New Excerpt from Secrets, Lies and Sins,
Book 2 in the Quest for the Shroud series.
Many of you already know I am currently the caregiver from my 84 year-old mother. She fell in June and suffered quite a few injuries. She is getting better but it is a slow process. My writing progress has been slowed down greatly, but I am hopping to find more time to write now that the holidays are over. I'm currently working on the first draft (still) of Secrets, Lies and Sins, and am hoping to release it in May. Then I'll start working on the final book of The Decker Brothers Trilogy, Brody's Charm. I would very much like to release them both in 2019, but we'll see what happens. Those of you who read the Lords of Avalon series and Sinners Take All might remember Oliver Talbot, the Marquess of Braxton. He was a very bad rake, the worst sort really, but now he is a reforming rake in progress. This excerpt will give you a little insight into who Oliver really is. I hope you enjoy!
“There you are, my dear son.” Iphigenia Talbot, the Marchioness of Braxton, smiled as she looked up from the latest scandal sheet to see her son leaning against the doorframe of her morning parlour. He was smiling. He smiled a lot lately. He seemed happier, and yes, healthier. There was color in his cheeks where before he’d been pale with deep, dark circles beneath his eyes. He walked or rode most mornings when he was at the Hall now. He made it to breakfast nearly every morning where he had slept until mid-afternoon for several years before.
“I see you’re reading the sheets. Anything I should know?”
“No. I’m happy to say the Marquess of B, who was so popular last year hasn’t graced the newssheets for some months now.
“That happens when you’re in your dotage.” Oliver shrugged. A lazy grin lit his features.
“You’re still in your prime, son. It’s different for men, you know, although they say the older a man gets the harder it is for him to…” Iphigenia gave her son a pointed look, “well, breed heirs.” Iphigenia laughed when her son scrunched up his face.
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I think I’ve a few years left for that. Yet, I have reached forty years. It doesn’t seem possible. I’m nearly too old for everything, aren’t I.” He caught sight of his reflection in the tall mirror above the pier table. I don’t feel old. The wide, white shock of hair that mingled with raven black as it fell across his forehead probably made him look older. The thing was he’d had the Talbot white streak since he was born, though it began widening considerably in his late twenties. It was something many Talbot’s inherited. His father had it. After Oliver, it skipped his two sisters, who’d married six and seven years ago, it skipped his sister, Ophelia. Yet Pru did inherit it, while her twin, Penelope, did not. His deceased twin, Teddy, had not inherited it either.
Oliver felt the same emptiness and pang of loss he always did when he thought of little Teddy. His twin had been older by six minutes, and was to be the heir. His mother told him that Teddy was smaller, had a weak heart, and had been a sickly child throughout his short life. Oliver remembered those many days of his youth that he spent with Teddy when he was ill. Oliver was forever trying to cheer him up.
“Of course you’re not. Because if you were, what in heaven’s name would that mean for me.”
“Mama.” He bent to kiss her cheek. “You are in perfect health and look much younger than your years.” It was true that his mother flourished in the years since his father, Theodore Oliver Talbot, had passed. Iphigenia, free from her husband’s horrible temperament, had become one of the leading influences among the ton. She was bright, witty, and many sought her opinions.
Oliver’s father had not treated his mother well and never made a secret of his mistresses and assignations. He hadn’t made time for his children either. In fact, he’d written Teddy off after finding out he had a weak heart and had actually been relieved that his weakling son, as Theo often referred to Teddy, had the good grace to die and leave the healthy spare as the heir. Oliver had not liked his father before then, but he’d hated him after they lowered little Teddy in the ground.
“Tell my knees that. They ache like the devil when it rains and some days I’ve a difficult time on the stairs. I fear I might leave this Earth before I see you bring your heirs into the world. Provided you have any.” Iphigenia sniffed and gave Oliver a sideways glance.
“It doesn’t seem likely that I will, does it?” He chuckled at the glare his mother sent him. “But you’ve grandchildren aplenty already, six, I believe, between Marianne and Eugenie. There’s Ophelia, who had a very successful season. I think by next year, that she’ll be ready to marry. More grandchildren are sure to come, Mama. There are the twins too.”
Iphigenia frowned. “We need a Talbot heir; else your cousin Percival will inherit Amberley Hall, the estate, and become the Marquess if something should happen to you.” The corners of her mouth turned upward when her son scowled. She patted his arm. “Well, I suppose you haven’t heard. Have you not been in the clubs lately?”
“Heard what?” He hadn’t frequented the clubs much these past few months. He tried to stay away from them actually. Besides, he kept quite busy helping Ruan at the Department of late.
