Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Matter of Circumstance and Celludrones

Dark Matters: Book 1

A Victorian Steampunk/Paranormal series with strong elements of romance...

Lady Lily d'Bulier is prim, proper, and prefers to think of herself as pragmatic rather than timid. And avoiding life-threatening situations at all costs is just plain practical. But everything changes when Lord Adair tracks her down in London; searching for answers he seems to think she has.

Greyston Adair is a blackguard and a smuggler, although British Customs will have to catch him red-handed to prove the latter. Fortunately, the dirigibles they float around in have never been able to get near his air dust.

Hell is rising, One Demon at a Time...

With Lady Ostrich hunting them, and the mystery of how their lives tie back to Cragloden Castle and the powerful McAllister clan, Lily has no option but to throw propriety to the wind and run off with Greyston to Scotland, away from the immediate danger and toward possible answers.

Available now from Amazon 


Chapter One

The Duchess of Cheshire’s Mummy Ball was the official opening of what promised to be a bumper season. There were two earls, a viscount and a marquis on the table this year and only twenty-eight hungry debutantes. Twenty-nine if Lily d’Bulier counted herself, which she did not. Twenty-one was no grand age, even if her Aunt Beatrice had started clearing off a shelf for her, but debutante she was certainly not.

The gas lighting was off-tap for the occasion, the subtle glow of a thousand candles cradled in hanging chandeliers deemed kinder on the twenty-eight nervous expressions and faux-Egyptian decorations. Silk hangings depicting geometric paintings of sphinx creatures fascinated everyone. Fewer wished to examine the bandaged apparitions scattered between the imported potted palms in any great detail.

“Unimposing, barely titled and clearly in need of a fortune.” Lily lifted a brow in the direction of the young man with an ill-fitting swallowtail and badly tied cravat. “Practically perfect.”

“Except for the unfortunate red hair.”

Lily turned that arched brow on her friend’s flaming ringlets.

“A pleasant auburn, if you don’t mind.” Pragella Lane puffed her ringlets protectively.

Both pairs of eyes returned to the man in his first bloom of adulthood, awkwardly freckled despite half the length of the ballroom and the best intentions of candlelight.

“Consider the children,” Pragella urged.

Lily sipped on her punch, her nose wrinkling as she contemplated this latest dilemma. “Perhaps I should aim lower.”

“I always endeavour to aim as low as possible,” chirped a new voice near her ear.

Evelyn Thorn, dearest friend for many years and Duchess of Harchings for only a few short months (A winter wedding! Any matron worth her width in crinoline was keeping a sharp watch for signs of early pregnancy) lined up alongside the wall beside Lily. “What are we discussing?”

“Lily is on the hunt for a husband,” Pragella offered with her dimpled smile.

“Ah…” Evelyn cast her eyes over the dance floor, where a slow pavane was in progress, then thought to clarify, “We are larking about, are we not?”

“Not quite,” Pragella said.

“You can’t be serious.” Evelyn turned a frown on Lily. “Whatever happened to your delusions of love?”

“I’ll assume you meant aspirations and, um, I’ve reconsidered my position.” She tilted her chin to better observe the couples spilling from the dance floor as the music ended. “Oh, stuff and cockles, we are being approached.”

James Lanbury, third son of the Viscount Cootte, cut an unremarkable figure in black formals as he came to a halt before them. His gaze landed on Evelyn, by far the prettiest of the three with her cinnamon curls, blue eyes and classic features, but unfortunately attached to a husband; skidded past Lily, who’d turned down a gallant and adequately unassuming proposal from him only last June; and came to a final rest on Pragella, all flaming ringlets, hazel eyes and dimpled smile.

He inclined his head at her. “May I be so bold as to claim the next dance, Miss Lane? If you’re not already spoken for, that is.”

“I’d be delighted, Mr. Lanbury.”

With a shallow bow to the remaining ladies, he led Pragella away.

