Oh Wicked Escort
A Historical Suspense Romance
Coerced into marrying a man she does not love, the stunningly beautiful Claire St. Martin discovers, weeks after the ceremony, that the man she spent her wedding night with was a stand-in, a surrogate for the man with whom she had that day exchanged wedding vows. Feeling her life now lies in tatters, she flees luxurious Silverwood House, escaping to a place where the destitute of Victorian London struggle to survive– Whitechapel.
Shortly before the nuptials and unbeknownst to Claire, her fiancé Bennett Kirkwood and his best friend Braxton Kane were blackmailed by a Machiavellian fiend, Mordock Peckworthy, a man bent on revenge. Reluctantly participating in the despicable and archaic practice of Prima Nocta, it is Braxton Kane who suffers remorse over the deed, not her husband Ben. Wracked with guilt, he searches and, with incredible luck, finds Claire, who has secured employment for herself as a servant in an agency that supplies temporary domestic help to the upper classes of London society.
Release Date: October 3, 2015
Genre: Historical Suspense Romance
Lightning flashed across the black sky, heralding the arrival of the storm that had been threatening the city since late afternoon. Bennett Kirkwood impatiently pushed the heavy draperies aside and stared out into the dark wet night. How could he have left himself so open, so vulnerable? Bitter curses fell from his mouth as, frustrated, his fist slammed against the wooden sill of the window. Sighing heavily, he swallowed the bitter wave of despair that threatened to consume him before turning back to meet the anxious faces of his friends, reading concern for him in their eyes. After replenishing their empty glasses with more of the strong amber liquor, a weak smile flitted across his face as he once more sat down, his pride unconvincingly trying to conceal his inner turmoil.
Restlessly running a hand through his black wiry hair, a look of puzzlement crossed his countenance as he once more reviewed the events of the day in his mind. The morning had begun so well...
A note from his closest friend, Braxton Kane, had arrived with the morning post, announcing his return from the West Indies. Without hesitation, Ben had sent off a speedy reply, extending an invitation to join him and the Chambers brothers for the evening at a fashionable gaming house where they could enjoy a few games of chance before returning to Silverwood House for a late supper.
And so, the richly tailored foursome had met, and while the three had gambled moderately, Ben had signed yet another chit to the smirking proprietor. His run of bad luck continued to plague him, as it had for the past few months. Allowing himself to finally be persuaded to leave, the four had made their way back to Ben’s home where a delicious repast of roasted meats, fresh bread, and a bottle of fine wine awaited them. His three companions, aware that their friend had fared poorly earlier in the evening, worked hard to distract him from his woes. Their banter was lively as they reminisced about their shared school days, by unspoken agreement avoiding any serious topics while the servants hovered about.
At last, appetites sated, the small band of revelers retired to the library, a room no servant in Silverwood House would dare enter unless bidden to do so and where an assortment of liquor bottles and sparkling crystal glasses awaited them. Lamps had been lit, casting a warm glow over the room as they collapsed onto the overstuffed sofas and chairs scattered about.
* * *
Curiosity consuming him, Teddy Chambers, a man who delighted in being the first to know any juicy tidbits of gossip, wriggled in his chair, unable to contain himself any longer.
“Where has that bastard half-brother of yours disappeared to, Braxton?” His fair eyebrows were raised inquiringly. “Despite hushing the scandal somewhat before you sailed, I doubt he’ll have the courage to show his face in these parts ever again.” Conversation faded as discomfited but questioning eyes turned to the one addressed.
The tall, black-clad figure had stiffened, annoyed at the unexpected prying. Grey eyes brooding, Braxton laughed derisively, hoping to disguise his irritation at the reminder of such a family skeleton, a skeleton he would rather keep in a securely locked closet. But, he mused, perhaps I should talk things over with these three, my trusted friends. Who knows, they might even be able to offer some advice, should Patrick dare return to these shores. He shrugged his shoulders almost imperceptibly before speaking, a melancholy frown briefly touching upon his handsome features. As was his habit when agitated, he began to pace about, hands clasped tightly behind his back as his long legs carried him the length and breadth of the room. As he spoke, he retained his affability, but there was a distinct hardening of his eyes.
“I know you’re all aware of my brother’s fascination with cutting up small animals, especially any creature that had the misfortune to become a pet of mine. This went on for years until finally, at his wit’s end, my father felt perhaps a career in medicine was the place for his eldest son. But after serving less than two years as an apprentice at St. Guy’s Medical School right here in London, Patrick withdrew, claiming the instructors were treating him unfairly. By coincidence, Father died within days of my brother’s return. His will named me as administrator of the estate, a fact which infuriated Patrick who was, after all, my senior by a few years. I rarely saw him after that.” Braxton paused to draw a breath, resuming his seat before taking a small sip from the glass before his story continued.
