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Lucy Lane and the Lieutenant

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«Lucy Lane and the Lieutenant» - Хелен Диксон

A Dangerous Mission, a Passionate Past…Nathan Rochefort has never understood why his fiancée Lucy Lane broke off their engagement. But now, faced with a treacherous mission, he needs her skills more than ever…Lucy has put her handsome officer and his betrayal firmly behind her – until Nathan explodes back into her life, a fierce reminder of all the hopes and dreams she once held dear.In the depths of the Portuguese mountains Lucy and Nathan succumb to the intensity of their feelings, little realising that the consequences of one stolen night will link them together – for always.
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Lucy’s whole body began to tremble as his lips descended to hers, and she sought to forestall what her heart knew was inevitable by reasoning with him.

Lucy’s whole body began to tremble as his lips descended to hers, and she sought to forestall what her heart knew was inevitable by reasoning with him.

‘This isn’t what we planned,’ she whispered, shuddering as his lips trailed a hot path across her cheek to seek her ear. ‘You promised …’

He smothered what she had been about to say with his mouth, kissing her long and deep until Lucy shivered with the waves of tension shooting through her. The instant he felt her trembling response his arm tightened, supporting her.

‘Don’t worry, Lucy,’ he murmured huskily. ‘I’ll stop whenever you tell me to.’

Imprisoned by his protective embrace, reassured by his promise and seduced by his mouth and caressing hands, which had found their way under her shirt to bare flesh, Lucy clung to him, sliding slowly into a dark abyss of desire.

I read numerous books across all genres. I write Historical Romance and I am never not writing.

Lucy Lane and the Lieutenant is set in the Regency period, a time when people lived through one of the most romantic and turbulent ages of British history. Of course you can’t write about the Regency period without the Peninsular campaign popping up somewhere. When I began writing this book I knew very little about it, but what I did know was that novels about that time must have conflict. I wanted to write a story that touched on the campaign but without the battles, for the conflict to be between my two main characters, Lucy and Nathan. It was for this reason that I chose Portugal as a backdrop, when the country was relatively quiet and the battles were being fought over the border in Spain.

Portugal is a world away from Lucy’s life as an actress on the London stage, but when her old love, Nathan Rochefort, a spy in the British intelligence, reappears in her life and asks her to accompany him on an assignment—to rescue a woman and her child being held for ransom by rebels in the mountains in Portugal—being hounded by creditors and tempted by the money Nathan is offering, Lucy agrees to go with him. It’s a rocky road they travel as they make their way into the Sierras, but then the road to true love is never easy.

Lucy Lane and

the Lieutenant

Helen Dickson

HELEN DICKSON was born and still lives in South Yorkshire, with her retired farm manager husband. Having moved out of the busy farmhouse where she raised their two sons, she has more time to indulge in her favourite pastimes. She enjoys being outdoors, travelling, reading and music. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure. It was a love of history that drove her to writing historical fiction.




Title Page

About the Author

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven



Chapter One


The elegant, dignified creature who made her way down the stairs was the very epitome of poise and grace, beautiful and refined. Her gown was magnificent, creamy pale gold satin with tight elbow-length sleeves and a low heart-shaped bodice adorned with delicate golden-white lace. Her maid Polly—a nineteen-year-old redhead who fussed over her like a mother hen, seeing that she got the proper rest, the proper food and all the services suitable to a lady of the theatre—had stacked her hair on top of her head in glossy chestnut curls, leaving three long fat ringlets to dangle down between her shoulder blades.

As she reached the bottom of the stairs Jack was there to take her hand.

‘Happy birthday, Lucy. You look adorable,’ he said, raising her fingers to his lips.

The startling green eyes sprinkled with gold that glinted from under black eyelashes sparkled and the lovely mouth curled with the suggestion of a smile. ‘Thank you, Jack,’ she answered coolly, wishing she didn’t have to attend this party being held in her own house, a small but charming establishment in Leicester Fields. ‘I can’t help thinking all this is a little over the top and premature. I’m beginning to think it would have been more appropriate to celebrate my gaining the part to play Portia when they see how well I perform the role. The cost of all this has practically ruined me.’

‘It isn’t just about that. It is your birthday, darling,’ Jack purred, ‘though how you can be twenty-four when you look much younger defies logic.’

‘And you always were a wretched liar,’ Lucy remarked, laughing softly.

‘You are growing older and wiser, Lucy, I grant you—and more beautiful. Maturity becomes you. Now come along,’ he said, drawing her hand through the crook of his arm. ‘Everyone is waiting for you.’

There was a rousing burst of applause as they entered the tastefully furnished drawing room. Although the house was small, the drawing room was large and airy with windows looking out over a small flower-filled garden. Decorated in shades of white, pale green and gold, with a lovely pearl-grey carpet on the floor, it was an ideal place for entertaining and roomy enough to accommodate several people. A buffet table had been set up, offering a lavish array of food.

