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cover of The Beauty and the Spy

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ISBN 0-06-054395-7

Featured Alternate and "Heartthrob of the Month"
for Rhapsody and Doubleday Bookclubs

Finalist: Best Historical, Holt Medallion




 



The Beauty and the Spy

by Gayle Callen

Book 2 of the "Spies and Lovers" trilogy
(The books do not have to be read in order.)

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Charlotte Sinclair is seeking a bit of adventure in her life--but that doesn't mean she relishes being kidnapped by a traitor to England!  Straying innocently from a crowded ballroom, she overhears a conversation, and suddenly she's a captive of Nicholas Wright.  Now Charlotte is forced to go on the run with a devil who's far too attractive for his own--and Charlotte's--good.

Nick can't believe his bad luck!  His mission for the Crown requires that he pose as a criminal, and now this meddling beauty threatens to muck everything up.  The last thing he needs is to be saddled with a willful, spirited, and utterly bewitching woman whose stunning sensuality is driving him to distraction.  And as duty draws them deeper into peril, Nick is discovering that the greatest danger is one he seems powerless to avoid: falling in love!

"Sexually charged, delightful and highly romantic tale...[a] deep-sigh read."

Romantic Times Magazine

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Excerpt

(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)

Chapter 1

A man who looks out of place usually is.

