Even the mask of an expert spy is no defense against his own heart.
With a reputation as dark as his appearance, Greydon Sharp, the Marquess of Ainsley, ought to have been the last agent assigned to the daughter of a well-respected member of Parliament. However, when she was brutally attacked and left for dead, it was clear he was the only one with the skills to keep her alive. All it would take was a few lies to keep her breathing long enough to capture the villain. Then he could send her on her way. If she would only behave herself, he might be able to complete his mission before she turned his content life into a chaotic mess.
Marriage is not an option … until it is.
Lady Kathryn Bryant, the adventure-seeking socialite, had no plans to behave. Kathryn would much rather spend her time in subterfuge, nabbing villains and finding clues. However, when her memory was lost in an attack, she had little choice but to trust the handsome Marquess. Though she was almost certain he was hiding something, she was helpless against his disarming smile and warm touch. Eventually, his lies came to the surface, leaving only one question: Was England’s deadliest spy equipped to save a broken heart?
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Grey had been the Marquess of Ainsley for nigh on a decade, his numerous estates being some of the most profitable in England. Numerous estates with enormous, warm, coma-inducing beds, each one piled high with mountains of pillows.
Why the devil was he now lying on the coldest, most uncomfortable cot in all of Christendom?
“He is awake.”
Someone spoke in French. If anyone were speaking French in his boudoir, it ought to be with a husky, feminine drawl, not the rough growl he had just heard. Now that he thought of it, along with the pillows, there was a shocking lack of silk and feathers.
This was all wrong, very wrong.
He opened his eyes, and the large, cold stones forming the ceiling slowly came into focus. That along with the cool feel of iron at his wrists and ankles and the two men glaring menacingly in his direction made it profoundly clear the nightmare he had been plagued with was quite real.
He was still in France, only now he was in prison. He had been caught.
“We want their names.”
“I have no names,” Grey lied. “I am utterly nameless.” It wasn’t meant to be a slurred mumble, but his mouth felt stuffed full of cotton, and his lips wouldn’t move. They were swollen, stiff, as was the rest of him.
“Your friend is dead,” one of them said. “Do you wish to join him?”
That meant Johnny had kept silent to the end. He had been a good lad—just a lad—and had died a nobody with no funeral or grave for loved ones to visit. Disappearing without notice, he would have no honor, no glory, no great eulogy commending his bravery in the face of torture and death—all things Grey had told him would happen the day he had signed on.
“Go to hell,” Grey growled.
One of the men, an overly large behemoth with an atrocious moustache, laughed as he brandished a long knife with a thick blade. He moved to stand next to Grey, who was strapped on his back to a wooden table. Arguably, it was not the best position to be in whilst issuing threats.
What shall be first? Grey wondered. His ears? His fingers, maybe? Not his tongue; they needed that.
“The man you sliced from ear to ear,” the behemoth said, “was my brother.”
The man in question had been stealing the names of England’s best agents to sell to her enemies. Had he succeeded, the death toll would have been devastating, though more in quality than in quantity. Grey had caught him in a bordello and taken him out the same way the bastard was known to have done to some of Grey’s comrades, drawing notice like a loggerheaded rookie.
Then Grey had been caught, which he had expected. What he had not expected was to find Johnny five feet behind him instead of across the street where he should have been. That was when Grey had learned it was much harder to escape with a green lad hanging on to his coattails.
Grey lifted his head with an icy smile. “He cried, begged for his life.”
A meaty fist pounded into Grey’s face, forcing his head back into the table. His head spun, but he swallowed back the nausea, refusing to give the cur the satisfaction of seeing the impact of the blow or giving the misapprehension that he’d had enough. Grey had not been punished nearly enough.
The coppery taste of blood gathered in his mouth. How accommodating. He amassed a glob of blood on his tongue and sent it flying at the commodious mammoth. Then he grinned, no doubt looking utterly ridiculous with crimson covering his teeth and dribbling down his chin.
The man growled, his hand flexing around the knife. “I can make you cry. I can make you beg for your life.”
Grey’s grin turned into a grimace as the knife dug into his shoulder. He was accustomed to pain. He could handle it.
He shut his eyes as the blade slowly began tearing a jagged trail across his chest like a sash, agonizingly deep. Every inch was unbearable. His hands fisted and his teeth ached from the pressure of his jaw, but hell if he would scream so easily. Not out loud, at any rate.
Progress on the new canal halted midway through.
“Rather unsporting to stop now,” Grey forced out. “Carry on.” Get the bloody thing over with! was what he meant to say.
He heard voices, people arguing, and then liquid was splashed over the wound, rendering the pain a hair past excruciating. A moment later, the knife was back to finish its work.
The rut the colossus was gouging reached his cracked ribs, and soon, Grey was growling through gritted teeth. His were not the torturous screams Johnny’s had been. Those would come later—he had no doubt—but not yet.
He was distantly aware of a door swinging open and the knife being lifted, but by then he was fading in and out of consciousness. Reality rippled into obscurity. Only the pain kept him rooted in the present, reminding him where he was and what was happening to him.
There was so much blood. He felt it streaming off his torso like a damned waterfall onto the table, but he couldn’t open his eyes to survey the damage. He hadn’t the strength. He had been held in a cell without food and with very little water for days. How could they possibly expect him to rattle off the twenty-two names if he hadn’t the strength to speak?
Of course, he would cut out his own tongue before he gave them a single syllable.
The Earl of Grenville’s voice echoed in his head, but Grenville was still in Calais, heading up the other team there. Grey must be dying or already dead.
“Too fast,” he mumbled. “Should hurt more. Don’t deserve—”
“Greydon, goddammit, pull yourself together. It’s merely a flesh wound!”
It was just like Grenville to understate the circumstances. Control panic, he always said, control the situation.
Grey laughed feebly, but it cost him. The pain was monstrous. His fractured bones vied for precedence over the nasty geyser of blood across his chest. Then he was sinking again into the black depths of unconsciousness where the pain ebbed, where the duty and disappointments of this life slipped away to nothingness. There were no more shadows to chase, innocents to protect, or king and country to defend. He had been waiting some time for this kind of black abyss to swallow him up.
Now he let it, gladly.