THE WICKED BARON
My second Sarah Mallory novel, THE WICKED BARON, is published in North America this month. I was thrilled when I saw the cover as the hero looks remarkably the way I imagined him!
One of the main characters in this story is the house, Malberry Court. At the time of the story it is being redecorated and an Italian artist has been employed to paint the beautiful frescos and murals - including some rather more advanturous scenes in the bath house in the park (I won't tell you any more, but the bath house plays an important role in this story!)
BRIEFLY, Luke, Fifth Baron Darvell finds life in the army very dull after Waterloo and returns to England, intent on enjoying himself before he finally settles down to bring his impoverished estates back to prosperity. Then he meets Carlotta Durini, and all his plans are quite overthrown!
I've put a short extract below. Hope you enjoy it!
'Excuse me, but you cannot come in here.'
The voice had come from above.
'Oh? And why may I not come in?' Luke spoke to the air.
'It is private. This house belongs to a gentleman.'
Luke spread his hands.
'And am I not a gentleman?' A slight movement on the platform close to the ceiling caught his eye and he observed a slight, boyish figure staring down at him.
'Are you the owner?'
'No,' said Luke, 'but I am come on his behalf.'
'Oh. Mr Kemble is not here.'
'So I can see. Where is he?'
'They have all gone to the inn. It is mid-day and they are always hungry by mid-day.'
'But not you?'
'No, I must finish the fresco while the plaster is still wet.'
Luke shielded his eyes, trying to get a better view of the shadowy figure so high above him.
'Are you not a little young?'
'I am eighteen.' The voice grew a shade deeper.
'Come down and let me look at you,' said Luke, intrigued.
'No, sir. I cannot leave my painting.'
'Then I shall come up to you.' Luke put his foot on the ladder and heard a squeak from above. 'Well? Will you come down now?'
'I will, but only for a moment.'
Luke stood back and watched as the figure scrambled on to the top ladder and began to climb down. He grinned. The upper body was shrouded in a loose shirt but the tight-fitting breeches left nothing to the imagination: the figure descending from the scaffolding was most definitely not a boy!
Moments later the girl stood before him, her eyes, large and dark, regarding him with a mixture of defiance and apprehension. She was very petite with a mass of gleaming dark hair, constrained at the back of her long, slender neck by a poppy-red ribbon. A paint-spattered shirt billowed from her shoulders but could not disguise the gentle swell of her breasts, and the tight-fitting breeches were worn with a nonchalance that would have done credit to any actress at Drury Lane. He bit back an appreciative smile.
'Well, does my brother know he has hired a lady to decorate his house?'
'You are Mr Ainslowe's brother?'
'I am. And who are you, what is your name?'
'I am Carlotta Durini.' She clasped her hands together. 'Perhaps I should explain.'
'My – my father is the artist commissioned to paint Malberry Court, but he has broken his leg and– and I am finishing the last frescos for him, so that the house will be ready on time. Please sir, you must not think that there is any plot to deceive, but there was no one else to do it and if it is not finished in time then Papa will not be paid the full amount, and then Mama cannot have her maid - and it is only this one ceiling –'
Laughing, he reached out and caught her hands.
'Peace, peace, Miss Durini! Do not upset yourself.'
Her hands were very small and soft within his grasp. Smiling, his thumbs gently stroked her wrists, just above the palm and he felt her agitated fingers grow still. Her lustrous dark eyes were still wary but he detected the beginnings of a shy smile curving her mouth. Luke found himself wondering what it would be like to kiss those soft red lips. His smile deepened, he opened his mouth to charm her with a few well-chosen words but they were never uttered. The sound of voices drifted in on the still air. He looked out across the park and saw a group of figures was emerging from the trees. Something very akin to disappointment passed over him.
'I think this must be the others returning now. I will talk to Kemble.'
Those dark eyes regarded him anxiously.
'You will not turn me off?'
'I have no power to do so. But if your work is not up to the standard…'
To his surprise, the worried look left the girl's face.
‘It will be, sir. I have been well taught.' She stepped back, gently pulling her hands free. 'If you will excuse me, I must go back to my painting: if the plaster becomes too dry the fresco will be ruined.'
Without another word she scrambled up the ladder and was soon lost to sight.
Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond