I am excited to release my 12th novel “The Alchemy of Night.”
It will be released on Amazon at the end of October.
Please enjoy the first chapter here.
He watched her move to embrace another guest who had entered the room, and he admired the curve of her waist, her elegant neck and the beauty of her face. Her chestnut hair was pulled back and secured at the nape of her neck, which only accentuated it. She stepped back to allow the guests into the large drawing room while the maid took away their heavy cloaks.
She came to him then, and he smiled at her.
“Your party is a success, I believe,” he told her.
“Do you think so, Nigel? I’m so pleased,” Emme responded, turning to look at the small gathering of people as he studied her. The cobalt-blue gown looked especially fetching on her with its off-the-shoulder sleeves and her long white gloves. When she turned back to him, he found himself drowning in her blue eyes.
“What is it?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” he said, unsure of her question.
“You’re staring at me.”
“Of course I’m staring,” he said easily.” You are the most beautiful woman in the room. Probably in all of London.”
She blushed lightly. “Idiot.”
He watched her again when she turned to someone at her elbow who demanded her attention as hostess. She was only twenty-five years old, but she handled the room like a matron double her years. Her father was a successful solicitor with many high-profile cases over several decades. Her mother was dead, and she had been raised by her father and his sister. She had not yet married, which Nigel found interesting.
He had made her acquaintance when he had taken a law class at Cambridge and her father had been a lecturer. That had been over ten years ago, when Emmeline had been only fifteen. He had found her delightful then, and as she aged into womanhood, he realized he cared for her and wanted her for his own. He had been unable to broach the subject and found himself in a quandary. He didn’t want to ruin their friendship, but he didn’t want to remain as they were.
He sipped the champagne and continued to watch her as she moved about the room, filled mostly with her father’s business associates and not people normally known to Nigel.
“Nigel, my boy. How are you this evening?”
“Good evening, Cyprian. I’m well. Lovely party.” Nigel shook the older man’s hand.
Cyprian smiled. “They usually are. Of course, I leave all the organization to the women. Between my daughter and sister, they manage well enough. I’d only be in the way.”
They both turned to look at Emmeline, who was busy speaking to an older couple.
“You are a fortunate man,” Nigel said, “to have such an accomplished daughter.”
“I am indeed,” Cyprian acknowledged. “However, I don’t mind telling you that I would like to see her married and settled before I get much older. “
Nigel cleared his throat. “Would you?”
Cyprian patted him on the back. “Indeed, I would.”
The older man moved away, and Nigel took another glass of champagne. He would approach Emme tonight and declare his feelings. She would have him. He knew that he was aiming lower than he should, but he was a second son. He would never inherit the title, so there was no need to worry about that headache. And Emmeline was lovely and they would have attractive children.
He watched her move out of the room, and he followed her discreetly. She spoke briefly to the maid, and he heard the word champagne. She picked up a lantern, and he realized she must be heading to the cellar for more champagne.
“Emme!” he called to her softly.
She turned. “Yes, Nigel?”
“Might I be of some help? I heard you speaking to the maid.”
“Yes. We are running low on champagne and the footman is busy, and the butler is getting too old for such work.”
He took the lantern from her. “Allow me.”
Together they took the stairs down into the small cellar. He put the lantern aside as Emme looked for the champagne among the racks.
She bent over and retrieved a bottle of champagne, placing it aside to take upstairs.
“Yes?” she asked over her shoulder.
“I wanted to speak with you. Since we’re alone now.”
“Of course. Let me get this bottle.” She pulled the bottle out of its resting place and set it beside the first one.
“I-I’m very fond of you, Emme. I hope you know that.”
Emmeline smiled at his words. “I’m fond of you, Nigel.”
“I’ve watched you grow and mature. Into a w-woman,” he said awkwardly.
“Yes?” she asked, puzzled.
He pulled her into his arms then. “Emme, I care for you deeply.”
“Nigel.” She seemed to be caught off guard, and even as her hand moved to his chest, he kissed her, their lips touching only briefly.
Nigel realized at once how awkward the situation had become. He had not intended to kiss her. He didn’t want to move forward with this serious conversation in a moment that had become so clumsy.
