You Only Love Once
Nate Avery has come to London to catch a thief. Angelique Martand is the beautiful English spy ordered to help him…and then betray him. He doesn't trust her. She doesn't want the job. But neither can resist the once-in-a-lifetime passion that ignites between them…
2011 New England Reader's Choice Beanpot Award for Best Historical Romance
2011 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense (Historical)
"Spy thriller, mystery, love story: all describe Linden's latest. With its engrossing beginning and surprising, heart-stopping climax … Linden certainly knows how to hold interest." Four Stars
"Enriched with an intriguing plot, blazing hot love scenes, complex and compelling characters, surprising plot twists and a wonderful ending, YOU ONLY LOVE ONCE is an exceptionally entertaining tale that you won't want to put down until you finish the very last sentence."
"Secrets abound in this sexy and suspenseful story pitting two spies against one another with love the ultimate prize… for those who like sexy and intelligent characters with a good mystery, this is definitely the book for you."
"[A]n extremely enjoyable read… I really liked the different take on the Regency spy genre, and Ms. Linden gave me a book filled with interesting characters, a great romance, lots of tension, and she even threw in a surprise or two."
"[S]picy and heartfelt. Without giving away more of the plot, I will say that I was thoroughly engaged with this story and didn't want to stop reading it. The conclusion is exactly as it should be." Five Stars
"Angelique and Nate are crazy hot together (whoa, are they ever), and what makes their romance even more attractive is the unusual characterization… Their romance … was passionate and gripping"
"This exciting read kept me on the edge of my seat with all the fantastic and imaginative schemes."
In Case You Were Wondering…
Jacob Dixon's fraud in this story is based on two real events in American history. In the 1780s, the Collector of the Port of New York was John Lamb, who had reached the rank of Brigadier General during the American Revolution. In 1797, it was discovered that his deputy had been defrauding the Port, and Gen. Lamb was removed from his office. Lamb's deputy was caught and confessed his crime rather quickly, unlike a later Port Collector, Samuel Swartout. Swartout was suspected of embezzling over $1 million from the Port, but by then he had left American for England, where he remained for many years out of reach of the American courts. Just like Gen. Davies in You Only Love Once, Gen. Lamb was personally ruined by the scandal, and his family and frends did contribute to help repay his debt.
This was the original, complete artwork for the cover. I actually was quite fond of it, and so I wrote that dress into one scene (In Vauxhall, Chapters 10-11). And then—naturally!—the cover got cropped down to the final version and there wasn't a trace of her dress to be seen. C'est la vie…
Outside Paris, 1793
The soldiers came late in the day, grim and unwavering. Everyone had expected them, but their appearance, led by a cold-eyed revolutionary who had once been a neighbor, was still shocking. The master of the house, the comte d'Orvelon, went out to meet them while his wife frantically made the final arrangements.
"Quickly," the comtesse whispered. Melanie, her trusted maid, was rubbing her hands in the ashes of last night's fire. Soot already smudged her face beneath the turban of the revolutionists, but now Melanie crouched beside a basket and brushed dirt onto the perfect ivory cheeks of the baby who sat within, trying to pull her tiny foot into her mouth and ignoring Melanie's efforts to dirty her.
"My darling," the comtesse said on a choked sob as she watched. "My baby…"
"I will guard her with my life," Melanie promised, dusting off her hands on the plain linen apron she wore. No longer dressed in the comtesse's cast-off silks, she wore a commoner's dress, with dirt under her nails and the sash of the revolution knotted across her chest. She looked like a common peasant—as she must, if this was to work. "No, madame!" she cried softly as the comtesse reached for her infant daughter. "You mustn't!"
But her mistress lifted the child, smearing dirt and ashes on her own face and dress. "I will not see her again for a long time," she murmured, holding the child's cheek to hers and stroking the baby-fine hair. "Perhaps never. Let me hold her just a moment…"
Melanie glanced at the kitchen door in a panic. Soldiers hadn't made it into the garden yet, but they would. Jacques, the coachman, lurked just outside the door. He caught her eye and made an urgent gesture; they must hurry. She nodded to him and turned back to her mistress, but bit her lip nervously. It wasn't in her to defy her lady, so fair and so generous and now in such danger. The baby giggled and grabbed at her mother's hair, and a tear slid down the comtesse's cheek. Melanie said nothing.
