No Ordinary Mistress Excerpt
Taken from chapter one…
August, 1814, London
Emma couldn’t breathe.
If she stayed in this closet for much longer, she was certain to expire, or at the very least, faint. What little air there was clogged her nostrils and coated her tongue. She was going to suggest the housekeeper air out the closet and beat the dust from every item, assuming she survived this encounter. Her charges were long in bed, and Lady Comfry had taken laudanum for a headache and probably wouldn’t awaken until tomorrow afternoon.
Emma took advantage of the sleeping household to come into Lord Comfry’s study and poke around to see if she could find anything of use. When she heard men’s voices coming, she sneaked into the storage closet in an attempt to hide herself. Now it seemed she’d play witness to a secret meeting with Comfry and some other man.
Despite the dust tickling her nose, she could not step outside of the small room else she’d reveal herself to the very men she watched. Through the tiny crack in the door, she could clearly see her employer, Lord Comfry, but could not see the man to whom he spoke. And she did not recognize his voice, but their hushed conversation concealed their tones. Three months before, she had been assigned to Lord Comfry’s townhome, a governess to his two children. So she taught the children, all the while absorbing every word spoken in the house, especially those of Lord Comfry himself. He was suspected of treason, specifically of feeding information to the French.
For the last three years, she had worked for the Seven. That didn’t include the eight months of training she’d endured at the prestigious and extremely covert Seven Academy. Ever since that nightmare in Paris, she’d requested to work without a partner. She never again wanted to be in the position of having a partner tell her how to do her job. Or of being tempted by such intimacy. So she resigned herself to a string of governess assignments, gathering intelligence and keeping to herself.
This was her fourth solo assignment since returning to London. So far, she had gathered all of her information into books and sent them to her director supervisor, whom she only knew as Johnston. Though she’d met him on several occasions, she’d never learned more of his name than that. In her opinion, nothing Lord Comfry had done thus far had seemed out of the ordinary behavior for a wealthy, entitled Lord of Realm. He was selfish, arrogant, and rude. But wasn’t that typical of a man of his position? Certainly every aristocrat she’d worked with in the Seven behaved in such ways. Nevertheless, she had her orders, so she complied.
He obviously had something to hide else the covert meeting would not be happening. If he was, in fact, working against the Crown, he wasn’t working alone. Everyone in the Seven knew there was one person who was in charge. The worst traitor in all of London, but no one knew his identity. All of the Seven worked for that one cause. Taking him down would destroy the empire of spies he’d built, and thus destroy the intelligence making its way to France.
“You’re not listening, Comfry,” the other man said. “Management is displeased with your actions, not to mention your contributions. Do you have the information you were tasked with? Or any of the money you owe?”
Lord Comfry sat, fidgeted with his desk drawer. “I haven’t yet acquired any of the information, but I’m still working on it. I have some of the funds. If I could simply have more time.”
“More time.” The man chuckled harshly. “You asked for more time last month, and it was granted. You’ve had more than enough time to follow through with your end of the bargain. What seems to be the problem?”
“My contacts have not come through with the information, but I believe we’re getting close. As for the money, I have my family, a wife who likes pretty things, children, a governess, and a household to keep. There are funds needed for all of that. I can’t pay you everything, but I have some for you here.” He opened another drawer and withdrew a box that jingled with coins. He set it on top of the desk and pried it open.
“Coins?” the man asked, his tone dark and chilling. “What sort of fool do you take me for?” The man leaned forward over the desk. Emma could not make out his face, but he wore a gold ring on his right hand. The crest was unfamiliar—a spider with a symbol on its back. “We do not take payments in petty coins.”
Lord Comfry came to his feet. “Tomorrow. I’ll get you the funds tomorrow. Come back then, or I can meet you somewhere. Your house.”
The man laughed, a cruel sound. “You know you cannot come to my house for this. Don’t be an idiot.”
So they knew one another well enough to be social outside of this arrangement.
“And my contact. He assured me he’d return with my information at the end of the week. I can go to him, retrieve what he has thus far.” Comfry came around the desk and walked toward the door that led out of the study and into the corridor. He was now out of her line of sight, and all she could see was the back of the other man. He wore a typical great coat, one precisely like every other wealthy man in London. His hair, cropped short, was a muddy brown, and he was not particularly tall in build, but broad and stocky, obviously athletic. In short, he could be any man on the street.
The man followed him. “I don’t think that will be necessary.” He grabbed Lord Comfry, and there was a gruesome gasp as her employer slid to the floor.
She sucked in a breath and pressed her hand to her mouth to keep from screaming. Through the crack, she saw the stranger walk past toward the office door. She strained to hear the soft click of the door closing behind him, not daring to breathe until she heard it. She counted to ten and then opened the door slowly. The other man was gone, but Lord Comfry lay on the floor, his hands gripping his side, blood pooling onto the floor behind him and through his waistcoat. His eyes were open in horror. She knelt by him, her heart pounding in her chest.
Dear God, what was she supposed to do? Three years as a spy, and violence still rattled her. Doubt reared its head, reminding her she had no place in the Seven. She ignored it as she always did.
She swallowed her nerves and leaned over his body, stifling the urge to recoil from the blood seeping through her gown where she knelt. Her mind raced through the brief medical training from the Academy. Staunch the blood. Pressure to the wound. She whipped the shawl from around her shoulders and compressed it into a ball and tried to staunch the bleeding, but she could tell from the amount of blood he’d already lost that there was nothing to be done. Lord Comfry’s breath came in wheezing gasps, and it took her a moment to realize he was trying to speak. She leaned in close to him, straining to hear. “What is it, My Lord?”
“The men,” he said hoarsely. “Book…”
She shook her head. “What?”
“Penni—” he said, and then his eyes rolled upward, and his head fell backward.
“Pennington Hall?” she asked, but she knew the question was futile. Lord Comfry was dead.
She rocked back on her heels and blew out a breath. She would never have the stomach for death. Which was all the more reason she had to keep her wits about her. Her suspect, Lord Comfry, was dead. He may have seemed like a typical Lord of the Realm, but the typical lord was not murdered in his own home.
Emma pushed herself to her feet. After using her shawl to carefully wipe Lord Comfry’s blood from her hands, she blotted at the blood on her dress. Thank goodness for her sensible black gown. The blood barely showed. Then she crossed to the fireplace and tossed the ruined shawl into the blazing fire. She wouldn’t be here when the body was found, and her absence would be suspicious enough. She had to get out of here, tell Johnston what happened. Without another thought, she fled out into the darkness of the London street.
Copyright © 2014. Robyn DeHart. All Rights Reserved.