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"You never gave him a chance." Saybrook let out a wry sigh. "If you recall, you cut him off when he began his warning, so he a.s.sumed you knew about Gavin, as well as c.o.c.kburn."
At the reminder of her impatience, and how many mistakes she had made, Arianna winced. "Lord, what a b.l.o.o.d.y fool I've been. You were right about Concord. If I hadn't been so blinded by my own a.s.sumptions, I might have listened to you . . . I might have remembered that Father had been friends with c.o.c.kburn. It only came back to me tonight."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," murmured Saybrook. "It is easy to look at others with a dispa.s.sionate eye. You saw me submerged in self-pity, and if you hadn't so kindly pointed out my faults, we never would have triumphed over these devils."
"Kindly?" A laugh slipped from her lips. "I'm surprised you didn't murder me on the spot."
"And lose your chocolate knowledge?" He tucked the carriage blanket over her lap. "Perish the thought."
She settled a little closer to him, savoring the woolly softness of his coat against her cheek. But a sudden lurch of the wheels jarred her from such momentary reveries. "You know, I feel guilty that Mr. Henning and his men must wait in the cold for another conveyance. They could have squeezed in-"
"Don't worry about Baz. He is extremely resourceful," said the earl. "With any luck, he and his ruffians will hijack Grentham's barouche. And then deposit it in the foulest stretch of the river once they reach London."
"You don't like Grentham."
"No," he answered tersely. "I don't."
It seemed a very visceral reaction, and Arianna wondered why. "Is there a reason?"
Ignoring the question, he shifted against the tufted leather. "Speaking of resourceful, Lady Arianna, we must decide on a strategy for the future, and quickly. The government will never admit to what really happened. The scandal would have dangerous repercussions both at home and abroad."
She straightened slightly.
"So that leaves you somewhere in Purgatory. Grentham has agreed not to arrest you for Crandall's demise. But he is also adamant that you cannot reappear in Society as Lady Arianna Hadley. It would provoke too many awkward questions."
And so I must leave England once again.
Arianna gave a halfhearted shrug. "I am used to being an exile."
"That is not fair," he growled.
"Life is often unfair." She watched a curl of smoke twist within the bra.s.s-framed gla.s.s of the carriage light. "Grentham is right. There really isn't any alternative."
"Actually, there is."
She suddenly felt very, very sleepy, and uninterested in talking about the future. "What?" she murmured, patting back a yawn.
"I hope you aren't going to suggest that we do away with the minister. I've had quite enough shocks for one night."
"Have you?" The earl's voice had an oddly wry note to it. "Try to endure one more."
Arianna sat up a little straighter. He now had her full attention.
"What I propose is . . . marriage."
"Marriage," she repeated faintly, unsure if she had heard him correctly.
"It is an eminently practical solution," he went on. "A new name solves the conundrum of your past. I wed the wealthy widow and the tangle of your previous ident.i.ties no longer matters. Richard Hadley's daughter disappeared long ago. Her existence is all but forgotten."
"You are not honor-bound to sacrifice your future for me, sir," said Arianna. "There are ballrooms full of rich, mannered young ladies who would eagerly accept the invitation to become the Countess of Saybrook."
"Perhaps, but as you have so kindly pointed out to me, they tend to be bland and boring. I find that's not to my taste." His gaze met hers. "You cannot deny that we have much in common. We are both outcasts of a sort. Unconventional individuals who share similar interests."
d.a.m.n the dark fringe of lashes, thought Arianna. The shadows hid his eyes.
"There is no reason why it can't work," he finished.
Unlike mathematics, emotions didn't always add up quite so neatly.
"I . . ."
"You don't have to answer right now," he said. "Think it over for the night."
"I . . . I shall."
A smile teased at the corners of his mouth. "Do keep in mind Dona Maria's diaries. They hold a promise that a future together could be sweet."
Arianna imagined the taste of fire-warmed b.u.t.ter and sugar melting with swirls of dark chocolate. Revenge had left naught but a bitter taste in her mouth.
The offer was awfully tempting. . . .
