Charles Baker, the young Baron Glazebrook has happily fallen under the spell of a man of dubious character. He is rampaging over London, enjoying everything that a young man with a fortune could wish for.
Clara Baker is compelled to try and protect her brother, no matter what the cost is to herself or her reputation. She made a promise to her dying mother and nothing is going to divert her from her mission.
Edmund Ainscough, Earl of Chertsey is a man with a reputation. His welcome in the seedier side of society makes him the perfect target for those in authority who want to know who is loyal to the King.
Three people thrown together find their worlds, values and feelings can all be changed in an instant. All will face their deepest fears in this novel of love and betrayal.
Release date: April 30, 2016
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 191
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My Lord the Spy
Clara picked up the mask and fastened it securely around her head, the gold and red ribbon intermingled with her dark curls. Troubled blue eyes stared at her reflection in the looking glass; it was the first time she had put on a masquerade mask with such apprehension. She turned her face this way and that, checking to see what the mask covered, trying to convince herself that it would provide the concealment she needed. To think otherwise would affect her courage and, tonight of all nights, she needed every ounce of strength she could muster to complete the task she faced. Failure would cause her ruination and leave Charles without the support she supplied, even if he did not appreciate it most of the time.
She had to find him. There was no other option to consider. He was in too deep with his new so-called friend, who was using the young man to fleece him of money ̶ all in the name of friendship of course. Charles was too easy-going to realise he was being taken advantage of; but Clara was not as naïve as her brother and was fully aware of why he had been singled out.
Clara gritted her teeth; she would not let her brother be deceived by this man or be cheated by him, whatever the cost to herself. She sighed; if tonight did not go well, the cost would be the loss of her reputation, but she could not shy away from what had to be done. She had made a promise to her mother that she would look after Charles, and she was determined not to fail her deceased parent.
She pushed away from the dressing table and smoothed down her gown, her stomach churning with apprehension. It was time to go.
Edmund Ainscough, Earl of Chertsey leaned casually against the wall. He had a prime position in the large double-size drawing room, enabling a perfect view of all the comings and goings without attracting any attention to himself. The room was busy with bodies, some loitering to drink, chat and become more familiar with the people they were drawn to while others passed through the room, intent on seeking pleasure elsewhere in the house.
It had been a fruitless night so far, and he was tediously bored. It was all well and good agreeing to do a job, but if he had realised just how much waiting around it would involve, he would never have signed up in the first place.
He sighed. He was going to tell them to either give him something that he could actually get his teeth into or they could find someone else. He had been dubious about agreeing to his role in the first place, but now he was aggrieved that he had allowed himself to be talked into a tedious situation. A week had already been wasted; he was not about to waste any more evenings in this den of iniquity. The times he had visited to partake of the pleasures were completely different than his visits these days; now he was sober and watching everything; then he had been drunk and intent on enjoying himself to the full. The lack of copious amounts of alcohol showed the place and the people within it for what they were: aristocrats determined to enjoy pleasures at which civil society would shudder. The hypocrisy of the people surrounding him was not lost on Edmund, making him long to be far away.
Edmund noticed her as soon as she walked through the door. True, it was his role to notice everyone, but she stood out more than the usual types of ladies in attendance. The red and gold feathered mask covered her face well, but he could see the eyes darting around the room behind the disguise. The dress she wore was completely out of place; it was a gown that would have been considered daring in any respectable drawing room, but here it was positively demure. The red and gold of the dress was not a colour seen on a debutante but the bodice covered her breasts, giving only the slightest peek at her cleavage whereas most women visiting the establishment left nothing to the imagination when dressing, revealing almost the full breast in some of the more daring ladies.
It had amused and aroused him when he had first been introduced to Mrs Langtree’s famous parties. The venue drew everyone in society who was more inclined to be risqué, all hiding behind masks, but most knowing more or less who was there. Liaisons were more excusable when masks were worn; it was as if the anonymity took away the need for respectable behaviour, and there was little respectability within Mrs Langtree’s walls.
He had enjoyed the activities as a young man, but as the years passed, he had attended fewer and fewer. He had not become more respectable ̶ oh, no, not Lord Chertsey ̶ the well-established rake; it was more the novelty of the place had worn off for Edmund. Unfortunately his welcome into places like the one he now stood in had made him a very attractive prospect for those wanting to find out who were friends of the enemy they all faced.
He had been lazily watching the girl as he mulled over his thoughts, his long frame leaning against a marble pillar. He was sure she was a girl, certainly not one of the usual jaded, married women that normally attended Mrs Langtree’s. She progressed slowly into the room, obviously looking for someone amongst the groups of people loudly enjoying their evening whilst at the same time trying not to draw attention to herself.
