Never Trust a Rebel

By: Sarah Mallory

Prologue

Paris—1756

The Porte St Honoré was crowded with the usual mix of smart carriages, heavy wagons and tumbrils, all anxious to reach their destination before dark. Suddenly shouts and an unseemly scuffle interrupted the steady flow of traffic. A group of liveried servants surged down the Rue St Honoré, dragging in their midst two figures whose bloodied faces, muddied frockcoats and torn lace ruffles suggested that they had been seriously manhandled. When the group reached the city gate they carried the two men outside and threw them down on to the cobbles.

‘If you are wise you will not return to Paris, messieurs,’ growled one of the servants, making a great show of dusting his hands.

‘Aye, we do not take kindly to English dogs cheating our master at his own card table,’ declared a second, while several others aimed vicious kicks at the two men on the ground, before the whole group turned and made their way, laughing, back into the city. The excitement over, the traffic on the Rue St Honoré resumed its steady progress, passing on either side of the two bodies with barely a glance.

One of the men struggled to his hands and knees and stayed there for a moment, as if debating if he could get up. He made the attempt and stood, swaying. Then he pushed his long, unpowdered hair back from his face and turned to help his companion.

‘Come along, Harry. I think it best if we heed their advice.’

‘No choice, my friend. The duc will see to it that we are not made welcome in Paris for some time.’ Harry gingerly touched his swollen lip. ‘I can’t abide a bad loser.’

‘You were flirting with La Belle Marianne. That was damned reckless of you.’

‘Faith, Drew, the lady gave me a blatant invitation to pursue her. And what of you? Madame le Clere has been warming your bed for the past se’ennight.’

‘Someone had to amuse her, with her husband out of Paris. Not quite the same as dallying with the duc’s mistress under his very nose. You should have resisted.’

‘Nay, my boy, where is the fun in that? Now, where the devil’s my wig?’

Drew scooped up the sorry-looking jumble of hair and silk and held it out, saying, ‘And you are sure you did not mark the cards?’

‘Of course not.’ Harry jammed the wig on his head. ‘Stap me, boy, I should call you out for that.’ He winced and put his hand on his back. ‘Egad, but that hurts.’ His grin faded and was replaced by a look of shock as he staggered. He collapsed against his companion, saying with a feeble laugh, ‘By Gad, I fear they have finished me, old friend.’

* * *

‘Come along, Harry,’ Drew wrung out the cloth and wiped the ashen face. ‘We’ve been through worse than this.’

He frowned as he regarded the restless figure on the bed. He himself was stiff and bruised from the beating he had received but he was recovering, whereas Harry appeared to be growing weaker, writhing in agony as the effects of the laudanum wore off. They had made their way to an inn on the Rue de Chemin Vert where the landlady quickly ushered them upstairs to a bedroom, declaring that the sight of them in their present bloodied state would frighten away her customers. Drew welcomed her ready assistance and suspected she was another of Harry’s conquests. He felt a momentary irritation with his friend: they might not be in this situation now if Harry had been able to resist flirting with every pretty woman who came his way.

As the long night wore on he could do nothing but bathe his friend’s face and administer more laudanum. In the long periods between he thought back over the years they had spent wandering Europe together. Three years ago Drew had been scraping a living as a mercenary, fighting for any foreign power that would pay him, but then he had met Harry Salforde. Drew was more than ten years his junior but the two men had struck up a close friendship. Harry had taken Drew under his wing, bought him a suit of fine clothes and introduced him to the gambling hells of Rome, Naples and finally Paris, where they had practised their skills at games of chance. So successful had they been that Drew had been able to put away a tidy sum. Thus he was not too concerned about their current lack of funds. It was one of the hazards of living by one’s wits.

They had found themselves at the gaming tables with the richest and most powerful nobles in France, but those same nobles did not enjoy losing to their English opponents, and Drew supposed it was inevitable that one day their luck would turn. That the duc should have them beaten and thrown out of the city in such an ignominious manner rankled, but Drew bore the man no ill will. He had learned that much from Harry over the years. He merely shrugged off misfortune, learning from his mistakes and moving on to the next city.

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