DeadlyCharades

“As Henri Langois, my lord, you will join a house party in Sussex, near the coast. We suspect the family, and perhaps some of the guests, may be involved in a French plot to assassinate an important personage. Whom that person is, or when the attempt is to be made, is unknown. We hope you will ferret out the truth, and quickly. This is a matter of treason, Lord FitzGibbon. Be careful.”

FitzGibbon recalled Calder’s words as he accepted a chair from his host with feigned alacrity and pleasure. He wanted to question Beauchamp further, not entertain jaded JmigrJs with fictitious adventures as Henri Langois, but, as a guest, he had no choice. He noticed the fair-haired Pierre d’Aubigny drifting closer, then taking a seat on the fringe of the group. He looked faintly bored, showing not the slightest interest in FitzGibbon, the only guest near his own age. Perhaps his ennui was a pose. FitzGibbon mentally shook his head. He was beginning to suspect anyone and everyone, even without cause, and to believe that both family and guests were. like himself, playing parts in a diabolical charade. He must wait and see, keeping an open mind.
            “Well, sirs,” FitzGibbon began, “when the revolution started, I was, of course, little more than an infant. My family were not alarmed at first, and even when the King’s brother, the Comte d’Artois, led the first group of nobles from France, they remained unperturbed.”
            He paused as girlish voices sounded outside the room. The door opened, and two young ladies came in. They had obviously been outdoors—one, with curling red-brown hair, wore a yellow sleeveless pelisse, and swung a matching bonnet by its ribbons. She was quite pretty, Fitzgibbon thought, rising with the other gentlemen. Not plump, but with pleasantly full curves. Possibly not much more than twenty years of age.
            The other girl wore a light blue walking dress and matching gloves.. As she set a dainty parasol on a chair, the deep poke of her blue-trimmed white bonnet shaded her face. FitzGibbon could see only the tip of a pert nose, a nicely-rounded chin, and a perfect mouth that seemed ready to smile. She moved with grace, yet with an air of brisk confidence.
            She lifted her head and looked up at him, and he saw her face clearly. A more than pretty face, with smooth, white skin, and startling large gray eyes. They widened as he stared, then her lips curved into the smile he expected. “Ah, Papa ,” she said in a low, clear voice, “I see your last guest has arrived.”
            A strange sensation of inescapable doom seized FitzGibbon. He knew that face, that voice, but from where? Memory, apprehension, and outright fear flooded his brain and set his heart pounding.
John Delaney turned to him with a proud smile. “Ah, the ladies of the party. Later you will meet the third lady, my mother. She will join us at dinner. Come here, Simone, and you too, Little Mouse,” he said, his voice full of affection, “and meet our guest.”
            The russet-haired girl moved quickly forward, her hazel eyes alight with interest. “Miss Latour,” said Mr. Delaney, taking her hand, “allow me to present Monsieur Henri Langois, son of the Duc de Boisaine. Langois, Miss Latour, as you may guess, is Georges Latour’s daughter.”
            Simone. Simone Latour. The name echoed in FitzGibbon’s stunned mind. Miss Latour curtsied. He automatically bowed. His smile must appear as if pasted on. Seen close, she was not as young as he had first thought. not by several years.
            “Your servant, Miss Latour,” he murmured.
            “Delighted, Monsieur Langois,” she replied, her eyes demurely lowered. Her smile, however, and the quick, upward flutter of her lashes sent a different message, one that was far from demure.
            “Now, here is my Little Mouse,” he heard John Delaney say. “Jannette, I present Monsieur Henri Langois. Langois, my daughter, Miss Delaney.”
            Jannette. Not Jean or Jane. Franny and Jannette. For the briefest moment he could not move, then he bowed, a jerky awkward affair quite unlike his usual graceful movement. Yes, he well remembered Miss Delaney of the dark hair and strong opinions of Frenchmen who existed on the charity of others.
            Noticing her puzzled look, he struggled to produce a more normal smile. After the passage of several months, Miss Bowman had not recognized him as Gascoyne de Verre. but then, her gentle brown eyes had not the discernment he now saw in the gray eyes studying him.
            One word from her that he was not whom he pretended to be, imperiled not only his mission as a spy, but perhaps his very life.