"A matter of weeks?" Mina's voice cracked. "But you said I could stay in London for the rest of the Season."
"I changed my mind," said her guardian, Sir Malcolm Penny, in a flat tone that brooked no argument.
"Uncle, you can't just change your mind. This is my life. I've been waiting for this chance for years. I have plans."
So many plans.
This was her very first taste of freedom and she meant to make the most of it. She'd been hidden away in the countryside so long—she had so much to learn, so much to experience.
"That's what I'm afraid of," her uncle said drily. He stroked his graying black beard. "Someone must keep a close watch on you."
Guard her. Restrict her movements. Curtail her opportunities.
He'd kept her under lock and key at Sutton Hall, his country estate, for ten long years. Ever since that bitterly cold February day when she'd learned that her beautiful, glamorous parents had perished while abroad.
Sir Malcolm's own wife and daughter had died in a poison attack meant for him. So many deaths, so close together, had made him overprotective of Mina, to say the least.
"I have to leave England unexpectedly," he said. "It's not safe for you to remain in London alone."
It's not safe. It's for your own good. You'll thank me someday.
If Mina heard those words one more time her mind would crack. Her uncle was cold, dispassionate, and unyielding. If she flew into a temper it would only make things worse. She must be logical and state her case clearly.
"I have Great-Aunt Griselda to watch over me." She spoke calmly and kept her expression neutral. "She'll strike fear into the hearts of any gentlemen with nefarious intentions."
She'd certainly plagued Mina during her brief time in London with her strict lessons in etiquette and decorum.
Docile and decorous didn't come naturally to Mina.
"I may be away from England for some time. The contents of an Egyptian tomb have been donated to the Louvre Museum and I'm off to help identify and catalogue the items," said Sir Malcolm.
His face betrayed nothing as he lied.
To the world, he was an expert on antiquities and president of the Society of Antiquaries. In secret, he was a spymaster who trained and handled an elite British force of secret agents.
I know why you're going to France, and it's not because of some dusty old relics, she nearly blurted out. You're going to hunt Le Triton—the evil genius of the Paris criminal underworld. The man who was responsible for the death of my parents. Take me with you!
She came from a long and illustrious line of spies. Her father, her uncle, and generations of the Penny family before that. All she'd ever wanted was to follow in her parents' footsteps, claim her heritage—for the family honor— and avenge the death of her parents.
Chin up. Shoulders back. Make direct eye contact. "If I find a match in the next few weeks, you can't force me to return to Sutton Hall." Marriage was her means of escape and her pathway to freedom. But marriage to a man of her choosing, one who would further her goals, not hinder them.