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A Worth Brother's Novel
By Joan Avery, Gwen Hayes, Kate Fall
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Joan P. Avery
All rights reserved.
St. Louis, Missouri 1879
Kate couldn't hide her pleasure. It washed over her. The boisterous sounds of the parade filled her ears and the laughter of the partiers made her smile broadly. Tonight, St. Louis celebrated the return of the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan. The Mardi-Gras style celebration was only a year old, but already it had captured the minds and spirits of the residents of St. Louis. Last year, local business leaders had purchased seventeen horse-drawn Mardi Gras floats from New Orleans businessmen and had them shipped by barge to St. Louis. This year more than twenty-two floats and hundreds of horses and men would celebrate The Progress of Civilization. Kate sat on a small platform erected for the parade, a privilege accorded members of the committee who had arranged the festivities.
Torchbearers and liveried footmen escorted the lantern-lit floats down the street. Fireworks burst at regular intervals to fill the night skies with giant glowing chrysanthemums of light. Chinese lanterns of crimson, jade, fuchsia, and other brilliant colors hung in every storefront window. Dazzling flares lit the rooftops. The effect was magical, made even more so by the Krewe, the paraders with exotic beaded and feathered Parisian-made costumes.
"Are you enjoying yourself, my dear?" Uncle George sat stiffly upright. His mane of white hair framed his bronze face.
"Yes, Uncle. Very much indeed."
"Well, you have certainly put in enough work to see that it is a success."
"It was as much a pleasure for me as it is for those who are enjoying our work tonight," she demurred.
"You are too modest, my dear. Too modest entirely."
Kate smiled at his kindness then turned her attentions back to the parade. The early floats had received their share of oohs and aahs. The Volcano and Cave of the Cyclops were particular favorites. Then came the themed floats — Engines of War, Implements of Artificial Light. From behind her, the excited crowd sounds in the Exchange Hall floated out to where she sat. The hall had been transformed into the "Temple of Ceres" for the night.
The babble must have caught her uncle's attention, too. "You know, my dear, it would not surprise me if the Veiled Prophet picks you as his first dance partner."
Kate felt a rush of heat to her cheeks. "Really, Uncle George. With a child to raise, I am as good as a married woman."
"Poor, poor Lizzie." The older man shook his head when he mentioned his dead niece, Kate's sister.
"Please. Don't distress yourself, not tonight. Look there. Do you see?" It was the Veiled Prophet himself approaching on his barge.
Her uncle appeared to barely hear her. "If you'll excuse me, Mary Katherine, I think I'll go inside for a moment."
"Yes. Yes, of course."
Dear Uncle George. Kate suspected he had taken her sister Lizzie's death even harder than Kate herself. His sudden change of humor upset her. She'd been strangely on edge all day.
She fought for composure. Her hands smoothed down her dress and, to cheer herself, she remembered the evening's earlier exchange with her two-year-old, Andy.
"Do you think so, Andy?"
Kate twirled around. The shimmering voile and watered silk of her silvery dress caught the last rays of the setting sun streaming through the window. The effect was almost iridescent. The numerous layers of her costume slowly continued their twirling before settling back into place around her.
"Yes, I am supposed to be a fairy. Do you see my wings?" She turned to show him the small wire and gauze assemblage on the back of her dress.
"Do not laugh at fairies, my little friend, or I shall turn you into a frog." She picked up the jeweled wand, the finishing touch to her costume. He buried his head in his hands, laughing, as she tapped him lightly on the head.
"There now. You are a frog. Go look in the mirror."
Andy hesitated for a moment. Carefully, he studied his hands for any change. Seeing none, he padded over to the mirror. Kate turned to his nursemaid, Fiona, who stifled a laugh.
"No frog, Mama."
"What? You are not a frog?" She shook her magic wand vigorously. "It must not be working properly ... but I guess it is for the best. I much prefer you as the handsome little boy that you are."
She crouched down and held her arms out to Andy. The boy propelled himself into her arms which such force that they both fell backward laughing in a glistening pile of fabric.
"Ah, Andy. Look what you've done now. Your mother's pretty dress will be all crumpled." Fiona bent down to retrieve the boy.
"It's all right, Fiona." Kate laughed. "Go on, you little imp. Let Fiona put you to bed."
Now, the thought of the little exchange brought her mixed feelings. But for the tragedy of her sister's death, Lizzie's son Andy wouldn't be in her care. It was a joy that came with the tragic loss. It would do no good looking back. Dwelling too much on the past would lead to sadness. There was no room for sadness tonight.
The Veiled Prophet's Ball was the most sought-after ticket in the city. Here, St. Louis' elite would gather to mark the beginning of the city's social season. She had attributed her skittishness to the day's entertainments, but her unease continued to grow as the evening settled in. Deep down, she suspected it wasn't the parade or the ball that had her off-balance. It was that strange feeling that something was coming. Uncle George's melancholy only added to her disquiet. She hoped a bit of liquid refreshment would restore his good humor.
