A Story in the Making – Sneak Peek

mannequin

 

 

Gilroy’s Story

The as yet untitled, unfinished and unedited 4th book of the Idyllwild Series.

Chapter One

London, August, 1831

 

Gilroy Buchanan, the Thirteenth Duke of Mountjoy stumbled out of Madame Delacroix’s establishment in much the same manner he’d stumbled into it three days previously. Drunk and disheveled at the crack of dawn.

Leastwise, he thought it had been three days. He’d lost track of time somewhere between his second and third bottle of whiskey.

Tilting his head back, Gilroy studied the sky, a rolling mass of gray clouds burnt yellow around the edges as if they’d floated too close to the sun and come away singed.

Except the sun had not yet risen. Or had it? Was it twilight, then? Midday?

“Storm’s coming,” Chester McDougal mumbled at Gilroy’s shoulder.

“Aye,” Gilroy agreed. “Fine day for a bit of vengeance.”

“So you’re really going to do it, then?” Chester asked. “Exact vengeance for a decades’ old grievance that isn’t even your own?”

“A Buchanan is loyal unto his own and never forgets a grievance, no matter how ancient,” Gilroy grumbled. “You’d ken if you had more than a drop of Buchanan blood in your veins.”

“Still, it seems a bit harsh to ruin an innocent girl for the sins of her mother.”

“Hell, I mean to marry the girl, not ruin her.”

“It’ll amount to the same thing when you drag her off to your lair and isolate her from her family for the rest of her days.”

“I’ll allow her to write to her mother,” Gilroy replied with a grin “In fact, I’ll insist upon daily correspondence. Long missives filled with all the hardships she’s forced to suffer, the stark castle devoid of comfort, the crass manners of her new relations and the rough handling she endures in her husband’s bed.”

Chester McDougal frowned, his too pretty features scrunching up for a moment before his countenance smoothed out again. “You’ll not abuse the girl, Gilroy.”

“No, lad, I’ll not abuse the girl,” Gilroy agreed. “Only lay waste to her delicate sensibilities.”

“Georgie…er, that is Miss Buchanan isn’t likely to approve of your scheme.”

“Ach, you don’t know George at all if you think she won’t appreciate the beauty of the thing,” Gilroy replied on a chuckle. “George will be the first to recognize the sheer perfection and bloody symmetry of it.”

“I don’t think—“

“No one asked you to think, lad. You’ve only to print the piece in your newspaper if Lady Drummond proves unamenable to the match.”

“How long will you give her to decide?”

“Well now, that depends upon Lady Drummond, don’t it?” Gilroy replied. “If she’s real polite when I call upon her, I’ll give a day or two to come around to my way of thinking.”

“I shudder to contemplate your definition of polite,” Chester muttered. “You’ll likely have the poor woman on her knees begging for mercy.”

“While that would be polite, and right amusing, there aint no such thing as mercy to a Buchanan.” Gilroy rubbed his chapped hands together, both in anticipation of the coming confrontation and to warm his cold fingers. It was damn cold for an autumn morning and he’d lost his gloves, along with his cravat and waistcoat, just about the time he’d started in on the fourth bottle of whiskey. That had been last night, or perhaps the night before. “What day is it, lad?”

“Friday.”  Chester slipped on the steps, missed one, then another, flailed about for a moment before regaining his balance to sway to and fro on the walkway.

Both men watched his walking stick clatter into the road where a beer wagon pulled by two shaggy horses rolled over it, neatly snapping it in two.

“Is it the twelfth or thirteenth?” Gilroy asked, scratching absently at his jaw beneath five months of whiskers.

“Thirteenth.”

Five months and five days, then. Bloody beard itched like a bad case of the pox and he was coming to suspect it smelled. Oddly enough, like wet woolen stockings worn three days too long. Either that or London itself had taken on that particular stench. Damn filthy city.

“Friday, the thirteenth, to be precise,” Chester added. “What do you suppose the chances are a man could find a meat pasty this early?”

So, dawn it was. The dawn of a day more than twenty years in the making.

“About as likely as finding a hackney in Whitechapel ‘fore the sun’s fully up,” Gilroy muttered, eyeing the street, empty but for the disappearing beer wagon and an old woman pushing a cart piled high with coal.

