Excerpt from No Place for a Lady
London, England, February 1807
"'Ey, Fanny! 'Ow bout a diddle wi' me?"
Fantine Delarive winked as she swiveled her hips past a group of leering men, her smile friendly as she focused on the biggest of them all. "Ye ain't got enough t' diddle wi', Tommy boy. Talk t' me when ye grow a mite more."
She tweaked his cheek as she served him his ale. Then she passed on through the dingy pub, trading insults and affectionate pats with the customers.
They all knew her here, recognized her face, called her Fanny, but not a one knew the truth. They would never guess she had played maid to a princess or caught a French spy. They would never believe she could speak Spanish or cook a goose fit for the king. Nor would they credit that she planned to do such things again and again until she was too old to blow a kiss at an aged lord.
They would never believe what she had done, and she could never tell. So she teased the clientele like a two-bit tart, playing her role with consummate skill, because deep inside she did not truly credit it herself.
"Fanny!" called the keep, his gravelly voice carrying easily over the din. "'E wants ye. Tomorrow. Tea."
Fantine hitched her hip up to the edge of a bar stool, allowing a near-blind old man to feel the curve of her knee, but no more. "Tomorrow, tea," she echoed. "Guess I better put on me fancy togs. Not that I keep 'em on fer long!"
Then she laughed as loudly as the rest at her crude joke.
* * *
"Good morning, my lord. I trust you slept well."
Marcus Kane, Lord Chadwick, looked up, a single bite of egg poised precisely on his silver spoon. "Whom would you trust with such information, Bentley?" he asked dryly.
"Not even my sainted mother," the dough-faced man replied with a bland expression.
"Just so long as it is not my sainted mother," Marcus responded. "I trust that you have seen Paolina safely transferred from my bed to her own."
"Safely settled in, my lord."
A dozen possible responses came to mind, but Marcus washed them down with a sip of tea. His secretary would not understand a one of them, and so he did not waste his breath. Instead, he opened the morning paper knowing he could easily divide his attention between the news and Bentley's itemized list of the coming day.
He was wrong.
"I have canceled your appointment for tea with your sister, citing urgent matters with the Scottish estate."
Marcus's eye caught on a column detailing William Wilberforce's latest speech to the House of Commons, but at his secretary's news, he lifted his gaze.
"Do I have urgent matters at the Scottish estate?"
"No, my lord. But you do have an invitation to Lord Penworthy's home. The tone appeared somewhat urgent."
Marcus arched his eyebrows. He had not spoken with Penworthy since Geoffrey's funeral nearly three years ago. They had, of course, corresponded over political matters and seen one another in the House of Lords, but this was something else entirely. To be invited to his former mentor's house, and so abruptly, indicated something of supreme import.
Marcus set his napkin aside and rose from his chair.
"Thank you, Bentley. I now recall why I pay you so exorbitantly."