“I was certain you’d heard. It’s said Lord Cranston has placed wagers in the betting books that he’ll take your sister to the altar by Michaelmas. That bounder showed up in Town last month, and has his sights on your sister. Word has it he’s deep in debt, so I know he’s only after her dowry. Ophelia, as you’ve no doubt heard her say, insists she will marry only for love, just as her elder sisters did. That is my wish for all of my daughters. I do not wish them to be tied to a man like…”
“Father.” For a time, he thought he might be growing more like his father, that perhaps he was doomed to be a mean, selfish man like his sire. After Cait married, he plunged into the darkness of sin and debauchery. He’d grown to hate the image looking back at him in the mirror during those years. No more. He was done with the drink and opium. Now he was determined to be a much better man than his father had been.
Iphigenia gave him a nod. “Cranston has called every afternoon for nearly two weeks. He turns her head with pretty poetry, romantic words, and flowers. He is always at the social events we attend, waiting for her like a vulture. It’s whispered he’s a cad, ruined a young woman in Wales last year, and he prowls in the lowest of places. Some of the foremost gossips say his last mistress suffered from the beating he gave her.”
“She will not marry Cranston.” Oliver scowled. He wagered he knew more of the sordid details about Nigel Howland, Lord Cranston, than his mother did, else she wasn’t saying. The rumors were he’d killed and maimed many prostitutes since he arrived in London two years ago after his fortunes changed. He was a third cousin of the Baron whose estate he inherited.
“That is how I feel as well. You will stop him from seeing your sister, won’t you?”
“Do not worry, Mama. Cranston will not see her after I speak with him. I will arrange it so that he will never get close to Ophelia again. I must send word to Ruan that I will meet with him a bit later than I planned. Did Cranston mention if he plans to call this afternoon?”
“It is his habit to arrive at two.”
“Alert Chester that when Cranston arrives, no one is to tell Ophelia. I will see him instead.”
Iphigenia let out a sigh of relief. “I knew I could count on you.”
“Of course you can. You will always be able to, Mama.”
“I know. You have grown into a wonderful man, Oliver. Better than your father could ever have been. I am so very proud of you.”
Oliver swallowed the lump that formed in his throat. “Thank you, Mama, however one could say that it doesn’t take much to be a better man than my sire.”
“You have far surpassed him, Oliver.”
“I must write that note. I have a few other things to tend to as well.”
“Go on, then. I’ve letters to write too.” Iphigenia waved a hand to shoo him from her parlour.
She set down her pen and met his gaze.
“When I return from Scotland, I shall earnestly look for a woman to wed.”
He immediately realized his weak moment, wanting to make his mother happy, was a mistake. The joyous, yet martial, gleam in her eye was enough to instill fear in him. He held up a warning finger. “I shall choose my own wife, Mama. No debutantes, I want a woman. Not a young, silly thing.”
Iphigenia opened her mouth to speak.
Oliver held up his hand. “You can make a list of recommendations, but I will woo and select my own wife, in my own way. Else I’ll not marry.”
Iphigenia let go an annoyed sigh. “Of course, son. I’d be happy to make recommendations for you.”
Oliver gave a stern nod before he turned and left her.
Iphigenia dipped her pen into the inkwell and smiled.
“Lady Annabelle Lamb.” She wrote the name. “She’s on the shelf, but only because of her shyness. She’s still young enough to bear children. Hmm, ah, Lady Jane Parham. Oh yes!” Iphigenia chuckled. “There are dozens of suitable ladies for him. Surely, he'll approve of one of them. Miss Joan Puckett, no title but from a fine old family…”
Oliver ran into Ophelia and the twins in the corridor of the family wing after giving his message to the butler. He was on his way to his chamber to change from his riding clothes. He needed to look every inch the powerful Marquess of Braxton when Cranston called.
“There you are, brother dear.” Ophelia smiled brightly.
“And what, pray tell, do you want, sister mine?” Mirth danced in his blue eyes.
Ophelia’s smile faded. “What makes you think I want something?” She arched a raven brow. Her peridot-colored eyes narrowed.
The twins giggled.
He flashed a wide grin. “Because I know you, Philly. All too well. Your use of an endearment was my first clue.”
Pru and Penny collapsed against one another in a fit of laughter.
“Just ask him, Philly.” Prudence, ever practical, dug her elbow into her older sister’s ribs.
