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Reckless in Pink
An Emperors of London Novel
By Lynne Connolly
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Lynne Connolly
All rights reserved.
"Are you sure you do not wish to return, Major?" General Court asked. "Now your family business is concluded, I would have welcomed you back. Your conduct was exemplary on the Continent."
Dominic shook his head. "I would hardly say my family business is concluded. I am the only male left to continue the line."
The general brightened, his ruddy face glowing. "Then once you beget an heir or two, we may expect you back?"
"Once I marry, perhaps." Dominic could see that in his future — marrying a suitable woman, begetting an heir, and then leaving her in peace to continue his career.
The general harrumphed. "Then hurry up and do it. We need experienced officers like you."
Dominic recalled a number of times when his superior officers had intimated otherwise. He glanced around the splendidly appointed room, with its display of silver on the sideboard and fine spirits in the glittering crystal decanters. If he didn't know better, he'd assume the General lived in this luxury all the time. However, he'd seen the man thigh-deep in mud, bellowing instructions to his men, refusing to leave the field until they were all safe.
He was no longer one of the general's officers and hadn't been so for six months. Ever since his parents had begged him to come home and find a wife. He'd done the first part but had yet to achieve the second.
He blamed himself. His two male cousins had been the heirs to the title, after him. Now they had died, and he was the only hope for his house.
Restlessly, he got to his feet. "If that's all, General ..."
"No. Sit down."
Sometimes the man forgot that Dominic was no longer under his command. He let it pass and sat back down on the hard wooden chair provided for visitors. The full skirts of his woolen coat padded his arse somewhat, but he'd known worse hardships than this. Not recently, though. "May I be of further service, sir?"
The General gave him a hard stare before picking up a piece of paper and tossing across the desk. "Take a look at that. Tell me what you see."
One side was travel-stained, obviously a letter, with a seal hanging off one side. The address was a house in the City, Spitalfields to be exact. He turned it over and read.
"This is from Charles Stuart? The Pretender?"
"It is. Rallying his supporters in England."
"Have you visited the address?"
The General grunted his assent. "I sent someone last week pretending to be a seller of pots and pans. All this damned sneaking about makes me itch. Army intelligence is one thing, but this cloak and dagger stuff isn't what a gentleman should occupy himself with."
If the world were well organized and everybody told the truth, a military man might prefer to see the enemy and engage with him rather than run around lying. However, the man's professed bluster hid a devious and intelligent mind, so while the General's speech amused Dominic, it did not fool him. A gentleman didn't skulk around and spy, but somebody had to.
"Nobody seemed suspicious," the general continued. "It was the premises of a silk weaver and his family. The man did business from the house, but he had no reason to side with the Stuarts. His family were Huguenots, and they believe in pursuing the Protestant cause."
"Stuart converted to the Anglican church a few years ago," Dominic felt obliged to point out.
The General nodded. "For all the good it did him." He finished the glass of port he'd poured for himself when Dominic had refused refreshment. "The house is owned by the Duke of Northwich."
Dominic sucked in a breath. The Duke, the head of the Dankworth family, had long been a thorn in the side of the Crown. Long-time supporters of the Stuarts, the Dankworths had nevertheless evaded serious charges. Dominic reminded himself frequently that intrigue was none of his business, anymore. However, he did find himself wondering what the devious family was up to now.
"Why should that be a surprise?" He took another look at the letter. It referred to mysterious events, full of phrases like "our business" and "the parcel." Nothing new.
"The parcel referred to in that letter is a person. The Young Pretender, no less. Are you interested now?"
Sunlight streamed in through the dusty windows across the desk. The air was redolent with lavender and spices used by the housekeeping staff no doubt to clean and add fragrance to the air.
The world was normal and continued the same way, except that it had shifted a little to one side. Dominic began to understand the general's intent, and he didn't like it. "Why would I be interested?" he said smoothly. He put the letter down gently. He had affairs of his own to deal with, much less government concerns.
"We would like you to look into the matter. The government would be extremely grateful to you."
"I'm sure they would." Because he had seen the Stuart pretender when he was still a serving officer, so he would know him again. Dominic hadn't been wearing his uniform at the time and had choked down his distaste of subterfuge long enough to discover what his superior had wanted to know. He obeyed orders, but he hated the work. Lying stuck in his throat. He had particular reason to dislike it.
The General indicated a neat pile of papers stacked on the desk. "You are in a position to help us now."
Dominic had had enough. He had better things to do than listen to the general sidle around the subject. "What do you want?"
