Read an Excerpt
Beauty and the Spy
By Julie Anne Long
Warner ForeverCopyright © 2006 Julie Anne Long
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMay 1820
Susannah Makepeace had a new dress, and Douglas was being particularly charming, and together these two things comprised the whole of her happiness.
She sat with her best friends on a low hillside at her father's country estate, the young ladies scattered like summer blooms over the grass, the young men sprawling as they plucked tiny daisies to make chains. The day was warm, but a frisky breeze snaked around them, lifting the ribbons of bonnets and fluttering the hems of dresses. Douglas cast a furtive eye toward Susannah's ankles and she drew them quickly under her skirt with a teasing frown. He winked at her. In two weeks' time, when he was her husband, Douglas would be privy to the sight of every inch of her. The thought made her heart jig a little.
Like the breeze, their conversation meandered: friends and balls and parties were touched on, laughed about, abandoned, taken up again. It was summer after all, or very nearly, and summer was about gaiety. And they were between London balls. God forbid there should be a lull between entertainments.
"Did you notice how George Percy dances?" Douglas mused. "His arms hang as though they're inserted on pins, and he rather ... flails ... like"-Douglas lurched to his feet-"like this." He flopped aboutlike a marionette, and everyone laughed.
Behind them, their chaperone Mrs. Dalton tsked in disapproval.
"Oh, come now, Mrs. Dalton, you must admit it's a little funny," Douglas cajoled, which earned him a hmmph and a reluctant, tight-lipped smile from the matron, who was the latest in a series of Susannah's paid companions. She drove her needle back into her sampler, no doubt stitching something meant to be inspiring but that always sounded admonishing instead, such as THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH. Susannah often felt that Mrs. Dalton's samplers were a silent attempt to rein her in. You'll have to try harder than that, Mrs. Dalton, Susannah thought cheekily. Susannah Makepeace hadn't become the belle of the season because she was meek. Nor, for that matter, was meekness the reason Douglas Caswell, heir to a marquis, had proposed to her.
Amelia Henfrey, Susannah's best friend, clapped her hands together in sudden inspiration. "You're so funny, Douglas! Now do Mr. Erskine!"
Susannah cast a sharp glance at Amelia, wondering if she was flirting. Amelia had a head full of golden curls and blue eyes very nearly the size of dinner plates, both of which had been the subject of any number of amateur odes this season. She did a surreptitious count of the flounces on Amelia's dress, and was a little mollified to discover that it featured only one, while her own new dress boasted three.
As for her own eyes-to Susannah's knowledge, no poems had been written about them. They were hazel, a kaleidoscope of greens and golds that, Douglas had once declared in an ardent moment, "fair dizzied" him. He claimed her eyes had mesmerized him into proposing, that she'd given him no choice in the matter, really. Douglas could be very clever that way, which was part of the reason she loved him.
Amelia, despite the golden curls and limpid eyes, wasn't engaged to anyone at all. But as they were both heiresses, Susannah silently and magnanimously allowed that Amelia would likely make a match as spectacular as her own.
And besides, Amelia is good, Susannah conceded. She never said an unkind thing, she had a smile for everyone, she never misbehaved. While I am ...
Not wicked, precisely, she confessed to herself. But not good, either. She charmed and sparkled and said witty things, but she knew very well she was being charming and sparkling and witty while she was doing it, which felt somehow wrong. She was often plagued with an indefinable restlessness, an ache really, that beautiful dresses and nonstop gaiety couldn't fully assuage. And she frequently secretly suffered from envy and entertained observations that she dared share with no one, since she was certain they would do nothing to add to her popularity.
She had one of those thoughts now: Amelia is dull.
She batted it away. Amelia was her best friend, for heaven's sake. Susannah reached for her sketchbook and began quickly charcoaling in the stand of trees at the edge of the park in an attempt to distract herself from any more heretical thoughts.
"Erskine?" Douglas was rubbing his chin in thought at Amelia's suggestion. "The chap who laughs too loud at everything, bends double when he does it?"
"Remember how foxed he was at Pemberton's ball?" Henry Clayson, one of the sprawling lads, contributed lazily.
"Pemberton's ball? Was that where I wore my blue satin?" Amelia categorized all of the events in her life by what she wore during them.
"Yes," Susannah confirmed, because, quite frankly, so did Susannah. "And where I wore the silk with the matching-"
"Tell me we aren't now discussing ball gowns," Henry Clayson groused.
Susannah playfully tossed a daisy at him. "Let's discuss horses, then. Have you seen my new mare, Henry?"
Douglas sat down proprietarily next to her, a silent message to Henry Clayson: She might toss daisies at you, but she belongs to me. Susannah smiled to herself.
"Susannah's father is forever buying her new everything," Amelia said wistfully. "My father buys one new gown and tells me I'm in grave danger of being spoiled. And my mother never can persuade him to loosen the purse strings."
