From the ashes of war rise the secrets of its darkest hearts. . .In the wake of the Battle of Waterloo, Paris is a house divided. The triumphant Bourbons flaunt their victory with lavish parties, while Bonapartists seek revenge only to be captured and executed. Amid the turmoil, British attaché and Intelligence Agent Malcolm Rannoch and his wife, Suzanne, discover that his murdered half-sister, Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, may have borne a child--a secret she took to the grave. And Malcolm suspects there was more than mere impropriety behind her silence. . .
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The hanging oil lamps swayed and gusted at the opening of the door. The wind brought in the stench from the Seine. A man and woman stepped into the Trois Amis tavern and stopped just beyond the door. The man was lean and dark haired and perhaps taller than he looked. He slouched with a casual ease that took off several inches. A greatcoat was flung carelessly over his shoulders. Beneath, his black coat was unbuttoned to reveal a striped crimson waistcoat. A spotted handkerchief was knotted loosely round his neck in place of a cravat.
The woman, who leaned within the circle of his arm, wore a scarlet cloak with the hood pushed back to reveal a cascade of bright red curls, brilliant even in the murky light of the tavern. Glittering earrings swung beside her face, though surely they must be paste rather than diamonds. Her rouged lips curved in a smile as her gaze drifted round the common room with indolent unconcern.
The other occupants of the tavern glanced at the new arrivals. It was an eclectic crowd, a mix of sailors, dockworkers, merchants, women who plied their wares along the docks, a few young aristocrats in sporting dress. And soldiers, in the uniforms of Russia, Prussia, Austria, Bavaria, England. These days, less than two months after Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat at Waterloo, one couldn't go anywhere in Paris without seeing soldiers.
After a moment, the crowd returned to their dice, drinks, and flirtation. The accordion player seated in the center of the room, who had paused briefly, launched into another lively air.
The couple moved to the bar, where the gentleman procured two glasses of red wine. While he was engaged with the barkeep, several men ran appreciative gazes over the lady. One went so far as to put a hand on her back. "How much?" he asked, his head close enough to her own that his brandy-laced breath brushed her skin.
The lady ran her gaze over him. Her eyes were an unusual color between green and blue. She brushed her fingers against his face and then put a gloved hand on his chest. She gave a dazzling smile. "More than you can possibly afford."
The man regarded her for a moment, then shrugged and grinned. "Can't blame a man for trying," he said, and moved towards a fair-haired girl by the fireplace.
The gentleman turned from the bar and put one of the glasses of red wine into the lady's hand. If he had noticed the man making her an offer, he gave no sign of it. He touched his glass to hers, and they threaded their way through the crowd to a table neither too obviously in the center of the room nor too deep in the shadows. Experience had taught them that the easiest way to hide was often to remain in plain sight.
The lady tugged at the cords on her cloak and let it slither about her to reveal a low-cut gown of spangled white sarcenet. The gentleman shrugged out of his greatcoat, slouched in his chair, and ran an eye round the room.
"I don't see anyone matching the description," the lady said in unaccented French.
"Nor do I," the gentleman agreed in French that was almost as flawless.
"We're a bit early."
"So we are. But I'd give even odds on whether he actually puts in an appearance. He's never been our most reliable asset."
The lady tossed back a sip of wine. "Oh, well. At least we've had a night out."
The gentleman grinned at her. "I can think of places I'd rather take you."
"But this one has a certain piquancy, chéri. An evening without diplomatic small talk. Bliss."
The gentleman slid his hand behind her neck, then went still, his fingers taut against her skin.
The lady had seen it, too.
The man they had come to meet stood by the door, a short, compact figure enveloped in a dark greatcoat. He removed his hat to reveal hair that was several shades darker than its natural color. A good attempt at disguise, but nervousness still radiated off him.
"Well," the gentleman murmured to the lady. "People can surprise you."
The lady touched his arm. "I'll take care of it, Malcolm."
Malcolm Rannoch caught his wife's wrist. "Be careful."
Suzanne Rannoch turned to look at her husband. "Really, mon amour, you'd think you didn't know me."
"Sometimes I wonder." Malcolm pulled her hand to his lips, the gesture flirtatious to anyone watching, but his grip unexpectedly strong. "Remember, we're in alien territory."
She squeezed his fingers. "When are we not?"
Suzanne moved into the room, her spangled skirts stirring about her, and bent over the accordion player. He gave her a quick smile. A moment later, he launched into a lilting rendition of La ci darem la mano. Suzanne began to sing, her voice slightly huskier than usual. She moved towards the nearest table and brushed her fingers against the face of the portly man who sat there, then bent over a young Russian lieutenant at the next table, her burnished ringlets spilling over his shoulder.
The buzz of conversation stilled. The dice ceased to rattle.
Malcolm allowed himself a moment to appreciate his wife's skill, then picked up his greatcoat and glass of wine and strolled across the room to the corner deep in the shadows of the oak-beamed ceiling where the man he was to meet had taken up his position.
"My compliments, Rivère." Malcolm dropped into a chair across from him. "I gave even odds on whether or not you'd actually put in an appearance."
