Never a GentlemanBy: Eileen Dreyer
I’d like to thank everyone who encouraged me on this road to the past: the Divas, of course. Members of the Convocation, members of my long-suffering family, who put up with a lot in the name of deadlines. My family at Rotrosen, especially Andrea Cirillo, and my family at Grand Central. Thank you, Amy, for always making me think harder, and Beth, for your support and friendship. To my copy editor, Isabel Stein, who cleans up my continuity glitches and makes sure each character has only one name; to the art department, especially Clare Brown, for my luscious covers; and everyone in sales, marketing, and PR, especially Samantha Kelly and Anna Balasi.
I would also like to thank everyone who helped make my research trip to India a reality, from my lovely Rick to everyone at Larsen & Toubro for their hospitality, especially Mr. and Mrs. A. P. Misra, R. S. Kapur, and Sangeeta, who was not only a wonderful hostess, but managed to create a western sari for me. Thanks to our friends Saurabh and Ghitika Kant, and to Rick’s brother, Manmohan Chowla; and Ruchi and Chintoo Mohanty, who welcomed us like family to their wedding. Thanks to Michele and to Travel and Leisure Elite, and to Bhankaj, driver extraordinaire, who went out of his way to actually find Lohagarh Fort in Bharatpur when I asked. And thanks to all the wonderful hosts who welcomed us into their inns and B & Bs (and who are listed on the Travel for Fun page of my Web site, www.eileendreyer.com), and taught us so much about their country. I will never forget my visit, and hope I can return soon.
Thanks to the real Barbara Schroeder, who donated money to the Brenda Novak Auction for Diabetes Research to have a character named after her. Good choice. You’ll be seeing her again. To the generous friends on the Beau Monde loop, Ninc, Teabuds, MoRWA, and all the friends I’ve made on Facebook. Knowing you’re there makes it feel less as if I’m sitting all alone in my office wringing words out of a soggy brain.
Paris, September 1815
The room stank of whiskey, sweat, and despair. Tucked away on the top floor of an aging hotel on the rue de Seine in Paris, the suite still bore remnants of its past glory. The torn wallpaper was gold-flocked. The tatty furniture betrayed elegant lines, and the windows, too grimy to see through, stretched up ten feet. Age and time had worn away the elegance. The current inhabitant had destroyed the rest. His half-eaten food and liquor bottles littered every surface. Dirty clothing lay piled on the floor. A table had been shattered against the door, and red wine dripped down the wall.
Bertie Evenham, the one responsible for the mess, balanced on the balls of his feet, as if listening for the sound of pursuit. An unprepossessing blond, he had fine aristocratic features, wide blue eyes, and a hawkish nose he hadn’t yet grown into. His hair was greasy and unkempt, his linen soiled, and his hands shaking. His eyes darted impatiently between his guest and the door.
Across from him, Diccan Hilliard lounged in a faded blue brocade armchair, legs crossed, his quizzing glass spinning from his left hand. It was all Diccan could do to hold still. He hated confessions, and Bertie seemed compelled to make one. It wouldn’t do to seem anxious to leave, though. Bertie had vital information to impart. He also had a gun pointed at Diccan’s head.
“But why should I believe you, old chap?” Diccan asked the pallid, unwashed boy. “You must admit it sounds a bit fantastic. A gang of British nobles trying to overthrow their own throne.”
Bertie scrubbed at his face with his free hand. “Don’t you understand? You’re in danger. England is in danger.”
“So you’ve said.” Leaning back, Diccan shot his cuffs. “Why not inform the Embassy here?”
Bertie’s laugh was sharp. “Because I’m sure some of them are members.”
Diccan nodded. “Of this group of yours that calls itself the British Lions. But you’ve also just told me that you helped Napoleon return to France. That’s treason, old son. You’re asking me to believe a man who betrayed his country.”
If possible, the boy looked even more desperate. “Don’t you think I know it? But they were blackmailing me. They’re going to blackmail you, too, damn it. Why won’t you believe me?”