And there it was, that unwelcome little tightening in Susannah's chest: envy. It seemed extraordinary to envy the fact that Amelia's father refused to buy her things. It was just that ... well, Susannah's mother had died so long ago and James Makepeace had left the rearing of his daughter in the hands of governesses and housekeepers and redoubtable matrons like Mrs. Dalton, who were charged with ensuring that Susannah acquired a full complement of ladylike accomplishments. Susannah could play the pianoforte and sing; she could draw and paint better than passably; she could certainly dance; she could sew. And miraculously, she'd escaped becoming too spoiled and willful, primarily because it had always seemed more effort than it was worth to seriously misbehave.
But that was the very root of her envy: though Susannah had grown up in a beautiful house surrounded by beautiful things, she would have traded most of it-well, perhaps not her new mare, but maybe the pianoforte and a few pelisses-if her father had seemed to care even a little about how much she spent on clothing. Or, frankly, about what she did at all. Oh, he'd been pleased enough about her engagement to Douglas, as any sane father would. But he was so seldom home-his antiquities-importing business often took him away-and she rather suspected her father considered her part of the furnishings. He ... maintained her the way he did the big clock in the library or his best musket. He was as distant and impersonal-and as necessary to her well-being-as the sun.
And so whenever Amelia and Douglas and her other friends spoke of their parents, Susannah felt a tiny clutch of panic. This talk of parents was a language she could never hope to share with them.
All Susannah had of her mother was a fuzzy memory-of being awakened in the middle of the night amidst frantic whispers and movement, of a woman's dark hair and dark eyes and soothing voice-and one tangible thing-a miniature portrait of a beautiful woman: curls, large pale eyes with a bit of a tilt to them, a soft, generous mouth, cheekbones delicately etched. Susannah's own face. On the back, written in a neat, swift hand, were the words: FOR SUSANNAH FAITH, HER MOTHER ANNA. The miniature was the only image of her anywhere in the house.
When Susannah was small, she'd wanted to keep the miniature on her night table, but her father had gently asked that she keep it in a drawer, out of sight. Susannah had decided then that her mother's death had shattered her father's heart so completely that any reminder of her-including his daughter-pained him.
But just last week she'd found him in her bedroom, holding that miniature in his hand. Susannah's breath had suspended; the hope had been piercing: perhaps they'd finally speak of her mother ... perhaps, little by little, her father's heart would thaw, and they would become close, and then he would complain about how much she spent on pelisses.
But then she noticed he was looking at the back of the miniature. And he'd murmured "Of course." Not "Alas!" or "Oh, me!", which would have seemed more appropriate for someone with an irreparably broken heart, but "Of course." And those two low words had thrummed with a peculiar excitement. They had, in fact, sounded rather like "Eureka!"
James had looked up then, and Susannah watched a startling desolation skip across his features.
"I beg your pardon, my dear." And with that, he'd drifted out of her room.
Douglas leaned over her now to reach for the sketchbook. The sun had turned the back of his neck golden, and Susannah was sorely tempted to run her finger along the crisply cut line of his dark hair. Soon I can touch every bit of him. She wondered what sort of message Mrs. Dalton would have stitched if she'd known that particular sentiment. But the thought made the tightness in Susannah's chest ease; surely being the wife of a marquis-to-be would make envy and restlessness a thing of the past.
Douglas suddenly paused his sketchbook-leafing and frowned, shading his eyes with his head. "I say, Susannah, isn't that your housekeeper coming this way? At rather a fast clip?"
Mrs. Brown, a large woman who typically moved as if every step required careful deliberation, was indeed taking the green so quickly she'd gripped her skirts to free her ankles.
Later Susannah would remember how, little by little, everyone went very still, transfixed, as though the housekeeper's mission was apparent in her exposed ankles.
And as Mrs. Brown's grim face came into view, Susannah slowly rose to her feet, her heart beating swiftly and unevenly.
She knew before Mrs. Brown spoke the words.
The earl's pen continued to fly across the bottom of a sheet of foolscap when Kit appeared in his office doorway. "Good morning, Christopher." His tone was abstracted. "Please sit down."
If Kit hadn't already known the summons from his father meant trouble, the "Christopher" would have confirmed it. He settled resignedly-and a little gingerly, since he'd been out very, very late the night before, and it was very, very early now-into the tall chair situated in front of ... the prow of his father's desk. The thought amused him. It was a bloody great ship of a desk, of oak so polished the earl could watch himself at his daily activities: Thinking profound thoughts. Affecting the course of history with signature.
Berating his son.
For the life of him, however, Kit could not come up with a reason for this particular summons.
"Good morning, sir."