Antoine, Comte de Rivère, cast a quick glance about. "For God's sake, Rannoch, what do you mean coming up to me openly?"
"You were thinking we'd pass coded messages back and forth instead of having a conversation?"
"If we're noticed —"
"My wife has things in hand."
"Your —" Rivère stared at Suzanne, who was now perched on the edge of a table, leaning back, her weight resting on her hands, her skirt pulled up to reveal the pink clocks embroidered on her silk stockings. "Good God."
"I don't think you've seen Suzanne in action before. We're both more accustomed to disguise than you are."
Rivère looked from Suzanne to Malcolm. "The way you're dressed you can't help but attract attention."
"But the man and woman people will remember seeing tonight will seem nothing like Malcolm Rannoch, attaché at the British embassy, and his charming wife." Malcolm pushed his glass of wine across the table to Rivère. "You look as though you need it more than I do."
Rivère took a sip of wine. His fingers tightened round the stem of the glass. "I pass messages. I don't —"
"Indulge in this cloak-and-dagger business. Quite."
"It's all very well for you British." Rivère twisted the glass on the scarred wood of the table. The yellow light from the oil lamps glowed in the red wine. "You're protected by embassy walls and diplomatic passports. It's getting more and more dangerous for the rest of us. The Ultra Royalists have been out for blood ever since the news from Waterloo. I sometimes think they won't rest until they've rid the country of every last taint of Bonapartism. I'm not sure even Talleyrand and Fouché can hold them in check." He grimaced. "Mon Dieu. That I'd ever be calling Fouché the voice of moderation."
"If nothing else he's a survivor," Malcolm said. "As is Talleyrand." Prince Talleyrand, who had once been Napoleon Bonaparte's foreign minister, and Fouché, who had been his minister of police, had both managed to survive in the restored Royalist government.
"Even they can't hold back the tide," Rivère said. "Look how Ultra Royalists are going after men like la Bédoyère —"
"La Bédoyère was the first officer to go over to Bonaparte when he escaped from Elba. You aren't on the proscribed list."
"Yet." Rivère cast a glance about and leaned forwards, shoulders hunched, voice lowered. "Fouché receives more denunciations every day. You've heard Royalists in the Chamber of Deputies clamoring for blood. Cleansing, they call it. It's the Terror all over again."
Malcolm cast an involuntary protective glance towards Suzanne, who was tugging playfully at the cravat of a Prussian major. He looked harmless enough, but these days Malcolm's every sense was keyed to danger. There was no denying France in the wake of Napoleon's defeat was a dangerous place. Frenchmen clashed in the street daily with soldiers from the occupying armies of Prussia, Russia, Austria, Bavaria. And, Malcolm could not deny, England as well. Royalist gangs had ravaged Marseilles and Toulon and other cities. "It's dangerous," Malcolm conceded. "But that doesn't mean you —"
"My cousin's in the Chamber, and he wants me dead. My father got the title when his father was guillotined in the Terror. He wants it back."
"There are legal avenues he could pursue."
"But getting rid of me would be quicker. And it would be vengeance for his father. He's worked his way into the Comte d'Artois's set. It's only a matter of time before I'm arrested."
The Comte d'Artois, younger brother of the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII, was known for his zeal in exacting retribution on those who had supported Napoleon Bonaparte. It had been easier when Napoleon was exiled the first time. After his escape from Elba and his second defeat, at Waterloo, the Ultra Royalists wanted blood.
Malcolm studied Rivère's usually cool blue eyes. "The irony being that while you served Bonaparte you passed messages to the British."
"But there's no way I can prove it, damn it."
"We could help. But being a British spy isn't likely to gain you favor with the French, even the Royalists."
"Precisely. I'm damned either way."
"You're not generally one to talk in such melodramatic terms."
"I don't generally fear for my life." Rivère cast another glance round the tavern. Suzanne was now standing on one of the tables, arms stretched in a way that pulled the bodice of her gown taut across her breasts. A whistle cut the air.
Malcolm reclaimed his glass and took another sip of wine. "What do you want, Rivère?"
"Safe passage out of France."
"I can talk to the embassy — "
"Not through official channels. That will take too long. Get me out of Paris and across the Channel within the week. Once in England I want a pension, a house in the country, and rooms in London."
"You don't set your sights low, do you?"
"Do you have any idea how much I'm giving up leaving France?"
For a moment, Malcolm could smell the salt air at Dunmykel, his family home in Scotland, and hear the sound of the waves breaking on the granite cliffs. It wasn't easy to be an exile. Even if one had chosen the exile oneself, as he had done. "We don't turn our back on our own, Rivère."
"No?" Rivère gave a short laugh. "What about Valmay and St. Cyr and —"
"I don't turn my back," Malcolm said. Far be it from him to defend the sins of British intelligence. "But I can't make you guarantees of that nature on my own authority."
"Take it to Wellington or Castlereagh or whomever you damn well have to. But I want an answer within twenty-four hours."
"You seem very confident."
"I am." Rivère reached for the glass and took a long drink of wine.
