Today's Reading

Anya glanced around her comfortable bedroom. She had a wardrobe full of clothes, silver-backed brushes and mirrors, a host of expensive luxuries she'd always taken for granted. She pushed down a brief pang of regret. "We'll have to leave all of this behind."

Elizaveta nodded decisively. She selected a small bag and thrust a few choice articles inside, then picked up Anya's travelling cape and the reticule of diamonds. "Thank goodness we didn't leave these in there with him."

Anya pulled her leather jewelry box from the back of the wardrobe. "I have some coins. And we can take a few more jewels. Vasili won't know what's missing." She grabbed the satchel she used for watercolor paints and thrust her favorite pair of leather ankle boots inside, along with a shawl and a few clean chemises. "Hurry! Heaven knows how long we have before he wakes up."

She rushed to the writing desk in the corner, snatched up a pen and paper, and dashed off a short note proclaiming her intention to throw herself into the Seine. That done, she joined Elizaveta at the front door to the apartment. A thousand contradictory thoughts crowded her brain.

Good God. How had it come to this? Thrust from a life of peaceful contentment into one of terrifying uncertainty, all in the space of a few days. If they ran, they would be just like every other citizen out there; they'd have to make their own way in the world without the cushion of rank or fortune to ease the way.

The thought was oddly beguiling. Anya might never have experienced the hardship of living without family, or wealth, or social status, but she'd developed a certain amount of cunning while learning to survive the scandals and machinations of the Russian court. Neither she nor Elizaveta were fools. They were determined and resourceful. They would rise to this challenge. And really, could whatever awaited them out there be worse than the fate Petrov had planned for her?

She doubted it.

Anya took a fortifying breath. This might be an ending, but it was also a beginning. A chance to experience all that life had to offer. Her whole life she'd been seen as little more than a means of enrichment or a political pawn; it was time to see what she could achieve on her own.

She grasped Elizaveta's hand. "Are you sure you want to come with me? I can give you enough money to get back to St. Petersburg, if you want."

Elizaveta returned the squeeze. "I wouldn't dream of leaving you, my love. What's the plan?"

"All right. We'll find a carriage heading north, toward Belgium. There will be plenty of wounded soldiers returning home. We'll attach ourselves to them and say we're widows, or looking for our husbands. We'll go to England. Vasili won't think to look for us there." Anya gave a decisive nod. "Think of an English surname."

Elizaveta wrinkled her nose. "Smith? Brown? What was the name of the family in that English book we read last year? Bennett?"

"Perfect. You can be Elizabeth—no, Lizzie—Bennett. Or Smith, if you prefer. And I shall be Anna. Anna Brown. From this moment, Princess Anastasia Denisova is dead."

One year later. September 1816.

Sebastien Wolff, Earl of Mowbray, frowned down at the dead man at his feet and sighed in irritation.

He wasn't dressed to investigate a murder. He'd been about to leave for the opera and a visit to the infamous Mrs. Haye's brothel in Covent Garden, when his two best friends, Benedict Wylde and Alex Harland, had arrived at the Tricorn Club, commandeered his carriage, and effectively kidnapped him.

Alex had let out a slow sarcastic whistle when he'd seen Seb's immaculate evening clothes. "Look at you, pretty boy," he teased.

"Oh, sod off," Seb said amiably. "You're just jealous.

Your coats never fit this well. What's going on?"

"Conant's got a new job for us," Ben said, referring to their superior, the head of Bow Street and de facto head of police in London, Sir Nathaniel Conant. "Murder. Behind a tavern, down at the East India docks."

"That's hardly a reason for us to investigate," Seb said crossly. "People are killed down there every night of the week. Bar brawls, robberies gone wrong. It's not our territory. What's so different about this one?"

"Sounds like the deceased was a visitor to our shores. The innkeeper saw him drinking with another man and overheard them speaking Russian or Prussian—something foreign, at any rate. They seemed to be on friendly terms, but not fifteen minutes later, our man was found in the side alley with his throat slit."

"I still don't see what it has to do with us," Seb groused. "Two foreigners had a disagreement and one of them ended up dead. It was probably over a woman. Or cards. Let the local magistrate deal with it."

Alex shook his head. "The mention of Russia is what interests Conant. Castlereagh and the Foreign Office have been looking for a spy who passed information to the French about Russian troop movements before Waterloo. They think someone warned Napoleon the Russians were on their way."

This excerpt ends on page 16 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book The Dating Plan by Sara Desai.

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