Authors: Joanna Bourne
Annique rubbed her eyes. “I'll do whatever Leblanc wishes. I have no choice.”
“I'll have you when he's through with you,” sneered Henri.
She went on. “He will make me oil my body and do the Gypsy dances I learned when I was a child. I will dance in the firelight for him with nothing but a thin bit of silken cloth upon me. Red silk. Heâ¦he prefers red. He has told me.”
Grey gripped the chain tight, seized by the image of a slim body writhing naked, silhouetted in the golden glow of fire. He wasn't the only one. Henri gripped the bars of the grill and pressed his face close, salivating.
Annique, eyes downcast, swayed as if she were already undulating in the sensual dance she described. “I will draw the crimson silk from my body and caress him with it. The silk will be warm and damp with the heat of the dance. With my heatâ¦” Her left hand stroked down her body, intimately.
Grey ached from a dozen beatings, thirst was a torment every second, and he knew exactly what she was doing. He still went hard as a rock. God, but she was good. Henri clanked and fumbled with the lock. If the Frenchman were half as aroused by Annique's little act as Grey was, it was a wonder he could get the door open at all. Henri grabbed her white shift.
“You should notâ¦You must notâ¦” She struggled, pushing futilely at his hands, with no more strength than a tiny, captured bird. Grey couldn't get to her. “Do notâ¦” Her flailing arm hit the lantern and it fell. Darkness was instant and absolute.
“Stupid bitch,” Henri snarled. “Youâ¦”
There was a small squashed thud. Henri yelped in pain. More thuds and something large and softâa bodyâfell. Grey heard Annique breathing hard.
Planned. She'd planned it allâ¦
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THE SPYMASTER'S LADY
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2008 by Joanna Watkins Bourne.
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I want to thank my literary agent, Pam Hopkins, and my editor, Wendy McCurdy, for their faith in Annique's story.
I'm grateful to the Beau Monde Chapter of the RWA for their tireless effort in promoting historical accuracy in Regency-period books. Their resource materials have been enormously helpful. Thanks also to my crit partners, Mary Ann Clark and Sofie Couch. You have been endlessly patient and encouraging.
I want to express my profound appreciation for the fellowship and support I have found at the CompuServe Books and Writers Forum. I thank Allene Edwards, Barbara Rogan, Beth Shope, Betty Babas, Carol Krenz, Cat Dubie, Darlene Marshall, Diana Gabaldon, Donna Rubino, Janet McConnaughey, John S. Kruszka, Joyce Moye, K.C. Dyer, Karen Watson, Karl Hagen, Kim Laird, Kris Reekie, Linda Grimes, Margaret Campbell, Mark Mussari, Marsha Skrypuch, Martin McArthur, Pamela Patchet, Steve Lopata, Susan Adrian Barth, Varda Amir-Orrel, Vicki Pettersson, and many others.
HE WAS WILLING TO DIE, OF COURSE, BUT SHE
had not planned to do it so soon, or in such a prolonged and uncomfortable fashion, or at the hands of her own countrymen.
She slumped against the wall, which was of cut stone and immensely solid, as prison walls often are. “I do not have the plans. I never had them.”
“I am not a patient man. Where are the plans?”
“I do not haveâ”
The openhanded slap whipped out of the darkness. For one instant she slipped over the edge of consciousness. Then she was back again, in the dark and in pain, with Leblanc.
“Just so.” He touched her cheek where he had hit her and turned her toward him. He did it gently. He had much practice in hurting women. “We continue. This time you will be more helpful.”
“Please. I am trying.”
“You will tell me where you have hidden the plans, Annique.”
“They are a mad dream, these Albion plans. A chimera. I never saw them.” Even as she said it, the Albion plans were clear in her mind. She had held the many pages in her hands, the dog-eared edges, maps covered with smudges and fingerprints, the lists in small, neat writing.
I will not think of this. If I remember, it will show on my face.
“Vauban gave you the plans in Bruges. What did he tell you to do with them?”
He told me to take them to England.
“Why would he give me plans? I am not a valise to go carrying papers about the countryside.”
His fist closed on her throat. Pain exploded. Pain that stopped her breath. She dug her fingers into the wall and held on. With such a useful stone wall to hold on to, she would not fall down.
Leblanc released her. “Let us begin again, at Bruges. You were there. You admit that.”
“I was there. Yes. I reported to Vauban. I was a pair of eyes watching the British. Nothing more. I have told you and told you.” The fingers on her chin tightened. A new pain.
“Vauban left Bruges empty-handed. He went back to Paris without the plans. He must have given them to you. Vauban trusted you.”