He suddenly wanted to be away from the cellar and from Emme. He needed to regroup. “I only wanted to tell you how much I care for you. I always have. Should we return to the party?”
She seemed to take in the contrition on his face and nodded. “Yes. Can you take these bottles up? I need to fetch two more.”
He took the bottles and disappeared, leaving Emmeline in the semidarkness.
She turned back to the wine rack. Pulling another bottle out, she brushed the label free of dust and studied it thoughtfully.
“That didn’t seem like much of a kiss,” a voice said lowly.
Emmeline whirled around in fright, dropping the bottle. The figure moved forward quickly, catching it before it shattered on the floor.
“Everett,” she said softly. “You were spying?”
He shook his head. “Not at all. I asked the maid where our lovely hostess was, and she directed me here.” He placed the bottle on the table and leaned against the door frame.
“Imagine my surprise to find you in my brother’s arms.”
Emmeline studied Everett carefully. Whereas Nigel favored their mother with curling blond hair and pale blue eyes, Everett’s black hair and dark blue eyes favored their father. “I wasn’t in his arms.”
“And he kissed you.”
“He’s had too much to drink, that’s all.” Emmeline pulled the second bottle from the rack.
“He’s in love with you, Emme.”
“That’s not true. He’s fond of me. He said as much.”
“I think that’s as passionate an admission to being in love my brother will ever make.”
She shook her head. “You’re mistaken.”
“If you were in my arms, you would not blame it on drink,” he said huskily.
“What would I blame it on?”
“Should I show you?”
Emmeline smiled. “No. I’m not going to taunt you. You’re too dangerous.”
“Dangerous? How so?”
“I’ve heard about your escapades, Everett.”
“Escapades? You shouldn’t believe everything you read in those scandal sheets.”
“I don’t usually. But I do believe what they write about you.”
Everett smiled. In the dark it seemed sinister and not at all revealing. “Now why is that?”
“Because I know you. I’ve known you for ten years,” Emmeline replied. “I believe there was a maid, the music hall girl, the governess—not yours of course—the married countess . . .” She ticked them off on her fingers and then stopped.
“Quite illuminating and flattering that you remember so much,” he said, looking at her closely. “But you don’t know me, Emme.”
“Suffice it to say you’ve been with too many women to count.”
Everett said nothing, but his eyes scanned her from head to toe. “Come now. I’m simply a man with a normal appetite for female companionship. As you said, we’ve known each other ten years, and there has never been anything between us.”
“Because I don’t feel that way toward you.”
“Oh, I see. The cold maid.”
“Not at all. I could be warmed by the right man.”
Everett smiled as he walked toward her. “Is the right man Nigel?”
“We’re friends. That’s all.”
He came to stand beside her and plucked a curl from her shoulder, rubbing it between his fingers.
“Don’t.” She took a step away from him. “It’s the one thing I truly dislike about you.”
Everett frowned. “What is that?”
“Your need to compete against Nigel. Don’t. You already have everything. You’ll inherit the title and the money; your father respects you. Your sister adores you.”
“I like you sometimes,” Emmeline admitted.
“I’ve just said. I like him as well.”
“Well enough to marry him?” Everett asked, suddenly serious.
“Marriage? That’s never been discussed.”
“Because he doesn’t know how to approach you.”
“Just because you’ve had every woman in London, don’t put your brother down for being more circumspect.” She bristled.
“Not every woman, Emme,” he teased her.
“No. Not every woman,” she corrected.
“He would ask you. If the nerve ever overtook him.”
“Well then, I would give him the respect of an answer.”
“Which would be?” he pressed.
“Not your concern.”
She cocked an eyebrow. “Yes?”
“You are wrong about one thing.”
“It’s not a competition. We simply both admire you. There’s nothing wrong in that.”
Taking the bottles and lantern, Emmeline made her way upstairs. She had always liked the Carey brothers since she had first met Nigel and then, through him, his older brother, Everett. Nigel was softer and kinder around the edges. A true gentleman with the sweet face of an angel. But If Nigel was an angel, then Everett was a demon. Dark and mysterious, she had always been a little afraid of him.
