Once a month, Bria Quinlan and Alexia Reed host a bunch of authors who get together and post excerpts from published books, contracted work or works in progress, and link to each other. You don’t have to be published to participate–just be a writer with an excerpt you’d like to share. For more info on how to participate, head over to the Excerpt Monday site or click on the banner above!
As always, any comments or criticisms are welcome.
I have gone to join Astley’s equestrian troupe. Thank you again for bringing us to Mr. Astley’s show so I could find my heart’s desire. Please don’t be mad and give James and Juliet my love. I’m sure you can explain my reasons to them far better than I could.
Tabitha dropped her hand with the note to her lap. Henri had run away? And she believed Tabitha would understand her reasons?
She understood nothing. It made no sense for the daughter of a duke to join a performing troupe. Even if they rode horses.
Despair sank to the bottom of her stomach, the knot hardening into a heavy stone. She’d never be able to explain this incident to Bolster. She must fetch the girl home and talk some sense into her. It was the only choice if she wanted to prevent the scandal from breaking and if she wanted to keep her position.
Blast Reese for getting her into this mess in the first place. Tabitha grabbed her spencer and dashed downstairs.
The thought of Henrietta going by herself to Astley’s spurred her to hurry. As she clattered into the foyer, Hartwell rushed to meet her. “What’s the matter, Miss Gifford?”
“I need the carriage brought around. I must leave immediately.”
Hartwell summoned a footman and sent him to the stables with the request. “I assume the note bore ill tidings. If I might suggest waiting until His Grace returns, perhaps he can be of assistance.”
“I hope to return before he does.” It wouldn’t do for him to discover this blunder either.
“Please, allow me call a maid to accompany you.”
“No, no. I must leave as soon as the carriage is ready. The driver will be company enough.” The fewer who knew her errand, the fewer servants there would be who might be tempted to gossip about it. No matter how loyal Bolster insisted his staff was, Tabitha wasn’t willing to chance Henrietta’s reputation if possible.
She heard the clatter of hooves and carriage wheels on the drive and raced out the door.
“Miss Gifford, what should I tell His Grace?”
“Tell him I’ve gone to Astley’s, but I hope to be back before he returns.” She clambered into the carriage and directed the driver to move out before Hartwell could argue or direct the footman to accompany her.
Staring out the window, Tabitha berated herself for not having foreseen this disaster. She should have sat with one of the girls on each side of her, but she’d allowed the excitement of sitting beside Bolster distract her from her duties as companion and chaperone.
There was little comfort in the fact that Henrietta hadn’t made mention of Astley’s specifically since the show. The niggling idea that something should have stood out as a warning to alert those close to her that she was planning something even more outrageous than usual.
Tabitha wondered if she had become so entangled with the duke that she ignored her charges and allowed this to pass. She prayed she’d arrive in time to save Henri and that Juliet wouldn’t follow her sister’s foolish example.
And why hadn’t Juliet talked her out of it? Tabitha feared she should be wondering what wild and reckless plans Juliet was fermenting. Why hadn’t she checked to see if Juliet was in her room before leaving? What if both girls were roaming London by themselves and Bolster blamed her?
Tabitha drew in a long, deep breath to steady her self. Panic would not help. She needed to be calm and in charge to face the situation. Slowly inhaling for a slow count and exhaling in the same, steadying rhythm helped to focus her energy and her mind. Between her breathing, the repetitive rattle of the carriage wheels and jangle of the harnesses, the tension subsided from her shoulders, but its persistent grip squashed her stomach.
The carriage drew to a stop in front of Astley’s and Tabitha climbed out. “Shall I come with you, Miss? Not sure it’s the safest place for a lady by herself at this time of day.”
Tabitha surveyed the street where a couple of unsavory looking fellows lounged, eyeing her and the carriage with interest. “No, I need you to keep an eye out for Lady Henrietta, in case I miss her inside and she comes out alone. Besides, I should like to know that the carriage would still be here when we return.”
“Very well, Miss.” The driver nodded and tied the ribbons off to free his hands while he waited.
Tabitha walked to the dark and empty entrance of the building. The vibrancy and vitality had drained away with the crowd. She tugged her spencer tighter about her, a thrill of excitement and danger surging through her.
She knocked on the door.
Silence filled the entryway, reinforcing her isolation. One of the men she’d seen down the street, shuffled to a stop behind her. Her breath quickened when she saw how far the carriage was from the entrance. She braced herself to race back to the safety of the carriage, when the man reached into his pocket.
Relief surged through her when she recognized the COMMON_ITEM he held and he continued on his way down the street. She knocked again, but what if the door wasn’t attended this late in the day? It might not even be locked if the workers were still inside, but occupied with cleaning up after the show.
