The next book in the Scandalous Miss Brightwells series is only a few weeks away.
It’s called The Honourable Fortune Hunter and here’s a teaser.
Lizzy, my heroine, has just been rescued by the hero who pulled her out of a sinking carriage. After reluctantly putting her up for the night, he’s now delivering her to the Brightwells so she can take part in their 5-day house party to which she was invited.
But to which Theo was explicity excluded – for very mysterious reasons.
“You didn’t attend to a word I said and it really was a most thrilling part,” Lizzy complained.
“I attended to every word,” Theo protested, opening his eyes.
“Then what did Louis say to Adeline after realising he’d fallen in love with her?”
Theo opened his mouth but no sound came out.
“I knew it!” Lizzy sounded triumphant. “You haven’t attended to a word and yet Romance of the Forest is the most thrilling and exciting of all Mrs Radcliffe’s novels.” She exhaled in frustration, then focussed on the page in front of her and quoted: ‘I should esteem myself most happy, if I could be of service to you.’ ” Raising her head, she looked over the top of the book and narrowed her eyes. “That’s what Louis – who is Madame and Pierre’s son whom Adeline met in the forest after he comes searching for his parents – says to Adeline. And it’s a very apt sentence, too, because those are my own sentiments, Mr McAlister. Only, I wish you’d invite me to call you by your Christian name. I wouldn’t dream of doing so, otherwise, but in view of all we’ve been through together—”
“Don’t say anything of that!” He dropped his hand, which he’d raised, like his voice, in sudden alarm, immediately adding, “I’m sorry, Lizzy, I didn’t mean to shout. I just…” He sighed again. “I don’t want you to be harmed by your association with me. People will talk. I’ve been considering whether we should part company in the village so that you arrive at Quamby house, alone.”
“And you’d follow, later?”
“No, I’d make my own way home.”
“But…that wasn’t at all the plan we discussed this morning.” She sounded distressed. “Why, this morning, I was going to be your salvation. I was going to be the means by which you’d be once again embraced by society for they’d have no choice but to offer you to stay once they heard about how heroic you’d been.”
“I wasn’t heroic in the slightest, and you know it.” Despite himself, Theo smiled. “I simply did what any bystander would do and extended you an arm to drag you out of the water.”
“No, you did so much more—!”
“Look, Lizzy,” he cut her off, “I know it fits in with your notions of romance to be the heroine who ensures I’m redeemed. But you don’t know all the sordid facts. You don’t know what occurred all those months ago that had people pegging me as the most unconscionable of villains. I’m just surprised you haven’t heard of me.” He rolled his eyes and studied the faded leatherwork of the carriage ceiling, adding, “But you’ll have no shortage of offers from the guests at Quamby House telling you of my supposed crimes.”
“Then why don’t you tell me of them, in your own words? You seem such a … placid fellow… they can’t be that bad.”
“Placid fellow!” If she’d called him a dangerous rakehell or a villainous ruffian she couldn’t have offended him more. “Placid fellow? You think I’m a placid fellow?” Theo was leaning forward now, realising his tone had been much too harsh, and that he was much too close as his eyes bored into hers and he saw the dark pupils of her lovely eyes widen just a few inches from his.
He threw himself back against the squabs as she defended her opinion, saying with a frown, “Well, you have a rather defeated air about you, if you want the truth. When you ran down the river bank and pulled me out of the water, I was very impressed, for you were very energetic and heroic. But then—” She put her head on one side as if to contemplate the matter, adding – “it was as if everything was too much trouble, after that. And now it seems as if it’s too much trouble to even try to get yourself an invitation and therefore a chance to set the record straight so that people will be forced to know the truth, and not what the rumours would have you guilty of.”
Theodore took a moment to formulate a response. He certainly didn’t want to admit that her words couldn’t be more on the money; that he was so afraid of being publicly shamed – again – that he’d rather not take the chance of trying to clear his name.
Lizzy continued to stare at him, waiting patiently, not smiling; just curious. He’d told her nothing and yet she seemed to have formulated a quiet confidence that he could not possibly be guilty of the crimes others would lay at his door.
Carefully, he asked, “Have you ever done something to help someone … but the evidence paints you as a wrongdoer… and there’s not a thing you can do about it?”
“I’d have to think about that, Mr McAlister—”
“You can call me Theo.”
“Oh, thank you!” Her smile lit up her whole face. “Now I feel like you’re at last letting your guard down and I promise you I shall repay the compliment – and your bravery – and do what I can to rectify this terrible situation that’s obviously giving you sleepless nights.”
“They’ll tell you I’m a philanderer who kidnapped a young lady on her way to her wedding.” Theo had his head sunk in his hands so he couldn’t see the horror in her eyes.
He glanced up when he heard her gasp but to his surprise her expression was rapt with wonder. “How romantic!”
“No!” He shook his head. “It wasn’t romantic at all! It was terrible. What I mean to say is… it all went so terribly wrong!”
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