Carole Mortimer's Books
Carole Mortimer's Books
Dangerous Dukes 6
DUKE OF DANGER
DUKE OF DANGER
Mills & Boon Historical
The declaration: "You don't have a choice. You will return with me to England."
The deed: In the dark of night, British spy Christian Seaton, Duke of Sutherland, abducts Lisette Duprée and flees French mercenaries in a race against time. Christian must protect her at all costs—Lisette is the answer to everything in the Dangerous Dukes' work for the crown.
The difficulty: Innocent Lisette is an enticing temptation who's increasingly hard to resist!
August 1815, Paris, France
Touch one hair upon her head, monsieur, and you are destined to meet your maker sooner than you might wish!'
It took every ounce of his indomitable will for Christian Seaton, Fifteenth Duke of Sutherland, not to react or turn to face the person who had just spoken softly behind him.
Not because he was disturbed by the threat itself; his reputation as one of the finest shots in England was not exaggerated, and few gentlemen could best him with the sword either.
Nor was he concerned by the barrel of the small pistol he currently felt pressed against the top of his spine through his clothing.
Or that the person making the threat was a woman who, judging by her voice, was a woman of mature years.
It was the fact that the threat had been spoken in accented English which caused him such inner unease…
As an agent for the English Crown, Christian had arrived secretly in Paris from England by boat just two nights ago and, as had been planned, he had immediately taken up residence as the Comte de Saint-Cloud—an old and extinct title of his mother's French family—in one of the grander houses situated alongside the Seine.
Since his arrival Christian had been careful not to speak any other language but French, which he could claim to speak like a native, once again courtesy of his maternal grandmere.
He had been especially careful to maintain that facade in the Fleur de Lis, a noisy and crowded tavern situated in one of the less salubrious areas of Paris.
That he was now being addressed in English brought into question whether this pretence in his identity had somehow been compromised.
He continued to maintain his comfortable slouch at a corner table of the noisy tavern as he answered the woman in French. 'Would you care to repeat your comment, madameT he replied fluently in that language. 'I understand English a little, but I am afraid I do not speak it at all.'
'Non.' Christian calmly answered the scornful taunt, although that feeling of unease continued to prickle inside him. 'I am the Comte de Saint-Cloud—at your service, madame.'
There was the briefest of pauses, as if the woman were considering challenging him on that claim. 'My mistake, Comte,' she finally murmured, before repeating her earlier warning in French.
'Ah.' He nodded. 'In that case, I confess I have no idea which "she" you are referring to.'
A loud hmph sounded behind him. 'Do not play games with me, Comte,' the woman growled. 'You have had eyes for no one but Lisette since the moment you arrived.'
So that was the name of the beautiful young woman serving the tables situated on the other side of this crowded and noisy room.
Oh, yes, Christian knew exactly which 'she' this woman was referring to. Which of the serving wenches he had been unable to take his eyes off of for more than a minute or two since he had entered the tavern an hour ago.
And he was not alone in that interest, having noticed that several other well-dressed gentlemen in the room were also watching the young woman, if less openly than he.
The reason for those gentlemen's slyness now become apparent to Christian—obviously they knew better than to openly show their admiration for the red-haired beauty, for fear of having a pistol pressed against their own spine.
He gave another glance across the tavern to where the young woman had been kept busy all evening serving drinks to the raucous patrons. She was unlike any other tavern wench Christian had ever seen—tiny and slender, with pretty red curls, hidden for the main part beneath a black lace cap, she was also dressed more conservatively than the other serving wenches, in a long-sleeved and high-necked black gown.
A mourning gown?
Whatever her reason for wearing black, it did not detract in the slightest from the girl's ethereal beauty. Rather it seemed to emphasise it; her hands and neck were slender, her heart-shaped face as pale and smooth as alabaster and dominated by huge long-lashed blue eyes.
She had also, Christian had observed with satisfaction, managed to neatly and cheerfully avoid any of the slyly groping male hands that had tried to take advantage of her as she placed jugs of ale down on the tables.
