An Excerpt from Emily and the Dark Angel

First published in hardcover in 1991, reissued in October 2010

RITA winner.

"...this marvelous love story has all the makings of a long-standing classic." Romantic Times.

(Emily Grantwich has been forced to run her father's property, and in in Melton Mowbray on business when she encounters a rake, a strumpet, and a little tart.)
   The heels of her mother's old-fashioned half-boots clipped smartly on the cobbles with each step. At only five foot two, Emily felt she needed every advantage when she went to the cattle market but the heels on the boots made her footing precarious on the wet cobbles and she kept half-an-eye on the road before her.
   There were people about, but only servants running errands or making deliveries, and country people going to and from market loaded with purchases. As she turned into the more fashionable streets even these became fewer. As she had predicted, what society people were in town were fast in their beds.
   She was pondering whether to buy some of the first crop of Seville oranges, which were expensive as yet but which would make wonderful marmalade, when a shriek made her look up. In one of the new narrow houses, a window had been pushed open and it was from there the shriek had come. A tall man came out of the house and stood looking up. Before Emily could prevent it he took a few steps backwards and collided with her.
   Her reticule and book went flying and Emily herself was knocked off balance. With the agility of a cat the man twisted and grasped her in strong hands as she teetered. There was an ominous crack from the heel of her boot.
   Stunned, Emily looked up at the most handsome face she had ever seen. Lean. Unfashionably brown. Royal blue eyes shining with hilarity. Crisp glossy dark curls under a fashionably tilted beaver.
   "I'm terribly sorry," he said, obviously struggling with outright laughter. "I-"
   A china bowl flew past them and shattered on the cobbles. "Be damned to you, Piers Verderan!" The shriek rent the air. "Go to Hell where you belong!"
   Emily gaped up over his shoulder to see a red-faced woman leaning out of the upper window with most of her body hanging out of a loose silk wrap. Tousled Titian curls massed around what was obviously intended by God to be a pretty face.
   The man began to turn, his hands still on Emily's arms. The woman reached behind her and threw. A beribboned oval box sailed through the air to knock his hat flying. The box burst open and a pungent cloud of violet-scented powder billowed out over both of them. The woman shrieked with laughter.
   The man choked and let Emily go. He stooped, ripped up a tall weed complete with muddy roots and hurled it with deadly accuracy at his attacker. She was still laughing as it hit. She stopped and opened her mouth to start another blistering tirade but after an alarmed look at the gentleman she shut her mouth, retreated and slammed the window shut.
   Stunned, coughing and waving away the pungent powder, Emily still had to admire such ability to silence a harridan. When the man turned back to her his face was smoothly expressionless. He coughed again, brushed a volume of powder out of his dark curls, grimaced slightly, shook himself and then turned his attention to Emily.
   Her large plain straw bonnet had caught most of the deluge and he deftly removed it and beat the powder off down wind. Dazedly shaking her serviceable dark pelisse Emily felt as if she'd stepped into a violet-scented hurricane. Her bewilderment increased when an elf popped out of the half-open door of the house.
   A delicate creature, shorter even than Emily, with a mass of silver-blond curls and huge blue eyes, the elf was dressed only in a filmy knee-length smock and showed a great deal of slender, shapely leg.
   The elf and Emily stared at each other blankly and then it disappeared. Emily blinked. The tall gentleman spoke as he came to stand in front of her.
   "As I was saying," he drawled as he settled the bonnet back on her head and deftly re-tied the ribbons, "before we were so rudely interrupted. I beg your pardon." He brushed at his sleeve and then shrugged and desisted. "I think that does more harm than good." He looked down at her and a touch of sardonic amusement lightened his features. "We'll just have to bring powder back into fashion, won't we?"
   Torn between annoyance and unwilling amusement, Emily shook out her skirts and said, "Hair powder perhaps if you can afford the tax, but body powder?" After a moment she realised what she had said and went red. When she looked to see his reaction, however, he was picking up his hat and her reticule and book and paying no attention to her words at all.
   Arrogant, she thought. Abominably arrogant. A typical London Buck come to lord it in Melton and chase foxes -- a Meltonian.
   He returned her possessions to her. "Perhaps I may make amends by escorting you to your destination, ma'am."
