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All Men Are Rogues
By Sari Robins
Harper Collins PublishersCopyright © 2003 Sari Robins All right reserved. ISBN: 0060503548
London, England 1813
"You cannot just kill the girl," Justin argued impatiently.
"Why not?" The colonel shrugged, sipping from his snifter of brandy.
Justin pressed his lips, staring down at the heavyset figure sitting deep in the leather armchair before the fire. It always amazed him how a man so callously devious could look like your most doting grandfather. Between his shaggy mane of snowy white hair tied at the nape of his neck, his broad nose, wide, thick lips, and big bushy brows, the man could easily pass for Father Christmas. He was only missing the sprigs of holly in his hair.
"She could be a complete innocent in the matter."
"War has its casualties," the older man commented negligently.
The fire's heat against Justin's back could not suppress the sudden chill crawling down his spine. Caught in the flickering light from the candles, the colonel's ridiculous collection of miniature porcelain goblins and ghouls mocked him from the mantel above the fireplace. With their beady eyes, rapacious mouths, and thorny talons, they seemed to take rapt delight in the ruthless conversation.
Justin ran his hand through his short hair. "I still say it's not a sound strategy. To eliminate her means we lose any opportunity of using her asa source of information."
Colonel Wheaton scratched his long white sideburns, staring into his brandy as if to discern all the world's secrets. "She's the daughter of a traitor. As far as I'm concerned, it's dangerous not to eliminate her."
"He was not murdered by one of our operatives. How can you be certain that he had turned? He could have uncovered the plot and been trying to stop it."
Justin paced before the mantel, wondering why the fire added no warmth to the elegant chamber. Frustrated, he threw on another log, and sparks flew up, dancing in the flames. The scent of cloves drifted into the room. For as long as he could recall, the colonel had always added spices to his hearth. And each of the past four winters, since Justin had begun working with the man who managed the great network of spies, he had received a bag of spices from the colonel for the holidays. As if to say, Although I deal in unpleasant matters, I still appreciate the small pleasures in life. Justin always gave the expensive seasonings to his man of affairs. He did not want that scent or any other part of these clandestine activities to enter his home.
Wheaton shifted in his seat. "All signs point to Amherst, and we cannot take any chances with his daughter. Napoleon's stratagem is set for seven weeks from now. We must do everything we can to halt that chain of events."
"Exactly. Which is why we must discern anything the girl might know. Can you imagine how much she has ascertained living with Sir Phillip Amherst and Sullivan?"
"Granted, Sullivan is still out there."
An idea took shape in Justin's mind. "He may yet attempt to contact her."
The older man pursed his lips. "Hmmm. Now, there's an interesting possibility."
"She could be the perfect lure," Justin offered enticingly.
"But how do we get the chit to cooperate?"
Justin repressed his shudder, recalling some of the colonel's previous efforts to extract information from unwilling informants.
"Don't be so squeamish, Barclay. Makes me think you're losing your edge."
Justin shifted his shoulders, careful not to let the old man see how sharply his comment had cut. When it came to the nasty games of intrigue, a man's actions bore more weight than ten titles, something Justin appreciated, despite the devious scheming. Although few had the colonel's audacity to breathe the words, some with the Foreign Office, Justin knew, wondered about his sense of duty simply because he was a peer of the realm. It was appalling and did not speak well of England's nobility.
Justin kept his voice level. "You're the one ready to cut off your nose to spite your face. I know that you and Amherst have a history. And it does look like he turned. But we have a potential catastrophe on our hands, and now is not the time to settle old scores. We must cover every corner. Hedge every bet."
The other man's steely blue eyes narrowed. He did not take kindly to criticism.
Justin sat down in the chair opposite him and leaned back, assuming a pose of ease and confidence, when he was feeling anything but. He stared at the glowing embers of the fire. His work with the Foreign Office was all his own, and earned on merit, wholly separate from his birthright. Still, he was growing weary of the twisted maneuverings, the often senseless bloodletting. He sometimes wondered how the old man was able to sleep at night, sitting in judgment as he did. It was sensible to learn everything the Amherst girl knew. There was so much at risk, and they had little enough information to go on.
"Gain her trust. Bring her back to England. Let her believe she's returning to the safety of home." Justin sipped his drink nonchalantly. "She will not even know that she's cooperating with the authorities while we use her to trap Sullivan. In the meantime, we get her to tell all she knows."
Wheaton smoothed his beard thoughtfully with his meaty hand. "The girl's been dragged halfway around the world with her accursed father and Sullivan for years. It's not like she's just going to start blabbering to the nearest fern about secrets and plots to destabilize the British economy."
"All the more reason she will want some security, some constancy in her life."
Wheaton sniffed. "Still no word from Simon?"
Justin shook his head ...
Excerpted from All Men Are Rogues by Sari Robins
Copyright © 2003 by Sari Robins
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.