AUTHOR'S NOTE Derivatives, debt-equity swaps, margin calls, stock crashes-our modern-day financial swindles and booms are nothing new. Both the South Sea Bubble and the Mississippi Bubble mentioned in Sweet Revenge are actual historical events that took place in the early part of the eighteenth century, and had grave economic repercussions for both England and France. I won't try to sum up the complex details here-for those of you interested in learning more, there are a number of excellent books on the subject, including A Very English Deceit: The Secret History of the South Sea Bubble and the First Great Financial Scandal by Malcolm Balen and The First Crash: Lessons from the South Sea Bubble by Richard Dale.
Though modeled on the original South Sea Company, my own New World Trading Company is pure fiction. But given current events in 1813, it could, with a bit of imagination, have been plausible. Despite his retreat from Russia during the previous winter, Napoleon still controlled most of Europe, including Spain. But under the leadership of Wellington, the British forces were making headway in the Peninsula, further threatening his aura of invincibility. As the Emperor rebuilt his army, and looked once again to conquer any opposition in Eastern Europe, he might well have granted trade concessions to anyone who could throw England-the lynchpin to a new alliance against him-into chaos. After all, he was notorious for pa.s.sing out kingdoms and princely riches to his family and friends in reward for service to France.
And lastly, a morsel of history about chocolate! Some may take issue with seeing edible chocolate mentioned at this time in history. However, my research has turned up proof that chocolate was indeed served up in solid form. Sulpice Debauve, pharmacist to King Louis XVI, opened a chocolate shop on the Left Bank of Paris in 1800. By 1804, he had over sixty shops throughout France. Debauve & Gallais Chocolates still exists today, and though its bonbons are sinfully expensive, they are sinfully good. (Ah, the hardships of research!) You may visit their Web site at www.debauveandgallais.com.
I hope you have enjoyed the history behind Sweet Revenge. For more fun facts and arcane trivia, please visit my Web site at www.andreapenrose.com. I love to hear from my readers and can be contacted at andreapenrose.com.
Read on for a sneak peek of the next
Lady Arianna Regency Mystery
by Andrea Penrose
Coming from Obsidian in December 2011.
The book's binding was crafted out of dark fine-grained calfskin, its richly tooled embossings age-mellowed to the color of . . .
"Chocolate," murmured Arianna Hadley. Removing her gloves, which were still sticky from foraging through the food stalls at Covent Garden, she traced the delicate leaf design centered beneath the gilded t.i.tle. "How lovely," she added, and then carefully opened the cover.
Dust motes danced up into the air, tiny sparkles of sunlight in the shadowed corner of the alcove. As she shifted a step closer to the diamond-paned window, the sc.r.a.pe of her st.u.r.dy half-boots on the Aubusson carpet momentarily disturbed the hush that hung over the ornate bookcases.
Her heel snagged, and to her dismay, she realized that a streak of mud-and something that looked suspiciously like squashed pumpkin-now marred the carpet's stately pattern.
h.e.l.l and d.a.m.nation.
Arianna gave a guilty glance around, but the room appeared deserted. The only stirring was a small flutter of breeze wafting in through the cas.e.m.e.nt. It teased over the polished oak, mingling the scents of beeswax, ink, paper and leather.
The smell of money.
A wry smile twitched on her lips as she turned her attention back to the book. Set discreetly within the marbled endpapers was a small slip of paper that noted the price. It was expensive-very expensive-as were every volume and ma.n.u.script offered for sale by Mssrs. Harvey & Watkins Rare Book Emporium.
But then, Arianna could now afford such luxuries.
She slowly turned the pages, savoring the feel of the creamy deckle-edged paper and the subtle colors of the ill.u.s.trations. With her new husband's birthday fast approaching, she was looking for a special gift. And the intricate engravings of Theobroma cacao were, to her eye, exquisite.
"Chocolate," repeated Arianna, pausing to study the details of a criolla tree and its fruit. Her husband was, among other things, a serious scholar of botany, and cacao -or chocolate-was his particular field of expertise. The text was Spanish, and the date looked to be- A sudden nudge from behind nearly knocked the book from her grasp.
"I beg your pardon." The deep voice was edged with a foreign accent.
Arianna turned, about to acknowledge the apology with a polite smile, when the man gave her another little shove.
"I beg your pardon, but that book is mine," he growled. "Hand it over at once."