“Are you for bed, then?” Chester asked.

“I’m for Hanover Square.”

Chester eyed Gilroy from his dusty greatcoat to his muddy boots, his gaze lingering a moment on the torn seam running the length of his left trouser leg, the result of a tussle with a wench that had led nowhere worth going. “Might be you ought to clean yourself up a bit first.”

“What the hell for?” Gilroy barked. “I’m going to blackmail the lady, not take tea with her.”

Chester leaned in, took a quick sniff, shrugged and turned away mumbling something about meat pies best served cold.

Gilroy trudged down the street, the wind whipping his coat out behind him, his boot heels kicking up dirt and debris to trail along behind him like a cloud of smoke.

He headed west and soon the rookeries of Whitechapel gave way to the narrow twisting streets of (city to west). Laborers and servants poured from tenements built one atop another, filing into the streets, scurrying this way and that like so many insects.

The sun rose at his back, chasing off the clouds and casting his shadow out before him, a dark silhouette of broad shoulders, flapping coat and tangled curls shooting out from his head in every direction.

The dark beast preceded him with each step he took, steering him inexorably toward his destination. When he reached Holborn and turned north at Kingsway, his shadow, that great hulking fiend, shifted to hover at his side, no longer leading him but rather walking along beside him in quiet companionship.

Eventually the sun would be high overhead and Gilroy and his shadow would become one. It struck Gilroy as fitting, seeing as he’d felt like a wild, snarling, feral creature these past months. Since the moment he’d learned his mistress had been cuckolding him in his own castle.

Maggie Stuart had humiliated him.

Not with her infidelity, as women by and large were a fickle, faithless lot and well he knew it. No it had been the contempt shining in her green eyes, the disdain scouring the words she’d tossed at him like sharp daggers when he’d found her abed with Thomas Kilcare.

You truly are as simpleminded as you look if you think any lady will ever love you freely. You’re a heathen, Mountjoy, a mean-tempered, rough-handed, foul-mouthed barbarian who will forever be forced to beg, buy or steal a woman’s affections.

Hell, Maggie hadn’t simply humiliated him, she’d emasculated him.

In every conceivable sense of the word.

He’d fled Joy on the Mount, fled Scotland entirely to prowl around England for months, searching for something he couldn’t name and hadn’t yet found. When he’d arrived in London he’d discovered his cousin up to her usual plots, plans and schemes. With little else to do, he’d taken on her latest strategy and made it his own.

Thus, he remained in the cesspool that was London, seeking vengeance for his barmy, bedeviled, beloved cousin. It mattered not a whit that George had turned her back on vengeance in favor of journeying forth to parts unknown. When she returned from wherever she’d gone to lick her wounds, she’d find the entire business settled, and then some.

After all, a slight against one Buchanan was a slight against them all. Gilroy could no more turn away from a bit of Buchanan justice than he could transform himself into the sort of gentleman to whom a lady might freely offer up her affection.

Gilroy turned a corner and his shadow fell into step behind him, breathing down his neck and urging him onward. Hanover Square opened up before him, quiet and deserted but for a single carriage trundling over cobblestone streets, a handful of children skipping between the barren trees in the green, and three ladies bundled up against the cold strolling along the walkway.

Cutting through the square, Gilroy aimed for a four story gray brick town house in the middle of a row of homes identical in every way but for the door painted a bright, cheerful blue. He’d nearly reached the street in front of the house when he ran afoul of a small boy on the path.

“Crikey, you’re a big bloke,” the boy decreed, stopping and craning his head back to take in the entirety of Gilroy’s considerable height.

“Jeremy Andrew Parker,” hissed a young woman dressed in a maid’s garb of gray wool dress and starched white apron.

“You ever seen such a big fellow, Nan?” the boy demanded of the woman, likely his sister judging by the freckles and ginger hair they shared.

Nan latched onto the boy’s thin wrist and gave him a good tug. “Come away this instant.”

“Mister, is that ink on your chest?” the boy asked, holding his ground. “Are you a pirate?”

