Saturday, May 3, 2014

excerpt from Lizzie Tempest Ruins A Viscount

(This book was first published as  Every Midnight)

Lizzie gave a shudder. They were all conspiring against her, even the two maids slowly searching the luggage for her aunt’s missing shawl. They all conspired to keep her at the Folly until the Beast returned to claim it for his own.

He did not come to claim her.

She had not forgotten the horrid words he had used the last time she’d seen him. “My dearest Lizzie, I don’t covet your money or your graceless manners. Consider yourself free from any engagement to me.” He had stared with mocking sadness at her body, then leaned closer to whisper, “You could not tempt me to matrimony, not even in my wildest dreams.”

Inside the great house the Felmonts waited for him, locked in verbal duels with each other. If they had been partial to pistols at dawn, the family would have died out long ago. The only thing they all agreed on was their need for her to marry one of them to keep her fortune in the family.

Lizzie called, “I shall meet you at the gates, Aunt Tempest.”

“Don’t go by yourself!” Aunt Tempest cried, as if walking to the gates was perilous. “Wait until my shawl is found. Get in, Lizzie, I must insist.”

“Let me replace it, dear Aunt Tempest,” begged Lizzie. It was no use. She shrugged and laughed. “If you are not at the gates by the time I get there, I shall walk to Bath.”

“Fortune hunters will capture you long before you get to the village,” warned the irate lady.

Lizzie stepped resolutely onto the lawn. She had a dozen outriders waiting outside the gates to protect her.

The cool caress of wet grass felt like silk at her ankles. The sun played about her coal-scuttle bonnet and dark traveling dress. Anyone searching for the possessor of the Tempest fortune would never suspect her. Inheriting her father’s fortune had been both a blessing and a curse. Life was full of blessings and curses. Her widowed mother marrying Viscount Felmont had truly been a curse, but the blessing was his gothic stone mansion. The great house called as she skirted the edge of the lake. For one last time she turned to admire its golden beauty, to love its towers and turrets with all her heart.

She might even visit the Folly again, when the Beast was laid in his grave. Not that she wished him ill, but it was impossible to save any Felmont from debauchery. So many of them had died from that awful disease! Her duty to the Felmont family was over, though she’d reinstate their pensions if she could. Even the new viscount would not be refused financial aid, if he approached her soberly. She hurried across the lawn towards the distant gates. If the new Viscount Felmont wanted to ask her for money or thank her for saving the Folly, she’d prefer it done by letter.

Not that she feared him now. How young and foolish she had been. Time had cured her of loathing the Beast. She had not thought of him much for many a year. She’d been too busy trying to keep emotions at bay, to not weep and feel each death so dreadfully.

Calling him Beast in her thoughts was wrong, a childhood habit, and not useful at all.

A quarter of a mile away the gates opened. Thunder rolled low in the distance.

Not thunder. Horsemen raced down the drive, their mounts lathered. She watched them tear up the lawn as they spread out and galloped towards the Folly. She could clearly see Lord Felmont riding in front of his wolf pack.

Her heart began a thunder of its own.

If he thought she lingered waiting for him, she meant to disabuse him of the notion. Lizzie drew a shaky breath, gathering her dignity against his arrogance, against his disdain for her.

Now was not the time to let childish fears surface. At almost twenty-two, she was long past girlish palpitations. Let him say his worst in that affected drawl the family used for their insults. Nothing he said or did could be worse than what she had heard and seen in the last few years
And what was the point of her leaving the outriders outside the park, if he meant to ruin the drive and lawn with his pack of inebriated friends. Some of them could hardly stay in the saddle. No doubt the new Viscount Felmont couldn’t wait to begin his beastly debaucheries. Carriages full of whores likely followed him at a more sedate pace.

He dismounted and was momentarily lost to view in a noisy crowd of horses and men. His voice, a low rumble, drifted over the lawn. Raucous laughter greeted his words. He emerged near her berline to wrench open the door. Poor Aunt Tempest gave a cry of fright, which brought a cheer from Felmont’s drunken companions.

Drat the man! What had happened to his manners?

Aunt Tempest’s hand pointed in her direction from the carriage window.

Lizzie’s legs froze.

Lord Felmont turned towards her. One man hurried after him. She forced air into her lungs and waited for them to approach. She wasn’t afraid of him! Long gone were the days when she had struggled to not show her fear, or worse, faint at his feet. To her shame, she had done just that the day the Felmonts had celebrated her betrothal to him. Even her mother had found it vastly amusing, but those days were long gone.

He was hatless, an almost certain sign he was foxed. He moved with his odd loose-limbed grace, his long legs covering more ground than his companion. They left a silver trail in the morning dew coating the lawn. Even the way Felmont walked towards her seemed insulting. She willed herself to be calm. He could only want to thank her for repairing the Folly.

He stopped. Close enough to touch.

His long dark brown hair had been bleached at the ends by a foreign sun, showing a strange reddish color, as if he had been singed in hell’s fire and spat out. Maybe Satan had no use for him either.

He had a handsome face if the Felmont likeness could be overlooked, not that Lizzie intended to try. It was said the Felmonts got their long noses and high cheekbones from the first Viscount Felmont’s gypsy wife, but then men always blamed women for everything
She had always admired the Beast’s mouth, wide and finely sculpted. No one had ever admired the Felmont nose.

His skin ran tight around his jaw, which had not seen a razor this day. His deep blue eyes looked down the length of his long nose at her. No, not really at her. He looked around her, to the side of her, and for a moment he studied her wet hem. One side of his mouth drew down in a quirk of disgust.

She stared at him as if bored by the sight.

“Miss Tempest, I am sorry to see you have not managed to escape your fate.” His voice swirled around her like honey. She felt the sound of his words long before she made sense of them.

The breeze brought the scent of him to her nose. He had washed not long ago and changed his clothes. He smelled of soap from the Priory, as he always did. Of jasmine almost hidden by the low note of musk.

His hand reached out.

Lizzie retreated with dignity. She didn’t want to be touched by anyone.

He had obviously called at the Priory to fortify himself with brandy, a scent that made her take a further step away from him. Not that a drunken Felmont was anything new to her.

“Allow me to introduce my friend, Rackham.” He turned to the gentleman standing several yards away. “Miss Elizabeth Tempest, the woman who ruined me. The woman who has pretended to be engaged to me for these last six years so she could do as she pleased with the Folly.”


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