A Very Wicked Christmas
The Glittering Prize
A valuable treasure, a lost maiden pursued by a murderer, and a remorse-filled rake who’s failed to discharge his brother’s final wish…
These are the ingredients which underpin the first meeting between the hero and heroine of my Tuesday release The Glittering Prize about a resourceful blue-stocking who finds love where she least expect it.
Here’s an excerpt:
In a dimly-lit, low-ceilinged salon above a row of shops in Soho, a great celebration was in full swing.
“Mistress Kate has some rather fetching interlopers tonight.”
Digby, the new Viscount Ruthcot, looked up from the rather uninspiring plaice and cold vegetables on his plate and followed the direction of his companion’s stubby pointing finger. Of course, one didn’t come here for the food. A dozen gentlemen and their escorts sat around Kate’s oval table eating dinner, while others, the real enticement, lounged elegantly on chairs around the room, or were dancing in an area by the fire which was cleared of furniture. These were the opera dancers; actresses who’d finished their performances for the night and had come looking for a different audience—potential wealthy patrons who might be dazzled by their beauty and choose to squire them home, or set them up in some neat little establishment if they were really lucky.
The supper rooms presided over by London’s arguably most notorious hostess of the demimonde was a regular bolt-hole for Digby following his nights of hard gambling. He’d been indulging in this louche existence since he’d been introduced to London revels as a callow youth and, at thirty, assumed this somewhat meaningless, but nevertheless, life of few responsibilities, paid for through a sizeable inheritance from a doting aunt, would continue.
The unexpected death of his elder brother just three months before, coming so soon after their father’s, had brought him up short.
Inheriting a title and a host of unwanted responsibilities, Digby had tried hard to moderate his behavior, and made the excuse that Mistress Kate’s was a much-needed panacea for a week moldering in the country and attending to his duties as the new Viscount Ruthcot.
Harry Harding, beside him, made an appreciative noise. “That one over there’s a beauty. See—eating beside the ginger-head. Now, he’s hardly a swell of the first stare. Not that I believe he is a gentleman. No; not Kate’s usual clientele at all. As for the young lady, never seen her here before, and I’d know if I had. What a beauty. She certainly don’t look like the usual bachelor fare.”
Digby glanced from the gimlet eye of Harry’s half-eaten plaice to his friend, now staring down the table trying to place the newcomers. Harry was shaking his head, muttering, “No, can’t say I admire the cut of his coat. Swimming in the River Tick by the looks of it. Wonder what the story is.”
Turning to his neighbor on the right-hand side, Harding apparently sought to learn details, while Digby stole another glance at the female. She was indeed a beauty.
She happened to glance up to find him looking at her and blushed hotly.
Digby inclined his head, aware that his smile was rich with innuendo as she looked away. The young woman stood out as much for her magnificent crown of lightly-rippling golden hair, delicate-featured oval face, and finely-arched brows above serious eyes—he wished he could ascertain the color—as she did for the out-of-place modesty of her clothing.
Harding leaned back from his confabulation and patted his stomach with a sigh. “Seems the young fellow is a hopeful trading on some obscure association with Kate. A callow youth, as anyone can see. Not Quality, that’s for sure. No idea who his light o’ love is though she’s the loveliest bit o’ muslin I’ve seen in a while. Doubt he’ll keep her for long. Might have a crack at her myself.” His mouth split into a grin. “Finished, have you? Mind if I polish off the rest? What did I say? Oh yes, you can dance with her first while I finish your food. Maybe she’ll take your mind of your little obsession.”
Little obsession was not what Digby would have called the woman at the center of his greatest mystery; disappointment, bungle—it was all those things and more—but Digby realized he’d grievously failed more than just his brother when he’d not made the apparently desperately important appointment at St Paul’s churchyard with which his brother had charged him. Not that it was entirely his fault that he hadn’t.
As Henry sequestered his half-eaten plaice and limp cabbage, his old friend asked, “Any news on the lost maiden? Guess you’ve not found the gel, else you’d have said, eh wot?”
Digby shook his head, tormented as ever by the reflection that his brother’s final request was one of the few occasions Richard or any other member of the family had entrusted him with some important responsibility. Not that Digby had known at the time it was his brother’s last request. The letter scratched in haste by his brother from his carriage and given to John, his batman, to post had caught up with Digby on his return from the Continent. John had remained in the area to help with the investigation into his death—though nothing had come of it—and had supplied Digby with the terrible details much later.
Details that had given Digby sleepless nights ever since for Richard had died as a result of trying to save this young woman. The young woman he’d exhorted Digby to meet and protect.
Harding tapped the table to get Digby’s attention. “Ain’t no use torturing yourself over your brother’s fantasy.
“She was not a fantasy; she was real,” Digby murmured, quoting Richard’s written description which he’d engraved upon his heart: “A young lady of unsurpassed purity and virtue, plunged into desperation and who, blameless, though heroic, is very much in need of urgent protection.”
“Yes, and ain’t that a pretty way to put it? Would turn me into a warrior if I had to seek her out. But does she exist? She wasn’t where she was supposed to be.”
“I wasn’t where I was supposed to be,” Digby growled. “In case you don’t recall it, that was your fault.”
Harding’s faraway look obviously took another direction. “Oh yes, I was in quite a state after that cockfight, which now I think about, is where I remember seeing that jackanapes.” He hooked a thumb in the direction of the whey-faced gentleman seated beside the goddess dressed like a nun. “He must be more full of juice than he looks if he could afford to lose as much as he did that afternoon. Anyway, to return to the subject at hand. Good man for being on hand when I was casting up my accounts after getting into that ungentlemanly scuffle. Not like me at all, and sorry it turned out so ill for the lass. Truly, I am. No doubt Richard’s maiden got herself safely to where she needed to go. No respectable young woman can be completely alone in the world.”
It was this with which Digby had to comfort himself.
[End of Excerpt]
A VERY WICKED CHRISTMAS ANTHOLOGY
Release Date: 18 OCTOBER 2016
Check out the fantastic December review in Ind’tale Magazine.
Crowned Heart, 5 Stars, 5 Steam Kettles.
Digital ISBN: 9871925239195
Print ISBN: 9871925239201
This is an all-new collection of stand-alone complete works.
Fantastic value at only 99c!