Christian Seaton:Duke of DangerBy: Carole Mortimer
August 1815, Paris, France
‘Touch one hair upon her head, monsieur, and you are destined to meet your maker sooner than you might wish!’
It took every ounce of his indomitable will for Christian Seaton, Fifteenth Duke of Sutherland, not to react or turn to face the person who had just spoken softly behind him.
Not because he was disturbed by the threat itself; his reputation as one of the finest shots in England was not exaggerated, and few gentlemen could best him with the sword either.
Nor was he concerned by the barrel of the small pistol he currently felt pressed against the top of his spine through his clothing.
Or that the person making the threat was a woman who, judging by her voice, was a woman of mature years.
It was the fact that the threat had been spoken in accented English which caused him such inner unease...
As an agent for the English Crown, Christian had arrived secretly in Paris from England by boat just two nights ago and, as had been planned, he had immediately taken up residence as the Comte de Saint-Cloud—an old and extinct title of his mother’s French family—in one of the grander houses situated alongside the Seine.
Since his arrival Christian had been careful not to speak any other language but French, which he could claim to speak like a native, once again courtesy of his maternal grandmère.
He had been especially careful to maintain that facade in the Fleur de Lis, a noisy and crowded tavern situated in one of the less salubrious areas of Paris.
That he was now being addressed in English brought into question whether this pretence in his identity had somehow been compromised.
He continued to maintain his comfortable slouch at a corner table of the noisy tavern as he answered the woman in French. ‘Would you care to repeat your comment, madame?’ he replied fluently in that language. ‘I understand English a little, but I am afraid I do not speak it at all.’
‘Non.’ Christian calmly answered the scornful taunt, although that feeling of unease continued to prickle inside him. ‘I am the Comte de Saint-Cloud—at your service, madame.’
There was the briefest of pauses, as if the woman were considering challenging him on that claim. ‘My mistake, Comte,’ she finally murmured, before repeating her earlier warning in French.
‘Ah.’ He nodded. ‘In that case, I confess I have no idea which “she” you are referring to.’
A loud hmph sounded behind him. ‘Do not play games with me, Comte,’ the woman growled. ‘You have had eyes for no one but Lisette since the moment you arrived.’
So that was the name of the beautiful young woman serving the tables situated on the other side of this crowded and noisy room.
Oh, yes, Christian knew exactly which ‘she’ this woman was referring to. Which of the serving wenches he had been unable to take his eyes off of for more than a minute or two since he had entered the tavern an hour ago.
And he was not alone in that interest, having noticed that several other well-dressed gentlemen in the room were also watching the young woman, if less openly than he.
The reason for those gentlemen’s slyness now become apparent to Christian—obviously they knew better than to openly show their admiration for the red-haired beauty, for fear of having a pistol pressed against their own spine.
He gave another glance across the tavern to where the young woman had been kept busy all evening serving drinks to the raucous patrons. She was unlike any other tavern wench Christian had ever seen—tiny and slender, with pretty red curls, hidden for the main part beneath a black lace cap, she was also dressed more conservatively than the other serving wenches, in a long-sleeved and high-necked black gown.
A mourning gown...?
Whatever her reason for wearing black, it did not detract in the slightest from the girl’s ethereal beauty. Rather it seemed to emphasise it; her hands and neck were slender, her heart-shaped face as pale and smooth as alabaster and dominated by huge long-lashed blue eyes.
She had also, Christian had observed with satisfaction, managed to neatly and cheerfully avoid any of the slyly groping male hands that had tried to take advantage of her as she placed jugs of ale down on the tables.