   One embarrassment subsided only to be replaced by another. It was finally dawning on Emily just what kind of scene she had interrupted. On top of that it couldn't be clearer that he had no enthusiasm for being in her company.
   "No, thank you," she said as coldly as possible. They both reeked of violets to a cloying degree and she maliciously hoped it would embarrass him even more than it would embarrass her.
   Even her coldness left him unruffled. "As you wish," he drawled. He produced a card. "I'm Piers Verderan, as you may have heard. Staying at the Old Club. If your clothes prove to be unreclaimable, apply to me for recompense."
   "Thank you, but that is unnecessary," said Emily frostily, annoyed at being taken for an upper servant, though she deliberately dressed very plainly for these trips. She turned to make a dignified withdrawal and almost fell as the heel of her boot snapped off.
   Again he gripped her arm, though he released her as soon as she got her balance. He bent and retrieved her heel from where it was wedged between two cobble-stones. He looked down with interest at her footwear and raised one elegant dark brow.
   "Quaint," he remarked, and Emily's lips tightened. "If you care to raise your foot like a horse, ma'am, I'll see if I can fix it, but I doubt it will work."
   "I don't have far to go, sir," said Emily and held out her hand for the heel. "I will manage, I think."
   He placed the wooden heel into her hand. "My dear lady," he remarked with an edge on his voice and an air of excruciating boredom, "I don't bite, and I only abduct women if I find them wandering on deserted moors at full moon. You will be much more comfortable if I lend you my arm as you hobble to your destination."
   This was undoubtedly true and trying to teeter her way over the greasy cobblestones would be undignified at best and dangerous at worst. Still, Emily wished heartily that she did not have to accept his assistance. She looked around but the street offered no more suitable escort.
   She glanced at him. He was clearly a gentleman of the ton, though not quite a dandy. Beneath their silvery powdering his dark jacket and buckskins were of the highest quality and his top boots gleamed. He was arrogant and rude, and from the scene she had witnessed he was clearly not a gentleman of unimpeachable morals, but surely he was adequate to support her a little way down the street.
   "Thank you," she said and placed her hand upon his offered arm. They began to walk down the street. After a moment or two, Emily glanced sideways and found she was unable to see his face because of the brim of her bonnet. She could see some of his body, though. Her demure bonnet seemed designed to make her focus on his legs, a shortcoming of the headwear she had never noticed before.
   They were superb legs.
   Well, what did she expect? He was doubtless addicted to hunting and that developed the legs wonderfully.
   What on earth was she doing even thinking such a thing? Hoping her bonnet also concealed her flaming cheeks, Emily hastily fixed her gaze upon the road ahead.
   "In our circumstances," the man drawled, "are introductions not in order? I promise on my honour not to encroach. You know my name. May I not know yours?"
   "Grantwich," said Emily flatly, trying for chilly dignity, which is very hard to achieve when limping and clinging to a man's arm. "Miss Grantwich."
   "Delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Grantwich," he said with audible insincerity. "And are you a resident of Melton Mowbray?"
   "I reside nearby," Emily replied discouragingly.
   "At Grantwich Hall, perhaps?" he queried.
   Startled, Emily looked up at him -- which involved a sinuous contortion of her neck. How had she never realised before that a deep-brimmed bonnet forced a lady into coquettish movements if she wished to see the face of a tall gentleman with whom she walked?
   A slight glint in his cynical eyes showed he was familiar with the fact. "Came across the name somewhere," he said, "and it seemed likely. You must consider yourself fortunate, Miss Grantwich, to live in the heart of the Shires."
   Emily focussed again on the road. "On the contrary, sir. The recent passion for hunting is very disruptive. As I have no taste for the chase I get no benefit from the hullabaloo and a great deal of bother from the hunt charging across our land."
   "I'll go odds your father and brothers don't agree," he remarked.
   "As my father is an invalid and my brother has been missing in action for four months, I think their interest in hunting down foxes is limited." Emily was immediately ashamed of herself. His arrogance was no excuse for her to be positively catty.
   She swivelled her head up again and saw a trace of disdain which she knew she deserved. Quickly she said, "I do apologise. There's nothing civilized you can say to such an announcement, is there? I can only excuse myself as being out of sorts after..." Emily found she could not think of a way to describe the recent contretemps.
