A Husband's Wicked Waysby Jane Feather
A HUSBAND'S WICKED WAYS
Bestselling author Jane Feather beguiles with this sparkling story of the alluring secrets hidden behind the elegance of Regency London, when a lovely young woman discovers the danger...and delight...of risking everything/i>
When a spymaster proposes marriage as a cover, it might be madness for a lady to indulge in...
A HUSBAND'S WICKED WAYS
Bestselling author Jane Feather beguiles with this sparkling story of the alluring secrets hidden behind the elegance of Regency London, when a lovely young woman discovers the danger...and delight...of risking everything for love.
Aurelia Farnham believes she is happy living in London's stylish Cavendish Square. But with her friends Livia and Cornelia both married now, Aurelia is the only one still husbandless, and sometimes she longs for more. Then Colonel Sir Greville Falconer storms into her life, delivering a letter from her late husband, a war hero, which reveals he was a spy -- the colonel's spy. Now Greville needs Aurelia to continue the patriotic mission and partner him as he exposes a ring of Spanish spies who have infiltrated London society.
The attentions of the charismatic Greville excite Aurelia as his mock courtship blurs the line between pretense and reality. When the simmering attraction between them ignites into passion and the danger of Aurelia's double life escalates, Greville insists on marriage as the best way to protect her. Now Aurelia realizes she has more than shadowy antagonists to fear, for she's lost her heart to a dashing spymaster who will one day slip away as suddenly as he appeared....
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LONDON, MARCH 1809
AURELIA FARNHAM INSTINCTIVELY quickened her pace as she turned onto Cavendish Square from Wigmore Street. The footsteps behind her speeded up as she did. Her heart began to beat faster. Was he following her ? More to the point, who was following her ?
She slowed deliberately, and the footsteps adapted. It was late afternoon, the sun sinking behind the city's roofs and chimney pots, but the evening was by no means drawing in, and plenty of people were still around. Or at least there were on the busy streets she had just left; the square was rather quiet, no sounds of playing children coming from behind the railings of the large central garden.
But Aurelia's apprehension was giving way to annoyance. This was her home ground, and if an individual couldn't feel safe a mere twenty yards from her own front door, then something was seriously rotten in the state of Denmark.
She stopped abruptly and spun around. The man behind her stopped. He swept off his high-crowned beaver hat and bowed.
"Lady Farnham?" he inquired, his tone slightly clipped. Aurelia gave a faint nod of acknowledgment. "Do I know you, sir?" There was nothing in his appearance to alarm. He was dressed with impeccable respectability, carrying nothing more threatening than a slender, silverknobbed cane.
"Unfortunately, ma'am, we have not been formally introduced," he said, replacing his hat. "I left my card at your house an hour past, but..." He paused with a slight frown. "Forgive me, but I had little confidence that it would reach your hands. The...uh...servant to whom I entrusted it seemed disinclined to take it and did so only with the greatest reluctance. I thought I would return and try my luck again."
"Ah, that would be Morecombe," Aurelia said with something approaching a sigh. "His manner may be a little off-putting, sir, but I can assure you he can be relied upon." She regarded him interrogatively. "Is there something I can do for you?"
He offered another little bow. "Colonel, Sir Greville Falconer at your service, ma'am. Forgive this unconventional introduction, but I was a friend of your husband's."
"Of Frederick's?" Aurelia looked astonished. Her husband, First Lieutenant, Lord Frederick Farnham, had died at the Battle of Trafalgar, over three years earlier. He'd have been a much younger man than this colonel, she reflected. Sir Greville seemed to dwarf her, towering over her, his wide shoulders filling the well-cut coat as if he had been poured into it. What she had seen of his short, dark hair was flecked with gray at the temples, and he had the unmistakable air of mature self-assurance that comes with experience and authority.
"Yes, of Frederick's," he agreed. A gust of March wind caught his hat, and he grabbed it swiftly. He glanced rather quizzically around the blustery square.
Aurelia remembered the courtesies, although nothing obliged her to offer hospitality to a stranger who'd accosted her on the street. But if he had been a friend of Frederick's, then she owed him more than the street. "Would you care to accompany me into the house, sir?"
"Thank you, ma'am." He offered her his arm. She took it with a politely nonc mmittal smile, immediately returning her hands inside her swan's-down muff. They walked the last few yards and up the steps to the front door in a silence that Aurelia found awkward, but that she was convinced her companion did not. He radiated confidence and self-possession.
Aurelia slipped one gloved hand from the muff and extracted a key from her reticule. The house's owners, Prince and Princess Prokov, had decided on the line of least resistance when it came to dealings with the ancient Morecombe. He could not be relied upon to hear the door knocker, and even when he did, his progress was so slow many visitors had given up in despair long before the door was opened to them. A modern lock had now been installed, and if the elderly retainer was on duty at the door, rather than the extremely efficient Boris, the house's occupants took their own keys.
She opened the door and stepped inside, inviting her companion to follow her.
Morecombe shuffled in his carpet slippers from the kitchen regions, peering myopically at the pair in the hall. "Oh, 'tis you," he declared.
"Yes, Morecombe, and I have a visitor," Aurelia said patiently. "We shall go into the salon." She turned aside into a large and beautifully furnished drawing room. "You must forgive Morecombe's eccentricities, Sir Greville. He has been a retainer here for many, many years." She set down her muff and drew off her gloves.
"Won't you sit down, sir."
The colonel had removed his hat and was looking appreciatively around the handsome apartment, his gaze drawn to the portrait over the fireplace. A rather beautiful woman in full court dress looked out from the canvas, her startling blue eyes seeming to follow the room's occupants. "A relative?" he asked, absently brushing at his hat brim.
"Not of mine," she said. "A close relative of Prince Prokov's. The house belongs to him and his wife, a very old friend of mine. I am staying here while they're in the country with their staff for several months. The princess awaits her confinement."
"I did wonder how you came to be living here," he observed, turning his gaze on her. A dark and unreadable gaze.
Aurelia was suddenly uneasy. Why would he wonder anything about her at all? Who was he? He was somehow giving the impression that he knew things that he had no business knowing. She had the strangest feeling that, as he looked at her, he was assessing her, comparing her with something, some image, some perception. And abruptly she wanted him out of the house.
"Forgive me, Colonel...it was pleasant to meet you, but I'm afraid I have another engagement in an hour and must change my dress," she said, moving towards the door with an ushering gesture in his direction.
"I understand, ma'am, and I won't keep you long, but I have not as yet discharged my business." He did not move from his place before the fire.
Aurelia's nostrils flared with a surge of annoyance that did nothing to dispel the unease. She turned back to the room, standing close to the door. "Indeed, sir?" Her brown eyes had lost their habitual warmth and her fair eyebrows rose.
He smiled, a flash of white in a lean, tanned countenance. His eyes were a dark gray beneath thick, straight eyebrows, and disconcertingly, he had the longest, lushest eyelashes that Aurelia had ever seen on a woman, let alone a man. But apart from that feature, there was nothing conventionally handsome about his appearance. His countenance had a rather battered air, as if it and its owner had been through a lot together. But it was strangely compelling nevertheless.
And even as she thought this, she realized that her moment of taking stock had given her visitor implicit control. She should have pressed on with his dismissal; instead, she had looked at him far too closely for a mere casual and uninterested observation.
He set his hat and cane down on a console table against the wall and drew off his gloves, regarding her with a slight frown in his eyes as he slapped the gloves rhythmically into the palm of one hand. "I expected to find you in the country, at Farnham Manor," he said, and Aurelia, to her increased annoyance, thought she could detect a note of irritation in the statement.
"Indeed?" she said again in a tone of haughty indifference. "I wish you would tell me, Sir Greville, why you would go to such trouble to find me. My husband's been dead for more than three years, it seems a little late for a visit of condolence."
"Would you sit down, Lady Farnham."
It was not a question, or a request, it had all the force of a command. Aurelia stared at him. He was presuming to give her orders in what for the present was to all intents and purposes her own house. "I beg your pardon?"
"Believe me, ma'am, it would be better if you were to sit down," he said, gesturing to a sofa.