The handle turned easily and the door swung open before her. The hallway leading deeper into the amphitheatre was wider than she remembered. The décor was much more garish now that she could view it all at once and in the low lighting, it looked positively dingy.
Her footsteps echoed as she made her way toward the arena itself. The enormous room appeared even more cavernous today with the empty seats and the shadows spilling from the corners farthest from the narrow high windows that provided meager natural light in the absence of the glowing splendor of the chandeliers.
An eerie silence had settled over the riding ring and Tabitha noted several pieces of stage scenery leaned against the back wall at haphazard angles. A movement caught her eye at one of the entrances where the riders had galloped into the arena.
Shouting across the distance would be most unlady-like, so she made her way through the seats toward that side of the amphitheatre.
As she got closer, she made out the figure of a young man standing there, a shovel in his hand, watching her. She summoned her courage and waved to him in greeting.
“You should leave now.” He made a threatening gesture with the shovel and loomed large in the hallway. “While you can.”
Tabitha stopped where she was. “I cannot. Not until I find my friend, Lady Henrietta. Have you seen her? She’s horse-mad and probably dressed as a lad. She’d be hard to miss.”
“I haven’t seen no other ladies around.” The man stepped directly into her path, blocking the passage deeper into the backstage area. “Where’s the dark-haired toff you was with before?”
Tabitha was taken aback. He recognized her and Bolster as her escort? It made no sense. “He was otherwise engaged. Please, I must find her and convince her to return home with me.”
The man continued as if he hadn’t heard a word she’d said, “Made quite an impression on me, he did. Figured I could repay his generosity, but you have to help me.”
“Help you? You have it all backwards.” Tabitha’s frustration grew and she tried to push past the man to search backstage. The stables. Henri would probably be with the horses.
“I’m trying to tell you, it’s a setup. She’s not here. Don’t know where she is, but yer wasting yer time, lady. Go home. Let yer toff find her if she’s truly gone. I don’t think he’d like losing both of you.”
“But you don’t understand…”
The young man cut her off with a sharp gesture. “You don’t understand. I’m lucky to be alive and thought I could repay him by warning you off. Go home or search for someone who’s not here. Yer choice. I wash my hands of the whole mess. I can’t have no toffs angry wif me.”
He threw the shovel into the wheelbarrow with a loud clang and strode off, never looking to see if she left or not.
Good riddance. If the man couldn’t speak plainly, what use was he? Search for someone who wasn’t there. What did he mean? Where else would Henri go after her note had stated so clearly she would be here?
The storage area she passed was crowded with old scenery, scrap lumber and tools. It would have been impossible to squeeze a young woman of Henri’s stature in there. The stables were still her best bet. Maybe she’d find someone more helpful as well.
Other than the expected sounds of the horses in their stalls, Tabitha was greeted by an empty and silent stable. Surely at least one of the stable hands was still around tending to the horses. She considered calling out, but the warning the man had given her stopped her before she could form what she might say.
She wandered through the stalls, looking into each one just in case Henrietta had been trussed up and tossed inside. Only equine curiosity and empty stalls met her scrutiny.
Where could Henrietta be? Even for her this prank was turning serious. Until now the girls had confined their disobedience to minor if infuriating incidents. There was no real danger in wearing men’s trousers nor was there really any in practicing one’s skills at flirtation to obtain an old pair from the discreet household help. But disappearing and then not waiting where one said one was going, this was just beyond the pale. Quite inexcusable really.
A nearby horse neighed and stomped a foot.
Tabitha froze. Was someone else here? She listened intently but could only hear the beat of her own heart in her ears.
If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy some of my other Excerpt Monday offerings.
Links to other Excerpt Monday writers
Note: I have not personally screened these excerpts. Please heed the ratings and be aware that the links may contain material that is not typical of my site.
Joining them this week:
Leslie Dicken, Historical (PG 13)
Danie Ford, Contemporary YA (PG 13)
Babette James, Contemporary Romance (PG 13)
Jeannie Lin, Historical Paranormal (PG 13)
Shawntelle Madison, Paranormal Romance (PG 13)
Debbie Mumford, Fantasy (PG 13)
Ryan, Mystery (PG13)
Madison Woods, Fantasy (PG 13)
Stephanie Draven, Dark Fantasy (PG 13)
Elizabeth Black, gay m/m erotica (NC 17)
Sara Brookes, Urban Fantasy (NC 17)
Angeleque Ford, Contemporary erotic romance (NC17)
Lisa Fox, Paranormal erotic romance (NC 17)
Christa Paige, Regency romance (NC 17)
Gail Roarke, Paranormal erotic romance (NC 17)