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"Barbara Dawson Smith makes magic."--Romantic Times
A Beastly Visitor
NEAR OXFORD, ENGLAND
"I have the best news," Meg cried out, dancing into the parlor of Larkspur Cottage, her pelisse swirling around her black mourning gown. "Actually, two bits of wonderful news."
Straightening her aching back, Kate Talisford looked up from her packing and smiled as her younger sister plopped the market basket onto a cane-bottomed chair. Meg brought a ray of sunshine into the gloomy, partially stripped parlor. Their late mother's collection of floral paintings had been sold, leaving lighter squares against the age-dulled paneling. The oak bookshelves stood bare and forlorn with only a few wisps of dust scattered here and there. A daily maid helped out with the heavier tasks like the scrubbing and the laundry, but lately Kate had been too busy to do any other cleaning. To see their childhood home reduced to such a state left her feeling as hollow as the half-empty rooms, and she welcomed Meg's return.
"What news, dearest?" Kate asked, wrapping a silver candlestick in a length of old flannel. "Has Mrs. Wooster had her baby?"
"Gracious, no. She was waddling around the market like a fat Christmas goose. But here's what I wanted to show you." Rummaging in her basket, Meg pulled forth a bedraggled bit of paper. Her shoes made a light scuffing sound on the shabby rug as she hastened forward to thrust a handbill at Kate. "Look, the traveling players are in town! I just now saw them setting up their tent at the edge of Christchurch meadow. There'll be games and a puppet show and booths selling sweets. Oh, may we go to the fair this evening?"
Setting down the candlestick, Kate glanced over the advertisement, and for a moment, she caught her sister's excitement. How she wanted to watch the juggler and the magician, to laugh at the antics of the jesters and to savor hot meat pasties and sugary comfits. A few hours of escape tempted her. But practicality squashed her longing. "We mustn't squander our savings," she said regretfully, handing back the paper. "And don't forget, we've quite a lot of packing yet to do."
"We could stroll around without purchasing anything." Meg clasped her hands to her bosom. "Do say yes. I believe I shall die if I don't go."
Kate couldn't help smiling. Meg reminded her of herself at the tender age of sixteen, when she too had viewed the world as an unfinished canvas, full of rich color and exciting possibilities, her soul brimming over with fervent yearnings. And the zenith of her youthful madness had taken place in an upstairs bedchamber, when she'd thrown herself at an unsavory adventurer.
She shut the door on that wretched memory, unwilling to probe the ashes of anger. Dwelling on past mistakes accomplished nothing. Rather, she was grateful for the humiliating experience, for it had taught her the value of caution and sober sensibility. It had been a first, painful step toward maturity.
"We'll see about the fair," she said noncommittally. "It depends on how much work we can accomplish in the meantime" When Meg opened her mouth to plead again, Kate held up her hand. "Now, what is your second bit of news?"
Slipping out of her pelisse, Meg hung the garment on a wall hook. "I saw John Thurgood strolling on the High Street today," she said, her blue eyes sparkling. "Oh, my heart, he's grown another inch over the Easter holidays. His chest is so broad and manly. And that dark gaze quite makes me shiver." Feigning a dramatic shudder, she twirled a path around the old green chairs and the threadbare brown chaise.
Kate wasn't overly concerned to hear of Meg's latest infatuation; her sister fell in and out of love daily. No doubt by tomorrow, Meg would have set her cap for another prospect. "John Thurgood is a graduate scholar and too old for a girl of six and ten. And where are your gloves, pray tell?"
Her sister stopped dancing and glanced abashedly at her bare fingers. "Oh ... drat. I must have left them by the bridge."
"Folly Bridge, perchance?"
"Why, yes." Removing her plain black bonnet, Meg dropped it on a table. "Walking made me warm, and I stopped for a drink of water," she said over her shoulder. "I couldn't very well get my only pair of gloves wet, could I?"
Kate gave her sister a stern, knowing stare. "I wonder if you may have been distracted. Perhaps balancing on the rail of the bridge? In full view of the townsfolk?"
Meg had the good grace to blush. "So, Weasly Beasley has already come to call. I daresay that old tattletale is determined to discredit me."
Their busybody next-door neighbor had indeed interrupted Kate's packing to pass along the tidbit. "Mrs. Beasley couldn't discredit you, dear, if you didn't give her cause. That bridge is ancient and unsafe. You shouldn't go near it."
"Tra-la, tra-la." Meg waltzed to the mirror and tidied her silky black hair, the perfectly smooth, always obedient hair that Kate sorely envied. "The traveling players walk the high wire. Why should I be denied such fun?"
"Because you're a young lady, and you must behave yourself." Kate stepped around the crate and touched her sister's sleeve. "Oh, Meg. Surely you can see that."
Meg snorted. "Fie on propriety, I say. We're leaving here anyway, so what matter is it?"