"I have no intention of doing so," Aurelia snapped, laying a hand on the back of a chair as if to emphasize her upright posture. "Now, state your business, Colonel, if you must, then oblige me with your departure."
"Very well." He nodded slightly. "Your husband, First Lieutenant, Lord Frederick Farnham, was alive until January sixteenth of this year. He was killed at the battle of Corunna."
"You are mad," Aurelia said, her fingers curling tightly over the chair.
He shook his head. "I witnessed his death, Lady Farnham."
What kind of cruel practical joke was this? Aurelia's knees shook a little, and there was a tight band around her head. She took a step sideways and dropped onto the sofa, gazing up at her visitor in dazed incomprehension. She couldn't dismiss what he'd said. He was regarding her with both understanding and something akin to compassion, and she knew that he was telling the truth, however unbelievable it was. He had the unmistakable air of a man who knew exactly what was going to happen next and was calmly prepared to deal with it.
He turned away and strode to a sideboard. He filled a glass from the cognac decanter and brought it over to her. "Drink this."
Aurelia took the glass in numb fingers and gulped. The fiery liquid scorched her throat, made her cough and splutter, but it warmed her belly and brought her back to full awareness. "I don't understand," she stated.
"No," he agreed. "How should you?" He returned to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of port. He came back, moved a chair slightly so that he was facing her, and sat down. "I will explain as much as I can at this juncture. Drink the cognac."
Aurelia took a more cautious sip. A flickering resurgence of her customary self wanted to tell him that he had no right to help himself to port without an invitation, but she recognized the urge as merely an attempt to reestablish some kind of control over her surroundings, since she had no control over what was happening, or of what would happen next.
"Frederick Farnham worked for me," her visitor announced, swirling the liquid in his glass.
"He was a first lieutenant in the navy," she protested. "You said you're a colonel...they don't have colonels in the navy."
"True," he agreed calmly. "But there is some overlap between the services." He gave her his white smile again. "We do all serve King George."
Aurelia stared at the contents of her glass, her mind a violent swirl of incomprehension. Finally, she looked up and said as steadily as she could, articulating every syllable as if it would invest her words with truth, "I have the letter from the War Ministry...the letter regretfully informing me that my husband had been killed at the Battle of Trafalgar. There can be no mistake...why would the War Ministry lie to me? If it wasn't Frederick who was killed, then who was it?"
"Many died in that battle," her visitor said. "But your husband was not one of them. He was not at the battle, he was with me in Bavaria, at Ulm, where General Mack was negotiating an armistice with Napoléon."
Aurelia shook her head. "Why was Frederick there? He was in the navy."
"Your husband was only peripherally attached to the navy. In fact he was an agent of the secret service."
"A spy, you mean?" Aurelia struggled to attach such a label to the man she thought she knew...the man who'd been a childhood companion, and her husband. The man she'd shared a bed with for close to four years. That man had been open, generous, kind. Above all, honest and honorable. He had no time for deceit or lies, even of the most trivial. Such a monumental deception as this was impossible.
She shook her head again, more vigorously this time. "I don't believe a word you're saying."
Greville inclined his head in acknowledgment. "I don't really expect you to take my word for it. But I hope you will take Frederick's." He reached into his coat and withdrew a packet. He tapped it lightly against his knee, looking at her with that same slight frown in the gray eyes. "This is from your husband. It was sent to you at Farnham Manor. I went there in search of you...Frederick assumed that you would still be there. With your daughter...?" He raised an interrogative eyebrow. "Frances, I believe is her name. Franny, Frederick called her...she must be about six now?"
Aurelia said nothing, just gazed at him with all the fascination of a mesmerized rabbit.
"Anyway," he continued, when it seemed clear she was saying nothing, "I went in search of you and was told I would find you both here, in Cavendish Square. This" -- he gestured with the packet -- "was delivered to you a few days ago...your staff were preparing to send it on here by the mail coach." He gave a tiny shrug. "I saved them the trouble."
"Do you seriously expect me to believe that my staff gave you mail addressed to me without so much as a murmur?" Aurelia demanded. It was insultingly laughable for him to expect her to swallow such a tale.