Unfortunately, Christian had not seen her until after he was already seated, his own table being served by a buxom and flirtatious brunette, and so preventing him from as yet finding opportunity to speak to the lovely Lisette.
A situation which Christian had intended changing before the night was over; a dalliance with one of the Fleur de Lis' serving wenches would be the perfect means by which he might visit this tavern often, without the regularity of those visits being remarked upon.
He gave a lazy shrug now, again without turning to look at the woman behind him. 'All of the ladies working here are very pretty, madame.' Once again he continued the conversation in French.
'But you have eyes for only one,' the woman rasped in the same language.
'Surely a gentleman is allowed to look, madame.'
'One such as you does not just look for long,' she said scornfully.
Christian was every inch the gentleman, known amongst English society for his charm and evenness of temper; indeed, he had long and deliberately nurtured that belief. But that was not to say that he did not have a temper, because he most certainly did; he simply chose to reveal it only to those who were deserving of it and on the occasions when it was most warranted.
But whether the French Comte de Saint-Cloud or the English Duke of Sutherland, he was obviously a gentleman, and this woman's insults and over-familiarity were deserving of such a set-down. 'I take exception to your remark, madame.' Christian's tone was icy-cold, something that those who knew him well would have known to beware of.
Whatever the woman standing behind him knew of him, she obviously did not know the nature of him at all.
At least it was to be hoped that she did not.
'One has only to look at the way you are dressed, at you, to know you are nothing but a rake and a libertine. CoureurP she added disgustedly.
While it might be safer for this woman to believe Christian was a rake, and the 'womaniser' she had just spat at him, than for her to have any doubts as to his identity as the Comte de Saint-Cloud, he still took exception to the insult. 'On what grounds do you base such an accusation, madame?' His tone had grown even chillier.
'On the grounds that you have been undressing my…niece with your eyes for this past hour, monsieur!' she came back disgustedly.
The beautiful girl, Lisette, was the niece of the woman standing behind him with a pistol pressed against his spine? Surely that claim did not make sense unless—
Very aware of that pistol at his back, Christian carefully sat forward, his movements measured as he turned just as slowly to face his accuser. His brows rose slightly as he instantly recognised her as being none other than Helene Rousseau, the owner of this Parisian tavern.
The very same woman who was both the reason for his clandestine visit to Paris and for his presence in the Fleur de Lis tavern this evening.
Helene Rousseau was the older sister of André Rousseau, the man known to have been a French spy during the year he had spent in England as tutor to a young English gentleman.
A year during which André Rousseau had also gathered together a ring of treasonous co-conspirators amongst the servants of the English aristocracy, as well as some high-ranking members of that society itself. Their aim had been to assassinate England's Prince Regent, as well as the other heads of the Alliance, and so throw those countries into a state of chaos and confusion, allowing Napoleon, newly escaped from his incarceration on Elba, to march triumphantly back into Paris unopposed.
Christian had been one of the agents for the Crown who had managed to foil that assassination plot on Prinny. But not before André Rousseau lay dead in the street outside this very tavern, killed by the hand of one of Christian's closest friends.
Christian was in Paris now because it was suspected that Rousseau's sister had taken over as head of that resistance movement following the death of her brother. That she and her cohorts were still determined to undermine the English government, whilst working with those co-conspirators in England, by fair means or foul—and their methods had been very foul indeed—to find a way of releasing the Corsican upstart for a second time.
Indeed Christian, and several of his friends, had only days ago prevented news of the date and destination of Napoleon's second incarceration from being revealed, when it was believed that a second attempt would have been made to effect the Corsican's escape.
Nowhere in Christian's information on Helene Rousseau had there ever been mention of her having a niece.
The same young and beautiful woman whom Christian had been admiring for this past hour or more.
A young and beautiful woman who wore black because she was in mourning for her dead father, the French spy André Rousseau? As far as Christian was aware, Helene Rousseau had no other siblings.
His eyes narrowed on the Frenchwoman. Also dressed in black out of respect for her dead brother? 'I apologise if I have caused you any offence, madame' He gave a courtly bow as he stood up. 'I assure you I meant none.'
