Anthony Gowers assists guests at a high-end London hotel with the kind of requests that can't be filled from a room-service menu. His reward: lavish tips and a closet full of cashmere. Then a client's after-hours entertainment ends in a tabloid scandal, and Anthony quickly becomes the city's best-dressed unemployed person. . .
In desperation, Anthony takes a position in the countryside as personal butler to Lord Shanderson. As a former Royal footman, Anthony is well versed in the peerage's peculiar ways. But Castle Beadale conceals an abundance of intrigue behind its stately doors. On the surface, Lord Shanderson is a model English gentleman--with a few personal interests that Anthony is sure the absent Lady Shanderson knows nothing about. But when the horrendously high-maintenance Lady Shanderson returns, tempers will flare, secrets will be exposed, and Anthony must decide whether the perks of privilege he's enjoyed are worth the price he's compelled to pay. . .
|Sold by:||Penguin Random House Publisher Services|
|File size:||759 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Michael Harwood
Kensington Publishing CorpCopyright © 2015 Michael Harwood
All rights reserved.
The moment I found Martyn's bound and gagged body facedown on the bed of the presidential suite, I saw my career prospects spiraling down the drain like dirty bath water.
I'd seen a lot of unpleasant things during my time on the eighth floor: a freshly laid turd on the Egyptian cotton sheets, used sanitary towels floating in the bath, and countless carelessly discarded condoms, but until now never a dead body. Let alone the body of someone I actually knew.
Martyn and I weren't exactly what you would call best friends, but we got on just fine. Along with other guys from the hotel we'd spent more than our fair share of drunken nights in the fleshpots of Soho and Vauxhall, and I had always enjoyed his company. But as I stared at his lifeless body contorted into such a tawdry position, I couldn't help but think that this was going to be a lot harder to sweep under the carpet than the usual detritus that followed a wild night at the Landseer Hotel.
Initially I thought I had the situation contained. Remembering the training I had received for just such a situation, I locked the door to the suite and calmly picked up the phone to call the hotel manager.
As I waited for him to pick up I found myself staring at Martyn's body with a morbid curiosity that shocked me almost as much as the sight itself.
"Malcolm Henderson, how may I be of service today?"
"Mr. Henderson, it's Anthony. We have a code orange on the eighth floor."
The line fell silent for a few seconds before he spoke. "I see. Don't leave the room, and stay calm. I will be up shortly to assess the situation."
As I went to replace the receiver the room was filled with an ear-piercing scream. I swear it was so shrill it must have had half the dogs in Mayfair running for cover. I dropped the phone and spun around just in time to see Consuela, the head housekeeper, fall to her knees, clutching her crucifix and crossing herself with a ferocity seldom seen outside the Vatican.
"Oh mi dios, los santos nos protejan," she screamed, gazing up at the ceiling.
Eventually her words trailed off into an incomprehensible ramble as she rocked back and forth like a mad woman.
I found a sheet and draped it delicately over Martyn's body (as I'd been led to believe was the proper thing to do by Jessica Fletcher) and set about trying to calm Consuela whilst we waited for Mr. Henderson to arrive.
The following morning the Sun newspaper carried a full-page photograph of a handwritten note on the distinctive cream vellum headed notepaper reserved for the VIP suites. The note read:
Sorry about the mess.
I had long held a suspicion that much of Consuela's image as a simple Andalucian mountain girl was something of a front, and when I saw the headlines the next day I knew I'd been right all along.
You see, when I entered the suite that note had been carefully placed on the side table. She must have spotted it immediately when she entered the room, pocketing it before screaming the place down. I imagine she flogged it to the press for the price of two EasyJet flights to Alicante before Martyn was even cold.
The papers might well have reported Martyn's death as a suicide, but I knew for a fact that wasn't the case. The words EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE AT THE LANDSEER were embossed on the hotel stationery, and never more was a company motto interpreted as a statement of fact by its customers. Most of my "pocket money" came from sorting fairly mundane favors for the guests, such as front row seats for that night's performance of Wicked or a table for two at The Ivy. But when I had someone on the end of the phone looking to "eat off menu," my inner cash register really started to ring. I had an instinct for what he or she was looking for, and I went to great lengths to facilitate it. Nine times out of ten Martyn would be able to accommodate them, and if he couldn't, I made it my business to find someone who could. If a VIP had a deviant itch that needed scratching, it would never be an assistant putting in the call. odds were, if the boss could be bothered to pick up the phone and dial my number, he was looking for something he wanted kept quiet. And my secret weapon when it came to indulging the sexual proclivities of some of my more perverted guests was Martyn. Most of the time he was in and out of the suite within the hour, five hundred pounds better off and bragging to me about how little he'd had to do for the money.
"Easier than digging up roads for a living," he used to say.