He smiled in cynical amusement when she was approached by a man; Edmund was obviously not the only one looking at the new arrivals. She stepped back, her body flat against the wall, fortunate to find a space in the busy room. Edmund was too far away to hear what was being said, but she shook her head, looking around as if seeking an escape. The man, Baron Preston, if Edmund was not mistaken, started to caress her shoulder, at which the girl placed her hand on his chest trying to push him away without causing offence.
Edmund sighed and reluctantly pushed himself upright. The only way she would get rid of a man like Baron Preston would be to cause a scene, which would benefit no one in the room. Edmund could prevent that happening and, although he had no wish to play the hero, it would not suit his task for a scene to be caused; he felt obliged to act. That was his reasoning as he walked slowly over to the couple, watching with mirth as the Baron pushed against her arm. The young woman’s strength was no match against the Baron’s, even though it was clear she was pushing with all her might to stem the amorous advance.
“Ma herie, I have found you,” Edmund drawled, standing next to the newcomer and slipping his hand around her waist. “Do you aim to make me jealous by toying with other men?”
Clara had stiffened at his touch and almost lost control as her feelings of panic increased at the approach of the second gentleman. For a split second she was in danger of being overwhelmed by the situation, but she had glanced at the man now with his arm holding her firmly, meeting his eyes for a second. She saw amusement and something else, almost a flicker of sympathy, which was enough to convince her that he did not have the same intentions as the man facing her. She quickly decided to go with her gut instinct and moved her hand from Baron Preston’s chest and placed it on the chest of the other gentleman.
“My sweet, I did not know you were here already; of course I’m not trying to make you jealous. This gentleman was just offering refreshments to me,” she said. Her voice steady even though her heart was pounding at the situation, but it was not just the fear of being faced by two gentlemen who could destroy her reputation in a moment; it was the feeling of being held so tightly, causing her heart to thud against her chest. She could feel each one of his fingers holding her beneath her ribcage; the hold was firm and sure. No one had ever been so close to her, and the sensation made her breathing deepen. She hoped that, outwardly at least, she presented a confident air.
“I’m here now, and I will see to your needs, all of your needs,” Edmund whispered seductively but loud enough for Baron Preston to hear. The Baron shrugged and moved away, an excess of drink and a dislike of confrontation ensuring that there was no argument from him. Edmund was sufficiently large enough to intimidate a man of the Baron’s proportions even without the Baron knowing who he was dealing with.
Clara watched with some relief as the Baron left the intimate group, but then she faced the more pressing problem that she was being held by a man who had just been more suggestive than she had ever heard before in her life. It seemed her troubles were not over quite yet.
“Sir ̶ ” she started.
Edmund bent his head as if to nuzzle her neck. “I presume that you don’t wish to be faced with many more men like the one I have just rid you of. It is in your interest to be enamoured with me until we can find a safe place,” he whispered.
Clara’s eyes widened, surprised at his words whilst at the same time experiencing the feeling of goose bumps running over the skin touched by his breath. She paused for a moment before once again reacting on instinct and wrapped her arms around the stranger’s neck tucking her head into his shoulder.
Edmund swallowed before moving. Her actions had caused a stirring in his body that was completely inappropriate when dealing with an innocent, which he was convinced she was. Her arms around his neck felt small, and her slight frame pressed against him; she obviously had no idea what he was capable of by responding to him in such a way. He took a breath; he was not here for enjoyment. He lifted her into his arms, ignoring her gasp of surprise, tucking her closer against him and walked towards the private rooms.
He kicked the door closed of the first empty room he found and set her on her feet. He locked the door before walking over to the decanter and pouring himself a large brandy. All the rooms were well catered; Mrs Langtree wanted only happy guests.
Clara watched the movements as if she were watching a caged animal. She was in a locked room with a stranger, and he held the key. “S-sir ̶ ,” she stuttered, trying to sound more assured than she felt.
He turned towards her, watching her closely. It was disconcerting communing with someone in such a situation while both wore masks. He stood straight and tall; he had been a full head above the man who had approached her. There was an air of confidence about him that was not surprising when looking at his clothes. His face might be masked, but the quality of his outfit certainly was not. Without knowing who he was, she knew without doubt he was a very wealthy gentleman. Every piece of clothing was made of the finest material from his deep blue frock coat to his startlingly white cravat.
“I need to leave this room.” Clara was pleased that her voice sounded fairly calm; her insides had not been steady since his fingers touched her body and breath touched her neck.
“The moment you leave, you will be accosted. I won’t be the only one noticing that you are here and completely out of your depth. An innocent in a place like this won’t be innocent for very long,” Edmund said quietly, but there was a mocking tone to his voice.
Clara gasped at his words. How did he know she was an innocent? She had picked the dress and mask so carefully. “I need to find someone,” she insisted.