The Secret Journals of a Spymaster

London
August 1844

     Charlotte Whittington Sinclair stood at the top of the marble stairs leading down into Lord Arbury's crowded, overheated ballroom. Dressed in her first new ball gown since her year of mourning had finished, she felt as excited and alive as a seventeen-year-old debutante instead of a mature widow of twenty-three years.
     Oh, to be out in society again! During the final six months of her marriage she had been forbidden to associate with her friends and family, practically imprisoned on her husband's remote estate in Cornwall. But now she had shed the sad remnants of her marriage along with her black garments and her wedding ring, and was finally free.
     Her mother, Lady Whittington, descended the stairs at her side, forcing Charlotte into a sedate ladylike pace she chafed at. Charlotte noticed that she received the attentive glances of several eligible gentlemen, but thoughts of another marriage were far from her mind. Some day, perhaps, she would do her duty and give her mother grandchildren, but not now. Now was for living, and as a widow of means, she was determined to do so. But she could certainly dance and flirt with those gentlemen.
     She had been reborn since becoming a widow, and her excitement had been further heightened when she'd discovered her father's hidden journals just a few days before. She'd always thought her father, Viscount Whittington, was merely an officer in the army of the East India Company. But his journals had introduced her to his world as a spymaster, a secret he'd kept from them all.
     Even now, she alone held the knowledge, and guarded it close to her heart where his words enthralled her. Her own life had been stagnant and dull next to her father's, and his journals made her feel a restlessness she'd never imagined before.
     At the bottom of the stairs, as friends gathered around them, Lady Whittington gave Charlotte a worried look. Her mother thought Charlotte was fragile yet, a woman who hadn't come to terms with all that had happened to her, but Charlotte felt far from being such a pathetic creature. She accepted the hugs of her longtime friends, and allowed herself to be led away as she fended off their concerned questions. She didn't want to be reminded of the past, so she turned the conversation to the latest gossip.
     After a half hour's tales of who was betrothed and who had retired to the country with child, Charlotte moved on to the refreshments for a glass of champagne. She stood alone for a moment, sipping the bubbling liquid and gazing around her at all the familiar faces. She tried to remind herself that this was what she used to live for, the doings of the ton, but somehow, it all seemed rather…dull.
     Dull? she reprimanded herself. After what she'd recently endured, she should be in her glory. But since she'd devoured her father's journals, talk of marriage and offspring seemed rather uninspiring. Her head was still full of dangerous, exciting tales of India and Afghanistan, of barren deserts and bleak mountains. Surely she'd soon settle back into her old ways.
     But did she want to? She stood alone in a crowd, full of a knowledge no one else had, ready for the next exciting stage of her life to begin-and what would it be? She tried not to let her expectations overwhelm her.
     And then she saw him.
     A tall man strode along the edges of the ballroom, his expression set in a pleasant, false smile-nothing new there. But something was wrong. It was his eyes, she decided as he drew nearer; they were very dark, and they constantly swept over the room, as if looking for someone-or avoiding someone.
     She tried to stop her imagination, for surely that's all this could be. Her head was full of intrigues that were not to be found in Lord Arbury's ballroom. After all, the man did not quite look like he belonged. He was very broad across the chest, something not normally seen among men of her acquaintance, although he did do justice to his evening clothes. He had black hair, a trifle longer and more unkempt than was fashionable. His face did not have the grace of a nobleman because of its broad bluntness and square jaw, but it was arresting nonetheless.
     As he approached her, she found herself holding her breath, some unnameable excitement caught in her chest. Would he speak to her? He came closer and closer, looking bigger and more intimidating than any man she'd ever seen.
     Yet his stride did not shorten, and after giving her a single appreciative glance that traveled swiftly from her face to the curves of her breasts, he moved on past.
     Charlotte told herself to feel offended that he hadn't even offered a simple "Good evening," that he'd so rudely stared below her face. Yet she turned about and continued to watch him, not caring who noticed her shocking behavior. She moved back into the crowd, slipping between groups of chatting women and bored men. Distantly she heard someone call her name, but she ignored whoever it was to concentrate on the back of the enigmatic stranger. No one called a greeting to him, as if he knew not a soul there. Oh, plenty of ladies noticed his retreat, but turned up their noses at his behavior, as she should be doing.
     But she couldn't. She was fascinated and drawn to the mystery of him. Where was he going with such single-minded determination? She stood on her toes and craned her neck; she stooped beneath someone's elbow so she wouldn't lose sight of him. And then he turned, ducked beneath a giant fern, and disappeared down a dark corridor that she knew led to the family's private quarters.
     She would lay odds that he wasn't a member of the family.
     Even as her feet continued to carry her along, following her mystery man, Charlotte told herself to stop. It was none of her business. One of the servants would intercept him. Yet no one seemed to notice him but her. All around her, the orchestra music wafted, people jostled her to get to the refreshments or away from someone's determined mama. It was hot and loud-and the corridor beckoned her. What would Papa do if he were confronted by such a dilemma?
     With a furtive glance over her shoulder, she stepped behind the fern and out of the ballroom. After she took a few quick steps into the darkness, the music began to fade, and the stifling heat lessened. Remembering the journals, she pressed herself against the wall and froze, wondering if her mystery man knew she was following him.
     But up ahead she could hear retreating footsteps. He was getting away from her.
     Keeping as close to the wall and the darker shadows as she could, Charlotte followed him. The corridor twisted and turned and went up to the second floor, but she was able to remain unseen because once, years ago, she had visited a friend here, when another family had owned the mansion.
     Since she remembered the layout so well after only one visit, maybe she did take after her father a bit, instead of just her mother, as she'd always assumed.
     At last, when she peered around a corner, she saw her mystery man disappear into a room and close the door behind him. She crept closer to the door, indecision making her heart race. Holding her breath, she listened, but could hear nothing.