Helene Rousseau was a woman of about forty, tall and voluptuous where her niece was tiny and slender, and the older woman had only a touch of red in her blonde hair; surely Christian could be forgiven for not having previously made the connection between an aunt and niece who were so different in appearance?
Especially as there had never been any information of André Rousseau having a daughter.
Hard blue eyes looked up at him scornfully as the female owner of the tavern continued to hold the small pistol at a level with his broad chest. 'A man such as you would not be in such a lowly tavern as this one, monsieur, if you were not looking to corrupt one of my girls.'
Christian raised a blond brow. 'Surely it is for those "girls" to decide for themselves as to whether or not they would see my attentions as corruption…or pleasure?'
'Not if your choice is to be Lisette.' Helene Rousseau looked at him with all the challenging hauteur of a duchess.
Christian bit back his impatience with this woman's temerity, knowing it would not serve his purpose to antagonise her further; his intention this evening, to be taken for just another gentleman bent on pleasure, had instead incurred this woman's notice as well as her wrath. Both of them he would rather have avoided at this stage of his mission. 'I have given my apology if I have caused you any offence—'
'I believe Claude wishes your presence in the kitchen, Helene,' a huskily soft voice interrupted them.
A huskily soft voice that, Christian discovered when his gaze moved to Helene Rousseau's side, belonged to none other than the beautiful Lisette herself…
Lisette had noticed the handsome gentleman with the lavender-coloured eyes the moment he entered the tavern earlier this evening; indeed, he was the sort of gentleman of whom any woman would take note.
He was exceedingly tall, with tousled overlong blond hair. The perfect fit of his black superfine coat over broad and muscled shoulders must surely be the work of the best tailors in Paris. As were the pantaloons tailored to his long and muscled legs. His black Hessians were so highly polished Lisette was sure she would be able to see her face in them if she cared to look.
But it was the hard masculine beauty of the man's face which drew the eye; a smooth, high brow, sharply etched cheekbones, his nose long and aristocratic, and a sensual and decadent mouth that was not too thin and yet not too full either, above a surprisingly hard and uncompromising jaw.
The man's most arresting feature by far was his eyes—Lisette did not believe she had ever seen eyes of such an unusual shade of lavender before—fringed by thick and curling lashes.
Eyes which she had sensed watching her this past hour, even as she went about the business of serving the many and increasingly inebriated customers…
The tavern was unusually crowded this evening, which was the only reason Helene had asked for Li-sette's help; usually the older woman did not allow her anywhere near the men who patronised this bawdy tavern.
Lisette had not initially noticed Helene approaching or speaking with the lavender-eyed gentleman; it was only when she could no longer feel the intensity of his gaze upon her that she had glanced across the room and seen the two in conversation. Even across the width of the tavern Lisette had been able to sense the tension of that conversation, her eyes widening in alarm as the gentleman moved and she saw that Helene held a pistol in her hand, and that pistol was pointed at the gentleman's chest.
Quite what that gentleman had done to warrant such attention Lisette had no idea. As far as she was aware, he had not behaved in a rowdy or licentious manner, but remained quietly seated at his table without engaging with any of the tavern's other customers. Nor had he been overfamiliar with Brigitte on the occasions she had served him with one of the tavern's better wines.
'I am Christian Beaumont, the Comte de Saint-Cloud, at your service, mademoiselle' That gentleman now gave her a polite bow.
Just as if Helene were not still pointing a gun at the broad elegance of his chest!
'Lisette Dupree.' She gave an abrupt curtsy, unable, now that she was standing so close to the gentleman, to look away from the intensity of that beautiful lavender gaze.
Christian repressed his smile of satisfaction at Helene Rousseau herself having effectively made the formal introductions possible. A formality that would allow him to more easily approach and speak to the lovely Lisette in future.
His gaze narrowed as he turned to look at the older woman. 'Please do not let us delay you any further when you are so obviously needed in the kitchen, madame.'
Helene Rousseau's mouth tightened even as she deftly stowed the pistol away in the folds of her gown. 'You will remember all that I have said to you tonight, my lord.' It was a warning, not a question.