A coy smile snaked across her lips.“I haven't decided yet.”
“You'll get yourself fired.” Or worse, he thought to himself. Then again, there were those in high places who might feel inclined to help her out in a pinch—if for no other reason then to protect their own anonymity. If she ever decided to sing the tragic aria of her past, Smith knew there'd be more than a few well-known names included in that melody. “I pity the man when you find out who he is.”
“Oh, I already know.” She fluttered her lashes, looking anything save innocent.
Leave it to Georgia to drop that bombshell after he'd already sworn his neutrality. Asking for a name couldn't hurt. Could it? The chances that it was anyone Smith knew seemed unlikely, and given she was half the people he cared about in this world—or even spoke to for that matter—he predicted no feelings of betrayal.
“You're dying to know, aren't you?” she guessed when he remained silent.
“It won't change anything,” he assured her. He'd made his choice. It was up to Alexander and his men now to concern themselves with this matter. So long as Smith and Belle were of no interest, he held none of his own. “It won't matter.”
“Somehow I think it will,” she said.
He took a long sip of his club soda, wishing, not for the first time, that it had a higher alcohol content. Or for that matter, any alcohol content. He kept this thought to himself.
“Who is it?” he asked at last.
“We're waiting for confirmation,” she prefaced.
He shook his head. She was just teasing him now. She’d gotten him to ask and she wanted to enjoy making him wait. Whatever information they had was enough to catch Georgia's interest. He knew she didn't act rashly, which meant the evidence was damning.
“Who?” he repeated, uninterested in continuing her cat and mouse game.
“Some rising star in Parliament,” she said.
“Why would that concern me?” Smith had never been particularly interested in politics. It was a useless fascination that distracted far too many intelligent men. Bureaucracy was a tool for those who preferred red-tape to productivity. “I probably couldn’t name a single member of Parliament.”
“That's what I thought when I first heard,” she said, “but as I learned more about him, I found the connection.”
“What connection?” he asked slowly. She hadn't called him on a whim. That much he knew. If he was sitting here it was because she had information that would catch his attention.
“He recently bought an estate. Seems he's trying to gentrify himself. We've had a few analysts profile him in an effort to see if he's capable of what we think he's capable of. I didn’t need to wait for their reports. I’ve seen him. He is.”
The prickle at the back of his neck told him what she hadn't yet. It filtered into his veins, turning his blood to ice while he waited for the final nail.
“His name is Oliver Jacobson,” she continued. “I can't be certain, but given that he's your mother-in-law's new neighbor, I thought you two might have met.”
Smith swallowed on the lump forming in his throat, but it had lodged in place. He didn't need her to tell him more. For the most part the man was a stranger. Smith had only spent a few hours in his presence. It had been Belle that Jacobson rubbed the wrong way. At the time, Smith chalked up his wife’s dislike of the man to maternal difficulties. Jacobson had made himself useful to Belle’s mother. He’d been visiting the Stuart family home for months before the Prices had sought refuge there. The few discomforting moments he'd had with the man, Smith had written off as the subsequent effects of his wife's paranoia. But now things began to click into place: the offhand remarks about the privileged aristocracy, the chilling moment Jacobson had held a gun far too close to Smith's head for comfort, and, of course, Jacobson’s interest in the Stuart family.
Belle hadn’t walked into Smith’s life on accident. She had been sent, and Smith had been given the task of grooming her to be a source of information. His wife was meant to be an unwitting spy on her best friend and the Royal family. But by then Smith had already betrayed Hammond and those behind the conspiracy he was embroiled in. It couldn’t be a coincidence that Oliver Jacobson was so well-acquainted with the Stuarts.
When the waiter reappeared and Georgia ordered two bourbons, Smith didn't object. She folded her hands on the table and waited as he processed what she had revealed to him. There was no need to speak. She didn't need to say I told you so, although she was barely holding back a smirk.
Georgia had been right. She’d known all along that this would change everything. Smith could no longer stay neutral. The enemy was far too close to home.
Harrods was packed with hundreds of last minute shoppers. It was all Clara could do to keep track of Belle amid the chaos. Their annual Christmas shopping trip had been a tradition since their days in university. Planning it these days was a little trickier than it used to be. It had taken Clara a fair bit of psychological gymnastics to convince Norris, her personal security guard, that she could go somewhere so crowded and public in the weeks leading up to the holidays.
Who was she kidding? These days it took considerable guilt trips for her to leave the palace grounds outside of diplomatic duties. She'd agreed to go in a way that would neither draw attention nor jeopardize her safety. That meant she'd been forced to wear a scarf around her head. Given how rarely she'd been photographed wearing anything but dresses and heels, she'd opted for jeans and flats. She wasn't just shopping with Belle though. Norris was nearby. She couldn't see him. He blended into the crowd too well. She doubted that a woman at the perfume counter could get a spritz off a bottle before he'd be there pulling her to safety.
“Are you sure you don't want sunglasses?” Belle said dryly as they paused at a scarf display. She reached up and fiddled with the fringe on Clara's silk scarf.
“Don't remind me how ridiculous I look,” Clara pleaded. This was as close as life got to normal for her. She'd have to settle for it. Right now, she needed to pretend that she was just another woman out for a day with her best friend. Otherwise, she'd be forced to think of the situation at home.