Gilroy tugged his shirt collar up to cover the tattoo and offered up his surliest glare just as Nan pinched the boy’s ear and twisted. Whether it was the glare or the ear twisting that sent the boy sprinting away, Gilroy neither knew nor cared.

For the blue door had opened and a girl stood in the dimly lit rectangle of space.

She paused at the threshold as if debating the wisdom of abandoning the safety of the house for the dangers lurking in the square.

Smart girl, Gilroy thought with a grin.

Stepping out onto the stoop and pulling the door closed behind her, she proved herself to be neither smart nor a girl.

She was a woman, from the golden hair piled haphazardly atop her head to the dainty white half-boots peeking out from beneath the ruffled hem of her dress. And everywhere between.

Gilroy had only a moment to take in the gently rolling knolls and dales of her figure beneath swaths of muslin, satin and lace in various shades of green, before she pulled a dark, drab pelisse closed.

She fumbled with the buttons as she descended the steps, glancing back over her shoulder as if she expected the door to open up again. When it remained resolutely shut, she turned back with a smile as bright as a summer day.

Well, well, what did we have here?

For all her pelisse was well-worn and her coiffure an untidy mass of curls, the gown beneath and the pristine white gloves and boots marked her as a lady.

A lady sneaking out of Baron Drummond’s house.

The lass could only one of the baroness’s pampered and cossetted daughters, one of the girls who had received all the care, comfort and kindness his cousin had been denied.

And she was entirely alone, unaccompanied by so much as a maid or footman.

Even with his brain enshrouded in a whiskey fog, it took Gilroy only a moment to decide she was up to some sort of mischief. And mayhap that mischief would play right into his hands.

Crossing the street, narrowly avoiding a collision with an elderly man, Gilroy set off after the pretty blonde bit of fluff. And damned if she wasn’t a lovely sight walking away from him, her hips swaying gently beneath a narrow waist, her curls bobbing until one long strand slid free to bounce against her back.

Gilroy’s steps quickened, his fingers flexing with the sudden inexplicable urge to catch up to her, to take that golden lock in his hand, to curl it around his fingers. It would be soft and silky, slithering through his fingers, snagging on the calluses born of years of hard labor and harder living.

Forcing himself to walk slowly, he followed her when she turned the corner and nearly plowed into her as she bent to run a gloved hand through a toddler’s dark curls. Stumbling to a clumsy stop, Gilroy watched her pat the little boy’s mother’s burgeoning belly before walking on.

Gilroy waited until she’d outpaced him again and followed along in her wake as she left Hanover Square and turned onto Something Street.

Shops were opening up and down the road, shopkeepers unlocking doors and pushing back shutters and it seemed the lady was well known to all of them.

“Good morning, Miss Drummond.” A statuesque woman sweeping the walk outside a greengrocer’s called out a greeting. “Don’t you look pretty today.”

“I’ve scones fresh out of the oven, Miss Drummond.” A baker shoved a napkin wrapped bundle at her as she flew by. “Currant, your favorite.”

“Come by and see the new shipment of bonnets, Miss Drummond,” a female voice hollered through the open door of a milliner’s shop. “Just arrived from Paris.”

Two shops down, a tall lanky fellow smiled in greeting as he held the door open and waved the lady in with a flourish.

“Oh, Mr. Stanhope, I couldn’t sleep a wink last night.”

Christ, her voice.

Soft. Breathless. Yearning.

Gilroy halted, heart racing, blood roaring in his ears, and cock twitching. That last was a welcome surprise, seeing as he’d not felt the like in months.

Running a hand through his hair, he found his reflection in the window of milliner’s shop. Bloody hell, he looked like a lunatic, a great bearded looby. Just the sort of madman who would follow a lady through the streets of Bloomsbury like a hound after a bitch in heat.

There was nothing for it. He’d come too far to turn back now, tangled hair, wrinkled shirt and torn trousers, be damned.

He pushed open the door she’d entered, ducked beneath the low lentil and barged inside. Bells clanged, a cacophony of sound to herald his less than graceful entry into a narrow little shop crammed from floor to ceiling with books. They were everywhere, neatly lined up on shelves, stacked on the tables and chairs arranged in a small sitting area, heaped on the floor and piled into corners. The scent of leather and ink and old parchment filled the air, wafted around the room on the cold breeze Gilroy brought through the door with him.

