Beguiled by Her Betrayer(5)

By: Louise Allen

Now he had to deal with French soldiers who would know there were no engineers in the area and who might even have received the news that General Abercrombie was harrying the French out of Alexandria. And there was a strong probability they would also know there were no Americans amongst the motley group of scholars, scientists, engineers and artists who had found themselves stranded with the army when their beloved Napoleon abandoned them almost two years before. Bonaparte had returned to France and staged the coup that gave him complete power and the title Emperor, and had left his generals to manage as best they might.

Quin eyed the woman he was rapidly coming to think of as his adversary as she stood and began to clear her instruments away. Nobody’s fool and apparently cool to the point of frigidity, she was not going to be easy to panic into flight. If the worst came to the worst, he was going to have to steal a boat, kidnap her and leave her father to his fate.

Madame Valsac turned at the doorway, the light behind her, and looked back over her shoulder, her figure outlined through the fine linen of her robe. His body, cheerfully ignoring the looming presence of nearby French troops, heat-stroke, fever and his feelings about the woman’s personality, stirred under the weight of wet sheet.

‘Is anything wrong?’ she asked. ‘I thought I heard you moan. I have opium if the pain is very bad.’ From her tone it sounded as though she would as soon hit him over the head and render him unconscious that way, if it caused her less trouble.

‘No, nothing at all,’ Quin lied as he closed his eyes. ‘Everything’s just perfect.’ I really, really did not join the diplomatic service for this...

He had actually joined it because sitting on his courtesy title as a marquess’s fifth, and very much unwanted, son did not appeal, despite a modest estate and an equally modest competence to maintain his style. His four elder brothers—the wanted sons with the real names—they all had their roles. Henry was the heir, learning to be a marquess. James was the spare and learning to be a marquess’s right-hand man in the time left in a packed schedule of wenching, gaming and sporting endeavours, Charles was a colonel in the Guards and looked so good in his uniform that one forgot that he was as dense as London fog and George was a clergyman, clawing his way up the hierarchy towards a bishop’s throne with unchristian determination.

‘It will have to be the navy for you, Quintus,’ Lord Deverall, Marquess of Malvern, had announced on Quin’s fourteenth birthday. It had been a convenient conceit, naming him for a number. It meant the marquess could always remember his name.

‘No, my lord.’ He was not used to contradicting the marquess, simply because the man did not speak to the cuckoo in his nest if he could avoid it, so the opportunity rarely arose. ‘I do not excel at mathematics and it is essential for a naval officer,’ he explained.

The Marquess of Malvern, five foot ten of slender, sandy-haired refinement, the model that Henry, James, Charles and George matched exactly, had glowered at him. Quintus, already as tall, blond and, most inconveniently, the spitting image of his mother’s lover, the late and unlamented Viscount Hempstead, had stared back. ‘Then what the devil am I to do with you?’ the marquess demanded.

‘I am good at languages,’ Quin stated. ‘I will be a diplomat.’ And that had been that. An appropriate tutor, a degree from Oxford, a few favours called in at the Foreign Office and Lord Quintus Bredon Deverall was neatly off the marquess’s hands. And he was just where he wanted to be, on a career path that would, if he applied himself, see him with an ambassadorial post or a high government position, a title of his own and an existence entirely separate from his family.

And here I am in the middle of this God-forsaken desert, a war breaking out north and south and plague sweeping the land in a most appropriately Biblical manner. If I’d wanted to be a soldier, I’d have learned to shoot better, if I’d wanted to be a doctor, I’d have paid more attention to my science lectures and if I’d wanted to march across hundreds of square miles of sand, I’d have been a camel, he grumbled to himself, then grinned. It was, despite everything, an interesting change from endless negotiations, diplomatic dinners and decoding correspondence in six languages. Madame Valsac was going to be a thorn in his side, but he was confident that he could handle Woodward. How difficult could one scholar-turned-inept-spy be to manage?

* * *

‘No,’ Sir Philip said flatly without looking up from the letter he was reading. ‘You are not gadding off to flirt with officers. Who will look after that damned man? You seemed to spend all day today dodging in and out attending to him. Who will cook my dinner? And I need you to take notes when I measure the courtyard of the temple.’

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