The Dauphin Deception - Alex Hunt Adventure Thrillers Book 4
The Dauphin Deception - Alex Hunt Adventure Thrillers Book 4
A boy-king the world never knew about. A missing relic said to have proven his death. An unknown enemy with a deadly secret.
When a series of anonymous letters lure archaeologists Alex and Sam into a hidden world of secrets, a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse ensues.
And survival is their primary focus!
I love everything this author writes and this book didn't disappoint. She has the ability to transport me right into the characters world and I get to virtually travel and experience all these amazing places all around the world with the way she describes them.
A boy-king the world never knew about. A missing relic said to have proven his death. An unknown enemy with a deadly secret.
When a series of anonymous letters lure archaeologists Alex and Sam into a hidden world of secrets, they get thrust into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. In too deep and fighting for survival, they soon realize there's no turning back. Plunged into a world where no one can be trusted, the illustrious team faces the powers and wrath of a dangerous secret fraternity that has ruled the world for centuries.
Dating back to the French Revolution with its members said to include the most influential leaders in the world, the order will stop at nothing to bury its secrets deep within the vaults of history. Now, it's up to Alex and Sam to beat them at their own game and expose the truth.
Will the clandestine brotherhood manage to exert their power and continue to deceive the world, or have they met their match?
Chapter One Look Inside
Chapter One Look Inside
COPYRIGHT © URCELIA TEIXEIRA - EXCERPT FROM THE DAUPHIN DECEPTION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Spring, 1792 — Three years into captivity
“Madame, did you hear?” her lady in waiting burst into her chambers. “They forced the King’s hand to declare war on Austria,” she continued.
Marie-Antoinette briefly looked up from the tapestry on her lap. Under any normal circumstances, the announcement would have been devastating. Instead, the news left the Queen elated.
“Madame, did you hear me?”
“This does not upset you?”
“Austria is your homeland, isn’t it?”
The Queen didn’t answer and motioned for her stunned lady-in-waiting to leave.
In the days and months that followed, Marie Antoinette clung to the hope that her former countrymen would come to her rescue. From her rooms in the Tuileries Palace, she set about a bold scheme to bring down France. She secretly wrote to her nephew, the Emperor of Austria, leaking detailed accounts of French military plans.
As the war raged on and Marie Antoinette sat in the hope of their anticipated rescue, she turned for solace to her children. Young Louis Charles had just turned seven, and she anxiously watched over him, sternly reminding his governess that they were after all still raising the future King.
But outside the walls of the stately prison, the radicals who wanted to put an end to the monarchy, began taking control of the Revolution. They fought for liberty, equality, and freedom and, on one late afternoon, some twenty thousand armed men stormed the Tuileries palace and compelled the royal family to submit.
Forced into captivity in the Temple fortress, on September 21, 1792, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France became nothing more than ordinary citizens of the new French Republic. The monarchy, which had endured for nearly one thousand years, was now no more.
From inside the fortress, Marie Antoinette stared across the Paris rooftops from the one small narrow window of their prison room. The light breeze carried a strong scent of lavender that had her inhale deeply. She longed to run her palms across the light purple bristles in her cherished palace garden in Versailles—a far cry from the Temple’s inner courtyard that never saw the sun. Confined to the gloomy medieval fortress in the middle of Paris, she had lost all hope of being freed. France was still at war against Austria, and now with Russia’s aid, defeat was imminent but nowhere in sight.
The heavy wooden door to the room flung open behind her.
“Sire, they’re coming for you!” one of the loyal staff warned the King.
Marie Antoinette watched as her husband remained seated in the wake of the attendant’s words. From the empty corridors, the loud thumping of the guards’ feet drew nearer and nearer. King Louis knew what was to come since his short trial had offered little chance of acquittal. Facing his fate, he gathered his two young children into a final embrace. Louis Charles’ big blue eyes filled with tears and his older sister clung desperately to her father’s arm.
“If this is the last time we see each other, God be with you. You reigned with honor and courage,” Marie Antoinette whispered.
