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MISS SMITH & THE DEVIL’S LIBRARY
Yes, I know, the original publication date has come and gone. The delays were beyond my control. However, I have some good news for those who’ve been waiting ever-so-patiently:  I’ve been assured that Miss Smith & the Devil’s Library will be published in August, which is just a couple of months away. Yay! As soon as it becomes available, I’ll post an update here.

This is an exciting, action packed, thrill a minute adventure novel, if I do say so myself. And it’s the first novel in what I hope will be a series to remember, so be sure to get your copy (and hey, books make great gifts, too, hint hint). 🙂

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MISS SMITH & THE DEVIL’S LIBRARY
Published by PD Publishing – 2010

“Every adventure begins with a single step…and a loaded revolver.”

London 1890 –  Held at bay by an armed and desperate madman, librarian Felicity Smith thinks her troubles are over when she is saved by the enigmatic Minerva Walcott, but within minutes of their meeting, she is drugged, kidnapped, and whisked away from London to a strange house where she learns about a stolen book of religious prophecy and the cult led by a charismatic woman who will stop at nothing to get it, including murder. To save her missing father’s life, Felicity crosses the Continent with Minerva, following a string of clues to Edinburgh and Prague in the hope she will find the Maiden Prophecy before the killers hot on her trail catch up. Despite being stalked underground by a hunting pack, shot at, abducted, chased, almost losing her life time and time again, Felicity is beginning to suspect the biggest danger comes from Minerva Walcott herself.

A rollicking, fast-paced adventure filled with twists, turns, action and suspense!
Nene says: “I set out to create a page-turner, and I’m pretty sure I succeeded. I enjoyed the heck out of creating Felicity Smith – she’s the kind of woman I’d love to be if I lived in the Victorian era.”

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CHAPTER ONE
“Give Me the Pomegranate Wine!”

The William R. Stallybrass Memorial Library
St. James’s Street, London, England
1890

At such moments, Miss Felicity Smith cursed the interest in antiquarian books that had led to her current employment. Most days, attending the absent-minded scholars who drifted into the Stallybrass library required an endless supply of patience, and an equally endless supply of handkerchiefs (for mopping up spilled ink, as well as smeared butter and bread crumbs from surreptitious luncheons). Today, however, the challenge was greater than usual.

Held by a gentleman dressed in a tailored suit, the revolver muzzle pointed at her head seemed as large as a cannon’s bore. Felicity straightened her spine, wincing as the vertebrae crackled. She had been trying to reason with this madman for ten minutes at least, and her first fear had long given way to irritation.

“I want that book, damn you!” the gentleman insisted.

“And I shall tell you once again,” Felicity replied, schooling her features to maintain a librarian’s stern mask, “as I have done several times already, this is not a public house, sir. Pray moderate the volume of your voice, and mind your language. There is a lady present.”

His hand trembled, as did the revolver, but only for a split-second before the trembling ceased. “You’re being deliberately difficult,” he said, flushing with anger. “I was told The Pomegranate Wine of Inherkhawy is here, at this library, and I will have it! Give it to me! Give me the Pomegranate Wine! Are you not in possession of your wits, woman? I have a weapon! If you want to live, give me what I want, or I will shoot you where you stand!”

Bristling, Felicity suppressed the desire to box his ears. The man acted like a spoiled petulant child denied a sweet. Had he stamped his foot and burst into tears, the resemblance would have been perfect. “Were you in possession of your wits, my good man,” she said with exaggerated patience, “you would have told me the title of the book you desire as soon as you came into the library, rather than stand there blustering in such a ridiculous fashion.”

“Just give me the book!” he demanded.

“I cannot.”

He seemed astonished. “You defy me?”

“This is a private lending library. The Pomegranate Wine of Inherkhawy has been lent to one of our subscribers,” Felicity took great pleasure in telling him. “It is due to be returned in a fortnight.”

His mouth worked but no sound emerged. At last, he gulped air, his throat working, gazing around the room as if seeking a more helpful assistant. There was no one else, Felicity could have told him. The other librarian—seventy years old, half-deaf, half-blind and over fond of cherry brandy—was no doubt napping in his office following his usual mid-morning tipple. “Get it back,” the gentleman ordered after a moment, looking pleased by the idea. “Yes, you can get the book back. I’ll wait. It can’t be long.”