Martyn's last client had been a Russian playboy with a taste for rough sex and diplomatic immunity, so by the time the body was discovered the gentleman in question was halfway to Moscow in a hastily chartered private jet to be reunited with his doting wife.
Mr. Henderson might have been able to gloss over the fact that Martyn had not been alone when he died, but the gutter press's enthusiasm for a catchy headline and the hint of an untold story made a stay at the Landseer Hotel about as tempting to most of its regular clientele as a swim through nuclear waste. And whilst the manner of Martyn's death might have brought a certain amount of interest in the hotel, it just wasn't the kind one would hope for when trying to sell rooms for three thousand pounds per night.
Up on the VIP floor Martyn had been perfectly placed to hide in plain sight whilst he went about his business. As one of the dedicated butlers, he had always been on hand to meet the needs of our most demanding guests. Young, blond, and with no gag reflex to speak of, he had been by far one of our most popular employees.
And the ladies, to whom he so elegantly served afternoon tea, had had no idea that whilst they pounded the beat at Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Selfridges, Martyn had been getting a pounding of a different kind from their husbands.
Our agreement had been that he slipped me twenty percent of whatever he made, and we both kept our mouths shut. Looking back it seemed so simple, but if I had thought for just one second that he would wind up dead as a result, I would have put a stop to it months ago. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it?
I had always been confident that I could keep my half of the bargain, but sometimes Martyn had made me nervous. He had never gone so far as to blab, but more than once, after a few drinks or a sneaky line of coke, I had heard him hinting to some of the other staff about having a "little sideline."
When he died the whole hotel was plunged into a state of shock, myself included, but there were moments when I found myself thinking that at least I no longer had to worry about him dropping me in it. Of course I felt terrible thinking that, but trust has never been one of my strong points.
Nobody would ever be able to prove that I had any involvement in Martyn's sideline, I made quite sure of that. But as the facts of the case emerged through both the press and the inevitable hotel gossip that followed, it became increasingly difficult for the management to believe I knew nothing about the matter. The dramatic fall in bookings was all the ammunition they needed to get rid of me. Exactly one week after Martyn died I was called into Mr. Henderson's office and told I was being made redundant. A month's salary and no notice period. Good-bye, au revoir, see ya later! Just like that, no further explanation required. I can't say I was entirely surprised, but I was acutely aware that without a job to pay my bills I was well and truly fucked.
That week it seemed like my phone never stopped ringing, but in between the "withheld" numbers and ones I didn't recognize, one caller really got my attention.
Normally she's the first on the scene, sniffing for gossip like a pig sniffs out truffles, but despite having waited almost a week she got right to the point.
"Darling," she said in her low, heavily accented voice. "Did you do it?"
"Maria, you are terrible," I said, laughing for the first time in days. "You know me well enough to know that if I'd done it they would have never found the body."
Maria and I had met many years ago when we both worked at the Palace. She had been a housemaid, and I had been one of the Queen's footmen. In those days Maria and I had been an item for a while, but that part of our relationship had ended after she found me on my knees in front of one of the Queen's pages in the silver pantry. Despite the shock of finding her boyfriend with another man's dick in his mouth, she recognized a kindred spirit when she saw one, so we both agreed that we would make much better friends than lovers and have remained inseparable ever since.
Whilst I stayed true to my work experience by taking a job at the Landseer, Maria had no intentions of staying a housemaid for longer than was strictly necessary. It's no exaggeration to say that upon leaving "The Firm," Maria emerged from behind the green baize door a changed woman. She reinvented herself as a high-flying personal assistant, and, after exploiting a few contacts she stole from an ex-boyfriend's laptop, she landed herself a job as PA to one of the world's wealthiest (and best connected) widows. In return for Maria's natural ability to do a hundred things at once, her employer showered her with gifts of Prada handbags, Longines watches, free Botox injections, and envelopes stuffed full of Swiss francs.
Maria took care of every aspect of Madame Szabo's life. From making sure the private jet was sprayed with her bespoke room fragrance before she boarded to liaising with her plastic surgeon in New York, Maria ran Madame's life with military precision and enforced her will with an iron fist (albeit clad in a velvet glove). Many a chauffeur was "let go" because the car was parked facing the wrong way down the street or because he failed to take the hint when Maria said she didn't like his choice of cologne. Maria was not just a PA; she was an SPA: Superhuman Personal Assistant. Her words, not mine, but it was a fairly accurate job title nonetheless.
"We need to go out and get well and truly shit-faced on cocktails, and then you tell me all about it," she said, sucking air through her teeth as she struggled to light a cigarette. "In fact, my darling, let's make it the Connaught, and I may choose to tell you about someone I know who is looking for a butler."
"Maria, I just got fired. You'll be lucky if I can afford to take you to Burger King," I said, feeling a knot form in my stomach at the thought of being skint.
