Authors: Tina Gabrielle
Tags: #category, #historical romance
A Spy Unmasked
When a charade becomes a dangerous game...
The mission did not go quite as Robert Ware—known in society as the new Earl of Kirkland—planned. A spy in the service of His Majesty, Robert is a “guest” at a masquerade party as he retrieves vital information for a murder investigation. Until he’s quite unexpectedly interrupted by an exquisite, masked woman with glittering green eyes. And a pistol she has cocked and aimed right at him...
Lady Sophia Merrill has defiantly taken up justice’s shining sword, determined to expose the brigand who murdered her eccentric but brilliant father, and stole his latest invention. Now she must masquerade as Robert’s betrothed, in order to infiltrate the Inventor’s Society and find the killer. But the undeniably potent attraction between them not only imperils the investigation, but Sophia’s reputation...and both of their lives.
A Spy Unmasked
an In the Crown’s Secret Service novel
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Tina Sickler. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Scandalous is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Terese Ramin
Cover design by Libby Murphy
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition November 2014
For Laura & Gabrielle.
May you always reach for the stars.
I love you.
May 10, 1820
London, Viscount Delmont’s ballroom
Robert Ware adjusted his black half mask and sipped a glass of claret as he surveyed the glittering ballroom. Tonight was supposed to be an ordinary mission, similar to the countless other clandestine operations he had carried out.
The Delmonts’ masquerades were rumored to be quite dissolute, and from the look of the guests this party lived up to that reputation. Well past midnight, expensive champagne continued to flow freely. A voluptuous blonde with a dazzling diamond necklace and a vast amount of cleavage boldly met his eyes and licked her painted lips.
Robert grinned and raised his glass in silent salute.
Ah, for king and country,
A liveried footman carrying a silver tray halted beside him. “Viscount Delmont’s guards are now making the rounds in his private wing,” the man whispered.
Robert swapped the claret for a flute of champagne from the server’s tray without making eye contact with him.
Ian MacDonald was a fellow agent assigned to observe Lord Delmont’s men while Robert carried out his assignment. Unobtrusive, of average height and build with brown hair and eyes, Ian easily blended in with a crowd.
“How much time will I have?” Robert asked.
“A half hour.”
A half hour.
Little time to retrieve the package and quit the place before the guards made their next rotation.
A booming laugh drew Robert’s attention. Lord Delmont stood in the corner of the ballroom. He was unmasked and talking to three other men. As the head of the London Inventors’ Society, the viscount’s interests lay in chemistry. He was a bear of a man with a chest the size of a small armoire, meaty hands, and a short neck that gave him the appearance that his head rested directly upon his shoulders. By the look of Delmont’s florid complexion and glassy eyes, he was well on his way to being drunk.
“I wonder what he says about the murders,” Robert murmured.
“You mean to speak to the man? That’s not part of the plan.”
“He’s not the mastermind behind the killings.”
Ian focused his gaze over Robert’s shoulder. “You’ll have to wait for another opportunity to engage Delmont. The guards have returned to the ballroom.”
Time to go.
Robert drained his glass, placed it on Ian’s tray and slipped out of the crowded ballroom into the hall. Voices of revelers echoed off the black-and-white Italian marble floor, crystal clinked, and a woman’s trill of laughter followed.
He smiled at a group of bejeweled ladies and made a show of heading for the ornately carved staircase leading outside. As soon as the group passed, he turned right into Delmont’s private wing. He paused to allow his eyes to adjust from the brightness of the ballroom chandeliers to the low-burning candles in wall sconces that dimly illuminated the corridor. Gilt-framed portraits of the viscount’s ancestors peered down at him with haughty disdain as he moved past. He ventured farther, his footsteps muffled by the thick Brussels runner.
The library occupied the last door on the right. He had memorized the layout of the mansion weeks ago, as soon as Wendover, his superior at the Home Office, had advised him of the mission—one for which Robert had been handpicked.
Crack the safe. Retrieve Delmont’s documents. If you are apprehended, the Crown will deny your involvement.
All things Robert knew. His unexpected and recently inherited title from his uncle—the Earl of Kirkland—could not change his past. He was a soldier in an invisible army. He would never be a decorated war hero. There were no medals, no accolades for men like him.
He reached the library and opened the door an inch.
Slipping inside, he quietly closed the door. Moonlight through the French doors behind a rosewood pedestal desk partly illuminated the room. It would have to be sufficient as he dared not light a lamp.
He scanned the space, his mind calculating where a safe might be hidden. Behind a priceless Rembrandt painting. Beneath the parquet floor under the desk. Perhaps behind a false stone in the mantle.
He found it built into a tall mahogany bookshelf. The gilded spines of the books gave it away. A complete set of Johnathan Swift’s first-edition treasures. A rarity, indeed.
Pushing the books aside, he ran his fingers along the inside of the shelf until he felt a latch. There was a slight click when he pressed it and a panel swung open to reveal a formidable strongbox of hardwood with steel bands. His lips curled in a smile as he reached out to caress the lock.
