Joanna Bourne: The Forbidden Rose

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Joanna Bourne The Forbidden Rose
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    The Forbidden Rose
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The Forbidden Rose: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A career is blooming... A glittering French aristocrat is on the run, disguised as a British governess. England's top spy has a score to settle with her family. But as they're drawn inexorably into the intrigue and madness of Revolutionary Paris, they gamble on a love to which neither of them will admit.

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The Forbidden Rose

(The third book in the Spymaster's Lady series)

A novel by Joanna Bourne


This book is dedicated to Lily and Maya.

I would like to thank my wonderful editor at Berkley, Wendy McCurdy, and my agent, Pam Hopkins, of Hopkins Literary Associates.

I am endlessly grateful to my tireless and patient beta readers: Leo Bourne, Mary Ann Clark, Laura Watkins, and Wendy Rome. I thank the Ladies Who Drink Coffee for support and friendship. I owe much to the excellent folks at the Compuserve Books and Writers Community: Diana Gabaldon, Deniz Bevan, Beth Shope, Jenny Meyer, Jennifer Hendren, Donna Rubino, Susan Adrian, Julie Weathers, Linda Grimes, Tara Parker, and others too numerous to mention.

I could not have written this story without the expert advice of David Barnes and Hugo Clément, who know much about geology and caves, and Linda Weaver, who knows much about donkeys. The Beau Monde, a special interest chapter of RWA, has provided endless expertise on all things 1800-ish. Anything I got right is because of these wonderful people. All mistakes are my own.

A special thanks goes to Franzeca Drouin, researcher, editor, and general all-round expert on all things having to do with history and historical language.


“YOU HAVE NOT BEEN FOOLISH,” SHE SAID. “BUT YOU have been unlucky. The results are indistinguishable.”

The rabbit said nothing. It lay on its side, panting. Terror poured from it in waves, like water going down the steps of a fountain.

Her snare circled its throat. She had caught it with a line of red silk, teased and spun from the torn strip of a dress. It could not escape. Even when it heard death coming toward it through the brush, it didn’t struggle. Being sensible, it had given up.

“The analogies to my own situation are clear. I do not like them.” Marguerite de Fleurignac sat down and pulled her skirts to lie smooth over her knees. The grass was slick and sharp-edged on the bare skin of her ankles. Behind her rose the ruins of the chateau. She did not look in that direction if she could help it. “I am starving to death, you know. Not as one starves in stories, nobly and gracefully. I starve stupidly. I scrape up oats from the bottom of the feed bins and pick berries. I pull wild carrots from the earth and gnaw on them in my cave under the bridge. None of this rests easily in my stomach. It is very sordid. I will not share the details with you.”

The rabbit’s eyes stared beyond her.

“Life is not like the fables. No magical bird alights on the rooftop, bearing messages. You do not offer me three wishes in exchange for your life. No prince rides up on his white horse to rescue me.”

Rabbit fur was a brown made of many shades, like toast. The guard hairs were darker than the down that clung close to its body. Inside its ears was a delicate velvet, pale as cream, and she could see the pink skin underneath. Its eyes were fringed on top with a row of short, thick hairs. It had eyelashes. She hadn’t known rabbits had eyelashes.

Terror terror terror.

It had been a mistake to look so closely at the rabbit. She should not have talked to it.

When she was five or six, Old Mathieu, the gamekeeper, had let her tag along behind him through this wood. He set snares and made great slaughter among the rabbits and put them in a big leather game bag to carry home.

He had been dead fifteen years. In his last illness, she’d visited him every day in his dirty, crowded hut by the river. She’d brought him the best brandy from the chateau cellars to ease the pain.

Uncle Arnault, who was marquis then, had scolded and given orders, which she had ignored. “You spoil these peasants. You make pets of them.” Papa had pointed out that spirits were not good for the humors of the body. She should take the man seawater and a mash of beets. Cousin Victor sneaked after her and pushed her down and spilled open the basket and broke everything inside.

Uncle Arnault was long dead, having discussed politics with the guillotine. Papa was marquis now, inasmuch as anyone held the empty title. Victor had joined the most radical of the revolutionary groups, the Jacobins. The casks of brandy had exploded in a ball of blue flame when the fire fingered down to the wine cellar. It had never mattered a bean that she had given brandy to a dying man.

Old Mathieu’s sons had been in the mob that came to burn the chateau. She’d seen them with the others on the lawn in the light of torches.

A pulse rippled in the rabbit’s throat, under the fur. That fluttering beat, in a hollow the size of a copper sou, was the only sign of life.

“I make up stories in my head and I am always remarkably heroic in them. When men actually came to destroy me, I ran like a rabbit, if you will forgive the comparison.” She wiped rain from her face. Her forearm was gritty and smelled like crushed grass and sweat. And smoke. “You are doubtless stultified with boredom to hear my problems. One’s own disaster is of compelling interest. The disasters of others, less so.”

Clouds hung flat and close overhead, the color of old bruises. A few sharp tiny points of rain hit her face when she looked up. Even this far from the chateau, thin black flakes of ash had caught in the leaves of the trees. The rain fell with ash in it.

“Here is the story, if you wish to read it.” She caught drops on the palm of her hand. “This,” she lifted one speck of black onto her forefinger, “came from the destruction of curtains in the blue salon. And this,” another bit of ash, “was a page from a book in the library. A mathematics text. This . . .” She picked a fleck of ash from her forearm. “This is the period at the end of a sentence in one my notebooks. That was the only copy of an old tale of the people. It is lost now.”

She let the drops of water run away. She was very tired. She had been up all night, two nights in a row, walking the last shipment of sparrows to safety. She had taken three men, three women, and a child through the dark fields to the deserted mill that was the next waystation. She’d waited with them till Heron’s son came to take them onward. Then she had trudged the long way back. Because Crow—careful, reliable Crow who never missed a meeting—had not yet come. He was late, and she worried.

The sparrows had complained a great deal that she had no food to give them. No one had asked what had happened to her in the burning of the chateau.

They would go to London, those sparrows, and tell everyone how brave they had been and what dangers they had undergone, fleeing France. None of them would speak of the bravery of Heron’s young son who came at night, alone, to lead them onward. Or of Jeanne, who was the Wren, who risked death to smuggle them out of Paris. Or of Egret and Skylark and the others who hid them along the way. The sparrows would take it all for granted.

She shivered, which was what she deserved for sitting on the ground in this small rain, talking to a rabbit. “I will tell you what I should do. I should go deep into the woods, carrying—you will forgive me for being blunt?—carrying your dead corpse, and light a fire and put you on a spit and cook you. Then I should begin my walk to Paris in the dark of the night.” Rubbing her arms did not make them any warmer. “Crow is more than wise. I should leave him to take care of his own sparrows and go warn the others.”

The rabbit’s fear was like the whine of iron on a grindstone. Terror terror terror.

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