Whisper To Me of Loveby Shirlee Busbee
Busbee is back and better than ever! --Julia Quinn
She Couldn't Escape Her Past
Ripped from her dying mother's arms, Morgana Fowler was cast into a life of desperate thievery. With a tongue even sharper than the blade she deftly wields, she has all but mastered her devious trade--until she picks the pocket of a dashing American who wrests her from/b>… See more details below
Busbee is back and better than ever! --Julia Quinn
She Couldn't Escape Her Past
Ripped from her dying mother's arms, Morgana Fowler was cast into a life of desperate thievery. With a tongue even sharper than the blade she deftly wields, she has all but mastered her devious trade--until she picks the pocket of a dashing American who wrests her from the sordid streets of London. In the arms of her gallant protector, she is helpless against the longing he elicits within her. . .
He Couldn't Contain His Passion
Royce Manchester basks in a world of privilege and power in the decadent British Regency, and lowborn Morgana finds in him a love she's never known. But the secret of her true parentage threatens to bring her new life crashing down. With a sinister figure from her past ever lurking at her heels, she and Royce must confront one of Regency England's most diabolical villains--a challenge that fans the flame of a love that knows no bounds. . .
"Busbee delivers what you read a romance for." --West Coast Review of Books
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Whisper To Me of Love
By Shirlee Busbee
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Shirlee Busbee
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNewton and Dyot Streets in the Parish of St. Giles were well-known as the headquarters for most of the thieves and pickpockets to be found in London, and so it wasn't surprising that the three inhabitants of a seedy set of rooms in a dilapidated building just a few streets away made their living, such as it was, by thievery. Actually, by the standards of St. Giles Parish, the Fowler siblings lived very well—they had a roof over their heads and seldom went hungry—unlike the majority of those unfortunate wretches who inhabited this part of London. Not for the Fowler family the indignity of sleeping in filthy gutters at the mercy of every cutthroat around—and there were many—nor for them the gin-sodden relief to be found at the various rough taverns that abounded in the area, or the dangers that lurked in every dark alley. Whores, beggars, thieves, and murderers abounded in the narrow, mean streets of St. Giles, but the Fowlers gave it little thought. This was home to them; they knew every twisted street, every squalid gin house, every master criminal in their parish ... and the ones to avoid.
Which wasn't to say that the Fowlers lived a charmed life; they suffered much of the same misery and had the same fears as most of their fellow miscreants, although there were those envious souls who would swear that Jacko Fowler, at twenty-five, the eldest of the trio, certainly had been smiled upon by Lady Luck. Hadn't he outsmarted and escaped the watch on occasions too numerous to mention? And when finally caught that one disastrous time, hadn't he escaped from the very steps of Newgate? Ah, Jacko was a rum cove, he was! And handsome too, the, er, ladies of the parish agreed, with his brown, wavy hair and dancing blue eyes.
Not that Ben, three years younger than Jacko, was any less clever in his escapades or his attractiveness; it was merely that Jacko was the obvious leader of the trio and possessed a brazen charm that overshadowed Ben's quiet intensity. As for Pip, well, the youngest Fowler, beyond being an outrageous scamp, ever ready with a sharp tongue or an equally keen blade, was considered, at nineteen, too young to have yet made a mark in the world.
The previous summer had been very good for the Fowlers. With the long war with France finally over and Napoleon safely interned on Elba, England had been in a festive mood, and scores of famous visitors had flocked to London—the Czar of Russia and his sister, the Grand Duchess Catherine of Oldenburg, King Frederick of Prussia, and General Blücher, to name just a few of the notables who had graced London that summer of 1814. Not only had London been filled with the victorious heroes of the seemingly interminable war with Napoleon, but there had been a surfeit of fetes and amusements for the public—celebrations had been held in Hyde Park and Green Park with balloon ascents and grand fireworks, amusements that had seen the Fowlers very busy as they had ambled through the excited crowds, their nimble fingers filching a gold pocket watch here, a silken handkerchief there, and whatever other valuable came their way. Oh, it had been a grand summer!