None of his London acquaintances would have recognized the sharp tones, the decisiveness, but they hadn't known him in the army. He hadn't served in a fashionable regiment, nor had the public honors he'd received been any more remarkable than many others. When he returned to London, he became someone else. Not the officer, but the aristocrat and the man of fashion.
The General didn't appear surprised at Dominic's incisive tones, but then he was better acquainted with Dominic the officer. "I want you to locate him. It shouldn't be beyond your capabilities. This time we have had enough of his dancing around London. We want Stuart in custody, and if necessary we will bring him to trial."
Dominic sucked in a harsh breath. "If you will forgive me for saying so General, that is a mistake. He is flaunting himself in order to get arrested. It's just what he wants."
"If he had heirs, if his brother weren't a Cardinal in the Catholic Church, we might agree with you." The back of the General's comfortable leather padded chair creaked alarmingly when he leaned back. Since he'd returned to London, he'd gained quite a lot of weight. The sedentary life obviously didn't suit him. "However, the hope of the Stuart Cause rests on him. We would prefer to put an end to that. It works both ways, St. Just. The line effectively ends with him, so if we take him, we have the family."
That made alarming sense. But a trial would encourage the kind of support the country could well do without at a time like this. With an aging king and a young and inexperienced heir in thrall to an unpopular advisor, the time was ripe to tip the scales back in the Stuart family's favor, if a person had a mind to do it. "If I see him, I'll inform you. Will that do?"
The General regarded him in silence for a full minute. Dominic knew better than to interrupt him, and he hoped General Court knew better than to press him further. Both men understood what that meant. Dominic would go hunting, and he'd find his prey, but if anyone asked, he'd never met Stuart, not even heard of him.
Eventually, the man nodded. "Very well. I appreciate your help."
"I hope you do." He would not forget the favor. Dominic would make sure of it.
Dominic left the room. He hurried down the stairs, more than glad to put the dust of this building behind him.
Someone calling his name interrupted him. "St. Just!"
Damnation. Pinning an affable smile to his face, he turned, letting the skirts of his coat swing gently around him. "Why, Malton, what a pleasant surprise! Do you come here on a visit, or business?"
Lord Malton grimaced. "Business, but nothing vital, as it transpires. I was merely surprised to see you."
He waved carelessly in the direction of the stairs, taking care to keep the movement elegant. "A social call. A man I used to serve under has returned to London. Paying my respects, don't you know."
"Ah." To Dominic's relief, Malton appeared to accept his explanation. His visit here had become annoyingly clandestine. "Is your business concluded?"
Not at all. "Completely." Dominic offered a smile and paused at the stand by the door to collect his sword. This set of government offices didn't even allow gentlemen to carry the mostly decorative swords. Dominic's was more than decorative, made of fine flexible Spanish steel. "Are you heading into town?"
"To Bond Street. I have to collect my sisters from the drapers'."
Dominic had planned to walk to St. James's, but abruptly he changed his plans. "Your sisters are up from the country?" Malton belonged to a large and influential family. Known as 'The Emperors of London,' they were a force to be reckoned with. Especially with regards to the Dankworths, supporters of the Pretenders, young and old. The family feud was so old nobody recalled its origins. It had renewed itself in force when the Dankworths and the Emperors took opposite sides in the Jacobite conflict. The Emperors could prove useful to him in his current quest.
Dominic was acutely aware of his lack of supporters. In the army he'd had a complete network of allies. Here, if he were found on the wrong side, he had no doubt the authorities would arrest him and cart him off to prison. If they needed a scapegoat, he provided the perfect subject. Most definitely he needed friends. Someone who knew more about this civilian battle.
However, despite Malton's cordial greeting, he and Dominic were only socially acquainted. Dominic sheathed his sword and clapped his hat on his head, then glanced into the mirror by the desk to adjust it to his satisfaction. Malton dressed soberly and behaved responsibly. Dominic did what he liked. Released from army discipline, he'd enjoyed spreading his wings once he got to town. As the heir to a wealthy and influential title, he was in great demand.
He had no doubt that was why Malton had invited him to meet his sisters. Dominic was not a philanderer, more a card player and a man who enjoyed all forms of entertainment, respectable and decidedly otherwise. However, he never toyed with society ladies. They might expect more than he was prepared to give them.
Malton and Dominic walked out of the offices into glorious sunshine. Dominic glanced up. "A pretty day, is it not?"
Malton nodded curtly. "Indeed, sir. Spring is well advanced, although last month it seemed as if it would never arrive."
They walked down Horse Guards in the direction of Bond Street. Up St. James's Street, with its burgeoning clubs, and past the palace, where the Royal Standard fluttering from the gatehouse proclaimed the King was in residence. A rare event, since his majesty preferred the more modest comforts Kensington Palace had to offer.