"I had impeccable credentials," he said quietly. He reached again into his coat. "They recognized this...as I'm sure you do." He held the object out to her on his flat palm.
She took it automatically and gazed at it in openmouthed incredulity. It was Frederick's signet ring, the seal of the Farnhams embedded in the gold. She looked up and stared at Greville. "How did you get this?"
"Frederick gave it to me. He thought you might need proof of my story." A mobile eyebrow lifted. "It seems that you do."
Aurelia looked at the ring again, holding it up to the shaft of fading light from the long windows. She knew it was her husband's, she could feel his presence somehow. Did that mean that this entire farrago of deceit and lunacy was not a tissue of lies?
"If that packet is indeed addressed to me, perhaps you should give it to me," she declared, her words laced with sarcasm. She held out her hand imperiously.
The colonel did not immediately hand over the packet. "There are two things inside. One is for you, a personal communication from Frederick, the other is for the War Ministry. I cannot permit you to see that, as I'm sure you'll understand."
"Assuming I believe this lunatic story, why would Frederick send me something destined for the War Ministry?" she inquired, the sarcasm still heavy.
"The situation was desperate. We were under attack, and there was considerable doubt as to whether we ould make it through. It was vital that this document reached the right hands. Frederick had the idea to send it to you...a destination that would draw no attention." He leaned forward and dropped the packet in her lap. "I imagine the letter to you will explain all you need to know."
Aurelia turned the packet over between her hands. The writing was definitely Frederick's, although it was not in his usual beautiful and forceful script. The letters were untidy, the ink slightly smudged as if written in haste. As indeed he would have been if this story was true.
"You survived the attack," she stated without expression.
"Yes," he agreed simply.
"But Frederick did not," she said softly, trying to absorb anew the knowledge of her husband's violent death. She had grieved for his loss once, and now it seemed she must do so again.
"No," her visitor said, watching her closely. "He was killed in a skirmish with half a dozen French soldiers. But by then we had entrusted the packet to an ensign to take to one of the ships in the harbor that were waiting to evacuate the survivors of General Moore's army."
Aurelia rose from the sofa and walked slowly across the room to a small satinwood secretaire that stood between two of the long windows. She took up a paper knife and slit the wafer that sealed the packet. With slow deliberation she examined the two sealed papers that it contained. One was addressed to Aurelia Farnham. No honorific, just the plain name in Frederick's script, which, unlike the other, was clear and unhurried. He must have written the letter itself when he was not in desperate straits.
The second sealed paper had a simple inscription. To be delivered unopened to the War Ministry, Horseguards Parade, London.
She became aware of her visitor's tall, broad form standing at her shoulder. She hadn't heard his approach across the expanse of Turkey carpet...surprising with such a big man, she thought irrelevantly.
"May I?" Without waiting for permission, he twitched the second paper from her suddenly nerveless fingers and slipped it inside his coat. "There is now no need for you to deliver this, as I am here. I suggest you read your letter. It will go much further than I can to explain what I can understand must seem like an elaborate and fantastic hoax."
Aurelia turned to look at him, disliking that she had to look up to do so. "I must ask you to excuse me, Colonel." Her voice was cold and stiff. "I would prefer to read my husband's letter in private."
"Of course." He bowed. "I will return in the morning. There are things we must discuss."
"Oh, I doubt that, sir," she retorted. "You've had your say, and we can have nothing further to talk about. If I'm to believe you, the last three and a bit years of my life have been a lie. And I have you to thank for it, it seems. I have no wish to lay eyes upon you again."
He shook his head. "I hope, ma'am, that you will change your mind about that. Read your letter. I trust it will enable you to see things in a different light." He offered another bow, then turned to the door, gathering up his hat and cane. "I will return in the morning." He left, closing the door firmly at his back.
Aurelia stared at the closed door, uncertain whether she was on the verge of hysterical laughter or tears. A fit of hysteria anyway. She couldn't believe what he'd told her, and yet she knew without a shadow of doubt that it was true. The ring and the unopened letter in her hand shrieked the horrendous, unbelievable truth.
Frederick Farnham did not die on October 21 in the year of our Lord 1805, he died at Corunna on January 16, 1809.
