Tomorrow our latest summer anthology, Regency Mid-Summer Mischief, goes on preorder for $0.99. It will release on 20July 2021. In this anthology, all the stories have relatives/family members or friends up to some sort of hijinks and being extremely interfering: therefore, the “mischief” in the title.
My contribution to the grouping is entitled “The Jewel Thief and the Earl.” Permit me to introduce you to my hero and heroine.
Grandison Franklyn, 8th Earl Harlow, is a collector of artifacts from ancient civilizations. He also performs duties for the Home Office bringing him into the search for a missing necklace belonging to Queen Charlotte. He has earned the moniker “Grandison, the Great” for a variety of reasons: his well-honed attitude of superiority; his appearance; and a string of mistresses, most notably Lady Jenest, who created a “great” row when he cut her loose.
Miss Colleen Everley is the daughter of England’s most infamous thief, a man called “Brook’s Crook,” for Thomas Everley’s family estate is in Brook, a hamlet in the civil parish of Branshaw in Hampshire. Colleen has been taught many of her father’s skills of sleight of hand, along with an eye for the value of each item in a room. As Thomas Everley has been caught and transported, naturally, Lord Harlow must depend upon Miss Everley’s assistance in using a thief to catch a thief. Unfortunately, the lady has inherited Everley’s skills, but not necessarily his daring.
Enjoy this Excerpt:
(If you wish to read the beginning of Chapter One, you may read the first half on my post Austen Authors on July 12, where there is a second chance to win an eBook copy of the anthology, keeping in mind the Regency Mid-Summer Mischief, does not release until July 20. The deadline to enter here is midnight EST, next Tuesday, July 6, 2021. Do so by commenting below.)
Second Half of Chapter One
Grandison glanced about him as he stepped down from his carriage in the early afternoon sun. He could easily imagine his name being bandied about at a variety of soirées this evening if anyone of importance observed him entering this unassuming town house on Milk Street. Likely, many would think he had taken the woman within as his latest mistress, but, in truth, he chose his mistresses based on their circumspection equally as well as their ability to please him. That was a lesson he had learned at the hands of Lady Jenest. The notoriety associated with the woman within would not meet his exacting standards for his mistresses to be removed from the public’s eye.
The house before him was unremarkable, as likely was its mistress, he told himself. Liverpool had sent his message saying the Prime Minister had secured the services of none other than the daughter of Brook’s Crook.
“If the most notorious thief operating in England is on his way to a penal colony, we must satisfy ourselves with the likes of Thomas Everley’s daughter and pray the lady is as skilled in her father’s trade as Lord Hampton assures me she is. If nothing less, Miss Everley possesses connections we do not have.”
“A woman,” Grand uttered the words as if they were a curse. “What connections to Lord Hampton does she possess?” The idea bothered him more than he would like, for he knew Hampton to be quite elderly. Surely the woman within was not Lord Hampton’s mistress. “What does that say of me if she is?” he argued aloud, as he approached the door. “You do not want her for your own. Lord, you have not even laid eyes upon her! And the idea that a woman might ‘assist’ me is ridiculous! What might she know, other than how best to steal a necklace, not how to return it!” He shook his head in disbelief. “She is no more than a plague upon my patience. I have no doubt that is exactly how she will prove to be.” With a sigh of resignation, he released the knocker on the door and waited.
He was just about to pound on the door with his fist, when it swung open, and, like it or not, for the briefest of seconds, Grandison forgot to breathe. Before him stood the most handsome woman he had ever beheld. Tall, certainly taller than most, yet, still significantly shorter than he. Slender, though womanly curves were quite evident. Hair the color of burnt gold, worn in a heavy braid at the nape of her neck. Pale green eyes.
A small frown lifted her brows and brought him from his stupor. His own frown formed when he realized she wore a simple dress of forest green. “Not the daughter, but rather a servant,” his mind announced. He never consorted with servant girls, no matter how fair of face they might be.
He extended his hand, presenting the girl with his card. “Lord Harlow to speak to Miss Everley.”
Her brows hitched higher, and a knowing smile graced her lips. “You were expected, my lord. Please follow me.” As he stepped inside, she brushed past him, briefly touching his elbow in an innocent movement that had him inhaling the fresh scent of lemons.
She turned on her heels and led the way along the passageway to a small room at the back of the house. Stepping aside to permit him to enter the room first, Grand expected to find Miss Everley waiting for him, but a quick scan of the room said it was empty. Turning to face the servant, his brows drew together as he said, “Might you fetch your mistress?”
“There is no need,” she said as she walked past him, only slightly bumping him as she came to stand before a comfortable-looking wing chair. “For I am she.” She gestured to a seat nearby. “Please be seated, my lord.”
Grand hesitated, and the lady lifted her eyes in a challenge, daring him to walk away. As he had never been the type to know fear when it presented itself to him, he flipped the tails of his afternoon coat from his way and sat, before placing his hat and gloves on a low table to the side.
Immediately, the lady rang a tinkling bell resting on a side table. “I asked for water to be heated in preparation for tea,” she shared. “Although, if you prefer, I also have port and brandy available on the table near the window. I am told both are particularly fine.”
“Tea is more than adequate, ma’am,” he said in response, before presenting her a practiced smile. “You had me at a disadvantage. I am familiar with your father’s countenance, and I expected you to favor him; otherwise, I would not have mistaken you for a servant. It is unusual for the mistress of the house to answer her own door.”