“I regret that my lot has subjected you to this much grief, my Queen. It has afforded you a great injustice, and for that, I humbly seek your forgiveness.”
Moments later their solemn farewell was disrupted as six guards stormed into the room, their swords drawn. King Louis XVI had been found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by guillotine. Louis did not resist when they tied his hands behind his back. His eyes remained fixed on his wife’s until they swung him around and pushed him toward the exit.
At ten thirty in the morning, on January 21, 1793, the sound of rolling drums announced to the Queen that her husband was dead.
And just as she was once thrust into her reign, her eight-year-old son, to those who still believed in the monarchy, became the new heir to a throne he would never own.
July 3, 1793 - Six months later
“Mama! Don’t let them take me!”
Marie Antoinette stared into her young son’s big blue eyes. The sharp pain that lay across her chest threatened to break her heart in two.
“Leave him alone. Where are you taking him?” she cried.
But the four swordsman gave her no regard and pushed her to the floor.
“Mama! I don’t want to go!”her son yelled repeatedly as the men dragged him away.
Helpless and distraught Marie Antoinette covered her ears with her shawl in a futile attempt to block out her boy’s anguished screams that filled the empty passages in the Temple until they eventually faded in the distance.
The pain in her chest had become a dull heavy ache that left her body numb to the cold floor she still lay on. She didn’t care if she got ill or died. She had nothing more to live for. Not even her daughter’s soft cries at her side consoled her broken heart. Regret tormented her soul. It had been three years since they stormed the Palace and destroyed everything she once held dear. Filled with misery and despair, her thoughts trailed back to that fateful time that marked the day their lives changed forever.
October 1789, France - Three years earlier
As the large iron gates swung shut behind them, they turned and looked at Versailles for the last time. The horseman flicked the reins hard, slapping loudly against his horses' backs and bawled out a strident command for them to move faster. Marie Antoinette pulled her two young children closer to her side. Opposite her in the carriage, her husband stared blankly out in front of him displaying no emotion whatsoever.
Filled with anguish, the once loved Queen continued to search her husband's eyes. Fear and uncertainty flooded the pit of her stomach. For the first time since their elaborate wedding, desperate to escape their dire situation, she looked to him for guidance. But, as anticipated, his eyes revealed nothing. It came as no surprise to her that he showed no inclination to remedy the circumstances they now found themselves in. She had always been the instigator in their royal affairs—something her mother intentionally educated and prepared her for from a very young age.
Her husband of nearly two decades had never really been a man of much courage or strength even though he was the King of France. She supposed it was to be expected since he had been thrust into the role at only nineteen years of age. As if he read her thoughts, King Louis XVI pushed his chin out and upwards, suddenly showing more grit than she had ever seen in him before. She knew at that moment that it was merely his desperate attempt to keep up appearances to his outraged subjects who lined the narrow road. Marie Antoinette forced down a wave of nausea. Once the revered King and Queen of France, their fate was now in the hands of the angry mob that flanked the carriage and forced them from their lavish palace home.
As they rode further along the road, a tall tree's auburn leaves wafted on the tailcoats of the cool autumn breeze and landed on the carriage floor beside her feet. She had a sudden urgency to savor the experience for fear of it being the last time she would ever have the privilege of breathing in her beloved fresh countryside air. The modest horse carriage rolled down the road, and in its pursuit, thousands of angry men and woman waved their pitchforks, broom handles and kitchen knives in the air.
"I'll have her heart displayed on my nightstand!" one of the women shouted in anger. "I'll take her head!" another added, cheered on by the rest of the mob.
Marie Antoinette pressed her young daughter's head against her chest, shielding her from the ferocious onslaught of unceasing insults that trailed behind them. At only eleven years of age, Marie Thérèse's terrified eyes took hold of her mother's. Filled with questions entwined with fear and lack of life experience, she silently begged her mother to tell her that it had all just been a horrible nightmare. But it wasn't, and instead, Marie Antoinette gently patted her daughter's arm in silent reply. For the moment Marie Antoinette found solace in the fact that at least her daughter's life ought not to be in danger. As a princess, she was exempt from inheriting the crown— unlike the destiny that befell her younger brother.
