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shana galen

Sapphires Are an Earl's Best Friend

Sapphires are an Earl's Best Friend
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Excerpt

She arrived at Fitzhugh's town house and knocked on the servants' entrance. One of Fitzhugh's under maids opened the door, and her eyes widened when she recognized Lily. "Hello!" Lily waved as though her presence here was unremarkable. "Is Mr. Fitzhugh at home?"

The maid blinked at her, and Lily supposed the poor girl was beyond scandalized. Not only was a notorious courtesan knocking on the servants' entrance of her employer's home, she was requesting to see the master. A single woman, unchaperoned, calling on a man at his home. Such a thing was not done. Lily did not care. She was used to causing scandals. She'd been doing so since she was sixteen. What was one more at this point?

"I—I—" the maid mumbled.

"Never mind," Lily said, pushing past her and into the kitchens. "I shall find him myself."

"H-he's with his betrothed," the maid whispered.

"Fallon is here?" Lily brightened. "Splendid! Where are they?"

"Taking tea," she squeaked.

"In the drawing room?" Lily was already on the stairs. "No matter. I'll find them." They were not in the drawing room, but she found them in a small parlor adjacent to Fitzhugh's library. She was not surprised to find that "taking tea" involved Fallon sitting on Fitzhugh's lap in a rather warm embrace. Lily cleared her throat.

"Out, Pressly," Fitzhugh growled.

"It's not Pressly," Lily said. Fallon jumped up, and Fitzhugh scowled at her.

"What happened to you?" He rose and crossed to her, his eyebrows coming together in an expression of concern.

"I had a small incident," Lily said, closing the door on the curious servants pretending to dust just outside.

"Are you well?" Fallon asked, taking Lily's hands. "Your dress is ruined!"

"You should see my parasol."

"Oh, no! That was your favorite parasol."

"Yes, the parasol is a tragedy," Fitzhugh drawled, "but might you enlighten us as to how it was damaged?"

"It is past damaged," Lily said, allowing Fallon to lead her to a chair and pour her a cup of tea. "It is ruined. But I suppose it's for the best. Madam Durand says this gown does not suit me, and the only reason I continue to wear it is because I adore that parasol."

"Then perhaps it's best the source of temptation has been removed," Fallon remarked.

"That was my thought, and wait until you see the gown Madam Durand—"

"Miss Dawson!" Fitzhugh barked. Lily jumped, sloshing tea onto the saucer. "Could you and Fallon speak of fashion later and tell me what happened to leave you in this state?"

Fallon put her hands on her hips. "There's no need to shout."

Fitzhugh sighed. Loudly. Then looked pointedly at Lily.

She gave him a sweet smile. "I was leaving Madam Durand's shop," she began, "when I noticed I was being followed."

"Are you certain?"

Lily raised a brow.

Fitzhugh held his hands up defensively. "My apologies. I did not mean to question your skills. Do go on."

"As I was on my way here to collect payment, I did not want to be followed. I ducked into an alley, and the man followed."

"Forgive me," Fitzhugh said, taking the seat across from Lily. "What payment?"

"For my gown," Lily said, looking exasperated. "The Foreign Office cannot expect me to take full responsibility for financing the seduction of the Duke of Ravenscroft."

"Now I am confused," Fallon said. "Why on earth would you seduce that lecher?"

"Because we suspect the duke is the man who wants to see the Diamonds in the Rough assassinated," Fitzhugh told his intended. "He is in possession of some rather large rubies."

"Rubies he was using to hire assassins to kill our best spies..." Fallon's wide eyes narrowed. "Why was I not informed of this danger to you?"

"It didn't concern you," Fitzhugh answered. Lily winced. She glanced at Fallon, who was rising slowly from her seat, daggers shooting from her eyes. Lily jumped to her feet.

"Before you two progress any further in this discussion," she said, "could I have the blunt? Madam Durand is sending the gown this afternoon, and I'd like to go home and burn this dress."

"I'll send for your coachman." Fallon rose and left the room.

Fitzhugh steepled his hands. "How much?"

Lily told him.

"Is this a gown or a town house?"

"It's an exquisite gown. Ravenscroft will not be able to keep his eyes off me."

Fitzhugh raked a hand through his hair. "I don't have to tell you to be careful. You know the latest intelligence?"

"Artemis? Do you believe we've found him?"

"I think much of the evidence points to the duke."

"I'll find out the truth." Lily sank into her seat again, impossibly weary. She would need all of her skills tonight to convince those at the ball she was lively and charming. She would much rather go to bed and sleep.

How perfectly tedious.

"I don't like this," Fitzhugh said. "Artemis is aptly named. He hunted and killed several of our best during the war. I don't like putting you in jeopardy."

She felt her belly knot at his words. This mission was unlike most of the others she was assigned. If Ravenscroft was Artemis, she would be risking her life to uncover his secret. She could very well end up with her throat slit, her body thrown in an unmarked grave somewhere in Nottinghamshire.

But she could not show her fear to Fitzhugh. Any other agent sent in would be much more at risk than she. She did not want to be responsible for anyone's death because she was a coward. Lily gave Fitzhugh a shrug and waved her hand dismissively. "Why would Ravenscroft suspect me of being anything other than a courtesan? In which case, the only thing in jeopardy is my virtue, and that is but a distant memory."

Fitzhugh didn't smile at her jest. "If he attempts to force himself on you—"

"I am perfectly capable of handling that sort of thing," Lily said, forcing herself to sound confident. "You have nothing to worry about. Plan your wedding and watch your back. I will obtain the information you need."

© Shana Galen


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