The Prince of Spies (Hope and Glory #3) by Elizabeth Camden



One




JANUARY 1902

Marianne ventured farther onto the frozen river despite the people warning her against it. “Don’t do it, ma’am!” someone shouted. “You’re going to fall through the ice!”

Several other bystanders urged her back to safety, but she couldn’t ignore the pitiful howls of Bandit, who had fallen through the ice. The dog wasn’t going to be able to get out on his own. Marianne had already spent an agonizing five minutes encouraging the border collie to clamber out. Bandit tried, but each time it looked as if he’d succeed, another section of ice broke, and he plunged back into the freezing water.

Marianne crawled on all fours across the ice, the cold quickly penetrating her thin leather gloves.

“If the ice can’t hold a dog, it can’t hold you!” someone on the shore shouted.

Maybe, but she knew the Boundary Channel better than most of the city dwellers who walked alongside this oddly shaped tail of the Potomac River in the heart of Washington, DC. She had photographed it last spring, wearing hip-high galoshes and wading into the shallows to take pictures for the Department of the Interior. Most of the lagoon was shallow and only got deep out in the middle where Bandit had fallen through. The ice beneath her was probably frozen solid.

Probably. If she thought about it any longer, she’d be too scared to continue, so she lowered herself to lie flat on the ice, using her feet to nudge closer to Bandit.

“Get him, Aunt Marianne, please!” Sam was the only person among the dozens on shore who urged her forward. What nine-year-old boy didn’t love his dog? She had to at least try to save Bandit. The only tool she had was a fishermen’s net that had been abandoned on the riverbank. She’d throw it toward Bandit and hope she could pull him out.

Her teeth chattered. Was it from cold or fear? Probably both. A layer of crusty snow atop the ice gave her enough traction to creep farther ahead.

Then a man’s voice, louder than the others, sounded over the crowd. “Luke, don’t be a fool!”

“Please, mister,” Sam begged. “Please help Aunt Marianne save my dog!”

She risked a glance over her shoulder, grateful to see another man crawling out onto the ice. She hadn’t wanted to do this alone, but no one else volunteered.

“I don’t think the ice can hold both of us,” she called back to him, her voice shaking from the cold.

“It can where you are,” he said, then lowered himself to his stomach. He gave a healthy push against a post sticking through the ice and propelled quickly across the frozen channel toward her.

What a handsome man. Black hair, dark eyes, and a face animated with both fear and exhilaration. He was soon alongside her, his breath coming in white wisps.

“Hello, Aunt Marianne,” he said. They both lay flat on the ice, side by side. An odd way to meet a perfect stranger.

“Careful,” she cautioned. “The water gets deeper only a couple of feet ahead. I don’t think it will hold us both.”

“I know it won’t,” he said. “Hand me the net.”

“Are you sure? I’m lighter. It might be better if I go.”

His gaze flicked down her length. They both wore long wool coats, gloves, and boots, but he was a lot taller than she was.

“One of us is probably going to end up in the water,” he said. “Your skirts will be a big problem if it’s you. I’ll be okay.”

“I don’t think it’s safe.” Her teeth started to chatter again.

“Of course it’s not safe.” He grinned. “Hand me the net.”

“Luke, get back to shore this instant!” an angry voice commanded, but Luke didn’t even glance back.

“Don’t worry about that guy,” Luke said. “It’s only my brother, Gray. Being a worrywart is what older brothers are supposed to do.”

She laughed a little. “I know all about big brothers. I’ve got one too. Here’s the net. If you can make it a few more feet, you can toss it to the dog.”

He nodded, but instead of taking the net, he grabbed her hand and squeezed. “This is sort of fun, don’t you think?”

“Actually, I’m a little terrified,” she admitted.

“Me too.”

How odd. He was afraid but still seemed elated. Her eyes felt captured by his, and even through their gloves, it felt like a spark of electricity hummed between them.

“Luke!” Gray shouted again from the shore. “The ice can’t hold you. Both of you need to come back. Someone has sent for a boat.”