Read Jenna Petersen - [Lady Spies] Online
Authors: Desire Never Dies
All books are for Michael,
but especially this one.
Thank you for the past ten years
of loving me and laughing with me
and being my very best friend.
My unwavering belief in happily ever after
is all thanks to you.
“Your plan is progressing well, my lady.” Charles Isley paced…
The crash jolted Anastasia Whittig out of her concentration. She…
Lucas looked from Charles Isley to the woman. He didn’t…
“I cannot tell you how happy I am that you’ve…
A ball. How could she be going to a ball?
A discreet visit could do no harm. Her driver could…
Lucas winced. He couldn’t help it. Although it had been…
She was the only woman wearing black, but that wasn’t…
Ana’s head spun as she slipped into the house. She…
“Concentrate,” Ana ordered herself through clenched teeth. “You can do…
Lucas knew who the woman with Ana was. Lady Carmichael,…
Lucas watched Ana disappear into her home and slam the…
Lucas shifted his weight from one leg to another, leaning…
Lucas cleared his throat before he opened the door to…
Pain slashed through Lucas’s body, so hard and harsh that…
Lucas read the report in front of him a third…
If he wouldn’t look at her, she certainly didn’t have…
Lucas cursed. How stupid was he to lose track of…
Lucas stepped on the overhanging branch of the large beech…
Ana glanced up from her lap as the carriage they…
Lucas opened the door to his bedchamber and motioned for…
Lucas had seen death before, but violent death like this…
Lucas hit the edge of the building with enough force…
Lucas stared at the evidence Ana had collected against his…
“Henry,” she repeated, still too shocked to fully comprehend everything…
“You’re certain this spray won’t have a lasting effect?” Charlie…
our plan is progressing well, my lady.” Charles Isley paced the perimeter of his companion’s sitting room. Outside, he heard the strains of music from the crowded ballroom, but was confident that the two of them would not be interrupted. Her ladyship had positioned two footmen outside the parlor as guards. No one would even know he had been there.
No wonder she was forming a group of female spies.
“Very good, Charles.” The lady did not turn from the window, but Charlie heard the smile in her voice. “I’m very pleased to hear it.”
“You have chosen one lady to approach for your scheme and she has said yes,” he continued. “But you said you wished for more than one spy to work for you, for the ladies to work together. Who else did you have in mind?”
Her ladyship did not hesitate. “I have thought very long about that and have chosen a name that was not on your list.”
He cocked his head with curiosity. She had asked he compile a list of potential spies weeks ago, and he had assumed all the women she picked for her clandestine group would be selected from it. After all, he had researched the women meticulously.
“I admit, you’ve taken me aback,” he said, sipping the drink he’d been offered upon his arrival. “Who is the lady?”
“Have you ever met Lady Whittig?”
Charlie searched his memory. “Perhaps. The name seems familiar.” He started as a picture of a shy woman, timid and in deep mourning, came to mind. “Wait, do you mean
His companion turned to face him with a little smile. “Yes, the very one.”
“She is—is—” He searched for a word that would not offend.
Her ladyship shrugged as if she understood the cause for his hesitation. “Yes, Anastasia is very reserved. But she possesses an uncommon intelligence.”
Charlie didn’t doubt that, but there were other issues. “She loved her husband deeply. He died six months ago, yet she has hardly been seen in public since.”
A shadow passed over his companion’s face, and he could see she was thinking of her own husband, gone for just a year. Just as beloved. Just as missed.
“I can tell you from personal experience that sometimes a vocation is what we need most when our grief overwhelms us,” she said softly.
“Yes, my lady. But what can she do to aid our group?”
Her ladyship’s melancholy fled, replaced by a wide smile. “I once saw her read a page from a new book. She could not have ever read it before. Within moments, she was able to recite the passage word for word, without once referencing the original.”
Charlie’s eyebrows raised. “That
“I think, if properly trained, she would be a master with codes. And I also believe Anastasia Whittig has much more to her than we even guess now.”