In the middle of all those books, with dust motes floating in the sunlight all around her, stood an angel dropped from heaven for mere mortals, or great hulking, shaggy beasts, to gaze upon with greedy wonder.

Miss Drummond looked back at him from vivid blue eyes, wide set and surrounded by long, feathery gold-tipped lashes. Her skin was smooth and clear, her cheekbones high and faintly slanted above cheeks made rosy from the cold, her nose slim and narrow with the slightest tilt at the tip. A pointed little chin jutted out beneath a mouth created for all manner of sin, lips full and red and slightly parted as she drew in a breath.

She’d removed her pelisse, leaving her dressed in a simple, pale-green gown with darker ribbon trimming the modest neckline and long sleeves.

Had he really thought her figure reminiscent of gently rolling knolls and dales? It must have been all that green playing tricks with his mind, for the reality was a landscape of lush hills and deep valleys, curves and dips enough to temp a man to go wandering until he lost all hope of being found.

She uttered a soft, tremulous sound that might have been a sigh but was more likely a hiss of shock or even fear.

Gilroy was accustomed to just such a reaction whenever he found himself in the presence of dainty, delicate little ladies like the one standing before him watching from comically round, unblinking eyes.

Stepping farther into the cramped little shop, he allowed the door to slam shut behind him, bells jingling, and jangling. Endlessly ringing. Though maybe the sound was only an echo resonating in his head, like the echo of the life that might have been his had he been any other man.

He came to a stop close enough that he might have reached out and touched her, traced the elegant angle of her jaw and the long column of her neck, pulled her up against him and into his embrace.

Except he’d likely bruise her pale skin if he put his big, clumsy hands on her, crush her if he hauled her into his arms.

For all she was rounded in all the right places, she was a tiny little scrap of a woman, barely as tall as his breastbone, fine boned and delicate. Far too fragile and refined for the likes of him.

Feeling oddly off-kilter, unbalanced and a bit adrift, Gilroy met her gaze, held it and waited for her to shuffle out of harm’s way. Or even turn around and run, screaming like the innocent maiden she was. It was written all over her face, that innocence.

“Good morning.”

His disorientation grew, for while her voice held the same quiet, breathless quality he’d heard on the street, she sounded as uncertain about the time of day as he’d been upon departing Madame Delacroix’s three, no four day, bacchanal. “Is it?”

“I’d like to think so,” she replied, lips twitching. “The very best of mornings.”

Gilroy couldn’t think of a single thing to say so he gave an abrupt nod in response.

“Allow me to present you the first copy of the final volume.” Mr. Stanhope, of the gangly limbs and toothsome smile, appeared from the back of the shop, a slim, leather-bound book in his hands. He froze when he saw Gilroy, his smile wavering. “Can I help you, sir?”

It took Gilroy too long to realize the other man was speaking to him, long enough that he felt like an animal slobbering over scraps left under the table. “I’m looking for a book.”

“Of course.” The book seller waited for Gilroy to provide additional information, but Gilroy wasn’t much of a reader and in couldn’t think of a single title, author or subject. “Any particular book?”

Gilroy nodded mutely while Miss Drummond watched him with something that might have been fascination. Whatever it was, it brightened her eyes until it hurt to look directly into her gaze.

And that’s when Gilroy realized he was staring at her, and had been since he’d stepped into the shop. Like a brutish boor, or a boorish brute. Heat born of embarrassment and humiliation, and quickly coalescing into scalding fury, swept up his neck and across his jaw, leaving his skin prickly and itchy beneath the beard. Still, he couldn’t look away.

Which was when it occurred to him that she was staring back at him. And there wasn’t the least thing boorish or brutish about her regard. Her gaze was warm and curious, as if she’d never before seen a red-haired, bearded looby in a book shop.

The book seller broke the silence with a sly, knowing chuckle. “Ah, you’re looking for those sorts of books. They’re in the back corner, behind the curtain.”

Again Gilroy was slow to grasp the man’s words but when he did, he latched onto the suggestion like a man reaching for a lifeline in a heaving, pitching sea. Forcibly dragging his gaze away from eyes crinkling at the corners in amusement, he stormed to the back of the shop and threw open the curtain.

