The Lure of the Moonflower

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig Page B

Book: The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lauren Willig
“Someone called on your phone. He wants a box.”
    “A box?” Colin glanced back over his shoulder at the tower, which was, admittedly, filled with boxes. “What kind of box?”
    “You tell me.” I straightened, realizing I had omitted the truly crucial bit. “Someone is holding your aunt hostage and he won’t release her unless you bring him the box. What in the hell is the box?”
    “Did you say hostage?” Colin blinked several times.
    I nodded vigorously. “Someone kidnapped your aunt Arabella.”
    Repeating it didn’t help it make any more sense. In fact, it sounded increasingly absurd. But I had heard her; I knew I had.
    Rapidly, I said, “It sounds ridiculous, I know, but whoever it was put her on the line. I spoke to her, Colin. She sounded scared.” It was time to get down to brass tacks. “What do you have that someone would want that much?”
    “I don’t—” He broke off, his lips frozen on a denial that wouldn’t form.
    “You don’t?” I prompted. Like George Washington, Colin couldn’t tell a lie. At least not a good one. That was one of the things I liked about him. He might clam up from time to time, but he didn’t dissemble. Which, considering that he came from a long line of spies and secret agents, was pretty amazing. “You’ve thought of something, haven’t you?”
    Colin was wrestling with his conscience. “It’s not my secret to tell.”
    My pulse picked up with the crazy adrenaline rush you get before exams and right before the dentist lowers the drill. “I’d wondered about this. You’re a spy, aren’t you?”
    “What? No.” He stared at me like I’d grown a second head. “I’m not a spy. Aunt Arabella is.”
    Now it was my turn to stare. “Wait, what? Your aunt Arabella is— What?”
    “A spy. Agent. Whatever you want to call it.” Colin gave a little shake of his head. “Not is. Was. Back in the fifties and sixties. Possibly longer than that. I don’t know, really. She doesn’t talk about it.”
    I stood there, my mouth open, trying to reconcile the woman I knew, the one who wore Chanel pantsuits and placed biscuits on tea trays, with all the images conjured up by the word “spy.” It was surprisingly easy. Even in her eighties, Mrs. Selwick-Alderly had an athletic grace. In her twenties and thirties she probably could have disarmed a villain one-handed while playing a set of tennis.
    Why hadn’t I seen it before? Perhaps because, with the arrogance of youth, I had assumed she had always been just what she was: an elegant lady who lunched, a woman of her generation, those bad old days before women seized the day and began hammering at the glass ceiling.
    I, of all people, should have known better. Whatever the generation, whatever the circumstances, bright women made their own chances. The more underestimated one was, the easier to infiltrate, to listen, especially to the puffery of men who considered a sweet young thing a harmless audience.
    Mrs. Selwick-Alderly was very good at listening. I should know. The first time I’d met her, I’d blurted out my whole life’s story.
    More than that, she had a Sphinx-like calm that always made you suspect that she knew far more than she was saying. She doled out information purely on a need-to-know basis, but with the oblique promise of more.
    Rather like the Pink Carnation. In fact, very like the Pink Carnation.
    “I’m an idiot,” I said flatly. “Of course.”
    She had lived everywhere, traveled everywhere, all around the globe, from hot spot to hot spot, Cyprus, Berlin, Kashmir on the eve of the handover, following her husband, who had something to do with the army.
    Unless her husband had been following her, a convenient cover, an excuse. The higher-ups could arrange these things, I’d heard.
    I looked at Colin in sudden alarm. “You think it’s someone from her past? Then the box . . .”
    “Could be anything,” said Colin. “Or anywhere.”
    “Then why would they think you have

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