Your humble correspondent, journalist for The Teatime Tattler, begs leave to draw notice to Mr. Algernon Cuffy, sometime resident of St. James’s Square, as he describes an alarming encounter with a strange apparition on the night of London’s latest fog.
“I’m a thief. Write that down, plain and simple. Poverty might have driven some other poor blighters to a life on the hop but I have, you might say, a natural bent.”
Though a bit of a Renaissance man in all the arts of financial misappropriation, Mr. Cuffy likes housebreaking the most.
“Pickpocketing is for children and women—pathetic types who can look sorrowful like Mother Mary or an orphaned lamb. But I got this here,” he said, tracing a finger down a four inch scar running to his left ear, part of which was missing. “Don’t look harmless enough for work at close quarters, now, do I? Anyone with any brains would know to steer clear of me.”
Your humble correspondent backed away as he continued.
“An’ then there’s highway robbery. You’ve got travel and horse fairs and boxing mills and lonely moors—all well and good,” he said, detailing his interests. “But you’d be surprised how few coves are worth getting hung for.”
Your humble correspondent could not but agree.
“The night in question—” your correspondent began, hopeful that Mr. Cuffy would return to ghosts and spirits.
“There’s an art to housebreaking,” Mr. Cuffy continued, warming to his subject. “Liking the name of a street, following a likely looking coach home to its roost… Best to stay clear of the poshest squares. That night, conditions were perfect,” he said, tugging his cap on.
Your humble correspondent dared a question and he obliged with an answer.
“Dark. Dark as coal. An’ fog like soup. I was on the damp roof tiles of Lord Fox’s establishment—”
Readers will imagine an elegant white house in the Georgian style.
“—full to the gills with lacquered snuff boxes and jeweled tie pins, and like most bachelor’s quarters, lax about the housekeeping. I was preparing to ease myself into the empty bedroom of the recently dismissed second footman. That’s when I saw her.”
“What?” your correspondent exclaimed.
“Pretty young thing. Loose hair, white dress. I dashed near dropped forty feet to the pavement when she rose up out of mist. I could see clear as day that she wasn’t a ghost.”
“She must have been a ghost,” I insisted. “People do not fly.”
“She wasn’t flying,” Mr. Cuffy said, his look quite insulting to the junior correspondent of London’s seventh most popular daily newspaper. “Just sort of floated for a while. Took a good look towards Westminster on the river and another over towards St. Paul’s.”
“And then?” I asked, scribbling hastily.
“Then there was a shout from below and she disappeared into the fog again.”
“Where you drunk?” I asked.
Mr. Cuffy gave no proper answer but resorted to his fists. Thus concluded our interview.
About the Book: Her Caprice
A MOST PRIVATE BATTLE
Since Beatrice Thornton was 13 years old she’s been living with a secret that could ruin her family forever. Her parents are the only ones who know, and now, seven years later, they are forced to put on a sham for Beatrice’s late first Season. The plan, make Beatrice as mousy and ill-clothed as possible so no suitor would consider her. Then they can all escape back to their country home in Dorset to keep the terrible secret safe. But the unthinkable happens… Beatrice meets a man who gives her hope of a normal life, and Beatrice dares to love with horrible consequences.
Captain Henry Gracechurch has resigned his commission after living through the horrors and waste of war. Recently returned from Spain, he is cajoled by his formidable godmother to make an appearance at one of her famous balls. When he sees a young woman abandoned on the dance floor, honour commands him to save the day. Nothing could have prepared him for meeting the person who is a balm to his soul and gives wings to his heart. But winning Beatrice Thornton will take every ounce of courage he has, and this is a war he will win, no matter the cost.
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130437723?ean=2940155962496
Her Caprice, Excerpt:
Beatrice was left alone to take in the whole scene. It was familiar to her, in a way. She had seen illustrations of balloons before, studied them closely from books and newspapers. The flying machine could do what she did, and yet there were reasons for it, purposes, a whole science, explanations of the mechanics.
