Excerpts from the Chambers Box Set
Dukes, Rakes and Rogues!!!
A short excerpt from each of the novels included in the box set.
Excerpt from The Education of Mrs. Brimley (book 1)
“Would tha’ be the new teacher for th’ Pettibone School for Young Ladies?” A gruff voice called.
“Yes.” She relaxed, dropping the book back in her bag. “I’m Mrs. Brimley.” The words hung in a cloud of moist vapor. “They told me someone would meet me, but I was beginning to worry.”
“Aye. Tha’ld be me. I come as soon as I could. Hurry along now. I’ll get tha’ things.”
She hurried to the end of the platform, eager to escape the elements. Too eager to question the appearance of the well-appointed carriage, and too impatient to wait for the assistance of the driver stowing her trunk, she grasped the door handle herself.
“Don’t mind his lordship, Ma’am. He’s mos’ likely sleeping it off. He won’t even know he has company.”
“His Lordship?” She released the handle as if it were blazing hot and not icy cold. No mention had been made of titled gentry in her correspondence with the school.
“Aye. Hissel’ is why I missed th’ train, late as ‘twas. But I’ll have thee at Pettibone in a wink.” The well-bundled driver stepped to her side, opened the door, then helped her into the pitch-black interior. The door slammed shut behind her before the trapped warmth could escape. She had barely gained a seat before the lenses of her spectacles fogged beneath the protection of her black lace veil. The carriage lurched forward.
She sensed, rather than saw, the stranger’s presence. His body heat transformed the shared air of the interior into something earthy and forbidden. Her heart raced. The polite world would never sanction an unmarried woman alone with a man in such confined, private quarters.
In a bit of a panic, she dug her fingers beneath the sleeve of her heavy pelisse, searching for her mother’s handkerchief. She removed her spectacles, squinting in the dark to the opposite bench.
“My Lord?” she inquired, her voice barely above a whisper.
A slumping bundle occupied inordinate space on the seat across from her. She swabbed her lenses with the recovered handkerchief, relaxing at his lack of response. Probably some old harmless member of the gentry who’d be more concerned with his hounds than an unattended woman. She slipped her eyeglasses back on the bridge of her nose, but the dark interior obscured details regarding the other passenger.
No matter, she sighed. Even if the man was awake, her widow’s weeds afforded her a small measure of privilege as well as anonymity. As quietly as her petticoats allowed, she slid away from the slumbering stranger to the far end of the padded bench.
Pulling aside the window curtain, she gazed with curiosity on what promised to be her new home. The moon had risen, its feeble light magnified by reflecting snow, revealing a forlorn, bleak landscape, so different from her familiar London, yet intriguing in a fundamental way.
“I have looked out in the vast desolate night--” she recited.
“In search of him.” A slurred voice completed the line.
He spoke! Her heart slammed into her rib cage. Emma tore her gaze from the window, yet continued to hold back the curtain, allowing the moonlight to slip through the glass to the opposite seat. Her breath caught. She almost let the curtain drop, yet his face held her captive. Far from the old codger she’d expected, her companion was young, probably within a decade of her own twenty-three years. His fashionable clothes pegged him for an affluent gallant, right down to the silver-topped walking stick loosely trapped within his hand.
A dandy, she thought with a pang of disgust. She knew about dandies, those pompous, empty-headed peacocks who would cruelly snub someone like herself just to win favor with her pretentious cousin. This fashionable stranger probably only knew enough about literature to win a wager or two at some gentlemen’s club.
“You are familiar with Lord Byron’s poetry?” she asked, just to be certain she had not imagined his response. As she waited, watching the moonlight wash over his handsome features, a bit of unanticipated yearning tugged at her heart. How would it feel to be desired by someone like him? To be asked for a dance just once ahead of all the wealthy, gossiping debutantes who couldn’t tell a verse from a stew recipe? To be envied and not looked down upon for circumstances not of her making?
Although his eyes remained closed, a half-smile tilted his lips.
“Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, sermons and soda-water the day after.” Slight slurring aside, his fluent elocution proved familiarity with Byron’s work.
“That is not my favorite verse, sir.” She frowned, disappointed by his choice. Still, he had recited more than she had anticipated and the prospect of conversation after her long trip from London proved too great a temptation.
“You are obviously a man of learning and appreciation,” she said, releasing the curtain. She slid back to her original seat. “Do you share my passion for the great poets?”
A soft snore was her only reply. Whether he had truly been awake, or only dreaming, she knew not. That he slept now emboldened her beyond the realm of etiquette. A flash of excitement shivered down her spine. In spite of her general dislike of dandies in principle, she admitted a certain curiosity about one so well-made who knew his way around a poem or two.
She leaned close to see more detail of his face, only to be repelled by whiskey fumes. Still, she had glimpsed black hair curling gently on his brow, lending him a cherub’s sweetness, that was challenged by a masculine thin sweep of mustache and a day’s growth of stubble. A dark angel with a devilish brand, she decided, worthy of a poem himself.
Excited by the thought, she rummaged in her bag for a stub of a pencil and a scrap of paper but stopped abruptly. His eyes, fringed with long black lashes, opened with apparent difficulty. He blinked several times before squinting at her.
“Am I dead?”
An odd question, but then she remembered her mourning attire. “No sir, you are not.”
He relaxed a moment, then turned his head slightly as if searching for other passengers. His brows dived in a scowl.
“Am I married?”
She wasn’t sure how to answer. His kid gloves hid any evidence of his matrimonial state, but his expression of instantaneous alarm and regret suggested he was referring specifically to her. An old ache stirred in her bosom. Even in his drunken state, he could ascertain that she was no beauty.
“No sir, we are not.”
“‘Sgood.” He closed his eyes, and settled back in slumber, leaving her with a vague sense of insult and disappointment.
The carriage slowed, then turned. They must be approaching the school. With a bit of regret, she took a last long glance at his lordship, wondering whether to credit his pleasant countenance or his obvious command of the romantic poets for the piqued interest fluttering about her rib cage.
Silly girl, she could well imagine her uncle saying. It’s your stays that are too tight. No man with his looks would be interested in the likes of you.
She banished the thought with a shake of her head. She had left both Uncle George and her cousin Penelope behind in London. If only she could leave her memories of them behind as well.
The carriage slowed to a halt. In a moment, the opportunity to share words with this handsome stranger would vanish. She took a deep breath.
“Thank you for your company, sir. I wish we--”
His audible snore scattered her words. Before she could gather them again, the carriage door opened. The sturdy arms of the driver helped her out.
“Mrs. Brimley.” A stout woman with graying hair tucked neatly under a lace and ribbon cap waved enthusiastically from the steps. “We’ve been so anxious for your arrival.”
Surprised, yet pleased by the warm welcome, Emma smiled. Perhaps her plan to come to Yorkshire had not been so flawed after all. The bulky pyramid of wool and petticoats rushed forward. Beneath heavy matronly lids twinkled eyes like those of a young child on holiday.
“We’ve been . . . oh, my goodness!” The woman’s jowls dropped.
“Is something wrong?” Emma asked, trying to ignore the stab of alarm beneath her stays.
“You’re so young. We were expecting a much older woman.” Concern clouded the woman’s features, then rapidly dissipated. “Never mind. My sister will simply have to adjust.” She turned her attention to the driver. “Henry, take Mrs. Brimley’s belongings upstairs, if you please. Cook prepared a basket for your troubles.”
A cloth-draped basket passed Emma’s nose on the way to the driver--warm hearty scones by the smell of it. Her mouth watered. Fleeing her uncle’s household had left no time to fill her stomach with anything more than fear and anticipation.
“Come along, dear. Cecilia would like a word with you before you settle in.” The older woman practically hauled Emma up the stone steps to the front door. Just before entering, Emma stole one last look at the carriage. She could have sworn she saw the flash of a silver-tipped walking stick holding back the curtain a moment before it fluttered back into place.
