Olivia Brownlow is no damsel in distress. Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, she is as tough and cunning as they come. When she is taken in by her uncle after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting and stealing on the streets to lavish dinners and soirees as a debutante in high society. But she can’t seem to escape her past … or forget the teeming slums where children just like her still scrabble to survive.
Jack Mac Carron rose from his place in London’s East End to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron. Little does society know that Mac Carron is a false name for a boy once known among London gangs as the Artful Dodger, and that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get. When Jack encounters Olivia Brownlow in places he least expects, his curiosity is piqued. Why is a society girl helping a bunch of homeless orphan thieves? Even more intriguing, why does she remind him so much of someone he once knew? Jack finds himself wondering if going legit and risking it all might be worth it for love.
Olivia Twist is a jacketed hardcover with decorative embossing.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
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Eighteen years later Grosvenor Square, London The Platts' Annual Autumn Dinner Party
The sounds of clinking china and animated chatter faded as Olivia's cheeks warmed, and the rhubarb tart she'd consumed moments before threatened to disembark. And yet, she continued to stare. The gentleman in question raised his glass in salute, sharp blue eyes glittering as they locked on her face. His lips tilted, and the smile swept through her as a spirit might pass through one's body, leaving her breathless.
The young man's uncommon good looks assured she would have remembered if they had met before. So why then did the planes of his face, the way he flicked his dark hair out of his eyes, and the restless tap of his fingers against his thigh send jitters of recognition through her chest?
Olivia took a step forward, her gaze never wavered. Energy radiated around him, as if it took every ounce of his self-control to remain still. He tugged at the velvet lapel of his forest-green jacket and then shoved his hand into the pocket of his trousers as he spoke to his companion. Olivia's heart skipped a beat and then raced forward, a memory just beyond her grasp swirling through her mind.
"Olivia! Look who I've found lingering by the warm punch." A familiar voice cut through the line of Olivia's thoughts, knotting them into a jumbled mess. She tore her gaze away from the gentleman across the room to find her cousin, Violet, approaching on the lanky arm of Maxwell Grimwig. Violet tucked a stray crimson curl behind her ear, her lips forming words that to Olivia sounded like gibberish. With a lurch, the room tipped and slid away from Olivia's feet, and she grasped Maxwell's jacket sleeve for leverage.
"Miss Brownlow!" Maxwell exclaimed as he took her by the shoulders and steered her to a nearby chair.
"Good heavens, should I get the smelling salts?" Violet's ruffled kerchief smacked Olivia in the face like a lavender-scented laundry bat.
With an exasperated yank, she captured the offensive cloth from her cousin's hand and fixed her with a death glare. "Not hardly." Fainting was not something Olivia made a habit of, and she wasn't about to start now.
"No need to get testy. I was simply attempting to revive you." Violet pouted, bending to peer into Olivia's face, as if searching for signs of a fatal malady. "I believe I warned you against that fourth tart."
"I'm perfectly fine." She huffed out a sigh and then softened her tone. "I promise." Since Olivia had no mother yet living, Violet had a tendency toward over protection. Most times, Olivia found her friend's cossetting lovable, but when she dared a surreptitious peek over Violet's chartreuse-clad shoulder, and saw the mysterious gentleman had moved on, her frustration spiked.
"You don't look fine," Vi proclaimed, hands gripping her corseted waist.
Olivia narrowed her eyes at her closest friend, noting the yellowish tinge underlying her rosy, freckled cheeks. There was no getting around it; the ghastly lime gown would have to be tossed at the first opportunity. Violet was a master at choosing shades to best complement Olivia's caramel-colored hair and odd, yellowish eyes, but when it came to her own vivid coloring, she seemed at a loss.
Olivia rose to her feet and smoothed her gold-and-cream-striped skirt. "In any case, the tarts were worth it. They were truly the best I've had all year."
Violet giggled. For Olivia, the food was the main attraction at every party — at least that's what she led others to believe. In truth, she would swim the length of the Thames for a slice of chocolate cake, but her ultimate goal at these events had little to do with her culinary obsessions.
"Miss Brownlow," Maxwell panted as he rushed to Olivia's side, sweat beads dotting his hawkish nose. "I brought you refreshment."
Olivia accepted the warm mug as a bell tinkled, announcing dinner. "Why, thank you, Mr. Grimwig." She took a small sip and lowered her lashes. "I am much restored."
The sharp slopes of his cheekbones glowed. "May I escort you to the dining room, Miss Brownlow?"
"Of course, Maxwell." She'd known Maxwell Grimwig for ages, therefore his neck only reddened slightly at her breech in proper address. Olivia detested the formal nature of dinner parties. She'd much rather meet with friends in a more casual setting. A picnic under the trees with her pup by her side, an intimate tea where no one counted the number of cakes she consumed, or a friendly game of cricket would all be preferable. Although these large social gatherings did have their advantages.
Olivia rose and placed a hand on her friend's offered elbow. "Max, are you acquainted with that gentleman in the forest green coat?" She craned her neck as she searched the departing crowd for the dark-haired man, and spotted him walking the young Widow Thesing through the doorway. "Just there." Olivia stood on her toes and pointed.
