Authors: Stefanie Sloane
“It’s three o’clock in the afternoon. Surely ‘other arrangements’ could have, and
should have, been made with regard to your games above stairs. Won’t her husband wonder
where she’s gone off to?”
Will returned Carmichael’s halfhearted reproach with a smile. “You know very well
Winn is likely as not foxed by now. And even if he wasn’t, he couldn’t care less about
Beatrice. Which is why she’s the ideal woman for me. I really should be thanking the
fellow, come to think of it.”
Carmichael quirked a brow and said nothing, which Will found highly annoying. “Are
we done making comment upon my personal exploits?”
Carmichael looked as if he might smile. “Quite.”
“Excellent.” Will shifted his position, careful to keep a hand on the disobedient
gown. “Now, old man, tell me, are you here on Corinthian business or were you simply
anxious to see me?”
Will was a member of the Young Corinthians, a clandestine spy organization that operated
deep within the British government. Carmichael led the elite force with an iron fist,
managing the many lords in service with skilled precision.
Carmichael smiled at the reference to his age, no more than half a dozen years separating
the two. “Very well, on to business.” He stood, his wiry frame taking little time
to unfold. “We’ve received intelligence from several
reliable resources in France regarding a kidnapping plot about to be put in play.”
“And the target?” Will leaned forward, instantly focused on the threat, their conversation
about his mistress forgotten. “Princess Caroline, perhaps?”
“No,” Carmichael answered as he started to pace. “No, the goal is money, but this
time the target is a wealthy young woman. More specifically, the wealthiest woman
Will frowned as he began a mental check of who that might be. Despite his own family’s
social significance, he paid little attention to such things, and identifying the
chit presented a challenge. “You’ll have to give me a clue, here, old man. I’m afraid
my years spent cultivating a rake’s reputation have hardly left me on intimate terms
with the ton’s wealthiest debutantes.”
“Lady Lucinda Grey,” Carmichael answered, stopping just in front of the mullioned
window. “Daughter of the late Earl of Sinclair. Of course, the title now belongs to
a great-uncle. But Lady Lucinda inherited a fortune in unentailed property from her
father. Not to mention a town house and other bits and baubles from her mother.”
Will let out a low whistle of appreciation.
“Do you know her?” Carmichael inquired.
Will relaxed into his chair, stretching his long legs out in front of him and crossing
them at the ankles while still managing to remain decently covered by the gown. “Lady
Lucinda Grey? Only by reputation. Good Lord, from what I’ve heard of her, the kidnappers
should be fearful. Beautiful, charming, and intelligent enough to deny thousands of
men the honor of her hand for nearly a decade. Lady Lucinda will have her captors
enthralled in no time.”
“Perhaps. But I’m afraid we can’t count on her charms and ability alone,” Carmichael
began. “Fortunately for
our purposes, she’s apparently looking for a husband this season.”
Carmichael paused, and he looked at Will as if he ought to know what the hell he was
“This is where you come in,” he finally added.
Will straightened and tried to look into Carmichael’s face. But the old man was standing
with his back to the window, and his face had been cast into shadow, making it difficult
to read his expression.
Will cleared his throat and began carefully, choosing each word with the same precision
he reserved for his work. “I’m not sure I understand, especially in light of our conversation
a few moments ago. I’ve spent years cultivating a reputation guaranteed to make the
ton believe I’m an irredeemable rake. It’s been an excellent cover. I’m the last man
anyone would believe to be looking for a wife, never mind the richest, most sought-after
woman in all of England.”
“Your reputation is an impediment in this instance, I’ll admit. But you are, after
all, the best actor among all the Corinthians, are you not?”
Will leaned a bit to the right but, much to his frustration, still couldn’t see Carmichael’s
face clearly. “Flattery will get you nowhere, old man. Besides, why not hedge your
bets and use someone who actually has a prayer of breathing the same air as Lady Lucinda?
Talbot or Wharton would be perfect. They’re such, such …” He waved a hand, searching
for the appropriate term.
“ ‘Gentlemen’ is the word I believe you’re looking for.”
Will shifted to the left but still could not see Carmichael well. “Yes, gentlemen,
or in other words, men who would be allowed within ten paces of the woman. Unless
it is your intention to terrify the chit. One look at me and she’d succumb to a fit
of the vapors.”
“Oh, but you have something that no other man in
England has,” Carmichael said with calm conviction. “And it’s something she desperately
Will stood and walked to the fireplace, where he leaned his forearm on the mantel.
“What could I possibly have that Lady Lucinda Grey would desire?”
He had a clear view of Carmichael now and easily read the satisfaction on the man’s
“King Solomon’s Mine.”
Will was confused. “Why would the richest woman in all of England want my horse? She
could buy a stableful of champions.”
Carmichael moved around the desk to stand in front of Will. “King Solomon’s Mine,
as you well know, was bred in Oxfordshire on the Whytham estate, which borders Lady
Lucinda’s Bampton Manor.”
“But why would a woman want a horse merely because he was bred next door?”
