Rumor has it that the coming season of the Drury Lane Theatre is wracked with drama. Not – as you would hope – with Shakespearean dramas, but rather with drama behind the stage. In fact, there have been so many scandals that one must wonder whether anyone respectable will attend the next production.

First, the company ran out of money for repairs. If whispers are to be believed, a woman of ill repute approached an esteemed personage for an investment. Even more shocking, the aforementioned personage – known to our ears as a duke of extreme eccentricities – put his own money into the theater. One can only guess how the woman persuaded him.

Then, there were whispers that a lady of good family wrote the script. While this type of story may be charming in the privacy of a drawing room, it beggars belief that the theater company expects polite society to brings its ladies and daughters to see a play with such shocking origins.

And now, dear Tattlers, we have heard a whisper that the construction of the sets and the very structure of the theater has been entrusted to a woman carpenter. For the last few decades, the theater (when not burned to the ground) has always been run by the Billings and Sons Carpentry. With the demise of Billings earlier this year, his daughter Miss Billings has taken over the business.

Our source, who is highly placed in the Carpentry Guild, indicates this is highly irregular and leaves the theater at risk of physical calamities. A poor carpentry job could lead to broken sets, trapdoors gone awry, and even the collapse of the audience’s box sets.

To make it worse, Lord Preston and his strange band of ruffians at Northfield Hall have seized this opportunity to sink their teeth into London. Rumor has it that Miss Billings has hired a Northfield Hall carpenter as her supervisor. One can only imagine he will be redesigning the theater so that the common man is in the boxes and good society must stand in the pit!

I am sure you will agree with me, Tattlers, that this season at Drury Lane sounds abysmal. I, for one, will be at the front row to see what happens next.

About The Hellion of Drury Lane: For Samantha Billings, nothing can go right. Ever since she inherited her father’s business as head carpenter for Drury Lane Theatre, she has been fighting off problems from creditors to unending rain. When an inspector of the carpentry guild announces he will stop her work unless she hires a master carpenter, Samantha fears she may lose everything – but she resolves to overcome, one way or another.

For Oliver Chow, nothing can go wrong. In London for the first time ever, he is celebrating his new status as a master carpenter and looking for the adventure of a lifetime. When he happens upon a woman carpentress in distress, he is happy to help – even if it is in name alone.

Thrown together to thwart the guild’s inspector, Samantha and Oliver discover that sometimes, a little drama behind the scenes can have a surprisingly happy outcome.

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Excerpt:  Samantha walked straight into the trap: Benedict Haypenny of the City Carpentry Guild.

“Ah, Miss Billings. I thought I might find you here.”

An unpleasant shiver ran down her back at the mere sight of him. Even over the age of forty, he was a stick of a man, with cheekbones and elbows and knees that jutted out at all angles. Worse, he looked at everything—and everyone, including Samantha and each of her sisters—with greedy, beady eyes.

“Funny, I didn’t think you liked to see where the work actually happens.” Samantha never had been good at keeping her true feelings out of her words, so she didn’t see much point in trying. Even though it led to moments like this, with Haypenny going red in the neck and ears.

Dad had never liked the man, and neither did she. Haypenny came from a long line of carpenters. His great-grandfather supposedly had been the best carpenter in London, and Samantha was fine believing that might be true. The generations that followed, however, rested on that ancestor’s heritage, until by now, Benedict Haypenny earned money from sending apprentices to do his contracted work while he spent the earnings on clothes and carriages and other fixings, as if he thought he could fashion himself into some kind of gentleman.

Samantha preferred a carpenter who knew what he was and loved himself for it.

“You do like to jest.” Haypenny wagged a finger in the air at her. “Your father did too, the way old friends do.”

“My father had many friends.” Samantha had to lock her tongue between the sharp spikes of her teeth to keep from adding You were not one of them. “What business do you have here, Mr. Haypenny? Or are you just stopping in to admire the best carpentry in all of London?”