"Marie." The comte had come into the deserted kitchen. He had aged ten years in the last two months, since he had been accused as an enemy of the Republic. White streaked his dark hair, and his skin had taken on a gray pallor like that of a shut-in. Once so urbane and handsome, now he was disheveled and worn. The revolution had not been gentle. "Marie, they have come. I have told them we will go willingly, to allow more time—" He caught sight of Melanie and inhaled sharply. With three long steps he crossed the kitchen. "Why are you still here?" he hissed. "You should have been gone by now!"
"Oui, monsieur," she murmured, barely remembering not to curtsey to her master. "We are going."
His eyes darted anxiously around, snagging for a moment on Jacques, who again made a gesture to hurry. "Marie, they must go," he said in despair. "You must send them now, or the chance will be lost."
The comtesse sniffled, and dragged her sleeve across her eyes. The part of Melanie that had served her loyally and efficiently cringed at the sight, but she said nothing and put out her arms for the child.
The mother bowed her head over the baby's, whispering something into the tiny ear. Melanie looked away, only to catch sight of the anguish that contorted the comte's face for just a moment. Without a word he laid his hand on his daughter's dusky curls. Two fingers bore the pale stripes of rings that had been worn for years, and were now discarded. Confiscated. Stolen, she thought bitterly. For a moment the parents huddled together over their only child, saying good-bye to her even as the Committee's soldiers waited outside to take them to prison. Fierce hatred burned in Melanie's heart, banishing her tears as she took the little girl into her own arms.
"Here." Madame pressed a small linen bag into her hand with a soft clink. It contained a king's ransom in precious stones, carefully pried from their settings. "Use them carefully, Melanie. They must take you all the way to London. Do you remember the name?"
"Say it!" Madame had made her memorize everything, refusing to commit a single word to paper.
"Lady Simone Carlisle, Grosvenor Square, London," Melanie whispered in a rush. Jacques stuck his head through the door and said her name. "We will wait there for word from you."
"God willing," Lady d'Orvelon murmured. They all knew there was a strong chance word would never come from her or her husband. He had been accused of treason, and judges were sentencing traitors left and right to the guillotine. The comte had tried to send his wife away, but her pregnancy and childbirth had been hard; she had not recovered enough to travel, and now it was too late. They still clung to hope; the comte had renounced his title, ceded most of his lands, wore the revolutionary cockade. That might sway the judges, but the comte had known from the moment he and his wife were accused that they might die.
But their child… The girl cooed and tugged at Melanie's sash, and she held the baby tighter. Jacques had promised to get them safely to the coast, no more. He had his own family to protect. Madame and the comte were trusting her to spirit their only child to safety, to England, to Madame's cousin Lady Carlisle. If God were just, the parents and child would be soon reunited, but if not… "Madame," she tried to say, but her voice broke.
"God go with you," murmured the comte.
The comtesse shook herself. "Go," she said quietly. "Go with Jacques. We will do all we can to keep them from following." With visible effort she straightened her shoulders and placed her hand on her husband's arm. "Tell her we love her."
"Oui, madame, every day," Melanie whispered as Jacques, out of patience at last, strode across the kitchen and pulled her by the arm toward the door. Melanie caught one last glimpse of her mistress watching them go, head held regally high despite the tears on her cheeks, before they were in the garden, darting along the row of overgrown hemlocks toward the stables where Jacques had left the pack of supplies they would need for the long walk to the coast.