Her brows lifted. Had he truly been asleep? A man like that couldn’t possibly be as intrigued with her as she was with him. Could he?
“This way, dear.”
Excerpt from The Seduction of a Duke (book 2)
Francesca Winthrop, one of the world’s richest heiresses, emerged from the cab, exhilarated by her purloined freedom. Her mother would likely lock her away in her room for weeks on end if she discovered Fran had traveled alone to such a shady district. But then her mother, absorbed in shopping to furnish yet another residence, would likely not even realize Fran had left their rented rooms.
Euphoria filled Fran’s heart and lungs, making even this dingy street one of the most beautiful in the entire city. The air was sweet, the day positively radiant. Unable to contain the smile fueled by her happiness, she nodded to two women who had stopped to stare at the newcomer.
The cause of her joy had a name that she could share only with the woman within the shop. Her mother may have traveled across the Atlantic to purchase the very latest fashions from the House of Worth, but not Fran. She had come to see Madame Aglionby and seek her counsel.
Fran swept inside the obscure bookstore. Pausing to savor the musty fragrance of aged book leather and well-loved pages, she envied her old tutor’s life surrounded by so many stories and fabled adventures.
“Francesca, is that you?” The proprietor’s wife, thin and elegant with threads of silver in her dark hair, threw her arms wide. “You’ve been away too long. Come give your old tutor a hug.”
Fran carefully maneuvered her elaborate day dress through the aisles. The new fashionable narrow silhouette allowed her to negotiate the aisles, but the attached bustle and tie-backs could topple several stacks of books with an ill-considered turn. She stepped into Madame Aglionby’s friendly embrace, relishing the attention she rarely received at home.
“Let me look at you.” Madame Aglionby pushed her to arm’s length. “You are positively glowing!” Her lips twisted into a knowing smile. “I think there’s a man to blame, oui?”
Words could not escape the bubble of excitement that blocked Fran’s throat. Finally, she could speak of Randolph and know that her words would go no further. For now, she merely bobbed her head to her friend and former teacher.
“I have set the kettle for tea. Come. Sit and tell me all about your young man.” She led the way to the back of the store and brushed aside a small stack of books with various foreign titles, before she frowned at Fran. “But first, tell me this. Does your maman approve?”
The question burst Fran’s euphoria. Her smile faltered as she propped her lavender parasol against the table and slid into the offered chair. “Randolph has forbid me to speak to Maman about him. He feels it would be better if we appear only to be as friends. He’s afraid she will not be pleased.” She reached across the table and grasped the older woman’s hand. “I know you would like Randolph, though. I wish you could meet him. He’s so very smart. He works for the law firm that handles Papa’s accounts. He’s well traveled, and he plays polo.” She couldn’t list his attributes fast enough, so marvelous was her beau. She sighed heavily, unable to contain her yearning. “I can’t wait until he kisses me.”
Madame Aglionby drew back, her arched eyebrows lifted in question. “He has never attempted to kiss you? Does he know of your desire?”
“I . . . I’m not sure.” A heat rushed to her cheeks at her admission. She fiddled with the fine bone handle of the parasol to avert her gaze. “I’m afraid I don’t know how to go about it. Not many men have tried to . . . you know. The ones Maman has chosen for me have been so old.” She shuddered. “I never wanted to encourage their affections.”
She raised her eyes to her French tutor, knowing that she was the only one who could be trusted with her plea. “I’m afraid I don’t know how to go about attracting a man’s notice.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Madame Aglionby laughed, a light, tittering sound of disbelief. Warmth and affection filled her gaze and eased the discomfort of Fran’s confession.
“My dear, you have already attracted a young man’s notice. You need only be yourself and all your wonderful attributes will shine through.”
If only that were true. “I don’t think I have wonderful attributes,” Fran said. “At least, not the kind that encourage a man in that manner.” She hesitated. “I don’t know how to flirt with a man.” She swallowed. This was the primary reason she had come to visit her old tutor. Looking askance at Madame, she asked the question that had burned deep beneath her stays across the vast Atlantic Ocean. “Can you show me? Maman always said you had a way with men.”
