He strode toward her and waited until she finished flirting with the bartender. She paused, winking at Smith so quickly that he almost wondered if he'd imagined it.
“I'm sorry, I have to take this to go,” she told the other man, nearly sounding as if she meant it. Smith knew better. Picking up her rocks glass, she tilted her head to a table in the corner.
“That's lucky,” Smith said dryly. Given how busy the bar was, it couldn't have been chance that secured a perfect location for a clandestine meeting.
“I rely on many things in my life,” Georgia told him. “Luck isn't one of them.”
He gestured for her to step in front of him, never mind the fact that Georgia Kincaid was as far from a lady as a woman got. Chivalry must observed. As she sashayed toward the table on four-inch stiletto heels, he noted her strength and confidence. After the attack that had nearly claimed her life a year ago, he'd wondered if she would change. Some things were different now. She had a new job and respectable connections, and, as far as he knew, she'd given up certain unsavory side employment along with her new life. It didn't feel prudent to ask her. Still, despite the veneer of self-confidence, he knew the truth. Smith had seen the scars. He'd read the medical report. Abortions. Suicide attempts. No one would guess the darkness that shadowed her life by looking at her. Georgia’s past was as big of a contradiction as she was herself. One moment, she was the most commanding presence he'd ever seen and in the next, she was begging to be dominated. In public she ruled, and in private she submitted, and the face she wore, even to those who knew her best, only hid the pain of her past.
She took the seat against the wall. It was a wise choice. She could see everyone in the room that way, he thought, but it left him to take the chair with the partially obscured view. Georgia always had the high ground. She was always protecting herself.
“So, what's going on?” Smith asked as soon as they were seated.
She swirled the amber liquid in the bottom of her glass and shrugged. “Can't an old friend call someone for drinks? It is Christmas time.”
“I had no idea you'd developed a sentimental streak,” he said.
A waiter appeared at the table and took his drink order. Georgia raised an eyebrow as soon as he disappeared. “A club soda? Are you pregnant?”
Annoyance shot through him. She had no way to know what a sensitive subject she'd broached, but he gave her a tight smile. “Everyone changes, I don't need to tell you that.”
In truth, he hadn't discussed his recent sobriety with anyone. Belle had noticed, but kept her mouth shut. During his time employed by Hammond, he'd reached all too often for the bottle. It had been a habit of his father's as well. Now that he was attempting to be a better man, drying up seemed like a good idea. He didn't feel the need to explain this to Georgia, and she didn't press him on it. That was why their relationship worked.
“I've been given a new assignment. One that I think you'll find interesting.” She tapped her fingernail on her own glass.
“I thought you were going professional these days,” he said, tipping his head in thanks as the waiter delivered his club soda. “I’m not on the Crown’s payroll.”
Was this why Alexander had asked him to keep an eye on her? Did he suspect she would share classified intelligence as soon as she saw it? He’d agreed to do so because Alexander had insinuated that it affected the safety of his wife. He, like Belle, wanted to be in the loop. After working for Hammond he understood the importance of knowing gossip before it became fact. Still, he couldn’t stomach being dragged back into the affair. If Georgia was no longer on the right side of the law, he wasn’t certain he wanted to know. It would force him to choose between his longtime allegiance to her and his promise to Alexander.
“I’m still a good girl—for the most part. But given the importance of this topic to the both of us, I felt it understandable to share.”
He froze, his glass midway to his mouth. There was only one shared interest that would send Georgia calling upon him.
“I'm out,” he reminded her. The night that Hammond had died, Smith had gone to kill him himself. Instead, he had walked away after Hammond had delivered a pardon to his adopted son. He had informed Smith that they were all pawns in a much larger game, but since Hammond had been burned, Smith was off the hook. All he had to do to ensure his own safety, and his wife's, was to mind his own business, and he had for the last year. Now both Alexander and Georgia were trying to drag him into the fray once more.
“No one's ever really out,” Georgia murmured.
“I am.” Smith's voice was firm. Getting involved in whatever she was investigating would only lead the wolves back to his door. He’d have to speak with Alexander and make his wishes clear. He respected the man’s compulsion to protect his wife, but now Alexander would have to respect his desire to do the same. He wouldn’t risk Belle to protect Clara.
“You don't care then about the people we lost—about everything we gave up?” she asked. Incredulity was not an emotion that she wore often. It looked as out of place as if she had shown up in a rainbow jumper and pigtails.
“Why are you surprised?” he asked. “I only ever wanted to get out. I wanted my life to be my own. It is now.”
“They tried to kill you and your wife,” she reminded him.
“Hammond tried to kill my wife,” he told her. There have been no more attempts on Belle's life since the last time he spoken with the dead man. That was proof enough to Smith that the threat had died with him. “I'm not interested in revenge.”
“Suit yourself.” She drained the rest of her drink and placed her empty glass back on the table. “I'll continue to look into this.”
She had always had a much stronger need for revenge than Smith but she'd also faced horrors he hadn't. Whatever ghost drove her to pursue revenge were her own to appease. Still he was curious, even if he didn't plan to take action. He had always wondered who was been behind Hammond and his anti-Royal conspiracy. It had been a shock to find out that his ex-employer wasn't the one pulling the strings. The true mastermind had stayed in the shadows, hiding himself so well that this was the first time Georgia had seemed genuinely optimistic in a lead.
He couldn't help but bite. “So, once you have him, will it be the Crown's justice or your own?”