Read an Excerpt
No Ordinary Mistress
A Masquerading Mistresses Novella
By Robyn DeHart, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Robyn DeHart
All rights reserved.
Two years later
August, 1814, London
Emma couldn't breathe.
If she stayed in this closet for much longer, she was certain to expire, or at the very least, faint. What little air there was clogged her nostrils and coated her tongue. She was going to suggest the housekeeper air out the closet and beat the dust from every item, assuming she survived this encounter. Her charges were long in bed, and Lady Comfry had taken laudanum for a headache and probably wouldn't awaken until tomorrow afternoon.
Emma took advantage of the sleeping household to come into Lord Comfry's study and poke around to see if she could find anything of use. When she heard men's voices coming, she sneaked into the storage closet in an attempt to hide herself. Now it seemed she'd play witness to a secret meeting with Comfry and some other man.
Despite the dust tickling her nose, she could not step outside of the small room else she'd reveal herself to the very men she watched. Through the tiny crack in the door, she could clearly see her employer, Lord Comfry, but could not see the man to whom he spoke. And she did not recognize his voice, but their hushed conversation concealed their tones. Three months before, she had been assigned to Lord Comfry's townhome, a governess to his two children. So she taught the children, all the while absorbing every word spoken in the house, especially those of Lord Comfry himself. He was suspected of treason, specifically of feeding information to the French.
For the last three years, she had worked for the Seven. That didn't include the eight months of training she'd endured at the prestigious and extremely covert Seven Academy. Ever since that nightmare in Paris, she'd requested to work without a partner. She never again wanted to be in the position of having a partner tell her how to do her job. Or of being tempted by such intimacy. So she resigned herself to a string of governess assignments, gathering intelligence and keeping to herself.
This was her fourth solo assignment since returning to London. So far, she had gathered all of her information into books and sent them to her director supervisor, whom she only knew as Johnston. Though she'd met him on several occasions, she'd never learned more of his name than that. In her opinion, nothing Lord Comfry had done thus far had seemed out of the ordinary behavior for a wealthy, entitled Lord of the Realm. He was selfish, arrogant, and rude. But wasn't that typical of a man of his position? Certainly every aristocrat she'd worked with in the Seven behaved in such ways. Nevertheless, she had her orders, so she complied.
He obviously had something to hide else the covert meeting would not be happening. If he was, in fact, working against the Crown, he wasn't working alone. Everyone in the Seven knew there was one person who was in charge. The worst traitor in all of London, but no one knew his identity. All of the Seven worked for that one cause. Taking him down would destroy the empire of spies he'd built, and thus destroy the intelligence making its way to France.
"You're not listening, Comfry," the other man said. "Management is displeased with your actions, not to mention your contributions. Do you have the information you were tasked with? Or any of the money you owe?"
Lord Comfry sat, fidgeted with his desk drawer. "I haven't yet acquired any of the information, but I'm still working on it. I have some of the funds. If I could simply have more time."
"More time." The man chuckled harshly. "You asked for more time last month, and it was granted. You've had more than enough time to follow through with your end of the bargain. What seems to be the problem?"
"My contacts have not come through with the information, but I believe we're getting close. As for the money, I have my family, a wife who likes pretty things, children, a governess, and a household to keep. There are funds needed for all of that. I can't pay you everything, but I have some for you here." He opened another drawer and withdrew a box that jingled with coins. He set it on top of the desk and pried it open.
"Coins?" the man asked, his tone dark and chilling. "What sort of fool do you take me for?" The man leaned forward over the desk. Emma could not make out his face, but he wore a gold ring on his right hand. The crest was unfamiliar—a spider with a symbol on its back. "We do not take payments in petty coins."
Lord Comfry came to his feet. "Tomorrow. I'll get you the funds tomorrow. Come back then, or I can meet you somewhere. Your house."
The man laughed, a cruel sound. "You know you cannot come to my house for this. Don't be an idiot."
So they knew one another well enough to be social outside of this arrangement.
"And my contact. He assured me he'd return with my information at the end of the week. I can go to him, retrieve what he has thus far." Comfry came around the desk and walked toward the door that led out of the study and into the corridor. He was now out of her line of sight, and all she could see was the back of the other man. He wore a typical great coat, one precisely like every other wealthy man in London. His hair, cropped short, was a muddy brown, and he was not particularly tall in build, but broad and stocky, obviously athletic. In short, he could be any man on the street.
The man followed him. "I don't think that will be necessary." He grabbed Lord Comfry, and there was a gruesome gasp as her employer slid to the floor.
