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For Her Spy Only
A Masquerading Mistresses Novella
By Robyn DeHart, Kate Fall
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Robyn DeHart
All rights reserved.
June 1814, six years later
Alistair Devlin, accused murderer, recluse, master code-breaker, and secret spy for the Crown of England, loathed the bustle and noise of the city. Two weeks ago, when fellow members of the Seven, the elite group of spies working to uncover a traitor who'd infiltrated the English government, had brought him Lord Comfry's journal, Alistair had assumed he'd be able to decipher the code quickly.
Despite Alistair's usual ease with codes, this one was proving more challenging, and he had yet to decode the murdered man's journal. The worst part of these two weeks was that he had spent them in London. There were far too many people, not to mention the stench from the streets permeated the air, but the worst part was the ignorance of nearly everyone around him.
Alistair was quite accustomed to being the most intelligent man in the room. It had been this way since he'd been a young man, and he had never had an easy time at accepting the mental limitations of others. He had no patience for idiots.
The good news was, he finally realized why he'd struggled with this particular code.
He'd been approaching the code incorrectly. He had been using every code he'd collected since he began working for the Crown. He'd finally realized that the code was actually rather simple and the random numbers and letters were, in fact, latitude and longitude coordinates. He needed only the help of Sir Reginald Mirren, the royal cartographer.
He tapped his cane on the top of his Hessian boot and waited for the carriage to stop. He had only made the acquaintance of Sir Reginald Mirren on a handful of occasions; the man was the best cartographer in London. He'd been commissioned by the King to make a series of maps, and it was these maps that Alistair needed to uncover Comfry's hidden message. If Alistair was correct in his estimation, Sir Mirren would have, on hand, all of the maps necessary.
Finally the carriage rolled to a stop and Alistair exited the rig. The brick townhome was modest, reaching to three stories with a faded black door that boasted a brass number three on it. This was the address he had for Sir Mirren. He marched himself up the front steps to the stoop and slammed the brass knocker onto the door.
Several seconds passed and Alistair was beginning to think that no one was home, but then voices sounded from the other side of the door. He couldn't understand their words, but knew that more than one person spoke. Suddenly the door opened.
"How may I help y—" The words died on her lips as she looked up at him. "Alistair, er, my lord? How did you—? That is, why are you—? What are you doing here?"
"Winifred Wilmington." He let his eyes roam the length of her. She looked the same, though perhaps more tempting with her face flushed from exertion. What precisely had she been doing behind that door only moments before? "I could ask you those same questions. I am here to see Sir Mirren."
She exhaled in one quick puff and opened the door wider. "Please come in."
He followed her inside and she led him to a door down the corridor on the left. As they entered the room, it was quite evident that this was Sir Mirren's study. That didn't explain what Winifred was doing here. He hadn't seen her in ... it had to have been six years, since that fateful Christmas Eve he'd found her stranded in her carriage, trapped in the snow. They'd spent several days locked in his castle making love. And then—after the snow melted, making travel safe once more—she'd left and he'd never heard from her again. Which suited him just fine since he had no room in his life for females. Not since Sarah.
She sat behind the desk and motioned for him to sit adjacent to her.
"There is no delicate way to say this. I'm afraid Sir Mirren is dead," she said abruptly.
He frowned and tapped his cane against his boot. "I am sorry to hear that. Were you related to Mirren in some capacity?"
"I am his widow." She looked down at her dress, then blushed. "I know it is dreadful that I am not still in mourning, but there are extraneous circumstances." Her brow furrowed and it was then that he noticed she did look somewhat different. Delicate lines fanned from her eyes. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Married? To Mirren? Since when?"
She chewed at her lip and her brows rose. "Since shortly after we met, actually."
She'd quite obviously had been engaged to marry Mirren when she'd had her affair with him. "I thought you had been left at the altar."
"I was. My union with Reggie occurred after we met, my lord. He and I had been friends for a while and a marriage seemed a logical conclusion to our relationship."
She wasn't at all the woman he'd thought her to be—impulsive, passionate. No, this woman before him spoke of practicality. Not at all the Winifred who had invited herself into his bed. The woman who had taken refuge in his castle, in his arms, had been bold, refreshing—he shook his head, unable to reconcile the Winifred he'd bedded to the woman looking at him.
Well, none of that mattered now. He had other concerns at hand. "I need use of your husband's maps."
"His collection of maps is quite extensive. Perhaps you could narrow the selection for me?"
"I don't see why that is necessary."
Her eyes darted to the door behind him, then back to him. "If you could tell me which maps specifically you need to see, then perhaps I could locate them and have them brought to you."
