EXCERPT: Maiden Lane by Lynne Connolly

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 13:00
Posted in category Excerpt

Book CoverMaiden Lane is a Richard and Rose book. It’s the penultimate in the current cycle, and could be the last we hear from Rose for a time.

The first Richard and Rose book, Yorkshire, is the first book I had published. There was no way, I thought, that anyone would want it. It’s set in the mid-Georgian era, the 1750s, not the more popular Regency; it’s written in the first person, the same couple feature at the centre of every book, and the hero is a dandy. Not your pretend type, but a real, honest-to-goodness Georgian fashion addict. Which meant scarlet cloth, pink satin, lace frothing at sleeves and neck, powder, patches and wigs. Yes, wigs. No respectable Georgian gentleman went out without his wig. It helps if you think of it like a kind of hat. Richard is also deadly with a slim Italian stiletto (the dagger, not the shoe), and the sword.

I fell deeply in love with the 1750s when I was nine years old. It was love at first sight, and it’s been the longest love affair of my life. So I’m a bit keen to get every detail as right as I can. I want the reader to feel she can walk off the page into the elegant rooms populated by the richly dressed characters in the books. Even if the only reader the books ever had was me.

As it turns out, they got a lot more. Richard and Rose are currently with their third publisher, and I have to thank Samhain for sticking with them and helping to make them as popular as they are. Which still amazes me somewhat.

The seventh book, Maiden Lane, is set back in London. Maiden Lane was a narrow street at the back of Covent Garden (the river side rather than the St. Giles side). It contained a mixture of clubs, shops and private residences. There’s quite a lot known about it, thanks to the records kept of London in that period, poll tax records and the like. I visited it last year, after I managed to drag myself away from my favorite parts of the Garden to explore further, and I knew I’d found the location for the Drury’s seedy club.

Maiden Lane summary:

Life is cheap. So is death.
Richard and Rose, Book 7
With Rose expecting again, it should be a joyous time for her and Richard. Yet old enemies and new come out of the woodwork, seemingly intent on using whatever means possible to destroy their happiness. Not only is the legitimacy of their marriage called into question, a young man steps forward claiming to be a by-blow of Richard’s dark, wild past.
Closer to defeat than he has ever been, Richard musters all his friends and allies to defend against this attack on his own ground. However, no amount of incandescent lovemaking and tender care seems to keep Rose out of harm’s way.
Then a mutilated body turns up on their doorstep-and all fingers point at Richard. Rose has no choice but to emerge from his near-smothering concern to do what she must to save the love of her life. Even if she must appear to work against him.
As she lays her heart on the line, Richard fights to keep the violence that marks his past from claiming her life. For if he loses Rose, with her will go his humanity.
Warning: Rose gets her mad on, and Richard gets turned on. Contains married love, married sex and married fooling about. And pink coats with lace ruffles. And swords. And wicked goings-on.