“Ah, an assignation?” Edmund asked, moving to a settee and sitting down. The feeling of disappointment that she could be so foolish was quickly pushed aside; her reason for being here was none of his business he reminded himself roughly. “Whoever he is, I would question his character if he arranged to meet you here. It’s not the type of place where a girl should lose her innocence.” His tone was bored, and it angered Clara that he had immediately thought the worst of her.
“You presume quite a lot, sir,” she said primly.
Edmund’s mouth twitched at her tone. “There aren’t any respectable reasons to be in a place like this.”
“You condemn the place, and yet you are here!” Clara said with a defiant tilt of her chin.
Edmund laughed in genuine amusement. “My innocence was lost a long time ago, a far too distant time for me to be worried about appearing respectable. I’m happy to be a lost cause, but I admit to being a little curious as to why you’re willing to risk discovery.”
“No one else would wish to be unmasked while they were here; they would leave me alone,” Clara respond with confidence.
“True, no one wishes for any sort of revealing,” Edmund conceded. “But they are also very protective about their entertainments and would not take lightly to someone uninvited being in their midst. You have done well to get this far. Now are you going to tell me the real reason you are here, or shall I leave you to continue on your flawed mission?”
Clara sighed and sank into a chair opposite the stranger. There was little she could do but trust this man, for the moment at least. “I’ve been a fool to think I could carry this off.”
“So far I cannot argue against you,” Edmund said drily.
Clara stiffened again, he was quick to ridicule her, and she was not used to such open mocking. “I may have been foolish, but it is ungentlemanly to point it out!” she snapped. Her nerves were stretched to their limit; she did not need his antagonism.
“You uttered the words not I, and I never claimed to be a gentleman; you’ve presumed quite a lot, madam,” Edmund said with a small smile.
“You agreed with me, which was bad enough!” Clara said with annoyance. “I admit I was wrong; I should have never come here at all.”
“That is the first sensible thing you have uttered,” Edmund said. “So why did you come?”
Clara sighed again her anger fading. “I need to find my brother. I believe he’s here.”
“And will he appreciate his sister trying to find him?” Edmund drawled, his eyebrows rising in astonishment.
Clara smiled despite the situation. “Definitely not, but I had to do something! Since he has fallen into the company of that rogue, Joshua Shambles, he has not been the same person. He’s spending so much money on their dissipated lifestyles that it terrifies me,” Clara admitted.
Edmund’s ears had pricked at the mention of Joshua Shambles. “Who is your brother?” he demanded.
Clara paused; the moment she mentioned who Charles was, her identity would be known as well, but there was nothing else she could do. In some peculiar way, she trusted the man seated opposite her, but this was a huge step to take. She sighed. It was no use. She needed help to find Charles; she would have to take the risk.
“My brother is Charles Baker, Baron Glazebrook,” she said finally.
“He’s your younger brother?” Edmund asked. He did not know the Baron personally, although he had seen him at entertainments a time or two. He seemed to recall the name. The gossip that followed him had mentioned he was not yet reached his majority but had come into his fortune.
“Yes, he’s inherited money at far too early an age and has fallen into a friendship of sorts with Mr Shambles. I curse the day they met,” Clara said with feeling.
It was not unusual for rich, young men to be parted from their fortunes, but Joshua Shambles was of interest to Edmund. He had not noticed his arrival, which meant he had been in attendance since the doors opened. Edmund quietly cursed his own late arrival; he had been watching for a man who was already on the premises. “You can’t persuade your brother to go and rusticate at his estate? It’s on the south coast isn’t it?”
Clara smiled a rueful smile. “If you were eighteen and had inherited your fortune three years earlier than you should have, would you agree to rusticate at the suggestion of your older sister?” she asked.
Edmund smiled a genuine smile at her words. “Probably not.”
“Exactly!” Clara said, folding her arms. “I detest having to be the one he’s always angry with because I’m trying to spoil his fun. The trouble is, I’m not; I don’t care how he spends his time or his money; I just don’t want Mr Shambles to get any closer than he already is. He isn’t trustworthy! I know he isn’t.”
Edmund had to admit she was right about that at least. Joshua Shambles was probably the most untrustworthy character her brother would ever come into contact with. Unbeknownst to Clara she had given Edmund information that made his night out more productive than he had expected. Knowing that Joshua had made a friend of the young Baron Glazebrook was very interesting indeed.
“I will try to find your brother, but if he’s behind a locked door and engaged in activities he really would not wish his sister to find out about, I won’t be able to confirm whether he’s here or not,” Edmund said, standing.
“If he’s behind a locked door with a woman, all well and good; I just don’t want him with Mr Shambles!” Clara said with feeling.
Edmund laughed, a real chuckle that rumbled through his body. “Miss Baker, if nothing else, you have brightened my evening, and I hope one day your brother will appreciate what a gem of a sister he has!”
