July 24, 2012 - Excerpt Two - Day Two
We continue this week’s Special Edition Romance Previews featuring SWEET ENEMY by Heather Snow. Each day this week, Monday-Friday, you'll receive a special Romance Previews in your email. Enjoy!
Let's set the stage for today's excerpt:
Shortly after our heroine, lady chemist Liliana Claremont, was accosted in her library by a thief who had ransacked her home…
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Learn More about Sweet Enemy
Geoffrey Wentworth, a war hero and rising political star, never wanted to be the Earl, but when his brother dies, he knows his duty--take up the responsibility for his family's estates. His mother's definition of duty differs from his, however, and can be summed up in one word--heirs. When Geoffrey rushes home to answer her urgent summons, he finds himself host to a house full of women, all vying to become the next Countess of Stratford. But his love is Parliament, where he wields his influence and reputation to better the lives of ex-soldiers, until a tempting houseguest and a secret from his past threaten his freedom...and his heart.
Liliana believes the best way to get the answers she needs is to keep her enemy close, though romance is not part of her formula. But it only takes one kiss to start a reaction she can't control...
Liliana Claremont, a brilliant chemist, doesn't want to be any man's wife, much less a countess. If she had tuppence for every time she'd been told her place was filling the nursery, not experimenting in the laboratory, she could buy the Tower Bridge. However, when she receives a coveted invitation to the Earl's house party, she trades in her beakers for ball gowns and gladly takes on the guise of husband hunter--for the chance to uncover what the Earl had to do with the murder of her father.
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Three days later, the cottage was nearly back to rights. By the time Liliana had returned with help, the intruder had fled. They’d found Carsons trussed up, with a wicked knock to the head but otherwise unharmed. He’d been recovering nicely with the tincture she’d concocted in her father’s old laboratory, which was now hers.
Liliana ran a dust rag gently over a volume on eudiometry before placing it back in the shelves of the library. As most of the books had been tossed during the ransacking, she’d decided to recatalogue her collection. But the entire episode still troubled her. While she’d heard crime had surged in England since the end of the war, hearing and experiencing were two vastly different concepts. The local magistrate had concluded that her cottage must have been targeted because she’d been out of town for several weeks and credited her with chasing the villain off before he could burgle others, too.
She climbed down the rolling ladder and retrieved another volume—this one on Dalton’s atomic theory—dusted it on the way back up and slid it into the stacks. It caught on something, not quite fitting against the back of the shelf. Liliana pulled it out again, looking to see what blocked it, but saw nothing there. She shoved with more force and heard a click.
Odd. When she tugged the book out once more, she saw a crack in the wall behind the shelf. No, not a crack, but an intentional division—a door. She must have tripped some sort of lock. Her natural curiosity bubbling, Liliana shoved the books aside until she was able to open the door fully. The space couldn’t be wider than two hands square. And there was something in it.
She reached inside and pulled out a wrapped bundle, testing its weight. What could it be? It was light, no heavier certainly than one of her thinner books. Papers, maybe?
She scrambled down the ladder, excitement pushing aside her earlier concerns. Given that Claremont Cottage had been in her family for eight generations, there was no telling what the find might be. But oh, if it were something of Papa’s . . . Just the thought that it could be sped her feet. She had precious little of him. Only his scientific papers and a few scraps of silly coded messages he’d given her to solve as a game they’d played in the last few months of his life. He’d been taken so young, so unexpectedly—the victim of a vicious attack by footpads. Long before a man in his prime might have thought to preserve his legacy.
She cleared the desk and seated herself, laying the bundle out before her. The plain linen had yellowed slightly with age, but it didn’t appear too old—no more than a generation. Her father certainly could have been the one to secret the bundle. It took great restraint to unwrap the cloth gently as anticipation buzzed through her. When the material fell away, two packets of letters appeared, tied neatly with red ribbons. Love letters, perhaps? Maybe even between her parents. Wouldn’t that be excellent? She’d cherish a glimpse of her mother, whom she couldn’t remember at all.
Liliana picked up one of the packets and untied the ribbon. Silk shushed against silk as the knot gave way. Eager, she plucked the first letter from the stack and began to read:
26 May, 1803. Spring is glorious this year. None of winter’s gloom dare cling to the air. We were fortunate to sell many sheep at the Shropshire festival, more so than in years past.
