Sequel to Coming of Age
The group of Regency men who meet each Thursday at The Golden Lion in London’s St James’ find their lives become increasingly intertwined during the early autumn of 1815. Now the long wars with France are finally over, Jo Everett and Captain Ben Harding are heavily involved with their charity to assist injured ex-servicemen, as well as encountering personal complications.
Ben’s romantic interest Edward Stephens remains a hundred miles away in Wiltshire, and although Jo and his true love Daniel Walters are in the same city, they are no closer to fulfilling their dream of sharing a home. Reformed brat Percy Havilland has a deluge of relatives and increasingly convoluted family problems to deal with in his new Chelsea abode, distracting him from his older partner Nathan Brooks.
As the gentlemen juggle their feelings and duties, Ben’s former commanding officer involves them in capturing a spy ring that has inveigled the most exclusive ranks of high society. Their remit is to help foil Napoleon's restoration as Emperor of France before he reaches the remote island of St. Helena and permanent exile.
Can this motley group of Regency men attain their happy ever after with their chosen partners? And as the nefarious treachery plays out in the select ballrooms of Mayfair, might Percy save the day by flirting for England?
“Me?” Jo’s voice rose to a squeak. “Are you certain that the Colonel mentioned me by name? I’m bound to be the last person considered fit for subterfuge, as I’d go blundering around like a bull in a china shop. Doesn’t your lot have properly trained agents for this sort of venture?”
“My lot, be damned! Leave me out of it,” Ben grinned, sitting in his armchair and sipping the brandy he felt he deserved to extinguish the lingering taste of Amontillado and spycraft. “If you reckon you have no talent for espionage, what about me? I always steered clear of that side of operations while in the field. Although,” he said more seriously. “I was grateful enough for any information received in advance of a skirmish.”
Jo’s cheerful expression grew momentarily serious. “If that brought you safely through battle, then it must have some merit. But, even if I wanted to assist, I can't fathom how an ordinary fellow like me, with no military connections except for you, can be of any assistance.”
“You’ve hit on the Colonel’s point exactly. Now hostilities are over, he posited that the arena of conflict is no longer the battlefield but the evening party. If he or his informers suddenly started to flock to Mayfair, the likely suspects would reconvene somewhere safer and hard to reach. But since the drawing room is your natural habitat, you would rouse no suspicion.
Jo gave a noncommittal grunt as Ben warmed to his theme. “I can't imagine I’m the only junior officer he’s approached. I surmise the Colonel has an extensive brigade of ex-soldiers and their cronies amongst the clubs and sporting venues to cover all eventualities.”
As Jo looked slightly reassured at not being singled out alone, Ben continued, “I have to admit the Colonel is astute in his selection. You’re not only more than socially acceptable, but you’re eminently reliable. No, don’t contradict me, I’ve known you too long. You never ratted on me at school for hiding Granger’s riding crop when he threatened to use it on us younger boys, even when he swore he’d truss you up over an open fire if you didn’t confess.”
Jo did not seem completely reassured by this fulsome commendation as he said doubtfully, “If you put it that way, I’ll be glad to do my bit, naturally, but I can’t promise I’ll be much use."
“I won’t leave you in the lurch. I might even attempt to attend a few more parties for a good cause. Heaven knows I get invited to enough of them. Colonel Graham said he’d be grateful for extra recruits at our discretion. Is there anyone trustworthy you can think of offhand?”
“Well,” Jo began. “There’s always Percy.”
Ben glared at Jo in disbelief. “Percy?” He remonstrated. “Unless he’s gazing at his reflection I wouldn’t grant him any abilities of observation.”
“You’d be surprised at Percy’s powers of perception,” Jo said thoughtfully. “A year ago I would have said you had a fair point, but now he’s ...”
As Jo paused to find the correct phrase, Ben could have easily supplied several examples including, become more bearable, less of a pointless popinjay, begun to notice other people exist. He was about to interject witheringly with his favourite, no longer a completely selfish arse, when Jo added, “Mellowed.”
Ben grinned. “If you say so. I remain to be convinced, but I bow to your superior knowledge. I have to admit I wasn’t keen on imposing on you or any of our friends, but Colonel Graham’s dire warnings of conspiracies convinced me. We simply cannot risk Napoleon getting free again and raising another army.” He shuddered at the recollection of Napoleon’s daring escape from exile in Elba, landing near Cannes in the South of France and sweeping through the country unchecked until his narrow defeat at Waterloo.
“I was unable to take part in the battle, but I can assist now, with a little help from my friends.”
“I’ll be glad to join your civilian platoon and be on the lookout for those all-important names you mentioned. And, with your approval, I’ll mention it to Percy, on a need-to-know basis.”
“Then I can advise Colonel Graham that matters are in hand.” Ben raised his glass, “To Operation Ballroom!”