Lady Elizabeth craved excitement and adventure. Unwilling to endure further boring Seasons, she convinces her uncle, who has lived a more adventurous life than anyone else she knew, to let her work for him. A few years later Elizabeth was established in Tuileries Castle, a servant in Napoleon’s court known as Lisette Renard.
John Phillip Trent has been working in the stables of Tuileries as Jean Pierre Bouvier for the past two years. His only English contact being Lisette Renard, a lovely blond lass, who he desired but kept at a professional arm’s length.
When Lisette receives a summons to return home for Christmas, John learns that she is none other than the granddaughter of the Duke of Danby and she had named Jean Pierre as her husband. Their cover is compromised with the same letter and the two find themselves escaping the palace and France, knowing they could very well never see each other again and must face the truth of how they truly feel for the other.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
I expect you, along with your cousins and their parents, at Danby Castle by December 24th. You, my absentee granddaughter, will present yourself before me along with that husband of yours, Jean Pierre Bouvier. I will accept no excuses.
Paris, December 7, 1812
Elizabeth Whitton folded the parchment and stuck it into her pocket. Why hadn’t her contact or the Home Office translated this one into code like all of the other letters? Surely they understood the danger. Maybe they feared making an error, given the author. Grandfather did have a way of striking fear into people. Yet all of his other letters had been coded. Why not this one?
It was odd seeing the name Elizabeth. She hadn’t been addressed as that in over two years. She no longer thought of herself as Elizabeth, either. She was Lisette Renard. It was safer this way, even in her silent thoughts, to pretend Elizabeth did not exist.
Nevertheless, she must somehow find a way to be back in England by December twenty-fourth and then return to her position here without anyone being the wiser as to her true purpose. She had worked long and hard establishing her place within Tuileries Palace and liked to think she was valuable to the English crown.
She picked up the rag and wiped the shelves in the library. Who would have dreamed two years ago she would have been given such free rein at the palace? It took almost a year of delivering eggs before she ever found a way to get beyond the kitchen, but eventually the head chef took pity on her, believing the pathetic story of how she needed to earn more to support her aging grandmother and siblings. Her original job had been simply to learn what she could through the kitchen staff and other servants. Nobody thought it possible that she would actually become one of the few entrusted with cleaning the emperor’s private apartments and study. Certainly not her father or uncle, and they were the only two in her family who knew the truth. The rest believed she’d fallen in love and married a Frenchman.
So, what was she to do? Her grandfather expected her home for Christmas, with her husband, and one did not ignore a direct order from the duke.
It would be good to return to Yorkshire. An ache developed in her heart when she thought of her family. She missed them more than she realized, especially Louisa, her sister. It would be good to see her again, even for a short time.
But they had to believe she was happily married to Jean Pierre and not a spinster spy employed as a maid at Tuileries. As much as she hated the idea, there was no other choice but to tell her husband. Lisette returned her cleaning supplies to the closet and made her way outside and into the vast gardens, towards the stables. Jean Pierre would either be working within or exercising the horses. Why had she named him as her husband? She knew she could have come up with a different identity, but when she wrote of her marriage a few years ago, her supervisor had made the suggestion and the name flowed easily from the quill.
She spotted him long before he noticed her approach. If he weren’t so full of himself, he might be attractive. She shook her head and corrected her thought. Despite his conceit, he was a pleasure to watch.
Jean Pierre must have just finished exercising one of the studs, because he was lifting the saddle from its back. His shoulders and upper arms tightened with strength, straining against his shirt as he lifted and handed the leather off to a stable hand. He bent a moment later to pick up a brush and began grooming the animal. She knew without a doubt the man was all muscle. Not that she had actually seen him without clothing, but the fit of his pants and shirt were enough. In addition to his physical labor, Jean Pierre kept himself fit, as she did, in the event they were called on to do more than their currently assigned duties.
He turned to face her when she grew close, as if he sensed her presence behind him. “Ah, mademoiselle, such a lovely picture this afternoon.” He bowed before her. His green eyes twinkled with mischief and a black curl fell onto his forehead. She fought the smile pulling at her lips. The man was a charmer, and she refused to succumb. They both had a job to do for England. Any type of relationship would hinder them both and could be downright dangerous.
“I need you, Jean Pierre.” She blurted the words out without thought.