The little girl struggled in her arms, jabbering in excitement. She wanted to get down and toddle along the path, as she had just learned how to do. Melanie held her closer and murmured lullabies in her ear as Jacques swung the provisions onto his shoulder. The stables were deserted, as was the house. Most of the servants had long since run off, and Melanie's greatest fear was that one of them would be with the soldiers, to see them and identify her and Jacques as loyal servants and the child as Madame's. Melanie didn't know what those cruel revolutionaries would do to a baby, but she didn't trust them any more than Madame did. Lying, stealing, murdering opportunists, that's all they were. Already Madame's sister and her husband had been sent to the guillotine, and several relatives of Monsieur as well. Melanie said a desperate prayer in her mind that Madame would be spared, for the sake of her daughter if nothing else.
They hurried through the gardens, once elegant and now neglected and shabby, past the statuary and the stagnant ponds, past the little grave that had been dug to give proof to the lie that Madame's baby had died. Jacques urged her on. "We should have gone hours ago," he told her. "Do not look back."
Melanie didn't. If by some chance she should catch sight of her mistress being led away, she might cry out and startle the baby. The child was already fussy, kicking her legs and screwing up her little face to cry. Melanie shifted the baby's weight in her arms and pressed her cheek to the silky mop of curls. She was not a nursemaid, and hadn't much experience with children. If Madame's other babies had survived, perhaps they would have lived distantly in the nursery as proper sons and daughters of a man like Monsieur le Comte. But after so many miscarriages and stillbirths, Madame had kept this beloved child with her, almost every hour of the day. Melanie had grown accustomed to the baby crawling around the floor as she tended Madame. Now it was a blessing, because it made the little girl familiar enough to go quietly with her. Perhaps she wouldn't even have to give the baby laudanum to make her quiet.
At the top of the hill, though, she couldn't help herself. Orvelon had been her home since she was a small child, where she had followed in her mother's footsteps as a maid in the chateau. From this distance it was still beautiful, the pale stone gleaming in the clear light of the day, but to Melanie it now looked like a mausoleum. In a way, it was. All Melanie's notions of French superiority and decency lay entombed in that elegant mansion, which would no doubt soon belong to one of Robespierre's friends. Monsieur le Comte was a good man, a kind master and husband, a philosopher who actually believed in many of the Revolution's goals. The only thing he opposed was the guillotine. Madame was a beloved mistress, compassionate and generous to all, an educated woman and the very model of a proper lady. Melanie could remember a time, not so many years ago, when the comte's kinship to the king was a source of pride. Now it made him an enemy of the state, regardless of what kind of man he was. That was not liberty, fraternity, or equality.
"I hate them," she whispered to the tiny girl in her arms. As small as ants in the distance, the soldiers who had come to lead the comte and comtesse away milled about the chateau, their weapons gleaming dully in the sun. A thin whisper of their coarse laughter drifted across the neglected landscape. The baby's dark eyes peered solemnly up at her, and Melanie made a silent vow. If the worst happened, and the comtesse never reached England, Melanie would devote herself to Madame's child. She would teach Madame's daughter everything—useful things as well as lovely, ladylike things. She would raise her to be strong and fearless and capable of defending herself. This child would never be left sitting helplessly in her home when men turned on her. "Those revolutionary dogs," she murmured to the child, turning away to follow Jacques. "I despise them, and you must, too."
Angelique Martand was not particularly proud to be a spy. It was a distasteful job, often dirty and dangerous, and at times it left such a mark on her soul that she feared the stain would never wash away. But it was also a necessary job, and someone must do it, for the good of the entire country. The fact that Angelique was exceptionally good at it merely made for a convenient—and enriching—coincidence.
Still, the envelope on her breakfast tray that fine late summer morning was not particularly welcome. She knew what it meant, that plain envelope addressed in a nondescript hand. Her employer, John Stafford, Chief Clerk of Bow Street Magistrates Court and Home Office spymaster, had a new assignment for her. That didn't bother her. What bothered her was the prospect of refusing it.