"We're moving into town," Kate corrected. "And it matters because if ever I can complete Papa's book and earn some money, you'll have a season in London. In the meantime, you mustn't acquire a reputation for silly behavior."
Meg pursed her mouth in a pout. "There'll never be enough money for London, and you know it. There's never enough money for anything. We can't afford one new gown between the two of us. Even our mourning dresses are left over from when Mama ..." She plucked at her drab black skirt, and tears glinted in her eyes so that she looked like a desolate little girl.
Kate blinked hard to stave off her own tears. Not long after their father had departed on his ill-fated trek through Africa, Mama had succumbed to a lung ailment after being caught out in a cold downpour while tending her beloved garden. By necessity, Kate had become both mother and father to Meg. To make matters worse, they had lost their comfortable savings when the bank manager had embezzled the funds of the investors. She and Meg had managed to recoup only a small nest egg, barely enough on which to subsist.
Of course, Meg didn't know about the opportunity to acquire five hundred gold guineas that Kate had declined recently. At times, particularly when she lay alone in her bed, pondering in the darkness, she wondered if she'd made the right decision.
Embracing her sister, Kate pressed a lace handkerchief into her fingers. "Don't weep, dearest," she murmured. "We must look forward, not back to things we cannot change."
Meg dabbed at her eyes. "If only Papa and Lord Gabriel had brought home a shipload of treasures. Gold and diamonds, ivory and emeralds. Imagine, we could have set those snobby Londoners on their ears."
Kate stiffened, remembering Lord Gabriel's grandiose promises. How carelessly he'd breezed into their lives, offering to fund her father's dreams, then whisking Papa away on a grand adventure. From time to time, Papa had sent them a jotted note along with an artifact like the ivory tusk of an elephant or a primitive jar. In turn, they had written to him, leaving letters at mail drops in remote outposts, never knowing if he'd received their missives or whether he'd ever even learned of his wife's death.
Only a fortnight ago, their hopes for his safe return had been dashed forever when a family friend had brought back news of Papa's death in Egypt at the hands of thieves.
Kate drew a long, steadying breath. "I would as soon have Papa back empty-handed. So long as he was alive."
"I, too," Meg said hastily. "Oh, Katie, I didn't mean to sound so greedy. It's just that ... life is so much more bearable when one has money."
Kate couldn't quarrel with that, so she drew her sister to the shelves by the hearth. "Come, help me pack these dishes."
Obedient for once, Meg took down a blue china plate and tucked it in the straw inside the crate. "I do wish we weren't moving away from here. And to such dreary little rooms above that noisy, smelly marketplace."
"We must economize. The rent is a fraction of what we pay here." Kate wrapped a teapot in a sheet of old newspaper, trying not to remember her mother pouring tea, laughing gaily and chattering about her beloved flowers "With only the two of us now, we don't need so much space, anyway. We have to be practical."
"I hate economizing, and even more, I hate being practical." Meg gazed longingly at the open window, where the fresh scents of April drifted on the cool breeze. "If only we could go to the fair later ..."
Kate nested the teapot in the crate. "May I remind you, the cart will be here in three days' time to take away our things. The new tenants will move in on Saturday. And we haven't even begun with Papa's study."
"Let's work faster, then," Meg said, opening a drawer at random and dumping the contents into a nearby wooden crate. She replaced the drawer, brushed off her hands, and said, "See? There's nothing to it."
Kate eyed the jumble of old quills, pruning shears, and balls of string. "I wanted to sort through all that. We can't fit everything into our new home."
"Then you would have more space if I were to join the traveling players," Meg grumbled. "At least they lead a life of freedom and leisure."
Did she mean it? Would she truly run away from home? "This is nothing to jest about," Kate said sharply. "Promise me you shan't go off on a lark with that troupe of ne'er-do-wells."
Meg cast her a defiant glance. "I could enjoy being acclaimed as a famous actress. Don't forget, I played Juliet at Miss Minchen's Academy last year." Clasping her hands, she intoned, "'Come, nurse; I'll to my wedding bed. And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!'"
"It's a far cry to go from a school stage to a real one. You'd spend long, tiresome hours memorizing your lines. On rainy nights, you'd shiver in a tent or a wagon without even a fire to keep you warm. You'd trudge through mud and snow to the next town, and all for a few pence tossed into a hat."
Meg let out a screech.
Kate wondered that her diatribe could have sparked so profound a reaction from her sister. But Meg wasn't looking at her. She stared goggle-eyed at the open window.
Kate followed her gaze and choked back a gasp. On the sill perched a dark furry beast with humanlike features and long hairy limbs protruding from a boy's breeches and shirt. That black, inquisitive gaze surveyed the interior of the cottage.
"Merciful heavens," she said breathlessly. "A monkey? A chimpanzee, if I'm not mistaken."
