Uncommonly tall and extraordinarily independent, Harriet Mosley regularly rushes in where other ladies fear to tread. Indulging her taste for adventure, Harriet's friends pay for her to visit a house of spirits, rumored to be haunted by figments of its tragic past.
Bow Street Runner Benedict Bradbourne is reeling from the loss of his business partner, who was murdered. Bradbourne's quest for vengeance has taken him from London's bustling streets and shadowy alleyways to a country estate whose corporeal residents may prove even stranger than the ghosts who supposedly dwell there.
Intrigued by the bespectacled, mysterious Benedict, Harriet begins to feel the first flames of desire course through her blood. But in the dark hallways of the ramshackle manor, something more sinister than ghosts stalks--and will do everything in its power to keep Harriet and Benedict apart forever...
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Read an Excerpt
By Samantha Garver
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2006 Samantha Garver
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe apartment was filled with the muted sounds of sobbing, the air thick with grim awareness. Disbelief had departed only a short while before, leaving behind quiet shock and sorrow.
The door opened without a knock and with no surprise the family in the front room looked at the man who entered. He was one of them, if not by birth, then by the friendship that bordered on that of a father and son with the man behind the closed door down the hall.
Wilhemina Ferguson managed a small smile as she disentangled herself from the two grandchildren clinging to her skirts. She used one hand to brush back the tangled gray hair that had come undone from its knot and held out the other to the newcomer.
Horror unlike any he had ever felt burned inside Benedict Bradbourne. It had begun pounding at his insides since Wilhemina's oldest son had come for him. He refused to look at the others in the room, loathed seeing the faces of the children and grandchildren so haggard with loss. He did not take Wilhemina's hand when she touched the back of his. Her fingertips were so cold he chose to ignore them as he did her children's grief.
"Where is he?"
"Our bedchamber. It shan't be long." Her eyes suddenly filled with tears and she pressed a closed fist to her mouth. In a moment she composed herself to say, "I think he's been waiting for you."
Benedicthad to control the workings of his throat as he strode down the hall that seemed longer than it had ever been before. He paused outside the closed door and squeezed his eyes tightly closed. Images of Garfield Ferguson played across his mind's eye: those of him as a middle-aged man welcoming young Benedict and his siblings into his home, laughing through a mouthful of fish and chips, and cupping Benedict's shoulder with a rough palm as the adolescent told of his mother's death and recounted the trials of keeping what was left of his family together despite an unstable and often jailed father. As the man's fiery hair became tinged with gray and Benedict developed the strong shoulders and independence of manhood, the images contorted to those of the two men crouching down behind an overturned wheelbarrow, Benedict keeping a band of thieves occupied with erratic bursts from his pistol as his mentor crept through the back door of the jeweler's shop and then charged at the three like a rampaging bull-taking the crooks down just that easy. When those exciting memories gave way to thoughts of the pride in the old man's eye when Benedict had his first commendation pinned to the front of his uniform, the earnestness as he insisted the younger man take part of his wages to care for his sisters-money the young man knew Ferguson could use for his own family-the man in the hall let his eyes open immediately to make the memories disappear.
The door opened into a silent room. Only one candle was lit, sending off brief flickers of light from the table near an opened window. Ferguson was a great mountain beneath the bedclothes, mostly in shadows. Benedict's gaze focused immediately on the man's large chest, and it took so long for it to rise and fall that the younger man began to worry he was too late.
Then Garfield said, his voice uncharacteristically weak, "Donna' beat all, lad?" His brogue was worse than usual and Benedict doubted a man not from his home country would even understand the other. "All these years a tackling crooks and playing with me pistol an' I git done-in by a footpad."
Benedict approached the bed, sat stiffly in the chair still warm from Ferguson's wife. The old man was pale, his skin the same color as the thick mustache and beard covering a good portion of his face. Benedict scanned his longtime friend, starting at his balding head and moving downward. A muscle in his jaw went taut when he saw the dark stain spreading across the blankets over the lower part of Ferguson's belly.
"Knife wot got me." Being at death's door did not dampen the man's ability to read the other's mind. "A dagger or sheave mayhap."
"Not far from the office. I didna' even see 'im comin'."
Benedict saw Ferguson frown, his heavy brows drawing together. His eyes darted across the ceiling as if searching for something.
The younger man looked at the floor between his feet then lifted his gaze to the hand lying limp atop the bedclothes. He reached for it.
"Thank you," he said. "For everything you've done for my family."
Ferguson coughed and laughed at the same time. "Ye did well by yer sisters, especially considering what ye come from. Ye would have done it even without an old codger like me in yer life." The old man sighed. "I am proud to have known ye."
Benedict met the other man's eye. "You are my best friend."
"An' yer mine." Benedict watched with a clenched jaw as a tear streamed down from the corner of Ferguson's eye and into the pillow beneath him. When the younger man looked up again, his eyes were closed.
