Richard handed Jane up into the carriage, nodding once to his tiger before stepping up into the conveyance himself. Before he had completely settled on the rear facing bench, Jane was already bringing up the topic he had so carefully tried to avoid speaking of earlier. But Jane was not one to let things go unnoticed, a particularly strong asset for a spy.
“The mud, Your Grace. It is not everyday a gentleman of the realm acquires so much mud on his shoes when engaging in a fashionable pursuit.”
Richard frowned as the carriage began to bounce its way across London to deliver them to the theater. He could not remember what it was they were going to see, but he suspected it would involve a lot of nonsensical music and drama. He hoped it would only be boring enough to lull him into a bit of a nap.
“Tenacity is another good trait for a spy,” he decided to say, but Jane only frowned at him.
“Mud, Richard,” she said, her dark eyes even darker in the dim light of the carriage.
Her raven hair was swept up, disappearing under the ridiculously plumed hat she wore. He noticed her widow’s garb was slightly less austere of late, the hat of particular note to this fact, but her wardrobe still consisted of unrelenting black, and for whatever reason, this made him pause. Winton had been dead for nearly a year now. He was not exactly knowledgable as far as the appropriate length of time for a widow to be in mourning, but he was hoping it would soon come to an end. And then he could ask Jane to marry him.
“Dead bodies,” he said then without preamble.
He was not concerned that Jane would revolt from such harsh discussion. It was Jane who had first broached the topic of his work with the War Office when she had pointed out a very obvious fact that no one else had bothered to articulate: his rather noticeable absence from his responsibilities in the House of Lords. His loyalty to crown and country unquestioning, it was rather odd that the Duke of Lofton should be so remiss in his duties as a titled gentleman, and it was Jane who had finally pointed out the fact to none other than the culprit himself. She had not even been so polite as to cast her inquiry in a casual question of curiosity. She had simply asked him where he was if he was not attending his governmental charge.
Unable to lie to Jane and not really wanting to either, he had looked at her and simply replied, “I’m a spy for the War Office.”
For such a delicate topic, it had all gone over rather unceremoniously, and now Jane simply referred to his work with the Office as his unmentionable activities. But despite her given name for them, it did not prevent her from speaking of them often.
“Dead bodies?” she said then, and he saw her dark eyebrows go up.
“I’ve been watching a gang of body snatchers,” he said, looking out the window at the passing London scenery.
“Ressurectionists,” Jane said, and Richard looked quickly at her.
“How do you know that term?”
He saw the moment the blush sprang onto Jane’s face, and he regretted the harsh tone of his words if not the words entirely. He often forgot that Jane still struggled with finding her courage since her husband’s death. He did not know entirely what all Jane had endured at the hand of Jonathan Haven, the Earl of Winton, but he knew enough to tread lightly in certain cases. And when it came to intelligence, he should have tread much more lightly than he had.
“I’m sorry, Jane. How is that you know about resurrectionists?”
Jane’s hands tightened in her lap, and he wanted nothing more than to cross to her bench and take her into his arms, but he knew that would only cause her to restrain herself more. So he sat there and watched her hands for any indication of her feelings at that moment.
Jane finally shrugged, her gown rustling against the fabric of the bench.
“Ladies talk about things all the time,” she said but didn’t look at him, “Why wouldn’t ressurectionists come up?”
“It’s not really a common topic-“
“I’ve been attending lectures at College. Scientific ones,” she said, her words a flurry between them. “Winton never allowed me to attend lectures, and I-“
“I think that’s wonderful,” Richard said softly when there was a space in her words, hoping to calm her sudden explosion of speech.
She never used Winton’s name directly, not in the year since his death, and Richard absorbed the fact that she had just spoken his name like a dying plant absorbs water and sunlight. It was a tiny bit of hope that he clung to, hope that one day she would blossom into the woman he remembered meting for the first time so many years before. The woman who Jane was when she first married Winton, before the earl had broken her.
The carriage bounced beneath them, and it was several moments before Jane spoke again.
“It was at a lecture on natural medicine. The ladies seated in front of me were gossiping about ressurectionists. I missed the first portion of the conversation and had to fill in the parts that I missed as best I could.” Her words had slowed, her breath evening out.
“You filled in the parts quite nicely, my lady,” Richard said, his eyes watching her closely.
“But I believed it to be just gossip, Richard. I didn’t assume that ressurectionists actually existed, and I certainly never imagined that you would be spying on them,” she said.
“Observing,” he said, hoping his playful jab would lighten the suddenly oppressive mood.
He watched her shoulders relax, her hands unfastening themselves from one another, and his breath came a little easier.
“Indeed,” she said, her voice returning to its normal tone and cadence, “So why is it that you’re observing some ressurectionists?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” he answered, returning his gaze once more to the passing scenery.
There was something about the blurring landscape as it raced past the window that allowed his thoughts a moment of peace to realign in his mind.
“Body snatching is a normal enough practice, especially since the enactment of certain restrictions on the practice of medical schools obtaining corpses for study. But this particular band seems a touch more active than is normal.”
