Excerpt from Charlotte and the Seductive Spymaster (a steamy enemies to lovers historical romance) | Author Grace Callaway Excerpt from Charlotte and the Seductive Spymaster (a steamy enemies to lovers historical romance) | Author Grace Callaway
Grace Callaway

Excerpt from Charlotte and the Seductive Spymaster

Book 5: Lady Charlotte's Society of Angels

Rhodes, Greece

Charlotte paced before the hearth of her bedchamber with her hands balled at her sides.

“How long have you been sleeping with her?” she said in a trembling voice.

“For the last bloody time, Charlotte, I am not having an affair.”

In contrast to her agitated movements, her husband Sebastian James Courtenay, the Marquess of Fayne, remained perfectly still, his hands braced on his hips, his expression hard and unyielding. Charlie hated that her rage and despair did not diminish her sensual awareness of him. Tall and muscular, he had a commanding presence that shrunk any room he entered. The light of dusk streaming through the villa’s windows gilded his thick chestnut hair, angular cheekbones, and square jaw. Beneath his straight brows, his eyes belonged to a warrior: the iron-black orbs were fierce yet guarded, revealing little of himself.

Charlie, being more observant than most, had learned to read her spouse somewhat during their year of marriage. After they made love, his eyes were as warm and potent as freshly brewed coffee. When they locked horns, his gaze turned unyielding, specks of bronze glittering in those coal-like depths. As they were both hotheaded, their rows were not infrequent, but they usually made up in ways that compensated for the emotional bloodshed.

But not this time—not since he’d betrayed her—and never again.

“Pray do me the courtesy of not treating me like an idiot,” she snapped. “I saw you, Sebastian. With my own eyes. You were kissing Eleni Pappas—making love to her in the back room of her dashed taverna!”

The memory drove a red-hot spike through Charlie’s breast, and she choked back a sob. She’d caught the proprietress and Sebastian in flagrante, the former’s bountiful curves pressed against the latter’s hard edges. And the pair’s mouths had been fused together.

How could Charlie have been such a fool, trusting her happiness to a man? One of her earliest memories was of being lost in a bustling Cairo market when her papa, a gentleman with a fever for antiquities, had abandoned her to chase down some relic. Frozen with terror, she’d huddled in the stall of a kindly Egyptian fruit seller, waiting for Papa to return for her. Wondering if he would. To this day, figs tasted to her of fear. From that experience, she’d learned to make herself useful so that Papa would not leave her behind again. So that she might claim some of his attention, maybe even some of his affection.

An invisible hand fisted around her heart. I should have known better than to trust a man.

“It wasn’t what you think,” Sebastian said.

He shoved a hand through his hair, tugging back the heavy front wave which needed a trim. Annoyingly, his casual style suited his outsized virility. Although a nobleman by birth, Sebastian despised foppery. His current outfit consisted of a linen shirt rolled up to reveal his hair-dusted forearms and toast-brown trousers that clung to his long legs. Even in a laborer’s garb, he looked like a king. He dressed and lived as it suited him, and devil take what anyone else thought.

From the instant Sebastian had come to her aid at a port in Marseille, Charlie had been drawn to his confidence and power. When he bestowed his attention upon her, she felt as if she’d been given the greatest gift in the world. And when he took it away…

The feeling was all too familiar.

It was an important artifact, Charlie. Papa’s impatience had shone in his grey eyes, the only inheritance she’d received from him. I had to go after it. If you were a boy, perhaps you would have kept up.

“Eleni and I are…we’re just friends,” Sebastian said gruffly. “I swear it upon my honor.”

Hearing him and the widow paired in the same sentence, Charlie felt sick with jealousy.

“Your honor.” Her pain hardened into sarcasm. “We both know what that is worth, don’t we?”

“Bloody hell.” His flaring nostrils conveyed his growing frustration. “If you were a man, I would call you out for that.”

“Go ahead. I know how to use a pistol,” she retorted.

Growing up in excavation camps and other rough-and-ready environments, she’d learned to fend for herself. Which was a good thing. Clearly, she couldn’t trust someone else to look after her best interests.

“For Christ’s sake, Charlotte. I am not going to shoot you—”

“Why not? It would be kinder than what you did,” she said bitterly.

A muscle flickered in his jaw. “I didn’t fuck Eleni. Why can’t you trust me?”

Because you are you, and I am me. I was a fool to think our happiness could last.

Even though her late father had been the Earl of Bembridge, Charlie lacked a genteel upbringing. Her mama had died when she was a babe, and her papa’s hobby had consumed him far more than his impoverished estate. Whenever he’d had two pennies to rub together, he would spend it on things he cared about: a shard of Mesopotamian pottery, some ancient religious relic. He wasn’t about to waste money on a boarding school for his daughter. He’d simply brought Charlie with him on his travels, the way one might a battered valise.

At two-and-twenty, Charlie was aware of her physical charms; during her travels with Papa, her honey-blonde hair and grey eyes had attracted plenty of unwanted male attention. She felt like a lady in name only despite her lineage. She had few drawing room accomplishments and no experience whatsoever with the polite world. Her main skills pertained to survival and taking care of her father. When Sebastian had proposed after a whirlwind courtship, she’d felt as if she were dreaming: a man like him could have anyone, yet he’d chosen her.

Now she knew why.

“Did you believe that my lack of experience would make me too stupid to see through your deception?” She balled her hands. “While I may not be as sophisticated as the ladies of your acquaintance, I am aware of how the world works. Men like you think they can do whatever they wish. It was my fault for believing that you were different—that your vows meant something.”

