This bit of fiction joins the hero of Embracing Prudence, a yet-to-be published work by Jude Knight, with the villain of Dangerous Weakness by Caroline Warfield, which is on pre-order now. Part two has been posted on Caroline’s blog today. Part one is here.
The lean, sour faced man ducked to enter the waiting parlour at the premises of Wakefield and Wakefield, Enquiry Agents, as he had been shown. His tight lips showed his disapproval. He stood in a room that looked nothing like rooms in a proper office should. Not only did the fabrics and small decorations show every sign of a feminine touch, but books, newspapers, and, worst of all, children’s toys cluttered the space. He frowned.
Konstantin Volkov did not question his decisions often. This time he did. Contacts described David Wakefield as ruthless. One reference called the man as cold blooded as a snake. This domestic clutter did not reflect an image of the sort of man he needed. Before he could examine that thought, a woman appeared to show him into Wakefield’s office. No proper business employs a woman clerk, he grumbled internally, but he followed in her wake.
David Wakefield stood to shake his hand. The enquiry agent was shorter than Volkov, and finely built. But the grip was strong enough, and the calm brown eyes under level brows hinted at a man with confidence in his own ability. Still, his smile at the woman and her wink made Volkov uneasy.
I can’t afford to hire some weakling. If there were an alternative, I would leave. He didn’t. Volkov had run out of contacts in the seething underbelly of London and England’s port cities. The usual lowlifes were good at tracking drabs and pickpockets. They had proven to be no help finding a respectable woman, and Lily Thornton was as respectable as they get, at least on the surface.
“How may I help you?” Wakefield’s voice startled Volkov from his thoughts. Stay alert Kostya. Don’t be a fool. He employed his most charming smile.
“A woman, Mr. Wakefield. I need help finding one.”
Wakefield smiled back. “If you require match making, perhaps my wife—“
“No, no. I need to find a particular woman, one I plan to make my wife.” Oh I have plans for darling Lily, but they are not quite so proper.
Wakefield sat back and pinned him with a hard look. “The woman you plan to marry has gone missing? Why is that?” Volkov caught a glance of the ruthless steel underneath the genial exterior and controlled the urge to shiver.
“A foolish misunderstanding. She misunderstood something she overheard and has gone off in a fright. I need only find her and reassure her.”
“What of the woman’s parents. Have they not located her?” Wakefield asked.
“Her father has been detained abroad. She is alone here with only the dubious protection of a maiden aunt.” One with easily bribed servants.
“This woman’s name?” The enquiry agent’s hand poised over a sheet of foolscap as if to take notes.
“Lily Thornton,” Volkov said and immediately regretted it. He saw the flicker of recognition in Wakefield’s eyes and the moment the agent suppressed it. If he knows who she is, he will unravel the truth quickly.
“When did you see her last?”
Volkov had no answer. If he told the man about the Mallet’s literary salon, he would connect Lily to Glenaire’s sister and thus, to the Marquess himself.
Wakefield went on smoothly, as if he didn’t notice Volkov’s silence. “What is more to the point, when did you notice her missing?”
“When I called at her aunt’s yesterday.” Another lie. Volkov couldn’t get past Glenaire’s guards. Marianne Thornton’s feckless maid brought the information.
Wakefield looked at Volkov so long that Volkov began to sweat. “I will call on the aunt and see what I can discover,” he said at last.
Too late. Volkov could hardly tell him not too. “Thank you. That is a good place to start.” He shot quick glance at the door.
“Come back in three days, and I’ll tell you what I’ve found.”
Volkov rose and thanked the blasted agent. As he descended the steps he faced harsh reality. I’m out of options. I need to leave London and drop out of sight. He stepped lively down the road. Perhaps Portsmouth. The thought raised his spirits. He would get her yet.
His confidence might have taken a knock had he looked back to where Wakefield and his wife watched from the window. Especially had he heard their conversation.
“What do you think, Prue?” David slipped his arm around his wife’s shoulders.
“I do not like that man, David. Something about him makes my skin crawl.”
“He is looking for Miss Thornton. Isn’t she the diplomat’s daughter you talked to at Mrs Mallet’s salon?”
“Yes. The one whose name has been linked with Glenaire’s.”
David had heard something of the sort. But a commoner and the Marble Marquess? It seemed unlikely. “Is it serious, Prue?”
Prue shrugged. “He is a ducal heir. He is expected to marry accordingly. But… there is an electricity between them, David.”
“I imagine he knows she is missing,” David mused. “I wonder if he knows the Russian is after her?”
What has become of Lily? Find out in Dangerous Weakness, on prerelease now and published on 1 October.
David and Prue’s story will appear early next year in Embracing Prudence.
If women were as easily managed as the affairs of state—or the recalcitrant Ottoman Empire—Richard Hayden, Marquess of Glenaire, would be a happier man. As it was the creatures—one woman in particular—made hash of his well-laid plans and bedeviled him on all sides.
Lily Thornton came home from Saint Petersburg in pursuit of marriage. She wants a husband and a partner, not an overbearing, managing man. She may be “the least likely candidate to be Marchioness of Glenaire,” but her problems are her own to fix, even if those problems include both a Russian villain and an interfering Ottoman official.
Given enough facts, Richard can fix anything. But protecting that impossible woman is proving to be almost as hard as protecting his heart, especially when Lily’s problems bring her dangerously close to an Ottoman revolution. As Lily’s personal problems entangle with Richard’s professional ones, and she pits her will against his, he chases her across the pirate-infested Mediterranean. Will she discover surrender isn’t defeat? It might even have its own sweet reward.
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Meet Caroline Warfield
Caroline Warfield has at various times been an army brat, a librarian, a poet, a raiser of children, a nun, a bird watcher, an Internet and Web services manager, a conference speaker, an indexer, a tech writer, a genealogist, and, of course, a romantic. She has sailed through the English channel while it was still mined from WWII, stood on the walls of Troy, searched Scotland for the location of an entirely fictional castle (and found it), climbed the steps to the Parthenon, floated down the Thames from the Tower to Greenwich, shopped in the Ginza, lost herself in the Louvre, gone on a night safari at the Singapore zoo, walked in the Black Forest, and explored the underground cistern of Istanbul. By far the biggest adventure has been life-long marriage to a prince among men.
She sits in front of a keyboard at a desk surrounded by windows, looks out at the trees and imagines. Her greatest joy is when one of those imaginings comes to life on the page and in the imagination of her readers.
Caroline’s Other Books
Dangerous Works A little Greek is one thing; the art of love is another. Only Andrew ever tried to teach Georgiana both.
Dangerous Secrets Jamie and Nora will dare anything for the tiny girl in their care, even enter a sham marriage to protect her. Will love—and the truth—bind them both together.