Recipe For Treason
Book Three—The Lady Arianna Series
A diabolical traitor,
who is always just out of reach. . .
England, 1814. Lady Arianna Hadley and her husband, the Earl of Saybrook, want nothing more than to savor a quiet life embellished by the occasional cup of the finest chocolate. However, when they receive orders to travel to Scotland and capture an elusive traitor, they feel their duty to the Crown must come first.
In a laboratory in Scotland, they discover a dying chemistry professor and cryptic papers hinting at a dangerous new discovery now in enemy hands. Racing against time, Arianna and Saybrook pursue their most cunning and dangerous adversary yet through a complex network of intrigue involving exotic chocolates, daredevil aviators, a missing inventor, and a secret recipe that must be recovered at any cost …
A jolt of the coach bounced the open book in her lap, rousing Arianna, Lady Saybrook, from a fitful half sleep. Wincing, she shifted against the leather squabs and flexed her aching shoulders.
“Hell,” she muttered as the wheels hit another frozen rut. This was truly the Devil’s own journey.
Though instead of rolling through fire and sulfurous brimstone, they seemed to be entering a bleak realm of ice and frigid vapors. With each passing mile, the landscape looked more and more leached of all color.
Touching her numb fingertips to the page, Arianna couldn’t help but wish that the handwritten recipe for hot Spanish chocolate might transform from ink and paper into a pot of steaming, spice-scented liquid. Despite the fur throw wrapped around her, she was chilled to the bone by the damp cold seeping in through the creaking woodwork.
And the weather looked to be turning worse.
December was not an auspicious time to be traveling from London to Scotland. Not that there had been any choice, Arianna reminded herself with an unhappy sigh.
Peering out the windowpane, she saw that large flakes of snow had begun to fall, smudges of dull white against the grim grayness of the windswept moors. A shiver skated down her spine. There was something about the dark, desolate surroundings that stirred a prickling of unease.
Her two companions, however, appeared untouched by worry. Alessandro Henry George De Quincy, the fifth Earl of Saybrook—and her husband of little more than a year—was slumbering quietly on the facing seat, his long legs wedged against her bench to steady himself against the bumps. Basil Henning, his good friend and former military comrade, was not quite so peaceful in repose. His raspy snores were growing louder by the minute.
But then, Henning was always a little rough around the edges—stubbled chin, wrinkled clothing, irascible temper . . .
A clench of guilt squeezed at her chest. He wouldn’t be forced to make this miserable trek if it hadn’t been for his loyalty to her and Saybrook in previous adventures.
“Damn Grentham,” swore Arianna under her breath, tucking the wrap tighter around her middle. The government’s Minister of State Security was renowned as a ruthless, manipulative master of intrigue. Most people feared him and didn’t dare to challenge his authority.
But not me.
“He is not a good man to have as an enemy,” she acknowledged in a wry whisper. A fact that hadn’t stopped her from jabbing a needle into his puffed-up vanity on several occasions.
She had won those skirmishes. But as for the war . . .
Another lurching bump. And then all went very still.
“Why are we stopping?” she asked in a louder voice.
Saybrook came instantly awake. Leaning close to the opposite window, he brushed a hand to the fogged pane and squinted into the swirling shadows. “Perhaps a tree has fallen across the road.”
Henning was slower in opening his eyes. “Auch, or perhaps a bloody rein has snapped, or a spoke has cracked,” he grumbled, rubbing at his unshaven chin. “There are a hundred—nay, a thousand—things that can go wrong on these miserable rutted roads of Yorkshire.”
“Thank you for the cheery note of optimism, Baz,” quipped Saybrook.
“If you want sweetness and light, you should have headed south and caught a ship to the balmy shores of Catalonia,” retorted his friend. The earl was, in fact, half-Spanish, a fact that only added to his reputation for eccentricity among the Polite Society of London. “Heaven knows, we would all be far more comfortable there than in this godforsaken wilderness.”
“I’ll step outside and see what the problem is. If there is an obstacle blocking the way, José may need a hand.” Saybrook buttoned his overcoat and, after a hint of hesitation, eased the carriage pistol from its holster by the door before reaching for the latch.
Arianna frowned. “You expect trouble?”
“It is always wise to be prepared—”
One of the windowpanes suddenly exploded in a shattering of silvery shards.
“Get down!” ordered the earl calmly as he ducked low and shoved the door open with his shoulder. “Arm yourselves. The dueling pistols are in their case under the chess set, and the cavalry weapons are in my valise,” he added. “Baz, you guard the left while I reconnoiter on the right.” And with that, he rolled out into the gloom.
Henning’s sleepy scowl vanished. Like Saybrook, he was a battle-toughened veteran of the Peninsular War. The bullet did not spark panic, merely a short, sarcastic laugh.
“Ah well, we did ask for things to get a bit warmer.” His lips pursed as he pulled out the rosewood box and checked the priming of the sleek pistols. “Here, you had best keep one of these fancy barking irons, Lady S. You’ve already proved you know how to use it.” The matched pair had been a gift from the Russian Tsar, who had professed his undying admiration for her marksmanship during their recent stay in Vienna. Her shot had saved . . .