“Ah, a Richmond Company lock,” he whispered reverently.
He must use nondestructive manipulation. No one must suspect the safe had been tampered with until Lord Delmont went to retrieve his treasonous documents.
Robert withdrew his lock picks from his pocket and went to work.
Fifteen minutes later the safe was open and he stared at a pile of banknotes six inches thick and a fortune in rubies and diamonds.
He reached past the banknotes and jewels to retrieve a battered, leather-bound ledger and a sheaf of papers from the back of the safe. Tucking them inside the jacket pocket of his blue superfine, he closed the safe and secured the panel.
He was arranging the books in their precise order when he heard a rustle of clothing outside the door.
Slipping behind the end of the bookshelf, he reached for the blade in his boot just as the library door cracked open. He clutched one of the books in his left hand, preparing to throw it, when a figure entered the room.
A woman’s voice.
She came forward, slowly stepping into a swath of moonlight until her features were fully illuminated.
His first impression struck him like a blow to the gut:
she does not belong here.
She was tall and slim and possessed a wild beauty. Among the garishly dressed women in the ballroom, she would stand out like fine Italian glass beside rough-cut jars.
She had fiery red hair. Odd, he’d never found females with such bright hair attractive. But this one was different. She wore a peacock-feathered mask and a turquoise gown. Her bodice was low, though nothing as vulgar as the other female guests in attendance. Yet it was her eyes that drew him. Not blue, as he would have expected with the flame-colored hair, but a mesmerizing green that glittered like emeralds from the slits of her mask.
He paused, slipping the knife back into his boot before stepping away from the shelf.
“Who are you?” she called out.
He assumed an air of nonchalance. “Merely a guest of Lord Delmont’s,” he said, advancing toward her.
Full lips parted, then closed, and she raised a pistol that had been hidden in the folds of her skirts. “Please do not move. I’m not afraid to use this,” she said, aiming the pistol at him.
He concealed his surprise. Her grip on the weapon was firm, but her voice was not. Could she be working for Delmont?
He hadn’t believed the viscount was solely responsible for the secretive agenda behind the Inventors’ Society. Robert had suspected a mastermind behind the murders, but never had he thought a woman was involved.
He flashed his most charming smile. “Careful,” he murmured. “Is it loaded?”
“Of course it’s loaded,” she snapped.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“As we are both masked, let’s keep it mysterious. You may call me Robert.”
“All right,” she said. “What are you doing in here, Robert?”
“I needed to escape the heat and noise of the ballroom.”
“That’s what the terrace is for.”
but I thought to read.”
She glanced at the book in his hand. “
I’d hardly mark you as a man inclined to read Swift.”
“How intriguing. What type of man do you believe I am?”
“A false one. Are you one of Viscount Delmont’s spies?”
“A spy? I have no idea what you mean. I already told you. I’m a guest.”
His eyes narrowed, and he studied her more closely. If she was employed by Delmont, then she would have known he was not. So who the hell was she?
“You’re lying.” She jerked her head in the direction of the bookshelf. “What’s there?”
He shrugged. “Books.”
Keeping the pistol aimed at him, she went to the bookshelf and moved one of the books.
The false panel was in place and was sufficient to conceal the strongbox.
Unless one knew what to look for.
Robert contemplated a swift blow to the head, nothing to cause permanent harm, just enough to render her unconscious. But if she wasn’t working for Delmont, then that would leave her at the mercy of his ruthless guards.
With an unladylike oath beneath her breath, she whirled back to him. “Did you find what you were searching for?” she said.
Her eyes, visible through the openings in her mask, betrayed her fear. He could almost hear the pounding of blood in her veins. He was skilled at reading people, not only the truth behind their words, but their visceral physical reactions, and she was scared.
Scared and desperate.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
Biting her bottom lip, she cocked the hammer. “Show me your pockets.”
This was getting out of hand. His voice hardened. “Give me the gun before it accidently fires. This isn’t a game.”
She raised her chin in defiance. “A game! I’ll fire if I’m forced to. Now give me what you’ve stolen.”
“You don’t intend to hurt anyone,” he said.
“How do you know my intentions?”
“My intuition tells me you are in over your head.”
“Then your intuition is wrong.”
His laughter had a sharp edge. “When it comes to life and limb, I’m never wrong.”
He stepped closer until he was within inches of the barrel of the pistol.
Her hand trembled. “No closer. Please…”
“Lady, we must leave here. It’s not safe.”
She shook her head. “Not until you hand over what you’ve stolen.”
A door opened and closed at the far end of the corridor. Male voices followed.
A swift glance at the minute hand on the long case clock in the corner of the room told him they were running out of time.
The woman must have heard it, too. A glazed look of panic shone in her eyes. “Show me!”
The voices were closer now, just outside the library door. It was too late; one of Delmont’s guards would be upon them within seconds.
The handle on the door turned…
In one smooth motion, he pushed her hand aside, grasped the pistol from her fingers, and jerked her into his arms. “Not a sound,” he ordered.
She gasped in alarm as the door burst open, and Robert lowered his head and swooped down to capture her lips.