If Nash had been the sort of man who paced, he’d have worn a hole in his Aubusson carpet that morning. Instead, he stood staring out his cabin’s lone porthole at the passing clouds. The stillness of his body belied the fury that raged within it.
“You know, brooding about your last flight as an Imperial Sky Commander won’t fix what’s wrong on the Lucky Penny,” Jack commented as he picked up his coffee cup.
Nash ground his teeth together in frustration. He sometimes wished he didn’t have the volatile emotions his Italian genetics had bestowed upon him. Normally, the cool logic of his English genes held his Italian side in check. However, the escalation of odd and coincidental events over the past year had gone from being suspicious and annoying to infuriating and dangerous.
When the events that had taken place on the Connaught arranged themselves to lead to the court martial of himself and every crew member who stood beside him, he’d been angry but because of Jack’s warning, he’d known to expect it. He’d known that he’d been set up. Since he already had the Lucky Penny, taking to the air in pursuit of answers as to why he and his crew had been set up had been a foregone conclusion. Apparently, whoever had arranged the events of that trip to the Russian Barrens had known he would do exactly that. At least one of the crew members who had been court martialed alongside him had done so in order to retain his place as one of Nash’s trusted crew. And he was a spy.
“Who the hell is behind all of this, Jack?” he growled, his voice low and angry. “You must have some idea.”
With a sigh, Jack set his coffee cup down. “I do, but I’m not at liberty to say as yet. Perhaps when we’re on the ground, at your father’s palazzo.”
Nash snorted. He doubted Jack would tell him anything. His lover was many things, but forthcoming was not usually among them. He knew, as Anthony may not have, that Jack’s plea to his former lover for help wasn’t quite on the up and up. Jack had some idea of who was behind Nash’s kidnapping, but he had no idea where Nash was or who exactly had snatched him. Anthony’s brilliant idea to have Shelley impersonate Nash had turned up invaluable information for Jack about who had been behind Nash’s brief incarceration. And if anyone knew who had been behind the court martial of the Connaught’s crew, it was Jack.
“I know that expression. You don’t believe me.” Jack smiled crookedly. “You’re wise not to, but I honestly will come clean very soon. The situation is rapidly becoming one I need assistance with and there is no one I trust more than you.”
Suppressing an eyeroll, Nash cocked up one brow. “Anthony?”
Jack heaved a sigh. “Yes, very well, I trust him too, just not nearly so much as I trust you. For God’s sake, I love you, Nash. I don’t love Anthony.”
“At least, not any longer.” Nash couldn’t keep the sarcasm from his voice.
“You’re in a mood, aren’t you?” Jack’s expression held a tinge of regret. “Look, me being completely honest with you about the events that have taken place recently won’t bring that poor dead boy back. He allowed himself to be seduced by whoever the spy is and he paid the price with his life. It’s not as if those sorts of things don’t take place every day on Bird Cage Walk. Young men seeking to liaise with another man risk much, including unfortunately, their lives. Even if I had told you everything I know we could not have prevented that boy from being seduced, used and murdered. I’ve no idea who your spy is.”
“I don’t like having my suspicions regarding a mole proven correct,” Nash grumbled.
“Of course you don’t.” Jack stood and crossed the room to stand behind Nash, rubbing his groin against Nash’s buttocks. He spoke softly into Nash’s ear. “Look, there are things we can do when we reach Venice. In fact, if we didn’t do them, it would seem suspicious.”
“What then?” Heat rose in Nash’s body but he refused to give in to his libido.
“When we arrive, dismiss anyone who was not part of your crew on the Connaught. I’ve no idea if any of them are also spies but I would hazard a guess that least one is working for our enemy,” he whispered. “Give them a nice salary and fare back to England. Let them know that due to the murder, it’s for their own safety.”
“Then what?” It took all of Nash’s concentration not to thrust his arse back into Jack’s hard body.
Jack nuzzled Nash’s ear. “We get on with the business of visiting your father. I’m sure he can add to what Shelley’s told us of the blade that killed your young crewman.”
“We don’t know that the blade killed him,” Nash pointed out. “Silsbury was correct. The body smelled of aether. That’s quite odd. We’ll have to have the body examined. I’m sure my father has someone who can perform an autopsy in secret.”
“Very good. We will let your father handle the authorities. I’m afraid all of the crew will be interviewed, but I’m sure none of them will have any information to impart to the Carabinieri. Our spy is very good.”
A soft, but firm tap on the door had them both spinning away from the port hole. “Enter,” Nash called out.
The door opened and Ivar flashed them a brief smile. “We’re approaching Venice, sir. We’ll be at your father’s dock within the next twenty minutes.”
Nash sighed and exchanged a glance with Jack. “Thanks, Ivar. My father will have someone awaiting our arrival. You’re to let him know what’s happened so he can report to my father immediately. We’ll all stay on board until the Carabinieri arrive. Please let the crew know that the authorities will wish to speak with them as we disembark. Also, please bring me a list of the crew who were not on the Connaught with us. We will be sending them home to England for their own safety.”
Surprise glittered in Ivar’s eyes for a moment and then he grinned. “Good idea, sir. I’ll bring that list to you right away.”
The door closed, leaving Nash and Jack alone.
“I’ll want to watch the departure of the crew that’s not staying,” Jack murmured. “It should be interesting.”
Nash snorted again. “It will be more interesting if you don’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
Jack walked over to the porthole and looked out. Nash’s gaze traveled the length of his lover’s body, wishing not for the first time that their trip was pleasure and not business.
“This is the first time I’ve ever dreaded my arrival in Venice.”
A chuckle escaped Jack. “I’ve no doubt you’ll get over your discomfiture soon enough.”
Nash fell back on the faith his father so relied on. He closed his eyes on a tiny, brief prayer to God and the saints. Whatever they faced in Venice, they wouldn’t face alone, but he still asked for a little divine intervention to keep them all safe, especially his danger addicted lover.
With their arrival in Venice imminent as well as the departure of half the crew, Nash felt certain that something would occur to flush more clues or even the mole out into the open. So much had happened that he knew the subversive nature of it all had to be on the verge of becoming exposed. Their enemy would either be revealed to them through the clues or would reveal himself. Either way, Nash knew he needed that prayer.