They were immediately surrounded and separated, and Lucy found herself being ever so vivacious and charming to a host of actors, writers, poets, romantics and wistful dreamers and a pack of persistent journalists from Fleet Street who bombarded her with questions and compliments. The company would no doubt become rowdier as the evening wore on and more liquor was consumed.

Lucy was one of those lucky people who was hopelessly in love with the very activity from which she made her living and, since her aunt Dora’s savings were now depleted, enabled her to keep the elderly lady in her small but comfortable accommodation. But not for much longer if her finances didn’t improve.

In the theatre nothing was certain and the thought that she might sink into penury was a constant worry for her. The past few years had been a struggle as she sought to achieve some success in the world of theatre—a success that would mean relief from the crushing weight of bills that hounded her daily. Aunt Dora had suggested that she give up her rented house and move in with her, halving the bills, and Lucy knew the day was fast approaching when she might have no alternative. But she had lived with her aunt for most of her life and her independence, which she cherished, had been hard won.

At four and twenty and unmarried, Lucy had been employed as an actress since she was fourteen. Almost a lifetime ago, she reflected somewhat ironically. To play Portia in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice would be her crowning glory. It was a dream she’d nursed since embarking on her career. Opening night was four weeks away. She was terribly excited, but she had much to do before the production took to the stage.

Jack handed her a glass of much-needed champagne. Looking handsome in black-and-white evening attire with an ivory-silk waistcoat, eyelids drooping lethargically over his sleepy brown eyes, his light brown hair neatly brushed, he looked particularly attractive.

‘Thank you for rescuing me, Jack. Those journalists certainly want their pound of flesh—if you’ll pardon the pun,’ she jokingly remarked with reference to Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

Jack cast a casual eye about the crowded room. ‘Nevertheless, those chaps from Fleet Street will grow to adore you. They’ll soon be writing about you, about the most beloved and talented actress that ever graced the London stage—unaffected, a woman who doesn’t give herself airs and graces. Make the most of it while you can.’

Lucy gave him a wry look. ‘They will continue to write about me while my popularity lasts, Jack, but I’m a realist. An actress is only as good as the part she plays. The minute the cream roles begin to dwindle and someone else comes along, prettier and more talented, she will disappear into obscurity. It happens all the time.’

Jack gave her a look of reproach. ‘You are too cynical for your own good, Lucy. Enjoy your fame. It will last, I am sure of it.’

‘You flatter me.

Had I been blessed with the talents of Sarah Siddons I could understand it. As it is I am just one of many actresses trying to earn an honest crust.’

‘You wouldn’t starve if you married me,’ he uttered softly. Lifting a glass of port from a tray on the table, Jack studied her décolletage with an appreciative eye.

Taking a sip of champagne, Lucy smiled tightly. ‘Please, Jack, don’t look at me like that. I’ve asked you not to and I’ve given you my answer. I don’t want to marry you. I don’t want to marry anyone just now. But thank you for the flowers you sent. They are lovely, but I do wish you wouldn’t buy me gifts all the time.’

‘Why not? Nothing is too good for my favourite girl. You’re not objecting, I hope.’

‘No, of course I’m not,’ she answered. ‘They are lovely.’

She’d been on the back foot when Jack had asked her to marry him. His proposal had been totally unexpected. From the beginning she had told herself she wouldn’t refuse his friendship, but anything else was out of the question. He was the youngest son of a peer of the realm, an aristocrat. She was an actress and quite beyond the pale in the upper echelons of society. Men like Jack made women like her their mistresses, they did not marry them—and she couldn’t be sure that Jack would honour his promise, once he had got her into bed. He did have one asset to his credit—he possessed a sizeable fortune. But to marry a man for his wealth alone was distasteful to her.

Since they had met one year ago at the theatre she felt as if her life had been taken hostage. Had she given serious thought to the consequences of yielding to his attentions in the beginning, she’d have turned him away right then and there, refusing his gifts of flowers and a book of sonnets. Yet she had been reluctant to be so harsh, for it had been painfully obvious that he was feeling out of kilter since being wounded out of the army. His first visit had led to another and he was soon squiring her about town on a regular basis. Jack was a ladies’ man and popular in any company. He was also fun and delightful to be with, but she was always careful to keep him at arm’s length and out of her bed.

The truth was that his kisses reached no deeper than her lips and the closeness of his body lit no fires inside her. Some other man had already claimed that privilege by touching his spark to all her deepest and most secret passions. With a kiss that had barely brushed her lips he had breathed his life into her and with his touch as light as a sigh he had marked her as his own.

For a moment she was transported back in time into the arms of her handsome lover, so tall and powerfully built, with eyes as warm as the sun and a smile that melted her senses with wicked pleasure. But that was a long time ago. She had moved on since then. Nothing was to be gained by looking back. She had been bitten once and was determined not to let it happen again. She tried not to think of that time—of the man who had broken her heart—but would find her thoughts turning to him of their own volition. And then she would thrust them away, not wanting the spectre of him to spoil what she had now.