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The door slammed. My husband had come home in a temper. I glanced at Nichols. “You can go now.”
He arrived like a whirlwind but remembered to close the door quietly behind him. I smiled. “Welcome home, my lord.” I won a wry grin for my pains.
“Did I disturb you? I’m sorry.”
“I think you disturbed the people several doors down.”
“I fear not, because he has just disturbed me.” Reminded of the cause of his anger, he lost the smile.
He shucked off his heavy coat on the nearest chair. One thing I could never persuade my husband of was the need for tidiness. He saw no point at all in such a thing. After all, what were servants for?
The fire blazed in the hearth, and I had been ready for a rest with a favourite novel until it was time to dress for dinner. I mentally bade Tom Jones farewell. “So which of our neighbours has had the temerity to upset you?”
He snorted. “Pitt would disturb the devil if he thought there was political capital in it for him.”
Ah. Mr. Pitt and his wife lived farther down Brook Street, and the man was a termagant in male clothing. He had a brilliant political career, all his efforts except that of wooing and marrying the love of his life were for the good of his country and his party. He did nothing without a hidden motive, and his capacity for convoluted argument was probably only bettered by Henry Fox.
“So what political capital does he find in you?” But I guessed. If anyone could persuade Richard to use his share of Thompson’s to his good, then he would have a distinct advantage over his peers. So far, Richard had refused to agree. And as a shareholder, so did I.
Richard crossed the room to me and pressed a kiss to my forehead. “You were about to rest, weren’t you? I’m sorry, my love. I should have been less precipitate.”
“Maybe. But I wasn’t resting, so pour us a dish of tea and tell me what made you so furious.”
His mouth tilted up at one corner. A good sign. “Only you know me well enough to know how disturbed he made me.” He stroked down the neckline of my gown. I had already removed the fichu, so a good amount of my skin was on display. He let his finger slide down to my cleavage but lingered there only a moment and put his attention to unhooking my gown where it fastened to my stomacher.
“Pitt caught me in the Cocoa-Tree. As luck would have it, the place wasn’t as full as usual, so he could speak freely.” He huffed a laugh and unfastened another hook. “As much as he ever does, that is. I won’t bore you with the convoluted way he got to his point.” He brushed the top part of my breast, and I shivered and half-closed my eyes, letting him see my reaction to his touch. His low purr of approval worked my arousal up another notch, set my skin tingling. Slowly, watching my face, he finished unfastening the garment before dropping it to the floor. Then he glanced down, my breasts all but revealed under the white kid stays and my shift. I breathed in and enjoyed his smile as he observed the swell.
He touched the upper surface of my left breast with one finger, gently stroking. The touch made me aware of all my skin, all my body, and what Richard could do to it.
“Soft, enticing,” he murmured, before he leaned forward and kissed me, just brushing my lips with his.
I moaned, wanting more, but I knew the game by now and I could relax and enjoy it. Barely. I also knew ways I could make him stop it. It gave me enormous pleasure to know that I could drive him out of his mind, make him lose control. I was probably the only person alive who could do that. I wondered if I could do it without his consent, but so far he’d always proved willing. More than willing.
“Go on. What did Pitt say then?” I reminded him.
He sighed. “Pitt asked how you did, how Helen did, how my parents did and then how Gervase and Ian did. He made a great point of coupling Gervase and Ian. Society knows they are more than Member of Parliament and secretary, but people are working very hard not to notice.” Gervase had learned from earlier indiscretions. That, plus his wealth, made him eminently acceptable to society these days. But he and my brother were very much in love. “He thinks to expose them publicly if I don’t fall in with his wishes. As you’ve probably guessed, he wants Thompson’s as his own private spy service.” He undid another hook, his actions deliberate, but his fingers still bearing the tremor of anger. “I’ll disband it rather than that. Thompson’s is for nobody. First the Fieldings try to coerce us, then the politicians. All for their own ends. I will not have it.”
Without pause I pulled the cord that held up my petticoat.
I watched the spark of anger in his eyes fade, replaced by the glow of arousal. “He also mentioned John Kneller. He seemed to think I cared, but I speedily disabused him of that notion.”
“What does he want? A share in Thompson’s?”
My petticoat slid to the floor with a solid thump, leaving me in stomacher, under-petticoats, hoop and shift. He dealt with the last petticoat before he spoke again. “Something more specific. The Drurys.”
I frowned. “They’re a threat to him?”
“Oh yes. You know that infernal club they’ve set up in Maiden Lane?”
I recalled it. “The Cytherean Club?”
