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Portrait of My Love

CHAPTER ONE

“With all due respect, my lord, I believe you are mad.”

Labille-Guiard, Self-portrait with two pupils

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Self-portrait with two pupils, 1785, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the two pupils are Marie-Gabrielle Capet and Carreaux de Rosemond

A smile graced the delicate features of Lady Isabella Reed’s face as she spoke to Lord Dorset, but it did not disguise the underlying seriousness of her words. What he had just told her was unbelievable rubbish. She folded her hands in her lap and said nothing more, content to wait while the flustered viscount poured himself a strong claret. He drank down half the liquid in one smooth swallow, then set the glass atop an elaborately carved dark walnut table and turned around to face Isabella.

“I appreciate how surprised you must be, my lady,” the viscount said, any irritation he may have felt carefully strained from his voice, “but I trust you are not suggesting that Her Majesty has her facts incorrect.”

“Certainly not, my lord,” Isabella affirmed, “particularly since it is your own good self who is imparting those facts. And you are a most able and indeed, truthful, informant, are you not?”

Dorset’s face flushed red, and well it should as far as Isabella was concerned. The viscount made serious accusations against the brother of her best childhood friend. Did he expect her to just sit there blinking like a ninny and believing every word? Perhaps he was put out because he was her social superior and felt that she mocked him. She sighed. It would not good to raise his ire. She cleared her throat and mustered forth a sweet smile.

“Perhaps, my lord, if you could explain once more what you would have me do? I am but a simple girl, after all. ‘Tis likely I’ve misunderstood you. Pray accept my sincerest apologies.”

Isabella said nothing, though her clear blue eyes were focused and attentive. Dorset narrowed his gaze and pinned her with his stare, likely questioning the sincerity of her statement. At last, as if to concede she’d won that battle of wills, he continued.

“As I have confided to you, it is the Queen’s belief that she is being betrayed. Someone is divulging Her Majesty’s naval defense secrets to those heathens, the Spanish.”

“Heathens?”

“Yes!” Dorset snapped. Isabella remained silent. Though raised by loving parents never to fear expressing her opinion, she also possessed a good deal of common sense. Despite her jaded opinion of Lord Dorset, he had summoned her on direct orders from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. It was in Isabella’s best interest not to antagonize him.

“It is essential that we identify this traitor and halt his treachery immediately,” Lord Dorset continued. “And this is where you will assist us, Lady Isabella.”

“But you said earlier that you believe you already know the traitor’s identity,” Isabella pointed out. “And that is the one element of your story that I cannot fathom, my lord. I have known Lady Lucy Dumont since childhood, and her brother, Rafe, Lord Stockton, is most certainly no traitor.”

Lord Dorset allowed a careful smile to curve the corners of his pale, thin lips. He walked toward the settle where Isabella sat and lowered himself into a chair beside her. Crossing one expensively shrouded leg over the other, he looked pointedly at her and shook his head. “If only we could all be so blissfully trusting of others,” he said with a wistful air. “But alas, ’tis not possible. Rafe Dumont is indeed a traitor, and you, my lady, are going to gather the evidence I need to prove it.”

Isabella balked at Dorset’s words; still, his accusation against Rafe was disturbing. She rose from the settle and walked across the room with agitated steps. Putting some distance between herself and Lord Dorset allowed her mind to clear so she could consider everything she’d just been told. It was true, she admitted, that despite her long friendship with Lucy Dumont, she had never actually met Lucy’s brother, Rafe. Certainly she’d heard stories about him from Lucy, who spoke proudly of her brother being a decorated sea captain to the queen, and serving the crown by protecting England’s waters against foreign invasion. Rafe had a reputation as a fierce commander who bred unwavering loyalty among every crew member under him. He had sailed to distant lands all over God’s earth, and he possessed an incomparable knowledge of maritime law. Such was not the profile of one who would betray the crown, but Isabella had to admit that beyond the stories she knew nothing about the man. He was ten years her senior, and by the time Isabella had first met Lucy, Rafe had already left home to begin his career at sea.

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with my webmaster, Alla. {photo credits: Alessandro Bologna}