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Under the Blood Red Moon
London, January 1871
Nearly Two Hundred Years Later . . .
Grooms as far as the eye could see. Men with blond hair, brown hair, black hair, auburn hair . . . was that green hair? Angelica stood amidst thousands of white-gloved hands holding dozens of multicolored flowers all belonging to equally smiley faces.
"Marry me!" one of them called out. He was old, quite old, Angelica realized, and reminded her a little bit of a drawing she had seen of the philosopher Plato.
"No! Marry me!" others sang. Sang? Yes, they were quite literally singing! Oh God, this had to be a dream. A really bad dream . . .
"Come on Angelica, you know you want to marry me!"
"Prince Albert?" Angelica asked with some shock. "But you died ten years ago from typhoid! Queen Victoria mourns you still!"
Albert wiggled his brows at her lecherously and had Angelica stepping back.
"Now, just wait a minute. I don't really want to marry, and if I must, I could hardly pick from all of you!"
Silence followed her frustrated declaration and had her glancing about warily. The smiles were fading quickly, and Angelica watched as several bright flowers dropped to the ground.
"Freak!" The word came from somewhere in the distance and echoed eerily. The eyes that had looked upon her with devotion only a moment ago were accusing.
"Wait, let me explain!" Angelica raised her voice so that she might be heard over the growing chanting, but to no avail. The anxiety that had begun to flutter in her stomach was quicklyturning to dread.
"Kill the monster!" It was Albert. He pointed his royal finger at her and repeated, "Kill the monster!"
The men closest to her seized her, and try as she might Angelica could not shake them loose.
"Wait. Please, I am no monster. I'm innocent! Pease, I did not ask for this curse. No! Someone, help!"
Angelica woke with a start to find her brother watching her, a wry smile etched on his boyish face.
"Did someone fail to tell you that it is bad manners to sleep at the breakfast table? Supper or dinner maybe, but breakfast, it is a definite faux pas my dear."
It took her a moment to get her bearings. Her eyes darted across the table to ensure that none of the men in her dreams were here in their sunny breakfast room. They were not. Of course they were not, she thought with a hefty dose of relief.
Mikhail was looking at her with a slightly quizzical expression that served to pull her out of her thoughts. Straightening her hair with an expert hand, Angelica pushed aside the remnants of her dream and smiled for her brother's benefit.
"At least I am at the breakfast table. If you had gotten as little sleep as I did last night, you would have skipped it altogether."
Mikhail ignored the truth of her declaration and continued with his jibing, laughing at his sister over a warm cup of tea. "I really do not know what is more scandalous. Falling asleep at the breakfast table or burning away the candles reading all night."
"Well, if you did not insist on dragging me to late dinners and balls each night of the week, I would hardly have to be up till all hours, now would I?"
Rolling his eyes, Mikhail sighed in frustration. "You cannot still be mad about your debut, Angelica. You had to be introduced to society formally sooner or later, and in this instance it was definitely later!"
Angelica made no response. There was no use in telling her brother that she would wholeheartedly prefer to be living in their country home, where no such fancy debuts would have ever been necessary to begin with! No, she definitely could not tell her brother of that desire, not when she had to stay in London to keep an eye on him.
Receiving no answer other than a frustrated exhalation of breath, Mikhail shrugged good-naturedly. "So, what do you have planned for today?"
"Oh this and that, though first I will have to change my dress, since we took Rotten Row today. I swear that path must be the sandiest track on this side of the globe."
Mikhail tried valiantly to hide his smile. "I can see that our rides in Hyde Park before breakfast take a rather large toll on you, dear sister. You can always take Ladies' Mile next time."
Angelica did not bother to make a response in the face of that piece of rubbish. Ladies who rode for the sake of showing off their new riding habits and elaborate coiffures rode Ladies' Mile. Anyone out to ride for the sake of riding would not even consider it. Then again, anyone out for the sake of riding would probably not find themselves in Hyde Park, where the fashionable members of the ton could invariably be located in the mornings.
"As I was saying, I will have to change," Angelica said quickly. She picked up the paper she had been reading before she had fallen asleep and continued, "After that, I honestly haven't a clue. What can a lady in London do during these hours of the day? She can shop, for which I am in no mood for, pay bills, which I have already done, or pay house calls, which I cannot do."
Mikhail laid down his own paper to regard his sister with puzzled eyes.
"And why, may I ask, can you not visit with friends? I saw you speaking avidly with the Spanish ambassador's wife just last night. And what about that German chit . . ."
Angelica thought back to her brief conversation with Felipa the ambassador's wife, and barely managed not to sigh. The woman had seemed pleasant enough, but Angelica had not been able to concentrate on a single thing she had said. She had been too busy wishing herself at home with a good book.Under the Blood Red Moon. Copyright © by Mina Hepsen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.