Read Behind the Mask (House of Lords) Online
Authors: Meg Brooke
“No,” Colin said, “the elder sister, Eleanor, is the new Lady Pierce.”
“Bloody hell,” Anthony murmured. “I always thought she had rather too much brain behind all that beauty, but I suppose that’s ideal for you, isn’t it? But my goodness, you work fast. Do you know, I think she’s turned down four different fellows since her come-out.”
“Three,” Colin corrected him.
“This calls for a drink,” Anthony said cheerily, completely oblivious to Colin’s cool tone.
But Colin did not follow him towards the members’ sitting room. “If you’ll excuse me, Anthony, I must find Viscount Palmerston on some official business.”
“Of course,” Anthony said, suddenly serious again. “He’ll be back in the library, I’ll wager.”
Colin thanked him and went back through the corridor and into the quieter part of the large club building. Sure enough, Viscount Palmerston was sitting in a large wingback chair near one of the windows, a newspaper spread across his lap. He looked up as Colin entered, but he did not rise or even smile. When Colin saw the man sitting beside him he understood why. It was Karl Lindstrom, a Swedish transplant who worked in the Foreign Office. If Colin wasn’t mistaken, Lindstrom had been one of the men out in the corridor. Had he already passed the gossip along to their employer?
As Colin drew nearer, Lindstrom rose and took his hand, looking down on him from his great height. The towering Swede was one of the biggest men Colin had ever met, and he never failed to feel a little intimidated in his presence. “My congratulations, Lord Pierce,” Lindstrom said.
Colin tried to smile. “Thank you, Lindstrom,” he said calmly. Viscount Palmerston still did not look up.
“I’ll leave you,” the Swede offered, and with a curt nod he went out into the corridor.
“Well,” Palmerston said when he had gone. “You’ve had quite the week.” He gestured to the now empty chair. Colin took it obediently.
“You got the latest dispatch, then?” he asked. He had sent an express the evening before, but it had not contained any of the night’s events.
Palmerston nodded. “I am sorry I sent Strathmore. He was a promising recruit, but Algeria changed him.”
“Clearly,” Colin said.
“You are certain he will not make another attempt?”
Colin nodded grimly. “You’ll agree with me when you hear what has happened in the last twenty-four hours.” He looked about. The library was empty, and so in hushed tones he related last night’s events and the morning’s discovery.
When he had finished, Palmerston nodded thoughtfully. Then he folded his paper. “I must apologize, Lord Pierce, for underestimating the seriousness of the threat. It was a grave mistake, one that put many lives in danger. You were right in your advice to me, and I shall not forget it.”
Colin breathed a small sigh of relief as he realized that he was not, after all, going to be chastised for his failures. “There is one complication that remains,” he said.
“He must be brought to London, of course. There’s nothing for it, no matter how much we might wish to conceal these events.”
“You mean, to be executed?”
Palmerston shrugged. “That is not for you or I to say.”
“I came, My Lord, to plead for his life.”
Palmerston had not yet looked up from his paper, but now he did, his eyes very wide as he stared at Colin. “Did you really?” he asked. “How extraordinary.”
“He is a boy, My Lord,” Colin said. “He was forced into this life by poverty and desperation and a desire to do something to stop the overthrow of his country. He has done nothing wrong. He and his cousin tried to stop Strathmore and the other accomplice from doing what they did, but they failed, and his cousin was killed for his qualms. He does not deserve to be executed for the crimes of others.”
“What do you propose I do? Put him on the next ship to Algeria?”
Colin had been mulling over this problem since leaving Sidney Park. Clearly, Udad could not be sent back to his home; it would be unthinkable. But he also should not spend the rest of his days rotting in a British prison. “Release him to me,” he said. When Palmerston blinked at him, he said, “I will be responsible for him.”
“What will you
“He reads and writes Arabic. He is a quick learner—he could be taught other languages as well. He would be a valuable asset to me.”
“You wish to take him on as...as an assistant?”
Palmerston lifted the glass of brandy that had been sitting untouched at his elbow and took a sip. “You are, Lord Pierce, the strangest spy I have ever had in my employ.”
“I’m not a spy any longer, Lord Palmerston.”
“With a man like that at your side, you could be.”
Colin shook his head. “I have a wife to think of now, My Lord. I’d prefer to stay on the lighter side of the Foreign Service.”
“Ah, yes. The new Lady Pierce. I had almost forgotten.” The Foreign Secretary sounded as though he had just discovered that the dog he had set to guard the henhouse was, in fact, a fox.
Colin flushed and looked down at his hands. “It was entirely my fault, My Lord.”
“I don’t doubt it. Tell me, will she like Brussels, this sister of Lord Sidney’s?”
“I think so. She has some...misgivings, but they will pass.”
“Of course,” Palmerston said, not sounding entirely convinced. Colin could not blame the man, since he was not convinced himself.
“She is not my primary concern now, My Lord.”