But the year of 1815 was not proving to be as profitable, nor as pleasant, as the past year for the Fowlers. In January they had suffered a most grievous personal tragedy; their mother, Jane Fowler, had died from the consumption that had racked her slender body for as long as her three children could remember. They had been stunned, unable to believe that Jane, who had been the guiding light of their universe, was gone. Gamely, but with far less enthusiasm, they had carried on with their lives, trying to keep the precepts she had drilled into them alive, and coping as best as they were able with the pain of their loss. It wasn't easy, and they viewed the future rather gloomily. Certainly with Napoleon's escape from Elba on the twenty-sixth of February and the reopening of hostilities with France, there was little for anyone to celebrate. The Fowlers' difficulties, however, had nothing to do with Napoleon or the imminent resumption of war on the continent....
"Bloody eyes, Jacko! We're no 'ousebreakers! We do right well enough as it is! Just yesterday, didn't Pip draw a rare thimble from the swell's pit? Why the 'ell do you want to risk our bloody necks this way?" Ben growled, the bright blue eyes that he and Jacko had inherited from their mother snapping with anger.
"Mum wouldn't like it, Jacko," Pip muttered. "You know she wouldn't."
"God strike me blind!" Jacko burst out impatiently. "Do you think Oy'm 'appy about this? Bloody 'ell!"
Pip and Ben exchanged looks, the flickering light from the single candle in the middle of the table at which they sat dancing over their intent faces. Softly Ben spoke the thought uppermost in their minds. "It's the single-peeper, ain't it? 'e's the reason, ain't 'e?"
Jacko looked away, his handsome face tight and strained. "Aye, 'e's the reason," he admitted unhappily. "Told me that if we didn't start bringing 'im more and better goods, we'd 'ave to find ourselves another fencing ken ... and a different dimber-damber."
A somber silence fell. While the Fowlers operated primarily on their own, they were, as were most of the thieves in St. Giles, part of a larger gang, or knot, as they referred to it, with a definite hierarchy among its members and with certain safe places known only to them where they could secrete their stolen goods. And if their dimber-damber, the leader of their knot, decided he was dissatisfied with them and would no longer allow them to store their ill-gotten gains at the knot's fencing ken, or safe house, they were in desperate straits indeed. No one survived in St. Giles without the help of the other thieves of his particular knot. And the likelihood of finding another knot willing to accept them after they had been cast out of their present gang was not very great.
Moodily Ben said, "May'ap 'tis time we left St. Giles—oy've always fancied being a prigger of prancers, and you're right 'andy with a pair of barking irons—wot say you to being a bloody 'ighwayman? Pip could 'ire on as an ostler at one of the inns and could tip us to the rich 'uns."
Jacko shook his head slowly, but it was Pip who spoke up, saying sharply, "Listen to us! Mother hasn't been dead six months and we're already forgetting the things she taught us. If she could hear the way we're speaking here tonight, she wouldn't hesitate to box all our ears."
Jacko and Ben both looked somewhat shamefaced, and without one hint of his former manner of speech, Jacko said in refined accents that would have done a young lordling proud, "Forgive me! It is just that it is very difficult to live the dual roles that Mother demanded of us. And with her gone ..." There was a painful silence before Jacko continued, "Without her here to remind us, it is sometimes easier merely to forget all the polite manners she insisted we learn."
Moodily Ben added, "And what good does it do us? Will our fine manners and polite speech get us out of St. Giles? Will it increase our fortunes? Elevate our standing? Does our ability to read and write make life any easier for us? And because we know the proper way to eat and act, do you think it will impress our neighbors?" Ben gave a bitter laugh. "If they could hear us talking now, we would be met with suspicion and mistrust ... as well as derision for aping the manners of the gentry! Sometimes I wish Mother had forgotten her past and had let us grow up like anyone else in St. Giles!"