Anger and something darker smoldered in Sebastian’s eyes. “And it is mine for thinking that you would trust in my honor, wife. In me.”

“Trust?” she scoffed. “That, husband, must be earned. And the way to go about earning it is not by lying to me. Because you have been lying—repeatedly. Haven’t you wondered how I ended up at that dashed taverna?”

When he said nothing, she enlightened him.

“I ran into your old friend Georgios.”

At the betraying clench of Sebastian’s jaw, she felt a grim satisfaction. A friend of her husband’s, Georgios was a fisherman who also made his living as a guide for tourists. He’d taken Charlie and Sebastian on several excursions around the islands. Last week, when Sebastian had arrived home hours later than promised, he’d told her that he’d bumped into Georgios, and they’d caught up at a taverna, losing track of time.

As it happened, Charlie was in the village on an errand the following day and ran into Georgios. The kindly fellow asked after her husband, saying he hadn’t seen the marquess in over a month. At that instant, icy premonition had prickled Charlie’s insides.

Why would Sebastian lie about his activities? What had he been up to?

The chill had spread, as one by one, the memories hit her. The times Sebastian had been delayed coming home…or not shown up at all. His excuses had seemed innocuous: his horse had thrown a shoe, he’d been waylaid by an acquaintance, the meeting with his cartography society ran later than usual.

Once sown, suspicion proliferated like weeds in Charlie’s head.

Thus, she decided to verify his explanations. She’d hoped to put her mind at ease; instead, she’d smashed her marital happiness to smithereens. The man she loved had been lying to her. Repeatedly. Even worse, some part of her had always suspected that Sebastian was hiding something—that he had secrets.

While I trusted him with my heart, he played me for a fool.

“Georgios didn’t see you last week. You lied to me,” Charlie said flatly.

Sebastian rubbed the back of his neck. A telltale sign of unease.

“Georgios has a memory like a sieve,” he muttered. “If you were to ask him again—”

“After you’ve talked to him and convinced him to cover for you?” she said acidly. “Why don’t you save us both the bother and tell me where you really were?”

Bronze stars glittered in his gaze, but his lips formed a tight, stubborn line.

In the silence, she felt the weight of the truth. It was heavy enough to crush hope. To pulverize her dreams into glittering specks of dust.

“If you love me, then trust me,” he said finally. “I did not betray you. I never would.”

Oh no, he did not.

“It isn’t my love that is being called into question,” she said with quivering fury. “You are the one who broke his vows. The one who destroyed our marriage.”

“You are being dramatic—”

Her vision flashed red.

“I want a divorce,” she snapped. “Is that dramatic enough for you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We are not getting divorced.” He had the temerity to glance at his pocket watch. “Look, I have an unavoidable engagement with the cartography society. I wouldn’t go unless I had to. But I have been commissioned to do an important map for—”

“Just go.” She couldn’t bear to hear any more of his lies.

“I will be back as soon as I can, Lottie.”

Hearing his pet name for her shredded her heart. He was the only one who’d ever called her by that name, and she loved how feminine and sweet it sounded. Loved that her husband saw her that way. But it wasn’t enough to keep his attention, apparently.

She’d given him everything that she was. And it wasn’t enough.

When will I ever be enough?

“I don’t care if you ever come back,” she said rashly.

His countenance hardened. “Nevertheless, when I return, we will continue our discussion.”

“There is nothing left to discuss. Our marriage is over,” she said in a suffocated voice. “You are dead to me.”

Lines bracketed his mouth. His gaze smoldering like a forge, he looked as if he might say something. A heartbeat later, he turned and walked out.

* * *

Charlie awakened feeling like she hadn’t slept at all.

She was in bed, dressed in the same clothes she’d worn before Sebastian left. She hadn’t wanted to see the maid—to see anyone. She wanted to be left alone with her misery.

She’d gotten her wish. The light slanting through the shutters indicated that it was morning, and her temples throbbed from hours of crying. To no surprise, the place next to her was empty.

He is with Eleni. Probably bedding her right now.

Charlie squeezed her eyes, as if she could shut out the vision. She was done crying over her husband. Before him, she’d been a sensible woman, one in control of her emotions. She had to get back to who she’d been. The pragmatic survivor who always had a plan.

She went to the balcony for some air. The villa was set atop a hill dotted with stucco abodes, the sunrise gilding the terracotta roofs and setting the bougainvillea afire. The vibrant coral and pink sky competed with the rolling azure waves for brilliance.

What am I going to do? She stared at the sea, which looked calm but could suck a woman under. I have no money or power to petition for a divorce. If I leave Sebastian, where will I go—how will I survive?

She had no answer to the practical questions, let alone how to deal with her shattered heart.

“My lady?” Though quiet, the housekeeper’s voice startled her.

Wiping the backs of her hands over her wet cheeks, Charlie turned. “I beg your pardon, Sophia. I didn’t hear you come in…”

She trailed off when she saw the shock etched into the housekeeper’s weathered face.

Her heart thumping, she asked, “What is the matter?”

“News just came from the village, my lady. It’s…it’s the master—”

“Is he all right?” Charlie had to force the words through her numb lips.

“A taverna caught fire before dawn.” The housekeeper twisted her apron in her veined hands. “It had closed. Everyone was gone, except for the proprietress, Mrs. Pappas and…and Lord Fayne. They must have… They must have been asleep. The two of them, they did not make it out. I am so sorry…”

The edges of Charlie’s vision fluttered, her own words ringing in her ears.

Our marriage is over. You are dead to me.

“Sebastian,” she whispered.

Her knees buckled, and she was weeping as she fell.

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