A seductive agent, a disillusioned lord, and a web of deceit only they can untangle…
Sophie Bertrand is skilled in acting, espionage, and the subtle art of seduction. An independent spirit, she fought her way from rough streets to the top secret circle of spies known as the Zodiac. Her newest assignment is one of her most delicate yet: hunt down a traitor within Britain’s own government. But there’s a catch…this time she can't work alone.
Bruce Allander has a title, honor, wealth...but he’d trade it all to restore his family. The Zodiac gives him a chance for justice in a world that's already taken too much from him. Now he finds himself close to this captivating Frenchwoman—possibly too close. Sophie defies all his expectations, yet in her he senses a kindred soul.
Passion draws the two together, but a web of betrayals threatens to tear them apart. To survive, they have to trust each other. They have to be a little reckless…
A Reckless Soul is the second book in the Secrets of the Zodiac, a series that blends romantic suspense with the rich background of the Napoleonic War period.
A Reckless Soul
At that moment, the door opened again, and Julian waved a hand for silence. A young man in servant’s clothes entered, bearing a tray that held a decanter of fine scotch and a few glasses. He poured one and silently handed it to Bruce.
He tossed half of it back, and it instantly banished some of the ache from his body. “Ah, that’s better.”
Julian was looking hard at the waiter, who had not left the room yet. In fact, he was pouring another glass half full of liquor, despite the fact that both men had their glasses. Bruce frowned at the footman’s back. The Whitby Club should supply a better class of servant. Then the young man turned around, smiling lazily.
“How do you like my entrance, Julian?” The voice was feminine and suggestive. Bruce was at a complete loss. The waiter was no boy at all. It was a woman.
Julian just laughed, his face losing years of tension at the woman’s question.
“Very good,” he murmured approvingly. “Even I had to look twice. Actually, even though it’s not your real job, would you mind?” He held out his glass. The woman refilled it without taking her eyes off Bruce.
His own eyes narrowed as he examined her from head to foot and back again. It was undoubtedly a woman. A beautiful woman, at least from what he could see. The waiter’s clothes fit her well. She was tall, perhaps only a half foot shy of his own considerable height, which helped her deception. She was on the slender side, but the fine shape of her legs was now obvious through the fabric of the breeches, and he could see the outline of her calves under the thin stockings. Her footman’s coat and ruffled shirt were cut just a bit large, presumably to conceal feminine curves. The shirt came up to her neck, which continued to rise, slender and creamy, up to a face that was actually lovely, now that he was looking properly. He wondered how he’d missed it when she first came in. High cheekbones. Patrician nose. Lips far too full for a boy. But her hair…
Short, dark hair was cut close around her head, nearly as short as a man’s, but still oddly feminine, now that he looked closer. Was that her real hair? Had she actually chopped it off to impersonate a young man for a joke? What sort of woman did that?
He looked into her large, light brown eyes and found his answer. There was a challenge there. A dare. Bruce was intrigued.
Julian was grinning, actively enjoying his discomfort, or the woman’s attitude, or both. “Scorpio, meet Libra.”
Bruce couldn’t hide his surprise. “She’s a sign of the Zodiac?” That changed things.
“I am,” Libra replied. “And it is perfectly acceptable to speak to me directly.”
“Sophie, be kind. You do astound, after all.”
Astounding was a good word for her. Bruce had no idea what to say. He began, “I never thought the Zodiac would hire a woman as an agent…”
“No one ever does,” Libra—or Sophie—said. She tilted her head up proudly. “Which is why I’m so effective.”
Bruce didn’t doubt that.
Julian explained, “You can see, Forester. Libra will be a valuable asset in this assignment, where the element of surprise will be the most vital weapon you have.”
“It’s been very useful to me so far,” Sophie said. She frowned at their superior. “So why, Julian, are you bringing him into our confidence?”
Julian said, “Bruce Allander—he’s also the Viscount Forester, by the way—is the fifth person in the world to know your code name, Sophie. I chose him for a reason, and not without due consideration.”
“Hmm.” Sophie walked over to the other empty chair in the room and sat down, letting the servant’s deference slide from her bones, without regaining the customary mannerisms of a lady. Instead, she stretched out at ease in her chair, much as any gentleman would do. Except that Bruce could still see the outlines of her body. It was damned distracting, and highly improper for any woman.
Her next words, however, brought him back to reality. “I know what I’m capable of. So what…assets will his lordship bring to the cause?” she asked, disdain and contempt dancing in her tone. There was the tiniest hint of a foreign accent in her voice. He wondered where she came from, and why the Zodiac would hire someone from abroad.
Julian explained his plan. “Forester has been in the field for over a decade as a Zodiac agent, and has done extremely well. You seize opportunity, he plans down to the minute. You have a gift for improvisation, and his gift is skepticism. Further, he never forgets a thing.”