“I am sure you can guess, Miss Billings. I am here in my office as Chief Inspector for the City Guild to approve this contract. Who is the master carpenter of the project here at Drury Lane?”

The answer had always been Dad. Until last spring, when he had dropped dead of a heart attack. Benedict Haypenny knew that as well as anyone. “I am.”

Haypenny narrowed his eyes. The gesture felt as rehearsed as the diva Mrs. Beckwith exclaiming surprise at an Act II reveal. “And yet, Miss Billings, you are not a master carpenter.”

It was no wonder Samantha bristled at the mere sight of Haypenny. Who had the time for a stickler such as he? He only applied the rules when he saw fit, and that always seemed to be when it would inconvenience everyone else the most.

“My father was a master carpenter. He passed the business on to me same as he would to a son.” In a bid for diplomacy, Samantha added, “Had I been blessed with a brother.”

“Either way, you or a brother would need to be a master carpenter with the guild to accept contracts such as this one from the Drury Lane Theatre.” Haypenny looked about the group now. Behind him was the cart with the last of the lumber, wheeled by the Pelham brothers from the timber yard. Harry Isaacs and Jack Gorseman had come out from the theater to see what the fuss was about; Samantha could feel them gathering behind her as if preparing to roll up their sleeves for a round of fisticuffs. A few of the actors joined the group, too, attracted to the simmering conflict.

They had a crowd, in other words, and Haypenny was all too happy to play to it. He raised his voice to ask, “Is anyone here a master carpenter?”

The answer was no. Because no one in London cared about having a proper master carpenter except for the City Guild, not when Samantha had earned her reputation alongside Dad as the best craftsman for theater set construction. She hadn’t the money to purchase the status from the guild, and even if she did, she wasn’t sure she wanted to give it to the likes of Haypenny.

“I am in all but name,” Samantha replied, with as much sweetness to her tone as she could manage.

“Unfortunately, it is the name that matters most, my dear.” He had the gall to wink, as if this were a flirtatious repartee.

Years ago, when she had just come of age and started working with Dad in earnest, Haypenny had tried to kiss her. Without even so much as a by-your-leave. Dad had made it clear that day that Haypenny wasn’t welcome at the Theatre. Apparently, that task was up to Samantha now. She fisted her fingers. She didn’t care how much it hurt. Slamming her knuckles against Haypenny’s bony face would be worth it.

From behind her, Flory, the stage manager—God bless him—asked, “What’s all this then?”

“Ah, are you the overseer of this enterprise?” Haypenny swept his arms through the air to encompass the entire theater. “Regretfully, all carpentry work here must cease until a master carpenter joins the Billings company to oversee the project.”

“You want a bribe, is that it? A fat payoff so that I may continue to work?” Samantha advanced, close enough that she really could punch him.

She didn’t. Yet.

“You’re a miserable old codger, do you know that? My father taught me all he knew. I am a better carpenter than you, even if I can’t afford to buy myself a ‘master carpenter’ status. What kind of man stands between a family and their livelihood?”

“My dear woman”—this last word he emphasized, as if it negated every claim Samantha had just made—“I stand between no one and their livelihood. I’m sure I can find some other way to ensure my late friend’s family is taken care of.”

Flory nudged between Samantha and Haypenny. “So you are saying we must find a master carpenter, else you won’t allow any carpentry to be completed at the theater?”

“Where are we to find a master carpenter?” Samantha growled. She knew a dozen or more, of course. But they all had their own businesses. Their own projects. And their own petty reasons not to help her.

It was in that moment that a stranger stepped forward from behind the lumber cart. “I happen to be a master carpenter. Perhaps I can be of assistance.”

About the Author:  Katherine Grant writes award-winning Regency Romance novels for the modern reader. Her writing has been recognized by Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards, the Romance Slam Jam Emma Awards, the Shelf Unbound Indie Book Awards, and more. If you love ballgowns, secret kisses, and social commentary, a book hangover is coming your way.