Clara blushed, realising what had caused the laugh. She should be mortified that she had spoken so inappropriately but nonetheless was pleased at Edmund’s words of praise. “Do I accompany you?”
“No. It will be far quicker if I go on my own,” Edmund said, noticing the blush but not increasing it by commenting on her embarrassment. He found her reaction endearing, surprising to a man who usually mocked the foibles of those he came into contact with. “I’ll give you the key to the door. Lock it after I’ve left and don’t open it unless you hear a knock of five times in quick succession.”
“How will you know which person is Charles with everyone wearing masks?” Clara asked.
“I know the names of most of the people who attend here,” Edmund confessed. “People forget that masks don’t cover mannerisms. Although I don’t know him personally I have seen him a time or two, so I doubt he’ll be hard to find.”
“Oh,” Clara said a little deflated. If he could recognise people then surely others could too.
Edmund guessed what had caused her to sag in her seat and, surprising himself further, took pity on her. “Don’t worry. Most will not take the same notice as I; they are intent on enjoyment, not observation.”
Clara did not respond. His words had stirred her curiosity, but the most important emotion she was feeling was relief. This man had probably saved her from ruination and, added to that, he was prepared to seek out Charles. His words soothed the panic that had gripped her.
Edmund stood without offering further consolation; he had acted out of character, but he was no one’s nursemaid. He left the room, and Clara locked the door behind him, resting against the wooden structure. The night was not over, and her nerves were already a frayed mess. Curse Charles!
Edmund questioned his sanity as he walked slowly through the house. He should have just rescued the chit from Baron Preston and sent her on her way. He normally avoided developing anything above the merest acquaintance. Relationships involved putting oneself out, and that went against the grain; yet here he was helping a girl he had only just met. What madness had overtaken him he had no idea, but he shook his head, mocking himself; he was walking through a house of ill-repute looking for a wayward brother who had no wish to be found.
The situation was almost laughable: Edmund helping anyone without there being benefit to himself was unknown. He was only helping with regard to national security because it gave his evenings a little more interest ̶ that and the rebellious streak that had run through him since he was in leading strings; he was unconvinced that it was to any sort of national pride driving him. He blew out his cheeks in frustration; first helping his country, now helping a domineering sister: whatever was next?
* * *
It was more than half an hour before Clara heard the tapping she had been listening for. She hurriedly opened the door, keeping it partially closed just in case it was not her kind stranger knocking. She let out the breath she had been holding when she saw him and opened the door wider, allowing him access.
She was disappointed to see that he was alone, but she waited until he had locked the door before asking her questions. “He’s not here?”
“He’s not in any of the public areas, but his friend is,” Edmund responded, pouring another drink. It really was dull to be in this type of establishment and sober; one was inclined to see things as cheap and lewd when not inebriated he thought to himself, swallowing the liquid in one gulp.
“Oh, all the risk for nothing!” Clara said exasperated.
Edmund’s mouth twitched. “His friend is here and indicated that your brother is in a private room.”
“Oh. You spoke to Mr Shambles?” Clara asked in surprise. She avoided contact with the man whenever she could.
“Yes, I bought him a drink when he was nursing his bruised pride at losing yet another game of Vingt-et-un,” Edmund responded. Card games were encouraged; Mrs Langtree had to make money somehow, and fleecing drunken men was one of her specialities.
“Probably with Charles’ money!” Clara said through gritted teeth.
“I doubt it would be his own,” Edmund acknowledged. He was revealing no secret by his comment; anyone looking at Joshua could tell the man had little income at his disposal.
“Thank you for your help,” Clara said. “I’m going to stay until Charles emerges, but I cannot trouble you further.”
Edmund rolled his eyes. This was exactly why he did not get involved with people; it was too demanding. “If I leave you now, you will be no better off than when you first walked through the door. You cannot hide here in the hope that you will see your brother. Peeping through the door occasionally is not a sound plan.”
Clara flushed at the fact that the only plan she had been able to come up with had been so easily guessed. “I need to separate him from Mr Shambles,” she insisted. “I will not rest while he is in the company of that man.”
Edmund sighed. “My coach will take you home; you need to leave this establishment.”
“I know I’m sounding ridiculously stubborn, but I need to stay until I can take Charles home.”
“Yes, you do sound ridiculously stubborn,” Edmund said with a growl. “I will return your brother to you if you leave now.”
“Would you do that?” Clara asked a little overwhelmed that this stranger was willing to help. “Why are you helping me?”
“Because I’ve lost my mind. There is no other sensible reason,” Edmund replied with derision. “The quicker I can get you out of here, the quicker I can complete what I came here to do.”
Clara flushed again. Of course he was here to also access whatever pleasure Charles was experiencing with the women who were in attendance. A nugget of sadness niggled at her insides; he had seemed such a capable, strong, considerate man that she had managed to ignore the seedy establishment in which she had met him.
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