Marie blotted her lips with her napkin, a classic ploy to buy time. Her chest tightened as she tried to pinpoint the cause of her annoyance. At least part of it was because of Colin. He obviously found this mission distasteful, but his sense of duty, of loyalty, overcame his concern for her sensibilities. And his own desires.
But it also seemed disrespectful, even wrong, to talk about espionage so soon after Twist’s death. Obviously, the Twenty had planned this mission before her last trip to Hatfield. Colin had hinted as much. But they weren’t giving her any time to grieve, to banish the haunting images, before thrusting her into something new. Mourning seemed to be another casualty of war.
Then there was Frost. Thoughts of the handsome German lingered around her heart every waking moment. Last night, visions of his face and echoes of his laugh had floated through her dreams.
Where was he now?
She blinked to hide the regret she was sure flickered in her eyes. Colin’s facial muscles tensed. “It seems so soon,” she said. “After what happened.”
“I know you’ve been through an ordeal. But there are so few with your special talents. Or your beauty.” His features relaxed, and he caressed her hand. “What they’re asking you to do will not be easy. You could accept my offer instead.”
“Your offer?” Marie withdrew her hand and feigned momentary puzzlement. She hadn’t forgotten his proposition, but he didn’t need to know that. Pulling a stock character from her repertoire, she gave him the affectionate look of a girl for her indulgent dad. “I stayed in England because I wanted to do something important in this war. This mission is ‘something important,’ isn’t it?”
Colin shifted, no doubt uncomfortable being seen as a paternal figure. He probably supposed her choices were limited: take the mission or take him.
But she had a third option, the one Frost had given her. She could go home. Perhaps that was the only way to reconcile with her mother.
But going home meant giving up on herself and on her dreams.
And giving up on Frost.
“If de la Rivera discovers your deceit,” Colin said, “he will take his vengeance upon you.”
Avoiding Colin’s hooded gaze, she focused on an enormous painting in a gold gilded frame hung on a nearby wall. Red-coated riders on horseback, swords drawn, rode into battle beneath a gray sky. Soldiers defending their land in the name of a long-ago king, doing their duty even if it meant their death.
What was her duty? What was important enough to sacrifice her life?
Through all the uncertainties of her future, one truth glinted as radiant as a perfectly cut diamond. If she went home, she would never see Frost again. The ache of that truth frightened her more than anything else.
“Tell the Committee I accept their mission.”
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