She sucked in a breath and pressed her hand to her mouth to keep from screaming. Through the crack, she saw the stranger walk past toward the office door. She strained to hear the soft click of the door closing behind him, not daring to breathe until she heard it. She counted to ten and then opened the door slowly. The other man was gone, but Lord Comfry lay on the floor, his hands gripping his side, blood pooling onto the floor behind him and through his waistcoat. His eyes were open in horror. She knelt by him, her heart pounding in her chest.
Dear God, what was she supposed to do? Three years as a spy, and violence still rattled her. Doubt reared its head, reminding her she had no place in the Seven. She ignored it as she always did.
She swallowed her nerves and leaned over his body, stifling the urge to recoil from the blood seeping through her gown where she knelt. Her mind raced through the brief medical training from the Academy. Staunch the blood. Pressure to the wound. She whipped the shawl from around her shoulders and compressed it into a ball and tried to staunch the bleeding, but she could tell from the amount of blood he'd already lost that there was nothing to be done. Lord Comfry's breath came in wheezing gasps, and it took her a moment to realize he was trying to speak. She leaned in close to him, straining to hear. "What is it, My Lord?"
"The men," he said hoarsely. "Book ..."
She shook her head. "What?"
"Penni—" he said, and then his eyes rolled upward, and his head fell backward.
"Pennington Hall?" she asked, but she knew the question was futile. Lord Comfry was dead.
She rocked back on her heels and blew out a breath. She would never have the stomach for death. Which was all the more reason she had to keep her wits about her. Her suspect, Lord Comfry, was dead. He may have seemed like a typical Lord of the Realm, but the typical lord was not murdered in his own home.
Emma pushed herself to her feet. After using her shawl to carefully wipe Lord Comfry's blood from her hands, she blotted at the blood on her dress. Thank goodness for her sensible black gown. The blood barely showed. Then she crossed to the fireplace and tossed the ruined shawl into the blazing fire. She wouldn't be here when the body was found, and her absence would be suspicious enough. She had to get out of here, tell Johnston what happened. Without another thought, she fled out into the darkness of the London street.
As she made her way through the busy London streets, Emma concentrated on the facts she'd seen and heard while hiding in the closet. Those were the details that would be important to Johnston. When she reached one of the busy thoroughfares a few blocks from Lord Comfry's house, she hired a hackney. Lord Comfry had wanted to tell her something about men and some book and Pennington Hall, his estate outside of London. If he was, in fact, working against the Crown, perhaps the evidence was there. She'd seen him write in the same book several times over the last few months, though she hadn't seen it in the last week. Naturally, she'd tried to get her hands on the book herself, but she'd never seen it out of his hands. Perhaps that was the book he mentioned. Now that she thought about it, his behavior had been increasingly erratic over the past week. He'd been nervous and jumpy. He'd spent hours at a time passing the length of the hallway from his office to the library. Did that journal contain the information she needed? If so, he must have hidden it at Pennington Hall.
The rig halted in front of the nondescript townhome, and she gave the driver money and then skirted the front entrance for the back. She knocked three times, as was their signal, then waited. No sound. Again she knocked, and still there was no answer.
Johnston could be out, but she needed to get a message to him, and it was far more secure for her to leave it for him here herself than to trust a messenger. She withdrew a pin from her hair and slipped it into the lock. A few maneuvers later, and the latch clicked, the door opened. It was dark inside, not unexpected since it would seem Johnston was out for the evening.
She made her way up the rounded staircase and down the corridor to his study. She'd been in the room many times before, the first being the day she'd accepted his offer to join the Seven. That had been more than three years before and little had changed. The floorboards creaked under her steps as she entered the room, and then her feet hit something, and she fell forward. She caught herself, bracing her weight on her hands and landing in a wet, sticky substance that coated her palms. Blast the darkness.
She felt around the floor, trying to determine what had caused her to stumble. Her hands molded the object in front of her; it felt disturbingly similar to a leg. She jolted backward, quickly realizing that what she'd tripped over was Johnston himself. She brought her palm, covered in liquid, to her nose. Acrid copper and rust. Blood.
Now she had the blood of two men on her palms and clothes.
She swallowed against the bile rising in her throat. No need to leave him a message now. Tears pricked her eyes, but she willed them away. Johnston had been her contact for years. He was the sole constant in her life of drifting from mission to mission. She wasn't close to him. She hadn't made that mistake since her disastrous first mission in Paris. She didn't even particularly care for the man, but his death shook the foundations of her existence. In the twisted labyrinth that was the world of spies, he had been her trail of breadcrumbs. Now there was only one other place to turn. It was time to seek the assistance of Harrison Carlisle, the head spy of the Seven.