Lily’s lips curved in wistful contemplation. James Lanbury was so very affable, bland and biddable. “I do believe I regret turning him down.”

“You are serious about this marriage nonsense.”

“Well, look at you, Evie, perfectly happy and all.” She was about to hand her empty glass over to a passing footman when she realised he was a celludrone. She squinted at his forehead instead to read his name. “Gragor, could you please take my glass?”

Gragor stopped, turned, smiled his hollow smile and placed the glass on his tray. The average celludrone was a tiresome thing, having to be addressed by name and requiring specific instruction when one’s wishes would be obvious to the freshest footman, but so outrageously expensive that every household able to afford one was obliged to flaunt it.

“Marriage has it moments, some less fun then other,” Evelyn said dryly once he’d moved on. “But you don’t have a papa threatening to reduce your allowance to a pittance unless you— Oh, I begin to see. Is your aunt tangling your petticoats into knots again?”

“Petticoat.” The latest Paris fashions dictated exactly one petticoat, worn over lace-trimmed bloomers, and the barest whiff of a bustle. “You have the gist of it, though. Do you know, she means for us to depart for Bath at the end of the week? I’m to be whisked off to take the medicinal waters. Of all the preposterous…”

Lily faltered as she became aware of the gentleman standing directly opposite on the other side of the ballroom, his rude stare interrupted only by the occasional couple waltzing into his line of vision. Brown hair in dire need of a clipping, square jaw that would likely shatter at the suggestion of a smile, the set of those broad shoulders—even in the absence of the oilskin coat, there was no mistaking him.

“You cannot go to Bath. You’ll stay with me for the duration of the season.”

“Thank you, Evie, I was relying on your invitation.” She linked arms with Evelyn, leaving her friend no option but to join in the retreat to a suitable niche between a pot plant and a mummy.

“Whom are we hiding from?”

“We’re not hiding, we’re blending.” Quite successfully, too, with her jade gown trimmed in rusty petals and Evelyn’s cream silk. She peered through a fan of broad leaves. The man’s gaze was roaming the ballroom with intent. Ha! “Honestly,” she went on seamlessly, stepping back from the plant, “in this day and age, one would think a lady who’d reached the respectable age of twenty-one should be permitted to reside in her own home, with or without the presence of a chaperone.”

“There are—”

“If nothing else, Aunt’s latest whimsical has made up my mind. I’ll never be allowed an ounce of freedom until I acquire a husband.”

“But surely—”

“And that’s another thing.” Lily glared her friend down for the interruptions. “What does Aunt Beatrice mean by removing me from London when the season has only just begun? I was holding out for love, not for spinsterhood.”

“I rather think your aunt is achieving exactly what she meant to. All of which still does not explain why we’re hiding—blending with the decorations,” Evelyn pointed out.

An excellent reminder for Lily to check through the fronds again. “Blast, he’s coming and he’s bringing reinforcements.”

Evelyn looked. “Oh my…” A gloved hand gripped Lily’s arm. “My knees have just gone all gooseberry jellified.”

Lily pushed her hand off. “Ah, they’ve been waylaid by the dowager battalion.”

“What have you been up to while I was confined to Castle Oh-So-Dreary in the bottommost pit of the Bowels-Of-Nowhere?”

“Don’t be so melodramatic.” She scowled at Evelyn, who was too busy gawking elsewhere to notice. “Surrey is lovely all year round and Harchings Castle is supposedly a study in modernization and elegance.”

“Pity the same cannot be said for my husband.”

Having little experience in the way of husbands, Lily was at a loss of how to respond.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Evelyn’s attention was riveted to a man who was most decidedly not her husband.

“Who is he? How come I’ve never seen him before and where did you meet him and, most importantly—” Evelyn’s eyes came back to her, sparkling with mischief “—is our Lord Dashing there the reason for your sudden reconsideration in matrimonial matters?”

“Of course not. I have no idea who he is. We have never met.”