Charlie made a few brief notes before he gave the lady a bow. “I will make contact with her immediately and report to you in a few days as to her answer.”
He turned to the door, but her ladyship’s voice halted him. “Charles.” When he turned back, she continued, “Be gentle with her.”
With a smile, he bowed again. “I will endeavor to treat her with the utmost care, my lady. I would not
lose a potential spy if I can prevent it in any way. Good evening.”
Her ladyship turned toward the window again. “Good evening, Charles. And good luck.”
he crash jolted Anastasia Whittig out of her concentration. She blinked, pushing her spectacles up the bridge of her nose as she looked at the ceiling with pursed lips. What in the world were the servants doing up there, teaching each other to dance? She hated interruptions, especially when she was so dratted close to finding the key to this latest invention.
Glaring at the stairs that lead from her secret workroom to the main floor above, she returned her attention to her efforts.
The second crash made her jump. It was followed by more pounding feet and, to Ana’s surprise, the
door above her stairway flew open. Normally, the servants knew better than to invade her private area, so for them to open her door, without even knocking, was an indication that something serious was afoot.
A maid came down two steps. Her cap was crooked and her eyes wide and wild. Ana cocked her head.
“What in the world is it, Mary? I’m in the middle of—”
The girl panted, fear painted across her face in pale colors. “Lady Allington, my lady, she—she—”
The bottle of kerosene in Ana’s hand slipped free, hitting the floor with a crash that she hardly heard above the sudden rush of blood roaring in her ears. Lady Allington was her best friend, Emily Redgrave, mistress of the house they shared. She was also a spy.
Just like Anastasia.
Emily had been out that night on a case. There would only be one reason for Mary’s terror, for her intrusion. Something had gone terribly wrong.
“Where is she?” Ana cried as she ran for the stairs. She stumbled as she grasped the banister to pull herself up. Panic rose in her chest, choking her, making it hard to breathe as she followed the girl through the kitchen.
“She came in through the back, Lady Whittig,” the girl panted. “And we carried her to the parlor.”
her?” Ana repeated in shock. “Oh my God.”
Mary burst through the parlor closest to the back
of the house. Ana shoved past her to see a circle of sobbing, trembling servants surrounding the settee. Elbowing her way through the crowd, she stopped in horror at what she beheld.
Emily lay on the couch, eyes shut. Her skin was pale, her brow sweaty, and even the stir of the noisy staff didn’t wake her as she rested in unnatural slumber. Another maid knelt over her, pressing a dishrag against her side. Ana could already see blood seeping through the cloth.
She dropped down beside her friend. “Let me see, Hester.”
The girl darted a glance in her direction and then pulled the cloth away. Ana recoiled. Emily’s torn gown revealed a large wound. The fabric was soaked in blood and edged with the remnants of gunpowder.
She had been shot.
Grabbing the towel from Hester’s shaking hands, Ana returned it to its place and pressed to ebb the flow of Emily’s blood.
Nausea washed over her, fear froze her, but Ana shook it off. Now was not the time to get the vapors. The servants looked to her for what steps to take next. The next few decisions she made could save her friend’s life…or ensure it bled out on the settee in the parlor.
She measured her tone carefully. The household was already hysterical enough, there was no need to make the situation any worse. She turned to one of the men in the group. “Robert, ride as fast as you can to Dr. Adam
Wexler’s. You know the way. Tell him we need him. If he is with company, do
tell him anything else. Once you are alone with him, inform him Lady Emily was shot.”
Her driver nodded. “Yes, my lady, I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”
She turned to Benson, their butler. He was pale, his eyes fixed on Emily. He might be a stodgy fellow who disapproved of female spies, but he was loyal to a fault. All their servants had to be in order to keep their secret safe.
“Benson, listen to me,” she said softly, drawing his attention. “Fetch Henderson and tell him to get Charles Isley. Make sure he tells Charlie nothing except that it is an emergency. Have him come to the back and be sure no one sees his entrance so late at night or it will arouse suspicion.”