   His lips twitched with what appeared to be genuine amusement. "After being barrelled into," he offered. "Screeched at by a lady of obviously loose morals and drowned in revolting Poudre de Violettes? A powerful excuse for any incivility, I assure you."
   He stopped walking and without asking permission adjusted her bonnet so it sat further back on her head and at an angle which she feared must be jaunty. It did, however, allow her to look at him without danger of a crick in her neck.
   It was done without the slightest show of consciousness on his part that he might be being bold.
   As they resumed walking he said in a far more friendly tone, "I offer you my condolences on the misfortunes which have befallen your family, Miss Grantwich. Is there hope that your brother is perhaps a prisoner?"
   Flustered, and even alarmed, Emily grasped a serious topic with relief. "There is hope, yes. Marcus was a great admirer of Sir John Moore you see, and when he died nothing would do but for my brother to join Sir John's regiment. It has been a cause of anxiety, as he is my only brother, but he has always enjoyed a charmed life. Even as a boy he would escape injury in the most amazing situations. He once fell off the roof of Grantwich Hall and contrived to land in the shrubbery and merely suffer a broken collarbone."
   She was babbling, which was very unlike her.
   Her listener, however, looked genuinely sympathetic. "There certainly do seem to be people favoured with good fortune. I knew a man once who was the only survivor of a terrible shipwreck. There seemed no reason for it other than the favour of the Gods."
   "And yet such Gods are notoriously fickle," said Emily. "I am beginning to fear that we are irrational to cling to hope. But if Marcus is dead..." She broke off. She really shouldn't be discussing her family's business with a stranger.
   "I assume the estate is entailed," he said. Then after a pause he asked, "Felix Grantwich?"
   Emily could tell from his tone he knew her disreputable cousin. She nodded.
   "You have my commiserations once more," he said drily.
   Emily felt she should object to such rudeness but his sentiments were completely in accord with her own on this subject. "All will be well," she said, "if Marcus returns home safe. We hope that he has been taken prisoner, but even so, we hear such horrid tales of the way we treat French prisoners of war and I cannot believe our enemies are any more gentle. The death rate on the hulks from disease is terrible, I believe."
   "I fear so. But the war is surely drawing to its close, Miss Grantwich. Napoleon has never recovered from his disastrous foray into Russia and now for the first time all Europe is allied against him. Wellington has mopped up the Peninsula and is already on French soil. Soon surrender will be inevitable. Then you can expect your brother home."
   If he lives, Emily added silently. She was surprised, however, to be offered rational hope by this chance-met stranger but not too surprised to be grateful. She wondered if she could convey this feeling of optimism to her bitter father and to Marcus's affianced bride, Margaret Marshalswick.
   They had arrived at the George and she turned and offered her hand, able to say with sincerity, "Thank you, Mr. Verderan."
   There was a courteous curve to his fine lips as he touched his fingers to hers but the overall impression of his features was world-weary cynicism. She remembered that when she had first seen his face, while he was still amused by his inamorata's antics, he had seemed somehow younger. It was a shame that he now looked so jaded.
   Emily could not imagine why her whirling mind was throwing up such strange notions about a stranger.
   "Are you sure you can manage from here?" he asked as she hesitated. "I am willing to carry you over the threshold if it is necessary."
   Emily could feel herself colour. "No," she said quickly. "I mean, yes, I can manage. I..." She took a grip on herself. "Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Verderan," she said and turned to limp into the inn.
   She heard him say, "The worst of it is I gave her this dratted powder. There's a lesson to be learned in it somewhere." His tone was full of wry humour.
   Emily glanced back at him, able at last to see him clearly head to toe.
   Sleek, elegant, beautiful as a proud thoroughbred, he was also dusted silvery-mauve from his curly beaver to his gleaming black boots and stinking of the cloying perfume. Following his lead she'd walked through the streets of Melton in the same state without a thought for the spectacle they must have presented.
   Suddenly his lips curved in a devastating, conspiratorial smile and he winked.
   Emily found herself mirroring it and on the verge of a giggle. She bit her lip to suppress such wanton weakness and hurried into the inn.

Follow Emily's adventures in Emily and the Dark Angel.
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