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She's No Princess
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It was a well-known fact among those in the British diplomatic corps that whenever His Majesty, King William IV, had a sticky situation on his hands, Sir Ian Moore would get the assignment. No one else had a chance.
It was true that Sir Ian, thirty-five years of age, had a successful, decade-long career as a diplomat. It was true that he was unmarried, unfettered, and willing to be a roving ambassador, able to go wherever duty to king and country sent him. Of course it was true that his loyalty and honor were beyond question. But during this time of peace in Europe, truly sticky situations where a diplomat could make his mark were rare, and many of Sir Ian's colleagues wished His Majesty's favorite ambassador would retire to his estate in Devonshire and give the rest of them a chance to shine.
The Turks and Greeks were a perfect example. Those people would test the mettle of any diplomat, so when a minor skirmish between those factions threatened to break into all-out war, no one was surprised when Sir Ian was sent to Anatolia. But everyone was surprised when scarcely a fortnight after his arrival in Constantinople, he was recalled to Gibraltar. Ambitious young diplomats crossed their fingers, hoping that somehow, some way, Ian Moore had finally blotted his copybook.
Ian knew his copybook was still quite satisfactory. As to the reason for his recall from the East, however, even Ian had to confess he was baffled.
"Why fetch me to Gibraltar?" he wondered aloud, sitting in his cabin aboard the Mary Eliza, one of His Britannic Majesty's finest and fastest ships of the line. As the ship carried him across the Mediterranean, Ian studied the map of Europe spread out on the table before him. "What could it mean?"
His valet, Harper, looked up from the shirt he was mending. "It must be very serious indeed for them to send for you so suddenly. Something big is happening."
"I cannot imagine what. The Turkish situation is the only thing of significance in this part of the world at present, and they intend to replace me in the middle of it. To what end?"
"All I know is it's a shame. There we were in Constantinople, just settled in for a good, long stay, and then in the wink of an eye, there's a change of plan, and we're sailing off again." Harper shook his head with a sigh of regret. "Pity, that," he added. "Mighty fetching, those Turkish ladies looked in those trousers, and those veils of theirs . . . makes a man wonder what's underneath. The sultan was going to give you one of his slave girls, you know."
"Harper, a true British gentleman would never own a slave girl. Barbaric practice."
"Maybe so, sir, but one of those Turkish girls would have worked on you like a tonic. Not to say you've been short-tempered of late, but -- "
"That's absurd," Ian shot back, nettled. "I have not been short-tempered."
"If you say so, but you have been working hard for many months and haven't had any time for ladies." He paused, then added, "A man needs what he needs, you know."
Ian did not want to think about how long it had been since his needs in that particular area had been met. Too long. He shot a warning glance at the servant. "Harper, that's enough. Any more impudence from you, and I shall begin a search for a new valet."
The manservant, who had been valeting him since his fifteenth birthday, wasn't the least bit intimidated. The censure in Ian's voice slid off him like water off a duck. "Do you a world of good to loosen your cravat once in a while, sir, if you don't mind my saying so."
"I do mind." Ian drummed his fingers against the table, focusing his thoughts on important matters. "Why fetch me to Gibraltar?" he wondered again as he considered and rejected various possibilities. "Morocco is stable. Things in Spain are quiet. As for the French, well, our relations with them aren't good, but that's nothing new. I cannot imagine what the trouble is."
"Something to do with those Italians again, I say."
Ian hoped not. "I don't see how that is possible. The Italian situation is resolved. The Treaty of Bolgheri has been signed, the Congress of Vienna remains intact, and Princess Elena will be marrying the Duke of Ausberg when she reaches the age of twenty-one."
"Talk is, she doesn't want to marry him."
"She will do her duty. She has no choice."
Harper shrugged. "That's as may be, but girls are most unaccountable, sir. Especially the Italian ones," he added with feeling. "It's the temperament."
If there was anyone who ought to understand the Italian temperament, it was Ian. He'd spent a lot of time in that part of the world these past few years, pouring the soothing words of diplomacy over the Prince of Bolgheri and the Dukes of Venezia, Lombardy, and Tuscany, to preserve peace in the region and keep Italian nationalists from rebelling against the Austrian Empire, but despite his many trips to the region, he did not understand the Italians. He found their passions too dramatic and their moods too volatile for his fastidious British nature.
Ian gave up his speculations as a futile exercise and rolled up the map. Regardless of where they proposed to send him, he would do his duty. He always did. Nonetheless, when the Mary Eliza arrived at Gibraltar, and Ian presented himself at Government House, he could not help being surprised by his next assignment.
"You're sending me to London?"
"Not I, Sir Ian," Lord Stanton corrected him. "These orders are from the Prime Minister himself. You are to depart for home at once. I have dispatched Sir Gervase Humphrey to Constantinople to take your place and deal with the Turkish situation."