The Lure of the Moonflower

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig Page A

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Authors: Lauren Willig
spattered with mud; his jacket showed signs of patching. In all the time she had known him, Nicolas had never undertaken a disguise that would render him anything but entirely soigné. Even in the black hood and robe worn by the members of the Hellfire Club, in a drug-fueled orgy, his locks had been arranged just so.
    Jack didn’t waste time on niceties. “What was that?”
    “Don’t you mean who was that?” Jane was glad of her false whiskers. They might not protect her from Nicolas, but they might at least hide her blushes. She shrugged, feigning nonchalance. “Call him an old adversary.”
    And so much more than that. Friend, enemy.
    Lover.
    “Have you ever heard,” said Jane, “of a spy called the Gardener?”

Chapter Six
    I had always wondered whether Colin was a spy.
    Not seriously. Well, mostly not seriously. I stood there holding his phone in my hand, that horrible, rasping voice echoing in my ears.
    Tell him. Bring the box.
    I set off up the stairs at a run, aiming for Colin’s study. Mrs. Selwick-Alderly had sounded . . . not afraid, precisely. But strained. Very strained.
    Mrs. Selwick-Alderly was the most unflappable person I knew. Stiff upper lip didn’t even begin to approach it.
    I could hear typing from behind the half-closed door of Colin’s study. Flinging it open, I said, “Colin?”
    My little sister looked up from behind Colin’s monitor, her fingers continuing to move even as she spoke to me. “Outside. He went to check on—something.”
    Something. Lovely. “Do you have any idea where?”
    “You know you’re flaking mud, right?”
    I flapped an impatient hand in Jillian’s general direction. “That’s what vacuums are for.”
    “Don’t you mean
Hoovers
?” Jillian had been a little too amused by my attempts to adopt the local lingo.
    “Whatever.” Right now I had other things on my mind than my sister’s
My Fair Lady
impression.
    Colin’s study had a view back over the grounds. Through the window I had caught sight of a familiar dark blond head making for the abandoned tower on the hill that I had once assumed held family secrets, but that actually held a miscellany of rusting farm equipment and, now, two dozen round tables with folding metal legs. Also some of the wedding presents we couldn’t quite figure out what to do with, including the cuckoo clock that sang, for some arcane reason,
“Frère Jacques,”
while a little monk popped in and out of the doorway.
    Jillian popped up from behind the computer screen. “If you’re looking for Colin, you could always
ring
on your
mobile
.”
    “Not helpful,” I said, and set off down the stairs, making for the garden.
    Zigzagging my way past people trying to intercept me felt a bit like being back in the field-hockey unit in gym class, only minus the mouth guard.
    “Later!” I called, and, “In a minute!” and, “Is that coffee?”
    No, no, mustn’t be distracted by coffee, even if Colin’s friend Martin, the backup best man (should Nick fail to show up), was carrying a whopping great Costa cup filled with beautiful, life-giving nectar.
    Pausing had been a mistake. A man with a clipboard came up to me. “Where do you want the—”
    “In a minute,” I said, and then spotted my mother. I pointed at her. “Ask her. She’ll know.”
    Resisting the urge to grab Martin’s coffee, I hustled towards the tower, which, unlike objects in the rearview mirror, was always farther away than it appeared.
    Colin was just emerging as I huffed and puffed my way up the hill. “Did you know you have mud on your—”
    “Yes,” I said shortly. “It’s cosmetic.”
    Colin looked doubtful but wisely forbore to inquire.
    Further explanation appeared to be needed. “Pammy made me do it.”
    Colin’s face cleared. “Ah,” he said wisely. And then, “Are you looking for Jillian? She went in to use the computer.”
    “I know.” Resting my hands on my knees, I took a moment to catch my breath. How to even begin to explain?

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