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Authors: Michelle Diener

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #General

Banquet of Lies

BOOK: Banquet of Lies
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Praise for Michelle Diener’s
The Emperor’s Conspiracy,
a
Publishers Weekly
 “Best Book” of the Year

“Diener delivers a rousing read.”


Publishers Weekly

“An exciting historical romance perfect for fans of
The Tudors
! What an amazing plot . . . with a twist of intrigue. It was so difficult to put this book down.”


Fresh Fiction

“If you love historical novels with a touch of suspense and a hint of mystery, Michelle Diener’s latest novel,
The Emperor’s Conspiracy
, is sure to please. The author has a knack for writing snappy, action packed novels . . . pure delight for those who love to escape into a page-turner.”


Historical Novel Review

“A fantastic novel! Michelle Diener has a way of bringing the past alive. . . . I was entranced.”


Peeking Between the Pages

“Ripe with passion. . . . If you’re a fan of historical fiction that incorporates specific events from the past, then I highly recommend this book.”


Girls in the Stacks

“A very fast-paced plot . . . had me flipping the pages as fast as I could.”


My Reading Room

“Fabulous . . . I was enjoying it so much I was not ready for it be over!”


Books Devoured

“I closed the book with a smile.”


Caffeinated Book Reviewer

Praise for Michelle Diener’s Tudor novels,
In a Treacherous Court
and
Keeper of the King’s Secrets

“Richly detailed historical setting and intrigue-filled plot.”


Chicago Tribune

“Taut suspense. Diener enlivens history.”


RT Book Reviews

“A masterfully spun tale!”


Fresh Fiction

“Compelling . . . fast-paced.”


Publishers Weekly

“The characters are going to hook you first, and the intrigue will keep you turning the pages. Diener’s writing style is beautiful, to the point, vivid and exciting. This author is one to watch.”


Reader’s Entertainment

“Packed with unexpected twists and turns, solid prose, always-fascinating court intrigue, and a unique story.”


Diary of a Book Addict

“Dramatically original with imaginative scenes of suspense and one mystery after another.”


Single Titles

“One fast-paced historical fiction novel! It reads like a thriller.”


Girls Just Reading

“The characters in this book are wonderful and believable. . . . An interesting, emotional, and dramatic story.”


Romance Reviews Today

“An action-adventure-mystery-historical that grabs the reader on page one and doesn’t let go.”

—Kate Emerson, author of
The King’s Damsel

“An enormous talent! I was absolutely enthralled and thoroughly enjoyed every last page of this story!”


Affaire de Coeur

“Diener has set a standard for what good historical fiction ought to be.”


Luxury Reading

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to the real Madame and Monsieur Levéel, and Eric and Nadine, for welcoming me to their home all those years ago and giving me homemade Reine Claude jam and brioche every morning for breakfast, thus spoiling me for life. Thanks also to Edie, as always, and to my beta reader, Jo. Much thanks to my agent, Marlene Stringer, as well as my editor, Micki Nuding, and all the amazing people at Simon & Schuster who helped send this book out into the world in its best possible form.

1

STOCKHOLM
LATE FEBRUARY 1812

“I
hear from the Countess de Salisburg that you collect recipes, Miss Barrington?” The plump diplomat’s wife standing beside Gigi on the edge of the dance floor crinkled her pretty forehead in confusion.

“I do.” Gigi wished the countess had not said anything. No one in the gilt-edged circles she and her father occasionally brushed up against had ever understood her interest in recipes and cooking. “My father’s work takes me to such interesting places, and while he records the fairy tales and folktales from the areas we visit, I like to ask the women what they cook and if they would be willing to share their recipes.”

“What do you do with the recipes?” The woman looked genuinely interested now.

“I’m compiling a reference work of dishes from the cultures of Europe. But mainly I follow them.”

“Follow them . . .” Confused, the woman looked around
the crowded room, as if the people swirling around them could help her. “How?”

Gigi smiled. “The usual way. In the kitchen.”

“You
make
the dishes?” The woman tapped Gigi on the arm with her fan. “With the servants?” Her voice was a squeak.

“With the chef who has accompanied us for the last ten years.”

“Ah.”

A chef was different. A giant step up from a cook.

Gigi always invoked Pierre’s status when the questions became too tiresome. Cooking was considered a strange passion in a young lady. And it
was
a passion.

For her, what people ate, and how they ate, was just as interesting as the stories they told.