With a squeak, Violet grabbed Olivia's hand and yanked it down. "Olivia! He might see you," she hissed in outrage.
Olivia recovered her hand from Violet's lethal grip and then shrugged a shoulder as she arched a brow at Max. "Well?"
"Yes, I ... er ... believe that is Jack MacCarron." Max stuck a finger between his throat and his collar.
"I've never heard of him." Violet, who prided herself on knowing everyone who was anyone, peered across the room searching for the gentleman in question.
"That may be because he is fairly new to society. Moved here from Ireland a couple years back, I believe." Maxwell glanced around as the last few stragglers filed out of the room, and then sank down onto a chair and motioned the girls to sit on a brocade sofa across from him. "The circumstances were quite extraordinary, I hear."
Loving nothing more than a good story, Olivia perched on the edge of the divan beside Violet as Max pitched his voice in a whisper. "Jack's aunt took him in after his parents were found murdered — his mother stabbed to death and his father shot in the head."
Olivia arched back, chills running down her spine. "Truly?"
Maxwell's lips thinned as he waggled his caterpillar-like eyebrows. "As it may be believed, young Jack was nothing more than a half-wild ruffian when he showed up on his aunt's doorstep. Took her years to civilize him."
"Who is his aunt?" Violet whispered, gripping Olivia's arm.
"The old Widow March."
Olivia exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Violet. Lois March had a reputation for being eccentric. Everyone said she had lost her mind when her husband of forty-five years passed on, but Violet, having been acquainted with the woman since infancy, claimed she hadn't had much of a mind to lose.
Olivia leaned in and cupped her hand around the side of her mouth. "I've heard it said the Widow March buries something in her back garden at the light of every full moon. What do you suppose it could be?"
"I've heard 'tis the bones o' dead children," whispered a melodic, Irish brogue, so close the tiny hairs by Olivia's ear stirred. With a gasp, she rotated in her seat and almost collided with a solid shoulder covered in forest-green broadcloth. The gentleman in question leaned down, as if in conspiracy, a grin tilting his mouth, his blue eyes as frosty as a December morning.
Olivia shot to her feet and Mr. MacCarron straightened, his smile broadening.
Her cheeks burned as she stared up into a face that made her heart leap into her throat, but with a determined swallow she propped a hand on her hip and demanded, "Has anyone ever taught you that it's impolite to eavesdrop?"
"Has anyone ever told ye that it's cruel to gossip?" Jack MacCarron's smile never wavered, but something in his gaze forced Olivia back a step.
"Now, MacCarron, we were just having a bit of fun. No need to take offense." Maxwell's voice shook only slightly as he moved to Olivia's side.
"None taken." Jack's eyes narrowed dangerously on Olivia for several beats, dredging up fears she thought she'd long outgrown. Something about the curve of his mouth, the shape of his face drew her back into her long years of destitution — begging on the streets, robbing to survive — but such a connection was impossible.
He took a step forward. "I don't believe we have met." Olivia suppressed the urge to flee.
"My apologies," Maxwell said. "Allow me."
After a rather stilted round of introductions, Jack retrieved a woman's reticule — presumably the reason he had returned to the drawing room — and made his exit. Shaking off her recollections, Olivia watched his broad back until he disappeared, and then turned to find her best friend, lips parted, staring at the now empty doorway.
Despite the rainbows and butterflies reflected in Violet's gaze, the knot in Olivia's gut had little to do with romantic dreams and everything to do with a growing awareness rising within. Jack MacCarron was indeed no stranger to her.
Olivia glided down the dark corridor, slinking from shadow to shadow in a dance she'd performed more times than she cared to number. Her excuse for trespassing in the living quarters of the Platts' home held validity — this time. Presumably, she'd left the party to "lie down."
She could not believe she'd almost fainted. Her momentary weakness made her stomach clench with disgust. But Max Grimwig had come to her rescue in his sweet, bumbling way. His proposal was forthcoming any day now, and although she viewed him as no more than a friend, her uncle's declining health and dwindling finances assured her swift, if not enthusiastic, acceptance. She ignored the cold that spread through her chest at the thought of marrying. Eighteen was an acceptable age to become a wife, but for Olivia it signified responsibilities she had no inclination to take on, and more remarkably, it meant the end of her freedom.
But she would do what needed done. As she always had.
Violet made her disapproval of the match clear, but true love simply did not exist outside of fairy tales and her friend's ridiculous gothic novels. The Grimwigs' wealth would bring her security, allow her to support her uncle, and, she hoped, subsidize her charitable mission.
Olivia paused to open a massive armoire, but only finding stacks of fresh linens, continued down the hallway.
Last month while in the garden at the Drewforths' ball, Max had snuck a kiss. His lips were warm and gentle, pleasant. But it had left Olivia questioning why other girls compared the kisses of one gentleman to another. How different could they possibly be? Unbidden, the image of ice-blue eyes and a slow smirk filled her mind.
