Today, I am celebrating the upcoming release (Friday, May 6) of “The Jewel Thief and the Earl” by including an excerpt to tempt you. To enter the giveaway, comment below. I will reach out to the winners by email after the Mother’s Day weekend.
The Jewel Thief and the Earl will be available on Amazon Kindle for $0.99 and Kindle Unlimited. You may purchase it HERE.
Grandison Franklyn, 8th Earl Harlow, 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 notorious thief, a man called “Brook’s Crook.” Colleen has been taught many of her father’s skills, along with an eye for the value of each item in a room. Unfortunately, the lady does not possess Thomas Everley’s daring.
Lord Harlow and Miss Everley must combine forces to return Queen Charlotte’s sapphire necklace before Her Majesty learns it is missing. Toss in a healthy sprinkling of quirky characters and missteps in the investigation, and the reader will find a delightful tale that goes beyond the “Cinderella” effect and opposites attract.
Late June 1817
“We require an expert thief to capture an expert thief.” Lord Liverpool stated the obvious, as Prince George paced his private chambers in a fit of anxiety. The quickness with which the Prince Regent covered the distance from his bed to the door and back amazed Grandison Franklyn, 8th Earl Harlow, for the Prince’s bulk had, in Grandison’s opinion, greatly increase since the last time, perhaps a year prior, Grand had been summoned before His Royal Highness.
Grandison’s role in Prince George’s latest complaint was to correct the “error” made by His Royal Highness before it became public knowledge. Grand’s position in the Home Office called for his ability to respond quickly and with discretion. He often referred to himself as a “coordinator.” He possessed connections to a variety of resources and people; yet, even he held his doubts about the return of a royal sapphire necklace, likely presented to the Prince’s latest paramour, a woman too flighty for the necessary secrecy of any woman who became one of Prince Regent’s mistresses. Certainly, a woman placed in such a position could not expect others never to discover she was willing to accept the prince’s attentions, but to discuss openly the gifts His Royal Highness presented her only asked for censure and a rebuke from the prince.
“Find the best and offer the man a reprieve if he secures my mother’s sapphire necklace,” Prinny instructed.
“Queen Charlotte’s sapphire necklace?” Grand asked, suddenly comprehending the urgency of his being summoned to Carlton House.
Prinny purposely turned his back on Grand, in obvious disapproval for not attending to the conversation, but Liverpool answered in soft tones, “Yes, part of Her Royal Highness’s bridal gifts from the King.”
Grand swallowed the series of questions and “reprimands” rushing to his lips. Instead, he said, “The best thief in England is currently on a ship to a penal colony, a reprieve from the hangman’s noose presented to him in return for his agreement to surrender more than a dozen pieces of Egyptian relics and an equal number of pieces of priceless jewelry waiting to be returned to the appropriate owners.”
“Then turn the ship around!” the prince demanded.
Grandison said evenly, so as not to offend his future king, but, rather, to practice reason, “As the ship departed London nearly three weeks prior, even if another was launched immediately to give pursuit, it would take more than a handful of months to overtake the prison ship and return Brook’s Crook to London. I assume we require a quicker resolution.”
Even with Grand’s simple explanation, the prince’s face turned a purplish-red with anger. “I would prefer to have the necklace in my hands by the day’s end!”
Grandison warned, “I suspect we will be fortunate to know success by week’s end.”
“Week’s end!” the prince screeched.
Lord Liverpool stepped before Prinny to say, “Lord Harlow’s warning was purely standard, Your Highness. Naturally, we will have more than a dozen men searching for the necklace within the hour.”
Those words appeared to sober the prince. “I would prefer only a few were made aware of my shortcomings,” he announced with an air of superiority ingrained in Prince George’s nature.
Lord Liverpool reasoned, “Then I cannot guarantee your wish to know a resolution by day’s end.”
“How soon?” Prinny asked, while a frown marked his forehead.
Grandison admired Liverpool’s calm while soothing their future king. It was the odd man who stood toe-to-toe with Prince George and won an argument.
“As Lord Harlow says, a week. We will attempt to resolve the situation sooner, but I cannot warrant the deed done until it is done. May I ask, Your Highness, of the urgency lacing this commission?”
Prinny glanced to Grandison before lowering his voice. Because he was not meant to hear the prince’s confession, Grand looked away, but he remained in place, knowing, quite well, he would be held responsible if he failed the Home Office. “Her Royal Highness means to wear the necklace for a family gathering set to mark the King and Queen’s anniversary in early September. She has asked me to have the jeweler at Mr. Grose’s establishment to have it cleaned and the settings tightened before then.”
Liverpool kept his voice soft, as if soothing a baby or a puppy, but loud enough for Grandison to hear. “Then you did not present the necklace to the Marchioness of Hertford?”
The prince lowered his voice further. “I had imbibed too much brandy and trusted those I should not, who said someone might think to remove the necklace from my person without my knowledge.”
Liverpool continued to ask the necessary question to which Grandison would require answers in order to conduct an investigation. “Did you view Lady Hertford placing the necklace securely away?”
The prince puffed up in indignation. “I never said I was with Lady Hertford at the time. Her ladyship is beyond respectable. In fact, she remains unaware of my indiscretion.”
“I see,” Liverpool said gravely. “Then please explain what occurred. Lord Harlow must be made aware upon whom to call.”
Prince George’s countenance screwed up in defiance. “I would prefer this incident was handled with the greatest discretion.”
“Naturally, Your Highness. Yet, Lord Harlow must have a starting point,” Liverpool insisted.
The prince shot a wary glance toward Grandison. “Perhaps we should claim the assistance of someone other than Lord Harlow.”