He trusted me with treason.
She wouldn't think that. Wouldn't remember.
Her voice had gone hoarse a long time ago. “The papers never came to us. Never.” She tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry. “You hold my life in your hands, sir. If I had the Albion plans, I would lay them at your feet to buy it back.”
Leblanc swore softly, cursing her. Cursing Vauban, who was far away and safe. “The old man didn't hide them. He was too carefully watched. What happened to them?”
“Look to your own associates. Or maybe the British took them. I never saw them. I swear it.”
Leblanc nudged her chin upwards. “You swear? Little Cub, I have watched you lie and lie with that angel face since you were a child. Do not attempt to lie to me.”
“I would not dare. I have served you well. Do you think I'm such a fool I've stopped being afraid of you?” She let tears brim into her eyes. It was a most useful skill and one she had practiced assiduously.
“Almost, one might believe you.”
He plays with me.
She squeezed her lids and let tears slide in cold tracks down her cheeks.
“Almost.” He slowly scratched a line upon her cheek with his thumbnail, following a tear. “But, alas, not quite. You will be more honest before morning, I think.”
“I am honest to you now.”
“Perhaps. We will discuss this at length when my guests have departed. Did you know? FouchÃ© comes to my little soiree tonight. A great honor. He comes to me from meetings with Bonaparte. He comes directly to me, to speak of what the First Consul has said. I am becoming the great man in Paris these days.”
What would I say if I were innocent?
“Take me to FouchÃ©. He will believe me.”
“You will see FouchÃ© when I am satisfied your pretty little mouth is speaking the truth. Until thenâ¦” He reached to the nape of her neck to loosen her dress, pulling the first tie free. “You will make yourself agreeable, eh? I have heard you can be most amusing.”
“I willâ¦try to please you.”
I will survive this. I can survive whatever he does to me.
“You will try very, very hard before I am finished with you.”
“Please.” He wanted to see fear. She would grovel at once, as was politic. “Please. I will do what you want, but not here. Not in a dirty cell with men watching. I hear them breathing. Do not make me do this in front of them.”
“It is only the English dogs. I kennel some spies here till I dispose of them.” His fingers hooked the rough material of her dress at the bodice and pulled it down, uncovering her. “Perhaps I like them to watch.”
She breathed in the air he had used, hot and moist, smelling of wintergreen. His hand crawled inside the bodice of her dress to take hold of her breast. His fingers were smooth and dry, like dead sticks, and he hurt her again and again.
She would not be sick upon Leblanc in his evening clothes. This was no time for her stomach to decide to be sincere.
She pressed against the wall at her back and tried to become nothing. She was darkness. Emptiness. She did not exist at all. It did not work, of course, but it was a goal to fix the mind upon.
At last, he stopped. “I will enjoy using you.”
She did not try to speak. There was no earthly use in doing so.
He hurt her one final time, pinching her mouth between thumb and forefinger, breaking the skin of her dry lips and leaving a taste of blood.
“You have not amused me yet.” He released her abruptly. She heard the scrape and click as he lifted his lantern from the table. “But you will.”
The door clanged shut behind him. His footsteps faded in the corridor, going toward the stairs and upward.
She whispered it to the closed door, though that was an insult to pigs, who were, in general, amiable.
She could hear the other prisoners, the English spies, making small sounds on the other side of the cell, but it was dark, and they could no longer see her. She scrubbed her mouth with the back of her hand and swallowed the sick bile in her throat. It was amazingly filthy being touched by Leblanc. It was like being crawled upon by slugs. She did not think she would become even slightly accustomed to it in the days she had left.
She pulled her dress into decency and let herself fold onto the dirt floor, feeling miserable. This was the end then. The choice that had tormented her for so longâwhat should be done with the Albion plans that had been entrusted to herâwas made. All her logic and reasoning, all her searchings of the heart, had come to nothing. Leblanc had won. She would withstand his persuasions for only a day or two. Then he would wrest the Albion plans from her memory and commit God knew what greedy betrayals with them.
Her old mentor Vauban would be disappointed in her when he heard. He waited in his small stone house in Normandy for her to send word. He had left the decision to her, what should be done with the plans, but he had not intended that she give them to Leblanc. She had failed him. She had failed everyone.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was strange to know her remaining breaths were numbered in some tens of thousands. Forty thousand? Fifty? Perhaps when she was in unbearable pain later on tonight, she would start counting.
She pulled her shoes off, one and then the other. She had been in prisons twice before in her life, both times completely harrowing. At least she had been above ground then, and she had been able to see. Maman had been with her, that first time. Now Maman was dead in a stupid accident that should not have killed a dog.
