The Untamed Bride Plus Black Cobra 02-03 and Special Excerpt

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Book: Read The Untamed Bride Plus Black Cobra 02-03 and Special Excerpt for Free Online
Authors: Stephanie Laurens
been about to try to pull rank and argue that he should take the original.
    He wouldn’t have succeeded—they’d resigned their commissions effective from this morning. They were all in this together, and equals in all ways now.
    Reclosing his holder, Rafe asked, “Where’s that basket?”
    Gareth hauled it back up. Rafe took it, dropped the scroll-holder he’d packed inside, then collected the holders from the others as they reclosed them, sealing in the letters and instructions.
    “Right.” Rafe stood, closed the top of the large basketwith his hands, then shook and rattled the holders, mixing them. With one last flourishing swirl, he set the basket down in the middle of the table and sat again.
    “All together,” Del said. “We reach in, each takes a holder at the same time, whichever is closest.” He met the others’ eyes. “We don’t open them here. We leave this room together, but from the moment we pass through the door of the Red Turkey Cock, we go our separate ways.”
    That morning, they’d moved out of the barracks. Over the years, each had gathered small households who traveled with them; those households were now packed and waiting, ready to leave, but all in separate locations.
    They exchanged one last glance, then sat forward, reached into the basket. They waited until each of them had grasped one of the cylindrical holders, then, as one, drew them forth.
    “Right,” Rafe said, his gaze locked on his holder.
    “Wait.” Gareth swept the empty basket from the table, and replaced it with a bottle of arrack and four glasses. He splashed pale amber liquor into each glass, then set the bottle down.
    They each took a glass and rose.
    Del held his out. “Gentlemen.” He looked at each of them in turn. “To our continued health. Godspeed, and may luck be with us.”
    They knew the Black Cobra would come after them; they knew they’d need all the luck they could get.
    Gareth raised his glass. “Until we meet again.”
    “On the green shores of England,” Logan added.
    Rafe hesitated, then raised his glass. “To the death of the Black Cobra.”
    They all nodded, then drank, drained their glasses and set them down.
    They turned to the doorway. Lifting the bamboo screen, they ducked beneath it, walking out into the smoky bar.
    Picking their way past rickety tables, they reached the open tavern doorway and moved out onto the dusty steps.
    Del halted and held out his hand. “Good luck.”
    They all shook hands, each with the other.
    For one last instant, they stood and simply looked at each other.
    Then Rafe stepped down into the dusty street. “May God and St. George be with us all.” With a last salute, he walked away.
    They parted, each disappearing by a different route into the bustling city.
    September 15, two nights later
    “We have a problem.”
    The voice fitted the setting, the clipped, aristocratic accents appropriate to the beauty, the elegance, the wanton luxury pervading the enclosed courtyard of the discreet bungalow tucked away on the fringe of the fashionable district of Bombay.
    No one seeing the house from outside would look twice. The street frontage was unremarkable, like many others nearby. But on entering the front foyer, one was struck by a sense of subdued elegance, yet the front reception rooms—the rooms those who called socially might see—were nothing more than quietly refined, restrained and rather spare.
    Not quite soulless, yet the chosen few who were invited further quickly sensed a different ambiance, one that filled the senses with ever-increasing richness.
    It wasn’t merely a show of wealth, but a deliberately sensual display. The further one penetrated into the private rooms, the richer, more wantonly yet tastefully luxurious the furnishings, the more artful, and graceful, the settings.
    The courtyard, surrounded by the private rooms of the owner, was the apogee of restful, sensual delight. A long tiled pool glimmered in the moonlight. Trees and

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