What she had said was true. As the heir to the title, he was often written about, and his female companions were well known. He had not yet married, but it was only a matter of time. Not only was he extremely good looking and sure of himself, he knew how to command attention. She had watched him many times enter a room and be immediately the center of attention and completely at ease. The women watched him covetously while the men smiled and coolly acknowledged him. She had always felt awkward around him.
Nigel was the exact opposite. In Nigel’s presence, she felt more at ease.
When she rejoined the parlor, Nigel immediately came to stand by her side.
“There you are. I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I was speaking with your brother.”
“Yes, I saw him. I didn’t invite him. Did you?” he asked suddenly.
“No, I didn’t. Perhaps my father did, or he invited himself.”
Nigel smiled at that. “That sounds like Everett. He probably invited himself.”
Just then, her aunt came to stand beside her.
“Emmeline, that color is most becoming. Don’t you agree, Nigel?” Verbena asked.
“I do agree. But then Emmeline looks good in most things,” Nigel said shyly.
“Thank you.” Emmeline smiled at him.
“I think the party has been a success,” Verbena said as Nigel excused himself.
“Aunt Vee, why do you have to embarrass Nigel like that? He’s shy.”
“He takes his time,” she admonished. “If he wants to make you an offer, he should do so. Neither of you are getting any younger.”
“Why does everyone seem to think a marriage offer is imminent?”
“Who else said so?”
Verbena said nothing to that. “Nigel is not the demonstrative type. You’ll have to force his hand, my dear, if you want a match with him.”
“I don’t wish to force any man’s hand, especially where marriage is concerned.”
Verbena’s gaze was diverted, and she groaned under her breath. “Well then, you are unlike your friend in that regard,” she muttered.
When Emmeline looked to the door of the parlor, Maude Thomas was framed in it. She was the daughter of a colleague of Cyprian. She was a year younger than Emmeline but scheming and devious, intent on making a good marriage to secure money and prestige.
“Emme,” she greeted her hostess, kissing both her cheeks.
“Maude. That dress is stunning,” Emmeline said, appreciating the contrast of the emerald-green gown with her dark red hair and brown eyes.
Maude glanced down at her gown and then into the clusters of people.
“Nigel, darling!” she called out.
Nigel joined them, and Maude kissed his cheeks in greeting.
“Hello, Maude. It’s been several weeks since I last saw you.” Nigel came to stand close to Emmeline as Verbena moved away from the group.
“Yes. I believe it was at the Browns’ party.”
When Maude moved on to mingle, Nigel murmured to Emmeline, “She’s too much for me, I’ll admit it.”
“Who, Maude? She’s harmless. She just wants to marry well. I would say most women are like her.”
“That’s true enough, but she goes about it too brazenly. I prefer a softer woman. A woman like you.”
“Like me?” She smiled up at him.
“Yes. You’ve thought of marriage, surely.”
“Of course. Most women do.”
“How do you picture your future husband?” he asked softly.
“I don’t really have a picture. I want a good man. A kind man. A man I can respect.”
“I’m all those things, Emme,” he said, smiling.
She smiled too. “So you are.”
She looked across the room and saw Maude in conversation with Everett. She knew they would be a dark match, but one that Maude would like as marriage to Everett would eventually make her a countess. Everett would be able to handle himself with a woman like Maude, unlike some men, who would not be able to contain her.
Maude smiled up at Everett, but he looked across the room at Emmeline with an unreadable expression on his face.
“Perhaps we could talk further about it—in the library,” Nigel suggested.
Emmeline turned her gaze back to the man beside her. “What, Nigel? I’m sorry.”
“Could we speak privately in the library?”
“Of course. We won’t be missed for a few minutes.”
She led the way, and once in the library he took her hand in his. “I was clumsy earlier in the cellar. You’ll forgive me,” he began.
“There’s nothing to forgive, Nigel,” she soothed him.
“I said I’ve watched you grow into womanhood, and that’s true. I’ve long admired your beauty and intelligence. I think we would make an excellent couple.”
“What are you saying?”
“I am asking you to marry me, dearest Emme.”