She couldn't describe the strange unease she felt. Her heart beat slightly off rhythm and faster than usual. Her breasts pressed against the silver-threaded bodice of her costume. The cool night air washed across her warm flesh and she shivered, her bare arms unusually sensitive to the breeze. Something was going to happen. She was sure of it.
None of the costumed revelers spared a glance at the platform, but the sense that she was being watched prickled her skin. There was no reason to think it. No reason at all. And then a dark shadow caught the outside of her vision.
Across the street in the shadow of a lamppost, someone was watching her. The man's stare pinned her in place and obliterated everything else around her.
A stab of excitement as strong as any she had ever experienced coursed through her. The exceedingly handsome man dismantled and devoured her piece by piece.
He was a stranger, this dark apparition, and yet there was something about him, something hauntingly familiar. She tried to look away, but it was impossible.
The heady, exhilarating feeling stormed through her body, leaving her palms moist and clinging to the delicate voile overskirt of her costume. The locket at her throat left a cool thin line as it encircled her increasingly warm flesh.
She studied him unabashedly, emboldened by his perusal. Again, she was struck by the feeling that something about him was terribly familiar. His features were handsome but not overly refined. They carried the weight of something unnamed — years of rough living, perhaps, or the pain of an unpleasant experience. Kate recognized the mileposts of personal anguish. It only served to strengthen the strange bond that had astoundingly grown between them in mere seconds.
It was an extraordinary thing, this feeling — part dejá vu, part second sight, part ... She didn't want to delve any further. Whatever it was, it was overwhelming in its intensity.
His deeply bronzed skin contrasted with the crisp white pressed linen of his shirt. His powerful jaw sat juxtaposed to the soft, dove-gray foulard of his cravat. His mouth was full, but not so that it betrayed weakness. She became aware of the strength of his shoulders beneath a cutaway jacket whose ink-black richness suggested newness.
He was smoking a cheroot and she watched his hands, fascinated. They were long and tapered — elegantly formed — and her mind wandered. She could feel their length firmly around the softness of her bare arms.
He continued to watch her. Kate was sure he sensed it too — this haunting familiarity. His face had changed when he knew she had seen him. His mouth softened and his eyes subtly reflected her own wonder. There was a connection between them, a link that explained the insanity that had overtaken her.
"Katherine. Here you are. I apologize for being away so long. John Wahl stopped me on a last minute problem with the arrangements for the ball."
Her Uncle George was speaking to her as if in a dream. It was peculiar. This dark stranger still held her in his world against the pull of reality. She struggled to escape, suddenly embarrassed by her own willingness to stay within his grasp.
"Mary Katherine? Are you all right? You look flushed."
"Yes, Uncle. I'm fine." She struggled back into the real world. "I'm sorry. It must be all the excitement." She rose.
"Are you sure, my dear? You look quite pale."
Uncle George struggled to hold himself erect despite the obvious pain in his joints. Sadly, his eighty-year-old body was betraying him, but his spirit was still strong. His eyes sparkled like a child's with the evening's excitement.
She smiled to reassure him. Her uncle had been her comfort and her strength these last years — through her father's death and then Lizzie's. "Yes, I'm quite sure I'm well."
This was reality, she reminded herself. The interlude moments before was a fantasy she had created to fulfill her own silly expectations.
"Are you ready to go in?" Uncle George asked and then paused before adding, "You look like an angel tonight, my dear."
"I'm a fairy, really." She looked down and raised her jeweled wand, suddenly self-conscious. Why was she so uncomfortable?
He had done this to her. The stranger had called up feelings more intimate than any she had ever felt.
She had to get hold of herself. She just needed a few minutes. It was only a passing aberration, a momentary lapse. She had let her imagination run wild. It was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. She had wanted something to happen and she had tried to make it so.
"Are you ready?"
"Yes, of course." Despite her resolve, Kate looked back. The man had gone. She should have felt relieved, but it wasn't relief that knotted her stomach and left her palms sweaty.
* * *
He stood uncomfortably to one side of the Exchange Hall, only one of a handful of guests not in costume. He didn't care.
The multi-colored lights from the fireworks filtered through the high-arched, leaded window behind him and glinted off the elaborate decorations. The walnut paneling of the magnificent room shimmered with the play of the light. Colorful swags had been added to the high stone galleries with their bas-relief sculptures. The bright fabric moved slightly in the artificial breeze created by the activity below.
At one end of the large room on a raised pedestal, a gilt throne had been prepared for His Mysterious Majesty when he arrived on his royal float. Ornately carved, its Baroque garishness was out of place in the beautiful room.
At the other end of the hall, a huge ice sculpture of the Prophet sat slowly melting amid a staggering array of delicacies — smoked salmon brought in by train especially for the evening, huge sides of beef, and sweet confections of every hue.
