The following scene is a little weird. It takes place around the beginning of Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 3: Aggressor, but it has a few minor spoilers for the book, so you’ve been warned if you haven’t read it yet.
But the scene was not written to be included in Agressor. It was actually written as the first scene in a side novel of the Lady Wynwood’s Spies series, The Spinster Spy. I think I mentioned before that I’ve already plotted out the entire Lady Wynwood’s Spies series, and it will be 10 volumes plus the 2 prequels (The Spinster’s Christmas and The Gentleman Thief), and there will also be a side novel, The Spinster Spy.
The Spinster Spy will be kind of like the side series that are published alongside Japanese light novel series, like the Sword Oratoria side series of the Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? series, and the Sword Art Online Progressive side series of the Sword Art Online series. The side series take place on the same timeline as the main series, but are separate storylines, and they intersect with the main series at certain points.
The Spinster Spy is already plotted out, and it is an entirely separate story that will take place during the events of volumes 6 through 8 of the Lady Wynwood’s Spies series. The two storylines will intersect again in volume 9.
But the first scene of The Spinster Spy is an event that happens chronologically near the beginning of volume 3. Since it closely relates to what happens in Aggressor, I thought you guys might like to read it ahead of time, especially since The Spinster Spy won’t be published for many months.
Maxham in Portsmouth
Maxham was bored.
It didn’t help that he hated Portsmouth and the surrounding area. The wind bit sharply, and the air smelled too strongly of fish.
At the moment, he was simply killing time. He’d ridden several hours, only to discover the information he sought in less than an hour. He’d had an unexpected side errand, but that had been quickly taken care of, despite the fact it was broad daylight.
His horse was too tired for him to return to London immediately, so he headed into Portsmouth to look into a seat on the mail coach.
The next one would leave soon, but it was very full and he’d be cramped inside. He’d become more sensitive to smells the longer he took Ward’s serum (he refused to call it by the ridiculous name Ward had given to it), and being wedged into a coach with so many strange odors would curdle his stomach. So he decided to wait until his horse recovered.
He hadn’t been back to Portsmouth or the surrounding areas in more than two years, but he’d come because of a rumor that had reached him only yesterday through the various communication streams he maintained. So he’d hied himself to the little fishing village, questioned his sources, and discovered it was true.
He’d never met Brigitte Despréaux, but her reputation was rather infamous, and a tiny, buxom woman with straight, fine, ice-blonde hair had been spotted in the small village, having just disembarked from a smuggler’s boat with four male lackeys. Certainly, it was not necessarily her, but Maxham had reason to expect the emperor to send someone to England eventually, so he’d had his sources keep their eyes open and report to him about anyone from France who might be just a tad more unusual than most.
Since Brigitte answered only to the emperor, she could be on these shores for any number of reasons. But Maxham’s source had overheard a snatch of conversation, complaints about “the botanist’s sensitive stomach” from the Channel crossing.
That told him exactly why she was here. Napoleon had sent her to steal from Maxham’s group.
Ward was going to be livid, but Maxham couldn’t really blame the emperor. After all, why not try to recreate the serum himself rather than paying someone else?
Unfortunately, before Maxham left London, he hadn’t bothered to leave a note for Jack, since at the time, he hadn’t known if it had truly been Brigitte who had been sighted, nor had he known anything about her purpose. However, he hoped to return to London tonight to warn his compatriot to guard his greenhouses.
He had judged that the news was not so urgent that he would need to endure the discomfort of the mail coach—after all, Jack had taken great pains to hide the location of his London greenhouse, and even if Maxham arrived at Jack’s new place of business at this very moment, there was little chance he’d speak to Jack in person. He was rarely there in the mornings, and he was notorious for showing up whenever he felt like it. Even if Maxham left a message, it could be days before he read it.
Also, as insurance, Maxham had sought out the smugglers who had brought her and her crew to these shores, and killed them.
He had nothing against them—they were merely making a living, after all—but it would inconvenience Brigitte to find that her ride back to France was no longer available. Maxham felt it his duty to inconvenience her, seeing as she was here to steal from them.
So, stuck in Portsmouth, he headed into an inn and arranged to stable his horse. Strangely, the interior of the building looked familiar to him, as did the portly innkeeper.
Even more unusual, the innkeeper recognized him. With a wide smile, he said, “Welcome. Back again, sir?”
So he had been here before. He remembered vague snatches of conversation, so to test his theory, he asked, “How is your red-haired daughter?”
The innkeeper chuckled. “Thank ye for asking, sir. Married last year, she was, and a baby on the way already.”
It was early for lunch, but Maxham requested a meal and a pint of ale, and he settled in a table near the window, his back to the wall so that he had a full view of the common room, which was only half-full. He tried peering out the window, but the glass panes were wavy and not very clean. There was little traffic on the road that ran outside the inn.
Portsmouth was a busier town than the small fishing village he’d left, and he preferred the bustle of people and vehicles. But it was probably fortunate that the small village had made strangers stand out, especially as it was known a smuggler’s boat would arrive with the tides high and the new moon out. So Brigitte and her men had been easily noticed.
Unfortunately, Maxham would have been noticed this morning, also, even though he only spoke to his source—the owner of a tavern in the small fishing village—for barely fifteen minutes. He was more accustomed to fading into the background. It had made him unwontedly self-conscious when the innkeeper had recognized him, which was itself odd since most people’s eyes slid right over him.
For many years he had wished he wasn’t invisible. Now he found himself becoming nervous if he was noticed like any other person.
Like the innkeeper had been, the taproom was familiar to him. The fireplace had one brick that was a paler white color than the rest, and the room had a faint smell of cinnamon from the innkeeper’s wife’s spice cakes, which were popular.
Maxham sipped his pint and stared out the window. He recognized the dressmaker’s shop across the street from two years ago, when he’d been searching for Mifflin’s wife.
They had tracked her through several towns and finally lost her in this one. Maxham didn’t know if she even entered Portsmouth. He remembered kicking the stones at the base of the dressmaker’s building, feeling the frustration buzz through him like bees under his skin.
She had only been an hour ahead of them by the time they reached the village before Portsmouth. Their close proximity had perhaps made them arrogant, and looking back, Maxham thought they might have mistaken the direction she traveled.
In recognizing the dressmaker’s shop, his mind drifted back through the unsuccessful chase. He recounted the different villages they’d passed through, the steps they’d taken, the information they’d found about Mifflin’s wife at each stop.
And then they’d reached Portsmouth, and there had been nothing.
But time had mellowed his frustration, or perhaps it was also the ale and the relaxing lunch. His thoughts drifted to what they might have done differently, and then it occurred to him that perhaps he was starting from the wrong end.
He signaled the innkeeper and requested paper and pen, then he proceeded to write a letter to Jack, telling him about Brigitte but also asking for the name of the village where they had first seen Mifflin’s wife, at the start of the chase. If he was lucky, Jack would receive his letter quickly, although it often irritated Maxham how difficult it could be to contact him.
Even as he penned the message, he could imagine Jack’s inevitable annoyance, because finding the answer would be tedious. But he knew Jack would do it.
He gave the innkeeper the message and some coin and asked for a special delivery rider to carry it with all speed to London.
Even though the trail was two years old, he might still find something. Maxham didn’t like having loose strings.