Marie Antoinette numbed her ears from the hateful women's slanderous threats and turned her attention to her four-year-old son who, unbeknownst to him yet, would bear the hate of the people for years to come. As the sole heir to the French throne, he would become the next king should death befall his father. She cursed his undeserved fate and brushed an auburn lock from his pale face. His rosy lips turned upward into a slight smile, and his big blue eyes declared his naivety of the situation at hand. Perhaps God will grant him compassion and spare his life, she thought.
The rider cracked his whip over his horses' heads and pushed them forward down the winding gravel road. As the carriage gained speed, the Palace of Versailles slowly disappeared behind the trees. Without knowledge of where they were taking them, fear overcame the Queen, and the thought of losing her children twisted her stomach in a knot. She knew all too well what it meant to lose a child. She had buried two already. It had only been two years since her infant daughter went on to meet her maker and a mere four months since tuberculosis claimed the life of their first-born son. She stared out into the autumn-kissed countryside. Louis Joseph was only eight years old when the sickness claimed his life. As the eldest son, he was to inherit the crown from his father when the time came. She brushed a solitary tear from her cheek and looked at her youngest son next to her. Fate had stepped in and forced its hand on him instead. Louis Charles would be next in line to the throne.
As the incensed mob's cries grew faint with the distance now increasing between them, the King's previous upright demeanor eventually changed and he dropped his head forward into his hands as his emotions finally got the better of him.
"I should have listened to you, my Queen. I'm so sorry. You were right. Now my foolishness has caused this family great distress."
"It's not your fault. You couldn't have known this would happen," the wretched King's wife consoled him, even though she deeply regretted not forcing him to go along with her plans to escape to Austria. It had been several months since the people of France attacked the Bastille. Now, their attention had turned on what they’d directed their hatred toward all along—the Queen of France.
Yes, Marie Antoinette knew she was mostly to blame for this unfortunate event. Her extravagant lifestyle, parties, and gambling addiction had blinded her from seeing the suffering of the poverty-stricken French people. Years of harbored resentment had them taking revenge on her foolishness and disinclination to rule as a Queen was supposed to. They hated her. She had seen the obscene pamphlets that falsely accused her of living a life indulging in sensual pleasures while secretly entertaining male suitors behind the palace walls. Neither of which was true, but they had convicted her and found her guilty without trial or debate. That she enjoyed getting dressed up in the most exquisite jewels and silks and hosted many lavish garden parties, that fact was true. But she had always been faithful to her husband even though he’d never loved her. If only her mother were alive to see what she had forced her daughter's hand into. Marie Antoinette had never wanted to leave Austria and be married off to a future king, much less at an age a mere two years older than her daughter currently was.
The twelve miles from Versailles to Paris felt like an eternity and for the most part, remained peaceful with only a few passing peasants attacking them with stones. But as they neared the Tuileries Palace, the crowds made it nearly impossible for the carriage to move freely. Once again, the people shouted angry abuse at the royal family, driving their pitchforks and pikes into the sides of the coach. A few of the noblemen who had turned against the crown urged the crowds to be patient.
"Let them through! They can rule over you no more! The time has come for them to feel your suffering. From now on, they will do as we dictate!"
The crowd roared in agreement, parting to allow the carriage to enter the gates to the once primary residence of the monarchy. Under heavy guard, King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, and their two young children became the very thing the quisling noblemen had promised the Parisian people—a powerless King and Queen held prisoner by their once loyal subjects.
* * *
Held captive and under constant guard in the modest palace, their lifestyle had been reduced to one of simplicity. A far cry from the luxury and freedom they’d experienced in Versailles the royal family filled their days strolling through the small gardens or reading in their humble quarters. Beyond the palace walls, the people continued their fight to bring down the monarchy. Their once noble entourage’s heads, planted on pikes, decorated the city square and the fight for liberty and freedom grew more intense as the days passed.