At that moment Lucy’s closest friend, Coral Gibbons, a saucy but talented young actress in a fetching low-cut salmon-pink gown, arrived with her latest beau in tow. Jamie Shepherd with his dark blond hair charmingly tousled was a budding young playwright. Coral gave her an affectionate hug, her hazel eyes sparkling and her wide mouth curled with the suggestion of her pixie smile.

‘You’ll be marvellous as Portia,’ she exclaimed. ‘Although I must tell you that I fancied the part myself. Are you excited?’

‘Of course, Coral. What actress wouldn’t be? It’s a role I’ve always wanted to play and I’m so grateful to Mr Portas for offering me the part.’

‘The great theatrical manager knows a good thing when he sees it. You’ll be an enormous success, I just know it. Your last play was brilliant. You deserve all the acclaim you’ve received.’

Lucy laughed. ‘It’s nice of you to say so, Coral, and though I welcome such praise you do have a habit of exaggerating.’

‘Nonsense! You’ll soon have every theatre manager in London wanting you. You’ve worked hard and you deserve it, love. But don’t work too hard and do think about coming to Ranelagh on Saturday night. You’ll love the Rotunda and the pavilion, and the gardens by moonlight are so romantic. Jamie will be our escort and we’ll have a marvellous time. Bring Jack along if you like. The two of you seem to be getting closer. It’s not gone unnoticed that he hardly lets you out of his sight.’

Coral’s remark brought a disgruntled frown to Lucy’s brow. ‘He is attentive, I agree—so attentive that I’m in danger of suffocating.’

‘I don’t mind telling you, love, that I worry about you. I really do. A woman as lovely as you should have a dozen beaux, should be going out often. I know you had a very unpleasant experience with that man in the past you told me about—the one you were going to marry and then dropped because you found out he’d been unfaithful, but not all men are like that.’


‘Well...’ Coral hesitated. ‘There are a few good ones out there, I feel sure of it. Still, I don’t mind telling you that if I didn’t have Jamie on tap I’d give you some strong competition for Jack.’

‘Be my guest, Coral. I’ve told him I will not marry him, but he’s the persistent type—at least where getting me into his bed is concerned. I’m no naïve, gullible green girl. I don’t believe for one minute that he’s serious about marrying me.’

‘Neither of us is getting any younger, love. My advice to you is to grab him while you can. As his wife or mistress he would be useful. He’s rich and titled to boot—the answer to all your money troubles. Men like that are few and far between.’

‘You’ve noticed,’ Lucy said.

‘Don’t be modest. A woman is always flattered to learn a man finds her attractive.’

‘As you will know,’ Lucy said laughingly. ‘It’s evident Jamie is head over heels in love with you.’ She glanced at Jamie talking animatedly and loudly to Mr Portas.

Coral looked over at her beau thoughtfully. ‘Jamie’s had far too much to drink already and was vociferously declaring himself the greatest English playwright since Shakespeare as we walked along the street. He’s just finished writing his new play and is testing the great man out to see if he might be interested in reading it, but I don’t hold out much hope. Mr Portas doesn’t like new productions.’

‘That’s because they’re expensive, risky and time-consuming. We both know they can be damned into oblivion by the audience on the first night. The cost of new scenes, costumes and music often make it ineligible to a director of a theatre to accept a new play, especially when it’s considered that the reviving of a good play would answer his end of profit and reputation.’

Coral sighed. ‘Unfortunately I think you’re right. Mr Portas always favours a good old English drama. Duels, brooding heroes and doxies, bloodshed and battles, that’s what the public want. I don’t think Mr Portas will give Jamie a moment of his time, but he lives in hope. I’d best go and rescue him, although I have a favour of my own to ask the great man.’ Leaving Lucy to talk to a cheeky reporter, Coral sidled over to ask Mr Portas, a portly, much-liked dramatist—volatile and mercurial when things weren’t going his way—in a slightly rumpled blue suit, if he would consider her for a walk-on part in The Merchant of Venice.

* * *

It was close on midnight when the guests began to depart—some to stagger out in jovial good humour. Lucy was about to say goodnight to Jack when Polly came to her. The girl looked agitated, for she kept wringing her hands.

‘Polly? Whatever is the matter?’ Lucy enquired.

‘There’s a gentleman to see you,’ Polly said hurriedly. ‘He’s in the parlour.’

Lucy looked at her with a measure of amusement. ‘The parlour? Why on earth didn’t he join us?’

‘He said it’s a private matter, Miss Lane. He seemed very anxious to see you, but said he’d wait until your guests had gone.’

Momentarily surprised and curious as to who this visitor could be to call on her at this time of night, Lucy stared at the closed parlour door.

