March 1803 Dover, England
Dominique Celine Dawson stepped off the teetering plank of the ship and instantly became a traitor to England. Seeking the comfort of solid land beneath her feet, she thanked the purser and released his hand with a forced smile.
He tipped his hat and handed her the small embroidered valise containing all her worldly possessions. "Looks like rain," he called back over his shoulder as he headed up the gangway.
Black clouds swirled above her, stealing all light from the mid-morning sun. A gust of wind clawed at her bonnet. Passengers and sailors unloading cargo collided with her from all directions. She stepped aside, testing her wobbly legs. Although she'd just boarded the ship from Calais, France to Dover that morning, her legs quivered nearly as much as her heart. She hated sailing. What an embarrassment she must have been to her father, an admiral in the British Royal Navy.
A man dressed in a top hat and wool cape bumped into her and nearly knocked her to the ground.
Stumbling, Dominique clamped her sweaty fingers around her valise, feeling as though it was her heart they squeezed. Did the man know? Did he know what she had been sent here to do?
He shot her an annoyed glance over his shoulder. "Beggin' your pardon, miss," he muttered before trotting off, lady on his arm and children in tow.
Blowing out a sigh, Dominique tried to still her frantic breathing. She must focus. She must remain calm. She had committed no crime-yet.
She scanned the bustling port of Dover. Waves of people flowed through the streets, reminding her of the tumultuous sea she had just crossed. Ladies in silk bonnets clung to gentlemen in long-tailed waistcoats and breeches. Beggars, merchants, and tradesmen hustled to and fro as if they didn't have a minute to lose. Dark-haired
Chinamen hauled two-wheeled carts behind them loaded with passengers or goods. Carriages and horses clomped over the cobblestone streets. The air filled with a thousand voices, shouts and screams and curses and idle chatter accompanied by the
incessant tolling of bells and the rhythmic lap of the sea against the docks.
The stench of fish and human sweat stung Dominique's nose, and she coughed and took a step forward, searching for the carriage that surely must have been sent to convey her to London and to the Randal estate. But amidst the dizzying crowd, no empty conveyance sat waiting; no pair of eyes met hers-at least none belonging to a coachman sent to retrieve her. Other eyes flung their slithering gazes her way, however, like snakes preying on a tiny ship mouse. A lady traveling alone was not a sight often seen.
. . . . .
Rain battered her as she stared up at the massive white house, but she no longer cared. Her bonnet draped over her hair like a wet fish, her coiffure had melted into a tangle of saturated strands, and her gown, littered with mud, clung to her like a heavy shroud. She deserved it, she supposed, for what she had come to do.
She wondered if Admiral Randal was anything like his house-cold, imposing, and rigid. Four stories high, it towered above most houses on the street. Two massive white columns stood like sentinels holding up the awning while guarding the front door. The admiral sat on the Admiralty Board of His Majesty's Navy, making him a
powerful man privy to valuable information such as the size, location, and plans of the British fleet. Would he be anything like her dear father?
Dominique skirted the stairs that led down to the kitchen. Her knees began to quake as she continued toward the front door. The blood rushed from her head. The world began to spin around her. Squeezing her eyes shut, she swallowed. No, she had to do this. For you Marcel. You're all I have left in the world.
She opened her eyes and took another step, feeling as though she walked into a grand mausoleum where dead men's bones lay ensconced behind cold marble.
She halted. Not too late to turn around-not too late to run. But Marcel's innocent young face, contorted in fear, burned in her memory. And her cousin Lucien's lanky frame standing beside him, a stranglehold on the boy's collar. If you prefer your brother's head to be attached to his body, you will do as I request.
A cold fist clamped over Dominique's heart. She could not lose her brother. She continued up the steps though every muscle, every nerve protested. Why me, Lord? Who am I to perform such a task? Ducking under the cover of the imposing porch, Dominique raised her hand to knock upon the ornately carved wooden door, knowing
that after she did, she could not turn back.
Once she stepped over the threshold of this house, she would no longer be Dominique Dawson, the loyal daughter of a British Admiral.
She would be a French Spy.