“It’s magical,” a deep voice intoned at her side. She looked up to find Henry standing next to her as if he had always been there. Beatrice felt the solid ground she stood on almost melt away.
Quarry stone, the involuntary thought flitted through her mind, and she blinked, feeling herself grow heavy and pressed more firmly into the grass. That was strange. It was not as though she had been about to float away at the mere sight of him in the middle of a bustling London crowd. What a silly thing to think. She shook her head and met his eyes.
There was the usual delight she felt each time she saw him that sent her insides spinning, but it was tempered by the knowledge that he had not called. It was the merest chance that brought him here.
“It’s not magic,” she retorted, swallowing deeply. Six days since she’d last seen him. He had no right to look like he hadn’t been wasting away. Drat. “It’s hydrogen. The gas is produced when sulphuric acid is poured over scrap iron. How did you happen across me in this crowd?” she asked, thankful for the cool morning air, which would be a plausible reason for her pink cheeks.
“Magic,” he asserted, offering her an arm, which she took. He did not lead her anywhere but stood, gazing up at the activity on the rise. “Have you been busy these past days?”
Busy? She felt the shame of returning home each afternoon, her eyes hungry for some sign that he had come. “This and that,” she answered, hoping with all her heart that her tone conveyed a calendar too full for waiting and longing.
He looked down at her. “You’ve not been at home,” he stated.
It wasn’t a question. The damp ground at the bottom of the hill began to seep through her slippers, but she would not move for anything. “No. My mother had a sudden enthusiasm to see everything in Town. I am not sure the carriage horses can take much more. You?”
“I passed your door, hoping that—”
“You called?” The surprise of it made her yelp.
“I said I would.”
Beatrice looked up at him. “You left no sign,” she stated while feeling great relief. Forgetting to leave a card—it was endearing, though it had cost her the enjoyment of racing through the maze at Hampton Court, of savouring the ice at Gunter’s.
His head cocked to the side and his brows came down. “But I—” And then his lips shut into a firm line.
Beatrice waited for him to finish and then, finally, when it was clear he would say no more, the wheels in her mind began to turn. She looked up the hill again to where the balloonist had given Penny a small parcel, some silk fabric full of hydrogen. Her sister let it go and, as it drifted up and up, it moved in easy state, tossed lightly by sudden currents of wind. The crowd let out a great cheer, and in that clamour, Beatrice whispered, “You did leave a card, didn’t you?”
Penny waved to her as she dashed down the hill and away toward the carriage.
Beatrice lowered her brows. She might have missed the card in her meticulous search of the entry hall, when she had turned each paper over and over, upending the tray and running her fingers along the back of the table, and then closely questioned the townhouse staff. It would not be so amazing if she lost— “Just the one?”
“One each time I visited.”
“Each? What do you mean? How many times was it?” she asked, her words tripping over themselves.
His look was keen. “Seven,” he answered and then his mouth lifted. “I’m almost out of cards.”
She answered quickly. “But it’s been six days.”
“Exactly six? Has it?” he asked, his eyes narrowing like a cat on the trail of a limping mouse. “How clever you are to know the precise number. I came twice on Wednesday.”
Beatrice put a hand to her pelisse, fastening and unfastening the button. Seven cards. Seven messages scrawled on the back. Seven times he had come. Seven times. She couldn’t let the number go. A girl might have her head turned by a thing like that.
Henry didn’t say another word, and merely waited for her to work it out—though the way his eyes studied her face wasn’t helping her concentration at all. It set her blood to warming and her mind to wondering if the world really would come crashing to an end if she leaned up on her tiptoes and kissed him on those firm lips.
About the Author
Keira Dominguez graduated from BYU with a B.A. in Humanities and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. When she is not busy avoiding volunteerism at her kids’ schools like it is the literal plague, she writes sweet romance novels.