In this little excerpt, Colin Eversea, the most popular criminal in recent London history, awkaes from his first official night as a fugitive. The night before, his very reluctant partner, Madeleine Greenway, has tricked him into much-needed sleep on a bed of flour sacks in Croker the Broker's storeroom, and need to be off as soon as possible to attempt to prove Colin's innocence. Off we go:
Colin jerked awake, sat bolt upright, and thrashed and thrashed away at the thing covering his body as though it were a mortal enemy. A great moth? A bat? His heart was hammering, his palms sweating, and then the wool registered on his palms and he stared at it dumbly, embarrassed.
It was a blanket.
“I see you’re awake,” came an amused feminine voice from somewhere nearby.
Admirable understatement, there. No one was more awake than he was at the moment.
He gingerly set the blanket aside. Consciousness sifted back in disorderly, jagged pieces. He wasn’t in prison, then. He was in a…
“We need to leave now,” the voice added. It was pleasant, but insistent.
… a storeroom. He was in a storeroom. Who was talking…? Colin pushed his hands up through his hair and blinked in the direction of the voice, knuckling the kernels of sleep from them, his thoughts struggling to catch up with his senses and give names to the things he saw. Ah, yes. Greenway. Madeleine Greenway. Beautiful prickly woman with soft hands who’d tricked him into sleeping on the flour sacks in a storeroom. She looked very pale. She sat at the little table in front of a lit a candle, and even in this light he could see faint dark rings beneath her eyes. Ah, yes. Fine eyes, he recalled. He thought she was smiling a little faintly, but that might have been wishful thinking, because he would have liked to wake to a smile.
Colin rolled from the flour bed and stood upright too quickly, felt myriad twinges everywhere in his body, stretched his limbs to unknot them, and then glanced looked down on a perfect imprint of his body in the flour sacks. They’d made a death mask of Gerard Courvoisier after he was hung for murdering his aristocratic employer. Perhaps they could make a Colin Eversea out of bread.
He admired it for a moment, half grimly, half-whimsically, then patted his shape out of the flour.
A horrified thought crossed his mind. He glanced down quickly to determine that yes, had slept in his clothes, when normally—when he was not in prison, that was—he might not have, and exhaled.
“Time?” His voice was raspy from sleep. Oddly, however, he felt altogether stronger than he’d had in months.
“Five o’clock,” she told him, her own voice a little worse for keeping watch all night. “The watch should circle around in a half-hour’s time, so it’s best we leave.” She handed the skin to him. “Water.”
He took it, gulped a good half of it down, swiped his mouth, got his boots on, and reached for all he owned in the world: part of a cravat, a coat missing a button, and a waistcoat.
Madeleine Greenway paused to swiftly load her pistol: tapping powder down the barrel, pressing in the paper-wrapped ball, locking it, tucking it away in the pockets of her skirts. In the dim light of the room he could have been dreaming: Watching this very feminine woman efficiently loading a small firearm the way another woman might pin up her hair. She turned the handle on the door, and it occurred to Colin that most women would have deferred to him, or glanced back at him, or at least acknowledged his presence.
This was a woman so accustomed to being alone she didn’t give it a thought anymore.
And before he left, he signed the broadsheet with a flourish and sprinkled sand over it. He was a man of his word, and that broadsheet was their insurance of Croker’s silence.
They went out through the kitchen, which was quiet, apart from the crack and hiss of the low fire. Red glowed in the center of chunks of nearly completely consumed wood. The kitchen boy was sleeping next to the hearth, twitching in the depths of a dream, and when they passed him, he muttered in his sleep and rolled onto his side, toward the fire.
Colin watched in mild amazement as Madeleine very stealthily tucked a coin into the boy’s shoe—astonishing that the boy had shoes, though Colin could see one small grimy foot through the hole in one—as she passed, scarcely pausing. The boy didn’t wake.
Colin watched Madeleine’s narrow back. A few tendrils of dark hair were coming down from their pins to trail the collar of her gown. This would have driven his sister Genevieve mad.
Almost as though she could feel his eyes on her, Madeleine Greenway’s hand went absently up and touched her hair. Colin half-smiled. She was a woman, after all, albeit not like any woman he’d ever before met.
And then he went out into the grimy English dawn, he and his new partner, who hadn’t murdered him in his sleep or called the authorities down upon him, but who loaded a gun as efficiently as any soldier, went to find a hackney.
In Pennyroyal Green, one could use metaphors about maidenly blushes and mother-of-pearl to describe the dawn. Not in London. The coal smut-covered skies merely grew steadily brighter, and sometimes took on a lemon-like shade. And then it grew hotter, and that’s how you knew it was officially daylight.
But now it was still cool, the drunks and thieves were nodding and rising in the streets from where they’d collapsed the night before, like dark little flowers opening to the haze-masked sun, and Colin and Madeleine heard the telltale clip-clop of a hackney circling round.
He hailed it with a raised hand, grateful for the haze and relative dark and his big hat.
“Grosvenor Square,” Madeleine told the driver, who was just a little drunk, his nose red, because he was a hackney driver and he drank the night through to keep warm. He only looked at the money she handed to him; he didn’t look at the tall bloke getting into the hackney and pulling the door closed.
Read more excerpts from the Perils of Pleasure at my website, http://www.julieannelong.com/internal/books_julieslatest.html#excerpt.
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The Humane Society of the United States
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