Be damned with old enemies—there were new ones to face.
Arianna took the pistol and then slipped a sheathed knife from her reticule and pushed it into her pocket. The long, slim blade was deceptively dainty looking. Its steel was lethally sharp.
“There is something to be said for possessing an unladylike expertise with deadly weapons,” she replied.
Henning’s chuckle died away in the sound of splintering wood as another bullet smashed through the casement. “Stay here and keep low.” He crawled over her tangled skirts and unlatched the far door. “I’ll go cover Sandro. Whoever is out there is in for a rude surprise.”
“Rude, indeed,” she echoed before following on his heels.
Cold spiked through her as she hit the ground and slithered into the shelter of the spoked wheel. The light, gray and grainy as gunpowder, was fast fading behind the weathered clefts of granite, leaving the narrow road through the ravine shrouded in shadows.
Squinting, she tried to bring the hazy shapes into focus. Sounds were just as muffled—all she could hear above her pounding heart was the nervous snorts of the horses and the rush of a nearby mountain stream tumbling down through the rocks.
Damn. Arianna drew in a deep breath and held herself very still.
No sign of movement up ahead, no stirring of . . .
A scuff—and then a step, coming from the rear of the carriage.
Easing back the weapon’s hammer to full cock, she moved forward for a better angle of view.
Swoosh, swoosh. The faint whisper of wool brushing against leather. A moment later, the dark flutter of a greatcoat, skirling around a pair of well-worn boots.
Not those of her husband or his friend.
Arianna tightened her grip on the butt. Her hands were so cold that she could barely feel any sensation in her fingers.
“Ha.” With a low hiss, the stranger dropped to a crouch by the wheel and raised a rifle. “I see you now, behind that rock,” he muttered under his breath. “One . . . two . . .”
“Drop your weapon before I count to three,” said Arianna, moving the pistol to within a hairsbreadth of his temple. “Or you are a dead man.”
His jaw twitched in shock.
“And in case you are wondering, I’m an excellent shot,” she went on. “Not that any aim is required at this distance to blow your skull to Kingdom Come.”
Snarling a low, savage oath, he tried to swing around, but the rifle barrel knocked against the iron rim and went off with a deafening bang.
At the same instant a sharper shot rang out, and a gurgle of blood spurted from the man’s jugular as the earl’s shot tore open his throat. He pitched forward and fell facedown on the hardscrabble ground, a viscous black pool quickly spreading over the snow-dusted stones.
Wrenching her gaze up from his lifeless form, Arianna spotted Saybrook moving along a ridge of rock.
“Sandro—behind you!” she cried in warning as a second silhouette rose from the murky shadows, too close for her to dare a shot.
The earl whirled and lashed out a kick that caught his assailant’s knee, knocking him to the ground. The man rolled out of reach and sprang to his feet, flinging a rock at Saybrook’s head. It missed by a hair, the echoing ricochet sounding like gunfire in the swirling wind.
“Bloody hell, Jem—what are you waiting for! Shoot the bastard,” cried the assailant to some unseen cohort as he whipped a hand up from his boot and cut a slash at Saybrook’s chest.
“He’s got a knife, Sandro,” called Arianna.
“Yes, yes, don’t worry,” he responded, parrying a thrust with a quick flick of his forearm. “Stay where you are.”
Ignoring the order, she edged along the side of the carriage, alert for any other sign of movement. Where was Henning? she wondered. And what of their coachman? A low groan from the driver’s perch seemed to indicate that José had survived the first attack.
Question, questions—but they would have to wait.
A flurry of wild thrusts had forced Saybrook back several steps, giving her a clearer shot at his assailant.
“Tírate al suelo,” she called to him in Spanish, ordering him to duck down.
“Aim for his knee and not his heart,” called her husband. “I want him alive for questioning.”
“Jem!” cried the assailant, his voice turning shrill.
A shot rang out from somewhere on the other side of the coach, followed by a scream. One of the horses whinnied in fright, spooked by the flash of fire.
“Ye’ll be getting no help from Jem.” Henning’s voice rose above a wispy plume of gun smoke.
“I suggest you throw down your blade,” said Saybrook to his attacker. “The lady is a crack shot.”
“As if any bloody female could hit the broad side of a barn,” jeered the assailant, but he sounded a little shaky.
“Oh, I assure you, my wife is no ordinary female.”
Arianna angled the pistol’s barrel a fraction. “I’ll aim a touch high. If I miss, it will hit his cods rather than his knee. Either way, he won’t be walking very steadily for quite a while.”
Her sangfroid seemed to spook the man. Cutting a last halfhearted jab at Saybrook, he suddenly turned and bolted for the tangled wildness of the looming moor.
Dio Madre!” She was about to pull the trigger and drop him with a shot to the leg when her husband took off after him. Cursing her flapping skirts, she scrabbled up to the top of the ledge and followed as fast as she dared.