On the point of leaving, Jack came to stand beside her. ‘I think I’d better stay.’

Lucy started to speak, but before she could do so, the parlour door was flung open and a man strode out. He was so tall that the top of his head nearly grazed the door frame under which he instinctively ducked. He wore a black military-style coat with brass buttons and a white linen shirt and neckcloth. His narrow hips and muscular thighs were encased in black breeches and his gleaming black boots came to his knees. His unfashionably long hair was drawn back to the nape and secured. It was as black as his coat. His eyes were as cold as Antarctic ice floes, and gave his face with its high planed cheekbones a harsh expression. His mouth was wide and full, the lower lip with that cruel curve she remembered. A thin scar ran down his left cheek in a tanned face harder than iron and a gaze that could only be described as impudent. The scar only served to add a touch of glamour to the nobility of his perfect features.

Lucy caught her breath in her throat and for a moment the world seemed to stand on its end. Although she had not set eyes on this man for four years, she recognised at once that proud and arrogant form. There could be no mistake.

It was Nathan Rochefort, the man whom she had almost married four years ago, the man she loved—had loved—with all her heart and soul, and now he was the man she most hated in all the world.

The blood drained from her face as she stared at him, unable to comprehend that he was here, in her house. Her heart pounded and her knees grew weak. She steadied herself, willed herself to hold the hysterics at bay. She was paralysed, unable to speak for the moment. The reality didn’t frighten her at all. She was shaken, yes, alarmed, too, and she was mad as hell, but she wasn’t at all frightened as she stared at Nathan. She drew air in her lungs and calmed her trembling body, eyeing him surreptitiously.

There was a health and vitality about him that was almost mesmerising. In all, he was even more handsome than she remembered. It unnerved her, especially when those thoroughly light blue eyes locked on her and slowly raked her. She had forgotten how brilliant and clear they were. In some magical way they seemed capable of stripping the deceit from whatever had passed between them before. It was all she could do to face his unspoken challenge and not order him out of her house.

In that moment the locked chamber in her mind burst wide open against her will and the memories came flooding back, bringing with them all the pain and anguish she had suffered four years ago. As she looked at him, at his fine strong body, she could almost feel again his hands cupping her breasts and a mouth, hot and sweet, caressing the softness of them, kisses bruising her lips and searing down the length of her throat, strong arms crushing her against a hard body, and the bold thrust of this man between her thighs. She blushed profusely at her own musings and immediately banished the memory, stiffening her spine as she recollected herself.

After a courtship of considerable length and a date set for their wedding, without warning to anyone, overwhelmed with anger, humiliation and a deep sense of betrayal when she had discovered his affair with her closest friend, Lucy had broken off their engagement and disappeared from his life.

And now here he was, as large as life, about to insinuate himself into her world once more.

‘I would appreciate a moment of your time,’ he said in low, clipped tones.

‘Indeed! You have no right to come to my home unannounced,’ Lucy said coldly.

‘That is a social nicety I chose to waive. The nature of my visit cannot wait.’ His glance flicked to Jack, who was unable to conceal his astonishment. ‘Please excuse us. What I have to discuss with Miss Lane is of the utmost importance.’ Without more ado he strode to the door which led on to the street and held it open.

Jack looked at Lucy. ‘What the devil is this about, Lucy,’ he demanded. ‘Who is this fellow? I’m damned if I’ll leave you alone with him.’

Lucy knew she had to reassure Jack. He clearly feared for her. What did he expect? What did she expect? ‘It’s all right, Jack. Please don’t worry. This gentleman means me no harm.’

‘You know this man?’

‘Yes. This is...’ She faltered, not knowing how he should be addressed after all this time.

‘Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Rochefort,’ he provided sharply.

His voice had the same rich timbre and Lucy began to wonder if he had any flaw she could touch upon and draw some strength from. ‘Lieutenant Colonel Rochefort and I are acquainted. Don’t worry. Please go, Jack. I’ll speak to you tomorrow at the theatre.’

‘Very well.’ His voice sounded mulish. Turning, he strode in the direction of the stern-looking stranger holding the door open with an impatience that he was clearly finding hard to control. Jack paused, looking into a face a foot above his own. ‘If you touch her, I’ll...’

‘You’ll what?’ Nathan’s lips curled with mild contempt. ‘Goodnight.’ Without more ado he closed the door almost before Jack had time to pass through.

‘You must also leave,’ Lucy said, her tone brisk.

Nathan’s eyes slid towards her and trapped her in their burning gaze. ‘Not yet. We have to talk—if you please—’

‘I do not please,’ Lucy cut him short disdainfully. ‘If you have anything to say to me, you may write to my aunt Dora, who deals with most of my correspondence and engagements. She will tell you if I am able to receive you—if I want to.’

‘I haven’t time for that—although I do intend calling on your delightful aunt. She will not turn me away.’

