Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Untamed Mackenzie: Excerpt 1

The Untamed Mackenzie

Excerpt #1

Pub Date: September 10, 2013

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Chapter One

Twenty-five years ago

Lloyd Fellows’ small fists beat into the dirty face of the older boy, bloodying the mouth that had taunted him. Your mum’s a whore, your dad was scabby old man, and you’re a bastard, a bastard.

Now the older boy was howling, his teeth on the pavement and blood running down his face. Everyone knew not to taunt Lloyd of the hot temper, but sometimes it was hard to resist. Lloyd always taught them to respect his fists.

Besides, his dad wasn’t a scabby old man. His dad was a duke. When Lloyd had been very little, he’d been sure his father would come along in a golden coach and take him away from the squalid streets of London to his palace in Scotland. There Lloyd would have all the toys he wanted, horses, and brothers to play with. His dad had other sons, his mum had told him, and she’d told him Lloyd deserved everything they had.

Years passed, and no golden coach came down the back lanes of working-class London. Wiser now, Lloyd knew the duke was never coming.

Until today. Today, he’d learned, because Lloyd made it his business to know everything that happened in this part of town, his father’s ducal coach would be passing along High Holborn to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where he would be visiting solicitors. Why the duke would visit the solicitors, Lloyd had no idea, nor did he care.

His plan was to stop the coach by any means possible, present himself to his father, and tell the man he needed to take care of Lloyd and his mum. Simple as that.

The duke had never sent money, letters, any word at all that acknowledged he’d fathered Lloyd Fellows. Fellows wasn’t even his true name—his mother had taken it, pretending to be married to a Mr. Fellows who’d died long ago. Lloyd’s mum had been a tavern maid, a duke had charmed her, gotten her with child, and then left her. The duke had never spoken to or looked at them again.

Today, Lloyd would change that. He’d put on the clothes he wore to church whenever his mum bothered to take him and headed up to High Holborn.

Except the little oik, Tommy Wortley, decided to waylay Lloyd and begin his taunts. Lloyd could have thrown them off, but Tommy had brought friends, and rocks. When the stones had started flying, Lloyd had grabbed Tommy and slammed him into the wall, and the fight had commenced.

Now Lloyd was bloody and filthy, his best shirt torn. His mum would tan his hide. But it didn’t matter. Time was running out.

Lloyd delivered one final blow, leaving Tommy writhing in the mud, and he took off, running in his usual swift stride toward High Holborn.

He barely made it. He darted through the crowd, brick in hand, avoiding the grabs of the irritated men he pushed aside.

There was the coach, tall and polished, pulled by matched gray horses. As it came closer, Lloyd watched the burly coachman in his red coat and tall hat, knowing that the coachman could scatter all his plans if he wasn’t careful.

The coach came into full view. Black, with its wheels and points picked out in gold, it bore the crest of the Duke of Kilmorgan on the door—a stag surrounded by curlicues and words Fellows didn’t understand. Lloyd’s father, Daniel Malcolm Mackenzie, was the thirteenth duke in the Scottish line and the first in the English line. Lloyd had spent his childhood teaching himself all about dukes and how they became dukes. This duke had been given a high honor by Queen Victoria to be recognized in England too.

Lloyd waited for the strategic moment, then he let fly the brick, right at the coachman. His aim was not to hurt or disable the man, but to make him stop the coach.

The brick hit the coachman in the hand. The coachman dropped the reins in surprise, and the coach veered. A cart coming the other way skittered to a stop in the thick traffic, and the cart’s driver swore loudly and vehemently.

The coachman quickly caught the reins and tugged the horses right again, but a bottleneck had already happened. The coachman stood up on his box and told the cartman what he thought, finishing with Get out of the way, you piece of dung, this is a duke’s coach.

Lloyd slipped through the morass to the stopped carriage. The coach was a tall box rising above him, shining and clean, except for what mud had splashed on it this morning.

One of the windows went down, and a man put his head out. He had a mass of dark red hair and thick red sideburns, a dark red beard just starting to gray, and a full moustache. From behind all this hair, which was carefully groomed, blazed eyes yellow like an eagle’s.

“Get this pox-rotted coach moving!” the man shouted. “You! Boy!”

