A cool master of sensuality, Rafael Whitbourne, the Duke of Candover, earned his rakish reputation in the silken boudoirs of London’s highborn ladies, never giving away his hand or his heart.
Then a vital mission for his government takes Rafe to Paris to work with the Countess Madga Janos, “the most beautiful spy in Europe.” He is appalled to discover that the smoky eyed temptress is no Hungarian countess, but the deceitful doxie who betrayed him a dozen years earlier–the only woman he ever loved, and the only one he’s ever despised.
Margot Ashton wants nothing more than to walk away from her turbulent past and the mesmerizing man who ruined her life. But patriotism binds them together in a shadowland of intrigue where a diabolical plot may plunge a continent back into war–and a whirlwind of passion sweeps Margot and Rafe into a shattering passion that cannot be denied.
Reviews for Petals in the Storm
“Mary Jo Putney is a consummate storyteller whose deep understanding of human emotions shines through in all her work. Petals in the Storm is simply another of her miraculous romances—the kind that stir the heart and mind. Storytelling at its best.” —Romantic Times Magazine
“Petals in the Storm is a stunning tour-de-force; a moving testament to the resilience of the human spirit and its ability to emerge from the fires of hell stronger and wiser than before. The protagonists are riveting characters with a tempestuous relationship played out against a mesmerizing backdrop of intrigue. Congratulations to Mary Jo Putney for another winner.” —Affaire de Coeur
Rafe Whitbourne, the elegant, sardonic Duke of Candover, has been sent to Paris during the peace conference that followed Waterloo in 1815. Europe is a tinderbox, and the British government wants Rafe to contact a valuable spy—the Hungarian Countess Janos.
The Duke of Candover had not been in Paris since 1803, and there had been many changes. Yet even in defeat, the capital of France was the center of Europe. Four major sovereigns and scores of minor monarchs had come to glean what they could from the wreckage of Napoleon’s empire. The Prussians wanted revenge, the Russians wanted more territory, the Austrians hoped to roll the calendar back to 1789, and the French wanted to save themselves from massive reprisals after Napoleon’s insane and bloody Hundred Days.
The British, as usual, were trying to be fair-minded. It was like trying to mediate a discussion between pit bulls.
In spite of the plethora of rulers, “the king” always meant Louis XVIII, the aging Bourbon whose unsteady hand held the French throne, while “the emperor” always meant Bonaparte. Even in his absence, the emperor cast a longer shadow than the physical presence of any other man.
Rafe took rooms at a luxurious hotel whose name had changed three times in as many months, to reflect changing political currents. Now it was called the Hotel de la Paix, since Peace was an acceptable sentiment to most factions.
He had just time to bathe and change before going to an Austrian ball where Lucien had arranged for him to meet the mysterious Maggie. Rafe dressed carefully, mindful of his friend’s suggestion that he charm the lady spy. Experience had taught him that he could generally get what he wanted from women with a debonair smile and some earnest attention. Frequently, the ladies offered a good deal more than he wanted to accept.
Every inch The Duke, he went to the ball, which was a glittering assemblage of the great and notorious of Europe. Guests included not only all the important monarchs and diplomats, but hundreds of the lords, ladies, sluts, and scoundrels who were always drawn to power.
Rafe wandered about, sipping champagne and greeting acquaintances. But under the surface gaiety, he sensed dangerous undercurrents swirling. Lucien ’s fears were well founded— Paris was a powder keg, and a spark here might set the continent ablaze once more.
The evening was well advanced when he was approached by a young Englishman with fair hair and a slight, elegant figure. “Good evening, your grace. I ’m Robert Anderson, with the British delegation. There ’s someone who wishes to meet you. If you’ll come with me? ”
Anderson was shorter and younger than Rafe, with a face that seemed vaguely familiar. As they snaked their way through the crush, Rafe surreptitiously examined his guide, wondering if this man was the weak link in the delegation. Anderson was so good-looking as to be almost pretty, and gave an impression of amiable vacuity. If he was a cunning, dangerous spy, he concealed it well.
They left the ballroom and went up a stairway to a door-lined corridor. Stopping outside the last door, Anderson said, “The countess is waiting for you, your grace. ”
“Do you know the lady?”
“I have met her. ”
“What is she like? ”
Anderson hesitated, then shook his head. “I’ll let you discover that for yourself.” Opening the door, he said formally, “Your grace, may I present Magda, the Countess Janos.” After a respectful bow, he left.
A single branch of candles cast a soft glow over the small, richly furnished room. Rafe’s gaze went immediately to the shadowed figure standing by the window. Even though her back was turned to him, he would have known that she was beautiful by the confidence in her graceful carriage.
As he closed the door, she turned to face him with a slow, provocative movement that caused the candle-light to slide tantalizingly over the curves of her lush figure. A feathered fan concealed most of her face, and one wheat gold curl fell charmingly over her shoulder. She radiated sensuality, and Rafe understood why Lucien had said that she could cloud a man’s judgment. As his body tightened in involuntary response, he had to admire how well she understood the power of suggestion.
Less subtly, her décolletage was low enough to rivet the attention of any man not yet dead. If Rafe was required to sacrifice his honor in his attempts to persuade the lady, he would do so with great pleasure. “Countess Janos, I’m the Duke of Candover. A mutual friend asked me to speak with you on a matter of some importance.”
Her eyes watched mockingly above the fan. “Indeed?” she purred, her words spiced by a Magyar accent. “Perhaps it is of importance to you and Lord Strathmore, Monsieur le Duc, but not to me.” Slowly she lowered the fan, revealing high cheekbones, then a small, straight nose. She had creamy rose-petal skin, a wide, sensual mouth... .
Rafe ’s inventory stopped, and his heart began hammering with stunned disbelief. It was said that everyone had a double somewhere in the world, and apparently he had just met Margot Ashton’s.
Struggling to control his shock, he tried to compare the countess to his memories. This woman appeared to be about twenty-five years old. Margot would be thirty-one, but she might look younger than her age.
Surely the countess was taller than Margot, who had been only a little above average height? But Margot’s bearing and vitality had made her appear taller than she actually was. It had been a surprise how far he had had to bend over the first time he kissed her... .
Sharply he retreated from his chaotic emotions and forced himself to continue his analysis. This woman’s eyes seemed to be green, and she had an exotic, foreign look. But she was wearing a green gown, and Margot ’s eyes had been changeable, shifting from gray to green to hazel with her mood and costume.