The Rake and the Recluse by Jenn LeBlanc
Genre: Historical, Time-Travel
Published: Feb 10, 2011
Francine Larrabee woke up on the wrong side of the century. She was fairly certain she went to sleep in her own comfy bed, but she doesn’t quite seem to be there now. Only adding to her problems is that she has no voice, is constantly being glowered at by a large, stunning man who is obsessed with propriety, and she is apparently betrothed to another horrid little man, determined to ruin her, and any other girls that get in his way.
How does she find herself in the past, when she couldn’t even find herself in her present? How does a self sufficient businesswoman survive in a time when women were still considered property for the whole of their lives and what is she going to do with this man who draws her to him so fiercely.
A note about this book: It is meant to be read as an eBook and is full of illustrations embedded within the text. There are samples to follow.
Madeleine ran as if the devil himself were on her. She looked back when she heard the hounds and tripped on some underbrush, scraping her hands as her head whipped forward, striking a tree root. She groaned, feeling the trail of blood marching slowly down her forehead, the coinciding beats in her skull growing with the advance. She scrambled forward, slowly at first, dirt caking the scrapes on her palms as she gathered up her skirts and got to her feet. He will never catch me, she thought. I will never go back, I will never be his, I will die first. The thought steeled her to her goal.
She tried desperately to catch her breath as she stumbled wildly. Tears spilled cutting pale streaks in her dirt-stained cheeks as she fought the barrage of low-hung branches and high-reaching roots. Her hand shook as she leaned against a tree trunk to steady herself and yanked at her corset, trying to loosen it.
She heard the dogs spread to her right and concentrated on her bearing. This was her only chance. The earl was becoming more daring and devious with every sunset and she didn’t believe her fiancé intended to wait to pledge his troth before going further. She shifted direction to compensate for the chase and saw the bright sunlight of a break in the tangled woods. She knew it wasn’t far to the manor, but had no idea how she was to survive the run across open meadow with his hounds on her. Surely Lord Hepplewort will call them off before the Duke discovers his trespass, she thought, surely I will make it to safety.
She heard the rumble of a carriage and drove herself to it through the trees as one of the hounds tore at her skirts. The horns blew recalling them as she launched herself out of the protective cover— directly into the path of a team of startled horses.
“Ah— mon Dieu!” she screamed, feeling the words rip through her throat like a jagged knife as the large black horses reared with frightened neighs.
As she fell she saw the man at the rein stand and attempt to pull the horses away while endeavoring to stabilize the small black curricle, but it was too late on both counts. The horses came down, stomping about her, one hoof dispatching the hound at her feet as the curricle lost its ground and the driver leapt to safety. Madeleine attempted to shield her head with her arms as she gasped desperately for air.
• • •
The alarm went off at 5 a.m. and she hit the snooze. It went off again at 5:10 and 5:15. At 5:20 Francine rolled out of bed, bleary-eyed but moving. I should just go back to bed, she thought. The office would miss me for exactly five minutes before some other up-and-comer like Isaac stepped up to steal my position. Let him have it, she sneered. She rolled from the bed with a grunt and dressed in soft black yoga pants and a washed-out green tank and turned for the door of her bedroom as she slipped into her shoes. She grabbed her iPod and hurried down the hall toward the fire escape. She ran nine flights down to the second floor landing, then back up and down four more times before returning to her apartment.
Still moving quickly she stripped her clothes, missing the basket by the bathroom door as they landed on the ceramic tiles with a sweaty thwack. She yanked the shower on and brushed her teeth as she considered the candles and bath oils she kept on a shelf by the tub, wondering when she would have the time, or inclination, to use them. She never seemed to make it past the browse, dream, purchase phase.
Thirty minutes later Francine looked at the clock and grunted, then gazed in the mirror and took a deep breath. Her short, golden hair brushed her shoulders in gentle waves and her wide mouth was held in a tight line of concentration.
She relaxed and smiled, checking her suit for stray hair as she flattened the lapels and smoothed the skirt around her wide hips. She glanced up at her face, catching the shadow of insecurity in her gaze and she poked her tongue out. “Blah!” she exclaimed, staring at the mirror. “It isn’t bad enough I’m terrified of my presentation today, but you have to be obsessing about looks,” she admonished as she turned from the mirror.
Today is the first day of my future, today is the first day of my future, she chanted to herself. It was the culmination of years of hard work, so why was she questioning it? Her academic accomplishments pushed her into an internship with an international firm, and that led to a much sought-after, albeit temporary, position. She intended to make it permanent today. She was doing what everyone expected of her, on a track bound for certain glory, a high paying position, a big house in Cherry Hills, followed by husband, dog, children, fish, and happiness.