Try as she might, she could not still the tears once she sat inside the hack to Harrison's house. She let them fall freely, knowing they'd end soon and she could once again resume her calm exterior. No one would blame her for the emotional outburst; she'd witnessed one murder then stumbled, literally, onto another dead body. After Paris, all of her assignments had been relatively calm ones, essentially her gathering intelligence. Tonight, though, she certainly felt the part of the spy, though she hadn't had the security of a partner. Then again, she'd declined any assignments requiring a partner.
Once the rig rolled to a stop, she climbed the stairs and kicked against the door else risk getting bloody hand marks all over the earl's doorknocker. The door opened, and the butler frowned sternly. "We do not take kindly to street urchins banging on the door for handouts."
She pushed past the butler and stepped into Harrison's townhome.
"Miss! His lordship is otherwise engaged," the butler said.
"This is of vital importance." It was then, in the light of the corridor, that she saw the full impact of the blood on her hands. Bright red stains covered her palms and streaked the upper side of her hands. The butler noticed them as well, and his brows rose slowly. She swiped her palms on her dress.
"It would seem you have an emergency," the butler said. "This way." He led her down the corridor and then down a staircase to a large room. A table sat in the middle of the room and four men sat around it.
"Sheldon, I told you I didn't want to be disturbed," Harrison said from the table.
Emma stepped around the butler and walked forward. "I insisted," she said.
"Ms. Masterson, I didn't realize." He stood and took a moment to look her over. "Good God." He motioned her forward. "You are safe within these walls. These are—"
"Other members of the Seven," she said. "Yes, I recognize them." And she did. Remington Hawthorne, her former partner, sat directly to Harrison's right; her heart thundered at the sight of him. As much as she didn't want to, she drank in the sight of him. After the night she'd had, he was a welcoming face. She resisted the urge to run and fall into his arms. She knew from their work together, those arms would be strong and secure. They hadn't been lovers, but it seemed only a matter of time. As much as they both denied it, they shared a deep attraction. She hadn't seen him since he'd left Paris two years before. Since he'd left her in Paris, believing the very worst of her.
He came to his feet, but stopped short of walking toward her. She forced her gaze off him. The other two men were Lord Brentwood and Bailey Fenton. The latter was the liaison between the Seven and the Prime Minister himself.
"Very well," Harrison said. "First, I must ask, is that your blood or someone else's?" He nodded to her hands, his voice calm.
"Someone else's. Johnston has been killed," she said, doing her best to keep her tone unaffected. Crying in this room would literally destroy her career. There were still several members of the Seven who believed espionage was no place for women.
"Did he send for you?" Fenton asked.
"No, Sir, I went to seek his assistance when my mark was murdered."CHAPTER 2
Remy Hawthorne did his best to school his features as he returned to his seat. It had been two years since he'd left her in Paris, since her assignment to seduce Comte Gibrault. Remy had made certain she'd be safe working with another member of the Seven, one he trusted, and then he left. He knew she'd accomplished her task because they'd acquired the necessary intelligence from Gibrault.
Remy had done everything he could since then to avoid seeing her, but here she was, standing before him, covered in blood. He fought the urge to go to her and check her for injuries, even though she'd said the blood wasn't hers. He slowly returned to his seat.
She had been the brightest and bravest in the group of women they'd recruited into espionage, but she'd also been the most stubborn; quite possibly the most stubborn of all women—not just the ones who worked for the Seven. Still, Remy leaned back in his chair and took in the sight of her. She was slight of build, and her current dress made it a mystery as to whether or not she had any curves. He knew from working with her in Paris that she had delicious curves any woman would envy. Tonight, though, she hid her body beneath a plain wool gown. Hell, he couldn't even tell if she had a bosom worth perusal because she wore a silk spencer fastened tight beneath her neck. When the light shone just right, he could see the bloody handprints marring the front of her dark skirts.
"Lord Comfry was murdered?" Harrison asked.
"Yes. Right in front of me, though I never saw the killer's face. I was hiding."
"Clever girl," Fenton said. His mouth twisted in a wry smile. "But then we wouldn't have recruited you if you weren't. Sit, sit, you must be exhausted."
Harrison moved an empty chair next to him. She took a seat and angled her body so as to not face Remy, despite the fact she sat directly across from him.
"Can you tell us what happened?" Harrison asked.
"Tonight?" Remy asked. "She's obviously been through quite the ordeal."
Excerpted from No Ordinary Mistress by Robyn DeHart, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2014 Robyn DeHart. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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.