The Black Hawk

(The fourth book in the Spymaster's Lady series)

A novel by Joanna Bourne

To Karen


To my wonderful editor at Berkley, Wendy McCurdy, and my agent, Pam Hopkins, of Hopkins Literary Associates. You have always believed in me. Thank you.

I am grateful to my patient beta readers: Leo Bourne, Mary Ann Clark, Laura Watkins, Madeline Iva, and Wendy Rome. I owe much to the support and friendship of the excellent folks at the Compuserve Books and Writers Community: Diana Gabaldon, Deniz Bevan, Jen Hendren, Jenny Meyers, Donna Rubino, Beth Shope, and others too numerous to mention. The Beau Monde, a special-interest chapter of RWA, has provided endless expertise on all things 1800-ish. Anything I got right is because of these wonderful people. All mistakes are my own.


1818 London

THE PAST CAUGHT UP TO HER IN THE RAIN, IN BRADDY Square, six hundred yards from Meeks Street.

She’d been wary as a wild bird all the way across London. No footstep echoed her own. Nobody showed a flicker of interest. But she knew someone was following. She had been a spy a long time.

Her gun was no use in this wet. She kept her knife in hand, ready, under her cloak.

In the end, it did no good. The square was a confusion of housemaids scurrying home and clerks bent under their umbrellas, resentful. They emerged out of the rain, brushed by, and disappeared into a landscape of gray. A young messenger boy ran toward her, his jacket pulled up over his head, a slouching cap hiding his face. Ordinary. He was wrapped in ordinary.

At the final instant, she sensed intention. She twisted. Slashed out with her knife. Hit him through the cover of his coat he twirled in her face. Heard him gasp. She felt the jolt and shock as his body slammed into her. She had a glimpse of his face. His knife scraped her chest, missing the blow to her heart, cutting her clothing. Cold pain speared up her arm.

He pushed her away and ran past, his boots splayed side to side, scattering gravel. It was the mark of the assassin to strike and run.

She dropped the knife and took her arm where she’d been cut. Sapriste. Her hand came away red. The blood went pale with rain and washed from her palm even as she looked at it.

I’m bleeding. She pressed her arm tight to her ribs. Her dress was cut through. The slice down her arm ended in one single, deep jab. It had hit something important and the blood spilled out.

So small a thing to let the life out of her body. It barely hurt at all. Just death. Only death.

So she hurried. She let her cloak slip off. She held her blood in, trying to buy another few minutes. But all her time was seeping away.

Meeks Street was north of the square. The Service chose a quiet street. No one entered unless he had business there. Number Seven was halfway down. She staggered onward, not trying to keep dry or be inconspicuous or watch for enemies. Trying to make the last hundred yards.

She had expected death to be more spectacular, somehow. She had thought it would come at the end of a long Game, with the last roll of the dice still spinning and everyone watching and holding their breath for her. She’d be caught and shot by one army or another. It had seemed the most fitting end.

She’d expected the simplicity of the firing squad. Its neatness and order. Its finality. Instead, she was bleeding to death on an ugly English street, and she had no idea why.

Now she’d never find out. Even the question faded as she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

Gray curtains of water wove in the wind. Two men barreled by, almost knocking her down. They were English gentlemen, seeing no one and nothing beyond themselves. They’d find blood on their coats when they got home and mourn their spoiled clothing and never know what had happened an inch under their noses.

She’d made them bloody aristos. Funny. It struck her as funny.

Nobody noticed her dying. Every door was closed. Every curtain drawn.

She passed low walls, punctuated by stone posts. Then she was at Number Seven. She knew the way even when she couldn’t see very well. The door was painted green. The knocker was a bronze rose. She covered it with her bloody hand and banged down hard and went back to holding her blood in.

She leaned on the door, her forehead against the green paint. It is strange that it does not hurt. I have been in pain so many times. This final time it does not hurt at all.

Really, she was not ready to die. She had a long list of things to do.

The door opened and she had nothing to lean upon. The ground crested upward to meet her. The rug was scratchy on her cheek, surprisingly hard. She felt herself rolled over. She was looking up at a woman, not much more than a girl. She didn’t know this one, did she?

Hands pushed her own hands away and came down strong around her arm, at the wound. Someone shouted. She could tell it was shouts from the urgency of it. It sounded distant in her ear.

When she opened her eyes again, he was there. Black hair and a thin face, dark as a Gypsy. Serious eyes.

She said, “Hello, ’Awker.”

“Hello, Justine,” Hawker said.


SHE DID NOT DIE ON THE DOORSTEP. SHE HAD NOT died more times than she could count. Perhaps this would be another.

She opened her eyes. After a while she knew where she was. She was lying on the dining room table at Meeks Street, looking up at silver loops and flowered sconces holding half-burned candles. The ceiling was white, molded plasterwork with garlands of leaves.

She heard Hawker say, “Will she live?” and the long, rude, impatient man who was a surgeon replied, “How the hell would I know? Now get out of my light.” She could not tell if this reassured Hawker, but it gave her considerable comfort. Surgeons were honest butchers. She did not trust polite doctors with their slimy patter of Latin and their soft hands.

The table was flat and hard under her. She hadn’t noticed them cutting her clothes away, but she was naked. Several people held her down. It was Hawker who took her left shoulder and looked into her face.

Dark closed down upon her. She was in the heart of the pain. Had to get away. Had to. She fought.

The surgeon said, “Keep her still, damn it.”

Hawker said, “Chère. Ne me quitte pas. Look. Look at me. Ici.”

Light came back. He was above her, his clever, handsome face grave. Hair fell in his eyes. Hard eyes. They

Вы читаете The Black Hawk
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату