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By Suzanne Enoch
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Suzanne Enoch
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"Stop gawking about, Kit. We're nearly there." Stewart Brantley turned to give his daughter a half-annoyed glance and resettled his drenched beaver hat lower over his eyes as they hurried along the wet street in the darkness.
Curious as she was to view the sights, Christine Brantley had no objection to staying close behind her father as he hesitated and then turned north along a wide avenue lit by gas lamps and occasional flashes of lightning. It had been a long time since she had last set foot in London, and what landmarks she remembered were obscured by the night and by the rain that had been falling since they had left the ship at Dover. "I'm not gawking," she returned, the chatter of her teeth touching her voice. "I'm freezing."
"I didn't want to take the hack into Mayfair," Stewart returned. "Asking to be driven to Park Lane at this hour would--
"Would bring us attention we don't want," she finished. Rain stung her cheeks, and she reached up to wipe a gloved hand across her face. "Do you truly think your Earl of Everton will see us?"
Her father glanced back again. "He owes me a large debt. He'll see us."
"I hope so," Kit replied, as thunder rumbled over the rooftops of England's wealthiest nobility. "I'd hate to think you dragged us out of Paris for nothing."
"I wouldn't have either of us here if I didn't have a damned goodreason."
She sniffed, then grimaced, hoping she wasn't catching a cold. "I know." As much as her father detested England and the English, his being back in London pointed to just how highly he rated the importance of this journey. It was for their lives, he had said, and she hadn't doubted him.
"And you also know what you're to do here," he added.
"I do." She paused, then had to hurry to catch up when he continued on without her. "But I don't like being a spy."
"You're not being a spy, Kit," he said shortly, what was left of his limited patience apparently leeched out of his bones by the downpour. "Fouché will have my head--our heads--if the damned English stop another of his shipments. All you have to do is tell me which bastard is working against us, so I can bribe him off or outmaneuver him. That's not spying. It's . . . " He hesitated, then gave a short grin that didn't reach his green eyes. "It's good business. And no harm will come of it, except that more blunt will end up in our pockets." He looked ahead at a huge white mansion which dominated one side of the lane. "I trust that is acceptable to you?"
"Yes." She swallowed the dismay that ran through her as they stepped past the mansion's open gates and entered the short drive. The Earl of Everton's town house was massive even by London standards, the largest and most grand she'd seen since they had left the hack at Piccadilly and entered gilded Mayfair. "Of course it is.'
Despite her heavy, caped greatcoat, the boy's clothing Christine wore was soaked through, and she shivered with cold and tension as she stood between the elegant, carved marble columns rising from the front portico of Cale House. If the place had been less magnificent, she would have felt easier about what lay ahead, and about the part she was to play. All she could do in the face of such grandeur was hope that everything would go as easily as her father declared it would.
He tapped the heavy brass knocker against the door. The sound echoed into the bowels of the mansion for a long moment, then died out into the rain and wind with no response.
Stewart frowned, then rapped again, louder. "I don't understand," he muttered. "Philip has always opened Cale House during the Season. He'd never be at Everton with Parliament in session."
Kit shrugged to disguise her relief. This was no petty pickpocketing or an evening's cheating at hazard that her father expected of her. "It is rather late, Pa--"
The door opened on silent, well-oiled hinges. The man standing in the entryway had donned the coat of a butler, though his baleful glare was made somewhat less impressive by the nightshirt and wool slippers he wore beneath the splendid garment. "Yes?" he demanded.
"I am here to see Lord Everton," her father returned, as if it were the most ordinary occurrence in the world for callers to come banging at the door in the middle of the night.
The butler did not appear to be impressed. "Lord Everton is to bed."
"Then wake him and inform him that Stewart Brantley is here and urgently wishes to speak with him."
"I don't believe that is sufficient rea--"
"Tell him it regards the payment of an old debt." Her father folded his gloved hands behind his back, the only outward sign that he was less than utterly calm.
The butler's eyes narrowed. "Oh." He sniffed distastefully, then motioned them into the hallway. "Wait here." Without so much as offering to take their wet things, he turned and disappeared up the stairs that curved along the wall to the right of the entryway.
A moment later the sound of muffled, angry shouting echoed upstairs, closely followed by a door slamming. The butler reappeared, and with an even deeper scowl indicated that they should follow him up to the drawing room. With most of the lights put out for the night, there was little to see but darkened space on the ground floor, despite Kit's covert efforts to look about. The place, though, had the smell of wealth, with real beeswax candies in the few lamps still lit along the hallway, and not the stench of a cheap tallow candle anywhere.
Excerpted from Lady Rogue by Suzanne Enoch Copyright © 2006 by Suzanne Enoch. Excerpted by permission.
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