“Ouch. Very well.” Ophelia lifted her chin. “I received a letter from Margaret Kinross this morning. Since her brother must convalesce this summer at Draoie Castle, Margaret and her mother will stay with him. You know that Margaret and I became very close this past season. She and her mother have invited me to spend the rest of the summer with them. Margaret mentioned you are away to Scotland soon. I would like to go with you. I’ve never been to Scotland, and I’ve always wanted to go. It might be my last chance. Please, Oliver, may I join you?”
Draoie? Ruan told him Damien had been wounded. His injuries must be serious if he had left the investigation and removed to Draoie to recuperate. Cait Kinross, who had married some elderly Scot whose name he couldn’t remember, was now widowed and resided somewhere close to Draoie. That much he did know. He could deliver Ophelia there, find Cait, ask her why in the hell she left London without a word to him three years ago, and then hied off to Scotland to marry a man three times her age. Once he knew the answer, whatever it might be, he’d have it, and would finally be free of not knowing.
At times, it felt as if some cruel spell still bound him to Cait. He hadn’t been able to rid her from his mind until this past year. He had relegated her to the darkest corners of his mind and ventured there only on occasion. Who am I trying to fool? Christ, he still dreamt about her at times. He’d decided months ago that it was only because he never knew, and still didn’t know the reason she had left him without explanation. He’d recently decided, after learning he was going to Scotland, that if he discovered the reason, he would be free of her. Then he could turn his attention to finding some sweet, pretty, and biddable young woman, who would be happy to spend her days at Amberley and give birth to his heir and maybe a spare, or two.
That would make his mother deliriously happy, and in turn, he’d be happy because he would be fulfilling his duty as Marquess of Braxton by taking a wife and filling the nursery with little Talbots. Yes, he’d love all his little Talbots, unlike his father, and he’d love them for himself and for poor, little Teddy who had known the whole of his short life that his father despised him.
He’d get Ophelia out of reach of the unacceptable Baron Cranston at the same time. He didn’t have to think about it. “How soon can you be packed?” His gaze rested on Ophelia.
“I can go?” Shock and surprise registered upon his sister’s face.
“I am fine with it. ‘Tis Mama you must convince.” He winked at her.
“Of course. I’ll find her right away.” Ophelia took off at a run, her skirts billowing behind her.
“She’s in her parlour.” Oliver called after her.
Ophelia was already flying down the stairs.
“How smooth you are, Olly. You and Mama have found the perfect way to get Philly away from that bounder, Cranston.” A smile turned up the corners of Pru’s mouth. She flipped an errant curl from her cheek.
“Philly has no idea she has been manipulated. She thinks she’s finally got her way.” Penny laughed. “It is good though, to get her away from that awful man. His poetry is horrid.” Penelope scrunched up her nose. “Eyes like new grass, hair as black as coal…who in the world would want their eyes compared to grass or their hair to dirty coal?”
Pru shrugged. “Certainly not me. I think Philly is in love with the idea of being in love, or someone loving her. She should pay closer attention then she’d see that Nigel meant nothing he said to her. One can just look at him and know he’s interested only in her dowry. He doesn’t look at her the way Oliver’s friend, Lord Ince, looked at Lady Anna this Christmas past. It was easy to see he was well and truly besotted.”
“Um. Still is, I daresay. The two of you are far too wise for your sixteen years.” He gave them a wink and kissed each one of them atop their head. “I’m relieved to know we’ll have none of this nonsense from either of you when you are old enough to catch husbands.”
The twins giggled.
“But you might have to fight a duel or two when I cold-cock the bounders if they get out of line. I have little patience for liars or ill-mannered men.” Pru lifted her balled fist in the air.
“The man who takes you for a wife, Pru, won’t know what he’s up against. I pity him already.” Oliver gave one of her curls a tug. “Stay out of trouble sisters mine, I’ve a meeting and must change.” Oliver flashed them a grin before turning to hurry toward his chamber. He did not want to miss Cranston. In fact, he was actually looking forward to the meeting.
“See, Pen. I told you Oliver would fix everything. We’ll never see that insufferable Nigel again, I’ll wager.”
“Hurry, Pru. Let’s go see if Philly has convinced Mother. You never know, maybe we can go too. Scotland would be interesting, I’m certain of it.” Penny tugged on her sister’s arm.
Pru sniffed. “No, we must stay with Mama. She would be quite lonely if all of us leave her at once. Besides, Ophelia needs to go somewhere on her own. She is three and twenty. Perhaps next year, we can persuade Oliver to take us to Africa. I’d like to see lions and zebras.”
“I was thinking America would be nice, but you’re right. We’ll stay with Mama this summer and convince Oliver to take us somewhere exiting next year. He’ll owe us since he is taking Philly to Scotland,” Penelope said in her matter-of-fact tone.
The twins grinned at one another.