His smile grew wide, revealing straight, white teeth, much in contrast to those who worked with him. He placed a hand over his heart. “I’ve longed for two years to hear those very words from your lips.”
She put her hand out to stop his stride in her direction. “It is not in the manner in which you think or hope.”
“If not amour, what else is there?” He shrugged and lifted his hands in question.
Lisette rolled her eyes. The man thought of little else besides bedding willing females. “I need a husband,” she whispered.
He took a step back. She knew those words would cool his ardor quicker than a sudden ice storm. Jean Pierre liked to think of himself as a lover whose talents should never be limited to one woman, unless it was only for a night—but never a lifetime. He had been playing his role longer than she. Lisette had no idea who he really was or how he truly felt about women and the institution of marriage. Not that it mattered, as long as he played along for the month it took them to travel to England and return.
He took a step away from her. “My dear, sweet Lisette, you know I desire you above all others, but I cannot even consider such a radical choice. A married man must be faithful, and I could never promise fidelity, my sweet.” Unlike hers, his words were loud enough for anyone in the vicinity to hear. Lisette would like nothing better than to throttle him.
She caught the sight of three of the stable hands nearby. No doubt they heard everything and would report back to whomever they reported to. There were always ears and eyes watching everyone at the palace, not unlike those in society she encountered during her two Seasons in London. Except it was much easier to navigate the dangers here than any ballroom back home.
She knew there was gossip about her and Jean Pierre. They met too often for it not to be noticed, but it couldn’t be helped if she were to pass the information she gathered in the house on to him. Jean Pierre saw that it was delivered into the right hands, along with any information he discovered. The mission demanded they work closely together, but not too closely, and thus a relationship developed with Jean Pierre chasing her skirts and Lisette refusing so much as a kiss without a promise. The other maids encouraged her to succumb to his charms, but she wasn’t here for Jean Pierre’s pleasure any more than he was for hers.
Lisette stalked after the retreating groom. “Are you so sure you would ever want another after me?”
His eyebrows shot up. She had never been the bold one, but she didn’t have time for games. The stable hands laughed, and she half expected Jean Pierre to turn and run from her. She grabbed his hand and pressed the folded letter against his palm. “Think on what I have said.” She winked then lowered her head. “Eleven tonight,” was whispered for only his ears. Lisette whirled around and made her way back to the palace.
* * *
John Phillip Trent unfolded the parchment once he was alone in his room above the stables. He had expected some sort of information as to Napoleon’s movements, not this letter.
What the hell had she done? Why the hell wasn’t this letter in code? Why did she name me as her husband? Well, not him exactly, but Jean Pierre, and the two were one and the same. The thoughts flew around his mind and he couldn’t settle on one. He never knew her real name was Elizabeth or that she was the granddaughter of the Duke of Danby, just like she had no idea he was John Phillip Trent.
How the hell did a duke’s granddaughter become a bloody spy? If any of Savary’s men got hold of this letter, she would be hanged, if not beheaded, for spying, and he along with her since apparently he was her husband. Savary wouldn’t care that she was related to a duke and would probably relish the torture all the more. John shuddered at the thought of what type of punishment the Ministry of Police would use before she was put to death.
John tore the letter into tiny pieces, tossed them into the stove in the corner of his room, and grabbed his coat. Not Lisette, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, the granddaughter of the powerful Duke of Danby and cousin to Jean Pierre’s school chum, Edgeworth. Well, not Jean Pierre’s school chum, but John Philip Trent’s school chum. Just as he had no idea who Elizabeth was until now, she still didn’t know his real name.
John shook his head in frustration. Clearly Edgeworth had no idea what his cousin was up to because he couldn’t imagine that his old friend would have allowed such a thing.
Of course Edgeworth didn’t know, or anyone else in her family. Which again begged the question, how had a duke’s granddaughter become a spy, and how did she remain a spy?
His anger only grew as he marched towards the orangery where Lisette waited. Why had that letter not been in code? Stupid mistakes like that got spies killed.
When he entered the building, the musty heat overwhelmed him. John shrugged out of his jacket. Lisette paced the center of the building, her cloak folded on a bench. Her blond hair was pulled back tightly behind her head to make working and cleaning a palace more efficient. Her shoulders were square, tense. Some of his anger dissipated. She hadn’t sent the blasted letter, so he couldn’t fault her for nearly ruining their cover. In fact, her entire body was rigid with either worry or anger, he couldn’t tell.