“Then why are we hiding from him?” She shook a finger when Lily opened her mouth. “Do stop denying the fact and don’t you dare change the subject again.”

Lily sighed. “I was about to draw my bedroom curtains this morning when I spotted him across the street on the green. He wore the oddest pair of goggles that covered most of his face. I’d never have noticed him there, propped up behind that tree, if not for the sunlight sparking off the glass and brass. He stood there for ages, staring at our front parlour window as if he were waiting for the drapes to go poof so he could see inside.”

“Do you think he’s a spy? He could have been engaged in a secret assignation.” Evelyn’s voice pitched in excitement. “He must be working for the crown.”

“Why would the crown be interested in me?”

“Maybe it has nothing to do with you at all.”

“I never assumed it did, until I found him staring at me from across the dance floor just now. But there was an assignation,” Lily said thoughtfully. “A lady dressed in burgundy velvet from bottom to top with a plume of matching ostrich feathers for her bonnet, no less, walked up to him. He stepped out from behind the tree and lowered the goggles and they proceeded to converse in a somewhat heated manner.”

Evelyn leaned closer, whispering, “What happened then?”

“He fainted.”

“Lord Dashing fainted?” Evelyn gasped.

Lily nodded. “Crumpled around the tree like an over-baked soufflĂ© and puddled to the ground. The lady prodded his thigh with her parasol a few times, but he did not even bother to stir himself until she’d trotted off and out of sight.”

“Are you quite sure this mysterious lady did not shoot him?”

“In Grosvernor Square in broad daylight?” Lily exclaimed.

“Well,” Evelyn said. And then, “Well, I’m sure he had his reasons.”

In that moment, using the full advantage of her extraordinary five-foot-seven and abhorrence for the new fashions, Beatrice Ardington loomed over the pair of skulking girls while blotting the rest of the room from view, including the stranger who’d brought her. In deference to her wide skirts, he was forced to remain five feet to the side.

In deference to Aunt Beatrice’s stern expression, Lily and Evelyn lost the inclination to strain around mummies and peek through fronds.

“Lily, darling,” Aunt Beatrice said in a voice wholly opposed to her whatever-are-you-doing-behind-the-pot-plants face, “I have a gentleman here who most ardently seeks an introduction.”

With one last warning look at them, Aunt Beatrice swished to the side in a rustle of satin petticoats and polite smiles to invite the gentleman forward. Aiding her introductions with the tip of a closed fan, she clipped out, “Lord Adair. It is my pleasure to present Lady Lily d’Bulier and Lady Harchings.”

After the prerequisite round of dips and bows, Lord Adair trained his gaze on Lily and murmured in a burr of warm honey rumbling over oats, “The pleasure is all mine.”

Amidst the confusion of heat spreading up her throat and prickles chasing down her spine, Lily gave another shallow dip.

“Charmed,” Evelyn declared. “I do hope, Lord Da—eh, Adair, your duties in the highlands can spare you for the duration of the season?”

His gaze slid to Evelyn. The line of his mouth curved into a hint of a smile, but a smile was a smile and his jaw hadn’t shattered after all. “The temptations are already showing themselves to be irresistible.”

Aunt Beatrice drew in a sharp breath of disapproval.

Lord Adair apparently took that as his cue to leave. His eyes never leaving Evelyn, he extended an arm and burred, “Would you care to dance?”

“I love to dance above all else.” Evelyn linked her arm in his and sauntered off with a wink thrown over her shoulder for Lily.

“Well, I n-never,” spluttered Aunt Beatrice. “He specifically asked for an introduction to you, my dear, but clearly he was angling for Evelyn all along. No Scotsman is to be trusted these days.”

Lily said nothing.

She doubted a man like Lord Adair needed to resort to trickery when it came to claiming a lady’s attention. With his unfashionable hair, intense brown gaze and smoky burr, Lord Adair was dark, dangerous and pulse-racingly different.