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The Beauty and the SpyChapter One
A man who looks out of place usually is.
The Secret Journals of a Spymaster
Charlotte Whittington Sinclair stood at the top of the marble stairs leading down into Lord Arbury's crowded, overheated ballroom. Dressed in her first new ball gown since her year of mourning had finished, she felt as excited and alive as a seventeen-year-old debutante instead of a mature widow of twenty-three years.
Oh, to be out in society again! During the final six months of her marriage, she had been forbidden to associate with her friends and family, practically imprisoned on her husband's remote estate in Cornwall. But now she had shed the sad remnants of her marriage along with her black garments and her wedding ring, and was finally free.
Her mother, Lady Whittington, descended the stairs at her side, forcing Charlotte into the sedate ladylike pace she chafed at. Charlotte noticed that she received the attentive glances of several eligible gentlemen, but thoughts of another marriage were far from her mind. Someday, perhaps, she would do her duty and give her mother grandchildren, but not now. Now was for living, and as a widow of means, she was determined to do so. But she could certainly dance and flirt with those gentlemen.
She had been reborn since becoming a widow, and her excitement had been further heightened when she'd discovered her father's hidden journals just a few days before. She'd always thought her father, Viscount Whittington, was merely an officer in the army of the East India Company. But his journals had introduced her to his world as a spymaster, a secret he'dkept from them all.
Even now, she alone held the knowledge, and guarded it close to her heart where his words enthralled her. Her own life had been stagnant and dull next to her father's, and his journalsmade her feel a restlessness she'd never imagined before.
At the bottom of the stairs, as friends gathered around them, Lady Whittington gave Charlotte a worried look. Her mother thought Charlotte was fragile yet, a woman who hadn't come to terms with all that had happened to her, but Charlotte felt far from being such a pathetic creature. She accepted the hugs of her longtime friends, and allowed herself to be led away as she fended off their concerned questions. She didn't want to be reminded of the past, so she turned the conversation to the latest gossip.
After a half hour's tales of who was betrothed and who had retired to the country with child, Charlotte moved on to the refreshments for a glass of champagne. She stood alone for a moment, sipping the bubbling liquid and gazing around her at all the familiar faces. She tried to remind herself that this was what she used to live for, the doings of the ton, but somehow, it all seemed rather ... dull.
Dull? she reprimanded herself. After what she'd recently endured, she should be in her glory. But since she'd devoured her father's journals, talk of marriage and offspring seemed rather uninspiring. Her head was still full of dangerous, exciting tales of India and Afghanistan, of barren deserts and bleak mountains. Surely she'd soon settle back into her old ways.
But did she want to? She stood alone in a crowd, full of a knowledge no one else had, ready for the next exciting stage of her life to begin- and what would it be? She tried not to let her expectations overwhelm her.
And then she saw him.
A tall man strode along the edges of the ballroom, his expression set in a pleasant, false smile nothing new there. But something was wrong. It was his eyes, she decided as he drew nearer; they were very dark, and they constantly swept over the room, as if looking for someone or avoiding someone.
She tried to stop her imagination, for surely that's all this could be. Her head was full of intrigues that were not to be found in Lord Arbury's ballroom. After all, the man did not quite look like he belonged. He was very broad across the chest, something not normally seen among men of her acquaintance, although he did do justice to his evening clothes. He had black hair, a trifle longer and more unkempt than was fashionable. His face did not have the grace of a nobleman because of its broad bluntness and square jaw, but it was arresting nonetheless.
As he approached her, she found herself holding her breath, some unnameable excitement caught in her chest. Would he speak to her? He came closer and closer, looking bigger and more intimidating than any man she'd ever seen.
Yet his stride did not shorten, and after giving her a single appreciative glance that traveled swiftly from her face to the curves of her breasts, he moved on past.
Charlotte told herself to feel offended that he hadn't even offered a simple "Good evening," that he'd so rudely stared below her face. Yet she turned about and continued to watch him, not caring who noticed her shocking behavior. She moved back into the crowd, slipping between groups of chatting women and bored men. Distantly she heard someone call her name, but she ignored whoever it was to concentrate on the back of the enigmatic stranger. No one called a greeting to him, as if he knew not a soul there. Oh, plenty of ladies noticed his retreat, but turned up their noses at his behavior, as she should be doing.
But she couldn't. She was fascinated and drawn to the mystery of him. Where was he going with such single-minded determination? She stood on her toes and craned her neck; she stooped beneath someone's elbow so she wouldn't lose sight of him. And then he turned, ducked beneath a giant fern, and disappeared down a dark corridor that she knew led to the family's private quarters ...The Beauty and the Spy. Copyright (c) by Gayle Callen . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.