Today, I am celebrating the release of my Regency novella, The Jewel Thief and the Earl. If you missed this tale in last summer’s Regency Anthology, now is the time to claim it. You can find it HERE on Amazon Kindle, and it will also be available to read for free on Kindle Unlimited. (Chapter One can be found on Wednesday’s post, if you wish to read it before the one below.) Comment to be a part of the giveaway. I will contact winners by email.)
The heroine, Miss Colleen Everley, has been taught her father’s skills of being a master thief. Her father, Thomas Everley, is an interesting mix of loving father and self-centered #%@&*&^.
Thomas Everley is a notorious thief from a place called Brook in Hampshire. Thomas has been presented the moniker of “Brook’s Crook.” He is a man of many faces—a younger son of a viscount, who, early on, simply found sleight-of-hand an interesting skill. At school, he “practiced” pulling coins from the ears of his friend, but when his family, meaning his late father, turned Thomas out after Thomas’s scandalous elopement to Gretna Green with Miss Genevieve Saunders, who was to marry another, Thomas often found it easier to “borrow” a quid or two, rather than to discover a marketable trade. As the second son, he was intended for either the British Army or the Royal Navy, neither of which would have suited him, for, although Thomas Everley would fight like a rabid dog if cornered, he was essentially a kind man—a man who doted on Colleen when she was a child. He was a man who had shown Colleen much of the world through the eyes of an artist. Her father was a man who loved the finer things in life, despite being set adrift with only a pauper’s purse. As the story begins, Thomas has been caught in Brook, tried, and sentenced to transportation.
Mrs. Genevieve Saunders Everley, Colleen’s mother had been blind to her husband’s faults until he was too steeped in his “craft” to consider quitting. The realization of how far Thomas had sunk broke Genevieve’s heart. One day the woman took to her bed and never came out, leaving Colleen’s education to Thomas, who taught his daughter more than her letters and figures.
Brook is a hamlet in the civil parish of Bramshaw, in Hampshire, England. It lies just inside the New Forest. The hamlet contains a mix of 18th and 19th century cottages,[just south of the village of Bramshaw. There are two inns in Brook on opposite sides of the road – The Green Dragon and The Bell Inn. Both buildings date from the 18th century, albeit with 19th and 20th century alterations. Brook is also home to the club-house of Bramshaw Golf Club, which claims to be the oldest golf club in Hampshire.
Just south of the village at Lower Canterton lies the Rufus Stone. This stone is said to mark the place where in 1100 the then King of England, William Rufus, was killed by an arrow whilst out hunting. The arrow was fired by a French nobleman, Walter Tyrell, but it has never been established if the death was an accident or murder.
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.
Excerpt from Chapter Two:
Colleen should have permitted Caro or Jones to respond to Lord Harlow’s knock, especially as she still wore the day dress she had worn to her meeting with the lady who assisted in overseeing the foundling home, which Colleen had organized and supported for more than three years, but she could not quite quash her curiosity. She could easily recall how she had observed Lord Harlow, then Lord Franklyn, once in Hyde Park. She had been upon her father’s arm, and it had been glorious to be among those of society, for, at the time, all of London had no idea of the notoriety that would one day fill her life. Lord Franklyn had been with several other young gentlemen, who bowed and doffed their hats to her, Lord Franklyn going so far as to speak his “good day” before walking on.
Colleen had been hard-pressed not to turn and look more closely upon the young man who was the most strikingly handsome man she had ever seen. Ironically, although she had hope he had not aged well, the same fluttering of anticipation she had known on that fateful day in Hyde Park had settled in her chest when she looked upon his lordship’s fine countenance today.
After that day, she had combed the newsprints for word of Lord Franklyn. She knew when his father had passed—knew when he took his seat in the Lords—knew the names of his various mistresses over the years—and knew something of his reputation for quirkiness. In the sketches of him in the more gossipy news, he was referred to as “Grandison, the Great,” a wealthy lord who was very regimented in his ways and who had earned the praise and loyalty of those populating the higher positions of England’s government and society as a whole. He was so popular among the lords and ladies of fashion, he had been dubbed “the great” for more than the uproar caused by Lady Jenest when he released her as his mistress. The man was said to possess a great mind, great wealth, and great . . . Well, young ladies of society were not supposed to be interested in his other “great” attributes. The idea made Colleen smile when she looked upon him.
It was also said that Harlow collected artifacts and relics of ancient civilization, as well as rare books, with a robust interest, equalled by his desire for the “jewels” of fine society. Her father had often spoken of the man’s collections as if they were the Holy Grail.
Tall. Muscular. Dark hair and eyes. A well-honed attitude of superiority, one that would certainly name her as far below his notice. Such was the reason Colleen had used her own fully-developed skills to remove a variety of items from his person.
“You have earned my attention, Miss Everley.”