He was right. Aunt Dora had a soft spot for Nathan Rochefort—always had. He could wind her round his little finger. As handsome as he was, she could imagine that he had grown quite adept at swaying besotted women of all ages to do his bidding. He did seem to have a way about him and she could not fault any woman for falling under his spell, for she found to her amazement that her heart was not so distantly detached as she might have imagined it to be. Even his deep mellow voice seemed like a warm caress stroking over her senses.

Shaking off the effects of what his presence was doing to her, Lucy took herself mentally in hand and reminded herself of all she had suffered at his hands. Better to remain aloof and save her pride.

‘You may be right. Aunt Dora is easily taken in, but my own nature is less trusting.’

He looked at her hard. ‘Then it’s up to me to make you change your mind. We have to talk.’

‘We don’t have to do anything. We have nothing to talk about.’ Considering the turmoil within her, her voice was curiously calm. Her proud, disdainful green eyes met and held his without flinching. For a moment she studied this man, whom she had once loved to distraction. She had believed in him as a god, would have gladly promised to love, honour and obey him had they made it to the altar. So many things had changed after that. As a soldier, when the war with France had broken out, he had left for the Continent. She had got on with her life.

‘You cannot be aware of the impropriety of such a visit at this hour, or you would scarcely have ventured to knock on my door. What you have to say must be very grave indeed to justify such behaviour.’

‘Hospitality would not seem to be your strong point,’ he stated coldly. ‘However, what I have to say to you will take a little time—besides being a somewhat delicate matter.’

Striding to her and taking her arm, he led her into the parlour and banged the door shut with his foot on a stupefied Polly, who remained staring at the closed door for several moments before turning away and setting her mind to tidying up after the guests.

In the parlour, Lucy regained her composure and glared at the intruder, and when she spoke her voice was filled with barely suppressed fury. ‘I really did not think I would see you again. I confess I am astonished at your impudence! We have been apart four years and then you suddenly appear and demand to see me as though nothing had occurred.’

‘It was you who ended the relationship, not me.’

As he spoke, Lucy sensed that he was struggling to contain his anger and decided to speak boldly. ‘Yes, I did. It was my decision.’

‘And like a fool I awaited your explanation—if you had one to offer—of your astounding conduct. Your explanation and your apology. It would appear that you were suddenly bereft of your senses and of the most elementary notions of respect towards me.’

Lucy stared at him, astounded that he should turn the blame for ending their relationship on her. ‘Apology?’ she said clearly. ‘I think it is not I who should apologise.’

He looked at her, his eyes alight with anger. ‘What did you say?’

‘That if anyone has been insulted, it is I! What I did was for the sake of my own dignity. I thank God that before it was too late my eyes were opened and I saw that it would be folly for us to marry. But enough of this,’ she said, having no intention of humiliating herself by raking over old coals that had long since burnt out. ‘I do not have to explain myself and I have no intention of doing so.’

‘I do not ask you to.’

‘Then why are you here? To see whether I should recognise you? To see if you were still at all like my memory of you? After four years, how would I know?’ And she didn’t know, for he was changed. Where she had known him as light-hearted with many pleasant sides to his character, she now perceived an air of seriousness about him. He displayed nothing of the easy, fun-loving man she had once known. Perhaps the hardships and tribulations of the war had stripped all humour from him.

‘I find you greatly altered, Lucy,’ he remarked in a matter-of-fact way. ‘Not to your advantage.’

The brutality of his remark, his look of almost elementary politeness, did not impress Lucy in the least. He had long ago lost the power to intimidate her—even assuming he ever had. On the contrary—his rudeness helped to affirm her self-control and she permitted herself a sly smile.

‘I doubt you have come here to ask me to do duty for a mirror. These past years have not been easy for me, not even profitable, but I don’t see that my private affairs concern you.’

‘I was not referring to your looks, but to what is inside you—and no one asked you to suffer.’

‘No, I know that and I am still here, carrying on, doing what I like doing best. Please say what you have to say,’ Lucy said irately. ‘I have no wish to prolong this interview.’

He smiled crookedly at her under drooping eyelids. ‘No? Surely this is a most affecting moment,’ he stated with heavy irony. ‘Two people once betrothed to each other, together again after such a long absence—especially after believing themselves parted for ever. My dear Lucy, you should be glad to be reunited with the man you loved—for you did love me, my dear. You were quite devoted to me as I recall.’

Lucy had had enough. ‘That will do,’ she retorted sharply. ‘You are amazingly impertinent.’ She was not going to remind him how he had trampled on that innocent love in the bed of her closest friend. ‘You have the audacity to talk about what was between us as if it were merely another of those delightful escapades you men discuss over your brandy.’

Nathan shrugged, but his eyes shifted to avoid Lucy’s sparkling gaze. ‘It was you who, for some reason, turned it into a huge tragedy. From what I understand, I was not the only one to be ostracised by you.’