She turned and saw him, and her shoulders immediately dropped. Had she been afraid he would not come? Her steps quickened towards him.
“How am I to manage getting out of Paris, home and back?” The words rushed past her lips.
“You aren’t.” She was mad to even contemplate the idea. The safety of England and knowing what Napoleon was about were far more important than a family reunion with Danby. If it were possible to leave, he would have visited his own family long ago.
“If you go now, you won’t be able to come back.” He paced from her and ran his fingers through his hair. This was the problem with having a female in such a delicate position. One always ran the risk of her becoming too emotional to think the matter through clearly.
John turned on his heel, stalked forwards and grabbed her shoulders. “You are the only person we have within the household. We never thought it possible to have someone that close to Napoleon. Your position is too valuable.”
She looked up at him, blue eyes wide.
“How long do you think it would take to get someone else in your place?”
“You don’t understand.”
He threw up his hands and backed away. “No, apparently, you don’t understand. Was this only a game until Grandpapa called you home?”
Her shoulders straightened and her eyes narrowed in anger. “You know it wasn’t. If that summons had come from anyone else, I would have ignored it.”
“The old man cannot have so much power.”
“I fear him more than Savary.” Her words were barely over a whisper.
John planted his feet and crossed his arms over his chest. “Which reminds me, why wasn’t that letter in code?”
“I don’t know,” Lisette shrieked and threw up her hands. “I didn’t send it.”
He knew this but he needed to vent his anger on someone. “And why the hell did you name me as your husband?”
Her face grew red at the accusation. “It wasn’t my idea. Dolan suggested it when I achieved the position in the palace.”
He would kill Dolan for this if the man weren’t already dead. He must have thought it a fine joke at the time.
“I knew he jested, but I was pinched for time and couldn’t think of another reason why I wouldn’t be returning home.”
“Where does your family think you have been all this time?”
“You own a lovely chateaux outside of Sainte-Maxime with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean.”
He was dumbfounded. Were there other details he should know about? “And children? Have we been blessed with any?”
Her face grew pink again. “No, which is probably one of the reasons grandfather summoned me home.”
“He would blame me?”
She shrugged a shoulder. “You are the Frenchman. An Englishman would not neglect such a duty.” A smile pulled at her lips.
The laughter began in his belly and soon overcame him. “I assume this has been mentioned to you before?”
She looked down. “Yes, in an earlier letter. Several actually. Grandfather always demands to know if I am increasing.” Her face was a bright pink by the time she finished speaking.
It would be quite pleasurable to go about the act of creating babes with Lisette.
John quickly squelched the thought. The last woman he needed to be involved with was her. It was too dangerous and could compromise both of their positions.
The sudden desire was probably because it had been months since he had been with a woman, and a man could only take so much. He had the younger stable hands believing his thirst for making love was never satisfied, which helped explain the many nights he was away from the stable. They would laugh if they knew the truth, that he hadn’t bedded a woman in well over a year.
“I hope those were at least coded.” He settled onto a bench underneath one of the many fruit trees.
Her head whipped up. “Yes. This is the first time any letter has not been, and I don’t understand why.”
“How was the letter delivered?”
“By the same boy who has delivered our messages for the past year.”
This bit of information did help him relax. Had anyone else brought it, the risk of discovery would be higher. “Still, you cannot return home, you know that.” He softened his tone, hoping she understood.
Lisette settled on the bench beside him. “I suppose so.” She sighed. “I don’t know what I will tell Grandfather though. He is likely to come after me.”
“I doubt that.” John resisted the urge to put a comforting arm around her.
“You don’t know my grandfather.”
A crash reverberated from the back of the orangery and the two stiffened and stood. John placed his fingers to his lips so she would be quiet. Lisette scowled at him. She was right. She had been at this long enough to know when to be quiet. No doubt, he’d just insulted her.
He pulled a knife from the inside of his boot, and she took a similar one from a hidden pocket. With a nod, they both turned in opposite directions and made their way towards the back of the building.
Compromised for Christmas is the first book in the Tenacious Trents series and can be found at the following retailers.