TITLE: The Book of Rogues
In Georgian London, a Scotswoman with literary ambitions and radical sentiments plies secrets from true and false suitors to help her clan unseat the Prime Minister. But when an amorous, vengeful lowland baron discovers her complicity, she must decide whether to break with her family and join him in an even more dangerous conspiracy.
1733. Cambridge, England
What did a man wear when he might die before sunrise?
Thomas Caldwell, Baron of Bonjedburgh, crossed to the clothes press and thrust his head into a crisp linen shirt. It smelled of bran starch and the hedgerow where it had dried, sun-bleached after laundering. He pulled on his indigo waistcoat with silk-embroidered buttons, sewn in Spitalfields. Not his finest but well-fitted. Dark enough to blend into the early morning shadows, loose enough to raise his pistol-arm swiftly.
Handsome enough to meet his Maker—but No! Blood wouldn’t mar his dashing swoop of cravat today, nor any another, God willing.
Knife, slipped in his boot. Dagger, sheathed in his belt. Hands—clenched and unclenched, awakening reluctantly, readying themselves. He shrugged into his favorite wool coat, thick-napped, dark brown like his hair. His fingers combed through stubborn curls and tied them back in an efficient queue. Candlelight flickered in the mirror. He cut a fine figure.
Fine, fine. Two French pistols in their case. Alexander’s.
He slung his brother’s satchel on his shoulder and cantered down the dark stairs. A desultory lantern lit the mews. The horses shied but Robin steadied them. Tom mounted and nodded for the young servant to follow.
They rode hard, past the Cock-and-Bull Tavern, past the Colleges. The morning star gleamed above a church spire. A sign? Tom prayed it so.
Eight hoofs on cobblestones beat a tattoo in his head. Their horses careened between carts headed to market on the bridge arching over the Cam. Farmers, too, up before the sun in market-day rituals. This Saturday of nearly-spring was dawning fair.
They dismounted at the fields outside town, their footfalls quiet from sinking in soft mud. Withered grass stretched across the meadow and rustled in the March wind.
A good day for a duel.