"Darling, what do you take me for?" she asked, deadpan. "It's all taken care of, and I've booked a table at Scott's for dinner later." And with that the line went dead. Two seconds later my iPhone vibrated, signaling a message:
PS, I'm paying 4 dinner.CHAPTER 2
I arrived early at the Connaught, not really wanting to spend any more time than I had to on my own at home. A tall, Mediterranean-looking waiter appeared at my side the second I entered the bar. He stood close enough that I could smell his cologne. He tried his best to be nonchalant as he surreptitiously looked me up and down.
"May I help you?" He smiled, flashing perfect white teeth that stood out against his dark features.
"I'm joining a friend for drinks," I said, looking around for Maria even though she's never been early for anything in her life.
"Mr. Gowers?" he inquired without consulting a list of any kind, keeping his dark eyes locked onto mine.
"Yes, that's right," I said, trying to sound aloof.
"In that case, Mr. Gowers," he said, with the faintest trace of a smile, "you had better come with me."
I followed and watched as his high, round buttocks strained against the seat of his well-cut black trousers. Moving with an ease that hinted at a dancer's poise, he was, I imagined, waiting tables for tips before his big West End break.
When we arrived at the table, he thrust a drinks menu into my hand and left me to scrutinize it in the designer gloom. The lighting at the Connaught is such that everyone is cast in the most flattering of shadows, and even married couples of some thirty years standing look as if they are conducting a dangerous affair. Reading the menu, however, requires absolute concentration, so I got right down to it and within a few minutes I was sipping a perfectly made dirty martini.
When Maria enters a room, something in the atmosphere changes. It's utterly intangible, but I've seen it happen too many times for there to be any doubt. Wherever she goes men instantly lose their train of thought, and, conversely, their female companions suddenly become very focused. If Maria has any inkling of this phenomenon, she resolutely refuses to acknowledge it. Which, of course, does nothing but add to the effect. And that's how I knew she had arrived without even looking up.
She was, of course, fashionably late, but more than made up for it by looking her usual gorgeous self, all long limbed and tanned from a recent trip to her native Italy; her wild, unruly curls, set free for the evening after a day of being scraped into a severe chignon, fell around her bronzed shoulders. Maria wasn't particularly tall, but the combination of big hair and permanent five-inch Louboutin heels gave her a rather authoritative air. It was an impression that served her well in life, but also made her incredibly sexy. Sometimes I flattered myself by thinking that she made an extra effort with her appearance whenever we met, but in truth she looked this damn good all the time, which made me smile.
The minute Maria's Gucci-clad backside touched the velvet banquette, the bar manager arrived by her side as if from nowhere.
"Compliments of the house, Ms. Rigoni," he said, placing a Negroni in front of her.
"Molto gentile," she said, meeting the bar manager's eye for a split second before turning back to me. "I mean, it's a disaster—who's going to want to spend all that money to stay on the eighth floor after that!"
Maria could drink almost as fast as she could talk, and in a matter of minutes she was banging her empty glass back down on the table.
The bar manager retreated toward the bar, gesturing as he went for another round.
"I know. It's all a bit of a nightmare," I said, thankful of the chance to get a word in edgeways. "What am I going to do, Maria?" I said, resenting the note of self-pity in my voice. "I have nothing. I've got no money in the bank, no job, and a flat that costs me a fortune every month."
It was true; the salary the hotel had paid me was modest, and although there were plenty of people in London who survived on less, they probably didn't live in the heart of Notting Hill or do their weekly food shop at Harrods. My monthly paycheck just about covered the rent, but my champagne dreams and caviar wishes were granted by other, infinitely more scurrilous means. And now that income stream had dried up. By now the alcohol was worming its way through my veins, and I could feel the tension in my shoulders gradually ebb away.
"Anyway, what's all this about someone you know needing a butler?" I said.
"Did you know that Madame Szabo has a daughter?"
"I vaguely knew she had one, but I don't know anything about her, why?"
"Have you heard of Lady Elizabeth Shanderson?"
"Of course. She's all over the press like a rash: Tatler, Harper's; in fact wasn't there some feature in World of Interiors a few months ago about her new apartment in New York?"
"Well, they are one and the same person!" Maria said with a flourish, as if she had revealed the murderer in an Agatha Christie novel. "One minute she's plain old Erzsebet Szabo, and the next thing you know she gets hitched to the lord of the manor and is Lady Elizabeth Shanderson." Maria sniffed.
"Her mother tells everyone her daughter had an arranged marriage. The only difference is that Elizabeth arranged it herself!" Maria threw her head back and laughed loudly at her own joke.
"So she's reinvented herself as the lady of the manor, so what?" I asked.
"Darling, you wouldn't believe it. The voice is the best bit. When she speaks, she makes Camilla sound positively common!"