She went back to her dresser and picked up the old family portrait that was taken just a month before the accident. She rubbed her thumb over the glass, her mom so pretty, so sure of herself. She remembered how happy she was to take care of her family and her home. “I hope I make you proud today Momma,” she said quietly. When her parents were killed —and she was left a ward— the court liquidated their assets to make her moveable life more manageable. Her only tangible legacy from her parents —beyond her blonde locks— was the trust fund that followed her from foster home to foster home, her father’s thesis study journals —which weren’t making much sense— and a miniature of a girl that looked like her, save the hair and costume. She put the picture down and picked up the miniature. “Madeleine Adelais,” she said, running her thumb over the engraving on the silver frame.
She sighed heavily and her shoulders fell. How can I not know, at this point, that what I have been working for is what I want? she thought as she shook her head, Mother-number-four always told me that I needed to work hard in school and get a business degree so I can make lots of money, and then I would have the happiness I wanted. So I did, and here I am and I feel…nothing.
She felt was constantly struggling for something, a little more composure, a little more concentration, a little more time. There was so much missing from her past that the pieces of who she was floundered about, impossibly fractured and incapable of coexisting.
She glanced at the clock and her heart skipped. “Crap!” She scowled as she grabbed her mobile phone, ebook reader, and the last journal in her father’s set and headed for the door. She passed a bookshelf full of the same classics that were on her reader and looked back to the mirror in the hallway one last time —bright from the reflection of all the white, barren walls— then grunted as she grabbed her briefcase and left.
She nodded at G.W. as he held the front door to the old building. He always stood tall and always had a smile. She loved that he seemed to be here only because he liked it.
“Good morning Miss Larrabee,” he said.
“Good morning G.W.,” she replied with a smile, juggling her accessories.
“You look lovely today.”
“Why thank you G.W.” she said sweetly.
“Of course Miss, I’ve a taxi waiting,” he said as he opened the door.
“You’ve saved me once again,” she said as she ducked into the back seat.
“Good luck today,” he replied with a wink.
She appreciated the way G.W. always thought ahead, paid attention to what she enjoyed and needed, and always knew when she was running late. He was the perfect replacement for a boyfriend: all the care and attention and none of the drama. Maybe I could add him to the list, she thought: husband, children, dog, fish— and G.W. She smiled.
Francine gave directions to the driver as she was tossed across the backseat, dropping her reader, the journal, and the miniature on the seat as it sped away from the curb before the door was fully closed. Shit she thought, I should have left that home.
She picked up the portrait carefully, inspecting the girl who gazed out from the frame. She looked so confident. There was something innately familiar about her, like she could see into her soul. “What is it you have to tell me, Madeleine?” she whispered.
The taxi darted through traffic and Francine swayed, throwing her arm out to steady herself. She shook off the reverie and called her assistant, “Julia, I forgot the meeting with my father’s thesis advisor about this notebook, could you call him to reschedule? I need to speak with him. The assumptions seem factual, but— well, you saw how preposterous they are,” she paused, listening.
The journals detailed a time-shift within an unnamed lineage. It developed a theory that certain people within the family were born at the wrong time, and the universe was endeavoring to return them to when they should have lived, or more precisely to whom they should have lived with. She’d grown up thinking her father was a brilliant anthropologist, but the journals made him sound like a loon.
Francine’s had shared the journals with her assistant at the firm since she was the closest thing she had to a friend. She laughed, “Thank you, really, what we need to do here is make fun of the dead,” she said as she ran a thumb over the miniature again. “No doubt my father is living in the shoes of some ancestor in the middle ages. It was his favorite era for research after all,” she said with a smile. “Yes, yes, I’m on my way, I just— well you know. Please call the professor and—” the taxi lurched to the left around a corner, and was brought to a screeching halt by an overturned delivery van. Francine jolted forward against the safety glass as her phone dropped to the floor and she was thrown back to the seat like a rag doll.
When she came around this time she was gasping desperately for air. She heard rushing footsteps and rather loud stomping, women screaming, men commanding and— horses? We weren’t close to the Sixteenth Street Mall, were we? Francine tried again to focus her eyes, but they deceived her. She clutched her hands instinctively but both the miniature and her phone were gone. She saw a picturesque countryside, a pair of horses rearing, and a man with bright green eyes and thick, dark hair spilling in his face as he leaned over her.