Madame leaned back in her seat. Her lips thinned, her expression suddenly cold and distant.
“I’m so sorry,” Fran gushed, immediately regretting that she had caused displeasure. That had not been her intent. “I’d forgotten that Maman had made those foolish accusations about you and Papa.”
Her former teacher studied her a moment, then the sharp angles of her face softened. “That’s all right, my dear. Had it not been for your mother’s insistence on my dismissal, I would never have met Monsieur Aglionby and established my life here.” She gazed with affection at the shelves of books that reached from floor to ceiling in all directions. “I’m spending my life surrounded by old friends. I’m content. In fact . . .” Her gaze swung quickly back to Fran. “You have, of course, maintained your skills in French?”
“I’ve been translating children’s stories for some time,” Fran responded. “They may not be the most difficult of translations, but I enjoy–-”
The teacher held up her hand to indicate enough. “I may have something that might help you. My husband procures journals for a gentleman with certain … proclivities. Recently, he uncovered the personal diary of a well-known courtesan.”
Fran’s breath caught. Her eyes widened. A properly reared daughter should not know that such women existed, but, of course, a properly reared daughter probably lived with less discord than she.
“The diary reveals her methods to attract and encourage the men who might purchase her services.”
“How do you know this?” Fran asked. Polite society never acknowledged that other world. That a diary should exist . . .
A smile played about the corners of Madame’s mouth. “Even though one is married, one still maintains a certain curiosity.”
Madame stood, smoothing the wrinkles from her plain skirts. “Antoine cares more about the price fetched for the journal than the one who pays for it.”
“The price should not be a problem,” Fran said, eager to see the secrets the diary might contain.
“I thought not,” Madame said with a slight smile. “The book is in our private quarters. It will take me a few moments to locate it. While you wait . . .” She glanced about the room, her gaze resting on a white box on a counter. “Perhaps you can begin to encourage your young man by sending him a letter.”
“I have been writing to him.” Fran protested. “I’ve told him about the places we’ve visited, and the weather—”
“Not that kind of letter, my dear.” The teacher retrieved the stationary box, complete with writing implements. “You need to tell your Randolph how you feel about him.” She pulled a sheet of fine vellum from the box. “Tell him how you long to feel his arms around you. Tell him that you await his kiss.”
Fran’s mouth dried to the consistency of the paper. She’d never mentioned those things to Randolph. “Won’t he think that such language is . . . improper?”
“The battle for a gentleman’s heart is rarely won with proper etiquette. Study the lessons in the diary and you’ll have him begging for a glimpse of your lips. Try your hand with the letter and I shall find the book.”
Madame started down the aisle toward the staircase that led to the living quarters, but stopped midway. “Francesca, you probably should keep this book well hidden from your maman. I doubt she will approve.”
“Maman has little interest in my reading material. I doubt she will even notice the addition of a journal.”
“Be wary and do not underestimate your maman,” her tutor cautioned. “There’s not much that she misses. Her eyes and ears are sharper than her tongue, and she has honed that instrument to a fine cutting edge.” Her eyes narrowed and all humor fled her somber face. “Be very careful.”
Excerpt from Redeeming the Rogue (book 3)
London, May 1881
The familiar, and vaguely annoying, threat of a knifepoint pressed to the small of his back gave Michael Rafferty pause.
“Your valuables or your life,” a guttural voice hissed. “I reckon a couple of swanks like you two have nice fat pockets.”
Rafferty glanced at his associate. Receiving his slight nod, Rafferty turned abruptly, rapping the miscreant’s hand sharply with his walking stick. The knife fell and slid along the street. Deprived of his weapon, the thief resorted to his fists but quickly discovered he was outclassed there as well. Rafferty soon had the man’s face pressed to the side of a well-appointed Mayfair town house with his arm twisted in a painful hold.
“Well done.” Rafferty’s companion applauded. “You didn’t need my assistance at all.”