     Oh, what did she think she was doing? Perhaps he was a guest here, and this was his room. If he caught her-
     If he caught her, she would simply lie and say she was lost.
     Having a plan made her feel brave. She would wait a few more minutes and see what happened. But she wouldn't wait down the corridor the way she'd just come-he would likely go back to the ballroom by the same route. She was so proud of herself as she ran silently in her slippers down to the far corner. She ducked around it, then peered out to wait.
     When the door suddenly opened, she covered her mouth to hold back a squeak of surprise. She'd almost been discovered, and the thought made her breathing erratic and her body tremble. How did a spy function like this?
     And then her mystery man walked back the way he'd come. She caught a glimpse of his face. Now that the fake smile was gone, he looked humorless and cold, with a furrow across his brow that made him look angry.
     Charlotte told herself to just keep following him, but the closed door called to her. She stood outside, her hand on the knob, and tried to discourage herself: it was probably a private room for the men to retreat to, just as the ladies had. She might very well surprise another man in a situation humiliating for them both.
     But surely such a room would be near the ballroom, not yards’ worth of dark corridors away.
     Taking a deep breath, she turned the handle and pushed open the door. The room was dark with flickering shadows cast by several wax candles. There was no one inside. She took several hesitant steps in, then closed the door behind her. A large bed with an ornate headboard dominated one wall, decorated with bed curtains tied to four posts. Several candles rested on a bedside table. Two wingback chairs faced the bare hearth, and a desk for correspondence was against the far wall next to a massive wardrobe and a washstand.
     Charlotte groaned and covered her face with her hand. She had followed a guest to his bedchamber.
     Yet in the center of the room someone had placed a small table, on which rested a tray bearing two glasses and several crystal decanters. Why in the center of the room? Wouldn't one constantly stumble over it?
     As she stood staring at the table, she suddenly heard loud footsteps echo down the corridor, as if her mystery man cared little who heard him coming. And why should he? He was going to his own room!
     Mortified, she did the most foolish thing she could-she opened the wardrobe and climbed inside, pulling it almost closed except for a crack. She was surrounded by silks and merinos and brocades, and belatedly realized that these were a woman's garments. They draped over her head and almost interfered with her breathing. Her mystery man must be preparing his lover's room for an illicit liaison-and because of her own stupidity, Charlotte was going to be forced to witness it.
     As the bedroom door opened, she called herself every kind of fool. She wished she'd thought to cover her ears, but now if she moved, the rustle of her clothing would give her away. Feeling light-headed, she tried to breathe normally.
     "Is the room satisfactory?" said a male voice.
     "This is a foolish place to meet," said another man. "The house is full of people."
     Her eyes wide, Charlotte stared out through the crack between the wardrobe doors. Thank goodness this wasn't a love affair. The first man who'd spoken had been her mystery man, with a deep, gravelly voice that matched his unusual countenance. The other man was shorter, broader in a stout manner, with a harsh face that looked like he'd seen much of the streets. Though he was dressed formally, he looked ill at ease.
     Her mystery man smiled grimly. "The mansion may be full of people, but they're all clustered in the ballroom, including the servants. I had to be at this function. You're the one who insisted on meeting me tonight."
     The other man poured himself a drink from the decanter. "You gave me no choice. How did you find out about the woman?"
     "Does it matter?" Her mystery man crossed his arms over his chest, looking as comfortable as if he owned everything in sight. "Suffice it to say that I know she betrayed England. She can go on doing it for all I care. I only want to be rewarded for my silence."
     Charlotte's disappointment in him felt deep and personal, as if she'd known him her whole life. He was nothing better than a criminal, a traitor himself since he didn't care about England. He knew about a crime being committed, and all he cared about was bribery money? She wanted to leap out of the wardrobe and reprimand him, to see that both of these men went to prison.
     But such actions would only get her killed, she realized, as a lump of fear settled in her stomach. Oh God, what should she do?
     The short man took a long drink, grimaced at the taste, then eyed the other man speculatively. "I could have you killed for this, you know."
     "And I could kill you right now," her mystery man countered pleasantly. "But other people know where we are, don't they? Should I disappear, you-and your lady traitor-will have even more men following you."
     Charlotte's nose suddenly started to tickle where it was pressed against silk, and her breathing grew quick and panicked. Her life depended on controlling a sneeze!
     The short man laughed humorlessly. "You've thought of everything. I'll have to return to my employer and see what she says."
     "There might be a problem if she's leaving London. Is she?"
     The short man just shrugged.
     "Then there's nothing more to say," her mystery man said. "I need my money. I'll pick the time and date of my choosing and leave a message for you at the same inn. When we next meet, you'll have the money with you."
     Charlotte's eyes watered; she scrunched up her face, but to no avail. A loud sneeze erupted from her, and she backed as far into the wardrobe as she could, as if the garments could still protect and hide her.
     One of the men said, "What the hell-"
     She groaned as their quick footsteps approached the wardrobe. The doors were flung wide, and hands reached blindly through the clothing. When an arm brushed her body, she gave a cry of shock. Someone gripped her about the waist and hauled her out into the room. She found herself staring up into the angry face of her mystery man.
     She kicked him in the shins and frantically tried to escape. He caught her about the waist, pinning her against his side as she reached her arms toward the door. She opened her mouth to scream, and he covered it with his big hand.
     "Ease up, girl," he said harshly into her ear from behind her. "You're not going anywhere, so you can stop struggling."
     Panting, she nodded her head and slumped in defeat. Oh why had she read her father's journals? Before, she would never have been so foolish as to follow a stranger. Her eyes stung with tears she tried not to shed, but she was so terrified.
     The short man glared at her. "I thought you said you'd secured the room."
     "I did. Something went wrong."
     At her back, her mystery man's deep voice reverberated through her. She hiccupped on a sob.
     "She heard too much," the short man continued impassively, his eyes cold. "She has to die."

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