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You Were Made to Be Mine
Author: Julie Anne Long

 


Chapter One

 

 

Paris, 1820

 

Hawkes held a smoldering cheroot in one hand and the miniature of the Earl of Brundage’s missing fiancée in the other.

He saw a pale oval face nimbused in dark curls. Light eyes. Head coyly tipped. She could be any pretty girl anywhere. He’d never once seen a miniature of a homely girl, or, say, of one scowling and shaking her fist, which would have at least made for a change. It could probably be ascribed to the tyranny of commerce—no artist wanted to risk offending a paying customer with accuracy. No one knew better than Hawkes that the biggest lie people tell themselves is that they prefer to know the truth.

“I would like you to do that . . . thing you do so well,” Brundage had said when he’d handed it to him.

Hawkes knew the unspoken word was “filthy.”

“It was painted when Aurelie was sixteen, I’m told,” Brundage said. “She is now twenty-one. She of course looks considerably more mature now. But I fear it’s the only one in existence.”

“I imagine commissioning larger portraits was not among her remaining family’s priorities,” Hawkes said absently. The orgy of aristocrat killing known as the French Revolution had divested the girl’s parents—members of the Condé family of the French House of Bourbon—of their fortunes and their heads when she was three years old. She’d been in the care of a guardian since. Somehow she’d wound up engaged to Brundage.

Lucky, lucky girl.

The wedding was meant to be a month from now here in Paris, or so Brundage had just told him. And yet Lady Aurelie, who he’d learned lived a stone’s throw away in rented lodgings with her guardian, failed to turn up for Tuesday tea as had been her custom with Brundage and hadn’t been seen since. That was four days ago.

Hawkes didn’t lift his head from her miniature just yet. The glints in the anteroom in which they sat—glaze on porcelain, gilt on chair legs, the silvered surface of an outlandishly large mirror—were like the stars one sees after a blow to the head. He’d been released from prison less than a week ago. He somehow hadn’t fully anticipated the sensory assault of freedom.

He’d received Brundage’s message two days ago: “I need your help, and will pay handsomely for it.”

Brundage must have weighed all of his options and concluded only Hawkes could do what he needed done. And Hawkes knew that meant Brundage must be desperate, indeed.

The opportunity to witness this desperation was what finally made Hawkes agree to meet him.

The heat thrown off by the huge fire eased the ache in his shoulder. This perversely filled him with a quiet, subterranean fury. That ache was a souvenir of the only time he’d been unable to fight back. Which was the only way anyone had ever gotten the better of him.

He would rather endure another three years in prison than reveal any weakness to the man in front of him. Brundage, he was certain, would love to see evidence of a broken man.

“I was, of course, going to have her sit for a portrait once we were married,” Brundage said.

Brundage had always been fond of the words “I” and “my.” He liked to own; he liked to lord.

Hawkes looked up, finally. “The mirror is new, isn’t it?” he said idly. “I don’t remember seeing it in your office or home.”

Brundage smiled sympathetically. “I imagine it would seem new to you. I acquired it last year.”

“Handsome piece,” Hawkes said admiringly. “Must have cost the earth.”

Brundage hesitated, as he’d been compelled to do after nearly everything Hawkes had said so far this evening.

“Playing deep again?” Hawkes suggested into the silence with a sympathetic smile, on a bit of a hush, to imply he was jesting.

He wasn’t. It had been a secret—from everyone except Hawkes, from whom almost nothing was a secret—that the upright Brundage recklessly wagered staggering amounts, amassing staggering unpaid debts.

Debt which had magically disappeared before the war was over. Another secret Hawkes had learned.

Brundage’s smile was small and did not reach his eyes. “I’ve been fortunate in my investments, thanks to good advice from my accounting firm.”

“Well. You always did know how to increase your fortunes,” Hawkes agreed warmly.

Which caused another almost infinitesimal silence.

Hawkes had so far spent the evening making casual statements that could be interpreted any number of ways, all of them calculated to unsettle Brundage.

Hawkes was nearly destitute. He’d been obliged to surrender the entirety of his own hard-won fortune to French authorities before he went to prison—it was either that, or face execution by firing squad. After all, “justice” was really another word for commerce, something every man at the mercy of it eventually learns. Brundage himself had skillfully negotiated these terms.

It was, in fact, the generally held view that Hawkes owed Brundage his life.

Alas, Hawkes was unable to buy his way out of prison altogether, and the French rebuffed formal attempts to ransom him. It seemed it wasn’t every day they caught a near legendary English spymaster. They wanted to keep him for a few years. Perhaps beat him now and again for his temerity.

Verdun, the prison depot where he was at first taken, had been just barely tolerable, verging on civilized.

Bitche, where he’d been taken after an escape attempt, was a violent, soul-annihilating fortress.

Brundage had proposed to pay him three-quarters of the fortune he’d lost if he found his fiancée.

So he also suspected the immense sum Brundage was offering to pay him to find his fiancée was intended to forever put paid to certain things.

Such as suspicion. Curiosity. Initiative. Memory.

Reflected in that ridiculous mirror in flattering firelight, the two of them looked much the way they had before Hawkes’s arrest: the Fifth Earl of Brundage and Mr. Christian Hawkes—such a dashing pair. Both so handsome, so brilliant, so competent.

But Hawkes, the son of a merchant, had begun his career in the army blacking the boots of men much like Brundage. He’d swiftly soared to the rank of lieutenant, whereupon he was recruited by the Alien Office in England and charged with tracking down and arresting poisonous little cadres of would-be revolutionaries and recruiting agents and informers, in the process honing some of the filthier tools of his trade—deceit and subterfuge and pantomime, bribery and brutality and blackmail—as well as the more prosaic ones, like managing vast budgets and unpredictable humans. Such were his gifts and triumphs that during the war the home secretary sent him to Switzerland and to Spain, under the guise of serving as chargé d’affaires for the Earl of Brundage, who’d been appointed ambassador to Spain. In actuality, to do what he’d already done in England: establish and oversee a vast mesh of intelligence sources—agents, informers, provocateurs—in support of efforts to quash Bonaparte.

And if initially Brundage occasionally failed to disguise that he viewed Hawkes’s work as distasteful, if necessary, and considered him little more than a peasant shellacked in exquisite manners, it was of no consequence to Hawkes. And if Hawkes’s patience once or twice frayed to such transparency that Brundage glimpsed how Hawkes saw him—pompous, scarcely adequate at his job, someone to be tolerated, rather than revered—they were both, by nature, diplomats. Their interactions were garnished with civility and humor. Brundage was secure in his supremacy afforded by his ancient title, position, and fine looks.

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