Marie Antoinette became more anxious and fragile by the day. There were times her intense fear had her crying hysterically. She didn’t fear death for herself. Instead, the thought of her children facing the same fate, or worse being orphaned and left desolate to fend for themselves, was what had left her paralyzed. Desperate to distract her mind from their confinement, the Queen began to work on large pieces of tapestry. With her mind too much occupied with surrounding dangers, the needle was the only vocation that could divert her. The more awful her life became, the steelier she was and the harder she bravely fought back against their imprisonment. The sole topic of her discourse was the Revolution. She sought to discover the real opinions the Parisians had of her and wondered how she had lost the affection they once held for her.
With the King in a constant state of dormancy, the Queen was determined to win back the monarchy and set out to work against the Revolution. She secretly took council from ambassadors and advisors and learned to read and write in code to communicate with allies in other countries.
But even their near successful escape proved futile in changing the grim future that awaited the once Royal Family of France.
Present day— London
Alex gasped for air when they finally pulled her head out from underneath the water. It stung deep in the back of her nose where the cold liquid forced its way into her lungs. Several times she coughed hard in an anguished attempt to expel the water from her lungs, but it didn't help much. Desperate to gain control, she calmed her mind. She knew it wouldn't take long before they shoved her head under the water again. With her mind racing against time, she fought to calm her breathing and restore oxygen to her lungs, all the while wriggling her wrists under the strain of the cable ties that had her hands restrained behind her back.
"Who are you?" She spoke in a strained voice.
"None of your concern. Now, do we make ourselves clear?" one of the men behind her answered.
Alex tried to agree, but her air pipe was still waterlogged, and instead, she coughed and turned her head sideways to loosen the grip they had on her hair. Something she instantly realized was a mistake when they misinterpreted her reaction as defiance. The force of the men's hands on the back of her head signaled for her to draw a quick deep breath a split second before they pushed her head under the water again. This time she decided to save her energy and not fight it. She shut her eyes tight and tried to remain calm. They weren't there to kill her, that much she knew. They could have easily done so already if they wanted to.
Her lungs hurt as they strained under the lack of oxygen she so sorely needed. She knew she was almost at capacity, and as if they read her mind, they pushed her head down even deeper under the water. Alex opened her eyes, instantly regretting when the water stung behind her eyeballs. They had added bath salt to aid the torture. It worked. She felt as if her lungs were going to explode. Liquid pushed in through her nostrils setting off the impulse to pull her head out of the water, only to again become aware of their forceful hands behind her head. Her body kicked into fight mode, and she pushed her knees down hard onto the floor. Her hips thrust forward into the side of the bath, and she forced her shoulders back against their strong hands. Her neck ached as she pushed her head back and sideways in a desperate attempt to get her mouth above the water level. The sudden defiance caught her attackers off guard, and one of the men's feet slipped on the wet floor, sending him flat onto the tiles behind her. The instant relief from her attacker's hand on the back of her head afforded her a brief chance to draw in a deep breath and push herself away from the bath. The floor was slippery beneath her tennis shoes, and with her hands tied behind her back, made it impossible for her to attempt an escape. The second man yanked back hard on her hair and dragged her sideways across her bathroom floor.
Still trying to recover from near drowning, she yelped a soft cry as her hair pulled at her scalp. She walked her feet backward in her attacker's direction, attempting to alleviate some of the tension on her scalp, but the man yanked harder and dragged her onto her knees to face him. She studied his shoes. Judging from his skillful torture method, she’d assumed he'd be wearing black combat boots but instead he wore polished tan leather shoes and taupe suit trousers. Confused, she tried to look up at his face, but he pushed her head down, forcing her to remain kneeling with her eyes facing the floor. She did as he demanded and suddenly became aware of someone else walking behind her. She was certain two men had held her down in the bath, and both of them stood in front and to her left. It was apparent there must be a third attacker in the room. She waited on her knees with her gaze downward, taking in every sight, sound, and smell.