"Yes," Meg said in wonderment. "He looks just like the one in the drawing done by Lord Gabriel Kenyon—the one Papa sent to us."
Kate felt the little clench that Lord Gabriel's name always elicited in her, even as her mind whirled with confusion. "But ... where did the beast come from?"
"The fair, of course! He must have escaped from the traveling actors." Her alarm vanishing with mercurial swiftness, Meg walked toward the chimpanzee. "What a darling creature! Are you lost? Can't you find your way back home?"
Babbling a string of gibberish, the chimpanzee stretched out to his pint-sized, bow-legged height.
"Do be careful," Kate said, hastening after her sister. "He's a wild animal and might bite."
"Nonsense, he looks quite tame. And I do believe he's just a baby. Doesn't he have a dear, sweet face?"
There was a certain charm to those simian features, Kate allowed. His dark eyes shone like those of a mischievous child. Succumbing to curiosity, she ventured closer and stopped beside Meg, who stood within arm's reach of the chimp.
"What do you suppose we should do with him?" Meg whispered as if he might understand her and take offense.
"Return him to the fair, of course. But how?"
"I'll take him." Eagerly, Meg reached out for the beast.
Kate stepped swiftly forward. "Wait! He's better off handled by his trainer. Why don't you run along and alert the players—"
In a lightning-quick movement, the chimpanzee thrust out a gangly arm and snatched the ivory comb that secured her tight bun. Kate clapped her hands to her hair—too late. A cloudburst of smaller pins popped out and rained onto the carpet. The too-thick, curling red-gold hair that was her bane tumbled down to her waist.
"You little thief!" Kate sputtered. "Give that back!"
She made a grab for him, but the chimpanzee bounded to the top of an empty bookshelf. There, he waved the comb in his leathery fingers, rolled back his lips, and loosed a series of high-pitched squawks.
Meg's eyes danced with laughter. "What a rum cove! I do believe he's funning you, dear sister."
A bubble of hysterical mirth escaped Kate. Marching to the bookcase, she tilted her head up and held out her hand. "Naughty boy," she scolded. "I'll take that comb back now."
Hooting, the chimp walked back and forth atop the oak bookshelf, sending little showers of dust downward to tickle Kate's nose. When he balanced the comb atop his head, he bore an uncanny resemblance to an ugly matron.
"Weasly Beasley," Kate couldn't help observing. "That's who he looks like."
Giggling, Meg clapped her hands to her cheeks. "Gad-a-mercy, you're right! He's the spitting image of that hag."
"But not for long. I won't let him steal Mama's favorite comb." Kate carried over a stool, lifted her skirts to step onto it, and reached for the chimpanzee. Even as her fingertips brushed one shaggy, crooked leg, he scampered down to the other end of the shelves. She moved the stool, but again he loped out of her reach.
Clearly enjoying the game, the primate chortled, displaying a set of broad teeth.
Meg dragged over a chair to the opposite side of the bookcase. "You stay down there," she told Kate. "Between the two of us, he can't get away."
But the chimp outsmarted them. He took a flying leap at the window and clambered up the faded gold draperies. Balancing on the wooden rod, he looked down on them and screeched in triumph, holding up the comb like a prize of war.
The sisters exchanged an exasperated glance. "You'd better run for help," Kate said. "I'll stay here and watch that he doesn't get into more trouble."
Nodding, Meg dashed into the small foyer of the cottage. Kate heard the squeak of the door opening, then her sister's startled exclamation. "Oh, my heart and soul!"
"What's wrong?" Kate called.
Meg didn't answer, and Kate could hear her speaking to someone in the low, trilling, breathless tone she used with men. Blast Meg! She mustn't dally with one of her suitors at such a moment.
Keeping an eye on the chimpanzee, Kate sidled toward the archway that led to the foyer. She pasted on a polite smile and glanced out, intending to hurry her sister on her way.
Instead, she witnessed her second shock of the day.
The tall figure of a man blocked the doorway. His face was cast into shadow by the backdrop of brilliant morning sunshine, and Kate had to squint to discern his features: high cheekbones, jutting jaw, ocean-blue eyes. Like a pirate aboard his ship, he stood with his booted feet planted apart in a bold stance. The breeze ruffled his dark hair into an attractive disarray His attention on Meg, he grinned at something she'd said and his white teeth shone against skin burnished by the sun to a rich teak hue.
He looked up, straight at Kate. His smile died.
So did hers.
