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Regency Redemption Series
Before she agrees to a marriage proposal from a man she does not love, Miss Constance Lansing travels to London to help her cousin open a bakery. She’s instantly charmed and soon enamored with Mr. Graham Brinton, who offers to show her around Town and takes her on the best adventures of her life.
Graham, a former intelligence officer, gave up on love when his childhood sweetheart married his best friend, yet spending time with Constance restores his faith in love. When he learns his best friend is in mortal danger abroad, Graham is honor bound to rescue him. He refuses to divulge his feelings for Constance. By not telling her he risks her marrying another, but how can he ask her to wait for him when he doesn’t know if he will make it back alive?
London, England ~ Early Spring 1820
Graham Brinton woke to a banging knock beating into his skull like a mallet. He growled and scrunched his eyes closed. He’d consumed too much whiskey last night. Lately, he drank every day in celebration of his brother’s return from the dead. It afforded him a reasonable excuse to be jug-bitten. In truth, drinking to excess had become a necessity to forget the war, his youth, and his life.
Funny thing, no matter how much he drank, he never forgot. He passed out from time to time, but when he woke the memories anxiously awaited him.
Blooming hell. He should’ve gone to his flat last night. His servants understood never to wake him unless the plagues of Hell were uprising. Likewise, the servants here at his brother’s home knew as well.
The door hinges squeaked. “Graham?” his brother called.
He was glad to know the staff still respected his wishes. “Bugger off.”
Tristan ignored the warning. “I would apologize if it was not two in the afternoon.”
Graham buried his face deeper into the pillow. “I thought you and Millicent planned to hunt for locations for the bakery today.”
“Ursula and Annise paid a visit before we had a chance to leave.” His brother’s footfalls neared the bed. “Nate is missing.”
What? He lifted his head and flinched when the quick movement caused him a second of dizziness. Luckily, openings in the drapes let in enough sunlight to see without making him squint. “Officially?”
Tristan stood by the footboard, looking every bit the proper viscount in a dark blue suit and white cravat. “Not that I am aware. Ursula’s upset because he was writing to her every two weeks, but she has not received a letter from him in months. She believes something happened to him.”
“A real possibility. Is Lord Belmont with her?”
“No. Her father thinks she is overreacting.”
“I am sure he does. He’s never cared for her feelings.” He took a deep breath and stamped down his rising irritation. This was about Nate, not about the old pain Belmont caused Graham. “Damn Nate and how he romanticizes intelligence work.”
“And damn him for being so good at it.”
Tristan leaned against the bedpost. “When her father declined to search for Nate, Ursula went to General Winthrop’s office. Winthrop was out, and Coleman explained Nate’s new assignment prevents him from writing often.”
“What else would he say? He can’t bloody well tell her, ‘Madam, your husband works for the Royal Army as a spy.’”
“Keep your voice down.”
“Ursula is his wife, she should know.”
“I cannot dispute Nate’s decisions where his wife is concerned.” Tristan appeared as frustrated as Graham. However, his brother possessed a knack for patience and tact Graham did not. “Do you have any idea where he might be?”
“He could be anywhere.” Graham rolled out of bed and winced. The pounding in his head sounded more like a drum now. He yanked the bellpull near the wardrobe. He’d used this room his entire life, but moved out weeks ago when Tristan and Millicent returned from their honeymoon. The dark, heavy furniture and green fabrics suited him. He stomped over to drag his trousers and shirt from the dresser. Suspecting he would often stay at the house, he’d left some of his clothes.
“You mentioned Nate came to see you while I was presumed dead,” Tristan said.
“Yes.” Graham slid the shirt over his head. “He was quite upset about the news of your death and told me he decided to take on a new assignment.”
“Did he indicate where the mission would take place?”
“He was uncertain. There are undercurrents of Greeks who desire to be independent and free of Turkish rule. He swears there will be a revolution in Greece that will trigger a civil war.”
“At the very least,” Tristan agreed. “Did he explain his purpose?”
“Writing codes and ciphers for the Filiki Eteria to communicate. The secret Greek organization has membership numbers in the thousands. They are situated in almost every region of Greece and in Greek communities. It is a powerful movement all over the world.”