Row upon row of books, neatly line up alphabetically by title, awaited him. He hardly needed naughty books at this point, not with all the miraculous activity taking place in his trousers, but he pulled the curtain closed, took a slim volume from the shelf and flipped it open anyway. And stared with unseeing eyes at the poorly-rendered drawing of two women pleasuring a man.

“Is it really the first printed copy?” Miss Drummond’s voice floated past the curtain.

“Bound in blue leather, just like the first two installments.”

“Thank you ever so much.”

“You know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you, Miss Drummond.” There was something in Stanhope’s voice that grated across Gilroy’s nerves.

Bells clanked and jingled, interrupting his maudlin thoughts.

“Is that it, then?” If Gilroy didn’t miss his guess, the milliner had entered the shop.

“Yes, Dotty,” Miss Drummond answered with a throaty laugh. “The final volume of Moonlight on the Moors.”

The title alone told Gilroy the book was one of those ridiculous romance novels Sally and the other female servants were forever devouring, like addicts bent over their pipes in an opium den.

“Finally I’ll know if Charlotte finds true love or spends the rest of her days a spinster,” the milliner replied with a long suffering sigh.

Gilroy rolled his eyes. Even he knew Charlotte would find true love, else it wouldn’t be a romance novel.

“We must wait for Cora and Mrs. Stanhope,” Miss Drummond replied.

“We said nine of the clock,” Dotty argued. “I’ve left that nitwit husband of mine in charge of the shop and the devil only knows what he’ll get up to if I’m gone more than an hour or two.”

“Yes, but I promised,” Miss Drummond insisted. “And if I can wait a few more minutes, surely you can, too.”

“It’s only that I am on pins and needles to discover how it ends.”

“We all know how it ends,” Gilroy muttered.

“Who’s back there?” Dotty demanded.

“Just a customer perusing the books behind the curtain,” Stanhope replied with the same sly chuckle.

“One of that sort?” Dotty snorted. “Why you stock those tawdry books I’ll never know.”

“I rather think they’re like romance novels for gentlemen,” Miss Drummond whispered.

Gilroy smiled wryly. Romance novels for gentlemen. What a load of horse shite. A good rogering was all the romance a man needed.

The bells clanked again. “You haven’t started without us, have you?” The woman’s voice was shrill enough to shred a man’s nerves, or stab clear through his eardrums to his brain if he’d been over-imbibing for days on end.

“Or finished, as the case may be,” yet another female voice drawled, low and sultry, soothing the sting of the other.

Greetings were offered all around, coats and bonnets removed and dumped into Stanhope’s waiting hands, by the sounds of it.

“Have you not yet brought out the tea tray, Mr. Stanhope?” the shrill one asked, her voice rising to an improbably high pitch.

“Right away, Mrs. Stanhope,” the book seller replied and Gilroy felt a moment’s sympathy for the man. But only a moment’s. Apparently he’d been stupid enough to marry the shrill creature, after all.

There proceeded a bit of shuffling around, a measure of huffing puffing, and an inordinate amount of complaining from Mrs. Stanhope. Gilroy didn’t need to peek around the curtain to surmise they were clearing off the chairs and low table, settling down to read their silly romance novel.

He had a queasy suspicion they intended to read aloud and made up his mind to step from curtained alcove, make his way out of the shop and return to Hanover Square to deal direct with Lady Drummond.

“Shall I wait for Mr. Stanhope?” Miss Drummond asked, and again Gilroy was captured by her voice, all soft longing and sweet anticipation. Mayhap the reading aloud wouldn’t be pure torture. And Lady Drummond was likely still abed, after all.

“No need to wait,” Stanhope assured her, his voice carrying over the clink of china as he rejoined the ladies.

It took some doing, and another round of complaints from the bookseller’s wife, but finally the little shop grew quiet but for the creak of stiff leather and the nearly silent swish of never-before turned pages.

“Now then, do we all remember where we left off in volume two?” Miss Drummond asked.

“Charlotte has just found the bouquet of wilting wildflowers on the seat of her carriage,” Dotty replied. “And she can’t decide if they are a gift from the dark and brooding Lord Percival or Mr. Tinston. I do hope it’s the vicar.”

