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From London With Love
By Jenna Petersen
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Jenna Petersen
All right reserved.
Meredith Sinclair held her breath as she knelt before the safe, a lock pick clamped between her teeth and a candle flickering on the floor as she gave the door a pull. Her lips tilted into a smile around the pick as the safe door swung open, revealing two identical velvet boxes.
Withdrawing them both, she pulled a tiny magnifying glass from the pocket of the fitted gentleman's trousers she wore as a disguise and removed the first necklace from its box. She barely held back a gasp of pleasure at the beauty of the piece. The diamonds sparkled in the glow of the candlelight and the amethysts reflected a violet so rich and deep that it was worthy of a king.
She dipped her head and examined the piece. When she didn't find what she had been looking for, she opened the second box, to reveal a necklace that was identical to the first in all ways.
"All ways but one," she murmured to herself with a smile as she found the tiny mark on one stone that indicated a forgery. She replaced the real necklace in its case and put it into her bag, then got to her feet.
Carefully, she slipped from the room and down the dim hallway to the servants' entrance she had paid a disgruntled footman to leave open for her. The home was silent as a grave,its occupants at a party across London, where they were no doubt scouting out their next piece of jewelry to steal. The servants had the night off or were in their quarters.
It was all too easy.
Meredith stifled another smug smile as she made her way into the garden behind the estate. In a few short steps she would be in her waiting carriage hidden around the corner and on her way back home. Another case solved.
The thought had no more than passed through her head when she heard a shout behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to see three men burst from the home in her direction.
"Damn it," she muttered as she started to run. The door leading from the garden onto the street was still a good twenty feet away.
That was when the first shot whizzed past her ear. Without breaking stride, Meredith looked back to see the second man lifting his gun as the first man fell behind to reload.
She dropped her shoulders and darted to the left as she reached the garden door, just as a second bullet slammed into its wooden face and splintered wood flew in all directions. She grabbed the door handle and pulled . . .
Only to find it had been relocked since her entry into the home not half an hour before.
A wide variety of curses passed through Mer-edith's mind, but she didn't utter them. For one, she had to save her breath for running, and two, since she was in disguise, she didn't want her pursuers to know she was a woman. That would only complicate matters.
She bounded along the garden wall in hopes she would find something to be her salvation. And then it appeared. A wheelbarrow propped against the wall by some helpful gardener.
"Thank you patron saint of spies," she murmured as she jumped onto the rounded top of the wheelbarrow, balanced for a brief moment, then braced her hands along the garden wall and pushed herself over the top.
She hit the cobblestone below with a jarring force that made her teeth rattle, but was instantly on the move again. Her carriage was parked in sight in the dark shadow of a nearby building, and her driver had turned, looking for her. Likely he had heard the gunfire inside the garden, for his own rifle was raised to cover her if need be.
With a yank, Meredith pulled the carriage door open and dove inside.
"Go, Henderson!" she called as another bullet shattered the glass window on the door. She reached back and pulled the damaged door shut as she flattened herself against the floor in case her pursuers fired again. "Drive!"
The horses had already begun to move before the second order left her lips. They roared forward under Henderson's skilled whip, leaving her hunters behind, their loud curses echoing along the quiet streets.
Ah, the life of a lady spy. Running from gunmen at midnight, overseeing a charity meeting by tea time. Meredith smiled. Somehow she doubted that the gentlemen who protected the Empire were doing the same.
"That is all the old business we have to review," Anastasia Whittig, one of her partners, said as she removed her wire-rimmed spectacles. "As always the Sisters of the Heart Society for Widows and Orphans' charity ball was an enormous success."
Their other partner, Emily Redgrave shrugged. "These events always are. But who cares about some stuffy ball?" She turned her sparkling blue stare on Meredith. "You have new business, don't you?"
Meredith couldn't suppress her wicked grin. She'd been fighting the urge to crow from the rooftops since her arrival. "I do."
As her friends watched, she reached into her reticule and withdrew the box she'd pilfered the night before. Ana and Emily leaned forward in anticipation when she removed the top and held up the necklace that lay within the folds of protective velvet. The jewels flashed sparkles in the afternoon sun.
For a moment a heavy silence hung in the room, but then Emily let out a sigh of delight and carefully took the piece from Meredith's hands. She held it against her throat.
"My God, Merry, it's beautiful! Even more exquisite than the sketches led us to believe," Emily squealed as she turned to the mirror above the mantelpiece and examined herself with the diamonds draped around her neck.
"Yes. I could scarcely draw breath when I took the piece from the safe." Meredith sighed.
Anastasia eyed the two women with a purse of her lips. "Is it wise to bring the jewelry here? It's against protocol."
Excerpted from From London With Love by Jenna Petersen Copyright © 2006 by Jenna Petersen. Excerpted by permission.
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