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that person. Ronsard was sharp; he would notice if she appeared not to recognize her own name.John had been thorough in building the cover identity. The documents would stand up to any inspection and investigation. She didn't have to worry about that aspect of her cover. No, what she worried about was her own ability; John might not have doubts about her, but she did. She had never played a role before, unless it was when they were in Iran, if wearing a chador and not speaking was the same as playing a role.She didn't, however, doubt her ability to plant a listening device in Ronsard's office. When it came to that part of the job, she was confident she could handle it."Let the games begin," she murmured to herself, and went to sleep. PART THREEChapter ThirteenParisLouis! It is wonderful to see you. You are looking as handsome as always." The prime minister's wife beamed up her toothy smile at him as she took both his hands and planted kisses on each cheek.Louis carried her hands to his lips and returned the salute, briefly kissing her knuckles. He was actually fond of Adeline, who was good-natured and inherently kind. Her strong features bore an unfortunate resemblance to a horse, but in the Parisian way she made the most of her best features, her eyes, and after one got to know her, one saw only her nature and didn't think of the long boniness of her face. "I would never miss the opportunity to see you, my dear.""Flatterer." She beamed at him. "I must continue greeting the guests, but promise me you won't leave without speaking with me again. I don't see enough of you, you rogue."He promised, an easy thing to do, then left her to the receiving line and mingled with the throng of guests crowding the ballroom and adjacent rooms. A small orchestra was discreetly installed in an alcove and partially blocked from view by a gauze curtain.Black-clad waiters carried trays of delicate flutes half-filled with golden champagne, while others offered a dazzling array of hor d'oeuvres. Ronsard plucked a glass of champagne from one passing waiter and a delicate pastry from another. He had just taken his first sip of the rather mediocre wine-it was always mediocre at such parties-when he heard his name being called.He turned to see his sister, Mariette, bearing down on him with her husband in tow. Eduard Cassel's expression was indulgent, as always. Mariette was a bubbly froth of a woman, as giddy and harmless as a butterfly. She was three years younger than Ronsard and he had always been protective of the pretty creature. When she married, she had chosen a man fifteen years her senior, and Eduard had taken over as her protector.Eduard had been beneficial to Ronsard on several occasions. Positioned as he was in the Ministry, he often knew interesting little details about the government, the economy, and some high-ranking officials' personal lives, which he passed along to his brother-in-law. In return, Ronsard had set up and regularly added to a substantial trust in Mariette's name, allowing the Cassels to live in a level of comfort that far exceeded Eduard's salary."Louis!" Mariette flung her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. "I didn't know you would be here tonight. This is wonderful. How is Laure?""She is well." Louis's voice was flat, his tone pitched so his words didn't carry. He didn't discuss Laure in public. Many of his acquaintances had no idea she existed.Mariette wrinkled her nose in apology. "Forgive me," she said contritely. "I forgot.""Of course," he said gently and kissed her forehead as he held out his hand to her husband. "How are you, Eduard?""Well, thank you." Eduard was slightly heavy, balding on top, and his features could best be described as "not ugly." His expression was usually bland, disguising the shrewdness that lurked in his eyes. "And you?""Well." Those social niceties out of the way, Ronsard settled his arm around his sister's waist. "You look stunning. That gown is very becoming."She beamed and smoothed a hand down the shimmery pink fabric that brought out the color in her cheeks. "You don't think it too young?""My dear, you are young.""And so I tell her," Eduard said. "She grows lovelier every day." As saccharine as the compliment was, he meant it. His devotion to Mariette always weighed heavily in his favor, in Ronsard's estimation."Oh, there is Juliet," Mariette cried, her attention instantly diverted. "I must speak to her." She darted away, her full skirt fluttering around her as if she would take flight.Ronsard and Eduard drifted away from the crowd, strolling casually as if they had nothing more important to do than idly chat and look for acquaintances in the throng. "I think everyone in government is here tonight," Ronsard observed. "There must be something interesting in the air."Eduard shrugged, his heavy lips set in a benign smile. "Elections, my friend. Everyone is courting everyone else. And commerce is always interesting, is it not? The Iraqis wish to buy a very expensive, sophisticated computer system from us, but the Americans, as always, are having a tantrum at the idea. Their