Maman, Maman, how I miss you.
There was no one in this world to help her.
In the darkness, one feels very alone. She had never become used to this.
The English spy spoke, deep and slow, out of the dark. “I would stand and greet you politely.” Chain clinked. “But I'm forced to be rude.”
It was a measure of how lonely she was that the voice of an enemy English came like a warm handclasp. “There is much of that in my life lately. Rudeness.”
“It seems you have annoyed Leblanc.” He spoke the rich French of the South, without the least trace of a foreign accent.
“You also, it would seem.”
“He doesn't plan to let any of us leave here alive.”
“That is most likely.” She rolled off her stockings, tucked them into her sleeve so she would not lose them, and slipped the shoes back on. One cannot go barefoot. Even in the anteroom to hell, one must be practical.
“Shall we prove him wrong, you and I?”
He did not sound resigned to death, which was admirable in its way, though not very realistic. It was an altogether English way of seeing things.
In the face of such bravery, she could not sit upon the floor and wail. French honor demanded a Frenchwoman meet death as courageously as any English. French honor always seemed to be demanding things of her. Bravery, of a sort, was a coin she was used to counterfeiting. Besides, the plan she was weaving might work. She might overcome Leblanc and escape the chateau and deal with these Albion plans that were the cause of so much trouble to her. And assuredly pigs might grow wings and fly around steeples all over town.
The English was waiting for an answer. She pulled herself to her feet. “I would be delighted to disappoint Leblanc in any way. Do you know where we are? I was not able to tell when I was brought here, but I hope very much this is the chateau in Garches.”
“A strange thing to hope, but yes, this is Garches, the house of the Secret Police.”
“Good, then. I know this place.”
“That will prove useful. After we deal with these chains,” he clinked metallically, “and that locked door. We can help each other.”
He made many assumptions. “There is always the possibility.”
“We can be allies.” The spy chose his words carefully, hoping to charm her so she would be a tool for him. He slipped velvet upon his voice. Underneath, though, she heard an uncompromising sternness and great anger. There was nothing she did not know about such hard, calculating men.
Leblanc took much upon himself to capture British agents in this way. It was an old custom of both French and British secret services that they were not bloodthirsty with one another's agents. This was one of many rules Leblanc broke nowadays.
She worked her way along the wall, picking at the rocks, stealing the gravel that had come loose in the cracks and putting it into her stocking to make her little cosh. It was a weapon easy to use when one could not see. One of her great favorites.
There was a whisper of movement. A younger voice, very weak, spoke. “Somebody's here.”
Her English spy answered, “Just a girl Leblanc brought in. Nothing to worry about.”
“Not yet. It's late at night. We have hours before they come for us. Hours.”
“Good. I'll be readyâ¦when the chance comes.”
“It'll be soon now, Adrian. We'll get free. Wait.”
The mindless optimism of the English. Who could comprehend it? Had not her own mother told her they were all mad?
It was a tidy small prison Leblanc kept. So few loose stones. It took a while before the cosh was heavy enough. She tied the end of the stocking and tucked it into the pocket hidden beneath her skirt. Then she continued to explore the walls, finding nothing at all interesting. There is not so much to discover about rooms that are used as prisons. This one had been a wine cellar before the Revolution. It still smelled of old wood and good wine as well as less wholesome things. Halfway around the cell she came to where the Englishmen were chained, so she stopped to let her hands have a look at them as well.
The one who lay upon the ground was young, younger than she was. Seventeen? Eighteen? He had the body of an acrobat, one of those slight, tightly constructed people. He had been wounded. She could smell the gunpowder on his clothes and the wound going bad. She would wager money there was metal still inside him. When she ran her fingers across his face, his lips were dry and cracked, and he was burning hot. High fever.
They had chained him to the wall with an excellent chain, but a large, old-fashioned padlock. That would have to be picked if they were to escape. She searched his boots and the seams of his clothing, just in case Leblanc's men had missed some small, useful object. There was nothing at all, naturally, but one must always check.
“Niceâ¦” he murmured when she ran her hands over him. “Later, sweetheart. Too tiredâ¦” Not so young a boy then. He spoke in English. There might be an innocent reason for an English to be in France, in these days when their countries were not exactly at war, but somehow she was sure Leblanc spoke truly. This was a spy. “So tired.” Then he said clearly, “Tell Lazarus I won't do that anymore. Never. Tell him.”
“We shall speak of it,” she said softly, “later,” which was a promise hard to fulfill, since she did not expect to have so very many laters. Though perhaps a few more than this boy.