Lloyd blinked. The duke, his father, had fixed his gaze on him and was speaking to him. Lloyd opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

“Yes, you there. Gaping like a fish. Go see what’s wrong.”

Lloyd worked his jaw, trying to remember how to speak. “Sir,” he managed. “I—”

“Go to it, boy, before I come out and beat you.”

I’m your son.

The words wouldn’t come. Lloyd stood, frozen, while the man who’d sired him, the lofty Duke of Kilmorgan, glared down at him.

“Are you an imbecile?” The duke ripped open the door, showing he wasn’t concerned about preserving his finery or position by climbing down from the coach into the street. He grabbed Lloyd by the ear and shook him hard. “I tell you to do something, boy, you obey me. Get out there and tell that cart to move.”

The man didn’t even offer a coin, as other aristos did when they commanded boys on the street to do things for them. The duke’s fingers pinched hard, and Lloyd felt a blow across his chin.

“Go.” The duke shoved him away.

Lloyd stumbled back. The years of dreaming, hoping, pretending this man would come for him and take him to a golden castle shattered at his feet.

How could he have been so stupid? Lloyd was old enough now to understand that many men saw women as merely bodies on which they took their pleasure, nothing more. So had the duke done with Lloyd’s mother. Lloyd’s existence was nothing but an accident of nature.

Disappointment, heartbreak, and fury welled up in him and, as usual, came out through his fists. Lloyd launched himself at the duke, screaming in berserker rage.

“Bastard! Bloody, dung-eating, stupid, bloody bastard!” Lloyd pummeled the duke, blows landing on the man’s chest, stomach, arms, and one lucky one across his face. The duke’s nose spouted blood as easily as Tommy’s had.

The duke seized Lloyd by both shoulders, his strength astonishing. Then he had Lloyd on the ground and started beating him with large fists, kicking him with heavy boots made from the finest leather.

Lloyd tucked himself into a ball, protecting himself with his arms, his rage keeping him from crying. After a long time and much pain, he was pulled to his feet by a dark-uniformed, tall-helmeted constable.

“This gob of filth attacked me,” the duke snarled at the policeman. Blood ran down the duke’s face, which he swiped at ineffectually with his handkerchief. “Take him off the streets.”

Lloyd didn’t struggle. He’d been nabbed by constables before. The best way to get away from them was to pretend compliance and then twist free later and lose himself in a crowd. The constables were usually too exasperated to bother giving chase to one little boy.

“Yes, sir,” the constable said.

Your Grace,” the duke growled at him. “Learn some manners.”

A footman had come off the back of the coach and now silently waited at the open door to help the duke back inside.

That was when Lloyd saw the other boy. A lad of about Lloyd’s own age, his dark red hair and golden eyes marking him as the duke’s son, was climbing down from the coach. The boy wore a kilt of blue and green plaid, a black coat, an ivory silk waistcoat, ivory-colored wool socks, and shoes that were as finely made as his father’s boots.

No one was looking at the boy except Lloyd. All eyes were on the duke, the footman lending a beefy arm so the duke could climb back inside.

The other boy, as arrogant as his father, walked up to Lloyd, but Lloyd swore he saw a gleam of satisfaction in the boy’s eyes. The boy brushed past Lloyd, pretending not to see him, but Lloyd felt the coldness of a coin against his palm.

The duke’s son said nothing at all as he headed for the coach. The duke bellowed down at him. “Hart, get your arse back inside. Hurry it up.”

The footman held out a hand to the boy called Hart, but Hart ignored it and leapt with agility back into the coach. The traffic cleared, and the coach pulled away. Hart Mackenzie looked out the window as the coach passed, his gaze meeting Lloyd’s. The two boys stared at each other, one on either side of luxury, until another coach passed between them, and traffic swallowed the duke’s carriage.

“Come on, lad,” the constable said, his hand still firmly on Lloyd’s shoulder.

Lloyd closed his hand around the coin until the ridges of it creased his palm. He walked away with the constable, so numb that he went all the way inside the police station before he remembered he should try to get away.

Chapter Two

April, 1885

“Louisa, dear, just see that the bishop isn’t left alone, will you?”