"Your husband had hundreds upon hundreds of maps. You couldn't possibly search through them and find the ones I need."
Her posture stiffened, and her eyes narrowed in a glare. "Rest assured I am certainly capable of doing so. And I am certainly more familiar with my husband's collection than you are."
"Don't be ridiculous. It would take you days to sort—"
She stood, her glare intensified. "So now I am ridiculous?"
Somehow they had ended up in an argument. If people would simply concede to his requests, these sorts of fruitless battles would not ensue. She had no reason to be irritated with him.
"A man I barely know comes to my home, insults me, and demands to paw through my late husband's belongings, and you find me ridiculous?"
"I merely didn't want to inconvenience you. It makes far more sense for me to do it as I know what I'm looking for. There is truly no reason for you to get involved."
A door sounded in the corridor, then voices, followed by a childish giggle. Winifred came around the desk. "I don't see how I could grant you permission. Good day to you, my lord." She walked as if to leave the room.
He grabbed her arm as she passed him. "Winifred, it is of utmost importance that I have access to those maps." His form towered over her slighter one. She'd grown fuller over the years, and the curves did lovely things to her body. She was still a most handsome woman. He pulled her closer.
She swallowed visibly, her gaze darting to his mouth.
"I shall consider it, but you must be forthcoming with me," she said.
"The way you have been with me?" he asked before he thought better of it. Had he expected her to send him an invitation to her nuptials? "My apologies, it is not my concern whom you married."
An expression clouded her features, an emotion he did not recognize. Fear, perhaps, though her jaw was clearly set with stubbornness. "I shall consider it. I shall send notice to your address and let you know what I've decided." And then she disappeared out of the room.
Damnation. He was a spy. An elite spy, at that. He would not be outmaneuvered by a woman, no matter how alluring her curves. By the time that Alistair entered the corridor, it was empty of people. He was tempted to return to the study and search for the damn maps himself, but he'd been in the room long enough to know that unless there was a hidden compartment in there, the maps were elsewhere in this townhome.
Once in his carriage, he sat for several moments before directing the driver to his club. Perhaps it was time to make some inquiries as to Sir Mirren's widow. Again he was struck by the oddity of Winifred and Mirren's union. If he didn't know better, he'd think he was angry about how she'd returned to London fresh from his bed and rather quickly aligned herself with the mapmaker. But the fact was he didn't get angry with other people. Anger required a certain amount of emotion and he didn't care about people that much. And he didn't understand why most of them spent so much of their time wallowing in their own shallow emotions.
That was why he didn't like to deal with people. They were so damn inconvenient. And illogical. Despite his reputation, he was most definitely not a murderer, but there were times when he was glad that most of his life was spent in isolation.
* * *
Winifred must have turned eight shades of blue, she'd been so nervous. Good heavens, when she'd opened the door, she hadn't expected to find Alistair on the other side. She'd have been less surprised had the Reaper himself been there, hand outstretched, waiting to pull her into the beyond. But it had been Alistair. Thankfully Oliver hadn't been home at the moment; though when he'd arrived with his governess and had giggled in the corridor, she'd thought that Alistair would question her. But he hadn't seemed to notice, or care. Still, it was unsettling that Alistair had found her even if he'd been looking for Reggie instead.
Gracious, Alistair hadn't changed a bit. He was impossibly dashing and she'd wanted nothing more than to melt into him when he'd pulled her close. She'd scarcely been able to breathe, simultaneously worried he'd kiss her and worried he wouldn't.
Granting him access to Reggie's maps would have him in her home, as they were simply too large for her to transport. That, in turn, would put him near her son, and that simply could not happen. There had to be another way. Perhaps she could merely have him come when Oliver was out with his governess, in the park feeding the ducks. But how often could a boy feed ducks?
Of course, she could always tell Alistair the truth. How many letters had she written him over the years explaining precisely what had happened? She'd kept them all in a box under her bed. But she knew she couldn't tell him. He'd made it abundantly clear six years ago that he had no intention of ever marrying again, nor fathering a child. He'd even taken precautions with her, but obviously they hadn't been successful. He didn't want Oliver, and Reggie had kindly given the boy a name so no one need know the truth.
But how could she stand to be around Alistair and keep that secret? She'd never been a very good liar. That little voice inside her questioned her motive. It was the same voice that had convinced her to seduce Alistair in the first place, so she wasn't certain there was merit to the argument. Still, was Oliver the only reason she didn't want to be around Alistair, or did it go further than that? Was she afraid to be around him because she knew that once she granted him entrance to her life again, it was only a matter of time before she invited him to her bed?