She considered ignoring it, pretending the post had gone astray and she had never received it. She explored this idea while she breakfasted, letting the envelope lie where the maid had left it on the tray. She did answer these summonses of her own volition, after all, and no one could make her answer this one. The man who had sent it would never dare approach her more directly than this, and if she did not respond, he would have to find someone else. Someone who did not mind being lied to and sent off dangerously ignorant of the true import of her assignment. Someone who did not mind risking her life to conceal a petty bureaucrat's thieving ways, or the disgrace of a well-respected lord plotting to kill the king, or the embarrassment of a high-ranking army officer at the hands of a blackmailer. Someone, in short, who didn't mind being used by those in power to protect themselves.
Angelique pursed her lips and let her eyes wander about her bedchamber. It was a lovely room in a lovely house, if she did say so herself, simple but elegant, and it was all hers—thanks to Stafford. Whatever offenses he had done her, the man paid her very well. If only she hadn't caught him lying to her. If only she hadn't been unpleasantly surprised and unsettled by it. Cursing silently, she opened the envelope and read the single line inside: Half past eleven, this morning.
She flung off the coverlet and got out of bed. "Lisette," she called. "The green striped walking dress today."
Her maid bustled into the room a moment later, the green dress over her arm. "Oui, madame. Shall I send for a carriage?"
Angelique walked to the window and pulled back the curtain. The fresh morning breeze blew her nightdress flat against her belly, and she raised her arms over her head, savoring the feel of the fine lawn against her skin. She hadn't worked for over two months, and had become used to lazy days spent on pursuits of her own whim. That must be part of the reason she was so reluctant to go into the city and see Stafford. "I suppose," she said, answering Lisette's query.
"You are not anxious to see him?" Lisette clucked under her breath and answered her own question. "Of course not. Who would be pleased to wait on the devil?"
Angelique smiled. "Pleased? No. Satisfied?" She paused. "Perhaps."
The maid raised her brows but said nothing. Lisette was more than a mere maid; unlike the other servants, she knew precisely what her mistress was. She even accompanied Angelique on many assignments, helping with disguises, cooking when necessary, binding wounds, and even spying a bit herself among other servants. She was invaluable, both as a lady's maid and as a spy's servant.
Angelique washed, then sat before the dressing table. Lisette picked up the brush and began pulling it through her hair. Angelique gazed into the mirror and watched the maid arrange her long dark hair into a fashionable twist. She smiled wryly at the dark humor of dressing like a lady when she was anything but; why, Stafford might be planning to send her out posing as a whore this time. Then she stopped smiling, and leaned closer to the mirror, ignoring Lisette's exclamation as a thick lock of hair fell out of place. Gently she touched the skin at the corners of her eyes and between her brows. The faint lines there didn't go away, and when she frowned, they grew deeper and more pronounced.
"Madame?" asked Lisette curiously.
She sat back. "Wrinkles," she announced. "I am growing old."
"It is better than not growing old." Lisette shrugged, twisting the loose hair back into the heavy mass at the crown of her head. "I speak from experience."
Angelique smiled reluctantly. Lisette was probably old enough to be her mother, and looked it. What she said was true enough, particularly to someone in Angelique's profession. Besides, she was getting old. In less than two years' time, she would be thirty. "That does not mean I must enjoy it." Lisette laughed. "He is making me old before my time," she added on a sigh.
"There's no doubt of that, Madame," the maid replied. "'Tis a hard life. You would be well quit of it, and him." Lisette never called Stafford by name, just him, as if his very name left a bad taste in her mouth.
"Indeed." Hair coifed, Angelique rose from the table. As she dressed, each layer of clothing tugged and smoothed into place by Lisette's capable hands, she studied herself in the mirror with critical eyes. There was a scar on the inside of her arm from one of her first spying missions, small but noticeable. The burn scar on her shin was more prominent, but it lay hidden under stockings and skirts. The little finger of her left hand had been broken once and healed just shy of straight, also in Stafford's service. Her figure was still slim and her muscles still strong—stronger than the average woman's—but Angelique began to feel old and tired. Or rather she sensed it coming, and was suddenly more keenly aware of the passing of time.