“That’s the one. They’re filling it with notable members these days.” A chuckle. “In more ways than one. They specialise in debauchery, particularly of the bondage and punishment kind. Some people like it.” I recalled an incident with silk cravats and fichus in our own personal history and shivered. His voice lowered. “As do we, on occasion. But not in the demeaning way they practice it. Many of their activities are conducted with others looking on.”
It passed my understanding how people could engage in personal discourse with an audience. Perhaps I was just naïve, but I wanted Richard all to myself. Our personal life would remain just that.
“So there are witnesses. And some of Pitt’s allies are enjoying the Drurys’ hospitality. Julia Drury has always had ideas about control.” He made a sound of disgust. Julia was probably one of the coldest people I’d ever met, and it went far beneath the surface. Richard’s cool, cynical veneer was just that-a veneer. Not so Julia’s.
“She wants to control more than her father’s fortune. I wonder just how much of that fortune is left,” he mused, his fingers stilling on the strings of my hoop. “That aspect never occurred to me before, but with her father retired to the country and her husband’s lack of business acumen, they must be going through it at a fair rate. I shall certainly look into that.”
He resumed his actions, his agile fingers making swift work of my remaining clothing. “Pitt wants me to look into the club. Join it, in fact.” His lip curled. “Not likely. But I know they have been making inroads recently, gaining more influential members. And at the moment Pitt needs all the support he can get. In the next few years it will be either him or Fox. Or maybe both. I’d prefer both, there would be more of a balance, but I fear Pitt has outgrown his erstwhile ally. It may be as well. The next leader will probably take us to war, and the country needs a strong, determined man.”
“What of Hartington?” This was an interesting time in politics. With the death of Henry Pelham-Holles, the alliance between him and his brother, the Duke of Newcastle, had ended. Now different parties were jockeying for position in the Lords and the Commons. Our neighbour in Derbyshire, Lord Hartington and his father, the Duke of Devonshire, bade fair to control the Lords, but Fox and Pitt were still fighting it out in the Commons. Any advantage, in or out of the House was a great victory, and Thompson’s would be a jewel in the crown of either party.
“Hartington will soon be Devonshire. His father is, I fear, too ill to recover this time.” Richard had me almost naked now, standing before him in shift and stockings. I determined to redress the balance and fingered the buttons on his waistcoat. He smiled and watched me, his hands resting on my waist. “I will investigate the Cytherean Club, but for our own sake rather than anyone else’s.”
“You will join?” I hated to think of him in that place, although I knew he had indulged in that and similar activities in the past.
“I will make enquiries. However, I promise-”
I laid my finger over his lips to prevent him speaking. “You don’t have to promise me anything, because I know.” He wouldn’t betray me or what we shared.
He kissed my fingers and drew back a little. “Shouldn’t you be resting?”
I moved closer to him, felt the smooth silk of his waistcoat under my cheek. “Soon.”
He chuckled. “My love, you’re shameless.”
“Hardly. And in any case, you like me that way.”
“I adore you any way.”
I loved the flame burning deep in his eyes, demonstrating his desire for me.
Then I decided it was time Richard showed some flesh and pushed his waistcoat off his shoulders. He released me long enough to let it fall. That was my declaration of intent. The neckcloth came next, and he drew the long strip of fine fabric through his hands, watching me closely. I swallowed. I wasn’t sure what he had in mind, but I had some ideas, and if they matched his, gentle lovemaking would be off the cards this afternoon.
He looked at me from under half-closed lids, his eyes glittering dangerously. “You should be careful, sweetheart. Open Pandora’s box and you never know what you’ll find.” He laid the cloth over the end of the bed, its careful placement a suggestion. It was enough, and he knew it. Under my petticoat and shift, my cleft dampened. I pressed my thighs together to bring some sensation to the bud of passion now blooming and wet, yearning for his touch. He paused in the act of undoing his sleeve buttons, growled low in his throat, an animalistic sound that sent my arousal into presto tempo.
Richard made short work of his shirt, loosening the ties and buttons and dragging it off over his head. I loved his chest, strong with muscle and sinew, and now I flattened my hands against it, enjoying the warm flesh and his heart throbbing under my palm.
“This is supposed to be my rest,” I said, my voice coming out huskier than I’d planned. A pathetic attempt at a tease, but all I could manage just now.
“My lady, I guarantee you’ll rest well. But not just yet.” He gripped my stays and pulled open the first few hooks at the front. My breasts spilled into his hands, and he pushed my shift down to bare them completely before he bent his head to feast.

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