Behind the Mask (House of Lords) (42 page)

BOOK: Behind the Mask (House of Lords)
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“Let us hope not,” Udad said, not sounding convinced. But then he looked up at Colin. “I am sorry. trust that man, he who was the White Hand?”

Colin nodded again. “He fooled us all.”

“Yes,” Udad said.

Colin had known that Udad would confirm his suspicions, and still it was a blow to hear that the man he had trusted had been a traitor all the time. He stood back up, putting the vial in his pocket.

“Please, what happen to me now?”

Colin frowned. “I am going to try to help you, if I can. But I must work quickly. Thank you for your help.”

“It is pleasure,” Udad said, bowing his head.

Colin went upstairs to find his wife. She would not be pleased when she heard what he planned.


It did not take Eleanor long to dress, and as soon as she was finished she went down to the salon, where her mother-in-law was already waiting, an embroidery hoop on her lap. Princess Victoria and Lehzen were seated across from her, the princess chatting amiably, but they all turned as Eleanor entered. “Oh, Lady Pierce,” the princess cried, her doll-like face breaking into a smile, “you
clean up well.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Eleanor said.

Lady Townsley smiled. “Come and sit beside me, dear.” Eleanor obeyed, and for a moment she stared across at the princess and her governess, trying to find the words to explain that her new mother-in-law wished to interrogate her. There didn’t seem to be a polite way to say it.

Finally, Lehzen cleared her throat. “We will leave you. I am sure you have much to discuss.” Then she held out her hand for her charge, who took it obediently and followed her out into the drawing room.

Lady Townsley smiled as she watched them go, then looked down at the hoop, the needle rising and falling gracefully in her hand. “She is such a lovely child,” she said at last. “I pray that she has a few more years to grow up before...well, before the inevitable happens.”

“As does everyone else, except perhaps her mother,” Eleanor commented wryly.

“You will have to be careful with remarks like that, Eleanor,” Lady Townsley said, not taking her eyes off her needle. “When you are the wife of a...whatever Colin is, what you say is taken seriously.”

Eleanor bit back a caustic remark. Of course she knew that she would have to guard her words carefully when she was in Brussels. She understood what was expected of the wife of a diplomat. But she did not want to appear uncouth, and so she said nothing.

“I understand from your mother that you spend much of the year in London.”

When had Lady Townsley had time to speak to her mother? “Yes,” Eleanor said, “I have found a great many things there to keep me occupied.”


She should not have said that. Now she would have to tell her about the Knightsbridge School. “My friend Cynthia Bainbridge—”

“The Duchess of Danforth?”

“Yes. Anyway, she and her husband purchased a house in Knightsbridge this spring, and we are in the process of converting it into a school for indigent children.”

“How noble,” Lady Townsley said flatly, as though she did not really mean it. “Who is ‘we’?”

“Clarissa Rennick, Imogen Bainbridge, Cynthia and I,” Eleanor answered.

Lady Townsley nodded thoughtfully. “Do you know the Earl and Countess of Stowe well?”

“Lord Stowe was a childhood friend of my brother’s.”

“I see. What will you do about the school, now that you are planning to go to Brussels?”

Eleanor could not stop the sigh that escaped her lips. “I will have to give up the work, I suppose.”

“That is a shame,” Lady Townsley said, “when it means so much to you.”

Nodding thoughtfully, Eleanor said, “My place is beside Colin.”

“Of course, dear. You will be a dutiful wife to him, I am sure. But with a man like Colin, a man that devoted to his work, it is easy to get lost in the background. You must not forget about yourself, my girl.”

Eleanor stared at her. Was she suggesting that Eleanor assert herself in her marriage? That she pursue the things that made her happy? It was exactly the opposite of what she had expected Lady Townsley to say. But perhaps she was right. Perhaps there was a middle ground.

Just then, Colin appeared in the doorway, still dressed in his riding clothes, his face very pale. “Good morning, mother,” he said. “Eleanor, may I speak with you a moment?”

Eleanor looked over at her mother-in-law, who was still focused on her embroidery. “Of course,” she said, rising and following Colin into the library. “What is it?” she asked when he had closed the doors behind them. “What’s happened?”

He leaned on the table and crossed his arms over his chest. “Simon Strathmore is dead,” he said quietly. “I found his body out on the flats this morning. He was thrown from his horse.”

Eleanor went to him, taking one of his hands in hers. “I’m sorry, Colin,” she said. “I know you trusted him.”

He looked up at her, and she saw the doubt in his eyes, the shame at having been taken in by the man. She felt the pain right along with him.

“You cannot be blamed for his treachery,” she insisted.

Looking away, he said bitterly, “I should have seen it. I should have known. But at least now I know for certain what he was,” he added, opening his hand to reveal a thin glass vial. “This was in his pocket.”

Eleanor took it and held it up to her face, inhaling. Valerian. The scent was unmistakable. She had not known it could be used as a poison, but in large enough doses...well, anything was possible. “He cannot hurt anyone ever again,” she said. “That is the important thing.
did that.”

“No,” he said, “his own recklessness did that. I had nothing to do with it.”

For a moment they were both silent. Eleanor felt helpless; there was nothing she could say to make him see what he had done for her and her family and the princess. At last, hoping to take his mind off his frustration, she asked the question that had been at the back of her mind for days. “What will happen to Mr. Udad?”

Colin frowned and ran a hand over his face. “I must ride to London today to see Viscount Palmerston. I am hoping to secure some sort of safe passage for the boy, but it must be done quietly.”

“Of course,” she said, shuddering to think what might happen if the more hawkish members of the Foreign Office discovered that one of the terrorists who had plotted to kill Princess Victoria was still in British custody. He would be executed, certainly, and he did not deserve that. She doubted most of His Majesty’s government would agree with her, but she was glad Colin did. “But...must you go today?”

He nodded resolutely. “I hope we will be able to leave for Brussels within a few days, Eleanor. It must be now.”

“A...a few days?”

“Is that not convenient?” he asked sharply.

She let go his hand and stepped away. “I had thought I would have a little more time prepare.”

“You will learn to always be prepared to depart quickly,” Colin said. “Things move fast in my world. You’ll get used to it.”

“Will I?” she asked.

He groaned. “Eleanor, I don’t have time for this argument now.” He stood and came to her, pressing a quick kiss to her forehead. “I’ll be back for the ball tomorrow night. I promise.”

She nodded, but did not meet his eyes.

“Crawley will take care of you all in my absence,” he said. Then he marched out of the room, leaving her to stare after him.

Was this how it would always be? Would he make a decision and expect her to blindly follow him? She thought of his mother’s advice, that Eleanor should not forget about her own desires, her own dreams, just because she was married to a man who thought only of his work.

Could she do it? Eleanor had always been the compliant girl, the dutiful daughter. Did she have the strength now to disobey?

“Eleanor, there you are,” her mother said from the doorway. “Come see the lovely little sketch Maris has made of the princess.”

Eleanor took a deep breath. “Of course, Mama,” she said. But she stood a moment longer, watching out the window as Colin rode away down the drive.


Stupid, stupid, stupid, Colin scolded himself as he rode. He had allowed his own frustrations to bleed into his relationship with Eleanor, had snapped at her when it was really himself with whom he was angry.

He had to focus now. He could not think of her, could not worry about what she was feeling when there was so much on the line. The question she had asked was the same one that had been rattling around in his brain for some time. He was convinced that Meddur Udad was little more than a pawn, a boy who was the victim of a stronger personality. But there were few men who would agree with him, and fewer still who would help him. There was little time if he meant to save the boy. He had to see Viscount Palmerston now, before word got out that Udad was still in their custody.

When he stopped to change horses he took a few moments to stretch his legs, and as he did he realized that the little village green was familiar. Here he had strolled with Eleanor, little more than a week ago.
Mama says I must convince my husband to take me on a long honeymoon on the Continent
, she had said.

Wasn’t that exactly what he was giving her?

It wasn’t. He knew it wasn’t. He would be taking her to Brussels, where she would spend a good deal of time on her own until she made some friends in the city. But she was his wife now, and he was the one who was meant to make the decisions for them both.

It was late afternoon when he rode through the outskirts of the city. When he reached the Foreign Office at Whitehall, however, he was told that Lord Palmerston had gone to Brooks’s, the club to which he and Colin both belonged, though Colin had not set foot in the place in several years. He had joined more because it was a Whig institution, and his father was a staunch Tory. It had given him pleasure to rebel a little. Now, however, he was grateful for his membership. As he left his horse at the corner of St. James’s Street, he passed Lord Anthony Beresford. The Beresford estate bordered Townsley, and Anthony and Colin had grown up wreaking havoc across the Staffordshire countryside. “Colin!” Anthony called, smiling and shaking his hand. “When did you return to the country?”

“Last week,” Colin said, realizing as another gentleman tipped his hat in passing that the hope he had cherished of sneaking quietly in and out of London had been rather extraordinary.

“Have you been visiting your parents at Townsley?”

“No,” Colin said. There was no hope of concealing his activities at Sidney Park—Anthony would be offended if he refused to answer any questions, and there was no harm in telling him at least part of the truth, so he added, “I have been in Norfolk.”

“Norfolk? You didn’t happen to see Viscount Sidney while you were there, did you? Sidney Park is in Norfolk, isn’t it?”

Colin had not realized that Anthony knew Leo, though he supposed they were both in the Lords together, and Leo had always been the sort of person who knew absolutely everyone within even the remotest corners of his social sphere. “It is,” Colin admitted. “I was there, in fact.”

“Whatever for?” Anthony asked as Colin led him into the club. If he was going to tell his friend about his marriage, he wanted to do it indoors, at least, and not in the middle of the street.

“I’ve married his sister,” Colin said as the door closed behind them.

“What?” Anthony cried, rather more loudly than Colin thought was necessary. Several men were milling about the corridor at this time of day, and they all turned to stare. “Not one of the twins?”

BOOK: Behind the Mask (House of Lords)
11.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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