Miss Drummond cleared her throat delicately and began to read. “Miss Charlotte Dolittle fiddled with the pink ribbon, as tattered as her heart, until she’d tangled it in knots reminiscent of her tangled emotions.”

Gilroy tipped his head down to rest on the bookshelf, closed his eyes and attempted to breathe as quietly as possible, lest he miss a single softly, sweetly uttered word.

Not that he made the slightest attempt to follow the story, what with all the tangled emotions and tattered hearts flying about willy-nilly. There was some nonsense about traversing dark and desolate moors guided only by a crescent moon, a spot of malarkey involving a solitary wolf baying at the moon, and a blathering description of the ruins of a castle rising up from the mist.

Gilroy nudged the curtain aside an inch and peeked around the musty, tattered fabric.

Miss Drummond sat on a faded brocade chair, legs curled up beside her on the cushion, sunlight streaming through the big bay window at her back. With one bare hand, she held the book open in her lap while with the other she fiddled with a lock of hair, curling it around and around her finger until it came time to turn the page. The golden strand bounced and swayed when she released it, the parchment whispered beneath her finger but her voice never paused, words tumbling forth from lips that were surprisingly lush when in motion.

Up went the hand, around and around went the golden curl, swish went the parchment.

On and on went the story, the heroine braving one dangerous, convoluted ordeal after another only to allow a stooped-shouldered, scrawny butler to turn her away at the castle gate.

As fortune— or the imagination of some delusional spinster scratching quill across parchment and calling it literature — would have it, the heroine managed to retrace her steps and return home without encountering a single wild boar, muddy bog or handsome rake in want of a good woman’s love to save him.

Gilroy was beginning to wonder if he was destined to bear witness to the rarest phenomenon known to mankind, rarer even than unicorns and flying pigs.

A romance novel that ended without some poor sod leg-shackled to a woman lacking sense enough to recognize the danger of wandering the moors alone after dark.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. For this particular heroine was as tenacious as she was foolish, and the very next night found her once more wandering the moors.

She managed to survive a run-in with a wild boar only to stumble into a bog, thereby necessitating a rescue by the requisite rogue in need of reforming.

“So, it’s to be Lord Percival, after all.” Dotty the milliner sounded remarkably surprised, though how anyone could be surprised by this turn of events, Gilroy hadn’t a clue.

“The vicar would have been a more sensible choice,” Mrs. Stanhope muttered to no one’s surprise, seeing as she’d married a milksop.

“Shh, we’re just getting to the best part,” protested Cora of the sultry voice who was seventy if she was a day, and built like a dockworker.

“Is he going to take Charlotte back to his lair and have his wicked way with her?” This from the woman who claimed not to know why Stanhope stocked the tawdry books surrounding Gilroy.

“Oh, do be quiet,” Cora hissed before giving Miss Drummond a nod of encouragement.

Lord Percival did, in fact, return to his lair, or rather his ruin of a castle, with Charlotte carried in his arms, because, naturally, she’d twisted her ankle somewhere between the boar and the bog.

“With her heart pitter-pattering in mingled fright and delight, Charlotte looked around the chamber into which his lordship had gently and deferentially carried her, and blinked in surprise.” Miss Drummond’s voice took on a theatrical, expectant quality, as if daring her audience to allow their imaginations to run riot.

Her audience obligingly learned forward in their seats so as not to miss a single word of what was sure to be a lurid description of Percival’s den of iniquity. Complete with a thick, hovering cloud of tobacco smoke, toppled decanters spilling rivers of whiskey across the cold stone floor, naked nymphs frolicking on the ceiling and a score of wastrels risking the deeds to their estates on the turn of a single card, each with a half-clothed whore perched on his knee.

“The fire crackling in the hearth was the only sound in the room but for the drumming of Charlotte’s heart,” Miss Drummond continued, effectively bursting the bubble of Gilroy’s imagination. “The welcoming warmth reached out as if to embrace her as Lord Percival slowly, reluctantly relinquished her to a soft, slightly frayed brocade settee. Charlotte’s gaze raced about in an effort to take it all in.”