Lucy’s head came up sharply. ‘Please explain what you mean by that remark? Who are you talking about?’


The name fell on Lucy like a hammer blow. Her eyes flew to his, anger, hot and fierce, in their depths. ‘Please do not mention her name to me. I will not speak of her. If you insist on doing so, then I will order you to leave my house this instant.’

Nathan held up both his hands, palms outward, a warning bell ringing in his mind telling him not to pursue this. But whatever it was that had gone wrong between Lucy and Katherine was raw. That was clear. Knowing this, there was need for caution.

‘I see you haven’t changed, Nathan. Still stuffed with the same arrogance and conceit, which I must confess were two of the attributes I most despised in you.’

He appeared totally unfazed by her stinging barb, which angered her further. ‘Indeed? You should have told me how you felt when we were together.’

‘I doubt it would have made any difference.’

‘It might. Speaking of arrogance and conceit, I see you are closely acquainted with Lambert.’

She glanced at him pointedly. ‘You know Jack? How?’

He shrugged. ‘I have no interest in Lambert. He’s well connected. Unfortunately he wasn’t thought clever enough for anything except the army. After spending a couple of years in the military where he had a tendency to search out opportunities to benefit himself—where he got too comfortable with the camp-followers—the female kind, I might add,’ he said, raising a well-defined brow, ‘I doubt his habits have changed and he continues to dally here and there at his leisure. I’m sure you know the type.’

‘Yes, actually I’m afraid I do,’ Lucy replied, gritting out the words. It nettled her sorely that he should seek to besmirch Jack’s character when his own reputation was far from exemplary.

‘What do you want?’ she demanded. ‘What is the reason for this rude intrusion into my home? You have not sought me out to ask about my health or to discuss the weather.’ He seemed solemn, earnest. She stared into the frank light blue eyes and something fluttered inside her. ‘I have had a long day and I am tired and wish to go to bed, so please get on with it. Say what you have to say and make an end. What do you want?’

He cocked a brow. ‘If I were not a gentleman, I ought to answer you. But however delectable you are, Lucy, that is not why I am here. No. For the present my wants are more practical.’ His lips curved into what could almost be described as a smile, but it did not reach his eyes. He went and sat down in a large tapestry-covered armchair that stood by the fire, stretched out his long booted legs comfortably and looked up at her.

Lucy stood several feet away from him, her arms crossed over her breasts, visibly struggling against a growing anger which made her eyes gleam like two hard green stones. Even now, after four long years—a lifetime, it seemed—he was still the most handsome man she had ever known. There were lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth that hadn’t been there when they had been affianced and the scar was new, but she was sure he could still turn a woman’s head. Which was what had happened to her, when she had been young, naïve and vulnerable to the point of stupidity.

‘The reason I am here, Lucy, is because I wish to enlist your aid in a matter that is of extreme importance.’

Containing her surprise, Lucy stared at him, raising an eyebrow, hoping it would convey her scepticism. ‘My aid? For what, may I ask? Four years ago you did not need me or my aid. Why now?’

Getting to his feet and clasping his hands behind his back, he turned and looked back at her, watching her with a disconcerting gaze. ‘The past is behind us. For the present that is where it must remain. There is the serious business of a war going on and it has demanded my complete attention for the past four years.’

Lucy realised he was serious in his request. He was a tall man, over six feet by several inches, and he seemed at that moment to fill the room. Watching him warily, she didn’t understand where this conversation was leading, although she had a strange tingling in the pit of her stomach, a tingling suggesting she would not be pleased with what he had to say.

‘Please continue.’

For a moment he seemed to lose himself in contemplation. When he next spoke it was in a musing tone. ‘What you don’t know is that from the beginning of the war against France I have been working with a branch of the government which operates completely in secret, a branch which reports only to the Prime Minister. I have been given an assignment in Portugal. It concerns the Duke of Londesborough—who happens to be a very close friend of the Prime Minister.’

The tingling had become an aching dread. Wishing her mouth were not so dry, Lucy cleared her throat. ‘What are you saying? That you are a spy? What nonsense is this? You’d best explain yourself, and quickly, for I have no time to listen to this.’

Nathan did not smile, nor had Lucy really expected him to. Becoming thoughtful, he turned his back on her. Turning to face her once more, he moved closer, pinning her with his penetrating gaze. ‘I spent twelve months in Portugal, where I was wounded and sent back to England to recuperate. When I was restored to health I did not intend going back, but on being given this assignment I am left with no choice but to return. The families concerned mean a great deal to me. I consider it my duty to help them.’

Lucy made an impatient gesture with her hand. ‘I see—although I really don’t see what all this has to do with me. I know absolutely nothing about politics and spying, nor do I wish to.’

‘I can understand that. The majority of women find the subject of no interest and if I remember correctly you were one of them. But I do need your help.’