“True,” Bruce added quietly. And he planned to remember everything about this woman.
Julian went on, “His skills complement your own. Without his knowledge and expertise, you cannot hope to succeed in this next assignment.”
She snorted delicately, but said nothing more.
Bruce wouldn’t have let her if she had. “What is this, Julian? You’d better explain what we’re both doing here.”
“That should be obvious. You’re both going on an assignment. Together.”
Bruce recoiled. “We don’t do that. I always work alone. Why do I need a penny stage actress to tag along?”
“Penny stage actress?!” Sophie sat up straight in her chair and glared at him. That had gotten a rise out of her. It must be true.
Julian held up his hands and stopped them both before blood could be drawn. “Why are you sniping at each other? Let me explain why you must work together,” Julian said, a warning in his tone. “There’s going to be a gathering at a place called Carterhaugh Manor.”
“Never heard of it.”
“That’s because it’s in the middle of nowhere in the north. A vast estate that once rivaled the palaces of Europe, but it’s been a long time since its glory.”
“What sort of gathering?” Sophie asked.
“A number of wealthy and socially influential people—a few British-born citizens, but largely French expatriates who have since claimed to be loyal to Britain. They have been invited for a month-long house party at Carterhaugh...and, I suspect, they'll also be invited to join a conspiracy. You’ll join them.”
“And do exactly what?” She leaned forward. "I don’t understand why must it be two agents. I could easily get in on my own.”
Julian held up one hand. “Doubtless, except that the guest list is very exclusive. So you’ll both be replacing someone already on that list. Sophie, you’ll impersonate the woman: Madame Marianne Cassou. I have her description, as well as her wardrobe. You’ll be able to mimic her very well with a proper wig and clothing. Bruce has the right height and look to pass himself off as the other guest. And you both speak French fluently. That’s vital. With the sort of people who are expected to attend, you’ll likely have to conduct yourselves entirely in French at least some of the time.”
“Not an issue for me,” she said, confirming Bruce’s guess that she actually was French.
“And you both must be very careful. The number of guests mean you can never let down your guard.”
Julian pulled something out of his pocket. He presented each agent with a small object. “Take these.”
Sophie looked at the gold ring with revulsion. Bruce was no more pleased at the ring in his hand, clearly the match of the one she’d been given.
“Exactly what are these for?” he asked, though he already guessed.
“What do you think? You’re going to be masquerading as a married couple.”
“You can’t be serious,” Sophie said, eyeing Bruce.
“I agree,” he said. “What man in his right mind would marry that?”
Sophie’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
Julian hurried on. “Forester, you’ll be acting as Theodore Cassou. The Cassou couple were the only potential guests the Zodiac could make use of. And together, it’s far less likely that either of you will be thought a spy. A built-in alibi.”
Bruce was annoyed to discover his ring fit perfectly.
Sophie slid her ring on as well. “It’s a bit loose,” she said, shaking her hand experimentally.
“That’s because you still don’t eat enough, Sophie.” His offhand comment needled Bruce for some reason. Why would Julian even know how much Sophie ate? And why should he care?
From the look that flitted across her face, the comment flustered her. She must be sensitive about her size. And her stage actress past. Bruce filed those items away to think about later.
Julian outlined his plan in detail. Bruce saw a significant flaw in it, namely that he’d have to work with Sophie to accomplish the goals.
“As I say, you’re going to impersonate a couple with links to a conspiracy. Madame Cassou seems to have maintained some correspondence with the leader, thus securing the invitation. We need to know what he thinks she’ll provide him.”
Sophie’s eyes were intent. “And is her husband a willing partner in this endeavor?”
“We’re not sure,” Julian admitted.
“Oh, that’s grand,” Sophie muttered. “So we don’t even know which of us is supposed to be the traitor?”
Julian shot her a dark look, but said, “We got the best information we could, dear Sophie.”
Bruce broke in, “Speaking of Cassou, where is he? The real one, I mean?”
“Abroad—quite safe and out of the way. I called in a favor to delay the couple with some bureaucratic nonsense in Austria. They won’t be able to travel for at least three weeks. That’s your opportunity to finish the assignment.”
“I still don’t see the need for two of us. Let me go alone,” Sophie told Julian. “Scorpio can stay home…and out of my way.”
“No,” Julian said flatly.
“Better yet, send the lady back to the stage and let me get to work,” Bruce said, keeping his voice low. “I’m using the term lady as a courtesy, of course.”
Sophie got up, glaring at him.
“I don't need to tolerate this,” she snapped at Julian. She walked to the door, then turned back.
“This is a bad idea, Julian. Trust me.”
With those words, she glided out the room, leaving a faint scent of perfume and scotch in her wake.