She thought about it as the hired carriage drove her into London, to the heart of the city where John Stafford kept his office. She felt no tension, no anxiety, no exhilaration about whatever he might present to her. That was new; once, a summons from him would have made her heart pound and her blood surge. It was terrifying and thrilling to be sent off on a dangerous assignment, although the terror had waned as she grew more skilled and practiced. But now the exhilaration was gone as well. Perhaps more than anything, that meant it was time to consider retirement. A bored or distracted spy was not long for this world, and she preferred to die on her own terms, hopefully in her own bed at a date in the distant future.
The carriage halted near the busy market in Covent Garden. She stepped down and tipped her driver generously, then walked the short distance to Bow Street. Before she reached the Magistrates Court, she turned down an alley, walking around to the back to a plain door that looked like the entrance to the coal bin. But she pulled a key from her reticule and put it in the lock, and the door opened on remarkably well-oiled hinges.
She locked the door behind her and went down the hall, her footsteps echoing off the blank walls. Stafford's office was not back here, in this narrow passage with unmarked doors every few feet. Stafford's deputy, Mr. Phipps, popped out of one of them as she walked past, on her way to the larger, brighter office upstairs.
"He's been expecting you," Phipps said, trotting at her heels.
"Has he?" she said without looking at him. She didn't care for Phipps, who never risked his own neck but fancied himself better than all the agents put together, and most especially better than she. Once he had scolded her for being seen breaking into the home of a suspected French spy, causing an uproar among the neighbors that alerted the man to their interest. Phipps had sneeringly suggested her sex was the reason she had been so careless. Angelique had simply smiled and offered to break into his home without being seen, promising that he would know she had been there by the knife she would leave in his throat. Ever since, Phipps had been like a dog growling at her from the shadows, always waiting for her to make another mistake. He hated her for not having done so, and she hated him for watching for it.
"All morning," he informed her maliciously. "Now he's tied up with a foreign visitor."
"And yet I am here when he requested." She climbed the stairs, and Phipps puffed his way up behind her.
"I'll let him know you're waiting."
Angelique stopped in front of Stafford's private office. She made no reply, just gave Phipps a pointed look. Although she wasn't tall, her eyes were on a level with his as he stooped slightly to hold the stitch in his side. His pale gaze held hers a moment, then flickered down over her figure in the stylish walking dress, the palpable contempt in his expression underpinned with unwilling lust. What a pathetic little man he was, sure she was Stafford's favorite agent only because she must be lifting her skirt for him. Angelique thought of the impossible tasks she had completed for Stafford, many without Phipps's knowledge, and wanted to laugh. For a man who thought she was incompetent, Phipps was remarkably chary of her.
She waited until he looked her in the face again. "If he wished to see me earlier or later, he should have said so in his note," she said with acid politeness. "As it is, he will be glad to see me at all, since I do not sit downstairs and await his pleasure." As you do.
Phipps's mouth flattened sullenly. He knew she was right, and he hated her for that as well. Without another word he jerked his head and turned on his heel to walk away. She sniffed at his departing back, then rapped twice on the door. A voice inside called out at once to enter, and she let herself into the room.
It was a large office, but furnished as plainly as a clerk's might be. Bookcases lined two walls, and hard wooden chairs a third. Sunlight streamed through the two high windows onto the scuffed floor and cluttered desk, glittering on a small stack of coins and a thin stiletto dagger. There was something very English about Stafford's utter disregard for any concealment of his activities. At her entrance, he rose from his desk and bowed his head. She nodded back and waited. There was another man, also rising from his chair, but she only paid him enough attention to note his presence.
"Good morning," Stafford said with a thin smile. "Thank you for coming." He held out one hand. "May I introduce Mr. Nathaniel Avery. Mr. Avery, this is Madame Martand."
"Good day." She curtsied as the other man bowed. Again she barely glanced at him; he was hardly worthy of note, moderately tall and lanky with untidy brown hair, unexceptional features, and plain, serviceable clothing. She half expected him to excuse himself, or for Stafford to murmur a pardon and escort him out, but neither happened. He must be related to whatever Stafford wanted to present to her, then. Stafford held out one hand toward a chair, and she seated herself.