“It is not your attention I require, your lordship, but rather your cooperation,” she said, never allowing herself to forget the disdain apparent in his eyes and what she named as his patronizing way of speaking to her. It made her wonder what had happened to the young man who had briefly flirted with her all those years prior and why she had ever privately claimed a fascination with him.
Colleen considered simply sending Lord Harlow on his way. If she chose to find the necklace, she could certainly do so without his lordship’s presence at her side. Harlow would more likely prove to be a detriment: his disapproval of her lineage serving as a plague upon her ability to meet with the necessary people to locate the necklace. Jones could escort her just as easily as could Lord Harlow, and Jones, her butler, would, most assuredly, be better trained than was his lordship in the event of trouble. It was time to set her terms and learn Lord Harlow’s response.
“As you can easily determine, my lord, I possess particular skills that, once it is located, shall permit me to remove the necklace you seek. I do not require your participation or your permission in order to serve both my friend and Lord Liverpool.”
“I assure you, Miss Everley, a simple sleight of hand will only infuriate those you seek. I know London’s worst neighborhoods and the habitué within.”
“Do you, Lord Harlow? I wonder,” she said as a means to present him the gauntlet of a challenge. “Are we or are we not to be partners in this endeavor?”
Colleen forced herself to meet his steady gaze. The same heat of recognition she had experienced that day in Hyde Park and earlier when she opened the door to him had returned; yet, she refused even to blink.
After an elongated pause, he said, “For the time, I will follow Lord Liverpool’s orders.”
She wished to dance a jig in celebration, but, instead, Colleen presented him a simple nod of acceptance. “Although you may not disclose the owner of the necklace or its location when it disappeared, might you tell me if other items were removed from what I must assume was a home safe?”
Lord Harlow frowned dramatically, indicating hers was a question he had not asked of his employer. “Not to the best of my knowledge,” he admitted in reluctant tones. “Is such important?”
“It is to us. We must determine whether the theft was one of opportunity or one designed to make a statement,” she explained.
His eyebrow rose, announcing his question before it was spoken. “A statement?”
“Did the thief take the necklace because he might never have another opportunity to claim such a priceless piece, or did the thief wish to prove the ease with which he could remove the necklace, despite what I must assume were precautions to prevent such an eventuality. Before you ask, my father was, generally, of the second type.”
Again, his brows drew together in an obvious acknowledgement of the consideration he gave her questions. “Before I can respond properly, I must ask for clarification from Lord Liverpool.” Which meant he could not speak on the theft itself with any certainty. He grudgingly asked, “What else should we know before we go further in this search?”
Colleen wanted to purr with satisfaction: She had bested Grandison the Great. When his lordship departed, she would be dancing that jig, after all. Rather, she said, “It would be helpful to be aware of how many knew of the necklace in the safe. If nothing less, did the servants possess knowledge of the necklace’s presence? Were any doors or windows left unlocked for the night? After all, whoever managed to enter the property to open the safe avoided encountering both servants and the house’s residents, am I correct in my assumption?”
His lordship nodded his head in agreement.
She continued, “The person must possess very specific skills. Stealth, for example, not to mention the ability to open a safe. Was the safe itself one of the more secure models found in many finer homes or was it a simple lock and key style? Also, do we know how the thief came by the knowledge of the necklace’s value and whether he, or she,” Colleen said with a mischievous grin, “possessed any accomplices. I am assuming, at this time, you do not possess the answers to these questions.”
“Perhaps the house proved convenient pickings for the thief or thieves,” he suggested lamely.
Colleen shook off his suggestion. “I would again assume the owner of the necklace holds a prominent position in Society if both you and Lord Liverpool are involved.” He kept his lips sealed, indicating her assumption correct. “A common thief would not take the chance of being caught by such auspicious personages, for he would hang because of the notoriety of the deed.”
“Then we are searching for someone of your father’s skills?” he asked with a lift of his eyebrows, insinuating she, herself, could be a suspect.
“As the British government has seen to my father’s permanent place of residence for the remainder of his days, your thief cannot be Thomas Everley,” she responded, irritation lacing her tone.
His lordship’s predictable accusation arrived. “Perhaps the thief is someone Thomas Everley has trained.”
Colleen set her tea aside and stood abruptly. “I believe our business is at an end, my lord. I shall have Mr. Jones see you out.” She started for the door, but Lord Harlow was quicker.
“Not so fast, Miss Everley,” he said as his hand wrapped about her forearm. “Our ‘business’ is not finished until I say it is.”
“I am not your property, my lord. I am of age, and I can say with whom I keep company, and you are not among those I choose to entertain. I shall thank you, first, to remove your hand from my person, and, then, likewise, remove yourself from my house.” She glared at him until his fingers lifted from her arm. “Good day, my lord.” With that, she strode from the room, allowing the door to swing hard against the wall as she shoved it from her way.