The size of the magnificent hall gave those guests farthest from him no face. They left only an impression of color. But he did not need a face to identify the woman who was the reason for his presence tonight. She stood out like an angel, all aglow in silver — a heavenly being playing among mere mortals. Katherine Barker had a radiance all her own. It did not surprise him that she had collected a large group of admirers. Pain shot through his soul, pain and resentment — and something else.
He had not been prepared for this other emotion. But then, he had not been prepared for Katherine Barker. From the first moment he saw her, he had had to constantly remind himself that desire would only defeat him. And yet, from the first, his body betrayed him. He would have to steel himself against these feelings. He could not let himself forget how hard she could fight against him.
He allowed himself to glance around the room. It had been a long time since he had been at such a formal event. He smiled bitterly at the familiarity of it all. It was all the same and yet different.
Gradually, the hum of conversations and the swirl of bright costumes became peripheral. He was bombarded with memories — London, a lifetime ago. He had not thought of London in years.
He forcibly brought himself back to the present — back to why he had come. His lawyer, Benjamin Ward, had insisted on his presence at the ball tonight mere hours after his arrival. Here, he could be introduced to the leaders of St. Louis' social elite which might benefit him if he were forced into a court battle.
He laughed to himself. Ironically, even America had its aristocracy. It might go by a different name, but it was just as structured, just as narrow-minded, just as self-righteous and suffocating. And Katherine Barker was a part of it.
"My Lord, there you are. I'm sorry for the delay. Had to say hello to an old friend. Every one is thrilled to have a viscount in their midst."
He studied the man who had approached him. Ah, the Americans and their fascination with British titles. While his father was an earl, his lawyer had given him an honorific that rightly belonged only to his older brother. He would not correct him, though. The mistake could work to his advantage. He simply smiled.
Benjamin Ward spoke a little too loudly and with a little too much familiarity, but Ward had been recommended as the best lawyer in St. Louis and that was what he needed.
The portly attorney's carefully trimmed black beard was streaked with just the right amount of gray to give him a stately appearance. Ward had meticulously waxed his moustache until it stood alertly out from his face. A silk handkerchief hung just so from his breast pocket. Everything about the man spoke of care with detail, and that was good.
"Have you been in the States long?" Ward asked.
"For over ten years now."
"Have you visited St. Louis before, sir?"
"No, I've spent most of my time farther west ... Denver and beyond."
"Then your stay is of the more permanent variety?" A knowing look crossed the attorney's face.
He had seen it before. Ward had already branded him a "Remittance Man" — the second or third son of an aristocratic British family forced into exile for a public embarrassment. The British inheritance laws took a heavy toll, especially on those who broke the laws of society. They produced more than their share of wastrels and profligates. The banished expatriates drank and gambled their way across the American West like vermin, living off the remittance checks sent by an older brother.
He smiled grimly. Ward was only half-right. "I'm a metallurgist, sir. My work has kept me here."
"Then you and Miss Barker will have two things in common. She owns one of the larger iron-ore smelting businesses in the city." Ward indicated the dance floor.
He turned to face a vision — a silvery vision with alabaster skin and the hair of an angel. The movement of the waltz fluttered her gossamer wings and played with the soft masses of her delicate pale hair. Her smooth porcelain skin was almost translucent in the soft gaslight. Her blue eyes were lustrous with excitement.
Whoever wore the raiment of the Prophet was an excellent dancer, for the couple moved down the floor in graceful swirls that sent Katherine Barker's dress twirling around her, offering glimpse after glimpse of her delicate ankles and shapely calves.
When the waltz finally came to an end with the couple in front of him, he came face to face with perhaps his most dangerous foe.CHAPTER 2
"Katherine, how lovely you look tonight. Enough to distract any man from serious thinking." As Benjamin Ward spoke, he extended a hand to guide Katherine into their little circle.
"Viscount Montgomery, may I present the bright, accomplished, and exceptionally lovely Miss Katherine Barker."
Katherine could not catch her breath or her wits. Viscount? It was the last thing she had expected. While the stranger outside had barely left her thoughts, she was totally unprepared to come face to face with him.
Winded from the dance, she was still unable to speak as the viscount bent slightly to acknowledge the introduction. The air stirred and she could smell him. The impact of the soft warm scent of hair balm and cologne, of fine wool and starch, was startling. It made his presence felt in a new tangible way.
He was even more handsome than she had thought. The man looked as if he had just stepped in from the London social season. He moved with a certain elegant grace that was as natural to him as his sun-bronzed skin.
It was no accident then — their encounter outside. Instinctively, she knew that now. But was it fate, or something planned?
Excerpted from Love's Revenge by Joan Avery, Gwen Hayes, Kate Fall. Copyright © 2014 Joan P. Avery. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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