His father looked up then, eyebrows aloft at his son's formal tone, and then he leaned back in his chair to study Kit, twirling his quill between two fingers. Outside his father's great office window, London went about its business on foot and horseback, in barges and hack-business his father, who oversaw the budget for intelligence affairs and was often the last word on the assignments of His Majesty's agents, so often indirectly, secretly influenced.
"Just because you think your superior officer is an idiot, Christopher," the earl began wearily, "doesn't mean you should call him one."
Ah, now he remembered.
"But Father, that idi-"
The earl moved his head in the slightest of shakes, and Kit stopped. Truthfully, though he'd thought "Chisholm is an idiot" any number of times, he'd never said the words aloud ... until last night, apparently. Which was a bloody miracle, really, since Kit had an innate tendency to frankness that only years of militarily honed discipline had managed to keep in check. And frankly, Chisholm was an idiot.
But he was just as appalled as his father that he'd said the word. It must have been all that ale. Well, that, and the brandy. And ... hadn't there been whiskey, too? Fragments of last night were returning to him now, out of sequence, but unfortunately all too clear. He recalled that the evening had begun at White's with a few fellow agents, his best friend John Carr among them. Naturally they had begun drinking, which they seemed to be doing more and more in the five years since the war had ended. It was boredom, he supposed; Kit had become accustomed to living his life at the fine edge of danger, to subtlety and strategy and purpose; life in the wake of war lacked a certain ... piquancy.
At some point in the evening, his superior officer Chisholm had appeared at White's, and then ...
His father idly tapped his quill against the blotter. Tap, tap, tap. The sound echoed in his head like cannonfire. Kit was tempted to lean over and seize the bloody instrument of torture out of his father's hand and snap it in two.
"Chisholm is not an idiot, Christopher."
"Of course not, sir," Kit agreed.
Mercifully, the tapping stopped. A silence.
"He is an ass," the earl clarified, finally.
"I stand corrected, sir. I should have cleared the word with you first."
And now his father was struggling not to smile. He sobered again quickly, however, and resumed studying Kit in a way that made him a little apprehensive. And after ten years in service to his country, after dozens of narrow escapes and heroic successes and employing his astonishing aim more times than he preferred to count, very few people could make Kit Whitelaw, Viscount Grantham and heir to the Earl of Westphall, apprehensive. He thought he'd better speak.
"Sir, I know what I said was inexcusable, and I hope you realize it was uncharacteristic-"
The earl snorted. "'Uncharacteristic?' Like the incident with Millview?"
Kit paused. There had been an incident with Millview, hadn't there? Lord Millview. An incident so ... objectionable ... the earl had in fact threatened to reassign Kit to a government post in Egypt as a result of it, a potent threat indeed, given Kit's passion for London. Kit had questioned Millview's, er ... parentage.
"I apologized for that," Kit said stiffly. "We'd all been drinking, you see, and ... Well, I apologized for that. And I intend to apologize to Chisholm, too."
"Don't you think you've been doing rather a lot of apologizing lately, Christopher?"
Kit knew better than to attempt to answer a rhetorical question. His father was about to answer it for him, anyway.
"I do," the earl said. "And you've acquired quite a reputation for womanizing, too."
Have I, really? Part of Kit was impressed. The other part was appalled that he actually had a "reputation," let alone one with a name.
"Notice, at least, it's womanizing, sir," he attempted feebly. "Not womenizing. Just one woman."
"One woman at a time. And the latest is married."
"She isn't!" Kit feigned shock. Though he'd awakened in time for this meeting only because said married countess had been hissing at him to get dressed and leave now, before her husband came home from the bed of his mistress. The countess wasn't terribly interesting, but she was beautiful, spoiled and difficult, which had made the pursuit, at least, interesting.
The earl ignored this; for some reason, he began marking off a list of sorts with that deuced quill. "You've distinguished yourself in battle, Kit. Tap. You saved the life of your commanding officer while you were wounded. Tap. Served bravely and well by all accounts." Tap.
Kit listened, puzzled. He'd merely been himself on the battlefield and in assignments beyond; none of those things had ever seemed particularly heroic to him.
Ah. Then he grasped his father's point: You aren't exactly making me proud lately, Christopher.
Kit redefined heroism then and there as managing not to squirm while waiting for his father to reveal his bloody agenda.
"To the matter at hand. Though you've distinguished yourself in many ways, as you know, Kit, in the wake of the war, we've less and less call for the sort of work agents do. In fact, I was informed this morning that James Makepeace is dead, and we don't intend to replace him. So I've decided to-"
"James Makepeace is dead?" Nothing like a bit of startling news to burn away the fog of a pleasant debauch. Why Kit had seen James just last-
And suddenly all the little hairs on Kit's arms rose in portent.
"How did James die, father?" He managed to ask this calmly enough. He suspected he knew the answer.
Excerpted from Beauty and the Spy by Julie Anne Long Copyright ©2006 by Julie Anne Long . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.