A Lady of His Own (Bastion Club 3) - Page 4

“But from when?”

“I was recruited as soon as I joined the Guards.”

“You were only twenty!” She sounded, and was, aghast.

“I was also half-French, looked completely French, spoke like a southern native—I could so easily pass for French.” He met her gaze. “And I was ripe for any madness.”

He would never tell her that part of that wildness had been because of her.

“But…” She was trying to work it out.

He sighed. “Back then, it was easy to slip into France. Within a few months I was established, just another French businessman in Toulouse.”

She viewed him critically. “You look—and act—too aristocratic. Your arrogance would always mark you.”

He smiled, all teeth. “I gave it out that I was a bastard of a by-then-extinct family on whose grave I would happily dance.”

She studied him, then nodded. “All right. And then you did what?”

“I wormed my way into the good graces of every military and civilian dignitary there, gathering whatever information I could.”

Exactly how he’d done that was one question he wasn’t prepared to answer, but she didn’t ask.

“So you sent the information back, but you stayed there—all that time?”


She rose to fetch the tea, returning to the table to pour; he watched, soothed in some odd way by the simple domestic act. So distracted was she that when she came close to fill his cup, she didn’t seem to notice. As she leaned forward, his eyes traced the curve of her hip, plainly visible courtesy of her breeches. His palm tingled, but he ruthlessly kept both hands still until she straightened and moved away.

He nodded his thanks, picked up the cup, cradled it between his hands. He sipped, then went on, “Once it became clear how successfully I could penetrate the highest civil and military ranks, there was more at stake. Leaving became too risky. The French had to believe I was always there, always accounted for—not the slightest question over what I was doing at any time.”

Leaving the pot on the sink, she returned to her chair. “So that’s why you didn’t come back for James’s funeral.”

“I managed to get out for Papa’s and Frederick’s, but when James was lost, Wellington’s forces were closing on Toulouse. It was more vital than ever that I stay in place.” Frederick, his eldest brother, had broken his neck on the hunting field; James, the second eldest, had succeeded Frederick, only to drown in a freak boating accident. He, Charles, was the third son of the sixth earl, yet here he now was,

proclaimed and established as the ninth earl. One of the vicissitudes of fortune that had overtaken him.

She nodded, her gaze far away; lifting her cup, she sipped.

Eventually, she refocused on him. “Where were you at Waterloo?”

He hesitated, but he wanted the truth—all of the truth—from her. “Behind French lines. I led a few others, half-French like me, to join a detachment from Toulouse. They were guarding artillery on a hill overlooking the field.”

“You stopped the cannons?”

“That’s why we were there.”

Her gaze remained steady on his face. “To reduce the slaughter of our troops.”

By slaughtering others. He left the words unsaid.

“But after Waterloo, you sold out.”

“There was no further need of us—agents like me. And I had other duties waiting.”

Her lips curved. “Duties you and everyone else had never imagined you’d have to take up.”

Indeed. The mantle of the earldom had fallen to him, the wildest, outwardly least suited, least trained to the challenge of his father’s three sons.

Tags: Stephanie Laurens Bastion Club Historical
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