Authors: Whisper His Name
“Not all women are like you, Abbie
. As a rule, they’re not interested in the breadth of my knowledge, the scope of my interests, or my prodigious … ah … intelligence. They want a man who knows how to charm a woman.”
She shot him a quick look, but there was no hint of humor in his eyes. That shouldn’t have surprised her. Hugh didn’t have much of a sense of humor. She said, “All you lack is practice, Hugh, and that is easily come by.”
“Is it? Now there’s a thought. Would you mind, Abbie, if I practiced with you? I mean, we are friends, and I know you won’t get the wrong idea if I make a fool of myself.”
She’d never seen him look so uncertain. Poor Hugh. He really was a sweet man.
“Of course I don’t mind,” she said. “What else are friends for?”
He tipped up her chin and kissed her.
She froze. This wasn’t what she had in mind, but it was no more than a slight pressure of his lips on hers, then it was over.
“How did I do?” he asked.
She dimpled up at him. “Hugh,” she said, “I’m not your grandmother. If you’re going to steal a kiss from a lady, do try to put a little feeling into it.”
His lips settled on hers, and whatever she’d been about to say was swept away in a flood of sensation. He angled her head back, and the pressure of his mouth increased, opening her lips to him.
He kissed her again and again, each kiss more desperate than the last. Abbie had never known such passion. Her skin was hot, her blood was on fire, her whole body shivered in anticipation. She wanted more, more, more.
The kissing ended as suddenly as it had begun. One moment she was in his arms and the next he had set her away from him. Dazed, she stared up at him.
“How was I this time, Abbie?” he asked.
She blinked slowly. “You were … very good.”
WHISPER HIS NAME
A Bantam Book / March 1999
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Copyright © 1999 by Mary George.
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Paris, December 1814
he man who was after her didn’t look like a killer. He was young and handsome and dressed in the blue uniform of King Louis’s Lifeguards. The English ladies who were shopping in the bustling galleries of the Palais Royal could hardly take their eyes off the blond-haired Adonis. A short while ago, they would have spat on a French soldier, but now that the war was over, the past was forgotten and the English were finding a warm welcome in France.
No one knew this man’s nationality. His facility with languages made it impossible to place him. He had many names and no name. He was a master of disguise. To her, he was simply Nemo, Napoleon’s most feared and fanatical agent.
And he was supposed to be dead.
she wanted to scream. It wouldn’t do her any good. She would only give her position away, and Nemo would get to her before she could say her own name.
She stood stock-still, trying to even her breathing, pretending an interest in the window display of a milliner’s shop in one of the arcades. But she wasn’t interested in bonnets. She was intent on the reflection of the man who was idling his way through the stream of shoppers outside the café Very. When he became lost to view behind one of the stone arches, she attached herself to a group of strollers and moved on to the next arcade.
It took every ounce of willpower not to look over her shoulder to see if he had spotted her. She kept her face averted by pretending an interest in all the shopwindows she passed on the way. When she came to Dessene’s, the bookseller’s, she halted.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Her contact was waiting for her at a bookshop in the rue de Rivoli, but she would never make it that far. She was desperate. She’d had to improvise, and her one hope was that she could persuade old Dessene to deliver the book for her. Then she would draw Nemo off.
The chase was something he could not resist. He was a hunter. He didn’t want an easy kill. He’d allowed her to escape with the book; he’d told her he would give her a sporting chance. Cat and mouse—it was all a game to him, and when he got tired of it, he would kill her.
A year ago, such thoughts would have sent her into a panic. Now, she felt curiously detached. With Jerome gone, nothing mattered anymore except to avenge his death. She wasn’t putting her life in danger for love of country. That was something she’d learned about herself. She wasn’t a true patriot like Jerome. She was driven by hatred of the man who had killed him.
When she entered the shop, a bell over the door rang, and the young woman who was at the counter paying for her purchases gave her a cursory glance. On the floor by
her feet was a basket brimming with books. Dessene was not behind the counter, but a man she had never seen before. She tensed when a customer moved by her to stand beside the young woman with the basket of books. She wasn’t surprised when they spoke in English. They had that look about them. With the man, it was his dark coat and impeccable tailoring; with the girl it was small things—a hemline that was too long, a neckline that was too high. The man was younger than the woman, and there was a strong resemblance between them. Brother and sister, she decided. Jerome had taught her to observe these small details. He’d also taught her to trust her instincts. She didn’t know why, but she liked the look of this fair-haired English girl. But she didn’t like the look of the clerk behind the counter.