“It will have to be to overtake the Turks.” Tristan rubbed his eyes. “They’ve been in control of Greece a long time.”
“Too long, evidently.”
Tristan’s valet entered with a mug in his hand. Graham knew the mug held Mrs. Innis’s special concoction. That was the beauty of having been the viscount for a time. The staff knew to bring Graham something for the aftereffects of his drinking each morning.
He stilled. The notion of him requiring something for a headache daily, and the staff recognizing it, suddenly bothered him.
No time for contemplating that disturbing thought, he gulped the vile brew.
After freshening up, the potion had worked its magic and Graham’s head felt much improved as he stepped into the library. Landscapes hung over the sofas on two of the walls. Shelves lined with books and windows took up the rest of the wall space.
Ursula waited by the windows. Sunshine streaming into the room lit sparks in her blonde hair. She turned toward him, and their eyes met. The mere sight of her no longer jabbed like a hot poker to his heart. He did not experience the gut-wrenching pain he’d suffered following her marriage. He could finally be around her without longing to hold her. In an act of self-preservation, he rarely engaged her in conversation. She sent letter upon letter following her wedding, and Graham returned each one unopened. She’d recently sent more, and he refused to accept those as well.
He made himself move on with his life following her nuptials and only wished the two of them well. Except, he abhorred how Nate neglected Ursula, leaving her for months at a time.
She rushed forward and stopped in front of him. A sob escaped her. “Nate is dead.”
“Do you have confirmation?” he replied.
“No. But since he left on this assignment he has faithfully written to me every two weeks, and I have received nothing from him in months.”
“You say that with an unfounded confidence posts are always prompt,” he replied sarcastically.
She huffed out a half-laugh, half-cry.
He drew out his handkerchief and handed it to her.
Annise, Ursula’s younger sister, walked up and kissed his cheek. Same blonde hair and blue eyes as her sister, Annise wore gold-rimmed spectacles. “She insisted on coming to see you.”
Graham nodded. If Nate had landed in trouble or needed aid, he wanted to know. He glanced back to Ursula. “If you stopped receiving posts a while ago, why do you suddenly think something has happened to Nate?”
“It is not sudden. I have been worried for a while.”
“She has,” Annise added.
“I sent you correspondences telling you of my apprehension. You sent them back unopened.” Her eyes looked wounded, hurt. “I have tried to speak to you, but you hardly acknowledge me whenever we are in the same room.”
He had no defense to her accusations. Everything she said was true.
“Recently…” Ursula put her hands over her heart. “I suffer this feeling something terrible has or is going to happen to him.”
At her words, he wondered at the couple’s closeness. He’d seen them together since they’d spoken their vows and never saw them so much as touch one another. Rather than let himself ponder those thoughts, he dismissed them. Their marriage was none of his affair. “We will investigate. We are no longer in the army and privy to information on government matters, though.”
“Oh, Graham.” She stepped closer, hesitated, then threw her arms around his neck.
This was the first time they’d hugged in eight years. She felt different in his arms. A distance separated them. The intimacy they’d shared for so many years was gone. Gratefully gone.
When they were children, he’d been the one she ran to when frightened or in need of comfort. Not her parents, or her sister, or her nanny … him. He’d distanced himself from her since her wedding, but as he embraced her, he believed he could manage a friendship with her now.
“I knew you would help.” She buried her face in his coat.
He politely patted her back until she released him.
“We cannot make you promises. We may learn naught,” Tristan added.
“I understand.” She hurried over to hug his brother. “I am just grateful you are not dismissing me. Father completely ignores my worry.”
Annise grunted. “He ignores everything. He cares only about his dogs and his port. I hope they will be enough to sustain him throughout the rest of his life.”
“Annise,” Ursula chastised in an exasperated voice. “What of mother?”
“He cares for her least of all.”
Graham’s lips twitched. The two had bickered about this topic since they were young. “Lasses, you can fight about your parents another time.”
Ursula turned from her sister to face him. “Thank you for checking into this.”
“Ever at your service.” Graham had repeated the same to her many times during his life. Except it should not be his duty anymore. When they found Nate, he would insist his friend be more of a husband to her and tell her about his work.
If they could find him.
If he is alive.