As she shook off the confusion she could feel hands on her, but couldn’t see. She strained to open her eyes, but they would not cooperate. She heard the sounds of fabric tearing and people screaming. She tried to touch her face but someone grabbed her hand and yelled for someone else to hold her down. She struggled and her head flew back, hitting the ground hard, and everything went dark again.
“No!” He yelled. She heard tearing and an intense pressure, then felt air rushing her lungs as she arched into him with a powerful breath. “What the hell is this?” she exclaimed, reaching up to her throat as the sound barely came out on a painful breath.
His Grace Gideon Alrick Trumbull, the 10th Duke of Roxleigh, held a countenance both foreboding and powerful. His ability to terrify people with his demeanor only helped his business dealings, creating a sense of either security or terror —depending on which side of the table you were seated— and tonight he seated himself clearly on the wrong side of his own table.
He shook his head. “Gentry! Smyth!” he yelled, the man’s baritone rumbling deeply as he yelled. Her eyes went wide as she felt herself lifted against his hard chest and she latched onto his lapels as her head spun against the thundering in her temple. She tried to stay lucid but lost the battle as she felt, more than heard, the man commanding those around him.
He had nearly killed a girl. If he’d been paying more attention he was sure he’d have taken note of her sooner, but his mind was on business. He paced nervously in the sitting room outside the guest bedchamber, raking his hands through his hair with a growl so deep in his chest it was nearly inaudible.
When his household manager Mrs. Weston emerged, he turned on her. She stood before him, her face stricken and pale, wringing her stout fingers together. She was a short but sturdy woman with graying, mahogany brown hair gathered in a knot above the nape of her neck. She had a muddled accent that belied her history; based in cockney, then thickening in Glasgow and finishing in the service of a blue blood. She’d attended the Trumbull household for most of her life; met and lost her husband, and helped raise the children. In all the years Roxleigh had presented Mrs. Weston with the challenges of his adventurous youth she’d not generally been taken to fits of unease when faced with an injury, and that fact alone served to worry him further.
“Your Grace,” she started, trembling. “Pardon, your Grace,” she said again, his outstretched hands slowly curling into claws while she continued wringing hers. She peered around him as if looking for someone to save her.
He clenched his jaw. “What is it woman?” he bellowed.
“Beg pardon your Grace, I am not sure what to say.”
“Well,” he began. “Let us start with something simple.” He straightened, clasping his hands behind his back and squaring his shoulders. Mrs. Weston squeaked. “Is she alive?” He asked calmly.
“Well yes, your Grace, she— she is that,” she stuttered.
“Good,” he responded. “How about this—” he said rather sardonically. “Is she speaking?” Mrs. Weston shifted her eyes looking for that elusive rescuer.
“Oh well, that she is your Grace. Yes…quite,” she answered slowly, her eyes as round as saucers. “She goes on and on about where she is, and where she should be and what year it is— and she thinks we have absconded with her! She wants us to call her office, and notify—” Roxleigh cut her off, exhaling drastically, deflating his chest as though the world needed the air worse than he.
“Fine then, Mrs. Weston, she is alive and she is speaking,” he paused with a quizzical look on his face. “Did you say ‘what year it is’?”
Mrs. Weston nodded slowly and he paced again, then stopped, waving the statement off. “Indeed, and beyond that what exactly seems to be the difficulty?” He opened his arms. “I know she lost no limbs and seemed to be—” he was interrupted by the loud crash of something hitting the wall directly behind Mrs. Weston, who jumped forward into his outstretched arms. They both glanced over her shoulder at the spot on the wall behind her and he pointed questioningly, catching her gaze.
All too suddenly, Mrs. Weston realized herself and pushed away from him casting her eyes down. “That is just it there your Grace, you see, she is a bit upset. I mean— she is not quite herself. Well, we do not know who she is so it is difficult to say that, exactly. But she does seem to be a bit—” She hesitated. “Cross.”
“So—” Roxleigh tried to cut in.
Mrs. Weston shook her head. “That is to say, she does not act quite as a lady should, of course, assuming that she is a lady. She is not very ladylike, certainly. There is something about her, the way she speaks your Grace, she is just not quite right, we have tried your Grace, truly, we have tried but we cannot pacify—” He placed his hands on her wavering shoulders in a last attempt to calm her. “Oh your Grace, I cannot— I simply have never seen anything so—”
“Well then,” Roxleigh said, cutting off her maundering. “I will just have to see what I can make of it,” he retorted as he straightened and moved her aside. He opened the door to the bedchamber and nudged the silver tray on the floor with the toe of his boot, scowling as he looked back at his wall and spied the splintered panel where it hit.