“And then, of course, the scandal.” He stood, his powerful, well-muscled body returning to restless pacing about the room, his distress obvious. “As you have already pointed out, Teddy, I...somehow I was able to hush it up before it became common knowledge throughout London that he had slashed a prostitute’s throat, one who somehow and against all odds survived the brutal attack. With the able assistance of my solicitor, I convinced the magistrate that Patrick would leave the country, never to return. And since his victim had no one to speak up and protest on her behalf, Patrick was released into my custody. We set out immediately for the West Indies, which is where I had planned to leave him, hoping to never hear of or from him ever again.”
“But it seems Patrick had his own plans, jumping ship before we reached our destination. I haven’t heard from him since that time, and God willing, I never will. I set out to remove him from England, and at least I have accomplished that.”
Recalling the humiliation visited upon their friend, the others raised their glasses in silent commiseration, praying that the matter was indeed at an end.
Hoping to lift the pall that had descended onto the cozy little group, Braxton’s deep-timbered voice broke into his companions’ thoughts, congratulating the two brothers on their respective marriages some months ago.
“And both of you now married—two brothers wed to two sisters! I am most sorely vexed at missing your nuptials. I can only imagine the trials to which you are subjecting your brides. But tell me, my friends, do your ladies not object to your spending the evening in the company of two bachelors, worrying perhaps that we might lead you astray?”
Teddy, the younger of the two brothers by a little more than a year, flushed as he looked across the room at Braxton. His blond hair hung in dull limp strands around his pale face, his slight frame in direct contrast to his brother’s robust build.
“Of course, gentlemen, I can speak only for myself, but in truth, she wouldn’t dare. My Miranda knows her place and recognizes who is master.” His pale cheeks colored fiercely at this empty boast, hoping none of them discovered that his wife had extracted the promise of a new gown in exchange for his night of freedom. The fire crackled in the hearth, breaking the stillness that followed this avowal of mastery over one’s spouse.
Julius, his great mop of brown hair spilling onto his forehead, glanced sideways at his brother, wondering how the young whelp thought he fooled anyone with such posturing. His own marriage to Minerva Penrod was nothing short of a disaster, and he didn’t care a fig who knew it.
“Truth be told, Braxton, Minerva was quite happy to see the back of me, even if it is just for a few hours. That most fearsome, nay, loathsome of guests, my mother-in-law, the despicable Letitia Penrod, has been staying with us since our vows were spoken and is, I might add, quite the most malicious gossip and vainest woman I have ever met. I’ve dropped great hints in my brother’s ear that it might perhaps be his turn to take in the Widow Penrod, but my words must have been too subtle as the old harridan continues to haunt Shelton Hall.”
Turning his troubled face away from the gathering, he stared into the fire before continuing. “I never imagined that when I agreed Minerva’s mother could ‘visit’, it would be a never-ending occurrence.”
He turned his eyes upon their host. “Let my unhappy experience guide you, Ben. If Miss St. Martin’s father makes any noise, however faint, about moving in, you must stand firm.”
At this piece of unsolicited advice, all eyes fell once more on their host, who scowled at his friend’s words. “I’m afraid your counsel, Julius, though welcome, comes too late.”
“As they only have each other, my intended does indeed expect her father to make his home with us. At first, I too thought she meant it to be a temporary situation, but unfortunately that does not seem to be the case.” He ran his fingers impatiently through his wiry black hair once more.
“Do not misunderstand me, gentlemen. I’m not in love with the girl, at least not yet, but I believe I could very easily be.” He gave them a bleak, tight-lipped smile, causing them to wonder what troubled him.
Thinking to distract his friend from the melancholy that seemed to threaten him, Braxton refilled his glass. “Ben, your Miss St. Martin seems to be a veritable paragon of virtues. I’m half in love with her myself, and I’ve yet to meet her.” His words amused the others and, as he had hoped, the sadness that seemed to fill the room began to lift.
As Braxton finished speaking, a grinning Julius raised his glass, proposing a toast to their friend’s good health and fortune. As the glasses were emptied, he glanced at Braxton.
“You must join us for dinner tomorrow evening, old boy. Teddy’s Miranda and my Minerva are simply aching for a chance to form their own opinion of the delightful Miss St. Martin...and I must confess to some curiosity myself.” He paused, lost in thought for a moment but then continued.
“Though I feel it only fair to warn you that once the Widow Penrod and her daughters realize they have a bachelor in their midst, well, it’s really only a matter of time before they start parading any and all unmarried women of their acquaintance before you.”
Braxton threw back his head and let out a great burst of laughter. “My friend, let me assure you that many a lady has been tempted to play matchmaker, but I have always managed to avoid any serious entanglements. I am content with my bachelorhood and plan to remain so, at least for the present.”