Into the Fire
by Pam and Del
This series is a sequel to Into the Game
HE FOUND HIMSELF RECALLED TO LIFE . . .
"Why did you save my life?" Archie rasped, anger warring with grief. "Why not just let me die?"
Kilcarron's gaze sharpened. "Over the years I have recruited--in the service of the Crown--many agents, possessing various talents, from different walks of life. Including the Navy."
"You're saying you want me to turn spy?"
"To become an agent."
AND SENT INTO THE GAME . . .
"Mr. Carmichael will be your division leader. I'll be expecting a favorable report."
"Give us a name to use." Carmichael sounded slightly impatient now.
"Archie," he said finally. "Archie Stewart."
IT IS MAY 1804. THE MAN CALLED "Archie Stewart" IS ABOUT TO ENCOUNTER . . . .
"All right, listen here, you lot!"
The words themselves were neither unusual nor unexpected; the tone and volume with which they were uttered, however, brought the entire common room to a sudden, silent halt, while a dozen pairs of trained, observant eyes fixed on the speaker. Archie Stewart, formerly Kennedy, studied his commanding officer and realized he had never seen Carmichael this angry before: cold rage radiated from him like sparks flying from a bed of stirred embers.
Carmichael still stood in the doorway. Face and voice as hard as flints, he continued, "Jamieson, Stewart, Grant, Ferguson, MacCrimmon, Dunbar: pack your gear. We're down to London at first light. Talbot, Erskine, Richards, Ross--your orders are to shut down things here, then get over to Leith and await further orders by sea. Once secure, be ready to go on an hour's notice.
"Seaton's been killed."
Abruptly, Carmichael turned on his heel and vanished. Archie glanced at Rory MacCrimmon, the only division member younger than himself. "Seaton?" The name sounded only slightly familiar.
Rory shrugged in response, equally puzzled.
"She was the head of one of the London divisions," Jamieson replied. "She was one of our own." Just as abruptly as their commander, he pushed himself away from the wall and strode out of the room.
"She was one of Kilcarron's very first recruits," Caillean Dunbar explained. "She and Carmichael must have worked together on at least nine or ten operations. I don't think there's a senior agent in the last twenty years that she didn't help train." She rose quickly to her feet. "I'm going to pack."
Round-eyed, Rory stared at Archie as Caillean departed."D'you think the whole house has heard about it?"
"Very likely," Archie replied.
"Are they all going to be like this?" Rory was wondering
aloud about the unfamiliar mood of the surrounding adults.
Archie tried to think of a way to explain it. "Imagine if it was Carmichael who was killed, Rory. Or Dr. Latour. Or even Caillean. Someone you saw every day and were used to having nearby."
Rory looked thoughtful, then shivered. "I wouldn't want to be the one that killed her--not with that many people angry at me."
"London," Jamieson spoke up as their carriage jolted along the countryside. "I only just remembered. Smith should be there."
Rory made a sound that resembled a growl. Archie looked up curiously.
"Agent Smith. Agent-Miss-Smith," the other elaborated. "She's a division leader in London--Rory'd remember her."
Rory growled again. "She and Carmichael--"
"Have interesting conversations," Jamieson finished. "I wonder what will happen this time?"
"And you let her go? Just like that?" The northern accent was suddenly thicker; Archie blinked as Carmichael continued." An old woman, to put herself in harm's way while you pampered lot sat on your arses? You're not just soft, you're gutless!"
Smith's face was furious now. "If she were here she'd box your ears for saying that, and you know it!"
"But she's not here!" The explosion came. "You lot mucked up and it's cost us all. There's an officer gone. And we've been called down to clean up after you!"
The commander of one division was tearing raw, bloody strips off another division, Archie realized, and was glad he was not in the London circle. But even in the service, this diatribe might raise some eyebrows; he was not surprised to hear Kilcarron's long-delayed voice.
Several Londoners' eyes--but not Smitty's--turned to the earl.
"Sir." Carmichael's voice yielded nothing.
Kilcarron rose from his chair at the head of the table. "I don't believe I have a thing to add."