He scanned the room. The barefoot girl was pacing in front of the windows at the far wall of the bedchamber explaining in a raspy voice —to no one in particular— that she didn’t appreciate the assumptions that someone was making. She had naught on but a thin sleeveless chemise and ankle-length drawers, and her long brown hair was tangled with leaves and brush.
Dr. Walcott stood in front of the hearth on his right, his white comb-over standing up in disarray. Two housemaids, Meggie and Carole, cowered behind him like mice tracked by a tomcat. Meggie had hold of her apron, which she twisted relentlessly in her hands. When Dr. Walcott saw Roxleigh he shook his head, his hair flying in tufts around his ears, his face turning beet red.
She turned on him. “You!” She said, her voice catching on the force of her words as she marched determinedly for Roxleigh. “Are you in charge?”
“Am I— pardon?” His eyes narrowed at her impertinance. “This is my estate, my land, my manor, everything you can see from these windows is within my purview if that is what you ask.” He said as his gaze slid over her.
Even in disarray she stunned him. She wasn’t a small girl, rather tall, but not as tall as he and his eyes traveled her womanly curves, remembering the soft feel of her weight in his arms. He saw the gash on her forehead but otherwise she appeared healthy— angry, but healthy. He shook off his improprietous gaze and looked at Dr. Walcott questioningly as he straightened himself and walked toward the settee in front of the doctor.
“Perhaps you should put this on,” he said as he reached for a robe.
She walked directly to him, clenching her hands on her hips as she inspected him. He felt her eyes measuring as if to determine his very soul and he flinched. The doctor rolled his eyes and dropped his hands. Roxleigh stopped mid-stride when she caught up to him, and her temper flared. “The fact that I have no clothes on is an issue for both of us, but I’m not doing anything until you tell me what the hell is going on! Where am I?” she croaked, poking him in the chest before she continued. “I don’t know what kind of damn joke this is, but I’ve had enough!”
Everyone in the room gasped at the boldness of her speech, and Roxleigh felt the tension weigh heavy. He straightened as she went on, heedless.
“I don’t understand the problem. I want to know where I am,” she started ticking off fingers as she spoke “I want to know how I got here, and these people,” she ground out between her teeth, “won’t explain anything to me, they just insist I cover myself, calm down and get back in bed. Screw your bed! I had a presentation today. I’ve been working on this for months— No! Ga! My whole life!” Her voice broke on the last word and she rubbed her throat gently as she looked down “I sound like I smoked a pack of reds.” She straightened her spine and looked him square in the eyes. “This crap isn’t funny. Explain how I ended up here in this drafty room, in someone else’s underwear, and how you are going to get me home!” Her voice cut out again and she held her neck as she swooned, her other hand flattening against his chest to steady her.
Roxleigh looked from the woman to the doctor, then back. He squared his shoulders and clasped his large hands together behind his back as he considered her. She spoke French, he thought, and his eyes narrowed, but English as well, though I cannot place the dialect. He took a deep breath to gather his frayed nerves. He didn’t like surprises, and was having a difficult time reconciling the soft, injured figure he carried from the track with the angry young lady who stood before him. He fancied himself quite a patient man but this behavior was more than enough to cause his control to slip.
“First of all, Miss, you must remove your prodding hand from my waistcoat and gather your wits. I am more than interested in assisting you, as soon as you are able to compose yourself,” he said. Her eyes blazed, the pale blue-green iridescent from the reddened rims.
She looked at her hand and felt the heat of him sinking into her skin and snapped it back before looking up to his stern face. Compose? She thought as she concentrated on that warmth, then her eyes snapped to his. “Compose this jackass!” She yelled, ignoring the searing pain that spread through her throat and head as she flipped him off.
His jaw twitched…
Good afternoon everyone,
First, I want to thank Jenn LeBlanc for sharing her wonderful story with us. Aren’t the pictures absolutely wonderful? And, they’re in the book. Second, I thought since everyone is still trying to recover from the 3 day weekend, if you had one, we’d giveaway some goodies today. Therefore, one (1) lucky winner will receive a copy of Jenn’s new release The Rake and the Recluse compliments of The Cafe.
Now for the rest of the rules…
1. Must be or become a Google Friend Connect Follower (GFC) of The Cafe
2. Must answer the question
3. Must leave your name and email address in case you win
4. Must have fun!
Of course this is an overnight contest; therefore, you have until 6:00 PM (CST) on Friday evening to leave a response in the comments section. The lucky winner will be selected using the True Random Number Generator from RANDOM.ORG.
Good Luck Everyone!