Louisa looked down the sloping meadow from Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ Richmond house to watch the Hon. Frederick Lane, Bishop of Hargate, enter one of the tea tents. Hargate was in his forties, young for a bishop, marginally handsome, and lately had made no secret he was hanging out for a wife.

Lady Louisa Scranton, unmarried, her father dying in scandalous circumstances which had left the family nearly penniless, must be, in Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ eyes, in want of a husband.

Hargate fit the criteria for an aristocrat’s daughter—wealthy, second son of an earl, successful in his own right. Hargate had reached his status young, but he had connections, many of whom were here at this garden party, attended by Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ handpicked guests.

A bishop’s wife would have money, respect, and standing. Louisa was highly aware she needed to marry well—in fact, she’d entered the Season this year with every intention of doing so. So why, when it came to the sticking point, did she feel a great reluctance to be alone with Hargate?

“Of course, Mrs. Leigh-Waters,” Louisa made herself say. “I’ll look after him.”

“Thank you, my dear.” Mrs. Leigh-Waters beamed at her. I’ll have Louisa married off in no time, the lady was no doubt thinking. Quite a feather in my cap when I do.

Louisa gave her a kind smile and hurried after the bishop.

Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ house commanded a view down a hill to the river. The April day was a fine one, the weather not too hot, clouds in the sky but not threatening rain. The land stretched away on the other side of the river to be swallowed in haze.

The expanse of lawn had been commandeered for the garden party, with seats and little tables scattered about, pathways lined with ribbon, a croquet set being brought out by the footmen. Ladies in blues, greens, yellows, golds, lavenders, and russets moved about, the spring breeze stirring feathers, ribbons, braid, and false fruits stuck into the ladies’ hats. Gentlemen in casual suits of monochrome gray or tweed filtered through the ladies. Tea had been served in the tea tents at the bottom of the hill, and many guests still carried cups and little plates of treats. An idyllic English afternoon.

The guests chatted to each other as they waited to begin the croquet match, which would be cutthroat and rather expensive. Members of high society gambled fiercely at everything.

Louisa ducked away from them into the white canvas tea tent, which was empty except for the Bishop of Hargate and white-draped tables holding tea things. The elegant china cups and saucers were patterned with sprays of roses, as were the three-tiered trays with the remains of petit fours and profiteroles. As most of the party had already refreshed themselves, only a few clean plates and cups remained.

“Ah, Lady Louisa,” Hargate said, sounding pleased. “Have you come to join me?”

“Mrs. Leigh-Waters did not want you left on your own.”

“She’s a kind lady, is our hostess.” Hargate looked at Louisa with every eagerness, which Louisa found odd in a man her father had done his best to ruin.

Louisa’s father, Earl Scranton, had convinced other men to give him money for investments, which were either never made or failed utterly. Earl Scranton had been paying the first investors with what the others had given him, pretending the money came from his cleverness at buying the right stocks. Finally when his true investments failed, he had to confess he could pay none of the money back. In the space of a day, Earl Scranton had moved from respectable and wealthy to complete ruin. A good many other gentlemen’s fortunes had gone with his. Hargate hadn’t lost everything, but he’d lost much, though he’d managed to build it back in a relatively short time.

Louisa moved calmly to a table, trying to behave as though none of it had happened. A lady wasn’t supposed to know about or understand such things, in any case. “Tea, Your Grace?”

“Of course. Thank you.”

Louisa had been taught to be an expert at pouring tea. She trickled the soothing liquid into two china cups, dropped a lump of sugar and dollop of cream into the bishop’s tea, and handed him the cup.

She left her own cup sitting on the table and lifted two dainty, cream-filled profiteroles, which hadn’t wilted too much in the April warmth, onto one of the petite china plates. Louisa had a weakness for French pastries, even those that looked a bit limp.

“I’ve been meaning to speak to you, Lady Louisa,” Hargate said, an odd note in his voice. “What a fine chance that we are here alone.”

Chance, my foot. Hargate and Mrs. Leigh-Waters had contrived this meeting between them, they must have.

Hargate reached out his free hand and seized Louisa’s. He closed his fingers so tightly she’d never be able to release herself from him without jerking away. Hargate looked into her eyes, his full of something like glee. “You will do me much honor to let me speak to you, Louisa.”