An uncomfortable silence fell between her and the diplomat’s wife, and she raised her eyes to the clock. Five more minutes had ticked by since the English ambassador to Sweden, Sir Thornton, had come looking for her father, but he had yet to return.

Her father and the ambassador had met in the early hours of this morning, but something must have happened between then and now to have Sir Thornton so on edge.

It was time to find him.

She murmured her excuses and made for the glass doors leading to the garden, slipping out without attracting any attention.

The glitter of a party in full swing at Tessin Palace lit Gigi’s way, the chandeliers casting a warm glow. Behind her, the rich
and titled of Sweden, along with most of the diplomats in Stockholm, laughed and danced, the sound pleasing and merry.

She took the stairs into the garden carefully, her eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness.

Cold in her thin silk gown, she shivered and felt a sudden, inexplicable dread of the darkness before her. It slowed every step she took away from the bright chatter, as if the air became more solid the farther from the light she went. She shrugged off the sensation and forced herself to run lightly down the rest of the stairs, ignoring the prickle of irrational fear at the back of her neck.

The gravel of the garden path was sharp beneath the thin soles of her shoes, although at least free of snow after the warmer weather these last few days. Low box hedges curved and dipped in an intricate pattern before her. She caught the faintest scent of lavender. It was nearing the end of winter, but come summer, she guessed this jewel of a garden would be redolent with the perfume.

No sound could be heard over the muffled merrymaking of the ball, except the murmur of the fountain directly in front of her.

She knew her father was out here somewhere. She’d seen him leave, and had watched the door for his return ever since Sir Edward Thornton had come to ask for him.

She’d never known him to keep anyone waiting this long.

She’d certainly never had to go looking for him before, and she’d been his companion at diplomatic functions since she was sixteen.

She skirted the outside of the intricate box hedge, her satin slippers soundless, moving past dark painted doors set flush against a smooth, white wall. Someone barked out a laugh, and she stopped to listen.

Voices came from the back of the garden.

She followed the sound, walking cautiously on the bruising gravel, and stepped at last onto a smooth brick path that led into an even smaller garden, tucked between two curving walls, directly behind the stables.

She hesitated. If her father was involved in a private conversation, she did not wish to intrude. The men with whom he occasionally had special business usually didn’t want to be recognized or seen in his company.

But there had been something like worry on Sir Thornton’s face when he’d approached her the second time to ask if she’d seen her father. And when they’d been interrupted by a Swedish nobleman, the ambassador had lied smoothly about their topic of conversation, and pretended a relaxed, indolent air that was at odds with the tight grip of his hands on the edges of his waistcoat.

“All will be well.” The unmistakable sound of her father’s voice was clear.

In the limited light, Gigi saw his companion touch his hat in farewell and walk toward the stables, slipping through a door.

She was holding back, waiting for the stranger to be completely gone, when a shadow detached itself from one of the trees and lunged at her father—like an evil
stallu
from Lapland’s
Sami folktales come to life, using the darkness to consume its prey.

Her father gave a hiss of pain, and Gigi saw the gleam of a knife. She stepped closer, ready to shout, and at that moment her father turned his head, jerking away from the blade, and caught her eye.

With a quick movement, he lifted a finger to his lips and then indicated she get down.

“What is it?” The man holding him looked sharply toward the palace, but she was down by then, crouching behind a waist-high marble block.

“Who are you?” Her father was his usual calm self.

“No one you’ll need worry about after tonight. Just tell me where it is.”

“Why would I, when you’ve just let me know that I’ll die, whether I tell you or not?”

“Because you have a daughter. Giselle.”

He spoke so normally, so conversationally, she had the terrifying image of him in a drawing room, speaking about the weather and the social scene, indistinguishable from any other man, completely hiding his true nature.

“In a few moments, if you don’t tell me where it is, she’s going to receive a note from you, in handwriting very like your own, asking her to meet you outside. My little friend managed to keep you busy for some time, and I’m sure you’ve been missed by now. She’ll most likely be so eager to find you, she won’t question it.”

“I thought Frederik’s concerns a little too trivial to require
such an urgent meeting.” Her father made no mention of the threat against her.

The man at his back noticed. “And your daughter? Nothing to say? She’s a pretty thing. I might make her very
intimate
acquaintance, if you don’t cooperate.” He spoke with no emotion.

Fear hammered a hard, cold nail into her heart.

BOOK: Banquet of Lies
11.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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