A savage yank on her arm brought her upright and awake, struggling to find her feet on the drawing-room floor. A box on the ear, hard enough to make her cheek tingle and her eyes water, roused her still further. Cradling her smarting cheek, Medora blinked the last of the sleep from her eyes, stared into her sister-in-law's livid face, so distorted with rage it was barely recognizable.
"You little whore!" Fanny's fingers tightened on her shoulders, shook her bruisingly back and forth. "Is this how you repay our trust?" She released her grip so suddenly that the younger woman staggered backwards, and once more had to fight for balance. Fanny's second blow caught her on the other side of her face. "You slut!"
Abruptly, the world became tinged with red--in the split second that followed, all Medora could hear was the sound of flesh violently striking flesh. Then, just as suddenly, her vision cleared, but her right hand was stinging, burning like the fires of hell . . .
And a huge welt was forming on Fanny's right cheek. Medora stared at it, too shocked to speak. Nor was she the only one. Pale blue eyes glared at her in outraged disbelief.
"The traitor could be any one of three people--two of them are French emigres. The third is an Englishman," Smitty reported.
"And there are further disturbing developments." Kilcarron steepled his fingers. "An Admiralty agent involved in this operation disappeared last week. His body was pulled from the Thames yesterday. He was Commander Seaton's contact, I believe."
Smitty looked stricken. "Lieutenant Baxter, sir?"
"The same," Kilcarron confirmed. "So you see, it is imperative that we find the traitor by any means necessary." His gaze traveled around the table. "To achieve that end, a number of you will be infiltrating London society . . . at its highest level."
Archie studied himself in the long mirror, smoothed back his artfully dyed and tousled hair, and gave the waistcoat one last straightening tug.
"Fine feathers," Carmichael observed. He was sprawled lazily across Archie's bed; exhausted, he claimed, from a day spent reassigning the London agents.
"Assuredly of the first stare," Archie confirmed. "But to be truly a la mode: one's boots and outer garments should be so closely cut that one requires the assistance of numerous . . . servitors merely to assume them."
"You don't say." The northern brogue had grown considerably thicker.
"I do, indeed." Concealing a smile, Archie intoned in his best imitation of the Earl of Edrington, "By the by, it might be better if you were to address me as 'my lord.'"
A rude snort came from his superior. "Put on your own damn jacket!"
There were iron-grey streaks beginning to show near the temples, but the hawk-like intensity of the dark eyes was still the same. Archie inclined his head respectfully.
"Admiral. An honor to meet you, sir."
"Mr. . . . Lennox." Pellew's keen eyes narrowed slightly. "I believe we may have some mutual acquaintance. May I invite you to dine with me tomorrow, sir?"
Caillean pirouetted, letting her skirts swirl around her, then came toward Archie in a blaze of scarlet and gold. "What do you think, Mr. Stewart?"
"The . . . color suits you very well," Archie ventured cautiously, sensing the need to say something polite and complimentary.
"The only question left is--what scent shall I choose to wear with it? Something exotic and costly," Caillean raised her left wrist, ". . . or something devastatingly simple?" She held up her right wrist in a similar pose. "Mr. Stewart, could you assist me in my decision?"
Archie blinked, but obligingly took the hand extended to him, raised the wrist closer to his face and inhaled: a sharp, striking scent, not unpleasant, of spice and musk.
"And now the other." Caillean offered her other hand, and Archie prepared to do the honors once more.
Lavender, he suspected as he raised her wrist to his face again--that was her usual choice. Then, bowing his head, he breathed in--the scent of rosewater . . .
A garden at sunset, the velvety petals and needle-sharp thorns of his sister's roses, and a girl's grey eyes meeting his over the richly crimson flower he had just plucked and offered . . .
No! Stop it . . .he'd be shaking in a minute if he didn't stop remembering. Stop it, damn you!
Archie forced himself back to the present with a wrench that was almost physically painful, He could feel the color draining from his face, leaving him pale and still as a statue, and cold all over.
