Monday, 4 June 2012
Jean Hart Stewart: 'Spies and Roses'
Spies and Roses is a romantic thriller set in London and Brussels, and is the tale of how the hero and heroine join forces to try to stop the assassination of Wellington at Waterloo. Lots of intrique including breaking a secret code, and falling in love after the heroine tried to shoot the hero. Here's the opening of chapter one. "London, May, 1815 Was the blasted rotter ever going to come home? She didn’t want him arriving so intoxicated he wouldn’t realize why she was shooting him. Sara peered from behind her hiding place as she heard someone enter. Another servant, blast it, not the depraved Earl. There’d been no activity since a housemaid entered the room and turned down the bed linens. A long time ago and Sara’s stiffness was beginning to worry her. The servant checked the level of wine in the decanter by the bed, then turned away. Sara’s vision wasn’t the best as she peered through the slit where the draperies almost met. At least she could focus on the main point of interest. The bed. Presumably when my Lord Wolverton finally came home he’d make for that overlarge, comfortable appearing bed. Sara shifted her position slightly. She’d not realized standing so long could be so tiring. Or that heavy drapes would be so stifling. Blast and damn to her wandering thoughts. She must concentrate on her mission. To maim, and perhaps kill, a man known to his friends as Wolf. To make sure he never raped again. She heard a click as the door handle turned. At last. The bastard had come home. He must have lit more candles, as the room became brighter. She could see a large man, elegantly dressed, stride across the room. Double drat! He moved out of her vision, and she did not dare part the draperies any further. She waited, breath suspended, as he re-appeared and sat on the bed. He arched one long muscled leg, bending over to tug at his boot. His face was in shadow, but his build was powerful, that of a more than adequate sportsman. His size didn’t worry her. A gun was a great equalizer. He meant to take his boots off himself? She was surprised he didn’t require his valet to wait up for him. An unusual bit of consideration for a servant, one she’d not expected. She’d thought she’d have to stay hidden until the valet had come and gone. Perhaps this was better, since at least he was decently clothed. Not that she’d let any missish tendencies deter her. Actually seeing a large nude male might be educational. It was time. She cocked the gun and stepped out in front of him, the barrel pointed directly at him. “You will please rise, my lord. I don’t intend to shoot a seated villain.” She felt pride in the composure of her voice. She’d worried a little about that. Wolverton did not appear unduly upset, although his eyebrows arched upward. He bent the long leg stretched on the bed and clasped both hands around his knee. “A woman. How interesting. I admit you make a very fetching young man dressed in those breeches, but your voice is definitely female. Might I inquire why you have your gun pointed at me?” She had to give him his due. His tone seemed as cool as hers, and she certainly must have been a nasty surprise. Although come to think of it, he probably often found women accosting him in his bedchamber. But surely for more pleasurable purposes, wicked cad that he was. “Stand up, my lord.” Neither her voice nor the hand holding the gun on him wavered, as Joshua Sinclair, Earl of Wolverton, slowly placed both his boots on the luxurious Aubusson carpet and rose to his feet. “Is there anything I can do for you, madam?” he inquired, as politely as if he were asking her if she took milk with her tea. She shook her head slowly, carefully lowering the gun a trifle. What a shame he was such a handsome devil, but then she should have expected no less from a despoiler of virgins. She was pleased to see him blanch a little as he realized where she aimed. “Can I persuade you to raise your gun a little? I don’t mind being shot in the chest nearly as much as if you hit the most valued part of my anatomy.” Again she gave him credit. He seemed remarkably self- possessed; no pleading, no ranting, just civilized conversation. As if they were at a blasted tea. “I am aiming precisely where I wish to aim, my lord. And I’m a good shot. You will ruin no more girls like Samantha.” At this his eyebrows did fly up. Lovely thick dark eyebrows that matched his shock of slightly tousled hair. “Madam, might we discuss this? I know no Samantha, nor do I think I’ve ever met a female named Samantha.” He sounded so sincere. Probably any other woman, one not so knowledgeable of men and their deceitful natures, would believe him. “Samantha Browning. The vicar’s daughter you forced to your will in the copse by the road three months ago. Or do you rape so many women you forget all their names? I’d not waste time talking except I want you to realize why you’re about to be maimed.” His eyes, a clear candid gray, remained on hers. He confronted her without hesitation, his air of controlled power commanding her to face him just as directly. “I can easily prove I wasn’t even in the country three months ago. Wellington asked me to come to Vienna during the Congress of Vienna. Actually, I rather resent such an accusation. I have many faults, but ravishing unwilling females is not one of them.” For the first time her gun wavered. Those sincere eyes almost made her doubt. But then of course he knew how to be convincing. Practiced seducers always were. “You told her you fought with Wellington. You also gave her your name, Lord Wolverton.” Her tone once again accused him, but his eyes did not leave hers. “Blessed hell,” he said quietly. “It’s an acquaintance of mine then.” He stood silent, his eyes hooded as he seemed lost in thought. Definitely not the way a guilty man would act. For the first time she felt a whisper of hesitation. Why didn’t he show even a slight sign of culpability? “Did she give you a description?” he questioned. “Does that also match?” “She mentioned a few details. She said you were dark-haired, good-looking, and well-dressed. And spoke like a nobleman. Oh yes, she said you were of average build.” Her voice faltered on the last few words. Those sable brows quirked upward again, as he softly challenged her. “And am I of average size, in your considered viewpoint, madam?” She flushed as she looked at him. He loomed over her, an impressive male. Well over six feet and athletically honed. No one could have a doubt the body beneath those elegant clothes was fit and muscular. He exuded the animal magnetism she’d expected, but no one could call him average. In fact she’d never seen a more un-average man. He was a superb example of masculinity. Her breath stalled."