economy is healthy, so they can't comprehend difficulty in other countries. Our industrial leaders don't like having the Americans intrude on their business; But if we tell them to leave-" He spread his hands. "The Americans have so many lovely dollars. What does one do?""Whatever one must, on the surface," Ronsard said dryly. No Frenchman liked the American presence that seemed to permeate the world. France was French, and would remain so. Whatever agreements the Americans forced, they could not be everywhere and oversee everything. France agreed, then did whatever was in France's best interests. Pragmatism was the cornerstone of the French character."The Russians, of course, are desperate for technology. Unfortunately they have no means to pay. Perhaps the Americans will pay for them. These are interesting times, are they not?""Very interesting." In the past ten years, old boundaries had been completely obliterated. Politics was in a state of flux, and such an atmosphere was very favorable to his business. Instability was the greatest of motivators to a certain type of person."The American ambassador is here, of course," Eduard continued. "His aide is drifting around with his ears on alert."The ambassador's aide was an employee of their Central Intelligence Agency. Everyone knew who everyone was, but still an astonishing amount of information was passed around at these functions. Intelligence officers were often conduits of information that governments wanted to dispense to other governments, but by back channels. No one, after all, wanted to precipitate a crisis."A family friend is visiting the ambassador and his wife. She is the daughter of one of Madame Theriot's oldest friends. A lovely young woman, if I may say so. One always sees the same faces at these things, you know; anyone new is a welcome change."Ronsard was a man. He was always interested in a lovely young woman, provided she wasn't too young.He had no interest in giggly adolescents. "Point her out to me," he said idlyEduard looked around. "There," he finally said. "By the windows. Brunette, dressed in white. She has the loveliest eyes."Ronsard located the woman in question. She was not, he saw, an adolescent. She was standing beside Madame Theriot, a smile that managed to be both polite and warm on her face as she tilted her head, listening to a minister of finance who was probably expounding on his favorite subject, horse racing.Ronsard exhaled in appreciation. Eduard had not exaggerated; she was indeed lovely. Not beautiful, not spectacular, but. . . lovely. She wasn't dressed in a manner calculated to draw attention, but somehow she did. Perhaps it was the quiet dignity of her manner, coupled with those stunning eyes. Even from there, Ronsard could appreciate Eduard's comment about her eyes. They were huge and night-dark, the type of eyes a man could look into and forget what he was saying.Her gown was a simple, unadorned white, relying on its exquisite cut for its charm. Her complexion was pale, so pale he wouldn't have thought she could wear white without looking washed-out, but instead the color seemed to accentuate the faintest of pink flushes that made one think one could see the warmth of her blood under that delicate skin.She was slender without being thin, as so many fashionable women were these days. The gown skimmed over nicely rounded hips, and her bosom, though not large, was enticingly shaped. She wore a single, gracefully long strand of pearls, which matched the bracelet on her right wrist and the earrings on her lobes. She turned as he watched, and the strand of pearls swung sideways to curl under and frame her left breast.Unconsciously she touched the strand, restoring it to is previous graceful drape, but the brief image made Ronsard's loins pleasurably tighten."Is she married?" The French were sophisticated about such matters, but Americans remained, for the most part, annoyingly prudish."Widowed," Eduard supplied.The orchestra at that moment began playing a gently stirring movement from Beethoven, as the dancing had not yet begun. As Ronsard watched, the lovely widow's head turned toward the orchestra, her expression arrested as she listened to the music. She became very still, and her eyes seemed to fill with an aching sadness. She turned to the ministry employee and said a few words, then inclined her head to Madame Theriot and seemed to whisper something. Madame Theriot looked sympathetic and touched the young woman on the arm. Then the young woman slipped out the open patio doors into the night.Ronsard had no idea how long she had been widowed, but obviously the music had just brought a painful memory to mind. Sad young women, in his opinion, should always be comforted. "Pardon me," he murmured to Eduard and strode across the ballroom floor.It was a tedious passage; everyone wanted to speak to him. Women called his name and gave him slumbrous smiles. He shook hands, kissed cheeks, and made graceful escapes while he kept his eye on the patio doors. The minister of finance to whom she had been speaking seemed to dither, but finally found

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