But where did that leave Cornelia's husband, Stephen? Viscount Dagenham had set sail with Frederick from Plymouth harbor in the early spring of 1805 on a frigate that was to meet up with Admiral Nelson's fleet. She and Cornelia had waved after the departing frigate, they had seen their husbands aboard together. And they had received official notifications of their husbands' deaths within a few days of each other. And yet Colonel Falconer had said that Frederick had never been in the Battle of Trafalgar. At the time that naval battle was being fought, he had been in Bavaria. Bavaria, of all places.
She couldn't for the life of her remember what was going on at Ulm in October of 1805. Had the English been involved? And if they hadn't been, why were Colonel Falconer and Frederick Farnham there?
Of course the answer was obvious. If they were spies, then they were covertly collecting information.
Aurelia followed the progress of this seemingly interminable conflict with the voracious tyrant Napoléon as best she could. She read the dispatches that were regularly published in the Gazette, and she listened with interest to the conversations of those who had an inside knowledge of the details. Mostly such conversations occurred around the Bonhams' dinner table, when Harry and his friends and ministry colleagues were gathered. But information in general was scanty and sporadic, except for the great battles in which the English fought, such as Trafalgar, which were reported in detail. Reports of Moore's gallant and horrendous retreat and stand at Corunna were only just making it to the English newspapers. But if what the colonel had told her was true, her husband's presence there would have been covert and his death would not make it to the regularly published lists of the killed and missing.
Frederick. She looked down at the unopened letter in her hand. She had to open it, yet she dreaded doing so. She knew absolutely that its contents would turn her ordered existence on its head. She wanted to pretend that this afternoon had never happened, put it out of her mind completely, and simply resume her customary life with Franny, with her friends, with the conventional, gentle social round.
Aurelia stared unseeing at the paper in her hand. It was the life she and Frederick had accepted as their due. Quiet, comfortable, lacking for nothing, bringing with its serene pleasures the customary obligations of privilege. A life lived by everyone they knew, lived by rules and expectations that were bred into them from birth.
But Frederick had not lived that life. He had pretended to do so, but he had been someone else, someone she didn't know at all. And he had been prepared to sacrifice his marriage, fatherhood, the friendships of a lifetime. His wife. And for what? To live underground as a spy. Dead to everyone who knew him, who loved him. Had he given a thought to his wife and child when he'd made that decision? Had he intended to come back to her if he survived the war?
A surge of hurt-fueled rage washed over Aurelia at this monumental deception her husband had practiced upon her. All the while he had been plotting his dangerous and exciting life, she had been plodding along on the established tracks and expecting to do so until her death.
Her reluctance to open the letter vanished. It was sealed with wax imprinted with Frederick's signet ring, which she still held tucked into her palm. She slit the wax impatiently with a fingernail and opened the sheet. Her head swam and her eyes blurred as she gazed at the sheet crammed with line after line in that flowing familiar handwriting. Her mouth was suddenly dry, and she swallowed convulsively. It was as if Frederick was in the room with her. She could see his smiling green eyes, his full mouth, the long, gangly length of him. He never looked perfectly groomed, something was always slightly awry with his attire. And if she ever pointed it out to him, he would simply laugh. She could hear that laugh now, a light, cheerfully dismissive chuckle that told her he had more important things to consider than his appearance.
And she knew full well now what those important things were. Not estate matters, or hunting issues, or any of the trivial pursuits that occupied his fellow country gentlemen. No, they were dangerous secrets, secrets that had led to his death. And in her hand now were his words, finally truthful words coming from beyond the grave.
My dearest Ellie...
A childish treble in the hall made her jump, then hastily fold the letter, pushing it into the shallow pocket of her skirt. Franny was back from her schoolroom day with Stevie Dagenham at the Bonhams' house on Mount Street. Aurelia and Cornelia had decided it made good sense for the two children to share a governess until Stevie was sent away to school. He was seven, and Cornelia was fighting a battle with his grandfather the Earl of Markby to keep him at home at least until he was ten. She had Stevie's stepfather on her side, and Harry had made a point of ingratiating himself with the earl, so Cornelia was hopeful. The shared governess was an arrangement that suited the children and their mothers, keeping the two households in close touch.
