy had attended that. In fact, so had Rocky, the Tenwick gardener, which she’d thought a little odd. She’d considered it odd that Morgan would lend Rocky’s services over the winter even with the hothouse in disrepair. Even more bizarre had been the fact that Catt had followed Rocky into Lady Belhaven’s household, though Lucy had assumed he’d only done that because he was in love with her. In a way, she had been right, seeing as they were now married.

But, if the Belhaven masquerade had something to do with the spy effort…then Rocky and Catt must be spies. And if they were spies…

The man Rocky had tasked her to watch must have been Monsieur V. Everyone, Lucy’s entire family, had come running to burst into the library a moment after he’d departed. Lucy had thought their reaction a bit extreme simply to preserve her virtue for sneaking away without a chaperone. Though, given her brothers’ overprotective streak, it hadn’t been beyond the realm of possibility.

Now, Lucy replayed the scene. Could they have been worried about her safety, not only her virtue? The stranger hadn’t hurt her…but he had seemed amused by her accusation. And he’d given her a flower, which Morgan had soon taken possession of even though the man had left it for Rocky.

What a dolt I’ve been.

She re-read the decoded missive, thinking. Strickland stated that no one knew what this Monsieur V looked like—but if he was the man Lucy had confronted, that wasn’t true. She knew. Why had no one asked her?

Because of Morgan. A duke held a lot of clout, apparently even against Lord Strickland. Her brothers didn’t want to put her in danger—apparently even if it jeopardized the security of the nation.

She gritted her teeth. I’m not a child. She could do anything her brothers could do. In fact, she would. She would prove to them that she was just as brave and smart as they were. And she’d do it by finding the very spymaster they hadn’t been able to locate.

As she tucked the letter into her reticule along with her notebook, a cheer roared from the family quarters to her left. Lucy lifted her skirts and hurried up the wooden steps to the balcony that abutted the quarters. She slipped through a narrow corridor, ending in an area swarming with servants. They beamed, laughed, jostled each other. Money exchanged hands. Phil must have successfully delivered her baby.

Lucy breached the ocean of servants and was able to breathe a little easier. She spotted her best friend, bouncing on the balls of her feet as Tristan and Freddie hugged next to her. When she spotted Lucy, Charlie skipped over.

“Did you hear? It’s a boy!”

The future Duke of Tenwick had been born. Lucy smiled. That ought to keep her brothers occupied for the foreseeable future. She hugged Charlie tight, sharing in her joy and relief that Phil’s labor had concluded successfully.

“And Phil?” she asked.

“Healthy. No complications, the physician said. They’re just cleaning off the baby and mother and then everyone can go in to see him. They’re naming him Oliver, after her father.”

Lucy smiled. “Good. After we say hello, I want you to pack your bags.”

“Why?” Charlie frowned.

“They’ve got so much help that we’ll only be in the way if we stay here. We’re going back to London.”

Where Lucy would start the search for the notorious spymaster only she could find.