Jane Fowler had made no secret of the fact that she had been the illegitimate daughter of an amiable country squire and that she had been raised in the squire's household. She had grown up with all the advantages of a comfortably situated and respectable family. How or why she ended up a whore in one of London's most notorious districts was not a subject she ever discussed with her children. Jacko and Ben could vaguely remember a time when they had lived in a fine house with elegant furnishings and servants, but Pip's earliest memories had been of the grubby little rooms where they now sat.
But despite their sordid circumstances, Jane never let her children forget her early background, insisting upon teaching them to read and write and to speak properly—something they only did in the privacy of their rooms. The rest of the time they adopted the speech and mannerisms of the inhabitants of St. Giles.
While agreeing that their fine manners and speech seemed to gain them little, Pip glanced at Jacko's set features and Ben's unhappy countenance, and said slowly, "It will do us little to complain about something we cannot change. Mother did teach us to be different, for whatever reasons, and now that she is no longer here to guide us, I think what we do with our future is up to us."
"Oh, fine words!" Ben said with a sneer. "Our bloody future will be hanging from Tyburn!"
Privately Pip might agree with Ben's assessment of their situation, and the Lord knew it was how many of their associates ended their lives, but unwilling to contemplate that particular fate, the youngest Fowler said in a rush, "What about leaving St. Giles?" Staring earnestly into Jacko's face, Pip added, "You wanted a farm; what is to stop us from pursuing that plan? Instead of becoming housebreakers or highwaymen, why can't we become farmers, as you originally wanted us to do?"
Jacko closed his eyes in pain and muttered wretchedly, "Because the dimber-damber won't let me."
An appalled silence met his words. "Won't let you?" Pip repeated dumbly. "What do you mean?"
Rubbing his hand wearily over his face, Jacko replied dully, "I thought of us leaving a week after Mother ..." His throat closed up painfully, and while he struggled to regain his composure, Pip and Ben both felt the sting of tears at the corners of their eyes, Jane's death still a distressful subject for her children. Bringing his emotions under control, Jacko finally said dispiritedly, "I hadn't quite made up my mind how to accomplish our leaving here or where we would go when I accidentally k-k-killed that gentleman. The dimber-damber had been with me when it happened, and it was just luck that the watch didn't nab him too; at least I think it was luck.... I had talked to him the previous day about us leaving the knot and St. Giles. I told him that we wanted to turn respectable." Jacko swallowed painfully, not looking at either of the other two. "He laughed at me at first. Then when he saw that I was serious, he grew quite angry and swore that no one left his knot alive. Said we owed him our loyalty, that we owed him for seeing to it that Mother hadn't had to be a whore up until the day she died, that we owed him for every piece of bread we ate and for the very roof over our heads. I thought that he was just raving and that once he considered it, he wouldn't be so set against our leaving."
Ben gave a bitter laugh. "Oh, did you? When we are his best thieves? When we three bring him more fancy trinkets than just about all the others of the knot combined? You didn't think he might object? Even I know better than that! Jesus! You should never have told him what you had in mind! We should have just disappeared."
Miserably Jacko agreed. "I know that now, but I didn't then! He and Mother seemed to share a special relationship, and I guess that I thought he'd be glad to see her children well out of it. I was wrong." His voice growing thick, Jacko continued, "I saw him a few days after the killing and he told me to put all thoughts of leaving St. Giles out of my mind, that if I tried to leave, he would inform the watch on me and lead them to me. He swore that if I defied him and tried to run, he'd find me, no matter where I went, and set the runners on me. I cannot disobey him or my life is forfeit!"
With fear and anger in their eyes, Pip and Ben stared at their oldest brother. Neither doubted the truth of his words, and neither doubted that if the dimber-damber had sworn to find Jacko, that he would. The dimber-damber had tentacles everywhere; there was not one corner of England that escaped his notice, and no matter where Jacko ran to, eventually the dimber-damber would have word of him and his fate would be sealed.