Lord Liverpool directed a steady gaze on Grand, warning him to remain silent until the Prime Minister “handled” Prince George. “Most assuredly, Your Highness, Lord Harlow can be replaced by another, but you must understand that his lordship possesses specialized skills, as well as a number of connections in such circles as will be required to assist us in retrieving the necklace before it is sold to a rich count or marquis upon the Continent.”
After a long pause, the Prince huffed his disapproval, but he nodded his agreement, nevertheless. “I was with Ridgeworth and Spratt. We all had had too much to drink; yet, we still called upon Lady Jenest. She was having her bi-monthly gaming ‘at-home’ gathering on Friday evening.”
Grand swallowed the words forming on his lips. Olivia Brownstone, Lady Jenest, had, at one time, served as Grand’s mistress. A widow, Lady Jenest had chosen the freedom her “widowhood” had provided, rather than to shackle herself to another. As Lord Franklyn, Grand had frequently enjoyed the pleasure of bedding a woman “with experience”; however, as Lady Jenest demanded more and more of his time and his allowance from his father, Grand had cut her loose in what turned out to be a very public breakup; thus, his moniker, “Grandison the Great,” meaning a “great” uproar occurred with their separation, although he had heard himself spoken of for both a ‘great’ sense of self consequence, as well as ‘great’ ease when it came to wooing the finer sex.
After a very awkward pause, Grand said, “Perhaps, His Royal Highness has the right of it, my lord. I doubt Lady Jenest would respond to any request from me to meet with her on this matter, despite the urgency of the investigation.”
Before the prince could agree, Lord Liverpool announced, “Nonsense, Lady Jenest will do what is necessary: I will assure it. Moreover, I possess an idea of how we might proceed. Trust me, Your Highness. Lord Harlow is your best choice for settling this matter quickly and with significant discretion.”
* * *
Dawn’s light barely streaked the sky as Grandison set his key to the lock and turned the latch. It surprised him to view his butler reaching for the door, for it would be nearly an hour before Mr. Shelby would be expected to be on duty.
“You took me unawares, Shelby,” Grand murmured as he handed his waiting servant his hat and gloves. “What are you doing on duty at this ungodly hour?”
Mr. Shelby tilted his head toward the passageway. “Lord Liverpool arrived an hour prior. He is enjoying his breakfast in the morning room.”
Grand nodded his understanding: When called upon by necessity, his servants could respond with a moment’s notice. “Extend my gratitude to Cook and her staff for rising to the occasion. Assure all I will reward their loyalty at the next quarter day.”
“That is very gracious of you, my lord.”
Before more could be said, Liverpool stepped into the hall to say, “Ah, it is you, Harlow. Please join me. I have been anticipating your return for some time now.”
Grand inclined his head in acceptance of the Prime Minister’s request, while his insides groaned with the idea he would be made to wait a bit longer before he could claim his bed. “I will require coffee and my usual fare, Shelby.”
“Right away, sir.”
As he made his way to his morning room, he set his shoulders in expectation of Liverpool’s disappointment when Grand made his report. “You have risen early, my lord,” he said as he permitted his footman to hold his chair.
“You would be surprised how few hours of sleep a man requires. I believe such is a prerequisite before assuming the role of Prime Minister,” Liverpool countered.
“If that is all that is required for the position, perhaps I should place my hat into the ring of candidates,” Grand said with as much levity as he could muster, especially as he was bone-tired and frustrated by his lack of leads to the necklace.
Liverpool nodded sagely. “If you do not discover the necklace, neither of us is likely to retain our position in government, let alone be Prime Minister.”
Mr. Shelby appeared at Grand’s side with a steaming pot of coffee, which he poured into Grand’s cup, essentially bringing a momentary end to Liverpool’s poorly veiled threat. The footman who had followed set a plate of coddled eggs and ham before Grand.
“Will there be anything else, my lord?” Shelby asked.
“As long as Lord Liverpool requires no further service, I am content,” Grand instructed.
“I, too, am content for the time being.”
With Liverpool’s flick of his wrist, Grand’s servants disappeared into the nearby servants’ hall to wait for another summons.
“Tell me, you, at least, have a lead as to the whereabouts of Her Royal Highness’s necklace,” the Prime Minister said in exacting tones.
Grand sucked in a steadying breath before responding. He wished he had known then what he knew now of the intricacies of keeping a mistress in London society. “Permit me to say before we go further, I would prefer not to be the one required to speak to Lady Jenest. I do not think my doing so would be wise. We both know the woman lacks discretion. Yet, I completely understand the necessity of interviewing her ladyship in this matter.” He sighed heavily, “I am grieved to say, my lord, that no one appears to know anything of someone attempting to sell the gems as individual jewels, rather than in a gold setting, as we thought the person might do, nor selling the necklace itself.”
Liverpool’s frown lines deepened. “Just as I feared.” He placed his fork upon the plate. “It sounds as if we are to squeeze out a suspect, we must search where only the lowest of the low dare to venture.”
Grand did not like the sound of the charge, obviously being dumped into his lap. “I will claim a few hours of sleep and then return to the streets,” he assured.
Liverpool wiped his mouth with the serviette. “As I said to the Prince Regent, although I had hoped for a ready resolution, I have an idea of someone who may be of assistance to us. I will send over the person’s directions after I have made arrangements for your house call.” With that, the country’s Prime Minister strode from the room. Within seconds, the door leading to the street closed behind him.
Grand sat looking down at his plate of food in stunned silence. He did not want to know what Lord Liverpool planned for him. “Not much chance of sleep,” he grumbled, “as my good name and reputation is on the line.” He took a long draught of the coffee. “I wonder what his lordship has in mind for me.”
* * *
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.”
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