A hand grabbed her arm roughly and spun her around.
“What are you doing here?” Peter glared.
“Oh…” She thought quickly, looking away to conceal her anger, “Peter… what are you… I… Oh,“ she tittered, finally recovering. “You’ve found me. How exquisite! You can escort me back to the party.” she feigned losing her footing and he steadied her, still holding her arm.
“Are you drunk?” he asked incredulously.
“Of course not,” she replied, musing, “I’ve had some champagne, but it was the finest quality, so that doesn’t count.” She giggled again. “What are you doing out here?”
“Looking for you,” he replied. “That seems to be my occupation now.”
She leaned against him and removed her party mask for a moment to look up at him through her lashes. “You do care. I knew it.”
“I do care about your reputation, yes,” he said sternly. “What were you doing there? And what’s that paper in your hand?”
“Oh this,” she said, stepping away from his grip. She replaced her mask like a pair of spectacles and peered at the note as if she’d forgotten about it — as if the knowledge of its danger wasn’t burning its way through her glove. “I was replying to a billet doux from Monsieur Michel. The boatswain promised he’d deliver it to the ship for me. And now that you’ve startled me, I’ve forgotten to send it!”
“You what!” he exploded. “Are you a complete fluff head?” Why…” he began, then, before he could help himself, “What did it say?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she grinned.
“Wouldn’t everyone like to know!” he shouted, covering his jealousy with anger. “What if the crew read it?”
“Well, for one, they’re illiterate,” she replied coolly.
“And what about your reading ability?” He said, “Don’t you understand the broadsheets? Have you no idea what’s happening around us? Are you women all so engrossed with Monsieur Michel’s fine cravats that you ignore his scandalous involvements in the affairs at court? You should not be seen entangling yourself with his …” he paused, embarrassed by the image the word entangle had brought to his imagination.
“And with what would you suggest I entangle myself?” she asked, deepening his discomfort. Could she read his mind? he wondered.
“You should stay away from him.” He hated how dejected he sounded, but she took pity on him.
“I do follow the gossip,” she said, changing the subject. “A ‘mysterious illness’ killed the king.” She leaned toward him, “Poison,” she whispered. “Then, an accident befell the Prince Regent,” she leaned in again, “Treason.” She lifted her head again to say, “and now Prince John hasn’t been seen in a week. What shall we call that, a liaison?” She pinched her nose daintily and grimaced, “Noisome?”
“None of your business,” he said.
“You are terrible at parlor games,” she said. “It’s supposed to rhyme. In any case, where do you think he is, really?”
“The Prince? You’ll have to ask your friend Monsieur Michel. He seems to be the only one who knows anyone’s whereabouts,” said Peter darkly.
God forbid, she thought to herself. Aloud, she said, “Let’s go back and drink more of that lovely champagne.”
“How can such a charming face reside with such a vacancy behind it?” he asked, but his tone softened. He had caught sight of her tiny pink ear, and its delicacy crumbled his bravado.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” she chirped, skipping away from him. “Come on,” she called over her shoulder. Then, seeing Prince John’s trusted valet Bernard standing out on the patio, she began to run in earnest.
“Quickly,” she said breathlessly when she reached him, “Prince John’s hiding place has been compromised, he needs to leave town immediately!”
Startled, Bernard took a step back, but she closed the space again, tucking the note deftly into his pocket. She whispered, “Take this to the man at the dock, and have him get it to the ship’s captain before midnight. They must not weigh anchor before the Prince can get aboard!” She knew if the Prince didn’t make it in time he would be forced to hide another fortnight, and there were few royalists left to enlist to keep him hidden. “Do you understand?”
He gave the slightest of nods.
“Go then, use the servants’ exit” she hissed quietly, yet emphatically as he took his leave with a nervous little bow. She turned and made a show of spotting and waving to a gentleman friend, calling loudly back to Bernard’s retreating back, “Bring the whole bottle, why don’t you? Everyone’s glass is empty!”
Bernard paused and turned to her, confused, but she tilted her head toward the dock meaningfully and he got the message, again nodding as he hastily exited.
Out of earshot, Peter took his time following after her. Concern furrowed his brow. The little fool really must be more careful. After all, there were spies about.