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«Rendezvous», Amanda Quick

PROLOGUE

The war was over.

The man once known as Nemesis stood at the window of his study and listened to the clamor in the streets. All London was celebrating the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo as only Londoners could celebrate. Fireworks, music, and the roar of thousands of exuberant people filled the city.

It was over, but as far as Nemesis was concerned it was not finished. Now it appeared it would never be finished, at least not to his satisfaction. The identity of the traitor who had called himself Spider was still a mystery. The final puzzle must go unsolved. There would be no justice for those who had died at the Spider's hands.

As for Nemesis, he knew it was time to get on with his own life. He had duties and responsibilities to fulfill, not the least of which was the matter of finding himself a suitable bride. He would approach the task as he approached everything else, with logic and intellectual precision. He would make up a list of candidates and he would choose one from the list.

He knew exactly what he wanted in a wife. For the sake of his name and title, she must be a woman of virtue. For the sake of his soul she must be a woman he could trust, a woman who understood the meaning of loyalty.

Nemesis had lived too long in the shadows. He had learned the true value of trust and loyalty and he knew they were priceless.

He listened to the noise in the streets. It was over. No man was more grateful for an end to the appalling waste of war than the man who had been called Nemesis.

But a part of him would always regret that there had been no final rendezvous between himself and the bloody traitor known as Spider.

1

There was no sound as the library door was opened, but the slight draft created caused the candle flame to flicker. Crouched in the shadows at the opposite end of the long room, Augusta Ballinger froze in the act of trying to insert a hairpin into the lock of her host's desk.

From her damning position on her knees behind the massive oak desk she stared in stunned shock at the single candle she had allowed herself for illumination. The flame sputtered once more as the door was closed very softly. With a gathering sense of dread, Augusta peered over the edge of the desk and gazed down the length of the darkened room.

The man who had entered the library stood quietly in the inky depths near the door. He was tall and appeared to be wearing a black dressing gown. She could not see his face in the gloom. Nevertheless, as she crouched there holding her breath, Augusta was aware of a deep, disturbing sense of awareness.

Only one man had this effect on Augusta's senses. She did not need to see him clearly in order to hazard a guess as to who lounged there like a large beast of prey in the shadows. She was almost certain it was Graystone.

He was not sounding an alarm, however, which was an enormous relief. It was strange how at ease he appeared to be in the darkness, as if it were his natural environment. Then again, Augusta thought optimistically, perhaps he saw nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps he had only come downstairs to look for a book and assumed the candle had been carelessly left behind by someone who had come down before him.

For an instant Augusta even dared to hope he had not noticed her peering anxiously at him over the top of the desk. Perhaps he had failed to observe her there at the other end of the big room. If she was very careful she might still get out of this mess with her reputation intact. She ducked her head behind the edge of the heavily carved oak.

She heard no footfalls on the thick Persian carpet, but a moment later the man spoke from no more than a few feet away.

"Good evening, Miss Ballinger. I trust you have found something suitably edifying to read down there behind Enfield's desk? But surely the light is rather poor in that location."

Augusta recognized the terrifyingly calm, unemotional male voice at once and groaned silently as her worst fears were confirmed. It was Graystone.

Just her bad luck that of all the guests who were inhabiting Lord Enfield's country house this weekend, her discoverer was her uncle's good friend. Harry Fleming, Earl of Graystone, was the one man in the house who probably would not believe any of the glib tales she had carefully prepared.

Graystone made Augusta uneasy for several reasons, one of which was that he had a disconcerting manner of looking straight into her eyes as if he would look into her very soul and demand the truth. Another reason she was wary around him was that he was simply too bloody damned clever.


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