A Spring Deception (Seasons Book 2)(4)

By: Jess Michaels

“At the minimum you hope to sniff him out,” Dane said with a shake of his head.

“And while you train, we’ll come up with a list of suspects in regards to who Clairemont was working with. London will give you ample opportunity to evaluate them.” Stalwood came closer. “Dane, I know this isn’t the kind of assignment you relish, but it is important. As you said, one of our agents is already dead because of this man and his cohorts, and untold numbers of soldiers have likely already been endangered. This is good work, important work.”

Dane couldn’t help but smile. Good work. That was what Stalwood had once said to him, years and years ago, when the earl was trying to recruit him off the street. Good work had appealed to Dane then.

It appealed to him now.

“Very well,” he muttered, pushing down the swell of doubt that rose in his chest again and again. The one that said he was nothing but a street tough, a no one who would never fit in as a duke, hermit bastard duke or not.

Stalwood smiled. “I’m pleased you agree. Otherwise I would have had to pull rank.”

Dane motioned Stalwood back toward their murder scene. “You know I don’t give a damn about rank.”

“When you’re a duke you’ll be above me, if it helps.”

That elicited a laugh Dane couldn’t contain. “Actually, that’s the best reason I’ve heard yet to do this foolish thing. Outrank the Earl of Stalwood? I cannot wait.”

But deep in his heart, Dane knew that was a lie. A bitter lie at that. He was not looking forward to this. But he knew his duty and he would serve his king with all the honor he’d been trained to uphold.

Chapter Two

April 1811

Celia Fitzgilbert sat at the pianoforte, letting her fingers dance over the keys as she played out a mournful song. Her sister, Rosalinde, preferred a happier tune, but tonight Celia could not manage it. Her heart hurt too much not to express it with the music she played. The loss was too great.

As if on cue, Rosalinde stepped into the room. Her sister’s beautiful face was lit up with pure happiness, her blue eyes aglow with what Celia knew was deepest love and joy. And why wouldn’t she be so happy? Her marriage less than six months before was one filled with love and passion.

After all they’d been through in their lives, Rosalinde’s contentment was wonderful to see. But it was also isolating. Celia had spent so much time telling herself that she didn’t need those things, now being in such close quarters with Rosalinde and her husband, Grayson Danford, slapped her in the face with reality. In truth, she longed for such a deep connection as they shared.

Her fingers faltered on the keys and she stopped playing with a sudden, incongruous note.

Rosalinde stepped forward with a shake of her head. “Oh, please don’t stop playing. I love to hear you.”

Celia forced a smile to her face and looked up at Rosalinde. “I’m afraid I must stop playing. After all, we should leave for the ball soon.”

Her sister slipped a gentle hand to her shoulder and squeezed lightly. “You sound anxious.”

Celia shrugged. “It is only the second ball I have gone to since our return to London last week. I cannot help but remain nervous.”

Rosalinde shook her head. “But there has been no scandal following you after your broken engagement. From what I’ve seen at every event we’ve attended, there are a few whispers, but the overall response is positive.”

Celia held back a sigh. Just a few months before, she had been pledged to marry the Earl of Stenfax, who was the brother of her sister’s new husband. It had been a loveless match, to be certain, and one that had been fought strenuously against by her new brother-in-law and eventually, her sister, though they each had very different reasons.

Breaking the engagement should have destroyed Celia in the eyes of Society. But it hadn’t.

“You and Gray saved me from the worst with your true love story. The idea that I would step aside so you could marry into the family for love made both Stenfax and I look like heroes. So no, it has not been unpleasant. But it’s an adjustment, regardless.”

“What has been an adjustment?” Gray asked as he entered the room.

Rosalinde’s face brightened immediately and she all but glided toward him. The expression on his hard face softened as she straightened his cravat, and Celia had the very strong impression that had she not been standing there, the two might have kissed. Not that her being there stopped them every time. They were enjoying what was obviously a very happy honeymoon period. Some nights there was no denying it at all.

She cleared her throat as heat filled her cheeks. “Rosalinde and I were talking about my nervousness about the ball tonight.”

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