Rachel Miles: Tempting the Earl

The backdrop of Tempting the Earl is sedition. Who is leaking government information to the press? To what end? And how can he (or she) be stopped?

In the fall of 1819, the government openly began to repress voices critical of its laws and policies. Though reforming societies had been meeting peaceably for months across the nation, magistrates in Manchester balked at the large numbers of protesters who gathered in St. Peter’s Field. On August 19th, before the speeches could begin, the yeomanry violently dispersed the peaceful group, killing almost a dozen and maiming hundreds. The action gained the derisive name the Peterloo Massacre.

By the end of November, a fearful Parliament had passed the Six Acts, a group of laws restricting large meetings, limiting the rights of the press in what could be said, and narrowing what publishers could print or sell.

The stakes were quite high for those found to be publishing works critical of the government. Fines, imprisonment, deportation, execution—all were possible punishments. As a result, it wasn’t uncommon for journalists (thought that word wasn’t in use yet) to hide behind assumed names, or for publishers to refuse to put their names on books (as John Murray did with Byron’s Don Juan), or to print a European place of publication on a book to hide its origins.

On this day in 1819, in fact, booksellers were tried for selling inappropriate materials. Here’s the story from the London Times.

Marlborough-Street. – Seditious Publications. The vestry of the parish of St. James having lately received information, that certain persons were in the habit of meeting for treasonable practices, they are using every effort to prevent such proceedings; and, fearful that the public mind or morals should be contaminated by the circulation of seditious or blasphemous publications, have instituted proceedings against some of these venders in the parish by information.

Mr. Collinson yesterday attended on the part of St. James’s parish, and suggested to the Magistrate, R. Baker, Esq., that the decision of the present case would prove of some importance to the public; the proceeding was against certain individuals who were in the habit of placarding the outside of their shop windows on the Lord’s-day, announcing that certain seditious pamphlets were sold there, which induced persons to enter and purchase them. He attended at the request of the Vestry and had witnesses to prove the act of selling the works.

Mr William Swainsley, of Pulteney-court, Golden-square, was charged under the same statute with a similar offence. In his defense he said that he did not belong to the shop; his son was a cripple, not able to work, and he set him up in the business of a newspaper-seller, to procure an honest livelihood, which he always had, but he found that the more honestly a man got his living, he was the worst treated: none but rogues were protected.

Magistrate. — That language, I suppose, you think will serve you?

Defendant. — I am under bail at present, for my son, for selling The Republican.

Magistrate. — What, for selling libels?

Defendant. — Your Worship may think it a libel; but for myself, I can see no libel in its contents

The magistrate, said he could not convict the father for the action of the son, but suggested to Mr. Collinson, if the practice was continued, to proceed against them by a fresh information; and intimated to the parties, that they would not be allowed to sell the papers on Sundays, or to have placards outside their windows.

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Tempting the Earl

A double life…

Olivia Walgrave is finished with being a countess. Writing under a pen name, her controversial column for the scandal sheets provides her with some income and far more excitement than managing a country estate. Besides, in the three years since the wars have ended, her dashing husband hasn’t spent one night under their roof. So Olivia has prepared a plan, and an annulment. All she needs is his consent…

Lord Harrison Walgrave let his father coerce him into marriage—but his devotion is to his Parliamentary career—and his secret work for the Home Office. Yet now, with freedom in his grasp, he finds he cannot so easily release his wife. Seeing her stirs a hunger no other woman has reached. A distraction now, when he is a breath away from revealing a ring of traitors, could be deadly. Still, wherever his investigations lead, the thought of Olivia lingers. It might be obsession. It might be treason. But the only way to escape the temptation is to succumb…

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Excerpt

The man pursued her from the other side of the street, tracking her every step. Olivia had been lucky to notice him, or she would have led him straight to her next meeting. Now she needed to go somewhere—a market, a crowded shop—anywhere to give herself a chance to escape. If he hadn’t already recognized her, then all could still be well.

But the street was quiet, and the shops too small. Nowhere to hide. She looked for her pursuer in the reflection of a shop window as she passed. Still there. She forced herself not to increase her pace. If she hurried, he would know she’d seen him.

Ahead, a carriage pulled to her side of the street, and two footmen carrying packages stepped out of a shop. Footmen and packages meant women shopping.

She looked at the shop’s sign—an open book beside a stack of papers and a jar filled with quills. A bookshop and stationer. She could just read the name of the shop: The African’s Daughter.

A chance.

Olivia eyed the distance to the carriage, estimating how long it would take for the women to leave the shop and step into the coach, and for the coach to pull away. Each moment the women delayed leaving the shop became a moment gained for Olivia to reach the coach.

The footman opened the door to the shop and two women, well-dressed and laughing, stepped out. Olivia clenched her fingers on her worn reticule, holding it close to her belly. In the lining, she’d tucked the instructions for meeting her informant. Usually she memorized the complicated dance of sign and countersign, but she had told herself it wouldn’t matter, this once. But if he caught her, if he found the paper, then it would matter a great deal. And not just for herself.

More than a year had passed since she penned an essay on the struggles of returning soldiers and sent it off to the fashionable newspaper, the World. If she had believed the editor would publish it, she would have chosen a better pseudonym than “An Honest Gentleman.” She hadn’t intended to become the banner bearer for the rights of man. But her essay struck a chord with the British, weary from the wars and the ensuing poor economy. Her correspondence with the editor, a Mrs. Helena Wells, known for her deft editing of the World and her charismatic performances on the Drury Lane stage, had quickly turned to friendship. And soon her essays began appearing every week. Not long after, her former employers at the Home Office found a use for her new work. Having discovered that old enemies of England were using the periodical press to convey state secrets abroad, they asked her to pay careful attention to the path of the information that came her way. She’d almost refused, wishing to be free to advocate for political reform, but they’d assured her—and she believed them—that their aim was only to find those who wished to destroy, not mend. She’d agreed, with the promise that she would be allowed to tell the truth. From corruption in Parliament to abuse on the docks, An Honest Gentleman brought it to a public hungry for an honest voice.