"Who are you? What do you want?" She attempted again.
Her question went unanswered. Instead, Alex felt the sharp sting of her attacker's hand against her cheekbone. The thrust only pushed her slightly off balance but deciding to seize the moment, she amplified her fall and intentionally swung her body around. She caught a glimpse of a well-dressed man staring out the bathroom window with his back toward her.
Her dirty tactic angered her attacker, and he kicked at her lower back, slamming her face hard into the tiled floor. Blood ran from her nose. She pinched her eyes shut trying to absorb the pain while she tried sneaking a second look at the man by the window, but her attempt proved impossible from behind her tangled, wet hair that now formed a thick curtain around her head.
She listened closely when the man moved away from the window and leaned in. His raspy voice spoke close to her ear in a soft but urgent whisper.
"Stay out of our business or the next time we meet we'll kill you."
His words were barely cold when Alex felt a hard blow against the back of her head, and everything went black.
* * *
A faint beeping sound grew louder and louder as Alex regained consciousness. She forced her heavy eyelids open and took in the blurry vision of a room that didn’t look like the bathroom at her apartment anymore.
“Doctor, she’s waking up,” a female voice spoke next to her.
“Can you hear me?” a male voice added at her feet.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital. Can you remember your name?”
“Good, and your last name?”
“What year is it?”
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
He leaned in and shone a bright flashlight into each of her eyes and mumbled something to the nurse who responded by holding out two pills and a blue plastic cup with a straw.
A moment later, two men in black coats stood at her feet.
“Miss Hunt, I’m Chief Inspector Shawn McDowell from Scotland Yard. We need to ask you some questions, please?”
The nurse propped a pillow behind her back, and Alex nodded.
“Can you tell us what happened?”
Alex stared at the bald, middle-aged man with the red beard and strong Irish accent. A younger wide-eyed more handsome man stood next to him, ready with his black notebook and pen.
“Ma’am, can you remember what happened?”
Alex paused, gathering her words before she continued in a croaky voice.
“I arrived home from the office, and they were already inside my apartment.”
She paused, searching through her blurry memory.
“They grabbed me and tied my hands behind my back.”
Alex swallowed as the events became less vague. She recalled hearing them fill her bath.
“They dragged me off to my bathroom and shoved my head under the water in my bath. I tried to fight them off and the next thing I knew I woke up here.”
“Did you see how many there were?”
Alex nodded. “Three, I think.”
“Did you see their faces?”
She shook her head in reply.
“Is there anything you can remember about the attackers? Clothes, shoes, scars, accents.”
“They wore suits. Expensive suits. Couture and they had French accents.”
“Outstanding Miss Hunt, what did they say to you?”
“Nothing much. I asked them what they wanted, and one of them just told me to stay out of their business, or they’d kill me.”
“So they gave you a warning?”
“I guess so.”
“Do you have any idea what they might have meant when they said you needed to ‘stay out of their business’? What business might that be?”
“I have no idea, chief inspector. I’ve never met them before.”
“How would you know if you never saw their faces?”
“Because they had French accents. I don’t have any French-speaking clients.”
“And what exactly is your line of business?”
“I’m an independent antiquities recoverer.”
The inspector’s assistant lifted his head from his notebook and looked at his boss. Visibly as confused as his sidekick, the chief inspector cleared his throat.
“So you restore antiques?”
“Not quite, I get hired to recover and return looted or lost artifacts after determining their authenticity and origin. I used to be an archaeologist.”
“I see. Who hires you?”
“Governments, private museums, universities, private collectors, anyone really.”
“So let me get this straight Miss Hunt. You’re a relic hunter?”
Alex smiled. “No inspector. Treasure hunters find lost pirate treasures for personal financial gain. I recover historical artifacts that have gone missing or got stolen and return them to their original owners.”
“I see. So would it be safe to say these artifacts are of great value then? Financially that is.”