A whoosh sounded through the tavern. Suzanne had jumped off the table and landed in the lap of a red-faced gentleman in a blue coat.
Rivère set the glass down but retained hold of the stem. "Tell your masters that if they don't meet my demands, the information I reveal will shake the British delegation to its core."
Malcolm leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. It was not the first time he'd heard such a claim. "It's not as though the British delegation has never weathered scandal. And the behavior of most delegations at the Congress of Vienna rather changed the definition of scandal."
"This goes beyond personal scandal."
Malcolm pulled the glass from Rivère's fingers and tossed down a swallow. "Enlighten me."
"Oh no, Rannoch. I'm not giving up my bargaining chip. But mention the Laclos affair to Wellington and I think you'll find the hero of Waterloo is all too ready to accede to my demands."
Malcolm's fingers went taut round the glass. "What the devil does Bertrand Laclos have to do with this?"
Rivère's brows lifted. "That's right. I forgot you were involved in the Laclos affair. I think I've said enough for now. Just take my message to Wellington and Castlereagh. I doubt either of them wants to see England and France at war again."
Malcolm kept his gaze steady on Rivère, trying to discern how much was bluff, how much was real.
"I may only be a clerk," Rivère said, "but clerks are privy to a number of secrets. I didn't just ask you to meet me because you're Wellington's best agent. I asked you because what I know about you should guarantee you'll help me."
"Oh, for God's sake —"
"For the sake of your family."
"A bit extreme, surely," Malcolm said in a light voice that sounded forced to his own ears. "My family are a long way from Paris."
Rivère leaned back, holding Malcolm's gaze with his own. "Given her varied career, it never occurred to you that she might have had a child?"
Oh, God. Rivère knew —
"Your sister," Rivère said.
For a moment, the blood seemed to freeze in Malcolm's veins. His acknowledged sister, Gisèle, was seventeen and safely in England with their aunt, where she had made her home since their mother's death. Even given Aunt Frances's penchant for scandal and his own absence, he couldn't believe Gelly had had a child without his knowledge. So Rivère must mean —
"Yes." Rivère reached for the glass and tossed down the last of the wine. "Tatiana Kirsanova."
The blood roared in Malcolm's head.
So that it took a split second for him to register the gunshot that had ripped through the tavern.CHAPTER 2
Malcolm sprang to his feet and reached into the pocket of his greatcoat for his own pistol. A Prussian sergeant stood across the room, his arm still extended holding a smoking pistol. No one appeared to be hurt, but the shot was the signal for chaos. A Russian corporal sprang at the Prussian, knocking him to the ground. The gun went flying. Another Prussian made a dive for it. A man in civilian dress jumped on top of him, knocked his head into the floorboards, and grabbed the pistol.
Suzanne, perched on top of a chair, was sensibly standing still. She had her own pistol tucked into her corset, but Malcolm knew she wouldn't use it except as a last resort. As he moved forwards, a table crashed to the floor and a wine bottle smashed into the wall. A girl screamed and ducked under a chair. Another sprang onto a table. A third hurled a tankard at one of the men.
Malcolm dodged past an English soldier and a Bavarian who had begun pummeling each other, took a glancing blow to the shoulder, jumped over the wreckage of a chair, ducked as a tankard sailed overhead.
Metal clanged against metal. The Prussian and the Russian had pulled out their sabres and were dueling in the middle of the room. Two men with their hands locked round each other's throats lurched towards Suzanne. Suzanne snatched up a wine bottle and hit the nearest man on top of the head, sending them both crashing to the ground.
Malcolm skidded over the wine-soaked floorboards to his wife's side.
"I was doing very well," she said as he lifted her from the chair.
"Just trying to keep it that way."
A hand closed on Malcolm's arm and spun him round. "Bloody frogs," a British dragoon said in a slurred voice. "Taking all the girls." He landed Malcolm a blow to the jaw.
This was no time to try to explain about nationalities. Malcolm dealt his offensive countryman an answering blow that sent the dragoon reeling to the floor.
Suzanne screamed. Malcolm whirled round to see his wife clutching her arm. Blood spurted between her fingers. "Sabre cut," she said as he caught her in his arms. Her voice was level, but she swayed against him. "He didn't mean to get me."
A Bavarian and an Austrian had also drawn their swords. Malcolm pulled Suzanne beneath the shelter of the nearest upright table, tugged off the handkerchief round his neck, and bound it round her arm. "Can you walk?"
"Don't be silly."
He crawled to the side of the table where the tangle of feet seemed least dense and pulled her up.
A pistol shot ricocheted off one of the hanging lamps and buried itself in the wall. Malcolm wrapped his arm round Suzanne and edged towards the back wall. Not unlike making one's way through the press at a diplomatic reception. Save that at a diplomatic reception one didn't encounter stray blows, broken glass, and random pistol shots. A stream of ale hit the back of his neck. Several blows glanced off his shoulders. Broken glass sliced through his coat. But he and Suzanne reached the back wall and were able to inch along the edge of the room.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Paris Affair"
Copyright © 2013 Tracy Grant.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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