Seduced under the Mistletoe is now live! If you’d like a little sneak preview, then how about reading the opening to my novella, Peril with a Prince!
The tankard dropped hard on the table and was accompanied by a leer that Giselle could see from right across the room in the dark inn. Frothy beer spilling onto the floor. She bared her teeth back at him, and the man’s eyes widened, his smile disappearing.
Giselle wrapped her cloak around her more tightly, and tried not to shiver. Merde. She should have known better than to accept a meeting at the Loxham Inn – or however it was that this English pronounced it. She had known that it was a mistake as soon as she had opened the letter the day before, but there had not been time to get a message back to her contact. And so the Loxham Inn, on the very edge of this Kentish coast, was to be her rendezvous.
She swallowed. Being this close to her home in France and yet so far was douloureux, too painful – but she could not go back there. Not since… Well, it was safer for her here, en Angleterre.
Giselle took a slow and meaningful look around the dingy room, decorated poorly for the Christmas season, trying not to grimace as she held her arm close to her chest. It was a small stab wound to start with, but constant movement in that carriage to get here had pulled at the healing, and now it was bleeding through her sleeve. It was a pity it was her right hand, for it meant that she was forced to hold her dagger in her left.
You could not be too careful when meeting a man you’ve never even set your eyes on before.
Giselle shivered and took a deep breath as a card game two tables over ended in mutterings and a punch that forced one man to the ground. Here she was, a young woman in a silk gown and elegant diamond ear bobs, sitting in one of the most dangerous inns in England. C’est stupide.
Another deep breath was needed as the minutes ticked by, and the innkeeper glared at her for keeping the small table to herself. You are the Great Whisperer, Giselle said to herself, trying to keep a stern and forbidding look on her face. Courage. You have always managed to get out of scrapes before.
There was a heavy thundering and her cobalt blue eyes looked around, anxious, until she realised it was the sound of her own heart rattling her ribcage. She wasn’t merely frightened: she was terrified. How could she have known, four months ago – and it felt so much longer – that wanting to pass on a letter for her friends would start her on a path like this? But she had had no choice, no choice at all – and now she had a spy’s reputation that she did not deserve!
Giselle swallowed, and tried to imagine what anyone in the Loxham Inn would see if they looked at her. A lady, she hoped; une femme, well bred, and strong, with a determined stare that did not give in. She had not wanted to live a life of subterfuge, and this last transfer of letters was the last one. On Christmas Day, she would be free.
Then she could go and find Pierre, wherever he was. No one’s brother should be missing for that length of time. Ah, mon frère…
Giselle started; the hair on the back of her neck was starting to prickle. What was it? Her eyes darted around the room until they fell on a gentleman almost exactly opposite her, sitting in a small recess but still facing her.
He was staring at her.
She gasped as their eyes met, but he did not look away, and she found herself unable to break the connection. He was a young man, probably not more than one or two and thirty. He looked remarkably clean, which was unusual for the Loxham Inn, and his chestnut hair was cropped short. Even from this distance, Giselle could see his eyes were dark, sparkling with intelligence and focus.
He was focused on her. There was no denying it, his entire attention was fixed upon her, and Giselle hated that her cheeks rushed with colour at the thought of his admiration.
And yet she was not blind. He was a handsome man, richly dressed but poorly kempt. He looked like a man who had spent a few too many nights on the road, but had a servant just waiting to clean him, dress him, and send him onto a court ball.
A man smelling rather pungently of pigs dropped into the seat beside her, and Giselle stiffened. Could this be the man that she had been waiting for all day? Could he be the one that she could pass these dratted letters onto, and then she would be free – free to just be Giselle d’Épiluçon, not the Great Whisperer any longer?
The man was badly shaven, and his eyes were bloodshot from drink. “You’re a mighty pretty one, aren’t you?” He murmured in the deep Kentish accents that she now knew so well. “Whatcha doing here, nice lady like you? Looking for some fun?”
The hand that was not grasped around his tankard had now found her leg. Giselle’s lips smiled, but the mirth did not reach her eyes. In one swift movement, she had grasp of his little finger and twisted it back, causing the man to cry out in pain and tears appear in his eyes.
“Was this,” she whispered in a meaningful voice, “what you were looking for, mon amie?”
She pulled it back a little further and the man shook his head, whimpering. Giselle pushed back her cloak slightly to reveal the shine of her dagger, and his eyes widened even further, tears now falling onto his cheeks.
“I think it is best if you leave the Loxham Inn,” Giselle said, the false smile now completely gone from her mouth. “Perhaps you do not come back. Perhaps you never come back, tu comprends?”
The man nodded, pleading with his eyes to be released. She let go of his hand but brought her dagger out of her cloak’s folds ever so slightly, as a warning.
He did not need it. Without another word but a quiet whimper, the man half walked, half ran towards the door of the Loxham Inn and left without a backward glance.
Giselle sighed and rolled her shoulders, trying to loosen the tension that had built up there. Mon Dieu, but she hated what her life had become. She lived in fear from moment to moment, never able to rest, never comfortable – and yet she was a lady of France, not some London urchin who enjoyed fighting to its life from day to day!
It had all started when the Revolution happened. 1798 had been a difficult one for all of France, but far more so for families like the d’Épiluçon. Rich, powerful, and noble, they were everything that the revolutionaries hated.
It had not taken them long to start executing them for the crime of simply being rich.
The d’Épiluçon family had managed to survive for a few years, keeping their heads down, not getting involved in anything political, just wanting to live in peace. Until that day when “they” had come.
Giselle swallowed as her eyes filled with tears that she forced away. The important thing was that she had survived, and she had not survived just to feel sorry for herself. The counter-revolutionaries had found her, and convinced her that the only way to protect Pierre was to turn spy against the revolutionaries, to move information about the nobles and how they could be protected. Only for a few weeks, they had said. And then she could be free.
Code name, the Great Whisperer.
She glanced up and once again caught the eyes of the handsome gentleman, who was still watching her.
Her eyes dropped, unable to match the intensity in his dark eyes. It could not be much longer, she told herself. Her contact would arrive soon, and she would be free from being the Great Whisperer, and would be Giselle d’Épiluçon once more.
Just one more rendezvous.