Giving his shoulders a shake, Ben said with forced cheer, "Well, then, I guess we shall become housebreakers, as he wants."
"And bloody damn good ones!" Pip chimed in fiercely.
"Don't be fools!" Jacko said sharply. "He may have me in his grasp, but there is no reason for both of you to sacrifice your lives for me. There is nothing to stop you escaping from this miserable existence."
Pip and Ben exchanged glances, then almost in unison they turned to stare at their eldest brother, the stubborn expression on both young faces almost identical. Even before the words were spoken, Jacko knew what they would be. "We're not leaving you!" Ben declared forthrightly. "Do you really think that Pip and me could ever find any peace or happiness knowing you were caught in the toils of the dimber-damber?"
Eyes bright with deep emotion, Pip said vehemently, "We're all in this together and we won't be separated! We'll either flee this ugly hovel together or we'll all dance at the end of a rope!"
Jacko laughed slightly, his set features relaxing. He was sincere in his offer and he would have done everything within his power to help the others escape, but he would not have been honest with himself if he denied the feeling of relief that swept through him at their words. Sitting up straighter in his chair, he sent the two people he loved most in the world a keen glance. "It is decided then? We will become housebreakers?"
Pip and Ben shrugged their shoulders. "We really don't have any other choice, do we?" Ben said.
Flatly, Jacko agreed. "No. The dimber-damber has made sure of that!"
"How soon do you think that he intends for us to start our new endeavor?" Pip asked curiously.
"Within the week, I would suspect. There's that sparring match tomorrow at Fives Court, and we're to work the crowd.... I'll probably see him that evening to turn over whatever trinkets we've managed to steal."
Pip stretched and muttered, "I suppose once we get a bit of experience behind us, we'll wonder why we ever had any reservations about becoming housebreakers."
Ben gave the dark, curly head an affectionate caress. "Oh, aye, no doubt you are right. We've become so expert at picking pockets that there is no excitement left—that sparring match tomorrow will probably be rather boring to us, now that we've decided to turn our hands at a different type of crime."
Knowing the daredevil streak in both of his younger siblings, Jacko frowned. "I wouldn't get too cocky if I were you two—we're very good at what we do, but there is also a possibility of a mistake."
Pip hooted with laughter. "A mistake? Me, make a mistake? And at a sparring match, at that? You know I find them boring, so I'll be much more inclined to concentrate on business—picking pockets for our dear, dear dimber-damber. The bloody bastard!"
In one of the grand homes that graced Hanover Square, two gentlemen were enjoying a glass of port, having just finished an excellent meal of spring veal and tender peas. They were sitting in an elegantly appointed room, straw-colored silk-hung walls contrasting nicely with the jewel tones of the ruby- and sapphire-hued Oriental rug that lay upon the floor. Tall, narrow windows that overlooked the square were draped in an exquisite ruby velvet, while overhead the many long tapers of a multifaceted crystal chandelier bathed the spacious room in golden light.
His long legs stretched out comfortably in front of him, Royce Manchester was sprawled in a high-backed chair near the flames that danced on the hearth of a marble-fronted fireplace. Despite the fact that it was early June, the day had been a chilly one, and Royce was glad of the warmth of the fire. Taking a sip of his port, he remarked, "I trust that the weather will be less inclement tomorrow, when we attend that damned sparring match you insisted I must see. Since neither of the pugilists are particularly noted for their skill, I suspect that we shall find it rather boring."
Zachary Seymour, Royce's young cousin, merely grinned, knowing full well that Royce never allowed himself to become bored. If the match proved to be as dull as Royce feared, Zachary was quite certain that his much-admired cousin would find a way to salvage the afternoon.
Excerpted from Whisper To Me of Love by Shirlee Busbee Copyright © 2012 by Shirlee Busbee. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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