"Mr. Stewart--" Caillean's voice held a faint note of perturbation. She tilted her head, eyes narrowing as she studied his face.
Sheridan opened the door. "We will be delighted to see your new work, as well." He shut the door behind himself and Medora, turned to greet someone waiting in the corridor. "Ah, Kitty! Good morning."
Startled grey eyes met familiar blue ones. "Miss Cobham!"
"Miss Tresilian!" The actress extended a welcoming hand. "I remember you, of course. And Lieutenant Kennedy."
"It has been two years." Peter's voice was gentle. "Can you not allow yourself to be happy again?"
Medora stared up at him. "What are you saying, Mr. Carrisford?"
"My dear Miss Tresilian--Medora--I am asking you to marry me. And to begin a new life--in America."
A low, honey-heavy voice drawled from the shadows, "Lud, sir--I 'ave been waiting for you this age."
He spun around, eyes widening.
A soft laugh, accompanied by the rustle of heavy fabric and a wave of scent, redolent of clove and gillyflower. Then she drifted from the shadows to let the firelight glimmer upon the rich rose-and-gold brocade she wore, cut low enough to expose the top of her breasts, gleaming like tawny ivory. A glittering waterfall of diamonds wreathed her neck, filled in some of the expanse of bare skin . . . but far too little was left to the imagination.
Archie's incredulous gaze traveled upward to the artfully painted face, the elaborate coiffure that could only be a wig, the circle of brilliants nestled among the jet-black curls. "Good God," he breathed, with entirely the wrong sort of reverence.
Taking her hand in both his own, he brushed a kiss across the palm, ran his thumb along the inside of her forearm. She shivered pleasurably, half-closing her eyes, as he began to lead her towards the bed . .
Her eyes narrowed, and her smile widened into dangerous mischief.
"And this is from me!"
Her lips parted warmly against his; her hands twined around his waist . . .
. . . dropped down and smacked him quickly across the backside.
Smiling, he slipped into his bedroom, closed the door, turned the lamp up slightly.
"Well, you've had a night of it!" Carmichael's voice, unmistakably amused.
Archie nearly jumped out of his skin. Turning slowly around, he found his commanding officer sitting in the chair by his bed. Even in the dim light, the amusement was visible on his face--along with a slight trace of anxiety. Narrowed tawny eyes scanned Archie from head to toe; the younger man became acutely aware of his disheveled garments, the lingering traces of scent. His face began to burn, betraying him further.
"No need to ask what you've been doing," Carmichael remarked. "Or when." He frowned faintly. "For the second night in a row? It doesn't seem quite like you, though. How much of a problem is this going to become?"
"It won't." Archie closed his eyes, swallowed before opening them again. "I'll--tell you. I'll tell all of you."
"They haven't come back yet," Smitty said, her voice flatly emotionless.
They? Rory *and* Carmichael?
"But," Archie began.
"It's been two and a half hours," Smitty continued in the same flat tone.
"That's not--" Archie stopped himself.
"No, it's not good," Smitty concluded for him. She threw the cards she had been holding down on the table next to the lace cap and stood up.
Archie saw the small, dark objects drop to the floor, bent to retrieve them. "You're losing your hairpins--Smitty."
"Oh, damn and blast the hairpins!" Smitty exclaimed. This time she combed both hands through her hair, shedding pins in all directions. "I hate the waiting!" she burst out finally. "It's the worst part of the job."
Archie thought over the past two years. "I'm sure you're right," he began, but stopped as they heard the footsteps.
Carmichael and Rory, both looking grim, dirty, and rather worn. Archie opened his mouth but was forestalled by a voice behind him.
"You god-damned, bloody, pig-headed bastard, where the hell have you been?"
The muzzle pointed straight at Kilcarron. Archie flung himself forward, heard the report in his ears, and tumbled into darkness.
Out of the frying pan . . . and
INTO THE FIRE (cue extra-loud music!)
Archie shifted uncomfortably in the bed, licked his lips. "Will you come to me--in Edinburgh?"
"To the wide world's end."
(Fade to black)
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