Emmeline licked her lips and looked away. She was fond of Nigel and liked him well enough. But there was no passion—and no love—as she reasoned there should be between a husband and wife.
“You don’t mention love, Nigel,” she said softly.
“Love?” he asked, confused.
“I’ve never been a passionate man, Emme. I think, with time, a true affection would emerge between us. There will be children to rear, and that will be a great joy.”
“I agree, children are a great joy.” They were both silent for a moment before she spoke again. “I would like some time to think about your offer. I don’t want to rush into anything.”
“Of course, my dear. Take all the time you need. I will not rush you. We can have a six-month engagement if you wish. Even longer.”
Emmeline nodded. “You’re very kind, Nigel. I’m going to take some air.”
“Would you like me to come with you?”
“No, thank you. I’d like to be alone. I’ll return shortly.”
They parted in the hallway, and Emmeline exited the house, taking the path to the garden. It was small for their London town house but adequate. In the winter, it looked skeletal and dead, but in the spring it came alive with roses and lavender.
She sat upon the bench and rubbed her hands together. Marriage. It was such a huge step, and one that overwhelmed her. She was certain she wanted companionship, but she had always viewed Nigel as a dear friend and nothing more. It seemed everyone around her had already glimpsed what she had not: Nigel wanted her as his wife.
As the wife of an earl’s second son, she would be comfortable and would not want for anything. Most likely they would live in London, and any children they had would be educated as their father had been. But he had admitted that he did not love her, and that concerned her.
Everett appeared. “You’re alone.”
“As you see.”
“You should go in. It’s cold.”
Emmeline looked down at her hands. “Your brother has asked me to marry him.”
“He finally got the courage.” He took several steps to stand near her.
“So it seems.”
“And your answer?”
Emmeline looked up into his handsome face and then away. “I care for him. But not like that.”
“Not as a wife loves a husband.”
“Then you have your answer.”
“Maybe I want too much,” she wondered aloud, her breath misting in the cold.
“Maybe Nigel doesn’t want enough. Love is not something to fling about idly.”
Emmeline rolled her eyes. “What do you know about love?”
Everett gave her a lopsided grin. “What don’t I know?”
Emmeline shook her head. “I’m not talking of the bedroom. I’ve no doubt you’re well versed there. I’m speaking of love.”
“I’m well versed? Hmmm. What do those scandal sheets print about me? I must read them one day.”
Emmeline ignored him. “And you’re right. Love isn’t something to be bandied about. Love is precious and pure.”
“Precious and pure,” he repeated and then said coldly, “I think if you married my brother, it would be the biggest mistake of your life.”
Emmeline stood up to face him. “Why are you so venomous? How can you be so cruel to your own brother? What has he done to you?”
“By telling you the truth, that makes me a monster?”
“You’re jealous. That’s the truth. You’re jealous. Because Nigel cares for me and I for him. And you don’t understand something unless it’s base and sordid.”
“Base and sordid? Is that what I am to you, Emme?”
She flinched and didn’t answer his question.
“Or maybe I just feel things more deeply, and you don’t understand that. That frightens you,” he returned.
“Nothing you could say or do would frighten me, Everett.”
“Nothing?” He stood right before her.
“Nothing,’” she assured him.
He pulled her into his arms, and she shivered, whether against the cold or his touch, she did not know.
“Don’t,” she said weakly.
“I thought nothing could frighten you.”
“I’m not frightened of you. It’s cold,” she whispered.
“You should be frightened, little ice queen,” he whispered back.
They stood staring at each other, her upper arms held in his grip until a voice called out to her.
“Emmeline? Are you out here?”
She stepped away from Everett just as Nigel came into view. He smiled at her and then caught sight of his brother. “Everett. I didn’t know you were here.”
“I just came out here and stumbled upon Emme.”
“You should come inside, Emme. It’s too cold out here.” Nigel gave her his arm, and she took it.
“Everett, you coming?” Nigel asked.
“I think I’ll stay out here a moment longer.”
Emmeline moved with Nigel out of the garden but cast a glance back at Everett. His eyes remained fixed on her. Even when they were back inside the warm parlor, she could still feel his dark eyes on her.