She was just as lovely as I remembered her, was Renee LaCroix. She had apparently been chatting with our hostess. New Orleans was small enough, it would seem, that everyone knew one another.
I also noticed how Richard reacted to her presence and it renewed my suspicion that the two had become lovers on the Princess Louisa. He certainly looked guilty at any rate and she played up to that. She also managed to touch him when we all walked in to sit at the dining room table together. It was a very intimate sort of touch, and so fast I almost thought I’d imagined it, until I saw Richard’s blush. She accepted Madame Lafitte’s invitation to join us for breakfast with alacrity and chose the seat next to Richard.
His lips were set in a grim line, which made me raise my eyebrows.
Noticing both reactions to her, Renee winked at me as she was taking her seat. “I only just arrived this morning,” she informed the table at large. “I was fortunate that my business in New York was completed so soon. Now I can devote myself to showing my new friends the joys and the beauties of my city.”
“Uh, we’re sort of busy at the moment,” Renee,” I replied, doing my best to look and sound casual.
Richard glared at me. I wasn't certain if he was furious that I was turning her offer down, or angry that I was even speaking to her.
“Ah. You cannot spare me even a few moments?” Renee pouted prettily. She was very good at it. “Can I beg you both to join me for dinner this evening, at least? You must eat,” she pointed out, looking from Richard to me and then back at Richard.
He flushed. “We cannot promise you that we will be free,” he replied, surprising me. “Our work is not finished. It must come first.”
“Alors. I will still be at my favorite restaurant. You must join me there if you can,” she instructed and then spoke quickly in a local patois of French to Louisa Lafitte. When they were done she smiled at me. “There. Louisa will give you proper directions and order a carriage if you prove to be free.”
“We thank you most gratefully,” Richard replied gravely. “We’ll do our best to join you, but can make no promises.”
Renee sat back and regarded him for a cool minute. She sipped coffee, looking relaxed and very lovely.
“How is your father?” Louisa asked. She was, apparently, attempting to ease the tension in the room.
“He is well, Louisa. Thank you for asking.”
“Has he been ill?” I asked her.
Renee’s sad smile was her answer. “He is well now, that is what counts, n’est-ce pas?” She toyed with her teaspoon, needlessly stirring her tea.
“Your father is here in New Orleans?” I asked. I’d sensed something, and I wasn’t quite certain what it meant.
Renee looked up from her coffee and gave me a puzzled look. “You do not know? Truly?”
“Truly,” I replied. Richard looked as lost for words and enlightenment as I.
“Renee’s father is the Governor of Louisiana, appointed by the King himself,” Louisa informed us.
I wanted to hit my hand against my forehead. I’d heard his name during my short briefing before we left London. I just hadn’t made the connection. John-Louis Martin LeCroix. “Oh. No I hadn’t realized.”
Renee’s smile was brilliant. “I prefer people take me as I am, and not dismiss me as merely my father’s daughter.”
Richard cleared his throat and said, “I doubt anyone would dismiss you, ever, for any reason.”
“My chevalier,” Renee said, laughing. She stood, resting her hand on Richard’s shoulder for a moment, until both he and I scrambled to our feet.
“Enjoy your busy day, mes amis, and do call on me if at all possible, whether or not you are able to manage dinner.” She left her card on the table for us and sailed out of the room, seemingly taking most of the brilliant sunshine with her.
I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I'd been holding. She certainly had a way of putting me on edge.
I caught Richard’s eye and was surprised to find he looked furious. Nor did he eat another bite, only toying with his food, and sipping at his tea. I ate heartily, thank you very much, and kept up the conversation with Madame Lafitte.
She was a treasure trove and I did not have to ask for her to say more of Renee. Renee was the Governor’s youngest child, and he doted on her. She had been educated in France and attended the Sorbonne. She was obviously more than I’d thought her.
Richard excused himself from table first, which was remarkably rude for him. I watched him leave and noticed Louisa watching him speculatively as well.
When I finally left the table full of food and coffee I found Richard in his rooms, writing notes madly as he went through the Crenshaws’ notebooks.
He looked up when he heard me at the door. “You left this in my room,” I said, reaching into my pocket and retrieving the cypher key and the notebook. I held them out to him.
“Thank you,” he said, taking them. His voice told me he was still furious.
“What is it, Richard. Spit it out,” I suggested with a sigh. “I’ve no idea why you’re angry with me but...”
“It’s ... it’s just that... You oughtn’t to trust her,” he finally hissed at me.
I allowed my surprise to show clearly. “Trust her? Not in a million years.”
“Oh, you just take any woman to bed with you then, whether she might be a spy or not?” he asked, his eyes narrowed, holding my gaze with his eyes.
“What?” I asked after a moment. “I thought you'd slept with her!”
“Never!” he replied gruffly.
I sank down to sit on his bed beside him. “And she apparently likes us to suspect the other. How interesting.”
“She's not a very good spy then,” he responded.
“Oh, if she is a spy, she’s very very good. After all, given who her father is, everyone will be on their guard with her. And she certainly had me convinced you and she... Why did you lie to me regarding how you’d spent your night on the Princess Louisa?” I suddenly added.
“Lie?” he asked, looking blank. “I didn't lie.”
“Well, you were hung over and wrung out and I thought you’d spent the night making love with Renee.”
“Oh that,” Richard muttered.
“Yes, that. How did you spend it? And what was wrong with you?”
He regarded me for a moment then said, “I’d prefer not to say.”
My lips compressed and I showed, alas, the irritation I was feeling. “Fine. And you want me to trust you.”
“You don’t. Regardless of what I say or do, you don't,” he replied flatly.
I sighed. “It’s just... It’s your father. I saw him manipulate you before. He can do so again. I’m sure he’ll try. And if he finds the right combination of guilt and hope to play against you, it’ll be nearly impossible for you not to fall into any number of traps he’ll set out to ensnare you.”
Richard looked away. “I should go to the lab.”
I nodded. “And I should stay there with you. I don't like it, you being there alone.”
“For fear my father will seduce me to the dark side?” he asked harshly.
“No. Because they’ve killed Geoff. They might want to kill you next.” I replied meeting his eyes. “I’d .. I wouldn’t want that, Richard.”
“I know,” he said with a sigh. “Still, keep Jacques out of there. And keep an eye on Renee,” he added. “Keep her away from me.”
Gods I missed Sergeant Lumm; he was so good at that sort of thing. Working alone made things so much more difficult. “I will. In fact, I know just the fellow to help me do all that.” I grinned.
“Oh?” Richard asked, eyeing me worriedly.
“Yes,” I said with a grin. Reggie Browne's life was about to become far less sedentary.
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