"Ouch! Blast it —" Olivia clamped her mouth closed, her heart racing as she grabbed her smarting foot and glanced up and down the hall. Still alone, she searched the floor for her assailant and found a squat frog balanced on the edge of the carpet runner. Cursing her own clumsiness, she moved to step around the doorstop, when a metallic glint caught her eye. She bent and plucked up the tiny statue for further examination. Hefting it in her hand, she noted the weight and the tarnished spots in the creases where the polish had missed. A triumphant grin spread across Olivia's face. Solid silver.
The idiotic trinket would bring a fair amount of coin at market. "No one shall miss you, my little darling," Olivia whispered as she slipped the amphibian into the pocket of her skirt, its added weight pulling the fabric taunt.
She turned to go back to the party when slow footsteps, so light she almost didn't hear them, signaled someone approaching. Keeping her gaze glued to the landing at the top of the stairs, she backed up then reached behind her to turn the nearest doorknob, but it wouldn't move. Her pulse galloping ahead of her, she tiptoed to the next door, finding it locked as well.
The footsteps continued, and a tall shadow stretched across the landing. Olivia turned and ran. A stream of weak light indicated a cracked door near the end of the hallway. She raced toward it, and without thought slipped inside. Pushing the door to, she leaned against the wall and let out a long breath, willing her heartbeat to slow. The light of a single lamp on the bureau illuminated burgundy bed coverings, dark leather furniture, and the implements of a pipe spread on a low table by the window. Mr. Platt's bedchamber. If anyone found her there, she didn't dare contemplate the consequences.
At the Wolfbergs' party the previous week, she'd nearly been caught nipping chinaware from the kitchens. The butler had walked in on her the moment she'd plucked the gold-rimmed saucer from its velvet-lined drawer. As luck would have it, one of the maids approached and, in a ringing voice, Olivia demanded to know where she could purchase the dishware for her uncle's household — as if they could actually afford such finery. After being informed that the china had been passed down in the Wolfberg family for generations, the butler had taken Olivia's arm and escorted her back to the party.
If the servant had arrived a second later, he would have witnessed Olivia slipping the saucer into the custom-made pocket of her skirt — and her mission at every extravagant, overdone soiree would have screeched to a tragic end.
The footsteps grew closer. Olivia pressed her back into the wall and sucked in her chest, as if not breathing would somehow make her invisible. The footfalls paused right outside the door, followed by an odd scrape and click. Her hands gripped the wall like talons, and she peeked around the edge of the door, just as a dark-haired gentleman with broad shoulders slipped into the next room.
Mr. MacCarron? She jerked her head back into the room. What could he possibly be doing in the Platt family wing?
Olivia pressed against the wall and clutched the locket resting beneath the neckline of her dress, worrying the smooth metal against the fabric, an unconscious habit that brought her comfort. Like a word on the tip of her tongue, she could almost grasp what eluded her about Jack MacCarron. Before she could contemplate further, a muted banging made her jump, and the exposed skin of her upper arm scraped against the wooden chair rail at her back. She wrapped her gloved fingers around her stinging flesh as another muffled thump from the next room drew her attention to the connecting door. Of course! Mr. and Mrs. Platt would have adjoining bedrooms.
On her tiptoes, she crossed the room and turned the knob slowly. Careful not to make a sound, she eased the door open a crack. Silence.
Turn. Run! her mind hissed. But she didn't. She stayed. She had to know.
Opening the door, she peered inside. The bedroom was dark save for the muted glow from the open window.
Standing stock still, she trained all her senses on the room. A flash of light left black spots dancing before her eyes, and then she heard a low curse. What on earth was he doing in there? Easing open the door a bit more, she leaned forward until she spied a dark form hunched near the foot of the bed. Heart racing, she stepped inside.
As if pulled by an unseen force, Olivia took another step and another. A cloud shifted outside and a beam of moonlight painted the curve of his stubble-covered jaw and strong nose. Bent over a metal box beside an open hole in the floor, he maneuvered the tools in his hands with quick, deft movements. And that niggling that she'd experienced the moment he'd smiled at her reared up and screamed the answer into her mind.
The floorboard creaked under her heel and she froze, her breath seizing in her chest. The man looked up and their eyes met for a moment that stretched into an eternity, and she knew she was right. "Dodger?"
His shocked expression turned fierce, and he sprang from his crouch like a big cat she'd seen once at the Regent's Park zoo. Faster than she could have thought possible, he grasped her arms and pushed her up against the wall. "Where the devil did you hear that name?" he ground out between clenched teeth.
Olivia blinked. The thin scar on his right cheekbone, the vein that pulsed in his throat when he was angry, the outline of dark lashes around light eyes — Dodger. She longed to confess, "It's me, your erstwhile friend, Ollie." But he'd never believe she was his long-lost chum — the orphan boy he'd taken under his wing some nine years past.
"I asked you a question," he growled. The solid weight of his body pressed closer, forcing her to tilt her chin to meet his violent gaze.
The tiny hairs on her arms rose, sparking the survival instincts from her youth. Never back down. Stiffening her posture, she spat, "Whyever would I answer such a great brute?"
Excerpted from "Olivia Twist"
Copyright © 2018 Lorie Moeggenberg.
Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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