She was simply going to have to turn down his request.CHAPTER 2
Alistair once again entered Mirren's townhome, only this time he knew he waited for Winifred and not the deceased mapmaker. She came into the corridor in a huff, her face flushed, her breath winded. An image of her beneath him with the same expression came to his mind. The way she'd clung to him, cried out his name. No woman had ever responded to his touch the way Winifred had.
How had he managed to stay away from her for so many years?
"Good morning, Winifred."
"What are you doing here?"
"Did I interrupt anything?" He allowed his eyes to slowly slide down her form.
She wrapped her arms around her middle. "What I was doing is of no concern to you. I believe I told you yesterday that I would send word for you when I'd made my decision." She did not invite him into any other room; instead they stood in the main corridor.
"Indeed you did, but I believe that my presence here will have more of the desired effect." He closed the distance between them and reached to finger a curl that had loosened by her ear. "Do you recall how I told you once that I tend to get what I want?"
She stared up into his eyes and she almost looked convinced, but then she swatted away his hand.
"Winnie, dear, what will it take to convince you that I need access to those maps?" he asked.
"Do not call me that. Reggie's cousin calls me that and I simply despise it."
"Do you prefer Fred?"
"No, I'd prefer you go away."
"Why the hostility?" He placed his hand on her upper arm, not to hold her there, but not quite a caress, either. "I seem to recall you enjoying my presence quite a bit. I also seem to recall you requesting my presence, as it were."
She pulled free from him and took several steps away. "Yes, well, that was a long time ago." She patted her hair. "Tell me why you need the maps."
"That I cannot do."
"Cannot or will not?"
"Does it matter?" How was it possible she could simultaneously be charming and annoying?
"Yes, it does. One implies that you do not wish to share the information with me. The other implies that you cannot tell anyone."
"If you recall, I work for the Crown," he said. "That is all I can say."
"So this is business with the war department," she said. "Interesting." She was quiet for several moments. "Though I've been through all of Reggie's maps and I can assure you he was harboring no secrets that would benefit England. In fact, the majority of his maps were commissioned by King George himself."
"I believe I shall be the judge of what is and isn't beneficial." He stepped closer to her, and she backed up until her body was pressed against the wood paneling lining the wall behind her. This close, he could smell the lemon oil the servants used to polish the wood, but even that could not cover Winifred's scent of spices and cloves. He inhaled.
Her eyes narrowed at him. "So I'm supposed to simply allow you access to my personal belongings simply because you work for the Crown?" she asked.
"Precisely." When she still had not budged, he added, "These are maps. It is not as if I am asking to rifle through your corsets and chemises."
She crossed her arms over her chest and pink stained her cheeks. "Be that as it may, I shall need more persuading than that."
He once again fingered the curl by her ear. "It shall be my pleasure." He braced his hands on either side of her and leaned in close. "I've never forgotten you, you know. Those few nights you spent in my bed. Men do not forget women with such passion, such eagerness."
Her breath hitched. "I've changed."
"Pity." He leaned in closer and nuzzled her ear. "Do you remember how you would cry out my name? Again and again." He kissed the pulse that flickered in her neck.
She said nothing.
"I remember this smell, the way you rinse your hair with cloves. You smell exotic, do you know that? Like some goddess from the pages of Homer's Iliad." He kissed her throat again. "I still remember how to touch you to make you cry out, to make you beg me to make love to you."
"I told you, I've changed. I'm a widow." Her words were strong, but her tone weak and unconvincing.
"Am I to believe that Reginald Mirren, the old mapmaker"—he traced a finger across her collarbone—"was such a good lover that you will not respond to my touch anymore?"
She shivered in spite of herself. "I shall not discuss my marriage with you."
He took her earlobe in his teeth and nibbled. Licked the outer edge of her ear.
She sucked in a breath and he would have sworn she leaned into him.
He had not come here to seduce her, but damned if Winifred wasn't tempting. He didn't crave contact with other people, but he was still a man, and certainly still had urges, though normally he could keep them in check. Had she not come into the room with mussed hair and flushed cheeks, he might not have remembered how it had felt to lose himself inside of her willing body. No, that was a lie. He'd never forget her willing body.
He was hard, and he wanted her, right here up against this wall. He moved his lips to her mouth and kissed her, gently, sweetly, as if only to remind himself of her taste. But it wasn't enough. He coaxed her mouth open with his tongue, and it took little persuasion on his part before she was kissing him back. Her hands thread through his hair, pulling him down to her.
Damnation, but he'd missed her.
Excerpted from For Her Spy Only by Robyn DeHart, Kate Fall. Copyright © 2014 Robyn DeHart. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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