Rafferty winced, feeling the sting of a cut on his lip. The bloody bugger had landed one lucky punch. Blast that it had been the fist with a ring.
“Some of that famous sleight of hand would have been appreciated,” Rafferty said, shaking his hair clear from his eyes. “Or is that only for the stage?”
His friend, the renowned Phineas Connor, Master of Illusion, laughed. “My performance on stage is limited to cards and doves. You’re the one, Rafferty, known for his fists.” He glanced at Rafferty’s captive. “At least among the Irishmen who should know better.”
The man squirmed. “Rafferty? Is that you?” He swore like a seaman, which—based on his filthy rags—he could have been. “I swear I didn’t know.”
Rafferty tugged the crook’s arm higher and heard fabric rip. “Check his pockets.”
While Phineas rummaged through the man’s clothing, Rafferty glanced around the corner of the building to a line of hansom cabs in front of a stylish town house. Such an elite gathering might offer temptation for the kind of criminal he held captive. “This is a dapper neighborhood for a wharf rat like you.”
“I was minding me own business until you two came along,” the thief muttered.
Silver glinted in Phineas’s hand, the contents of the thief’s pocket. Rafferty gave the man a shake. “A half crown? Who else did you rob tonight?”
“I didn’t rob nobody. That was for a message. Half now and half when I brings the reply.”
“What sort of reply did you expect to a knife in the back?” Rafferty tugged the arm, earning a squeal from the thief.
“The message weren’t for you. I was to hand deliver it to a lady, I was. I thought you two was easy pickings while I waited for her to show.”
Phineas retrieved an envelope from the crook’s jacket. No name or address was noted on the front but a blob of red wax sealed the back. He bounced the letter on his fingertips. “Nice quality stationery. Too nice for the likes of a gutter rat.”
“Who’s the lady?” Rafferty asked. When an answer wasn’t immediately forthcoming, he tugged the twisted arm higher. “Tell me before your arm leaves its socket.”
“I don’t know her name,” the man bellowed, his eyes squeezed shut. “All I know is she’s dressed in green and she’s going to that party of swells.” He slid his face on the limestone to point the way with his chin. “Barnell said . . .” His eyes widened and his mouth clamped shut.
“Barnell?” Rafferty glanced at Phineas, who nodded in recognition. “James Stuart Barnell from the House of Commons?” Lord Henderson, Rafferty’s superior at the Home Office, had suggested Barnell would be attending the diplomatic reception at Countess D’Orange’s town house. Rafferty had supposed that was the reason he’d been ordered to attend in spite of his spirited vocal protest. An evening spent in the company of haughty, preening, supercilious diplomats was an even greater insidious torture than the stiff starched collar currently pinching his neck. Now that intelligence listed Barnell as chairman of the Home Rule League, a group advocating violence in pursuit of Irish independence, the British government monitored his every move. Thus Rafferty had to attend the stuffy reception rather than spend a pleasant evening with the accommodating colleens at Brannigan’s Tavern.
Phineas retrieved the knife and handed it to Rafferty, who slipped it temporarily into the waistband of his trousers before releasing the thief. “What exactly did Barnell tell you?”
“I ain’t saying nothing more,” the man grumbled.
“You’re in luck.” Rafferty smiled. “I happen to be going to that particular gathering. I’ll be happy to convey your message to Mr. Barnell’s mystery woman.”
“She’s expecting the likes of me, not you,” the hooligan complained. “How’s I’m supposed to get my other half crown, if I don’t bring back her reply?”
“Be content you’re still alive,” Rafferty said, already pondering the identity of the woman. “Now be off with you. Don’t let me see your nose up here again or you’ll be returning to Kerry without it.”
The man began to slink down the road but turned after he’d traveled a safe distance. “It’s a sad day”—he snarled—“when the Irish turn against their own.”
Rafferty’s jaw set, his fingers curled into fists. Had it not been for Phineas’s restraining hand on his arm, he’d have chased the boggler down to make him eat his contemptuous words.
“Easy, Rafe,” Phineas counseled. “It’s a fool that’s talking. Remember who pressed a knife to your back.” They watched until the thief blended into the shadows.
