Authors: The Spy Wore Blue
Copyright © 2013 by Shana Galen
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For Sharie, who challenges and inspires me always.
Somewhere in Naples, winter 1816
Blue could no longer feel his fingers or his toes. The snow was as high as his knees, and though he was not a particularly tall man, he was not short either. He stood shivering, staring at the third-floor window of the building across the narrow Italian street in Naples. The dark stone blended with the approaching dusk, but the glow of the warm windows gave the building a cozy feel.
Somehow Blue doubted his reception would be quite so cozy.
With a sigh, he started for the building’s entrance. He paused in the vestibule for a moment, allowing the warmth to settle over him and melt away some of the chill. He gave the steps a grim stare and began his ascent. It was better this way. Better to meet her here and not the theater, where she might inadvertently—or quite advertently—reveal his true identity.
She was one of the few who knew it.
The very few.
He climbed the stairs, nodding, and saying, “Buona sera” when a diminutive white-haired man hobbled past him. When he reached the third floor landing, he stopped before the door to the flat facing the street and knocked once, quietly. No need to attract the attention of the entire building.
No answer. No movement inside. He hadn’t expected her to be home. She would be at the theater at this time of the evening. With a quick glance over his shoulder, Blue withdrew a long, thin metal piece and inserted it into the keyhole. A quick twist and the door opened. Did the woman have no sense whatsoever? A child could pick that lock. He stepped inside, a floorboard creaking under his weight, and closed the door softly behind him. She’d left a brace of candles burning on the table—how could anyone be so careless?—and half her wardrobe flung about the threadbare rugs on the floor. Books, flyers, papers, and magazines were scattered across the small worn couch and sunken chair. Teacups littered the lone side table, and a fat orange cat eyed him from its place on the bed, partially hidden from view by a Chinese screen. What might have been her supper sat, only half eaten, beside a novel and a musical score on the small dining table. She must have been reading and lost track of time.
But for all the clutter, the flat was warm and comfortable. It was tiny—there really wasn’t room for a couch and chair—but he knew she didn’t mind disorder. The bed in particular beckoned. The coverlet looked fluffy and soft and the pillows plump and inviting. How long since he had slept? Days? Weeks?
What would it hurt to lie down on the bed for a quarter hour? She was at the opera house. She wouldn’t be back for hours. Knowing how opera singers were, she might not even return home tonight. He had nowhere else to be.
Blue mulled the idea over in his mind as he lifted this and that, inspecting her belongings. He didn’t need to search her room—she wasn’t a suspect of any sort—but he was a spy. He could hardly resist. And he wasn’t searching exactly. He was only having a look about. No harm in that. He didn’t see wine bottles or any gin, but he had no doubt if he searched hard enough, he would find her hiding place.
What amazed him was how many little knickknacks she had—a porcelain figurine here, a little bell there, a small bust, a half dozen paintings needing to be hung. He wasn’t certain where she would find the space. She already had tapestries, shawls, and paintings hung on almost every available wall surface. Most of the paintings featured shiny fruits in large wooden bowls. Looking at all of the fruit made him suddenly quite hungry.
He lifted a rosetta roll from her dinner plate and bit into it while making his way to the bed. “Hello, cat,” he said to the feline staring at him with large green eyes. The cat jumped off the bed and walked gingerly, nose in the air, to the couch. Blue thought about removing his boots, then decided against it. He might need to be up and out in a moment’s notice.
He lay down on the bed before remembering he hadn’t locked the door again. It was careless to leave it open, but it was a testament to how weary he was that he decided to leave it be for the present. Blue put his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. She’d hung little crystals above the bed, and the light reflecting from the brace of candles danced and flickered above him. It was pretty, if one liked that sort of thing.
Blue didn’t know whether he liked it or not. He had a room he rented in London. It contained a bed, a desk, a chair, and a wardrobe. What else did a man need? He had been thinking about buying a rug, but thus far it had been too much effort. He would have to consider size and color and texture, and when did he have time to shop for rugs? Blue rolled over and studied Helena’s rug, moving aside several garments to see it better. It was thick and plush and a sort of cream color. He liked it. Maybe he should ask where she’d acquired it.