“Some of them, yes.”
“Are you working on recovering anything of significance at the moment that might have triggered this attack?”
Alex reached for her plastic cup of water while rehearsing her answer in her head. She knew full well that in her line of business, there was high risk. As much as she’d like to find her assailants, getting the police involved now would prove detrimental.
“Nothing important enough to warrant someone breaking into my house and torturing me, no,” she lied.
“They threatened to kill you, Miss Hunt. That sounds like a warning to me— a serious one at that.”
Alex dropped her head back against her pillow. Her head hurt where they’d hit her.
“Inspector McDowell, I think that’s enough for now. We’d be happy to make an appointment to come see you once she feels better, but for now, I think you’ve got enough to go on.”
Alex instantly opened her eyes and sat up when she heard Sam’s voice.
“And you are?” Inspector McDowell swung around to face Sam.
“Sam Quinn, Dr. Sam Quinn. Miss Hunt’s former colleague and fiancée. I’m the one who found her and called the police.”
“I see,” said the inspector tapping his fingernails on the bed railing. “All right then. Thank you for your time, Miss Hunt. If you remember anything else, please let me know,” the inspector added, handing her his business card before leaving the hospital room.
“Hey, how are you feeling? That was quite a knock to the head.” Sam leaned in and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“I’m fine, honestly. In fact, you can hand me my clothes so we can get out of here,” Alex replied, pulling back the hospital blanket.
“Uh-uh. Not so hasty, missy. You’re not going anywhere just yet.”
“I’m fine, Sam. It’s just a bump.”
“Not according to your file.”
Sam had taken her hospital file from the wall above her head. “Says here you have fluid in your lungs and a concussion; quite a serious one too. Get back to bed.”
“Yes, well, I feel fine. I can rest at home.”
“You and I both know that won’t happen.” Sam’s tone turned more serious. “They almost killed you, Alex.”
“If they wanted to kill me, they could have. They didn’t. Trust me. This will all blow over.”
Sam walked across to the door and closed it behind him.
“Okay, out with it. What’s really going on here?”
“What do you mean? Nothing is going on. I told the police the truth. And why exactly is Scotland Yard involved in this anyway?”
“Good question,” Sam answered, “the police found evidence beyond their jurisdiction. No idea what. They won’t tell me.”
Sam pulled Alex’s legs back onto the bed and under the covers before propping himself onto the bed next to her.
“I’ve known you long enough to know you’re hiding something, Alex. These guys meant business. If I hadn’t stopped by, you’d still be lying unconscious on your bathroom floor. I’m still not convinced it is wise for you to run this business on your own. It’s not safe.”
“Not this again, Sam. I thought we’d settled this.”
“That was before you got tortured and left for dead. I’d say that changes things. You should consider taking the ICCRU position, Alex. It’s safer.”
“What, and sit bored stiff behind a desk all day? No, thank you. I didn’t work this hard to play it safe. Besides, I only got blindsided because I had my mind occupied with the wedding. Once that’s over, I’ll be back to my old self. I still think we should just elope.”
“You’re avoiding the question. What are you working on, Alex?”
Sam was right. He knew her too well.
“I can’t tell you. It’s classified.”
“That’s a load of crock if ever I heard any. You work for yourself Alex. Last time I checked you didn’t have anyone else you needed to run anything by.”
“I can’t tell you, Sam. It’s for your own protection. You’re going to have to trust me.”
“So there is more to this than you’re letting on, isn’t there?”
Alex refrained from answering.
Knowing full well her stubborn nature would merely push her further away if he persisted, Sam moved over to the recliner in the corner and settled down into it.
“Well, I’ll wait it out. I’m not letting you out of my sight for a second, and just so you know, I have some torture tactics of my own. Don’t make me use them.”
Alex laughed. “So you’re staying here now?”
“Yep and when you get discharged, you’re staying at my place until they catch the guys.”
“Nice try, but we’re not yet married Sam Quinn.”