She permitted herself the faintest hint of a smile, but Grand suspected the lady meant to mock him before she pronounced her response. “It is not as if many dare to call upon the daughter of Brook’s Crook. They fear to be tainted by the connection. Moreover, like you, I possessed two parents. After all, you did not think you were to meet with a queen bee or an ant or a lizard, did you? You could not have thought my father capable of ‘selfing.’ I assumed you to be more intelligent than that, especially as you are employed by Lord Liverpool in the government.”
Grand forced the reprimand rushing to his lips to remain silent, for, he supposed he deserved a bit of a set-down: He had offended her, and, so, she meant to return the offense. Even though he was unaccustomed to those below his standing in society speaking to him with anything but the highest deference, he knew a bit of approval for the lady before him. Few above his rank dared to cross him, but she had.
“You appear to be very well-educated, Miss Everley,” he said through tight lips.
“I am, my lord. My father believed a woman had the right to study science and languages and . . .” She paused for emphasis. “And, naturally, art and music.”
“Naturally,” he said grudgingly.
“One might say, in many ways I am more educated than many gentlemen sitting in the Lords and Commons,” she challenged a second time.
Although Grandison enjoyed her deceivingly delicate features and admired the sheer force of will she displayed, he would prefer not to be tested by a mere miss. Unfortunately, for him, even through his annoyance, a visceral tug of attraction had him wondering if Miss Everley found him even half as attractive as he did her. Heat crackled between them, and it had nothing to do with her obstinacy. Ice versus fire, he thought. Despite himself, Grand smiled. “I would expect nothing less of Thomas Everley’s daughter, Miss Everley. From what I know of him, your father holds a variety of interests. That being said, if you do not mind, might we discuss the business that brings us together. Time is of the essence.”
Before the lady could respond, a maid rolled in a tea cart. “Should I serve, miss?”
“Thank you, Caro. I shall pour. Please leave the door set ajar upon your exit.”
With the maid’s exit, the lady took up the strainer and the hot water. “Milk? Sugar, my lord?”
He waved off the offer and rose to accept the cup of tea from her. As their fingers brushed against each other, a frisson of heat crept up Grand’s arm. It was all he could do not to shake off the feeling and, therefore, spill the tea.
He waited for her to pour her tea before he continued. “I am assuming Lord Liverpool has apprised you of the nature of my business.”
“In truth, he did not. His lordship contacted a ‘friend,’ who arranged for our meeting,” she corrected.
Grandison suddenly desired to know the nature of her friendship—whether the “friend” was another female, or a male—someone she held in affection. Naturally, he assumed from Liverpool’s orders that the friend was Lord Hampton, but he could not be certain. If so, perhaps, Lord Hampton had contacted her directly. The idea displeased him. He knew no man of his circle of society who would align himself with such a scandalous family as was hers, but a man could easily ignore her connections if he were of a lower class. Most assuredly, her “friend” could be the man to whom she showed her patronage, but the idea she could be some man’s mistress went against Grandison’s sense of rightness; therefore, he ignored the possibility that another might enjoy her body when he could not.
“Would you speak of why you wished to take my acquaintance?” she asked after sipping her tea, and Grand belatedly realized he had not responded to her remark about her “friend.”
He stalled a bit longer, also sipping his tea while deciding how much to share with her. At length, he said, “A sapphire necklace of great importance and value has gone missing. I was asked to examine the ‘usual suspects,’ so to speak, but there is no word of the necklace or a theft circulating through those quarters of London.”
“And Lord Liverpool believes I have knowledge of this necklace because I am Thomas Everley’s daughter?” She regarded him with ill-disposed stillness.
“If his lordship thought you involved, I imagine he would have had you arrested and questioned, rather than to order me to meet with you,” he corrected.
The faintest glint of a mocking smile edged the corners of her mouth. “Then, if my assistance is required, I must be made aware of the particulars of the necklace and of the theft itself. Who is its owner?”
“I am not permitted to say,” Grandison replied.
She sighed heavily. “I see you do not mean to make this easy. Might you inform me of where the necklace was being kept before it went missing?”
“Again, I am not at leisure to speak of the circumstances,” Grand said evenly.
“Then, pray tell, how am I to assist you if I know nothing of the crime?” she demanded.
Regarding her with remarkable self-possession, he said, “I do not believe Lord Liverpool considered your personal involvement in the investigation. It is my understanding, his lordship simply requires the names and locations of those likely to be involved in what can be called a crime ‘demanding’ his personal attention. I will take the initiative to locate and question the possible suspects.”
The lady raised a sleek eyebrow. “I assure you, my lord, you would not last five minutes in the seamy underside of London that I suspect we must travel without my assistance. Where we must go, being an arrogant earl holds no standing. If you truly wish the necklace’s return, you will convince Lord Liverpool that he requires more than a list of possible suspects. You will require my personal assistance.”
Annoyance came to rest fully on Grand’s shoulders. “If such is so, I suppose I will be required to detain you until you change your mind and cooperate with the investigation, Miss Everley.”
Instead of responding to his threat, the lady asked, “Might I borrow your handkerchief, sir?”
Grandison frowned in confusion. “My handkerchief?”
She presented him a cursory glance. “Never mind,” she said with a too sweet smile. “I already possess it.” She pulled a handkerchief bearing his family crest in its corner from a pocket in her dress. “Along with your monogramed button cover.” She placed both on the low table beside the tea service. “And a note which either contains my directions or that of another.” A folded-over card followed the other items. “My education, as you observe, contained more than numbers and letters and history and science,” she explained.
A simmering vexation arrived. Grand did not enjoy being made to appear the fool, but he knew Liverpool would expect him to place that emotion aside in order to return the queen’s necklace to the Prince Regent. “You have earned my attention, Miss Everley,” he grounded out through tight lips.
“It is not your attention I require, your lordship, but rather your cooperation.”