He closed his eyes briefly, and though he might have expected to dream of enormous bowls of fruit chasing him or flickering crystals turning into roaring infernos, he dreamed of nothing, succumbing to the black peace of sleep.
She had not left the door unlocked. She might have been in a rush. She might have forgotten her gloves—again—but she remembered locking the door because she’d dropped the key three times. She remembered because her nerves were frayed. This was the last night they would perform Rossini’s
L’Italiana in Algeri
before closing for a fortnight to ready the next production. She wanted her last night on stage as Elvira to be perfect.
Her fingers had been shaking badly, as they did at times when life felt particularly overwhelming, and she hadn’t been able to lock the door. She’d clenched her fists tightly and willed her hands to still before successfully inserting and turning the key.
Now, when she put the key soundlessly in the keyhole, she found the door unlocked. Helena held her breath, and the cheers and applause of the audience faded from her mind. All she could hear was the rush of the blood thrumming in her ears. She touched her cloak, where she’d had a pocket made for the delicate pistol she carried when she had to be out alone at night, and felt its reassuring weight.
The intruder, were he still inside, could not have heard her. Signora Giansante, the woman who lived across the hall, screamed at Helena in rapid Italian and threatened to have her thrown out on the street if Helena made even the smallest sound in the wee hours of the night. Helena wanted to keep this flat, so she’d had much practice at moving soundlessly through the building when she returned home after a performance.
She removed the key from the lock and pushed her well-oiled door open ever so slowly. Avoiding the creaky floorboard in front of the door, she stepped over it, and entered her room. It looked as she’d left it. Tommaso, her striped ginger cat, blinked at her from her table, where he was eating the remains of her dinner, and she relaxed slightly. She’d half expected her room to be ransacked, but nothing appeared out of place. Her gaze traveled over the space and then came to rest on the black boot peeking out from the screen beside her bed.
There was a man in her bed. She drew in a sharp breath, irritated now. Did Damiano think
was the way to win her? Surprising her in her own bed? She would oust him quickly and unceremoniously. She didn’t care how perfectly angelic his face. She stomped over to the bed, her slippers making a barely audible
on the rug, opened her mouth, rounded the screen, and stared. She managed to stop the scream in her throat only because she’d had years of vocal training.
It was not Damiano.
And oh, how she wished it were. She’d rather anyone be in her bed than this man, though she supposed if any man had a right to be in her bed it was he, her husband.
As though sensing her presence—and knowing him, he probably had—he opened his eyes and stared at her. His eyes were still impossibly blue. She’d never seen another person with eyes that color. They were so startlingly blue that they were all most people could see when they looked at his face. But she’d seen him too many times, and she could look past the eyes—to the high planes of his cheeks, the tousled brown waves of hair curling about his ears, and the soft, sensual mouth. Oh, the things he knew to do with that mouth. She loved the things he did with that mouth.
“Mrs. Bloomington,” he said.
Speaking was not one of the things she loved. In fact, she suspected, were they to have never spoken, their marriage might have lasted several months longer.
“I prefer Miss Giles,” she said in English. The language clunked in her mouth, so used to Italian was her tongue now.
He sat. “You would. I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”
“I doubt that.”
He flashed her a grin. Horrible man. He still had all of his teeth. Why couldn’t one or two have rotted and fallen out? “I did not intend to fall asleep.”
She cocked her head. “I am certain
sleeping is the reason you chose to lie down in my bed.”
“I need to speak with you.”
“Get up,” she said. He obliged without argument. He stood, leaving behind an indention in the shape of his perfectly formed male body. He wore a greatcoat of charcoal wool, but she could see the flash of green silk underneath. So that had not changed. He still dressed as a dandy. She’d taught him that. She’d taught him the art of disguise and distraction. If people stared at his ostentatious clothing, they did not look at his face. As a spy, he preferred people not look at his face, though if he remembered what she’d taught him, he could disguise that too.