“Allow me to explain a simple fact which seems to have escaped you,” Felicity snapped, tilting her chin to its most imperious angle. “A firearm is not a magic wand. You cannot simply wave it about and expect your wishes to be fulfilled. The book is not here. It has been lent. I cannot simply ‘get it back.’ That is not the way the Stallybrass library serves its subscribers..”

“I’m not afraid to shoot you,” he said, gesturing with the revolver.

“So I gathered.” Felicity did not mean to sound quite so dry.

. Instantly, his expression turned to stone, as if she had accused him of cowardice. “I survived the march to Kandahar in ’80 with General Roberts, you know.” The last was spoken with a fleeting air of pride.

“Ah, an Army officer,” Felicity said, taking a closer look at him. The gentleman was well-groomed, freshly shaved apart from the dark moustache that smothered his upper lip. The suit made of dark blue superfine bore the unmistakable perfection of Saville Row tailoring. His hair pomade smelled of sandalwood, the fragrance clashing with the gin-and-tonic scenting his breath. He seemed little different from the normal London boulevardier, likely a younger son of the peerage, moneyed and idle. Lavender gloves covered his hands, but his complexion did seem rather swarthy for an Englishman. The ruining effect of a tropical sun, she decided, that even a decade home had failed to fully heal.

“85th King’s Light Infantry,” he said. “Captain Montgomery Hamilton, if you’ll pardon the impertinence of introducing myself,” he added with a slight sneer.

“The ‘Young Bucks,’” Felicity said, recalling the regiment’s nickname.

“Why, yes!” Hamilton was too surprised to maintain a threatening air. His manner changed, as if they were exchanging polite chit-chat at a garden party given by a mutual acquaintance. “Do you have a brother, madam, or was it your father…?”

“My uncle commanded a company of Bengal sappers before his retirement.”

Hamilton paused to think. “Not Colonel Harland Smith?” he asked.

“The same,” Felicity replied, bemused by the sudden switch in his attitude.

“The officers used to call him Old Deuteronomy, you know, on account of his beard,” Hamilton said, giving her a small but genuine smile. “Fell below the bottom of his waistcoat, it did, astonishingly thick and luxurious. His orderly combed it out every morning. The wogs thought it brought them luck. Practically a separate entity, that beard. Very Biblical.”

“So I gathered when last I saw Uncle Harland, who retired to Sussex to keep bees. The famous beard is now a veritable hedge that has swallowed his face from eyebrows to chin, much to my Aunt Dorcas’s disgust.” Felicity attempted to return his smile but her face felt stiff, and all she could manage was a grimace. “Now that we know one another better, Captain Hamilton, perhaps you’ll be good enough to lower your weapon.”

“Not until I have that book, Miss Smith.” The friendliness melted away, leaving him resolute. “I must have it. If the volume is not here, tell me where it may be found.”

“Captain, I refuse to give you confidential information regarding our subscribers!” Felicity stood firm. She refused to set Hamilton upon an innocent person. Perhaps if she gave him an excuse to leave, he would go away, allowing her time to inform the authorities. “I can alert you when the book becomes available,” she offered. “You are not a subscriber, but as a favor I will grant you access during regular business hours to study the Pomegranate Wine of Inherkhawy, and you may even use my own office for privacy if you wish.”

“You don’t know what it’s been like, this hell, this awful living death,” Hamilton said, looking haunted. The revolver began trembling again. Felicity tried not to look at it. “The doctor said it will make me mad,” he continued. “The disease will make me mad, then I’ll rot and I’ll die, Jesus help me.” He let out a sound like a sob.

“What disease?” Felicity asked in bewilderment. “And what does Pomegranate Wine have to do with it?”

“It’s the cure, damn you.”

“The cure for what disease? Come, sir,” she added when Hamilton shook his head, “tell me. Perhaps I can suggest a different book to suit your purpose.” That would do as well, she thought. Anything to make this madman leave the library before poor addled Mr. Ludwell woke from his nap and came blundering into the scene.

Hamilton hesitated, finally bursting out, “The French disease, madam!”

“Cholera?” she asked, still groping for his meaning. “Measles? Influenza?”

“No, the Great Pox,” he said bitterly. “An infection I got from a Haymarket whore, damn her, and damn you, too.” His finger tightened on the trigger. At that moment, Felicity believed he might shoot. She held her breath until he lowered the revolver. “The whore temped me,” he whispered. “Tempted me with her eyes and her body.”

