interesting than others.”

This time Willoughby was very definitely pleased and made no attempt to hide it. Satisfaction radiated from him as he took a glass of champagne from a passing footman.

Pitt moved on. He was more careful now of his manner, watching but speaking little, learning to copy the polite words that meant nothing. It was not an art that came to him easily. Charlotte would have understood the nuances within what was said, or unsaid. Pitt would have found direct openness much more comfortable. However, this form of socializing was part of his world from now on, even if he felt like an intruder, even if he knew that beneath the smiles, the smooth, self-assured men around him were perfectly aware of how he felt.

A few moments later he saw Charlotte again. He made his way toward her with a lift of spirits, even a pride he thought was perhaps a little silly after all these years, but nevertheless was quite real. There were other women in the room with more classic beauty, and certainly more sumptuous gowns, but for him they lacked warmth. They had less passion, less of that certain indefinable grace that comes from within.

Charlotte was talking to her sister, Emily Radley, who was wearing a pale blue-green silk gown with gold embroidery. Emily’s first marriage had been a match to make any mother proud. Lord George Ashworth had been the opposite of Pitt in every way: handsome, charming, of excellent family, and in possession of a great deal of money. After his death, it was held in trust for his and Emily’s son, Edward. A suitable time later, Emily had married Jack Radley. He was another handsome man, even more charming, but with no money at all. His father had been a younger son, and something of an adventurer.

It was Emily who had persuaded Jack to enter politics and aspire to make something of himself. Perhaps some of Emily’s hunger to affect other people’s lives had come from her observation of Charlotte and her involvement in several of Pitt’s earlier cases. To be fair, at times Emily had also helped Charlotte, with both flair and courage. The sisters had exasperated and embarrassed Pitt, driving him frantic with fear for their safety, but they had also very thoroughly earned his respect and gratitude.

Looking at Emily now, the light from the chandeliers gleaming on her fair hair and on the diamonds around her neck, he thought back with a little nostalgia to the adventure and emotion of those times. He could no longer share information about his cases, even with Charlotte. It was a loss he felt with surprising sadness. Now his assignments were not merely confidential, but completely secret.

Emily saw him looking at her and smiled brightly.

“Good evening, Thomas. How are you?” she said cheerfully.

“Well, thank you. And I can see that you are,” he responded. Emily was naturally pretty, with her golden hair and wide, dark blue eyes. More important, she knew exactly how to dress to complement the best in herself, whatever the occasion. But, perhaps because it was his job to watch people and read the emotions behind their words, he could see at once that Emily was uncharacteristically tense. Could it be that she was wary of him, too? The thought chilled him so much that he could barely gather himself enough to acknowledge Jack Radley.

“My lord, may I introduce my brother-in-law, Thomas Pitt?” Jack said very formally, as Pitt turned automatically toward the man with whom Jack had been speaking. “Thomas, Lord Tregarron.”

Jack did not mention Tregarron’s position. Presumably he considered the man important enough that Pitt should have been familiar with his title.

It was then that Pitt remembered Charlotte telling him of Jack’s promotion to a position of responsibility within the government, a position that finally gave him some real power. Emily was very proud of it. So perhaps it was defensiveness, then, that he could see in her quick eyes and in the slight stiffness of her shoulders. She was not going to let Pitt’s promotion overshadow Jack’s.

It came to Pitt suddenly: Tregarron was a minister in the Foreign Office, close to the Foreign Secretary himself.

“How do you do, my lord?” Pitt replied, smiling. He glanced at Charlotte, and saw that she too understood Emily’s tension.

“Lord Tregarron was telling us about some of the beautiful places he has visited,” Emily said brightly. “Especially in the Balkans. His descriptions of the Adriatic Coast are breathtaking.”

Tregarron gave a slight shrug. He was a dark, stocky man with thick, curling hair and a highly expressive face. No one could have thought him comely, and yet the strength and vitality in him commanded attention. Pitt noticed that several women in the room kept glancing at him, then looking away.

“That a Cornishman admires anyone else’s coast has impressed Mrs. Radley greatly,” Tregarron said with a smile. “As so it should. We have had our share of troubles in the past, between shipwreck and smuggling, but I have no time for separatists. Life should be about inclusion, not everyone running off to his own small corner and pulling up the drawbridge. Half the wars in Europe have started out of that type of fear. The other half, out of greed. Don’t you agree?” He looked directly at Pitt.

“Liberally helped with misunderstanding,” Pitt replied. “Intentional or not.”

“Well put, sir!” Tregarron commended him instantly. He turned to Jack. “Right, Radley? A nice distinction, don’t you think?”

Jack signaled his approval, smiling with the easy charm he had always possessed. He was a handsome man, and wore it with grace.

Emily shot Pitt a swift glance and there was a distinct chill in it. Pitt hoped Jack had not seen it, lest it upset him. Pitt knew he himself would dislike it if Charlotte were so defensive of him. In his experience, you do not guard anyone so closely, unless you fear they are in some way vulnerable. Did Emily doubt that Jack had the steel in his nature-or perhaps the intelligence-to fill his new post well?

And had Tregarron chosen Jack, or had Emily used some connection of her own, from her days as Lady Ashworth, in order to obtain the position for him? Pitt could not think of anyone Emily knew who was powerful enough to do that, but then, the whole world of political debt and preferment was one he was unfamiliar with. Narraway had been excellent at figuring out the truth in this type of situation. It was a skill Pitt needed to arm himself with, and quickly.

He felt a sudden, powerful empathy with Jack; they were both swimming with sharks in unfamiliar seas. But Jack was used to using his charm and instinctive ability to read people. Perhaps he would manage to survive, and survive well.

The conversation had moved from the Adriatic Coast to a discussion about the Austro-Hungarian Empire in general, and from there went on to Berlin, and finally to Paris, that city of elegance and gaiety. Pitt said little, content to listen.

The musical interlude for the evening began. Much of its exquisite beauty was wasted on the audience, who were not so much listening as waiting in polite silence until it was over and they could resume their own conversations.

But Charlotte heard the haunting beauty of the pieces and wished the musician could play all evening. However, she understood the rhythm of such gatherings; this break was to allow a regrouping of forces. It was a time in which to weigh what one had observed and heard, and to consider what to say next, whom to approach, and what gambit to play next.

She was sitting beside Pitt, a hand resting lightly on one arm. She could see Emily, seated in a gold-painted chair several rows in front of her, between Lord Tregarron and Jack.

Charlotte had known Jack’s promotion was important, but she had not realized until now how steep a climb it had truly been. And tonight she had recognized that, under Emily’s usual charming manner, lurked fear for Jack in his new position.

Was it because Emily knew Jack too well, was aware of a fundamental weakness in him that others did not see? Or could it be that she did not know him well enough and so was unable to see the strength of will beneath his easy manner, his charisma that seemed so effortless?

Charlotte suspected that the real truth was that, after a decade of marriage, Emily was finally realizing that she was not only in love with Jack, but that she also cared about his ability to succeed not just for what it might bring her, but also for what it could give Jack.

Emily had been the youngest and prettiest of the three Ellison sisters, and the most single-mindedly ambitious. Sarah, the eldest, had been dead for fifteen years. Her death now seemed a lifetime ago. The fear and pain of that time had receded into a distant nightmare, one Charlotte seldom revisited. Their father had also died, about four years ago, and some time later their mother had remarried. This was another subject fraught with mixed

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