Lady Osbaldestone's Christmas Intrigue by Stephanie Laurens

Christopher had snorted and downed the whiskey. He’d savored the glow, then asked, “Have you given Drummond the description of the man you saw?”

Fredericks had nodded. “I’d swear he has a military background, possibly even still serving, but beyond the word of the street sweeper, I don’t know that he was French.”

“Was the boy sure it was French the fellow muttered and not some other language?” Drummond had raised the glass he’d held and sipped.

“He was. Apparently, there are émigrés living near the boy’s home, and he’s familiar with the language—enough to be sure.”

“Well”—Christopher had carefully set down his glass on a side table—“all we can do is keep our eyes peeled for the man, but if by chance he does follow us into the country, it sounds as if he’ll stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.”

With nothing more to be said, Christopher had informed Drummond of the hour at which he wished to depart, causing Drummond to shudder, but he hadn’t otherwise complained. Adhering to his orders, Christopher hadn’t mentioned where he intended to go, and neither Fredericks nor Drummond had asked. The three of them had retired to their beds, with Drummond taking the spare room Christopher kept prepared to accommodate Foreign Office agents on temporary furlough, those he and Fredericks knew.

Now, Christopher reached the curricle and climbed to the seat, then accepted the reins from Drummond. He waited until the heavy man had hauled himself up to the perch behind the seat, then flicked the reins, setting the blacks trotting.

With London still slumbering, they made good time to Vauxhall Bridge. After clattering across, Christopher turned his horses’ heads sharply right and sent them pacing smartly down the Wandsworth Road. The day looked set to be overcast, with gray clouds obliterating any hint of blue, but there was no scent of rain on the nevertheless chilly breeze.

Finally, Drummond stirred and asked, “So where are we headed, then?”

“To my mother’s dower house in a tiny village by the name of Little Moseley, by way of Guildford, Winchester, and Romsey.” After a moment, Christopher added, “I didn’t see anyone watching us or even taking note of our passing.”

“No more did I,” Drummond rumbled. “No doubt everyone who can is still sleeping.”

Christopher grinned at Drummond’s aggrieved tone; clearly, the man was not an early riser.

“He’s what?” Stunned, Marion stared at Gordon Carter, a friend of her brother’s she’d persuaded to help her.

A sharp breeze flicked the dangling ends of the ribbons of her bonnet into her face—almost as if the elements were laughing at her. About them, only a few hardy souls had braved the dismal afternoon to stroll on the lawns leading down to the Serpentine.

Gordon raked a hand through his hair and repeated, “Gone. He’s not there. He should be at his desk, but he isn’t, and no one knows where or why he’s gone or when he’s expected back.” He paused, then added, “Given it’s you—or rather, Robbie—who’s asking, I did a little nosing around. It seems Osbaldestone was called into a private meeting with the Foreign Secretary yesterday afternoon. Powell attended as well, but no one else, and everyone’s being terribly tight-lipped over what the meeting was about, but the gist of it is that Osbaldestone came out after the meeting, issued various orders to his underlings—essentially putting his desk in order—then he left the building and hasn’t come back.”

Marion struggled to keep the depth of her consternation from showing, with mixed success.

Gordon sighed. “Before you ask, I checked at his house, and he’s not there, either. His housekeeper was in, and she said she thought he left before dawn in his curricle with another man, who had stayed overnight.”

Marion drew in a deep, deep breath, then released it on a muted yet explosive “Damn!”

Realizing she’d shocked Gordon, she explained, “He attended Lady Selkirk’s soirée yesterday evening. I was there, but he proved difficult to pin down. In retrospect, I should have tried harder.” Even if it had meant chasing him down the street.

Clearly, she’d made a strategic error in following her brother’s, the count’s, and her own assumption that approaching Christopher in a social setting would be the easiest and least-remarkable way of making contact. She should have had the sense to send a note via Carter to pave the way for such a social encounter, and now, it seemed, she’d missed her chance.