Drat. Her breath whooshed from her nose as she slumped back into the chair. Not love letters at all, at least not between her parents. Her mother had been dead seven years by then, having died when Liliana was just three.
She skipped to the last page of the letter and found it unsigned. She scanned the others. They were all in the same handwriting, dated between May and December 1803, but with nothing to indicate the author. They weren’t even interesting. Full of words but with no real content—just babble about the weather and farm husbandry and such. How disappointing.
She picked up the other packet and tugged the ribbon free. Masculine French scrawl covered the pages. Liliana read, her brow knotting in confusion. These letters had about as much substance as their English counterparts and were also unsigned. Who would have kept such drivel?
She checked the linen and found one loose paper still within its folds. She lifted the vellum. This letter was marked by a broken red wax seal. She flicked open the page, expecting something thrilling—like a treatise on horse manure as fertilizer.
19 Dec, 1803. We have been compromised. Meet me two days hence. Same time and location.
Liliana sucked in a breath, choking on her harsh inhalation. December 19th? Two days before her father had been killed?
Meet me two days hence.
Her father had met someone on the night that he’d been attacked?
Memories of that night flooded Liliana’s mind.
Papa was going to love his Christmas present this year. Maybe even so much that he wouldn’t take her to task for playing in his laboratory while he was out. Really, she didn’t see why she shouldn’t be allowed in the lab without him. She was ten now—not a baby.
Liliana pinched the dropper, squeezing fat drips of cobalt chloride into the chemicals she’d already mixed. Her own invisible inks. She didn’t know what had Papa so distracted lately. It certainly wasn’t any experiment he was working on. He hadn’t been focused in weeks. But he still took time to play with her, and for months now, his favorite game had been to leave her coded messages to solve. So she’d decided to create different inks to take their game to a new height. With these mixtures, she could leave him invisible messages and he would have to figure out what chemical revealed them. She couldn’t wait to try it.
Footsteps scrabbled across the floor above her. Liliana looked up. A loud voice shouted something, but she couldn’t understand the words, muffled as they were by the layers of carpet and wood and stone that separated her from the upstairs parlor. She hastily stored the precious chemicals and then went straight up.
When she came around the corner, her heart squeezed into her throat. Papa had returned? She was caught for sure. But . . . he was on the floor. Carsons was bent over him, calling for a doctor. “Why does Papa need a doctor?” she asked, but no one paid her any mind. She rushed to his side, but when she saw him, she shrieked, recoiling. “Papa?” she asked in a trembling voice, dropping to her knees beside her father. His skin was purple in places, swollen, mottled with bruises, and blood trickled from his nose, his mouth, even an ear.
“—street thugs, sir?” Carsons was asking.
Papa’s head jerked in a diagonal motion. “Be.” He gasped for breath, a rattling sound that sent chills down her spine. “Trade,” he mumbled.
“Papa?” she cried, not knowing what else to say, what to do, how to help.
His hand snaked out, grabbing her wrist. He squeezed hard and she moaned, a hot tear slipping down her cheek. The one eye he was still able to open bored into her. “Find them. At summer.”
Summer? Terrified and confused, all she could say was, “W-what?
“At . . . summer.” His grip slackened, and he slipped into a coma from which he never woke.
“Be. Trade,” she murmured. It had sounded so nonsensical at the time. But . . . she looked down at the letter she still held in her hand. We have been compromised. Meet me two days hence. Liliana tested the words on her tongue again. “Be-trayed.” Tears sprang to her eyes. Her father’s death hadn’t been a random tragedy. He’d been lured to it. By this note.
She stared at the offensive paper, grabbing the English packet of letters. The handwriting was the same. While they weren’t signed, this last had been closed with a seal. A noble seal.
She rushed to her shelves, searching . . . searching. There! She found a dusty old copy of Debrett’s. Its spine likely hadn’t been cracked in fifteen years or more, but is should still contain what she needed. She laid the heavy volume on the desktop and flipped it open, scanning the histories of the noble families of England, looking for the seal that matched the one she held in her hand.
Tonight she’d learn who betrayed her father. Then she’d find a way to make sure they paid.
(excerpt continued on Wednesday)