Dominic remarked as such to Malton and received a nod in return.
"I believe his majesty wished to greet the Ambassador of France. He'll scuttle back to Kensington as soon as he can." Malton smiled. "I do not begrudge him his comforts. The longer we can keep him healthy the better, would you not agree?"
Sounding him out, no doubt. "Indeed." Dominic had no hesitation in concurring. "It gives the Prince of Wales more time to mature into his role. I fear a king still in his minority could cause problems for the government."
"He is a promising child, but I fear far too ready to listen to his mother's favorite." Malton hesitated delicately before the last word, intimating that the Princess of Wales and Lord Bute were more than royal patron and favorite. Most in London considered them lovers.
A political situation that would be coped with, unlike the advent of a different branch of the royal house. "I don't pretend to understand politics." Dominic waved his handkerchief to illustrate his point. A fine lace-edged piece of linen, it would probably be ruined if he put it to any practical use. "It is all far beyond me."
"I'm sure you would cope." Malton sounded so smug that Dominic spared him a glance. No, he wasn't mistaken. Clearly, Malton considered Dominic as the intellectual half-wit he preferred people to think him. A man more interested in fashion and gossip than anything serious. The pose was beginning to pall, but it had taken a year and a half for it to do so. It might prove useful for a little while longer. When people underestimated him, they were more likely to talk freely in his presence. Consequently he heard much more of the gossip before others did.
"I find other matters more interesting," he said, lengthening his vowels to a fashionable drawl. "Surely gossip about the Princess of Wales and her lover is old news. May we discuss Elizabeth Chudleigh's latest exploit?"
They did, Malton discussing the subject easily enough, until they reached Bond Street. At this time of day, the fashionable and the wealthy thronged the place, from the boxing saloon at the end to the florist's at the other. While Dominic would have preferred the fencing-master's studio, Malton took him straight past it to the drapers' shop two doors down.
The curved bay window with its bull's-eye glass panes revealed swaths of fabric, a few toys strewn across it. His gaze met fans, handkerchiefs, and a particularly pretty necessaire, the separate elements of pen, paper, scissors, spread for the admiration of the customer. Dominic spared it a glance on his way inside.
Three ladies sat at the broad counter to the left of the door. Another counter stood completely opposite, and at the end, bales of fabric were stacked.
Dominic groped for the ribbon tied at his waist and lifted the quizzing glass he kept at the end of it. Surely he was seeing things. "You said sisters," he murmured. "You did not say twins."
Or beauties, for that matter.
"I omitted that part, didn't I?"
If he didn't know better, Dominic would have detected laughter in Malton's voice. So far his acquaintance with the man hadn't revealed a sense of humor. Despite Malton's enjoyment of his surprise, Dominic considered himself a winner here.
The two young ladies seated in chairs before the counter were slender of figure. However, their breasts swelled invitingly above their bodices, and they possessed clear-complexions. Both were possessed of heavenly blue eyes. They had lively features, although one bore an air of serenity, and her gown was a little more subdued than her sister's.
The other, the one with the slight smile curling her lips, intrigued him. Something about this one drew him. She wore pink, which should not have suited her with that red-gold hair, but it did, enhancing her slender loveliness. Dominic would not call either lady a beauty, not in the accepted society sense, but they were lovely enough to create a sensation if they wished to. Their chins were slightly too pointed, their noses too large. He liked them; they added character.
While Malton performed the introductions, she watched him. He only looked away when his bow required it, and then glanced up and found her challenging gaze fixed on his. He flicked her a hard stare, before he recalled himself and allowed his lids to droop over his eyes in his usual society manner.
Her eyes widened. "I did not meet you in town last year, Lord St. Just. I would have thought you very hard to miss."
She scanned his red coat, matching waistcoat, and spotless white breeches. Gold buckles adorned his shoes, with the tiniest of diamonds and rubies, and his sword hilt was encrusted with jewels and engraving. The fact that good Spanish steel was sheathed beneath may have passed her scrutiny.
Showing no sign of insult, Dominic took her careful observation as a compliment. He flourished his hat, which he'd taken off when performing his bow. "You are too kind, Lady Claudia."
She made a sound in the back of her throat that could have been the start of a derisive snort. Except for that tiny sound, Dominic would never have known she was laughing at him from her gracious smile and nod. She'd was probably been taught from the cradle to hide her true emotions. "My lord, it would be difficult to miss such magnificence."
Excerpted from Reckless in Pink by Lynne Connolly. Copyright © 2015 Lynne Connolly. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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