Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Publication Date: January 27, 2017
Evie padded in the side door and up the back stairs, hoping to avoid notice.
Footsteps dashed up after her.
“Sweet Sneak.” Roughly, Haskell clamped his arms around her torso. Cheap whiskey laced his breath. While squashing her to his chest, the flintlock he’d tucked into his waistband bumped against her derrière. His hands drifted over her shift, groping. “Fancy finding you creeping.”
Her creeping? What was he doing in the Great House? She stomped down hard, but Haskell was quicker.
She missed his foot. “I’m on an errand for Lord Victor. He won’t tolerate your interference.”
A grizzled-haired, slovenly man, who held a lantern rushed to them. He clicked his tongue. “Not yet, you pudding head. You’ve already gone and got her Ladyship rightly peeved. You want to rile the Head Stitch as well?”
“Reckon not.” Haskell snatched a last squeeze before releasing her.
The point of Evie’s left elbow found his belly.
He chuckled. “I like ‘em feisty, Sweet Sneak.”
Evie hustled past the mercenaries, who apparently had taken to patrolling the Great House. Why? She hadn’t a clue, until she reached the boudoir.
Mutters, the whisper of fabric, and the scritch-scratch of a broom came from inside.
Evie’s stomach tightened. Had Victor awoken? Somehow gotten past her and was even now prepared to do himself harm? No, she would have experienced a surge of emotion from him. Who was with the Maiden?
From the end of the hall, Haskell winked.
She hurried into Victor’s room. Someone coughed in the boudoir.
She crept to the connecting door. Someone shuffled. A broom rustled across wood. The cough sounded again. She turned the knob. It wasn’t locked. She opened the door a crack. A gray-haired figure in a nightshirt blocked her view. Then he shifted and he cocked his head to the side. Henry.
The statue gave off a shimmery glow akin to moonlight. Her lips pressed together tightly as if she saw Evie and refused to acknowledge, much less, greet her. Could Evie be so lucky? Dahlia leaned over the bell-like torso of the Maiden. With the fondness of a lover’s caress, she fingered the coiled braids. Moisture, the Maiden’s stolen energy-turned-to sweat, glistened on her hands.
“Hurry up, girl. We haven’t all night,” Lady Lowell hissed from the chamber’s corner. Behind her, Clive swept.
Dahlia pivoted, putting the awful bruise in Evie’s line of sight. Her tongue darted out and played over the stone. She slurped the viscous delicacy. The blackish stain on Dahlia’s cheek dissipated. Her beauty blossomed into sheer loveliness. Her skin became creamy smooth and luminous, but that sheen was wrong. It held the same malevolence Evie had glimpsed on the Maiden and Victor after the widow’s death.
Henry twitched and jerked in a stiff march as though he wished to leave the boudoir, but had failed to locate an exit. He sidled to the opposite wall, an expression akin to guilt on his countenance.
Her sack gown a striped onyx in the statue’s glow, Lady Lowell strutted to Henry. “Come now, Henry. You do this every time.”
His eyes enormous, he shuffled from her. Although he didn’t speak, it was obvious he wanted nothing to do with whatever his daughter, her Ladyship and the Maiden were involved in.
Evie’s hackles rose. Henry needed an advocate.
“Dahlia, help me with your father.” The Lady seized one of Henry’s wrists.
Dahlia spun and grabbed the other. Together they hauled him to the Maiden and pressed his hands to her rotund torso. He moaned and struggled to pull away.
Evie punched open the door. “What are you doing?”
Dahlia jumped. Henry’s face clouded.
Only the dowager, coolly holding Henry’s hand on the statue, met Evie’s gaze. “I should think it evident.”
Evie put a fist to her hip. “Henry doesn’t want to touch the Maiden.”
Her onyx and white collar crackled as the Lady lifted her chin. “Henry’s lost the ability to decide what he wants.”
“Does Victor know you’re doing this? I’m certain he’d object.”
Lady Lowell gave her a smug smile. “You’re certain? We’ll find out, won’t we? I had my men fetch him.”
“What?” Evie didn’t bother to hide her shock. “Why?”
“They tell me it took some time to rouse him.” Glancing through Evie, the Lady smirked. “Speak of the devil and he doth appear.”
Behind Evie, a snort sounded. Victor’s angst blasted into Evie’s shoulder blades. She gasped but managed to stay upright. He stomped into the chamber, placing himself as a shield in front of her. “No one is to enter my chambers.”
About Mia Jo Celeste