Lucy had to look away because he was staring at her with such intensity she found it most disturbing. She straightened her skirt as if to straighten her thoughts. The atmosphere in the room was beginning to weigh on her. She was tired and her head was aching.

‘My help?’ she repeated. ‘I really do not see how I can be of any help to you.’

‘I want you to come to Portugal with me—to work with me. I have done such tasks before when a certain degree of discretion is required—it would appear I am rather good at subterfuge. But this time it is different.’

‘How?’ she demanded.

‘Because you will be with me.’

She stared at him incredulously. ‘You want me to become a spy? That is rather far-fetched, even for you. It’s quite ridiculous.’ She laughed, although she did not feel amused. ‘I am an actress—just that. Nothing more and nothing less.’

He gave a low, sardonic chuckle. ‘I’m not asking you to become a spy. It’s true, you are an actress, which is one of the reasons why I have chosen you to help me. You also have other qualities that recommend you. Not only are you beautiful, Lucy Lane, but wise, too, and witty and clever. You have too many talents for a mere actress. I would like you to know that what happened between us before has no bearing on my decision to ask you to assist me in this. It was a purely practical decision. It is my opinion that you are ideally suited for the mission I have been set.’

For a span of several heartbeats she said nothing, then, ‘I will not agree to do whatever it is you require of me. I refuse to do it. I will not. Let me remind you that I have no talent for the—the profession you propose, that it is altogether strange to me. You are asking me to give up the theatre—for if I agree to this mad scheme that is what it will amount to and I cannot afford to let that happen. I have a safe and comfortable profession, one that I happen to like. I will not give it up for something so uncertain. What is it you would have me do? What is so important about this mission?’

Her angry reaction to his request came as no surprise. ‘At present I cannot tell you the whole of it for I have not been fully informed. All I know is that an English woman and her child have been captured by a band of ruthless deserters—soldiers from both sides—and they are being held for ransom in the mountains.’

‘I am sorry. Are they terribly important, this woman and her child?’ she asked, horrified by the woman’s predicament.

‘To her family, yes, she is. You will be working with me. I can’t pretend that it won’t be a great undertaking for you. Where we are going is exceedingly dangerous. Going through the lines is perilous in the extreme. You will be put at risk.’

Lucy’s eyes opened wide. ‘And you would expose me to such danger?’

‘With reluctance, believe me, but it is necessary.’

‘But—why me?’ she asked, slightly bewildered. ‘Surely the risks would be lessened were you to take someone who is accustomed to Portugal—to the mountains—a soldier, perhaps.’

‘If I could be certain the captives have come to no harm then, yes, it would. Unfortunately the woman was wounded when she was taken hostage. If she has not died of her wound then she will be considerably weakened by her captivity. The journey out of the mountains will not be easy. I need a woman to take care of her—and her child.’

‘But—how can you ask this of me?’

‘You are the only one I can ask, the only one I can trust. I ask you to trust me, Lucy.’

‘Trust you?’ She shook her head in disbelief. ‘I think not. Either I am mad, sir, or you are.’

The savagery in her tone startled him. ‘We don’t have much time. I ask you to think about it.’

‘I have. We haven’t seen each other for four years. Much has changed. We have changed. My answer is no. Now I would like you to go. We have nothing else to say to each other.’

He cocked a brow nonchalantly. ‘No? Tell me, what have you been doing for the past four years? When I left for Spain I heard you had left London with a travelling theatre company.’

‘I did—not that it is any of your business. For three years I worked in the provinces, gradually building my reputation before returning to London. I was lucky. I got the breaks I needed.’

‘I am sure talent had something to do with it—having observed you on several occasions on stage.’

Taken off her guard by this, she stared at him with surprise. ‘You have? I didn’t know.’

‘How could you? I was careful not to let you see me. However, I would add that many women are beautiful, but very few have that personal magnetism that marks them out. I believe your aunt Dora had it, too. She was the toast of the town in her day.’

He was right. Aunt Dora had been an actress by profession. She had seen Lucy’s potential and put her on the stage. It had paid off.

Lucy was too beautiful not to have been the recipient of many admiring looks and advances from men. Usually she brushed them aside with a laugh that conveyed the message but gave no offence. Nathan was not like that. When he had remarked on her beauty he had been stating a fact. He did not flatter. He did not smile invitingly. They knew each other too well for that. There had always been an arrogance about him. Now he seemed harder and self-absorbed. Had the war done that to him? she wondered.

Her expression was one of contempt. ‘Why, what’s this? Flattery from you? Coming from you it is insincere and I prefer you didn’t use it on me.’

‘It’s not flattery. I am sincere in what I say. You know, you make me almost sorry for the past. You were beautiful then but now, with a maturity about you, you are more so. No man could help but desire you. It suits you to be angry. It makes your eyes sparkle.’

