When it comes to undercover work, nobody does it better than Madam of Espionage India Black...
India and the handsome British spy, French, are ordered to escort a Russian agent to Paris where he will be exchanged for one of Her Majesty’s operatives. The task seems straightforward and India looks forward to enjoying the delights of the city—and the delights of French.
But it isn’t long before things go awry and the duo are battling for their lives in the City of Light.
Includes a preview of the Madame of Espionage Mystery, India Black and The Gentleman Thief
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I reckon most women would jump at the chance to spend a few days in Paris in the company of Major Lachlan French. They would be blithering idiots to do so. I’m ashamed to admit that I was once one of this merry band of imbeciles. I too looked forward with anticipation to a stroll along the Seine in the company of that poncy bastard, who, I grant you, is quite a handsome fellow, what with the wavy dark hair, rugged jaw, and cool grey eyes. I envisioned a cozy afternoon drinking coffee from those tiny French cups and eating pastries filled with chestnut cream and sprinkled with sugared almonds. I imagined French admiring my buxom figure as I tried on pretty dresses in the salons of Paris and treating me to a night of champagne and dancing under the stars. Oh, yes. Mustn’t forget the perfume. My fantasy included the purchase by the handsome French of several bottles of expensive scent for moi. In any event, as you shall see, I was dead wrong on all counts. Except for the perfume. I did come away from this affair with a bottle of scent from the House of Guerlain, but only because it was a necessity. I’m not sure I’d have been allowed back on the steamer without the damned stuff.
• • •
Well, I can see that I’m getting ahead of myself and that you need of bit of background to make sense of this whole affair. Let me provide it.
It started innocently enough, with French, agent to the prime minister of Great Britain, sharing a cozy evening with me, India Black, at Lotus House, a high-class brothel owned by yours truly. Of course it’s not unusual for an army officer to consort with an attractive tart (which I am, in the event you hadn’t picked up on that fact), but there’s more to the scenario than meets the eye. If you haven’t read the previous adventures of French and me (and you damned well should, as I’m always in need of retirement funds), then you’ll need to understand how this rather unusual relationship developed. Let me summarize. A government clerk died at Lotus House. A Russian spy stole a document from said clerk. French blackmailed me into helping him retrieve the document. I acquitted myself so well in this venture that I became a government agent myself. Now I ply my trade as madam of Lotus House while doing a bit of spying on the side for Queen Vicky and Benjamin Disraeli, the wily old Israelite who currently occupies the post of prime minister.
I’m fond of French and he of me, and he frequently drops into Lotus House in the evening to drink my liquor and criticize my fencing prowess. I have pointed out to him that as he has been my teacher, my success on the piste, or lack thereof, rests with him. But, as he usually does, he merely ignores my logical arguments and continues to chunter on about the dedans and the dehors. I allow him to do so as the chap is quite the looker. I simply ignore three quarters of what he says and surreptitiously enjoy the Helios delivering the monologue.
Usually, pointing out my faults puts French into a good humour, but I could see that tonight his heart just wasn’t in it. He sipped his drink moodily and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. For a spy, French can be remarkably transparent when he’s up to something.
“What are you up to?” I asked. I’ve never been one for prolonged surveillance of the enemy camp. I prefer to blow the charge and spur the horses.
“What the devil do you mean?”
So he was up to something. You can be sure that when a bloke bridles at an innocent question, he’s got something to hide. Not that I ask innocent questions.
“Your critique of my balestra lacks its normal vivacity. Therefore, I deduce that you have something on your mind. And as you’ve been sitting there with your knee bouncing up and down like a piston, I further surmise that it is something you don’t want to tell me.”
At this French hauled himself up and gave me that flinty stare that I adore.
“Rubbish,” he said. “You give yourself too much credit, India. You don’t intimidate me in the least.”
“Then I shall try harder in the future. Now, what is on your mind?”
He waved a dismissive hand, but his eyes ricocheted around the room until they came to rest on the fender of the fireplace. He twirled his brandy snifter in his hands and said casually, “I’m off to Paris tomorrow.”
“Paris?” The word came out at a higher pitch than I had intended. I had meant to sound a tad more disinterested and less disappointed. Usually, I’m not a great one for traveling. Alright, I’ve never traveled much at all, if you don’t count various trips into the English countryside on government business and one ill-fated journey across the English Channel to Calais. I hadn’t enjoyed that journey at all, as it had taken place during a terrific squall and I had been the prisoner of some deuced annoying Russian agents. I don’t hold much with foreigners, but I did harbor a secret ambition to visit the City of Light. As to why I wanted to go there, please refer to the previous passage regarding pastries, perfume, dresses, et cetera.
“Why are you going to Paris?”
French squirmed in his seat. “The prime minister has asked me to go.”
“Oh?” I arched an eyebrow and left the word hanging in the air.
“I’ve been given an assignment.”
I sighed. “Do stop fidgeting and spill it, French.”
He sat up straighter and took a fortifying swig of his brandy. “I was reluctant to tell you. I thought you might be angry that you weren’t included in the mission.”
I smiled sweetly. “I don’t even know what you’re doing, so how could I possibly be angry?” That was a smoke screen for dear French, as I was seething at the news that Dizzy had not seen fit to invite me along on this excursion.
“I’m escorting a Russian spy called Alfred Cutliffe to the city.”
“Hang on, French. The Russians have a spy named Alf?”
French smiled at my question. My casual tone was working its magic. He was beginning to relax. Good. He’d be more vulnerable to the ambush I was planning.
“He’s an Englishman,” he said. “A copyist at the India Office. He was assigned to the department charged with formulating policy. I presume you know of the competition between Great Britain and Russia with regard to that colony.” French peered at me in what he presumed was a scholarly manner but reminded me of a condescending owl.
“I’m well aware that the Tsar would like nothing more than to drive us out of India and secure the riches of the subcontinent for himself.”
“It’s a rather high-stakes game of chess we’re playing with the Russians. They’re constantly probing our flanks in the area, trying to gain a foothold from which to pry us loose. And we’re continually pushing back, competing for influence among the various tribes in the region that stand between us and the Russian advance.”
“And what part does Cutliffe play in this drama?”
“He was privy to information regarding our relations with the various rulers of the princely states. Those are the states—”
I broke in, for I despise being told something I already know. Besides, if I let French maunder on at this rate, we’d never get to Paris. Oh, yes, I intended to go. Surely you didn’t think I’d let French wander off to drink wine and eat snails without me?
“I know all about the princely states,” I said. “We pay the rulers a tidy sum to quarter our troops and let us collect the taxes, and when they die, we decide who’ll occupy the throne. Please continue with the saga of Mr. Cutliffe.”
“Well, Cutliffe’s work involved writing out and circulating various memoranda pertaining to British plans with respect to these princely states: how much each ruler gets, and the conditions under which the sums are paid and so forth. But the most important information Cutliffe had access to was the India Office’s strategy with regard to the future of the states. He knew which potential successors we were paying and which chaps we were playing off each other to secure an advantage when the present ruler dies.”
“How very sordid that sounds. Hardly the kind of skullduggery I’d expect the gentlemen at the India Office to get up to.”
French nodded and took a contemplative sip of brandy. “It is rather foul, but then so much of what goes on behind the scenes is ignoble. I suppose the only thing that justifies such behavior is that if we aren’t bribing people and giving away princely thrones, the Russians will. And we all know what sort of life the Indians will have under those Slavic bastards. The natives will be treated worse than the serfs were.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
India is at her sassy best
Idk ask stealthfur
Runs in crying and shivering
Stealthfur layed by their kits. <p> Dustkit fell asleep.