A confusion of thoughts raced through her mind. The only reason she had chosen Dessene to pass on the book was because he knew her and Jerome, knew that Jerome was a penniless student, and he’d been kind to them both. But Dessene wasn’t here. She had to do something. At any moment she could be discovered. She had to act quickly. She could hide the book and come back for it later. But if she couldn’t come back, what then?
Her brain worked like lightning. She looked at the English couple and made her decision. With her own volume in her hand, she went to stand beside them and “inadvertently” jostled the basket on the floor. When the basket tipped over, spilling the books, she exclaimed over her clumsiness, quickly stooped down, and exchanged her own book for one from the basket.
She completed the transaction not a moment too soon, for the English girl bent down to help. Their hands met on the handle of the basket.
“It’s my fault,” said the English girl in slow but precise
French. “I should not have left my basket on the floor for someone to trip over.”
She had kind eyes and a kind smile.
And all unknowingly she had just become involved in something that was supremely dangerous.
There was nothing she could say to warn the English girl without provoking a spate of questions. With a smile and a nod she straightened, then casually moved to the back of the shop. When the bell over the door rang, she turned slowly. Nemo wasn’t alone. He was accompanied by two other Lifeguards. He said something to the English girl. When she blushed, the Lifeguards laughed. Her own heart had stopped beating. Had Nemo seen her pass the book to the English girl? She let out a soft sigh when he stood aside to allow the English couple to leave the shop. Then she slipped behind the last stack of books and made for the back door.
Before she opened the door, she felt in her coat pocket for her pistol. It should have been primed and ready for use, but she’d grown careless of late. The war was over, she’d reasoned. Napoleon was exiled on Elba. Nemo was supposed to be dead. It was time to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Jerome was more cautious than she. She should have listened to him, and now it was too late.
As she pushed through the door into rue de Montpensier, an ice-cold rage possessed her. It wasn’t too late. She had another mission now. She had to give the English girl time to get away. If she, herself, escaped, she would track the girl down and retrieve the book. If not, she had to believe that the girl would work out the significance of what she’d been given and get it to the right people.
She darted between two stationary horse-drawn wagons and crossed to the other side of the street. At the corner
of the alley, she halted and glanced over her shoulder. Nemo was framed in the bookshop’s doorway. He had a gun in his hand. She wasn’t afraid of the gun; she was afraid of being taken alive.
He gave a shout when he saw her. She wanted him to see her, wanted to draw him off. Jerome had trained her for this work, but she’d never been tested until now. This was one test she would not fail.
He was smiling that superior smile of his that she detested. No one ever got the better of Nemo. He was arrogant; he was pitiless. One day, she prayed God, he would meet his match.
She let the rage take her.
Come on you murdering swine! Come and get me!
As they started after her, she dashed into the alley and began to run. The few people who were in her way took one look at the pistol in her hand and cleared a path for her. Her pursuers were gaining on her, but no shots rang out. It was just as she thought; Nemo would want to make the kill by himself.
She saw her target halfway along the alley—the brazier of the street seller, Thibeault. The aroma of hot pies and buns made her heart wrench. A memory came sharply into focus—she and Jerome stopping for a hot pie on their way home from the theater.
In a last burst of speed, she gained the brazier. She knew then that this was the end for her. Her lungs were burning, her legs were cramping, her stamina was gone. But her rage had not diminished. And it was rage that conquered all her fears.
She pointed her pistol at Thibeault’s head. “Open the door of the brazier,” she snapped out.
When the street seller hastened to obey, she thrust the
book into the hot coals. “Now get out of here,” she said harshly. “Save yourself,” and she quickly spun around to face her assailants.
As her pistol came up, they fanned out. Her eyes went to Nemo. A slow smile spread across his face. He’d seen her burn the book and thought he’d won. She’d bought the English girl some time after all.
Everything was now in the hands of God.
She leveled her pistol at Nemo and thought of Jerome. The first shot flung her back against the terrified street seller. They died in a hail of bullets.
Bath, February 1815
he gloves were about to come off. That was the thought that flashed through Abbie’s mind when her brother-in-law rose from the table and, on the flimsiest pretext, led Miss Fairbairn, her paid companion, from the room. Her suspicions were confirmed shortly after when her older brother, Daniel, signaled the footman to retire. The room had emptied of everyone who was not a Vayle. Vayles never washed their dirty linen in public.