“Get out of my study.” He hunched over the bit of Russian text he was translating, though her scent told him she was near.
She always smelled clean.
Strange, given her various professions. Gunpowder or perfume would be more appropriate.
Of course, she didn’t leave, which meant his work would be disturbed for the remainder of the evening. The warm fire and soothing glass of brandy he was about to enjoy would also be disturbed.
He’d been looking forward to that brandy.
Maximilian Westwood did not look up from the Russian missive. Perhaps if he did not meet her gaze, she would go away. The Flower could exit his study by whatever mysterious method she’d entered and leave him in peace.
Light footfalls approached him from behind, followed by the quiet, decidedly feminine sound of a throat being cleared.
She was still there, confound her.
“I am not in that line of work any longer, mademoiselle.” The nib of his quill was becoming dull. He eyed the feather carefully. Yes, most definitely dull. Opening the top drawer of his desk, he reached for a short knife. “I suggest you find someone else.” Breaking the Flower’s ridiculous spy codes was less important than his other tasks. Such as whittling the point of his quill.
“I have a need for you, monsieur.”
He scowled at the quill and shifted in his chair. Her voice was sultry and sensual, as befit her profession—well, one of them, at any rate—but her words sounded as if she were advancing a sexual liaison.
“I am no longer in His Majesty’s employ. I’ve retired from code breaking.” Thankfully. He only wanted to study words on the page, and as he excelled at translations, his services were in high demand.
Blowing on the nib to dislodge any loose shavings, he was careful to turn away from the desk so the debris did not scatter onto wet ink. He still did not turn to look at her, though he could sense her prowling around his study. Baffling that she could enter the house without even his sharp-eared assistant discovering her.
“This matter is not related to His Majesty, monsieur.”
Something stirred against his shoulder. A light touch, little more than her clothing brushing his. Her scent came again. Soap. Not overly sweet as some ladies used, but plain soap.
Maximilian ignored it. He wanted to work, and letters and words were easier to understand than gorgeous spies masquerading as French opera dancers and mistresses. He bent over the paper and pretended the Flower was not standing beside him.
The nib of the quill scored the paper as he tested it. Perhaps he’d oversharpened it due to the distraction of his visitor.
“This matter is only for myself.” Her voice layered over the scratching of the quill. Even when she spoke English, the words were accented, though he had never been able to determine the precise region of France she heralded from. “It is coded.”
A small, gloved hand slid into his vision, blocking his view of the Russian text. Between her fingers was a scrap of paper. He brushed her hand away even as his mind recorded the note. Two inches on the vertical height, approximately four on the horizontal length. Eight square inches with two lines of text across.
The paper reappeared in front of him, still held tightly in her fingers. He supposed persistence was a necessary quality for a spy.
“I shall pay you, monsieur.”
Hell and the devil. Being a second son, his inheritance was not large, and the government did not pay translators particularly well—or code breakers, for that matter. Maximilian’s pockets, while not light, were not exactly heavy.
With a sigh, he finally looked up into the Flower’s face.
Her beauty simply stole his breath—no doubt as it did every other man. An oval face was framed by a riot of inky curls and a defined widow’s peak, with eyes the same deep shade as her hair and narrowed in watchfulness. As she usually did when she worked, the Flower wore all black. A small ebony coat, breeches, and boots. A cap was clutched in her other hand. The Flower might be dressed as a man, but there was no mistaking the flare of hips or the exquisite face.
Or the determined light in her eyes.
“Just this note?” he asked, deciding he would make her pay well for a coded message, since she had interrupted him.
“Oui.” Her full pink lips curved up in a satisfied grin. “Your fee is two pounds?”
He leaned back in his chair and eyed that grin. He didn’t like it. Or her. Too sneaky by half and so gorgeous a man might forget all boundaries of respectability. “Five pounds.”
“Five?” One black brow rose to a wicked point. “My brain, it has been lost, do you think? Two pounds, ten shillings.”
“Four and ten.” He would have accepted the two pounds from anyone else. The loss of the brandy and hi solitude was worth more than two pounds.
“Three and ten.”
He set her paper beside the two sheets already on his desk, where it lay like a bright beacon on the polished surface. Dismissing it for now, Maximilian picked up his quill again. Dipping it into the inkwell, he turned his mind back to the Russian text. “Return tomorrow night, and I shall have it for you.”
“No.” Leaning over, she tapped a finger on her note with gloves that matched the rest of her ensemble. She would be near to invisible in the dark with all that black clothing—which was her intention, no doubt. “I have need of it now. S’il vous plaît.”
“I cannot break the code now. I am translating Russian for a client who already paid me.” Setting his fingers on the original Russian letter, he skimmed them over the lines of text until he found the place he had left off. “You have not yet paid me.”
“Mon Dieu!” She muttered it, but a coin landed on the Russian letter. Another. Then more, until three pounds te lay scattered on the document.
His temper spiked. There was an order to his projects. The Russian project first, tomorrow he would translate a Greek paper on the study of water fowl, then Vivienne La Fleur’s spy code.
“I still cannot do it immediately.” He shoved the coins off the Russian letter. “Your note is too complicated—the symbols, the order. It will take time.”
In his peripheral vision, he saw her shoulders sag in defeat. A small movement, but she always stood so straight and tall, shoulders back and head high. A dancer’s pose. Even the slightest movement of those shoulders showed
Quite deeply at the moment, he wished the gentleman in him would stay quiet.
“Very well. I will have it by morning.” Sleep would be unlikely, though staying awake all night to translate an interesting bit of text was not a new occurrence. “
Thank you. Merci.” Her voice sounded odd. Hoarse, perhaps, as if she were going to cry.
“Mademoiselle La Fleur.” He turned his head, angled it up to look at her. “If you are going to be a watering pot, get out of my study.”
Pointed chin jerking up, she cleared her throat. “I am not a watering pot. My throat is sore. I have recently recovered from an illness.”
Spinning on her heel, she stalked across the room, dark curls swirling through the air like a—well, he didn’t know. No one had hair like the Flower.
For once, her boots made more noise than a whisper.
Now it was his turn to grin.