“She jolly well should be!” Palmerston chuckled. “You, young man, have not been married long enough, but you will learn that a woman ought
to be one’s primary concern, even when one is a thousand miles away. If it weren’t for the infernal creatures I would not be departing for Vienna in three days, dash it all.”
“Thank you, My Lord, for that sage advice,” Colin retorted, though he smiled as he realized that it was Palmerston’s mistress, Lady Cowper, who drew him to the Continent. “What I meant was: what do you say about Mr. Udad?”
“Is that his name? Well, Lord Pierce, if you can figure out how to remove the man from England without anyone being the wiser, I’ll turn a blind eye. I can’t say that I like it, but I think it would save the country a good deal of fear and anxiety to never know that he even existed. But he can never return here, do you understand?”
“Of course, My Lord,” Colin said. With his contacts, it would be easy to slip Udad out of the country. “Thank you, My Lord.” He rose.
“Are you staying in London?”
Colin nodded. “Just for tonight. There is a costume ball at Sidney Park tomorrow that I’ve promised to attend.”
“Isn’t the princess a little young for a masquerade?”
“Apparently her mother adores them, and is not particularly troubled with whether or not her daughter is able to attend.”
Palmerston smiled. “Why don’t you stay for dinner, then, and tell me everything else I have not already heard about your escapades in Norfolk?”
“I would be happy to, My Lord,” Colin said, “though I think it would take several dinners to tell you everything that has occurred in the last week.”
September 6, 1834
Eleanor had spent a restless night, and waking to a sky full of hazy clouds and thick, humid air did nothing to improve her mood. She felt like a cloth someone had wrung out, and as she rang for Lily she wondered how she was going to make it through the day, let alone through the ordeal of the masquerade ball that awaited her. It was only as Lily was arranging her hair that it occurred to her that she had never bothered to consider a costume for Colin. Eleanor had planned to attend as Athena, but she could not quite imagine Colin donning a matching costume, and anyway Athena had never had a consort.
Assuming, of course, that he returned in time for the masquerade. Eleanor knew that he was doing important work, that Mr. Udad’s life depended on him. She was grateful and proud that he was willing to fight for the life of a man he had every right to condemn. But it hurt more than she would have liked that he had acknowledged how little she mattered when compared with his work, especially after the discussion she had had with his mother yesterday.
Ever dutiful, Eleanor decided to soldier on. The militia were making ready to depart with the princess in the morning, and with Colin gone she found herself overseeing their preparations as well as those for the evening’s festivities. When she passed Leo in the hall that afternoon she was so preoccupied that she almost walked right past him without a second glance, only stopping when he said her name.
“Everything ready for tonight?”
“It should be,” said Eleanor, who was on her way to look over the last delivery of flowers. She had a note in her hand from Mrs. Althorpe, who wondered if she might not bring her brother after all. It was the usual chaos that preceded a country ball, and Eleanor found herself relishing it for all that it was aggravating.
“Colin’s gone to London, I understand.”
Eleanor nodded, taking a step closer to her brother so that she could lower her voice. “He means to help Mr. Udad,” she said.
Colin crossed his arms and leaned back against the paneling. “I still don’t understand why you feel such sympathy for the man,” he said. “He’s a terrorist.”
“He’s no older than I am,” Eleanor said, “and I’m certain his choice was made more out of desperation than hatred. Perhaps if he were given the chance he could be something different, something better. No one should be forced into a life they don’t want.”
Looking pointedly at her, Leo said, “Do you feel that you were forced, Eleanor?”
“Of course not,” she said, looking down at her hands as they smoothed her skirts. “I made my choice, Leo. I don’t resent you for doing the honorable thing, nor do I resent Colin. It is as it must be.”
He patted her shoulder. ‘That’s our Eleanor,” he said, “always doing the right thing.”
“I do wish you’d stop saying that,” Eleanor grumbled. “After all, I clearly do
always do what is expected of me. If I did, I would not be married to Colin now.”
Leo shrugged and pushed away from the wall. As he went into the salon he called out, “Perhaps that
the right thing, then.”
Eleanor stood in the hall for a moment, staring after him. Just as she was about to go into the drawing room in search of the Duchess of Kent, however, a footman appeared with a stack of letters for her. Casting a guilty glance in the direction of the drawing room, Eleanor escaped up the stairs to her room.
There were letters from Imogen, Cynthia, and Clarissa, all of whom had received word of her marriage. All expressed their joy, but also their sadness at losing her assistance in the preparations for the school. Eleanor sat at her desk, allowing a few tears to escape and roll down her cheeks as she read what Cynthia had written about the happiness marriage had brought her. She wondered if she would ever feel the joy her friends had found with their husbands.
Of the three, Imogen was the only one who was unmarried, but even she gushed about her excitement. Much of her letter was composed of details about the Knightsbridge School, the children who were already in residence and the issues left to be resolved. Clarissa and her husband were taking their twins home to Ramsay, the Earl of Stowe’s ancestral home in Somerset, soon, leaving Imogen alone to deal with all those problems, and though she wrote brightly about how much she enjoyed a challenge, Eleanor knew that her friend was feeling overwhelmed.