Understanding dawned. Given his earlier comment about rot and insanity, she ought to have known his ailment was syphilis, which also turned its sufferers violent in the later stage. As an unmarried woman, Felicity supposed she should have no knowledge about such immoral things as venereal disease and prostitution, but curiosity and a catholic taste in books had led her to read some very enlightening literature published by the Reform House for Fallen Women around the corner. The illustrations were particularly eye-opening.

“You understand now, don’t you?” Hamilton pleaded. “It isn’t my fault. The whore tempted me. I was told by a friend I’ll find the cure within the book’s pages, so you see I must have it. I must! If you don’t give it to me, you’ll be guilty of murder.”

Caught by the remembrance of an intriguing illustration in a Reform House pamphlet on marital relations—the positions of the figures seemed ambitious at best, not to mention somewhat ridiculous—her mind had wandered. However, this patently absurd assertion by Hamilton recaptured her attention in a way the revolver could not. “Captain, I assure you Pomegranate Wine is a collection of Egyptian love poetry written by an Eighteenth Dynasty court harpist, translated into German and English by Dr. A.B. Liebing in 1872,” she said crisply. “How can poetry possibly provide a cure for your illness?”

He turned a sickly shade of grey. “Love poetry?”

“Yes.”

“Not a book of ancient medical cures?”

“Not at all,” Felicity said, reaching over to pat his arm. She went on, almost sorry for the man, “Your friend has deceived you, either willingly or through error.”

“But Eddie told me!” Hamilton cried in disbelief.

Felicity sighed. “You can no more expect a cure for syph… er, your unfortunate affliction from Pomegranate Wine, sir, than to find a discourse on Dr. Fordyce’s sermons for young ladies in a copy of Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi’s The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight.” She had tried to read Sir Richard Burton’s translation, but found the text far too florid. “Perhaps your friend meant you to consult the Ebers Papyrus, which is an ancient Egyptian medical text. It can be found, I believe, in the University of Leipzig’s collection.”

Hamilton’s shoulders slumped. He wiped the palm of his free hand across his sweaty forehead. “You’re lying,” he said, clearly attempting to sound more confident than he felt. The weakness in his voice gave the effort away. “I don’t believe you.”

“Nevertheless, I’ve spoken nothing only the truth,” Felicity said. Sugar-coating unpleasant facts did no good, in her opinion. Pretty lies and sympathy would not help Hamilton, and it was high time this farce ended. It was nearing eleven o’clock, and she expected the postman to make the second morning delivery any moment. “Your disbelief changes nothing,” she continued. “You will find no magical cure here. I suggest you return to your doctor’s surgery and do as he tells you. That is your best course of action.”

“Liar!” Hamilton sobbed, leveling the revolver at her. “You’re a damned liar and a…”

Felicity never learned what else she was, for at that moment a woman appeared behind Hamilton, rapping him smartly on his head with a walking cane. He dropped without a sound, the revolver skidding across the floorboards to disappear beneath a bookcase.

The unexpected turn of events rooted Felicity to the spot. Her astonished gaze traveled from the unconscious man sprawled near the Astronomy section to the woman standing over him. The stranger owned a face too sharp-boned for beauty, Felicity thought. A generous mouth was her best feature. Dark blonde hair was pulled into a simple chignon. She wore a violet silk dress, the sort of garment easily purchased prêt-a-porter at any London department store. Keen blue eyes returned Felicity’s stare, and Felicity tried to suppress a sudden blush.

“Forgive me,” the woman said, taking a step forward and politely offered a gloved hand. “Miss Minerva Walcott, madam, how d’you do? When I came inside, I noticed the gentleman was threatening you, and took the liberty of intervening.”

Felicity murmured her own name, shaking Minerva’s hand. She was astonished by the woman’s bold action. Most ladies would have fainted, screamed themselves hoarse or run away. Hearing a groan, she bent to check if Hamilton had roused. He remained unconscious, but Felicity thought she had better turn him over to the authorities as soon as possible. “Thank you,” she said to Minerva. “I appreciate your assistance. It was quite opportune.”

“You are welcome, Miss Smith.”

