Wednesday, August 06, 2014

New release, new series! Rogue in Red Velvet - Families fight with swords drawn!

Out today! The first in an exciting new series. Families feud and Pretenders have one last attempt at power. And men and women fall in love.
Buy the book at Kensington here, or at Amazon, or at iTunes.

If Connie loses her standing in society, she risks losing everything…except Alex.
When country widow Constance Rattigan finds herself in a notorious London brothel instead of at the altar, only one person can save her from the auction block. Alex Vernon walked away from Connie once before, when he discovered her engagement. Now that her fiancĂ© has betrayed her, Lord Ripley doesn’t intend to leave her again. But Connie has other ideas… She won’t marry him until her name is cleared.
Alex decides to make Connie’s wishes come true, but it’s not that easy, even with the help of his powerful relatives known as the Emperors of London.


Extract: 

The Auction for Connie:



Tension knotted Alex's stomach and he only pretended to sip the wine one of the 'slave girls' had handed him.
He remained languidly draped over his chair, handkerchief held elegantly, every muscle, every nerve under rigid control.
The girl stared out at the audience but because her eyes were so dark, he couldn’t tell if sheer terror or drugs kept her rooted to the spot. She swallowed as the half-naked man playing the slave master sold her for three hundred guineas. Bidding was brisk and the girl went to Lord Tyrone, who would at least treat her with kindness. His for the night. She was not announced as a virgin.
Next, came the first declareded virgin, a fresh-faced girl who probably came straight off the coach. She was definitely drugged. Her eyelids drooped and she staggered.
Cratchitt caught and straightened her once more.
Alex held his fire and she sold to a man for five hundred.
The trouble with watching something like this was that he wanted to buy them all, or at least the drugged ones, and set them free. Someone had lured them into this. That would play perfectly into Dankworth’s hands. But he feared the man planned more.
Some ‘slave auctions’ were good-natured, lascivious fun, the girls willing, the virgins of the mock-maiden variety. This was certainly not one of those. It was disgusting, the girls drugged or scared.
Cratchitt hadn’t even tried to hide that some of the girls were drugged. They were here for dangerous play, the kind that could kill them.
Dankworth would not win.
The next girl on the block was definitely drugged, her steps sluggish, her eyes half-closed, and she was not advertised as a virgin. Had Cratchitt checked? Of course she had, the bitch.
She’d probably examined Connie, too. Infuriated, Alex shifted in his chair. He could only wait, get Connie out of here and then put events in train. The girl wore a shift, which drooped over her chest. She was skinny, with tiny breasts, her bones protruding, her skin stretched over them. If Cratchitt had any sense she’d have looked after the stock better than this. A servant girl, maybe, looking for honest work and finding this instead.
“What do I have for this handsome wench?” The slave master tucked his whip under the girl’s chin, forcing her head up. “Jest lookit her hair, gentlemen. Down to her backside. Your own personal harness to control her with!”
The room fell silent. Cratchitt nudged the girl and she yelped. Probably less of a nudge and more a pinch. “All scrubbed this morning. All the girls here are guaranteed clean inside and out!”
At last, Alex raised his hand. Costly lace fell back from his wrist.
The auctioneer saw him immediately. “A hundred, sir?”
Alex shook his head. “Fifty,” he suggested. “And I’m being generous.” He couldn’t bear it. This girl would die before too many days were out if she wasn’t attended to. He couldn’t let that happen.
Nobody else bid. The girls that had gone before had at least a chance and he would have a quiet word with their ‘owners,’ if he thought it necessary. He memorized the name of every man in the room. Alex let his lip curl in a sneer. Why not tell them what he thought of them?
Cratchitt brought the girl over.
Alex gestured a nearby chair. “Sit her there. I’ve not finished yet.”
The girl shot him a disinterested look then closed her eyes. Alex poked her. She was dangerously close to falling into a deep, dreamless sleep, the kind people rarely woke from. She came to with a start and sat upright.
A buxom blonde followed, alert and chirpy, giving back what they sent her. A willing slave. She fetched a good price.
Then a woman, honey-colored hair trailing over her face in bedraggled tails. She wore a shift and a pair of blue brocade stays, cinched so tight that her ample bosom swelled with every breath.
Connie.
Normally Alex would find the quivering of such sweet flesh enticing. Not tonight. He felt every pinch of that tight lacing, every short breath she took as if it was his own. Look at me. I’m here. I won’t let them hurt you anymore.
The slave master grabbed a handful of hair and jerked up her head. Connie’s chin jutted out and her eyes, red-rimmed and watery, stared sightlessly into the room. All Alex’s muscles tightened as he resisted the urge to leap onto that damned block and grab her, cover her with his coat, hide her from the leering eyes of the crowd. Fury and sense warred and sense won. Barely and only for her sake. He had to get her out of here and if he tried violence, the room, rendered volatile by excitement and strong drink, would erupt.
