In the winter of 1813, after a disastrous Season when Lady Annabelle (Belle) Marchant’s unusual talent for sensing what’s unseen lets her down and results in a man’s death, a chance to atone for her past mistake sends her dashing to a haunted manor in the wilds of Cheshire, England, in the middle of a snowstorm. There, she meets the beastly Lord of the Manor and becomes embroiled in a mystery to unmask a killer. Lady Belle struggles to use her uncanny, yet oftimes unreliable, perceptions to uncover the truth about a man that everyone believes is guilty of high crimes, but whom her heart insists is innocent.
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Cheshire, England, November 1812
Dear Lord, let us not have killed him.
In a panic, Belle clambered down from the carriage and ran to the fallen horseman lying on the snow-covered ground. She gently laid his head on her lap. Under the carriage light, her gloved hand came away bloody, and her heart skipped a beat.
She peeled off the hand portion of her right glove to check his breath. Was that a faint draft against her fingers? His body and long limbs looked properly aligned, but he was icy cold and lay utterly still. Other than for that one lump on his head, there were no obvious bruises to him or his horse. Could her carriage have merely frightened his horse, so that it reared and he had fallen? She just wished he would wake up.
Beside her, hoofs stomped, leads jangled and carriage wheels shifted. Feet crunched through calf-deep snow as the coachman and the stranded family she had offered to take to the nearest inn joined her on the darkened roadside.
“Is he dead, my lady?” The coachman held a lantern over the body so he could properly inspect their victim. “Oh, it be the hangman’s noose for me for sure!”
“Hush,” Belle said. “This was an accident. The puppy’s barks merely startled the horses. This was not your fault.”
It was mine. Belle’s heart squeezed with guilt, for the young wolfhound had barked and jumped to get at the injured baby owl Belle had rescued from a stable at her last stop to change horses. She had refused to countenance them killing the tiny creature and took it along with her when they left. She had been keeping it warm and safe under her jacket. Until she stopped to pick up a family beside a broken down carriage. They had found a lost puppy in the snowstorm, and the children had brought it into Belle’s carriage. Then the dog sniffed out the bird and . . .
The mother approached, her breath huffing out. “Imagine, riding along a main thoroughfare in the dead of night during a snowstorm. Anyone’s coach could have run him over.”
Belle shook her head in confusion. How could so many of her good deeds have caused such a catastrophe?
“What is done is done.” The woman’s husband hugged his wife close. “What are we to do with the corpse?”
“Bury him?” his six-year-old son asked.
“He is not dead yet!” Belle said. “At least, I hope not. Besides, we do not even know who he is.”
“Right you are, my lady,” the husband said. “No use putting out a grave marker without a proper name.”
“My lady.” Mendal, her maid, wrapped a blanket around Belle’s shoulders. “Should you sit so close to a dead man?” At Belle’s glare, she amended that to, “Near as dead, then.”
Thick snowflakes settled and stuck to Mendal’s black bonnet. None of them, children included, should remain outside much longer. But the coach was already full. There was no more room for a badly injured gentleman, especially one this long.
The large, fawn-colored Irish wolfhound pup that had been the crash’s instigator padded over and sniffed the still figure. Then he stood on the man’s chest and licked his face.
“Get off him, you big lug.” Belle pushed the dog away. “If he is not already dead, he will be if you stand your giant weight on his chest.”
“My lady,” the father said, “I believe the gentl’mun blinked.”
His wife gave a relieved laugh. “Oh, thank the good Lord.”
Belle’s heart, too, leaped in hope, for the talk of burials had made her doubt he was alive. She gently brushed his cheek with her bare hand. “Sir, are you well?”
His eyes opened, exposing exquisite deep blue eyes.
“Sir, do you hurt anywhere besides your head?”
“First, kiss me to prove I am alive, and you are not an angel,” he said in a deep, husky voice.
At his audacious suggestion, Belle’s gaze flew to his lips. The lower was full, the upper strong, firm and sensuous. His mouth curved up, as if smiling were his natural tendency. For a moment, from sheer happiness that he was alive, she had the scandalous urge to do as he bid.
“Go on, m’dear,” the mother said. “Kiss the gentl’mun. ‘Twill be the best entertainment we have had all night.”
The little boy and two girls giggled.
The dog barked, as if he approved.
“I believe they insist.” The stranger’s entreating gaze did not waver.
“But we have not been introduced.” Her mouth twitched with humor. Suddenly, despite the snowstorm, cramped traveling conditions, her fear for the abandoned owl, the stranded family, and this fallen horseman, joy stoked a fire in her belly. It was the first good sensation she had experienced since she had entered Cheshire. Of its own volition, her head descended.
His lips parted, and he raised himself to meet her halfway.
“My lady!” Mendal said. “What are you thinking?”
Pulled out of her dreamy state, Belle jerked back.
His head dropped onto her lap, and his heavy sigh puffed out in a white cloud of disappointment.
“Right, Mendal. This unusual storm must have addled my senses.” Had she really meant to kiss him? Yes. And she felt utterly deprived at the foiled touch of his lips.
Belle had never kissed a man in her life, except for her grandfather’s forehead, and that should not count. Her betrothed, Jeffrey, had only lightly kissed her cheek, his lips barely grazing it. And considering the sad state of her social status after Jeffrey begged her to break off their engagement, she might never kiss a man again. With a disheartened sigh, she made her introductions.
“Sir, I am Lady Annabelle Marchant. This charming family-”
“Marchant?” he interrupted. “Annabelle Lilith Marchant?”
She tenderly brushed his silky blond hair off his forehead. “My grandfather assures me that is my name.”
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A Beastly Scandal has an Irish Wolfhound puppy that acts as the heroine’s sidekick. As a reader, do you enjoy reading a story where a main character has a pet that plays a strong role in the developing drama?
About the Author
SHEREEN VEDAM is the author of A Beastly Scandal (ImaJinn Books 2013), which tells the tale of an impulsive young lady named Belle who has a disastrous Season when her unusual talent for sensing what’s unseen results in a man’s death. A chance to atone for her past mistake sends Belle dashing to a haunted manor in the wilds of Cheshire, England, in the middle of a snowstorm, where she encounters a handsome, if difficult, “beast,” in this Beauty and the Beast inspired Regency romance. Shereen’s interest in all things fairytale and fantasy was inspired by outstanding authors such as Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey and Terry Brooks. She now devours books by Martha Wells, Terry Pratchett and Hilari Bell. Like her literary heroes, in her writing, Shereen, too, loves weaving fairytale/fantasy themes with mystery and historical elements, and this braiding will be especially prominent in her brand new Regency romance series, set to begin release in 2014 from Belle Books, called Rue Alliance.
Book One: A Devilish Slumber, where a Sleeping Beauty awakens to a dangerous world as she becomes the prime suspect in a brutal murder, and her hunt for the real killer takes her from the glittering ballrooms of London’s elite to the dark alleyways of the city’s disreputable dockyards.
Book Two: A Scorching Dilemma, where a Cinder”fella” sets his sights higher than his lowly upbringing should permit as he attempts to save a high-born damsel in mortal danger.
Book Three: A Perfect Curse, where a Snow White sets out on a perilous journey to the distant shores of her Spanish homeland in order to rid herself of a family curse, only to discover the menacing witch who cast that spell is now on her trail with more deadly arsenal in her quiver than a poisoned apple.