"I see, and I take it Lady Elizabeth is looking for a butler?"
"As ever, mia caro, you are only half right," Maria said smugly.
As we talked, Maria shifted slightly in her chair, and her glossy painted lips pursed ever so slightly as I felt her foot brush mine. A few moments later our second round of drinks arrived, but, as the hot Mediterranean waiter bent down to carefully place them on the table, I felt the pointed toe of her shoe jab me sharply in the shin. I stifled a laugh for fear the waiter would think he was the source of my amusement, but was distracted when Maria leaned forward so that her mouth was near his ear.
"My friend wants your number," she said without bothering to whisper.
"Maria!" I hissed. "I never said that." I looked up at him, hoping to see a shrug of the shoulders or a conspiratorial roll of the eyes, but he was staring straight at Maria.
"In that case you had better tell him to look under his drink." And with that he turned and made his way back through the crowded bar. Maria and I both suddenly looked down at the martini glass placed in front of me, and there, clearly visible through the base, was a name and number scribbled onto the napkin upon which the glass sat.
Excerpted from The Manservant by Michael Harwood. Copyright © 2015 Michael Harwood. Excerpted by permission of Kensington Publishing Corp.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I did not care for this book. When I ordered it, I should have read the description more closely. I did not care for the lifestyle of the characters.
I bought this Nook book because reading about the behind the scenes aristocracy sounded pretty interesting. I was completely surprised to find I'd purchased a book filled with male gay sexual encounters. There's really very little to do with the behind the scenes lives of the people who serve Britain's aristocracy. Unless you're into lots of male on male encounters, then don't bother with this book. Sadly, the writing is hardly better than the subject matter. This is one book I wish I could return. Since I can't, I deleted it from my Nook. Yuck!
This guy needs to go back to writing cook books because this book is so stupid. No story. Just a lot of words. One star
I'm not going to lie to you: This book contains steamy sex scenes, some of the very light S&M variety, and of the gay persuasion. While that's not normally the kind of book I pick up, I enjoyed it and didn't find anything shocking or so "other" that I couldn't identify on a human-who-has-relationships level. I am a sucker for anything in the Downton Abbey wheelhouse, and anyone who knows me knows I'm an Anglophile. What's great about this book is the upstairs/downstairs status-shifting, and the glimpse into a grand English manor. It's very Jackie Collins, all larger-than-life. That said, the people are real, the relationships are believable, and the setting is well drawn. Anthony Gowers is a complicated person who makes real choices: Good and bad. That's what I want in a character in a novel that I read. There's romance, betrayal, intrigue, and quite a few laughs. It's a shame to have to categorize this book, because to me it's just a great novel. When I watch films, I hop from My Beautiful Laundrette, to Frozen, to Life of Pi, to Clueless, to Rear Window, to Bridesmaids. I can switch genres in books, too, as long as I love the characters and their journeys. I was very happy to follow this story, and I was invested. While a good Chick Lit/Rom Com is my wheelhouse, I'm glad I found The Manservant. I'll admit I liked it first for the title and cover (shallow, I know) but was soon after drawn into the story. Recommended.
If you are picking up this book thinking that it will be laden with an ‘upstairs downstairs’ sort of feel and theme, that is not what you are getting. Harwood’s debut novel is focused on Anthony Gowers, a man wholly invested in the fulfillment of special requests of the guests, first to the upscale hotel guests for whom he works, and then later for a lord inside his country estate. I liked Anthony: perfectly well-suited to his procurement, he isn’t easily shocked or bothered by the particular requirements requested of him. Dancing that line between close-lipped obsequious service to rather bawdy and snide interior monologues, Anthony likes the good life and all that it comes to afford him. When a particular request ends up as tabloid fodder, the well-heeled gentlemen caught in the scandal pressures the hotel to let Anthony go. Needing a position to maintain his lifestyle, and with his experience including a footman for the Royals, Anthony’s new employer Lord Shanderson, offers him a position of some esteem. When Anthony is requested to produce for Shanderson’s varied interests, the questions about where his life has led, and what options may be available should this position be one step too many. Anthony’s retelling of the stories, and the repeated M/M conquests, some laden with BDSM elements are notable for their frequency and the efforts that all parties make to keep them a secret. Anthony’s role as the keeper of these many secrets is a dangerous one: in service to the wealthy and privileged, whispered words in the right ears could end any hopes he has of employment or career. While there is nothing overtly shocking in any of the encounters, Harwood gives that sly wink and nod in the attempts everyone seems to make to ignore the realities of their situations, while not out rightly condemning either the acts or the men. Beautifully written with insets of protocol and proper form that only add to the very “Britishness” of the story, this is a story that shows the writer’s skill and abilities, making him one to watch on my lists. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.