It was then that the story took a turn so queer, so patently ludicrous that Gilroy, without even realizing he was in motion, abandoned his hidey-hole to creep closer to the ladies clustered before the window.

“Golden light flickered from dozens of candles sitting atop intricately carved wooden tables. A little silky-haired spaniel slept on one of a pair of mismatched chairs flanking the fireplace.” Miss Drummond was clearly caught up in the tale, her voice a soft, almost musical lilt as she described, in maddening detail, a room that no self-respecting rogue would ever enter, let alone allow to be fashioned in his ruin of a castle. “Between two tall windows sat a desk, a book lying open upon its gleaming surface. Beautifully rendered landscapes and portraits of loved-ones long gone hung from the white-washed walls, their colors catching the light and bouncing it back to warm the entire room.”

Gilroy came to a stop just beside and a bit behind her chair and peered over her shoulder, convinced the silly chit was making things up as she went along. There ought to have been harlots and spilled whiskey. Or at the very least bloodied broadswords on the castle walls and great hairy hounds snoring before a smoking hearth.

Instead there were big fat blooming roses in a vase on the mantle and a man’s abandoned slippers, one resting beneath a chair and the other flipped over in the center of the room, apparently kicked off in his hurry to save the heroine from her own foolishness.

“A Turkish carpet in vivid shades of red and gold stretched across the floor, inviting one to remove their slippers and sink their toes into the soft pile,” Miss Drummond continued, golden curl bouncing against her cheek as she turned the page with one slender, faintly ink-stained finger. “A globe on a gilded stand held pride of place in one corner, a harp and small stool sat in another, as if only waiting for the lady of the house to return and strum the strings. Personal items of no value beyond the sentimental were strewn about in a haphazard fashion, a chess board with only a dozen ebony and ivory pieces, a collection of old pipes, and a handful of small statuettes inherited from his lordship’s mother. And lingering in the air was the scent of freshly bake ginger biscuits, roses and a hint of lemon beeswax, the combination magically, mystically untangling the knots of Charlotte’s emotions.”

Gilroy had never seen such a parlor, never even imagined such a cozy chamber might exist, but in his mind’s eye he could see the dog and the slippers, the landscapes and the globe, and the chairs flanking the hearth. He felt the luxurious carpet beneath his feet, heard the crackle of the fire in the hearth, and caught the scent of ginger and furniture polish wafting in the air.

Gilroy found his bones going rigid, his chest rising and falling as he battled to contain some undecipherable emotion that had his blood roaring and his vision blurring around the edges.

If Miss Drummond was aware of Gilroy looming over her shoulder, she gave no indication of it, but simply continued in the same musical cadence. “It was a well-used and well-loved room, soothing and welcoming, and it allowed Charlotte a glimpse into the mind and heart of the man who stood before her watching her with dark, heavy-lidded eyes.”

Gilroy barked out a laugh, a great rolling burst of derision and mockery and scorn.

Miss Drummond gave a small yelp and bounced in her chair, the book tumbling from her lap to land on the floor with a dull thwack. Uncurling her legs, she rose to stand, her skirts falling, swirling around her ankles with a swish of sound as loud as thunder in the otherwise silent little bookshop. She met his gaze, something soft and sympathetic shining in her eyes as she offered up a faint smile, no more than a slight curl of her lips.

He could not begin to decipher the expression she wore on her delicate features, but whatever it was, it enraged him, unleashed the shadowy beast inside him until it was all he could do not to howl in fury and frustration.

He had to escape, before he did something he’d only regret, like pull down the shelves, kick over the books stacked on the floor, piled on the tables and scattered over the counter.

Or worse, toss the woman over his shoulder, plow through the rubble and out the door, bells clanging, echoing down the street as he carried her off to his smoky, whiskey washed, hound ridden, rascal and harlot infested ruin of a castle.

It wasn’t until he’d pushed his way past a dawdling elderly couple, stumbled around a pile of steaming equine excrement and reached the opposite side of the street that he realized he still held the tawdry book in one big, callused hand.

If you enjoyed this excerpt but haven’t yet read the first three books in the Idyllwild Series, now would certainly be a good time to discover why readers have been devouring them and craving more.