Soon she was receiving correspondence from across the land, asking for her help—or rather An Honest Gentleman’s help—in revealing this or that wrong. From one informant in the London hells, she now had more than twenty across Britain. She’d become—according to Tories—the greatest threat to a peaceable England since Napoleon. But no one expected a short, softly rounded woman with a middle-class accent to wield the pen that caused MPs to shudder. She—and her old employers–had believed anonymity would be protect her. Now, she was not so sure.

She looked ahead, dismayed by the remaining distance to the carriage. The women stood outside the bookshop, their heads bowed in conversation. Keep talking, she willed them. But they moved forward, where a waiting footman handed each one up a three-stepped stool, into the carriage.

She glanced at the nearest window. He still followed. She tamped down on her welling panic. What would she do if he caught her? Him, of all people? It was crucial that An Honest Gentleman’s next essay appear before the upcoming Parliamentary session. One of her trusted correspondents had written that a bill widely supported by the conservative MPs was financed by a group of powerful criminals. But he’d refused to send the name through the mail. If she missed their first meeting, her correspondent might never agree to another.

Before her, the door to the carriage remained open, the footman still waiting. Olivia’s heart rose. Someone else was in the shop!

Instinctively she quickened her pace, then slowed. But it was too late; he had increased his pace as well. With each long step, he narrowed the distance between them. But he had not yet crossed to her side of the street. The carriage would hide her escape.

Only four more shops and she’d be there.

The footman opened the shop door again, and a young woman with a brightly colored feather in her hat moved slowly toward the open carriage door. At the carriage, the younger woman stopped before the steps, then held out her hand. The postilion placed it on his shoulder, and the woman raised her right foot slowly to the first step, bringing her left up to meet it, then repeated the deliberate action. Another time Olivia would have wondered at the young woman’s slow movements, but not today. No, all that mattered was reaching the shop. And she was almost there.

The footman opened the shop door once more, stepping back to let yet another woman out of the shop. Olivia’s eyes met his, pleading, and he held the door another fraction of a second, long enough for her to leap into the bookstore. As the door shut behind her, she heard the coachman call out to the postilion to lash the steps on tight. For another moment or two, the carriage would hide her escape.

To the right of the entrance, two kind-faced women stood at a counter, one an aristocrat, the other a shopkeeper.

“I need . . .” She saw the carriage begin to pull away from the sidewalk, and just past it, the man crossing the street to the shop. She turned back to the women, who waited expectantly. “A man is following me. Can you help?”

Neither woman looked startled. The shopkeeper spoke quickly. “Follow me.”

The aristocrat turned confident gray eyes to Olivia. “I’ll give you time. Go.”

Olivia obeyed without thinking.

“This whole row of buildings backs up to a marsh.” The bookseller spoke softly, as they hurried toward the back of the shop. “No back exit.”

Olivia felt her stomach tighten. He would find her. If she had time, she could hide the instructions in a book. But which one?

“The roof, however, connects this row of buildings almost to the tollbooth beyond the marsh.”

“The roof?” Olivia felt her throat tighten. He’d found her on a roof once before. She pushed the memory away. He’d been angry enough then. This time he had more cause.

“If you are afraid of the roof, lock the attic door behind you and hide until I return.”

“I’m not afraid.”

“Good. On the roof, you’ll find a path of sorts. Stay near the back of the buildings. That way, no one will see you from the street. At the end, climb down a series of lower roofs and balconies until you reach the ground—the descent is protected from view by the curve of the buildings. From there, you can slip into the street unnoticed. It isn’t too hard.” The woman smiled, then added, “If you have a bit of a tomboy in you.”

The shop doorbell rang. Olivia looked toward the salesroom, the woman following her eyes. “I have more than a bit. Where do I start?”

The bookseller motioned to Olivia’s right. A piece of heavy brocade pinned with dozens of broadsides covered the wall between two book cases. The bookseller pushed against it. Not a wall. A door. The woman stepped into a small office, and Olivia, with a last quick glance over her shoulder, closed the office door behind them.

“He’s here. I hear his voice.”

“Go up three flights. My rooms, then the attic, then the roof.” The bookseller opened a smaller door leading to a stairway, then held out a key. “Lock the door behind you. Leave the key on the hook beside the door.”

“How will you retrieve it?”

“I have a second key. You must hurry.” The bookseller paused, searching Olivia’s face. “If you need help again, you will find it. The African’s Daughter turns no one away. Now, you must go.”

Olivia clasped the woman’s hand gratefully, then ran up the stairs.

About the Author

rm-1-dsc_7961-copyRachael Miles writes witty, sexy romance novels set in the British Regency. Booklist describes Miles’ debut series The Muses’ Salon as “impeccably researched and beautifully crafted.” Tempting the Earl – the third standalone novel in the series – received a 4/5 stars Top Pick from RT Book Reviews. It was chosen as one of Amazon’s Editor’s Best Books for November. Compared to Jo Beverley and Mary Jo Putney, Miles is a former professor of book history and nineteenth-century literature. She lives in the woods with her indulgent husband, three rescued dogs,  an ancient cat, and a herd of deer who love her vegetable garden .

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