Excerpted from Tempt Me Twice by Barbara Dawson Smith. Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Dawson Smith. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|CHAPTER 1 A Beastly Visitor||8|
|CHAPTER 2 The Guardian||18|
|CHAPTER 3 The Lucifer League||31|
|CHAPTER 4 Hidden Treasure||40|
|CHAPTER 5 An Unwelcome Offer||51|
|CHAPTER 6 The Black Sheep||63|
|CHAPTER 7 The Rosebuds||73|
|CHAPTER 8 Confessions of a Slave||85|
|CHAPTER 9 The Skull-faced Man||95|
|CHAPTER 10 Pistols at Dawn||108|
|CHAPTER 11 Jabbar's Escape||118|
|CHAPTER 12 A Dangerous Woman||129|
|CHAPTER 13 Meeting at Midnight||140|
|CHAPTER 14 Lucy's Plan||144|
|CHAPTER 15 Surprise in the Attic||155|
|CHAPTER 16 The Fraudulent Footman||169|
|CHAPTER 17 The Egyptian||178|
|CHAPTER 18 The Locked Room||197|
|CHAPTER 20 The Purloined Key||230|
|CHAPTER 21 A Narrow Escape||240|
|CHAPTER 22 The Light in the Window||256|
|CHAPTER 23 The Guardian's Demand||265|
|CHAPTER 24 The Lost Button||274|
|CHAPTER 25 In the Dungeon||287|
|CHAPTER 26 The Inmost Cave||306|
|CHAPTER 27 Ritual Sacrifice||313|
|CHAPTER 28 The Renegade Demon||320|
|CHAPTER 29 Kate's Decision||326|
|CHAPTER 30 The Goddess||331|
Posted November 24, 2001
In 1812 England, Kate Talisford and her younger sister, Meg, are forced to move to a smaller dwelling after the death of their father, Professor Henry Talisford. Both girls are startled when Lord Gabriel Kenyon appears on their doorstep after accompanying their father on his expedition to Africa four years prior. Kate is especially embarrassed, recalling her previous declaration of undying love for Gabriel and promised seduction if he would convince her father to abandon his expedition. But Gabriel hasn¿t forgotten Kate and finds her more attractive than he did four years ago. <br><br> As he informs the girls that he is now their guardian, he warns them away from Sir Charles Damson. Gabe believes that Sir Charles is responsible for Henry¿s death and subsequent theft of a valuable artifact that Henry discovered. Romantic tension sizzles between Gabriel and Kate as Meg and Kate accompany Gabriel to his grandmother¿s estate and begin their search for the missing artifact. <br><br> Though the love scenes are sufficiently steamy, the romance seems a little contrived as Gabriel hardly seems the type of man to carry a torch for a sixteen-year-old girl for four years and then give up his wandering for her. And, while Yasmin¿s reappearance in England could tie up some loose ends and supply some angst to Gabe and Kate¿s relationship, the reader is left in the dark concerning the exotic Yasmin¿s seduction of Gabriel and subsequent association with Sir Charles. Fans of this author will recognize Gabriel as the younger brother of Michael, the hero in ROMANCING THE ROGUE. Avid readers of Ms. Dawson Smith shouldn¿t be too disappointed with her latest read, but it probably won¿t generate a lot of new fans.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 21, 2001
Kate had been sixteen at the time of her greatest humiliating action. She offered herself to Lord Gabriel 'Gabe' Kenyon, who was sponsoring her father's (Professor Henry Talisford) trip into the deep wilds of Africa in search of a lost city. He refused her. <BR><BR> Four years passed. Kate had only her younger sister, Meg, left in her immediate life. Meg was now sixteen, Kate was twenty. Their mother had died shortly after their father had left for Africa. Recently, Sir Charles Damson, who had seen their father in Cairo, reluctantly informed them of their father's death. The Professor had been set upon and killed by thieves. Sir Charles claimed the Professor had made him the guardian of Kate and Meg. <BR><BR> Gabe took over a month to bring them the news, because he had been stabbed in the back by one of the thieves, who just happened to be one of Damson's minions! He, also, claimed the Professor had made him the guardian of Kate and Meg! <BR><BR> Both men also wanted Kate to sell them the items her father had kept sending to her in packages. Kate refused both. Minor research led Kate to discover of a priceless ancient fertility goddess statue he had found. It had been stolen by the thieves that had later killed him. <B><I>Kate wanted justice!</I></B> <BR><BR> Great-uncle Nathaniel Babcock agreed that Gabe take Kate and Meg to Stokeford Abbey in Devon so his mother, the dowager Lucy Stokeford, could care for them. Lucy and her two life-long friends gladly agreed. But these three special women were out to make a match between Kate and Gabe, while Kate and Gabe were out to prove Damson to be a thief and murderer. <BR><BR> ***** Fans of Christina Dodd and Susan Wiggs will especially love this story. Like them, Barbara Dawson Smith writes romance with a lot of thrilling adventures and problems to keep it all very interesting! For a touch of humor, a chimpanzee is added that I could not help but fall in love with. <B><I>Wonderful reading here!</I></B> ***** </p><BR> Reviewed by Detra FitchWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.