"Morecombe...Morecombe...where's Mama, I have to show her something." Franny's insistent voice brought Aurelia back to the present reality. The letter would wait. She'd waited for an entire marriage and three years beyond it for the truth, another hour would make no difference. She gathered her composure, painted a smile on her lips, and went to the drawing-room door.
"I'm here, Franny. Have you had a pleasant day?"
"Oh, so many things happened, Mama. We went to see the lions at the Exchange, and they roared an' roared. I think Stevie was just a tiny bit frightened... but I wasn't...not one little bit." The little girl ran to her mother, the words tumbling from her lips. "I drew a picture of the lions...see...they had all this hair, Miss Alison said it's called a mane..."
Aurelia admired the picture, listened attentively to the minute-by-minute description of her daughter's day, murmured with due appreciation or astonishment at the right moments, and gently eased the child upstairs to the nursery quarters.
She stayed with Franny during her supper and sat by the fire as Daisy, the nurserymaid, gave her a bath, listening to the endless prattle. Not for the first time it occurred to her that Franny was an unstoppable voice and had been from her first birthday. Frederick had been astonished at his little daughter's grasp of language...
Frederick. The letter in her pocket crackled against her thigh as she made an involuntary move. Later... there would be time enough later.
"What story should we read tonight, love?" she asked cheerfully, receiving her towel-swaddled daughter into her lap.
Copyright © 2009 by Jane Feather
Meet the Author
Jane Feather is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty sensual historical romances, including the Blackwater Bride series. She was born in Cairo, Egypt, and grew up in the south of England. She currently lives in Washington, DC, with her family. There are more than 10 million copies of her books in print.
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In 1809 on the streets of London, Colonel Sir Greville Falconer breaks convention by introducing himself to Widow Aurelia Farnham, a single mom raising her six year old daughter Franny. He tells her he was a friend of her late husband Frederick, a First Lieutenant and has a letter from him for her. She is shocked that Frederick wrote he was spying for England in Spain and the Colonel was his friend as well as an espionage agent. The Colonel further explains her spouse did not die three years ago as she was told by the War Ministry, but this year at the Battle of Corunna. He also says he needs her help to ferret out a Spanish espionage ring working in England. She proves worthy from the onset and hides their spying endeavor by pretending a courtship. They soon fall in love, but his mission has changed somewhat as keeping Aurelia and Franny safe move to the top of the list. The third "wicked" Regency romance (see TO WED A WICKED PRINCE and A WICKED GENTLEMAN), is a fabulous historical espionage thriller with two strong lead characters. The tension grows throughout until the final confrontation as does the attraction. Filled with war intrigue, Jane Feather provides sub-genre fans with a thrilling Napoleonic Era romantic suspense. Harriet Klausner
Jane Feather can be a little long winded at times but the payoff is still normally good. It's a fun story, that at times is predictable. Not Feather's best work but still enjoyable. I like the bride series better.
Frederick was caught up in the spy business like Harry Bonham (book 1) and Prince Alex (book 2) and left the navy (presumably dead) to work covertly with Falconer. Aurelia is rocked not only by this incomprehensible behavior of Frederick, but also by her uneasy attraction to the colonel. What's also incredible is that Sir Greville wants to train her to work with him on his latest mission in London to trap a Spanish master spy. Train her - and woo her - he does, and Aurelia shows hidden talents. A well-trained Russian wolfhound, Lyra, serves as Aurelia's formidable bodyguard. Mission accomplished for Aurelia and Greville both in love and war. Well written and enjoyable.
This book was a little different than the first two as the conflict of the romance wasn't the main focal point but instead, a lot of the book truly focused on the spy work, which I enjoyed. I stayed up all night reading it. Unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed in the ending. Nothing is worse in my eyes than the lack of research to verify dates/data within a book. Top that off with the big climatical scene literally happening in a blink of an eye...I almost missed it and had to re-read it just to make sure that was it. Overal, a fun read for a day ..or night...you want to kill doing nothing but relax.