Benedict sat for a long moment with his teeth pressed tightly together before he removed his specs and brushed angrily at his eyelids with the heel of his hand. He was rising from the chair to tell Wilhemina her husband was gone when a fiercely strong hand reached out and grabbed his coat.
Benedict's gaze flew to Ferguson's face and he saw with surprised wonder that the old man's eyes were opened wide and brilliantly cognizant. It was a familiar expression. The same Ferguson wore every time he understood the working of a crime, the sudden realization that brought a series of events together.
His head turned and he said to Benedict, "The watch. The bastard was after me watch."
Chapter TwoIt was late, almost closing time, when the stranger entered the shop. He was tall, had a good two feet on the man standing behind the counter, counting up his sales for the day. He blended almost entirely with the dark outside until the door swung closed behind him-clad in black breeches and stockings, a long black coat, with a heavy scarf draped across the lower half of his face. A tricorn hat was pulled low over his brow and the newcomer made no move to remove it indoors, though he did touch its brim when passing the woman who had been perusing the books of poetry stacked on a far table. The heavy metal braces that encased the woman's legs made a nerve-wracking creak as she turned to inspect another set of books.
The man behind the counter winced impatiently at the sound before saying, "Good evening, sir." Green-brown eyes shifted in his direction. "The name is Christian. Welcome to my store."
The stranger said nothing, but walked on quiet heels toward the counter. He had a stiff gait, keeping his shoulders square and his arms straight at his sides.
"I don't believe we've done business before." Christian tilted his head upward, squinting in an effort to make out anything besides the other man's pale cheeks and straight nose.
The stranger shook his head and cleared his throat. "I'm looking for a book."
"You've come to the right place, my good man."
"I shall be the judge of that." The stranger's voice was low in his throat, nearly inaudible behind the wool of his scarf. His gaze roamed the walls lined with books, the lids of one eye drawn slightly together. "It is a volume by a Madame Winifred Lacey."
"Ah ..." Christian grinned. "The notorious Book for Lovers."
"You have it, then."
"Oh, yes. One copy left in the back. I keep it hidden so as not to alarm those with fragile faculties." He nodded in the direction of the woman who had opened a volume of poems. Christian leaned over the counter and whispered, "Man to man, I've read Madame Lacey's book and sorely wish my own wife was capable of perusing a few pages without having a fit of the vapors. She could learn a thing or two about doing more than laying stiff between the sheets." Christian laughed.
The stranger did not and the bookseller sobered quickly.
"I'll get the book then."
When the proprietor of the bookstore disappeared into the back room, the woman who had been looking at the poetry books without really seeing any of them lifted her gaze. The stranger at the counter turned to meet her eye.
The woman with the poetry books couldn't help it. She forced her attention toward the table and lifted a palm to stifle a laugh.
"Would you believe a woman was in here earlier today," Christian huffed as he reappeared at the counter, "with the audacity to try to buy this book?"
"Is that so?" The stranger accepted the book with slim fingers encased in black leather gloves.
"Mrs. Emily Paxton, if you can believe that." Christian had no eyebrows, so it was the pink skin of his forehead that bobbed up and down. "The Queen of Ice herself." He did not see the stranger's hand falter in removing a purse, nor the drawing together of tawny brows. "I did not give her the book, of course. I don't give a bloody damn about her reputation as a ball-breaker or how much money she had to offer. A book like this is not meant for the eyes of a woman."
The stranger ran a gloved finger over the elegant script engraved into the book cover, the name of the author. The fact she was a woman had somehow escaped the book vendor's notice.
"It just isn't suitable for women's eyes. Their constitutions are too weak, you know."
The stranger only stared at Christian.
The woman who had been at the poetry table moved slowly, fluidly despite the braces encumbering her legs, toward the exit.
The stranger in dark clothes almost made it to the door where the woman was tugging on her gloves before the silence was broken.
Christian watched the man come to a halt, saw the woman at the door glance backward with a worried little frown. Then the stranger's head turned toward Christian. His eyelids were drawn together as he stared at the shopkeeper.
"Your wife may be the one to benefit, Mr. Christian."
"I beg your pardon?"
"From your perusal of Madame Lacey's infamous book. Perhaps it is not her fault, you see, she is so lackluster beneath your sheets." The stranger's eyes crinkled at their corners, as if he were smiling.
The two women sat in companionable silence as darkness crept up to the open terrace. The outside nook of the elegant café would have been crowded were it not so close to winter. As it were, there was a distinctive chill in the air and a slight breeze that played about the hems of the women's skirts, as if toying with the idea of creeping underneath.
The two offered the oncoming stranger a brief glance, both noting his dark attire and the scarf that fluttered about his neck and over the lower half of his face. They might have dismissed the individual in the black stockings and breeches at that single look were it not for the large book he carried against one thigh.
Emily Paxton and Isabel Scott were struck with incredulity at the same moment, though Isabel showed hers in a shocked gasp and the other woman in only a slight lift to one sable brow.