Oh dear, he was about to propose.

Louisa could refuse him, of course, but she knew she risked great disapproval if she did—Haughty creature, turning down such a fine match; did she truly think she’d have the opportunity at another? A girl from a scandalous family cannot afford to be so high and mighty.

On the other hand, if Louisa accepted Hargate, she’d have to marry the man. He was everything a young lady should want in a husband, as Mrs. Leigh-Waters no doubt thought, but Louisa had never much liked him. Hargate was pompous, talked at length—usually about himself—and was quite hopelessly, well . . . dull.

“Your father and I had business dealings,” Hargate was saying. “And you of course know what happened with those.”

Yes, Louisa was reminded of it every day. When everything had fallen apart, Lord Scranton had died of the shame. Louisa and her mother, on the other hand, had to continue to live with the shame.

“Water under the bridge,” Hargate said. “I assure you. I’d never hold it against you, Louisa. That is, I won’t, if you consent to be my wife.”

And if Louisa refused him, he would hold it against her? Louisa stared at him, not certain she comprehended. Was he trying to blackmail her into marriage? From Hargate’s smile and expression, Louisa thought he might be.

I can’t marry him.

As Louisa gazed at Hargate, trying desperately to think of a way out of this troubling conversation, another face swam into her mind. This one was hard rather than handsome, a man with unruly dark hair and hazel eyes that held a glint of gold.

A working-class man, an illegitimate son, his mother a tavern maid, everything an earl’s daughter was supposed to shun. And yet, Louisa remembered the power of his kiss, the strength of his hands. His rough whiskers had burned her lips, and she’d tasted his mouth.

That kiss had occurred at Christmas, and it had been Louisa’s idea, her impulse. Likewise had been the kiss at the wedding before that at Castle Kilmorgan. Louisa’s impulse had turned into a sort of madness, and now she could not forget Lloyd Fellows, no matter how hard she tried.

But she’d felt more alive pressed against the hard doorframe while he’d kissed her, the sounds of the Christmas party in the distance, than Louisa had any other day of her life, especially this one, in this tea tent at a perfect English garden party.

She wet her lips. “Your Grace, I—”

“You know it is for the best,” Hargate said. “No one else will marry the daughter of the gentleman who ruined him. Save your respect and accept my offer.”

Hargate’s eyes took on a hard light, giving Louisa a glimpse of a meanness she’d not seen in him before. “Your Grace, you are kind, but—”

“You have no dowry; your cousin, the new earl, is a frugal man who keeps you and your mother on a small allowance—all this is common knowledge. Your Mackenzie in-laws have sordid reputations few decent families wish to be connected with. Your name has been discussed at my club, and only my admonition has stopped gentlemen saying disparaging things about you. You have few champions, Louisa, and I am one of them. When you are my wife, I will stop all gossip about you.”

Gossip? Louisa blinked in shock. About what? A little panic fluttered in her heart—the kisses with Mr. Fellows rose in her memory again, not that they were ever far away. Had someone seen?

No, she’d been careful about that. Louisa had approached him only when she was certain they’d be alone, although once the kisses began, she couldn’t swear to anything else happening around them, not even an earthquake. Someone might have seen her, and in Louisa’s circle, with its rigid rules for unmarried misses, those kisses would ruin her.

Or perhaps Hargate simply meant the speculations about Louisa in light of her older sister’s scandalous elopement. Not only had Lady Isabella run off with a Mackenzie, she’d then left him, walking out of his house and obtaining a legal separation. But instead of retreating to quiet solitude, Isabella had gone on hostessing soirees and balls as though she saw nothing amiss. Most of society expected Louisa to follow in Isabella’s footsteps. Never mind that Isabella and Mac had been reconciled and now were blissfully happy—their outrageous behavior was what everyone remembered.

The bishop was offering to save Louisa from any sort of shame. All she had to do was marry him.

“And I will drop any pursuit of the money your father owed me,” Hargate said. “You can tell your cousin the estate would be released from that debt.”

“Your Grace . . .”

Hargate let go of Louisa’s hand to touch his fingers to her lips. “Say nothing until your answer is yes, dear Louisa. I’ll wait.” He took one step away and raised his teacup to his lips, as though he would stand there and sip tea until she capitulated.