"I have an assignment for you," her employer said, "of some international delicacy. Mr. Avery"—he inclined his head politely at the other man—"is in England to find a man who has defrauded his government. You are to help him find this man, so that he may recover any funds remaining."
She pursed her lips and said nothing. Stafford gave her a gleaming glance across the desk before turning to Avery. "Madame Martand is most capable."
"No doubt, no doubt," murmured Avery. American, she guessed from his accent, and not pleased to be presented with a woman. She had certainly heard that dry, doubtful tone enough times to recognize it now. She didn't move or change her expression, but instinctively her regard for Mr. Avery dropped the few levels it had achieved to begin with.
Stafford must have heard it, too, for he smiled in his chilly way. She knew he was savoring the joke. No one ever expected her to be any good at what she did. "Perhaps you would relate your information about Mr. Dixon's actions for her benefit."
Avery shifted on his chair. "Er … yes." He cleared his throat. "Jacob Dixon served for several years as the deputy to the Collector of the Port of New York, responsible for collecting tariffs on goods arriving from abroad. Mr. Dixon had charge of all the bookkeeping of the Port, and therefore of all the funds. Just a few months ago he abruptly gave notice and returned to his native England. Shortly after his departure, a sizable amount of money was discovered missing from the port accounts. An examination of the books left little doubt that Dixon is responsible for its disappearance. I am here on behalf of my government to recover as much money as remains, and to take Mr. Dixon back to New York for trial."
Angelique raised one eyebrow at Stafford. He met her gaze with a placid look, his eyes opaque and calm, just a clerk going about his business. She knew better. Chasing down a common embezzler? He wouldn't send her out for something so tedious and ordinary. There must be something more to this, and it raised the hair on the back of her neck that he wasn't saying anything. She glanced back at the American fellow from the corner of her eye. His expression was unhappy, his posture stiff.
"You are certain this man is in England?"
He started, as if he had not expected her to question him, and turned to her. He had shockingly green eyes, but answered with a hint of indignity. "We most certainly are."
"Then why do you not simply apprehend him?" She widened her eyes innocently. "Send a pair of constables around to his lodging and arrest him, then retrieve your money."
"It's not that simple, Madame," said Avery in the condescending tone she hated. "We are not just after a chest of coins."
"Perhaps it is not that simple, but that is what you are to do, in essence," Stafford broke in. "Locate Mr. Dixon without betraying your true intent. He may well flee the country with his ill-gotten gains, or leave them so well hidden the funds may never be recovered. We hope to take him unawares. Seduce the information from him, if you will, before he suspects he has caught our attention."
Angelique made a noncommittal noise in the back of her throat. This sounded tedious—suspiciously so. The word "no" was poised on her tongue, ready to fall as soon as politely possible. The moment the American left, if not sooner.
"If Mr. Avery's information is correct, Mr. Dixon may be looking to establish himself in English society using his stolen fortune. You and Mr. Avery will work together to find him. He alone knows what Mr. Dixon looks like, and he alone will know the particulars of the misappropriated funds." He nodded politely at the American, although Angelique didn't miss the wry twist of his mouth as he did so. That was interesting; Stafford must have wanted to know more, and been rebuffed. Perhaps this Avery fellow wasn't quite as simple as he appeared.
It wouldn't make her work with him, though.
She clasped her hands in her lap and assumed an expression of pained regret. "I do not think my talents are suited to this task. I am sure—"
"We must act quickly before Mr. Dixon has a chance to disappear into the country," went on Stafford over her words, as if she hadn't spoken. "His family comes originally from Essex, although Mr. Avery believes there are no members remaining there. The sooner he is found, the better." The spymaster's eyes flashed at her. Angelique sat like a stone, her face a smooth mask. He had heard her begin to protest; he knew she would refuse. For some reason he was carrying on as if it were otherwise, which portended nothing good. She sat in tense silence and waited.