"What's a pair of beautiful ladies like yourselves doing out alone at night?" Familiar eyes sparked with mirth above the scarf.
"Harriet!" Isabel hissed, eyes wide as she took in the trousers that fit snug to the other woman's legs.
Harriet removed her hat as she dipped into a bow. "At your service."
Isabel rushed to her feet, pushing her spectacles up higher on her nose as she scanned their surroundings. Theirs was the only outside table occupied, but the inner clientele of the restaurant was visible. With an emotion akin to horror, she eyed the aging dowagers in their layered pearls and the plump gentlemen that accompanied them.
"What on earth are you about?" She did not look at Harriet as she lectured through her teeth. "You will be ruined if anyone sees you like this."
Harriet felt the edges of her mouth curl even higher. She was touched that her friend thought that a woman who barely had enough funds to survive was so significant to London society.
"I should think no one will even bother looking this way," Emily said between calm sips of tea, "unless you continue making a scene, Isabel."
The other woman flushed and shifted back toward her chair.
Harriet gallantly pulled it toward her.
Isabel, appearing utterly nonplussed, swallowed deeply from her glass of lemonade.
Emily turned toward the woman dressed as a man as she took her own seat. "We took the liberty of ordering you a tea with a dollop of cream."
"And brandy?" Harriet reached for the delicate cup.
"And brandy." Emily nodded once.
Isabel carefully set her glass atop the pale linen tablecloth. She peered at the woman in the tricorn hat over the rims of her specs. "Harriet."
"Would you kindly explain why you are walking about London in men's breeches?"
"I'd have thought you knew." Harriet noticed the plate of scones at the middle of the table. "Emily said she was certain Mr. Christian would not deal with a woman on a matter of business, especially not concerning a novel reported to go into details of sexual acts. I knew I had to do something extraordinary to obtain the book Lady de Vane so kindly prepaid us to obtain for her. Especially if the piggish man would not give over to Emily, a force to be reckoned with."
"Thank you," Emily said. Though her lips moved only to form the words and her features were impenetrable, her eyes glimmered. She pushed the plate of scones nearer to Harriet.
"So you dressed like a man," Isabel was saying, "pretended to be a man to deal with Christian?"
Isabel gaped at Harriet and then Emily. She shook her head when she realized neither woman grasped the oddness of their situation. "You acquired the book," Emily said.
Harriet, still chewing a sweet date scone, dropped the pastry onto her plate and lifted the book from her lap.
"Well-done, Harriet." Emily removed a square of white cloth from her reticule and proceeded to wrap the book carefully in it. When passing on a book of sexual tales to an aging duchess, a little decorum was to be expected.
"Not to be a prude"-Isabel was frowning now, well aware she was a prude and unconcerned over the matter-"but I cannot imagine what might have happened had you been found out."
"I'd like as not be thought a lunatic." Harriet rolled her eyes in an imitation of madness.
"Do not make me laugh, Harriet." Isabel smoothly changed her giggle into a muffled cough. "I am upset."
Emily's brows drew together. "Isabel is right. It was dangerous for you to go alone."
"I wasn't alone," Harriet explained. "Abigail accompanied me."
"Excellent." Emily was appeased.
Isabel, still wide-eyed, downed the last of her lemonade in one swallow. It was the closest she ever came to hard drinking.
Harriet, who had already finished her tea, set her cup aside and forced herself to push away the last of the scones. "I thought you were to meet with the duchess in Hyde Park. Why did your note say to come here?"
"A man was attacked a few days ago while walking the park."
Isabel sputtered, lifting a napkin to her mouth to stifle the sound as her eyes watered.
Emily was removing another book from a bag that had been sitting beneath the table. "It was a bungled robbery, I'm sure. Still, I did not want anyone going near the place at night."
Harriet watched Emily as she flipped through the pages of the book then set it atop the table. She wondered if Mr. Christian or anyone else who dared to call her the Queen of Ice behind her back knew how she watched over her friends. Emily looked up and caught her stare.
"Happy birthday, Harriet."
The other woman blinked in the shadows of her hat brim. Her gaze dropped to the book being pushed her way. It was the latest novel by Randal C. Shoop, her favorite author of tales of unhappy spirits and their desperate pursuits of revenge from beyond the grave.
"My birthday was yesterday." She reached for the book, eager already to read the third story in a series about a dashing ghost hunter who solved the crimes of those dead and buried.
"We regret we couldn't have been with you and Augusta to celebrate." Isabel momentarily forgot the fact her friend was wearing trousers.
Excerpted from Dark Whispers by Samantha Garver Copyright © 2006 by Samantha Garver. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Way to go Sam, You really are an exceptional and talented writer. I can't wait for your next novel to hit the market. This book is hard to put down for any reason!
I really enjoyed her first book and this second is the same. I liked the story a lot