Louisa, anger rising, stared down at her profiterole, looking for inspiration in the rather runny cream. Bloody cheek he had, cornering her and demanding she give in to him.

Why on earth did Hargate want to marry her? He could have his pick of unmarried ladies, many of whom were at this very garden party, who would gladly marry him for his standing, wealth, and when a seat came empty, his place in the House of Lords. Plenty of young ladies with respectable families and good dowries would have already started planning the wedding as soon as they walked into the tea tent. What was Hargate up to?

Louisa drew a breath, hardening her resolve. “Your Grace, I . . .”

The bishop looked up at her over his teacup, and as he did, Louisa noted that his face had lost most of its color. His cheeks had taken on a greenish tinge, and Hargate’s breath hitched.

“Are you all right, Your Grace? Perhaps we should adjourn to the open air.”

If Hargate had eaten something that disagreed with him, that would put paid to this awkward proposal. Louisa caught the bishop’s arm, ready to lead him out and give him over to the ministrations of their hostess.

“Loui—” Hargate had to stop to draw a breath. He coughed, staggered, and coughed again.

Louisa began to be truly alarmed. “Come outside with me, Your Grace. We’ll take you to the house, where you can rest out of the heat.”

Hargate tried to take another breath. His eyes widened as air eluded him, and he dropped his teacup, splashing tea across the grass. He sagged against Louisa, his eyes and mouth wide, his chest heaving, but no air moving inside.

“A few more steps is all,” Louisa said, trying to support him. “You’ll be all right once we get outside.”

Hargate took one more step before his legs buckled and he fell heavily against Louisa’s side. Down went Louisa’s plate, which she realized she was still clutching, the plate breaking, creamy profiteroles smearing on the dead grass.

“Your Grace.”

Louisa couldn’t hold him. Hargate landed on his back, Louisa on her knees next to him, her blue and brown striped skirt spreading over the tea-dampened grass. Hargate’s face had gone completely gray, and hoarse little gasps came from his mouth.

A doctor. She needed to fetch a doctor. One was here at Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ garden party, a very famous one called Sir Richard Cavanaugh.

Louisa scrambled to her feet. “I’ll find Sir Richard. Don’t worry. Help is coming.”

As she ran out, the heel of her high-heeled lace-up boot caught the teacup Hargate had dropped, smashing it to bits.

Louisa dashed into the open air, scanning the guests in desperate search of Sir Richard. There he was, speaking with Louisa’s sister, Isabella, and another old friend of Louisa’s, Gilbert Franklin. Both Isabella and Gil turned with welcoming smiles as Louisa panted up, but Isabella’s smile faded in concern.

“Darling, what is it?”

“Hargate . . . in the tea tent. Taken ill. He’s collapsed. Please, Sir Richard. He needs you.”

Sir Richard, a short and lean man with dark hair going to gray and an arrogant manner, seemed uneager to set aside his tea and rush across the lawn at Louisa’s request. “What seems to be the matter with him?” he asked.

Louisa resisted the urge to grab the man and shove him down the hill. “Please, you must hurry. I think he is having a fit. He can’t breathe.”

“Good Lord,” Gil said, managing to sound pleasant even with his worry. “We’d better see to him, Cavanaugh.”

Sir Richard frowned, then finally he sighed, passed his teacup to a footman, and gestured for Louisa to lead him to the tent.

He walked too slowly. Louisa had to wait for Sir Richard, she holding the tent flap open impatiently while he sauntered in. Isabella, Gil, and Mrs. Leigh-Waters followed, along with a smattering of curious guests.

Sir Richard at last showed concern when he saw Hargate, who hadn’t moved. Sir Richard went down on one knee next to the bishop and looked him over, felt his pulse points and his heart, then leaned down and sniffed at Hargate’s mouth.

The doctor gently closed the bishop’s wide, staring eyes before he got to his feet. His arrogant look had grown more arrogant, but it was more focused now, more professional.

“He is dead,” Sir Richard announced. “Nothing I can do for him. Send for the police, Mrs. Leigh-Waters. The bishop appears to have been poisoned.” He looked at Louisa when he said it, his accusing gaze like a stab to the heart.

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