"You shall be man and wife. Mr. Avery, a wealthy American looking for investors. You, his discontented wife." Stafford's gaze darted between the two of them. "Between the two of you, one should be able to discover Dixon's location and loosen his tongue."
Angelique loosened her own tongue. "No."
Unperturbed, Stafford rose. "Mr. Avery, would you be so kind as to excuse us? I will contact you in the morning about how we shall proceed."
"Of course," the man muttered, jumping to his feet. "My thanks for your time, sir. Madame." He bowed slightly in her direction and left. The door opened, then closed behind him with a soft click. Angelique didn't even look after him; she didn't care what he thought, the arrogant idiot.
"How dare you," she began coldly. "He is an amateur—and you wish me to go as his wife? No."
Her employer held up one hand as he resumed his seat. "Do you think I just dreamed up this plan? It has been carefully crafted, I assure you. Contain your temper a moment and listen." Angelique raised her eyebrows, unaccustomed to being spoken to in such a manner. Stafford leaned forward and lowered his voice. "This man Dixon is a grave menace. We want him found, and you are the person to do it."
"All this, over money?" she snapped. "Have Ian snatch him off the street, and tell him not to be gentle. Two hours with Ian and he will desecrate his mother's grave to return the money."
"No, it is not about the money," Stafford said. He leaned back and clasped his hands on his desk. "Avery can find it, or not. I agreed to try to get his government's funds, but if it comes to naught…" He shrugged. "I don't care if he never sees a penny of it again."
"So you would send me off like some errand boy, when you do not even care if the funds are returned." She shook her head and started to rise from her chair. "Find someone else. I have no interest."
"Wait," he said sharply. "I need you to find Dixon."
"Why?" She tilted her chin in scorn. "There is nothing in this task that someone else could not do. You knew I would not like being sent out with him, let alone as his wife. If I must work with someone, I prefer it to be someone who knows what he is doing. I will spend the whole time looking after this American adventurer!"
"Dixon is reputedly a man of expensive tastes. He likes beautiful women. I am quite sure you will be able to use that to your advantage." His tone of voice intimated exactly how she could do it.
"How does that make him different from any other man?" She shrugged. "You have other spies willing to whore for you."
"Not like you."
"Send Ian along with one of them. He is all too willing to play a husband, and he will not look down his nose at a woman doing her job."
"But Avery must be there, and the simplest pose is as your husband. He alone knows what Dixon looks like, what his habits and tastes are, the details of his recent life and crimes. Without his involvement we would be searching in the dark. If he is there as your husband, he will be able to remain close to you, and offer plenty of opportunity for you to confer. Not," he added dryly, "that I don't appreciate Mr. Wallace's talents as well."
He wouldn't send Ian. Angelique gave it up and changed her attack. "Who is Avery?"
"He is an envoy of President Monroe, properly credentialed. I believe he has connections to a prominent Boston family."
"In other words, he has a patronage post and thinks to play at being a spy." She shook her head. "Who is Dixon, that you jump to find him on the word of such a man? And for such a motive—I see nothing in this for the Crown, nothing." Stafford just looked at her. She knew that smooth opaque expression, though, and was having none of it. "You have lied to me before," she reminded him. "And I will not tolerate it again."
He drummed his fingers on the desk, then surged to his feet and paced to the window. "I take issue with your use of the word 'lie,'" he said over his shoulder. "But no matter. I never swore to reveal all; you agreed to that. I need someone who will follow my orders, not question every facet of them, and you knew that years ago."
"It almost cost two men their lives," she retorted. "I never agreed to that. How am I to know I am not the next agent to be sacrificed?"
He stood a moment more at the window, hands tightly clasped behind him. "All right," he growled, turning abruptly. "This is what I can tell you: you are to find Dixon as soon as humanly possible. Do what you must to keep Avery in line, but once he has his money, dispatch him on his way at once."
"And then?" she prodded when he hesitated.
"And then…" Stafford paused again. "You must kill Jacob Dixon."