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A Noble Masquerade ~ The Original Prologue

Sometimes during the editing process, pieces of writing you feel strongly connected to have to hit the floor for the sake of the overall work. Such was the case with the original prologue for A Noble Masquerade. I still love this scene, but we all felt that in the end it didn't set the right tone for the beginning of the book.

That doesn't mean you can't enjoy it now! (This scene has NOT been edited and is in it's original draft form.)

London, England, 1812

Reducing men to a cold sweat with a glare was a skill he had honed well over his life. Birth blessed him with clout. Reputation gave him power. Experience granted him confidence. The combination was a potent weapon and the two men sitting on a worn settee across the shabby drawing room felt the total impact of his displeasure, if their sudden squirms were anything to go by. Honestly. Agents of the Crown squirming on a drawing room sofa.

“Thank you for seeing us, Mr. Smith.” The one who had introduced himself as Higgins adjusted his cravat. Sweat beaded on his pale temple.

The tick of the clock marked the time, increasing the discomfort in the room with every pulse.

Mr. Smith was not the man's real name, but it suited him well enough for the time being. He considered berating the inexperienced men for using their real names, but decided against it. Training wasn't his job.

Though if it was, he'd also tell them to ignore the faded silk wallpaper and the overall shabbiness of the room. Danger didn't lurk in the frayed edges of the once blue upholstery on his wingback armchair. It resided in the man himself.

He shifted his gaze from the settee's occupants to the sheaf of papers between them. “That doesn't look like a bank draft thanking me for my services to my country.”

“No, it's not. We have a situation-”

He cut the man off with a tilt of his head. “I said I was finished.”

Higgins rose and sidestepped across the room, papers in hand. The slight bend in his waist gave the appearance of a hunchback approaching a decrepit throne in a gothic novel. Disgust filled Mr. Smith. That two men who could be so easily intimidated worked for the War Office was revolting.

The hand that extended the papers trembled. “If you could just look it over?”

He snatched the papers and settled into the wingback chair, dismissing the two cowards from his attention. Notes covered the pages, detailing the investigation of a set of Napoleonic spies working on English soil. He had provided some of the information himself.

He tossed papers to the floor one by one as his eyes flitted over facts he already knew and no longer cared about. Cheating death was exhausting and he'd been doing it for too many years. It was time to pay more attention to his given responsibilities.

Paper after paper twisted in the air. He glanced up once to watch the hen-hearted delivery men wince as the parchment came to rest on the threadbare carpet.

The last paper in the stack contained a single sentence. A piece of new information that changed everything, just as he knew it was supposed to. His head fell against the chair back. His eyes slid closed as he slowly crumpled the paper into a tight wad. Each crack and crinkle of the shrinking paper felt like a nail in his own coffin.

“Get out.” He opened his eyes to spear the two men.

Slowly they rose, exchanging questioning glances. “What should we tell him? He'll want an answer.”

Mr. Smith shoved out of the blue armchair with enough force to send it sliding a few inches across the floor. He crossed to the window, focusing his tension to his shoulders so it wouldn't affect his gait. “He knows my answer. He knew my answer before he even handed you these papers.” One eyebrow rose as he turned back to his visitors. “Whatever you did to deserve the punishment of delivering this to me, I would suggest not doing it again.”

Two Adam's apples bobbed as the men gulped before fleeing from the run down set of rooms.

Alone, he allowed the cool persona of Mr. Smith to fall away and released his anger by throwing the balled up paper into the cold fireplace. His eyes slid shut and that single line swam into his vision. The one thing that could convince him to return to the shadows and they had found it.

He snagged the nearby mug and hurled it against the bricks. The crash was unsatisfying. Shards of the earthenware mug scattered over and around the balled up paper, waiting to pierce anyone who tried to retrieve it. The mission felt like that. A trap laid with the perfect bait, waiting to rip him apart.

“Jeffreys,” he called as he pulled the tinder box from the mantle. A quick strike of the flint and the condemning paper started to curl into ash. He rose and mentally dressed himself as Mr. Smith once more. He'd need all the professional detachment he could muster.

His trusted manservant appeared at the door, eyebrows raised in inquiry.

“I'll need a cold supper.” Mr. Smith glanced at the notes scattered around on the floor. “It's going to be a long evening. I've a mission to prepare for.”

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