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House of Sable Locks — an excerpt July 10, 2013

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in ebooks, excerpt, promotions, Sable Locks.
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Here, meet William.

***

There was barely enough light to read in William Sotherby’s tiny garret room. The cold autumn rain traced paths of silver through the grime on the tiny window; perhaps if it rained all week he’d be able to see again without squinting. When the townhouse had belonged to his father, this tiny room had housed an upstairs maid. Now the room offered William a modicum of privacy, although it could not shelter him completely from the disapproval of his guardian, his late mother’s brother. William sat on the bed with his left knee to his chest, staring out the window, one hand gently massaging his aching right thigh in what had become a reflexive gesture over the years. He tried not to think of the argument that had occurred over breakfast–his uncle had once again refused to allow him return to Paris and his studies at LAcadémie des Sciences Mécaniques. He tried not to think of Dieter and Colette, waiting for him in the ramshackle apartment that the three of them had shared for the happiest months he’d had since he’d left India. He tried not to think of the station in India where he’d spent his childhood, or of dark-eyed, duplicitous Rupesh, his beloved betrayer. He tried to think of nothing at all, and as usual, failed miserably.

There was a knock on the door, which set the crooked, creaking door to swinging and allowed another young man to enter. The newcomer stopped just inside the doorway and cleared his throat. “I heard you had another row with my father,” he said quietly.

William didn’t turn. “He’s being unreasonable, Gerald. It’s been two years since Mother died. It’s been nearly six months since we all put aside full mourning. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to go back to university.”

Gerald shoved his hands into his pockets. “You could finish your studies here. Aunt Beatrice would have been happy to see you at Trinity…”

“That’s not true and you know it,” William interrupted. “My mother wanted me to attend the Academy. She wanted me to be an Artificer, like my father was. That was my father’s dearest wish, and she agreed with him.”

“But–”

“Gerald, you know as well as I do why Uncle James wants me here. He wants to keep me and my inheritance under his thumb for as long as possible. If I go back to Paris, he won’t be able to spend my allowance anymore. Once spring comes, and I’m of age, he won’t have access to my money at all. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to provide for you. You’re my family, and Heaven knows that the money is there. But that’s no reason to keep me… practically a prisoner in my own home!”

“Wills, that’s unfair–”

William snorted, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. “Really? How many calling cards have been left for me since mourning ended, Gerry? How many invitations? How many letters from my friends in Paris? Or reports from Jennings? You might know. I don’t. The only reason I know that Uncle doesn’t show them to me is that the day before yesterday I found one of the reports on the grate. It didn’t burn completely. Along with a draft of a letter to Jennings that was supposed to be from me, to which I can only assume Uncle signed my name. He really does need to be more careful when he’s burning papers.”

Gerald looked shocked. “He what?”

“You didn’t know?” William looked up at his cousin. “You really didn’t know, did you? Well, where did you think the money for Lucy’s dowry came from? I don’t begrudge it; Lucy deserves to be happy, and Henry Overton is a good man. But it would have been nice if Uncle had asked me.”

“I didn’t… I didn’t know, Wills.”

William snorted and shook his head, running his fingers through his unruly blond hair. “It doesn’t matter. So long as Jennings keeps hold of the purse strings, Uncle can’t completely spend my inheritance the way he seems to do his own salary. I’m surprised, though. You didn’t know that Uncle is using my inheritance to pave your way into Samantha Delaney’s bed?”

“William!” Gerald sounded shocked. “There’s no need to be coarse, or to insult my fiancée.”

William blinked in surprise. “She said yes? Congratulations, Gerry.”

Gerald smiled, holding up a folded piece of paper that he had taken from his pocket. “I was coming to tell you. Get dressed, Cuz. We’re going out.”

“Out?” William repeated, his voice spiraling up in shock. He reached for the walking stick that leaned against the head of the bed and got to his feet. “You’re taking me out? And Uncle agreed? But he never lets me leave the house!”

“I didn’t give him much choice, Wills. I told Pater that it’s time that people see you, or they’ll be wondering why they haven’t when the time comes for Lucy’s wedding and mine. He may be after your money, but not at the expense of your place in society.”

William arched an eyebrow. “Should I be grateful?”

Gerald smirked at him. “You should. I was going to take you to the club with me tonight so we could celebrate. But now… I’m changing my plans.” He smiled. “Trust me.”

* * * *

The cab left William and Gerald at the door of a once-fine mansion in a part of London that William didn’t know.

“Where are we?” he asked, looking around curiously, trying to see the surrounding houses through the sickly yellow fog that was steadily growing darker with the coming dusk.

“Close enough to Whitechapel that it makes no difference,” Gerald answered.

William turned to look at the now-closed gate. “Whitechapel. Isn’t Whitechapel where they’ve been finding all those dead men?”

Gerald winced. “You’ve been reading the newspapers?”

“I haven’t had much else to do, Gerry. Is it safe here?” William looked around again, feeling a thrill of dread. The newspaper stories had been lurid, the fodder for many a nightmare, reporting of the bodies of unidentified young men that had been found in various places in Whitechapel, the last as recently as the week prior. Each body had shown a variety of minor injuries, bruises and broken bones, no two bodies the same, and none of the injuries enough to have killed a man in good health. The cause of death had been obvious, and had been identical in each case: each man had been gelded, and then completely, methodically, stripped of his skin. The author of the last article had opined that the men could very well have been flayed alive.

“Yes. It’s safe. Here, at least,” Gerald answered. He looked at William and frowned. “Wills, if you’re invited back here, you take a cab and have them leave you at the door, and have them call a cab for you to go home. Outside of these walls is not a place for someone like you to be wandering around alone. You’d be eaten alive.”

“Someone like me?” William repeated. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Wills, you’re far too trusting. It’s endearing, but if you’re not careful, it will get you killed someday. Especially out there. Especially now.” Gerald nodded towards the wall, then turned and started up the stairs towards the front door, missing the pained look that flashed over William’s face. The door opened as Gerald reached it, and he turned and smiled at William. “Come on, then. I told you, it’s perfectly safe.”

William tightened his grip on his walking stick and followed Gerald up the stairs, trying not to favor his lame leg as he entered a lavishly appointed entrance hall that matched the neglected exterior of the house not at all. The Turkey carpet was rich and plush under his feet, and the draperies on the windows were heavy, of wine-dark brocade that set off the polished dark wood of the floor and the tables along the walls.

“Gerald, where are we?” he murmured softly, turning to catch a glance at the servant closing the door. He stopped, frozen, as a silver figure that hummed and clicked softly moved away from the door and disappeared into another room, closing that door behind it. He stared at the closed door for a moment, then turned to his cousin, who was smiling broadly.

“I knew you’d like it here, Wills,” Gerald said with a laugh. “Now come and meet Madame. You’ll be taking tea with her. Just… be yourself.”

“Gerald, what are you doing?” William followed his cousin up the stairs to the first floor and into another well-appointed room, this one obviously a woman’s sitting room. William looked around, a large portrait of a lovely young woman catching his eye from where it hung over the fireplace.

“You pointed out that you haven’t had… many opportunities to do much socializing, so you’ve probably never heard of this place. This is the House of Sable Locks.”

William coughed, more than a little surprised. “You brought me to a brothel?”

***

For your copy, check out Circlet Press.

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