A Spring Deception (Seasons Book 2)(3)

By: Jess Michaels



Dane stepped back in surprise at that statement, his eyes going wide. He stared again at the portrait and tried to compare it to the dead man in the other room.

“I…suppose we are alike in that we are both men and under five and thirty,” he conceded slowly, reluctantly. “And our hair is somewhat alike in color.”

“And your eyes. This portrait does not do him justice, and the light is out of them in the other room. But they are very close.” Stalwood folded his arms, and suddenly he looked very smug.

“What are you getting at?” Dane asked, his hackles up and the little hairs on his neck at attention. This was danger. He knew the feeling well, though he’d hadn’t felt it coming from Stalwood in years.

“I said earlier that if Clairemont were alive he might be of some use to us,” Stalwood said.

Dane glared at him, trying to ignore the rising sense of dread in his chest. “Well, I’ve no magic to bring the man back to life.”

“You’ve more magic than you think, Your Grace.”

Dane shut his eyes. Over the years he’d served this man, he’d gone all over the empire, serving his king and country. He’d played many a role in those years, rich and poor, but never titled. Never a duke.

The very idea chafed at him.

“You want me to take over as Clairemont,” he said softly.

Stalwood smiled. “There it is. Yes, I do. Imagine if we were inside that world. You’d be reading Clairemont’s letters, seeing everything he does from his eyes.”

“The only problem with that plan is that Clairemont’s eyes are glassed over in the middle of a pool of blood in his library,” Dane said, motioning wildly toward that room in the distance. “And people know it.”

“Three servants and half a dozen agents to the crown known it,” Stalwood corrected him. “And, I suppose, one murderer. Otherwise, there has been no announcement, no scandal, no information spread far and wide. To almost all of the world, the Duke of Clairemont is not dead on a library floor—he is sleeping peacefully in his own bed. He could stroll into a ballroom in London at any moment and no one would blink about it.”

Dane drew farther back, as if stepping away would cease this foolish notion. “I might look something vaguely like the man, but it seems what you are suggesting is that I go into the bright light of Society and play the part. Surely dozens of people will mark me immediately.”

“Oh, but they won’t.”

“In my duties as spy, I’ve met some of these people I’m certain to encounter,” Dane insisted. “Someone might recognize me from a prior case.”

Stalwood seemed to contemplate that. “You have. But often in physical disguise. You’re my best agent—there is a reason that up until now I’ve not asked you to play a role without some kind of camouflage to protect you.”

Dane gritted his teeth. Stalwood did have a point. But it made him no more excited at the prospect. “And what of Clairemont’s friends and family? Certainly they’ll look right through me if I’m pretending to be him.”

Stalwood smiled slightly. “You said you’ve heard something of this man’s involvement in criminal enterprise, but have you ever seen him?”

“I don’t move in those circles outside of in the confines of a case, Stalwood, you know that,” Dane snapped, sharper than he would normally dare be with the man who had rescued him off the street and trained him not just for this life, but to be the man he was now.

Stalwood nodded. “Well, I do. No one will mark you as a fraud because Clairemont has been a hermit for over a decade. No one we can find has seen him aside from his servants.”

Dane blinked in confusion. “What?”

“His father died during Clairemont’s time at school and he moved straight into his dukedom. And though he kept up a robust correspondence, he did not maintain any known friendships in person.” Stalwood leaned back and folded his arms, looking very self-satisfied. “As far as anyone in Society knows, he could be anyone.”

“Me, you mean,” Dane said softly. “He could be me. Or I could be him, I suppose. Only I have no idea how to behave as a duke.”

“You will learn,” Stalwood assured him. “We’ll have at least two months until the Season begins and it would even make sense to send you to London.”

“And the murderer who cut this man down?”

“Can you imagine his confusion, his anxiety as days and weeks and months stretch by with no announcement of the death of the Duke of Clairemont? By the time you arrive in London, he will be on the edge. Dangerous, yes, but just as much to himself as he is to anyone else.”

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