A Daring Liaison

Chapter One

London, April 1822

Charles Hunter always sat with his back to the wall to avoid unpleasant surprises—a tactic he had learned from his superior at the Home Office, Lord Wycliffe—and the Black Dog Tavern was not a place where one would want to be surprised. Charles watched Wycliffe come toward him now, wondering why he had arranged this meeting outside the office. The grim look on his face was not reassuring.

Trouble, then. Serious trouble, and highly sensitive if they couldn’t they talk about it at the Home Office. He took a deep drink from his mug and gestured to the waiting tankard, which Wycliffe lifted promptly.

“Hunter,” he said as he sat.

Charles nodded. “What is this about?”

“It’s on the hush, Hunter. I can’t make you take the venture, but it would be good for your career if you did. Probably get you that assignment to the Foreign Office you asked about. That’s why I thought I’d give you first chance at it.”

The Foreign Office? That was a plump little carrot to dangle in front of him. He’d wanted to get the hell out of England for months now. Maybe a transfer would clear his head. Ever since he’d been wounded last fall, he’d been restless, angry and a bit reckless. Standing by one’s best friend as he was shot through the head could do that to a man, he’d been told.

“What’s it about?”

Wycliffe sighed and looked down into his ale. “Long story. First, have you met the late Lady Caroline Betman’s former ward, Georgiana Carson, currently known as Mrs. Gower Huffington?”

Charles covered his surprise and damned the quick twist of his gut at that name. Did he know her? Hell, he’d been about to propose to her when her guardian informed him that his feelings were not returned. But that was before she’d married for the first time. She’d been so fresh. So beautiful. So duplicitous.

“We’ve met,” he admitted.

“What do you think of her?”

“I’ve always thought she is a stunner. Intelligent and self-possessed, though guarded and...”

Wycliffe nodded again, as if confirming Charles’s opinion. “Inscrutable?”

Charles shrugged. He’d been about to say deceitful, but perhaps that had only been his experience. “Aloof, I’d say. And not given to emotion.”

“Odd for a woman who’s been married twice.”

“And widowed twice, and hides in the countryside now, from what I hear.”

“Then you didn’t know?” Wycliffe narrowed his eyes as he sat back in his chair. “Mrs. Huffington has come back to town.”

The connection was lost on him. What did Georgiana Huffington, née Carson, have to do with Wycliffe’s assignment? He rubbed his shoulder, still aching from the ball he’d taken when his friend was killed last October. “Aye, she’s come back to town and...?”

“Good Lord, Hunter! Where have you been? Allow me to catch you up.” Wycliffe leaned forward again and lowered his voice as if he feared they might be overheard. “Rumor has it that she killed her husbands.”

Charles stared into his ale, remembering his obsession with the woman seven years ago. He’d been taken with those olive-green eyes—and the promise of lush curves beneath her demure girlish gowns. She’d been shy, sweet and possessed of a gentle humor he found endearing but there had always been a hint of darkness and mystery about her. “She doesn’t look like the type.”

“You, better than most, know that appearances can be deceiving. Why, you’ve witnessed things that would shock the ton into speechlessness—with the possible exception of me.”

Aye, the deceit and duplicity he’d seen beneath innocuous appearances no longer surprised him. He was a jaded man.

“But I am glad you find her appealing. That will make your job easier.”

A job involving Mrs. Huffington? Never. Charles laughed and shook his head. “I am on holiday. Personal matters to settle.”

“Come, now, Hunter. I know you are not spending your leave playing with the demimonde and dancing with new country lasses fresh into town for the season. Not while Dick Gibbons is still at large.”

Gibbons. That misbegotten, vile, flea-infested bag of manure. Gibbons was the personal matter he intended to settle before taking another assignment. He’d wager all he owned that Gibbons was the man who’d killed his friend and put a bullet in his shoulder. “I have business of my own to attend, Wycliffe. I am not inclined to help you with any ‘unofficial’ problems at the moment.”

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