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He dropped his satchel and took up the shovel, sticking it into the base of one of the dead bushes, striking at the root mass. The blade only went halfway into the soil, so he jumped with both feet on the shoulders of the blade, driving it the rest of the way down. He could feel as the blade sliced through the roots and he grunted with satisfaction. He’d spent part of the previous night sharpening the shovel to do just that. Gingerly he began prying with the handle—too hard a movement and he’d snap it, or worse, the iron blade itself. He’d already lost two shovels this spring.
“You don’t mind if I continue?” he heard Miss Stump ask. “It’s just that I need to finish writing this soon—very soon.”
He glanced up curiously at that, wondering at the worried line between her brows as she stared down at her manuscript. Makepeace had said she couldn’t get acting work at the moment. Perhaps this was her only means of making money.
He shook his head in reply.
“I’m only in the third act,” she said absently. “My heroine has gambled away all her brother’s money because, well, she’s dressed as her brother.”
She glanced up in time to catch his raised eyebrows.
“It’s a comedy called A Wastrel Reform’d.” She shrugged. “A complicated comedy because right now no one knows who anyone is. There’s twins—a brother and sister—named Wastrel, and the brother has convinced his sister—her Christian name is Cecily—to pretend to be he so that he might seduce Lady Pamela’s maid, and he’s engaged to her—Lady Pamela, not her maid.”
She took a breath and Apollo slowly smiled, because against all odds, he’d understood everything she’d just said.
Miss Stump grinned back. “It’s silly, I know, but that’s what comedy is, really—a lot of silly things happening, one after another.” She glanced down at her play, running her finger down the page. “So Cecily, dressed as Adam—that’s the brother—has lost terribly at a hand of cards to Lord Pimberly. Oh! That’s Fanny—the maid’s—father, and Lady Pamela’s scorned suitor. Although of course no one knows that Pimberly is Fanny’s father, otherwise she wouldn’t be a lady’s maid, now would she?”
Apollo leaned on his shovel and cocked an eyebrow.
“Kidnapped at birth, naturally,” she replied. “But fortunately she has quite a distinctive birthmark. Right here.” She tapped the upper slope of her right breast.
Apollo defied any man not to follow the direction of her finger. She had quite a lovely breast, gently swelling above the severe square neckline of her dress and modestly covered by a filmy fichu.
“Yes, well.” Her husky voice made him raise his gaze. Her cheeks had pinkened, but that might’ve been the wind. “In any case, I’m writing a scene between Cecily and Lord Pimberly in which Pimberly demands his money and Cecily doesn’t have it. And naturally he’s begun to realize he’s attracted to her at the same time.”
She cleared her throat.
He nodded, messing a bit with his shovel to look as if he were still working. Actually, he was beginning to fear that the blade was stuck in the roots.
Miss Stump glanced at her manuscript and slipped back into what he now knew was Cecily—the sister dressed as her brother. “Do you judge a gentleman by his bits, my lord?”
She turned and placed her fists on her hips again, in the wide-legged stance. “Pardon me, but I said chits.”
Turn. Her hands dropped. “And yet, ’tis still your manly bits we discuss.” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “No?”
He screwed his mouth to the side and reluctantly shook his head.
“Blast!” she exclaimed under her breath, bending to the paper. She scratched out something and then froze, obviously thinking.
He wasn’t even pretending to work anymore.
She gasped and then hunched over her manuscript, scribbling furiously before straightening, a gleam of triumph in her eye.
She tossed her head as Cecily. “Indeed, and would you know a chit should you see one?”
Now she was a baffled Pimberly. “Naturally.”
“Oh, my lord?” She turned her head and looked over her shoulder through lowered lashes at the imaginary Pimberly, all daring flirtation. “And how is that, may I ask?”
“How does a gentleman of your unsurpassed perception differentiate a chit from a bit?”
And she batted her eyelashes.
The juxtaposition between the ribaldry of her words and the innocence of her expression was so silly, so utterly enchanting, that Apollo couldn’t help it: he threw back his head and laughed.
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (October 14, 2014)
A MAN CONDEMNED . . .
Falsely accused of murder and mute from a near-fatal beating, Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne has escaped from Bedlam. With the Crown's soldiers at his heels, he finds refuge in the ruins of a pleasure garden, toiling as a simple gardener. But when a vivacious young woman moves in, he's quickly driven to distraction . . .
A DESPERATE WOMAN . . .
London's premier actress, Lily Stump, is down on her luck when she's forced to move into a scorched theatre with her maid and small son. But she and her tiny family aren't the only inhabitants—a silent, hulking beast of a man also calls the charred ruins home. Yet when she catches him reading her plays, Lily realizes there's more to this man than meets the eye.
OUT OF ASH, DESIRE FLARES
Though scorching passion draws them together, Apollo knows that Lily is keeping secrets. When his past catches up with him, he's forced to make a choice: his love for Lily . . . or the explosive truth that will set him free.
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