Benson bowed as he moved for the door. “Yes, my lady.”
“The rest of you, prepare Lady Allington’s room for her convalescence.” She choked, hoping her injured friend would survive to have one. But it gave the servants something to do besides stare as Emily bled. Keeping them busy was a kindness. One she couldn’t grant herself. “Make her room as comfortable as you can. And please,” she added for the benefit of those who weren’t already aware of her secret life, “do not speak of this. Your indiscretion could endanger her ladyship even more.”
The servants nodded and began to leave, whispering in fear as they departed. Ana could only pray for their silence as she returned her attention to Emily.
“Emily,” she whispered, pushing a tangled lock of sweaty blonde hair away from her friend’s eyes as she fought back tears. Her mind spun, taking her to places she didn’t want to remember. Taking her to her own husband’s bedside over five years ago. He had also died from a bullet, a hunting accident on their country estate. He’d been hurt so badly, nothing could save him.
She shook her head.
. She would not lose someone she loved again. She would
lose Emily. She pressed the cloth against Emily’s wound harder and her friend let out a little cry. Ana leaned close.
“I’m here. You’re safe now.” She bit back a sob. Emily wouldn’t want to hear her crying. “You are home.”
Emily groaned as her eyes opened, a shocking bright blue even when clouded with pain. “Alone?” she coughed.
“Yes, the servants have all gone. You’ll be fine, dearest. Adam is coming.” Emily drew a ragged breath, fighting for words, but Ana shook her head. “Save your strength. Don’t try to talk now.”
Ana winced as she realized her statement was more for her own benefit than Emily’s. She simply didn’t want to hear her best friend’s words of good-bye. Couldn’t accept that this was truly happening.
Emily gave a pained growl of frustration. “Trap, Ana. It was…a…trap.”
Charles Isley’s voice cut through Ana’s haze as she paced the room. Hesitating in her steps, she looked at the man who was their superior.
“Please sit down.” He motioned to a chair near him by the fire. “You’ll run yourself ragged if you pace the parlor all night.”
She shook her head and went back to walking the perimeter of the room. “I cannot sit, Charlie,” she whispered. “I can’t pour tea or chat amiably or pretend like my best friend wasn’t brutally attacked tonight. I do not have the strength to be anything but what I am. Upset and frightened.”
Charlie sighed as he ran a hand through his thinning hair. His normally ruddy, round cheeks were pale, and she saw the strain in his expression. He was trying to remain strong for her. Just as she was for him.
But they both knew the seriousness of the situation. How close they had come to losing Emily. How easily they could lose her still.
“Have you sent word to Meredith?” Ana asked, searching for words to fill the horrible silence.
Meredith Sinclair…Archer, she corrected herself, was the third in their band of female spies. She had married a year before, becoming the Marchioness of Carmichael, but she still worked on cases.
Charlie nodded. “I penned a note as soon as Adam came to report on Emily’s condition. Our fastest runners are heading to Carmichael now.”
“It will take at least a day for the missive to arrive and two more for them to make their way to London,” Ana mused, clenching her fists at her sides as she walked. She could only imagine Meredith’s reaction when she heard the news, and it hurt her to imagine her friend experiencing the pain and fear that already gripped her heart. Especially when she’d been so happy since her marriage.
Ana paused at the window to look outside. The gardens always gave her a sense of peace, serenity. Even though it was dark, she could picture the flowers she herself tended; see the trimmed bushes in her mind’s eye. Yet they couldn’t push away the images of Emily bleeding.
She looked down and saw the splashes of red on her black gown. With a shiver, she returned her attention to the darkness outside. Behind her, Charlie rose from his seat and took a few steps toward her.
His voice was gentle as he said, “Emily
survive to see Meredith again, Anastasia. You heard what Adam said when he came to give us a report.”
Ana gave an unladylike snort more attune to Emily’s personality than her own. Yes, Adam had come downstairs and told them Emily would likely survive the night. And since he was one of the best field doctors who had ever served His Majesty’s Army and
now served His Majesty’s spies, Ana believed him.