“How can they think I’m not doing my part to fight for Irish independence?” Rafferty grumbled. The insulting moke hadn’t been the first to taunt him about loyalties, and most likely he wouldn’t be the last. “Killing innocent people isn’t the right way to gain home rule.”
“I know, I know.” Phineas slapped him on the back. “It’s true what Samuel Johnson said—the Irish, we’re a fair people. We never speak well of one another.”
In spite of his lingering disgust over the lout’s taunt, Rafferty found his spirits lifting. Phineas was right. The man was a fool. Best to focus on the recent plum that had fallen in his lap . . . the message to a mystery woman in green. His lips twisted into a smile. History had proven that even the most fiery of politicians had a vulnerability where beautiful women were concerned. Could she be the key to the elimination of the violent Fenians? He pulled the paper from his jacket. “This message could prove a stroke of good fortune. Do you think Barnell is establishing a tryst?” He contemplated the red seal. “We should read it before it’s delivered.”
Phineas examined the envelope. “I can’t lift the seal without the woman knowing it’s been read. If we had the time to go back . . .” He glanced at Rafferty. “Maybe we should just deliver this and follow her. I can always finger the message later.” He smiled. “My sleight of hand may prove useful yet.”
Rafferty pushed his hair back from his face. His long disheveled cut allowed him to blend in among the criminal underbelly where vital intelligence waited for those that knew the treacherous route. Rafferty knew it well.
“So, Mr. Connor, master of feats of wonder and illusion.” Rafferty bowed in a mimicked salute. “Can you use your powers to foresee this woman? That insight might be helpful if every woman in there is dressed in green.”
Phineas laughed. “Even if I had such abilities, I wouldn’t tell you. Locating her should make the reception much more appealing.”
Rafferty was tempted to argue. His experience with the hoity-toity sort of woman likely in attendance suggested they would not be interested in dallying with the likes of him.
The clop of hooves and the jangle of a carriage brought his attention back to the town house. Another diplomat arriving for idle chatter and secretive glances. Phineas tapped Rafferty’s elbow. “I’ll watch the outside while you question the ladies inside.”
If he had his druthers, Rafferty would have preferred that Phineas play the role of gentleman diplomat and he be the outside lookout. After all, Phineas was the stage performer. But Lord Henderson had been explicit that Rafferty alone was to attend the reception. He started to cross the street.
Rafferty glanced back. “What’s wrong?”
“Your jacket is ripped.” Phineas pointed to the deep rent under Rafferty’s arm. “And your lip is bleeding on your silk. You won’t get past the doorman looking like that.”
A matched set of black horses pulled another liveried brougham to the entrance. The streetlights caught a shimmer of green on the skirts of the woman emerging from its depths.
Rafferty cursed under his breath and glanced at Phineas’s frock coat. He tugged the end of his own bloodied white cravat. “Quick. Exchange with me.”
“Hell, you say!” Phineas shook his head, but Rafferty had already shed his cravat and was shrugging out of his ripped coat. With a sigh, Phineas loosened his black neck cloth, then removed his jacket. “You’re too broad for this to fit properly, you know.”
Rafferty accepted the garment with a smile, then slipped one arm in the sleeve. It was a little short but it would suffice. He tugged the jacket across his back to secure the other arm.
“That’s my best performance coat,” Phineas cautioned. “Have mercy on the seams!”
The fit was tight, but it would have to do. He moved the knife from his trousers to his boot, the purloined letter to an inside jacket pocket, then tied the cravat in a four-in-the-hand knot.
Phineas shook his head. “All you need is a black mask and a swift horse and you’d pass for a highwayman. You won’t look at all like the other swells.”
“That, my friend, is a compliment,” Rafferty replied, then started across the street.
Phineas called after him. “There is one thing you should know . . . the last time I wore that coat—”
“Tell me tomorrow,” Rafferty yelled back, anxious to track down the woman who had just entered the town house. “Lord Henderson’s residence at three.”