Gillian Chauncey, Baroness Chauncey, is a master of disguise, trained by her expatriated husband, a former French royalist, in the arts of espionage. When a dangerous life or death secret lands in her lap, she’s thrust into a perilous world of ticking clocks and desperation, arrowing her directly into the arms of the man who arranged her marriage.
Lord Simon Danbury is no ordinary nobleman. He’s been tasked by Admiral Nelson to organize an elite group of clandestine first sons willing to sacrifice all to protect England’s shores. When an assassination attempt is made on Nelson, Simon isn’t sure what poses more danger, the enemy or the masterfully seductive Gillian.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
GILLIAN CHAUNCEY STRAIGHTENED her veil and entered the lion’s den, willingly taking a step toward her own destruction.
The true stakes involved in her game of cat and mouse were life or death: hers, an entirely meaningless loss; the savior of England’s, an incomprehensible cost. Admiral Nelson’s death would be sure to weaken British morale at a time when war threatened the country’s shores. She meant to prevent it or die trying.
Britain depended on her. Failure wasn’t an option. She would do anything to honor her husband Lucien’s dying wish, even if Lord Simon Danbury discovered her presence. And after what she’d just been through, she could ill afford that agonizing defeat. Simon was a member of the ton, one of Nelson’s most respected allies, the man she’d loved and lost, a spider waiting for a swarm of flies to descend. If Lucien’s intelligence was correct, Drury Lane, the Theatre Royal, was infested.
Gillian shivered. She hated assassins slightly more than insects. If Lucien was right, the audience would probably get more than they bargained for at tonight’s performance of Holcroft’s Deaf and Dumb. The play gave attendees a chance to meet — or see — the Baron of the Nile, Lord Horatio Nelson himself, recently returned from India with his unscrupulous paramour, Lady Emma Hamilton.
A sense of urgency embraced Gillian as she inspected the over-eager throng. Around her, those who brokered in scandal postulated that Nelson’s return had more to do with succumbing to illness again rather than seeking a sojourn from the Navy, however richly deserved. Much about his troubled marriage was in the public domain, though Frances Nisbit Nelson, the rightful Lady Nelson, was continuously held in the highest regard, no matter how goatish her husband behaved.
Above her, crystal chandeliers lit the box lobby, illuminating the grand amphitheater, casting an ethereal glow on the to-do and sundry congregating in the horseshoe-shaped audience. Ladies in attendance fluttered hand-painted fans. Men slapped each other on the back. The velvety splendor accentuated the figures of silken beauties and the laced cuffs, brightly polished uniforms, and tailored suits of chivalrous men sporting starched cravats. The spectacular promenade, practiced theatrics of actors and audience alike heralded a night of jovial bliss, contradicting the pulsing sense of desperation Gillian felt inside.
Her belly clenched with uneasiness as she continued to survey the faces in the crowd. Around her, oblivious theatergoers exemplified courtly manners and light banter. Somewhere within, the man she’d never ceased to love was hiding in plain sight. She’d have to bypass him in order to reach the man she was supposed to meet. Would Marquess Stanton heed her request to join her in box three? Or would Simon find her first?
There in the corner! A man stood with his back to her, but his nut brown hair carried a familiar wave, igniting her defenses. She retreated behind a tall gentleman and waited, refusing to breathe. Her quarry turned, revealing shifty eyes, a hooked nose and pock-marked face. Definitely not Simon.
Gillian took a deep breath and tried to settle her nerves before turning her attention on the staircase that led to the boxes above the royal box.
A feminine voice purred to her left. Gillian chanced to look, noting the woman’s tiny pale figure was no comparison to her own and that she towered over the young miss by half.
“Do you think he’ll wear his uniform, your grace?” the woman asked, angling her face to the light. “I hear he casts a spectacular figure, given his losses.”
A smartly fashioned duke leaned closer and confided, “Never without it, I hear. And though your romantic senses would find an eye-patch thrilling, Nelson does not wear one.”
Another patron spoke. “Malaria. That’s why Nelson’s back in England. Come down with it again, poor fellow.”
The comment was followed by a strong rebuking feminine shriek. “I don’t care what the admiral has endured. He’s a connoisseur of the dollies and has made himself ridiculous with that woman. If he brings her, I shall be not put upon to hold my tongue.”
“I do hope that’s possible,” another man said, eliciting several guffaws.
Gillian pressed her hand to her heart. She didn’t know who had uttered the sarcastic remark, but it brought a half-smile to her face even as her heartbeat drummed erratically against her ribs.
“You did say he would bring Lady Hamilton?” a feather-clad woman pushing her way through the crush asked. “I had so hoped to see Lady Nelson on his arm.”
Fear gripped her. Lady Nelson and Lady Hamilton were the least of the ton’s worries. Gillian was one of a few privy to the real reason for Nelson’s return. The formation of a clandestine group of rogues bent on protecting England’s shores. The organization of those mercenaries was the reason Fouché and his gens d’ armes, his French police, had taken a bounty on Nelson’s head.