But if Charlie thought she was so naïve that she hadn’t seen the flash of worry in the doctor’s eyes, or the way he clenched his bloody hands behind his back as he spoke, then the man underestimated her.
She had seen that look from doctors before. Her husband’s physicians had also avoided her eyes. Emily might survive the night…but she was not out of danger.
“Please don’t treat me like a child, Charlie,” she said softy as she turned and snagged his stare. “I have seen death before, as have you. We don’t know if Emily will make it another day or not. Neither does Adam.”
Charlie drew back, clearly surprised at her calm appraisal of the situation. In truth, so was she. While Meredith and Emily were swashbuckling crusaders, full of life and laughter even as they battled the worst traitors and criminals in the country, Ana was quiet. She rarely argued a point. Confrontation was not her strong suit.
She wrinkled her brow. Her quiet disposition wasn’t always a good attribute in a spy, but her other talents made up for it. Her skills with code-making and breaking had been put to the test and passed many times over the years. And her inventions were legend, even amongst the ranks of the male spies who wondered if the rumors of the “Lady Spies” and their mysterious female spy master, Lady M, were true.
Charlie reached out to touch her arm. “After so many
years of living here in Emily’s home, watching her work in the field, decoding her notes, do you have any doubt that she is the strongest woman in England?”
Tears pricked Ana’s eyes and she gave Charlie a watery smile. “There is no question. Lady M herself could not be stronger.”
Charlie nodded. “Then believe that her strength will bring her through. She will use all her training to come out of this injury alive. She will fight. That is the best chance she has.”
Ana sighed as she patted Charlie’s hand. She walked to the fire and stared at the flames with unseeing eyes. “You’re right about her strength. She’s the best spy amongst the three of us, certainly. But that begs the question.” She looked at her superior over her shoulder. “How did this happen?”
Charlie’s mouth drew down. Aside from a brief recounting, they had been avoiding this subject. But they couldn’t pretend it away any longer.
“She said ‘trap,’ didn’t she?” he murmured.
Ana winced as she recalled Emily’s unfocused stare, her choked voice. “Yes. That was all she could manage before she lost consciousness a second time.” Folding her arms, Ana whispered, “Something went terribly wrong tonight. The field is a dangerous place, too dangerous.”
Charlie drew in a breath to say something, probably argue as he always did when she lamented the dangers of their work, but before he could get out a word, the
parlor door came open and a stranger strode inside. Ana spun on the intruder, but he didn’t even look in her direction as he headed for Charlie with a purposeful gait.
He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark hair that swept across his forehead and teased the top of his ears. His focused eyes were the color of slate. He carried himself like he belonged in her parlor, though he hadn’t been invited or even waited to be escorted by her harried staff. She tilted her head. He seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place him as he stopped in front of Charlie and gave a brief salute.
“She was shot?” he said without preamble.
Ana reeled. This man knew about Emily?
Charlie nodded once. “Yes.”
“Who is this?” Ana asked, pushing away from the fireplace as she made her way toward the man.
The stranger stiffened, spinning on her and pinning her in place with a piercing glance. His wariness was evident in the way he held himself, the way his eyes swept over her. Analyzing. Judging in an instant. She felt the very odd sensation that she had been stripped bare, laid out for this man to examine until he knew her every secret. Until he knew her very soul.
Charlie motioned to him. “Ana, this is Lucas Tyler. He was to be Emily’s partner in her investigation. He was the man she was on her way to meet when she was attacked tonight.”
She heard nothing more as hot blood rushed to her
ears. All the emotions she had fought to manage since she saw Emily bleeding bubbled and spiraled out of control. She stumbled toward the man, unable to keep herself from balling her hands into trembling fists.
!” she cried, pushing into Tyler’s personal space without any thought for the propriety of such an action. Her anger was too powerful to deny. “This is
fault! Emily may be dying because of