“Helena,” he began. The sound of her name on his tongue made her breath catch in her throat, and she backed away. She’d liked him better when he was lying down. He hadn’t seemed quite so real then, quite so tall and muscled and masculine.
“Miss Giles,” she corrected and continued her retreat through the room. He followed.
“I wanted to speak to you before—”
She opened the door to her room. “Get out.”
He raised a brow, appearing otherwise unimpressed by her order. “I will leave as soon as we talk.”
“I do not want to talk to you,” she hissed, aware of Signora Giansante across the hall. “I do not want to see you. Go away and leave me alone.”
“That’s not possible.” He reached for the door, grabbed it, and attempted to close it, but she would not relinquish her hold. They struggled for a moment, though she knew if he really wanted to close it, he would do so, and then he leaned close to her and said, “If you will allow me to explain, I will leave.”
He smelled like England. She couldn’t have said what England smelled like, exactly, but it was warm tea, verdant glades, and the damp earth after a rain. It was roses and hot cross buns and ruins of ancient castles.
He smelled like home.
She swallowed. “You cannot spring, unannounced, back into my life, Ernest.”
He winced at her use of his Christian name. She knew he preferred his code name, Blue. But Blue was a color, not a name.
“I am not here to push my way back into your life,” he said. “I am here on a mission.”
“Oh, even better. Even better! Now you really must get out.”
Signora Giansante’s door flew open, and the short stout woman stood red-faced, hands on her hips. “Porca puttana!”
Helena clenched her teeth and ignored the rest of the woman’s diatribe. She glared at her husband, who was staring at Signora Giansante with undisguised wonder. No doubt he had rarely heard so many epithets uttered in one vitriolic stream. “Let’s go.” She clutched his arm and pulled him into the hallway. As soon as she touched him, images of their past ignited in her mind. She saw her hands sliding down his sleek chest, the fall of his hair over his forehead when he bent to lick her breasts, the trembling of his bicep as he strained to control himself so she could climax first.
Signora Giansante continued her lecture—“Non me ne frega niente!”—as Helena stumbled into the stairwell and down the steep stairs, pulling Ernest with her and trying to block the thoughts making her burn. Signora Giansante’s voice followed them all the way to the vestibule. Helena thrust the door open and stepped into the night. The wind whipped behind her, blowing her cloak around her feet, and as glad as she was for the distraction the biting chill provided, she silently cursed the man across from her for forcing her out into the cold night again.
“Who was that?” he asked.
“Someone I would have preferred not to anger,” she answered. “Are you happy now? Content?”
“No. I really must speak with you.”
“Fine.” She crossed her arms, for warmth as much as defiance. “What do you wish to say?”
“I am here on assignment for the Barbican group.”
This did not surprise her. His beloved Barbican group. There was nothing he would not do for them. Something moved in the alley across from them, and she squinted. It was probably a cat or a dog. Poor creature to be outside on this bitter cold night.
“I didn’t plan to come to Italy,” he was saying, “but all my information led me here. To the Teatro di San Carlo.”
Now she started. She hadn’t really been listening. She’d been staring at the dog, which she now thought might be a horse, but his mention of the theater—
theater—captured her attention.
“No,” she said. “No. I don’t care why you are here or what you are doing. You are not welcome at Teatro di San Carlo.”
“That is what I am trying to tell you. I
welcome there. I begin work tomorrow—what the devil are you doing?”
She reached into her cloak and pulled the cold pistol free. She did not like this. Not one bit. A woman on her own for many years, she had learned to protect herself. She felt uneasy at the sight of the man crouching in the shadows beyond. She didn’t intend to kill him; she was simply going to scare him.
But something went wrong. A sound startled her or the wind knocked her cloak in front of her eyes, and the pistol went off before she was ready. She swore, watching as the man fled. She was usually a much better shot. She did not know how she could have missed him. Blue would certainly have some criticism or other. But when she looked for him, he was gone. She heard a moan and looked down, then gasped when she saw Blue in a dark heap on the scarlet-stained snow.