To her chagrin, Felicity realized she had begun patting her hair to check for loose pins, and made herself to stop. This was no time to preen. “I suppose we had better summon a constable to deal with Captain Hamilton. He’s quite mad, I’m afraid.”

Minerva’s eyebrow twitched upward. “Well, that explains why he threatened to shoot such a perfectly charming lady. Are you hurt at all?” she asked, opening the beaded reticule hanging from her wrist.

It was Minerva who demonstrated charm, Felicity decided, her cheeks growing warm under that steady blue-eyed regard. “I’m unharmed, I assure you,” she replied, waving aside the bottle of smelling salts Minerva offered.

“Shall we step outside and see if a constable is in the immediate vicinity? I will stay with you, if you don’t mind,” Minerva said, returning the bottle to her reticule.

“I will be grateful for the company.” Despite the calm façade she had maintained for Hamilton’s benefit, Felicity’s nerves were frazzled. Taking as deep a breath as her corset allowed, she led Minerva through the library. As they paced toward the door, she became aware of Minerva’s scrutiny, and knew how she must appear: her cursed ungovernable chestnut curls springing out of their restraining pins in messy corkscrews; her oval face, too pale, too bland to be interesting; the snuff-brown dress she wore at least three years out of date. Felicity found herself wishing she had chosen the newer pink gown that morning, which might at least have lent a touch of color to her countenance.

“Your father is Professor Rowland Smith, is he not?” Minerva asked suddenly.

“Yes,” Felicity answered with some surprise. “Do you know him?”

“By reputation only. He was a professor at Oxford, and now collects books, I believe.”

“Father is always hunting rare volumes.”

“Would he be here, by any chance? Perhaps I’m being forward, Miss Smith, but I appreciate an introduction. My brother was a pupil of Professor Rowland’s,” Minerva explained, “and I have often wished for the opportunity to thank him.”

“I regret Father isn’t in England at the moment,” Felicity replied “He’s in Buda-Pesth negotiating the purchase of a 1588 second edition of Maestlin’s Epitomie Astronomiae. I’m afraid he’s often away on business.”

Minerva’s glance was sympathetic. “His absences must be very trying for you.”

“I enjoy my work in the library, Miss Walcott. Father’s trips abroad do not inconvenience me in the slightest.” Felicity paused at a small table near the entrance to put on her brown felt hat, tying the ribbon under her chin. A mirror hung on the wall next to the brass plaque announcing the library’s opening hours, but she did not look into it. Telling herself that vanity was unbecoming in a spinster, Felicity took a parasol from the elephant’s foot umbrella stand—a hideous relic of his salad days in India, Mr. Ludwell claimed, but she suspected a second-hand shop was the true source—and gestured for Minerva to precede her out the door.

It was a beautiful spring day, the sky a clear cloudless blue that reminded Felicity of Wedgwood pottery. It might have been very pleasant had St. James’s Street not been such a busy thoroughfare. The day’s beauty was shattered by the sheer unbroken rush of traffic flying from Piccadilly to Pall Mall and back again. Horse’s hooves churned up the muck that coated the road, cart and carriage wheels rattled, drivers shouted abuse at each other, and the air smelled strongly of dung, dust and coal smoke.

Felicity spotted a sleek black carriage standing a few yards away. Remembering the cigar store next door, she wanted to dismiss the vehicle from her mind, but the scrap of fustian attached to the door seemed odd. There could be only one reason for it, but why did the nobleman who owned the carriage want to cover the painted crest to conceal his identity?

She glanced around for a constable, turning to address Minerva. Without warning, a rag clamped over her nose and mouth. Startled and no little frightened, Felicity instinctively sucked in a breath, recognizing too late the sweet odor of chloroform. She stiffened, clawing at the muscular arm looped around her neck, but her attacker was unrelenting, the chloroform fumes potent. Fear gripped her no less mercilessly than the man who held her immobile. The Wedgwood sky whirled around her. From a distance, she thought she heard Minerva speak.

“Do not be alarmed, Miss Smith,” Minerva said. “No harm is meant to you.”

No harm? Dizzied, her head spinning, Felicity’s eyes drifted shut. She slumped in a semi-swoon, unable to stand on legs weakened by the drug..

Thankfully, strong arms caught her before she completed her collapse to the pavement.
_______________________________________________________________________________________

Miss Smith & the Devil’s Library
To be published 2010 by PD Publishing

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