“You know women. They’re softhearted creatures with minds of steel. And once those
minds are made up … well,” Carmichael shrugged, “there’s little that can be done to
change them. Our intelligence tells us Lady Lucinda was present at King Solomon’s
Mine’s birth and she spent much time thereafter with him. Apparently, she developed
a fondness for the colt and considered him her special project. That is, until you
Will had a brief, swift flash of memory. The look of sheer disbelief on Whytham’s
face when he realized he’d lost the son of Triton’s Tyranny had made it a truly unforgettable
hand of cards.
“That’s all well and good, but what does my owning the horse have to do with Lady
Lucinda allowing me into her company?”
“Rumor has it she enjoys a challenge,” Carmichael answered. He glanced at his engraved
watch and frowned before abruptly tucking it back into his waistcoat
pocket. “You’re a resourceful man. I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
Carmichael’s tone worried Will. He’d known the man too long to be fooled by his seemingly
casual words. “Surely you don’t expect me to offer her Sol in a wager of some sort?”
He didn’t add he’d rather lose a limb than the stallion. The comment would only serve
to confirm Carmichael’s suspicion that Will had a much softer heart than he would
“As I said, you’re a resourceful young man.”
Will would have pressed further, but the look on Carmichael’s face stopped him cold.
“There’s something you’re not telling me. Come now, old man, what is it?”
Will froze. “What do you mean?”
“No.” Will shook his head, refusing to believe it. “That’s impossible. He’s dead.
I saw the body with my own eyes.” The night the Corinthians had taken the French assassin
down on a nondescript Parisian street was seared into his memory. The organization
had breathed a collective sigh of relief with the death of Garenne.
Carmichael cleared his throat. “What was it you called him—the Chameleon?”
“He had a gift for disguises, that much is true,” Will said brusquely. “But the man’s
size, his clothing …” He wanted to convince Carmichael, wanted to convince himself.
“We received intelligence. It guaranteed that we had the right man.”
“We’ve confirmed sightings of him in Paris,” Carmichael said quietly. “And two recent
killings of Corinthians involved his calling card.”
Will felt his stomach roil at the thought of Garenne’s signature. The sadist left
each of his victims with a fanciful letter “G” carved into his left breast, the knife
revealing the victim’s heart, exposed by the crude cuttings of a madman.
Will flexed his hands before curling them into fists, slamming one and then the other
onto the polished top of the massive oak desk.
“He’s rumored to be working for Fouché,” Carmichael added.
“Napoleon must be trying to stick his bloody fingers in every pie on the Continent,”
Will said tersely.
“I’m afraid keeping up with Joseph Fouché’s political loyalties is an exhausting task
indeed,” Carmichael answered. “No, it seems the man now supports the House of Bourbon.
They’ll stop at nothing to secure control of the Continent—perhaps England as well.”
Will looked up at Carmichael, whose brows were knit together in concern. “I suppose
you’ve a starting point for me, then?” he said, carefully resuming his air of insouciance.
Carmichael took a pasteboard card from his breast pocket. “I suggest turning yourself
over to Smithers. The Mansfield ball is this evening and we’ve confirmed that Lady
Lucinda will be in attendance.” He offered the invitation to Will and walked to the
door, pausing to look back. A wry smile tilted his mouth as his gaze flicked to Will’s
bare toes and back up to his face. “A shave might be in order. She likes her suitors
properly turned out. And breeches. Do not forget the breeches.”
Will moved to the window and looked out at the garden. The sight of hyacinths, pansies,
and a whole host of other flowers that he could not name did little to soothe the
growing doubts in his mind. Corinthian business was never a neat and tidy affair.
Subterfuge demanded an often skewed view of right and wrong—something that had heretofore
suited Will’s less-than-traditional view of life.
It’s not as if I’ve never lied to a woman before
, he thought as he turned from the window and rested his shoulder against the heavy
velvet curtain. It wasn’t something he was proud of, but to live as he did and to
be an effective agent for Carmichael often made the truth more dangerous than any
lie ever could be.
No, it wasn’t the lie that bothered him, but perhaps the intent. To court a woman
for the entire ton to see—Will paused mid-thought, nearly shuddering as he steadied
himself before crossing to his desk. For a man to engage in a series of activities
with the believed goal to be matrimony … Well, that was a different animal altogether.
Carmichael had spoken the truth when he reminded Will of his expert acting skills.
He picked up a cut-crystal paperweight and addressed it in Hamlet-like fashion. “The
woman doesn’t stand a chance.”
Will knew it. Carmichael knew it. The only individual involved in their scheme who
was ignorant of this fact would be Lady Lucinda.
Gently replacing the weight to its proper place, Will straightened his dressing gown
and reknotted the silk sash. Could he win the heart of an honorable woman? Could he
do so with the knowledge that he would, in the end, break it?
Of course he could. A man in his position couldn’t afford a conscience. Why his conscience
had chosen this particular moment to come to life, he didn’t know.
In truth, to leave the woman to the likes of Garenne was unthinkable. He’d rather
slit his own throat than allow the madman another chance to kill.
“Bloody hell,” Will swore, padding across the thick Turkish rug with a newfound resolution.
“It’s the horse that has me worried,” he said to no one in particular as he opened
the door. “He really is a fine horse.”