Sliding back a step, she instinctively threw up a forearm to parry his grab. "I'm afraid you are mistaken, sir. It was lying on the display table, free for anyone to choose."
"I a.s.sure you, there is no mistake," he replied. "I must have it."
Turn over her treasure to a lout who thought to frighten her with physical force? Her pulse kicked up a notch, its hot surge thrumming angrily in her ears.
"Sorry but I saw it first."
Her husband had jestingly warned her that serious book collectors were an odd, obsessive lot, and this one in particular sounded slightly deranged. Or demented. But be that as it might, Arianna was not about to be intimidated by his bullying tactics.
"You will have to look around for something else, for I intend to purchase it," she added, and not just for spite-she had already decided that the engravings were the perfect present for her husband.
"You can't!" he exclaimed in a taut whisper.
Oh, but I can.
Closing the covers, Arianna drew the book close to her chest.
As the man edged closer, a blade of light cut across his pale face. Sweat was beaded on his forehead, and several drops hung on his russet lashes. "I tell you, that book is meant for me."
"Then you should have asked the clerk to put it aside." She gestured at the other volumes arrayed on the square of dark velvet. "Come, there is no need to squabble like savages. You have plenty of other lovely choices."
He snarled an obscenity.
"Be advised, sir, I know plenty of words worse than that," responded Arianna with a grim smile, and she added a very unladylike curse to prove it.
His eyes widened for an instant, then narrowed to a slitted stare. "Give me that book," he repeated. "Or you will be sorry."
His strike was quick-but not quick enough.
Her reactions honed by half a lifetime of fighting off drunks and pimps, Arianna caught his wrist and pivoted, twisting hard enough to draw a grunt of pain. "I wouldn't wager on that."
"Poxy s.l.u.t." Breaking away, the man clenched a fist and threw a wild punch at her head.
She ducked under the blow and countered with a kick that buckled his knee. "True-if I were a real lady, I would be falling into a dead swoon." Her jab clipped him flush on the chin. "But as you see, I'm not. Not a lady, that is."
Staggered, the man fell against the display table, knocking several books to the floor. His curses were now coming in a language she didn't recognize, but the edge of panic was unmistakable.
What madness possessed him? It was only a book, albeit a lovely one.
Arianna glanced at the archway, intent on making a strategic retreat. The last thing she wanted to do was to ruffle the rarefied feathers of Mssrs. Harvey & Watkins by brawling among their rare books. Such a scene would only embarra.s.s her husband, who, ye G.o.ds, had suffered enough gossip on her account. . . .
b.l.o.o.d.y h.e.l.l. A glint of steel drew her eye back to her a.s.sailant.
His fumblings inside his coat revealed not only a book hidden in the waistband of his trousers but a slimbladed knife.
"Try to use that on me, and you'll find your cods cut off," she warned softly.
He blinked, looking torn between anger and fear.
The sliver of silence was broken by the sound of hurried steps in the adjoining room. "Is someone in need of a.s.sistance?" called a shop clerk loudly.
Her a.s.sailant hesitated for an instant, then whirled and darted for the archway, b.u.mping into the other man as they crossed paths.
Smoothing the wrinkles from his sleeve, the clerk frowned at Arianna. "This is not a place for a.s.signations, Miss," he chided, looking down his long nose at her chipped straw bonnet and drab serge gown. As his gaze slid to the fallen books, he added a sharp sniff. "I must ask you to leave-immediately. We cater to a very dignified clientele, who expect an atmosphere of decorum when they visit us."
Ah, no good deed goes unpunished, thought Arianna sardonically. On her way home from the rough-and-tumble markets, she had stopped her carriage on impulse to browse through the fancy books. Better to have waited until she had swathed herself in silk and satin for the requisite morning calls in Mayfair.
"First of all, it is Missus," she corrected. "And second, I am quite aware of what sort of patrons frequent your shop."
The clerk winced at the word "shop."
"However, you might want to take a closer look at the so-called Quality you allow through your door," went on Arianna, a.s.suming an air of icy hauteur. "That man was certainly no gentleman. He had a knife, and was probably cutting prints out of your precious volumes." Her husband had explained how some unscrupulous collectors sliced up rare books for the maps or prints, which were sold individually to art dealers for a much higher profit.