He let his eyes dwell appreciatively on her lovely face and caress the long, graceful throat and the proud curves revealed by the low-cut bodice of satin and lace. ‘Don’t play the fool with me, Lucy. You are an accomplished actress. Moreover, you speak French like a native. That is a valuable asset for what would be expected of you.’

‘I have no mind to get myself killed for a cause that is nothing to do with me.’

‘You cannot refuse to at least give me the opportunity to change your mind.’

‘It would be a waste of time. My mind is made up.’

‘Is there nothing I can say to induce you to agree?’

‘No. Nothing. That is my last word. There is no point in our meeting again.’

‘Shall I command you, Lucy?’

Her eyes blazed. ‘No man commands me.’

She turned her back on him to walk away. Suddenly her arm was grasped in a vice-like grip and she was spun round. So surprised was she that it took a moment before she realised that his arms were encircling her and he was drawing her against his hard frame.

‘No! Don’t you dare! Leave me alone—you—you brute! Let me go...’

He smothered her objection with a hungry, wildly exciting kiss. Temporarily robbed of her anger that had fortified her resistance, Lucy’s traitorous body lost its rigidity and the scream of warning issued by her mind was stifled by her pounding heart and the shocking pleasure of being held in the strong arms of the man she had believed she would never see again.

His mouth opened and twisted across hers, his tongue thrusting through as his arms crushed her in his embrace. Her world careened crazily as his mouth became insistent, demanding, relentless, snatching her breath as well as her poise. The whole of her body seemed to burst into flame. The feel of him, the smell of him, all combined to transfix her. She was caught up in the heat of a battle she could not hope to win. Her weapons had died, her wits fled. The hard, muscular chest, warm through the cloth of his coat, tightened against her meagrely clad chest, and she was aware of the heavy thudding of his heart while her own throbbed a new frantic rhythm.

His warm lips moving on hers, the sensation of his body pressing against hers—it was all so achingly, poignantly, vibrantly familiar to her. Trailing his mouth across her cheek, brushing insistent kisses along the sensitive curve of her neck and ear, Nathan let his hands slide into her hair, tilting her face up to his, and his eyes held hers, teasing, challenging.

‘I’m glad to see you haven’t forgotten how to kiss, Lucy.’

Before Lucy could utter a reply, his parted lips came down on hers again in another long, searching kiss. Lost in a stormy sea of desire, confusion and yearning, Lucy felt his hand splay across her lower spine, forcing her closer to him, but instead of resisting she slid her hands up over his shoulders, unwittingly moulding her melting body to the hardening contours of his. A shudder racked his muscular body as she fitted herself to him and Nathan’s arms tightened, crushing her.

Fighting back the wild urge to lay her down on the carpet and take her then and there, Nathan dragged his lips from hers and drew a long, unsteady breath, slowly expelling it.

Surfacing slowly from the mists of desire, Lucy stared into his hypnotic eyes, dazedly watching their colour and mood change from the smoky darkness of passion to their usual enigmatic pale blue, while she felt reality slowly return. Her hand was still curved around his neck and it finally dawned on her what she had done. Retracting her arm, she stepped back, but his hand shot out and gripped her wrist.

Nathan’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. ‘My compliments,’ he said curtly. ‘I see you have not forgotten all that I taught you—and that you have learned a great deal more in the past four years.’

Outrage exploded in Lucy’s brain. ‘Are you complaining? Four years ago I imagine you found me excruciatingly naïve. Things have changed, Nathan. I have changed. Now, please leave my house. We have nothing further to say to each other.’

‘I disagree. We will speak of my reason for seeking you out in a day or two when you have had time to think it over.’

‘I will not do it,’ she hissed, pulling her wrist free from his grip.

He looked down at her with disdain. ‘No? You will—in the end.’

For a second, Lucy thought she must be going mad. There was a red mist before her eyes and a storm of utter fury in her heart such as she had never felt before. How could she have let him kiss her? How could she have been so weak?

‘Just what are you implying?’

‘I know that you need the money, Lucy, that things haven’t been going well for you of late. If you behave sensibly, as I hope, and do as I ask, then I promise you will be paid handsomely—a princely sum that will enable you and your aunt Dora to live the rest of your lives without having to worry where the next penny is coming from, without having to work yourself into the ground on the stage.’

For the span of several heartbeats she said nothing, then, ‘I happen to like what I do. Now, get out,’ she whispered fiercely. ‘Get out and don’t come back. I hate you! Oh, how I hate you!’

He gave a twisted smile and his heart flinched before the cold fury in her glittering green eyes. The pallor of that lovely face, the anguish so clearly written there, touched some forgotten chord and had their effect on his cynical nature. He opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it, shrugged, like a man seeking to shift a burden from his shoulder, and crossed the room. With his hand on the door handle he paused and looked back at her.

‘I forgot to wish you happy birthday, Lucy.’ He smiled softly. ‘You see, I do remember.’


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