The wine had its effect and the audience was yelling and hooting their approval. “That’s better!” someone cried. “I’ll give her something to wake her up!”
Alex would kill him.
Again, she wasn’t introduced as a virgin and Alex gritted his teeth, adding to the mental tally of what this Cratchitt bitch owed him. She’d had her hands all over Connie’s sweet skin. The slave master began his chat but calls from the audience almost drowned him out. They liked her.
Connie swayed as if she’d fall off the block. A tiny thread of drool slid out of the corner of her mouth but Mrs. Cratchitt took care of it with a rough swipe from a cloth. Connie flinched. If Alex had ever felt like hitting a woman, now was the time.
“Three hundred for Rattigan!” Dankworth cried.
Fury rose to choke Alex. How could he bandy her name like that?
The bastard was making sure everybody knew her name. Alex gritted his teeth and forced his temper down. He needed all his wits about him now.
Alex held his fire and let them bid. Occasionally Dankworth sent him a triumphant grin but Alex remained grimly silent, a supercilious smile firmly planted on his lips. He yawned again and shifted in his chair. Let them fight it out.
When the bidding had reached a pitch of intensity, but only in the hundreds he opened his mouth. “Five thousand.”
The room fell silent and the audience turned as a man and gaped at him.
He shrugged. “If we only have them for one night, we’d best get on with it, hadn’t we? With her, I’ll have my two.”
Murmurs followed his remark and a few “Hear hears,” too. Maybe they’d come straight from the debating chamber. But he’d made his point.
Nobody else wanted to pay more than five thousand guineas for the woman. After all, she was no virgin. They had Cratchitt’s word for that. When Lord Spinder opened his mouth and made a move with his hand, Alex met his gaze and let the smile drop. Gratifyingly, he received a shame-faced shrug and one man, standing at the back, nod in approval. An ally.
This wasn’t right and some of them knew it.
Thanks to Mother Cratchitt, no doubt coached by Jasper Dankworth, everyone in this room knew the name of the woman here tonight. Alex didn’t know if it was possible to recover from that. But she was barely recognizable from the woman he’d met at the Downhollands’. That could work in his favor.
Two bullies half-carried, half-dragged Connie off the block toward Alex. She staggered and stumbled, more asleep than awake.
He stood as they approached and swept her up, one arm under her knees and the other around her back, pillowing her head on his shoulder. Her hair straggled over the fine red velvet of his coat. The last time he’d seen it, she’d swept it up into a glossy knot, leaving a few curls to tease her shoulders saucily. He’d wanted her then. He wanted her now, God help him.
He nodded towards the other girl he’d bought. “Bring her,” he said curtly.
He strode from room, Mrs. Cratchitt abandoning her auction to chase him. The bully who’d shown him to his seat picked up the skinny girl as if she weighed nothing, which was probably not too far from the truth and followed him.
“This way, my lord,” the doxy crooned, gesturing to the stairs.
Alex spared her a scornful glance. “I think not.”
“Sir, you can’t take the girls out of this house. I bought them girls good and proper. You only get a night.”
Alex ignored her and headed down the stairs. Connie groaned and he took a moment to tuck her head more securely in the crook between his neck and shoulder.
“Sir, I’m warnin’ you—” Cratchitt’s accent grew less refined by the second.
He got to the bottom of the stairs and swung around, putting all his aristocratic hauteur into play. “I’ll warn you. Ask about me and who my friends are. Then try to make trouble.”
He was taking a risk because someone with influence and money had helped Cratchitt set this place up. “One peep from you and I’ll visit my lawyers. Abducting a respectable female could get you into more trouble than you want. And the other one?” He nodded at the skinny maid in the other man’s arms. “She’ll die if she isn’t cared for, I can see the signs. Do you want her dying here, or shall I take her to a hospital?”
“You can’t leave!”
“Watch me.”
He strode to the door and stood before it. The bully stationed there took a position before him and crossed his arms over his chest. Alex stared him out, his chin up, his eyelids lowered, looking down his nose at the man as if he meant nothing. Aristocratic hauteur often worked where swords wouldn’t. “Open the door,” he said quietly.
“Do it,” said the bully behind him. “This girl must have come in by accident, or somefink. She shouldn’t be here.”
At last, a man of sense.
The man in front of the door glanced over Alex’s shoulder. He must have received permission because he stepped back and flung the door wide. “And don’t come back!” Cratchitt shrieked after him.
Alex left the house with the other man at his heels, ignoring the madam’s shrieks that he should leave the other one behind. They raced down the steps and straight to the house next door.
The man stationed in front of it let them in without hesitation and slammed it in the faces of the pursuers.
 
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