The carriage passed over a rather more uneven portion of road, and Richard gripped the bench to keep himself from falling off his seat. He looked at Jane to ensure that she was all right and found her holding onto her hat with one hand.
“That’s a lovely hat,” he said, distracted by her movement. “Tell me, Jane, when is it that propriety will no longer require you to wear such unrelenting black?”
Jane moved her hand from her hat to the bent collar of her bodice.
“You do not like this current dark ensemble? I was beginning to grow accustomed to such dark hues, Your Grace. Do you not think it could become my signature style? Perhaps I could start a trend.”
Richard smiled at her in the near dark.
“It does nothing for your hair,” he said.
She raised an eyebrow.
“And since when have you become concerned with an acceptable palate for my coloring?”
“Oh, I think you will find fashion has always been one of my strong suits.”
Jane looked down at his feet.
“It’s nice to see the mud has been removed from your shoes,” she said flatly, drawing a grin to his face.
“At least my shoes match,” he said and watched an irritated blush creep up Jane’s face.
“It was only the one time, and you rushed me,” she said, rather defensively.
“That was your claim at the time, but I still find your argument to be largely unsupported.”
She narrowed her gaze at him, and even in the darkness, he could feel the strength of her stare.
“I believe you changed the subject, Your Grace.”
He grinned but decided to leave the conversation where it was.
“They snatch a body nearly every night,” he said.
“And that is unusual?”
“Most body snatchers have a concern for discovery and only operate on certain nights during a given period. Although, some gangs have come to appreciate the influence of those that may save them from punishment for their consequences, there are still more bands that do not have the fortunate circumstances of having such aid. It is one of those bands that the War Office began to monitor some weeks ago.”
“What is it that is suspicious about their activity other than its frequency?”
“They are securing a large sum of money for their wares that is unaccounted for.”
Jane adjusted as the carriage made a turn, and Richard gripped his bench tighter.
“This gang of ressurectionists are making a substantial amount of money from digging up dead bodies from graveyards and selling said dead bodies to medical schools?”
“Yes,” Richard said with a nod.
“So what is this group doing with the money?”
“That is precisely the question the War Office is asking, my lady,” Richard said. “Are you sure you have no desire to pursue an intelligence profession?”
Jane rolled her eyes at him. He saw the movement even in the near dark.
“Do not be absurd, Your Grace. Perhaps they are sending the money to help compatriots in France or something.”
Richard shook his head.
“There is no evidence of international transactions. The money seems to simply disappear.”
It was Jane’s turn to frown.
“Money cannot simply disappear, Richard. There must be someone behind it.”
He nodded as he looked out of the window. They were approaching the theater, and the carriage slowed to accommodate the sudden increase in traffic. He looked again at Jane, marking the delicate outline of her pale face in the dark, the whites of her eyes flashing even as their unreadable depths melted away into nothing. His mind raced over their current conversation, and he marveled at what an unlikely topic they had taken up.
He knew very well that it was not any woman who would not only love his sons as much as he did but who could also follow and add to a conversation that involved dead bodies and illegal monetary exchanges. As Richard had plainly seen in his marriage to Emily, some women had heart, and other women had intelligence. It was remarkable to find a woman who had both, and he had found it in Jane. But what that would mean was yet to be seen.
“That is precisely what has attracted the attention of the War Office.”
The carriage stopped in front of the theater, and Richard heard the tiger jump from his perch. He moved to open the door, handing Jane down to the waiting servant.
A steady stream of elegantly dressed ladies and fashionably coifed gentleman already moved into the theater, and it was then that Richard realized he had not asked Jane what they were seeing. He gripped Jane’s hand in his as they made their way toward the entrance.
“My lady, it appears I have forgotten what it is that we are to see this evening,” he said, squeezing Jane’s hand in his.
He looked over to her in time to see the small smile on her lips.
“That is because I did not tell you what it was we are seeing,” she replied, and he thought for an instant, she was fighting a laugh.
He felt a prickle of awareness run up the back of his neck. He wanted to reach up and swat it away as if it were a physical thing.
“It is not-“
“It is actually,” Jane said, turning her face up to him in a broad smile.
He let her hand slip from his in a move of utter defeat.
“Again? Isn’t there another opera they would care to perform this season?”
Jane smiled radiantly up at him.
“You know as well as I that Monsieur Devereaux’s portrayal of Tamino is all the rage this season, and it is only fashionable that we should attend another performance.”
“We’ve already attended two,” Richard said, trying not at all to hide his exasperation.
Jane only smiled.
“Perhaps one day you will better handle your social responsibilities.”
“If anyone had told me regular opera attendance would be demanded of a duke, I would have passed on the title long ago,” he grumbled, moving to take her hand in his once more as they moved with the stream of people.
“And I would ask that you not fall asleep this time,” Jane murmured quietly.
He looked down at her blinking.
“I did not fall asleep-“
“You snored,” she whispered, “And it drew the attention of nearly everyone in the theater.”
Richard straightened and looked at the ladies and gentlemen moving in front of him.
“Well, then perhaps people found me more entertaining than Devereaux’s Tamino.”
“Perhaps,” was all Jane said as they entered the theater.