A Spring Deception (Seasons Book 2)(2)

By: Jess Michaels

Stalwood’s face grew grim. “Indeed, it was.”

“Then someone has done the War Department a favor, it seems,” Dane said, glancing over the dead man again, this time with more disdain than pity. How many lives had Clairemont cost, either by providing instruments of death or information to the enemy? A bludgeoning seemed too good a fate.

“Not much of one,” Stalwood said.

“What do you mean?”

His superior motioned Dane to a desk beside a window. A thick book of poetry rested there, opened to reveal a hidden chamber within the tome. It was filled with letters.

“Ah, so His Grace wasn’t as much of a reader as he might have seemed,” Dane said. “At least not of books.”

Stalwood shook his head. “No. Once we clear the body away, we’ll have half a dozen agents searching through every book looking for more hidden correspondence. Right now, though, what this tells us is that Clairemont was involved in a great many dealings with a great many people. Even more connections than we thought. And certainly, though he was a villain, there are many branches to this poisonous vine, and cutting away one piece will do us little good.”

Dane nodded, understanding. “You need the root.”

“Yes. And alive, Clairemont might have helped us with that, whether willingly or not. But now…”

Dane clenched his fists. “Yes, I see. Do the servants have any information?”

“They are gathered away in the kitchen, but after a brief interrogation I would say no. Clairemont was secretive and he had only three servants.”

“Even in this castle?” Dane said in disbelief. “It’s huge.”

“Apparently most of it was closed off years ago. Those who serve here are overworked and abused, it seems, with no love for their master, especially the maid and the housekeeper. They say Clairemont was not expecting anyone they knew of last night, but that he ran his own schedule, keeping them away from his plans. He didn’t employ a butler and managed his own correspondence.”

“And you believe them?”

Stalwood inclined his head. “You may speak to them, of course—in fact, I very much want you to. I trust your instincts, you’ve always been able to smell a liar. But I have some small skill in that area, myself, and I have no reason to doubt them, especially given their abject terror at what transpired here tonight.”

Dane moved toward him. “My lord, I was not implying—”

“Of course you weren’t, my boy.” Stalwood smiled, and it was a genuine and warm expression. “I take great pride in your mastery of this work. I’m very happy to have you surpass me in skill.”

Dane let out a burst of laughter. “No one shall ever do that, my lord.”

Stalwood shrugged, but his smile faded. “I was very pleased to have you close by, but not only because you are my best spy, Dane. Have you looked carefully at the man on the rug there?”

Dane turned and glanced at the body again. “I haven’t taken a huge amount of time, but I have my impressions, yes.”

“Have you taken note of Clairemont’s appearance?”

Dane wrinkled his brow and took a few steps toward the fallen duke. “I see that the blows were struck on both sides of the head, indicating a swinging back and forth. There was a great deal of force, there—”

“Not that. His face.” Stalwood tilted his head. “Who does he look like?”

“Hard to say with half his head bashed in,” Dane said with a shrug.

Stalwood sighed and motioned Dane out of the room. He was just as happy to leave the bloody scene behind him. Yes, he had been trained for such things, and in his life he’d seen a great deal of death, both violent and otherwise. But it wasn’t an enjoyable aspect of his occupation as a spy in the War Department. He much preferred investigating, becoming another person, needling into a situation until all the facts became clear.

Stalwood stepped into a long hall where pictures had been hung. He caught up a lantern from the wall and moved to one of them, lifting his light up to the face depicted there.

“Our victim,” his mentor said.

Dane stared but could see nothing unusual about the appearance of the man who lay dead on the floor. He had dark blond hair, light eyes and an entirely arrogant expression that made Dane even less sorry for the bastard’s bitter end in the library.

“Looks like a prick. What of it?”

“You don’t see it, which is fascinating considering your attention to detail.” Stalwood shook his head. “Very well, I shall guide you until you do. You two do not look dissimilar, Dane. Surely you must see the resemblance.”

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