Length: 100,000 words
Cover: Tiferet Design
When the four fangs of the Demon Cats of Scavo, trophies that protect the hunters who killed the two vicious beasts, disappear one by one, Stoker's forced to team with the very man he was sent to investigate to maintain his cover. He finds himself thrust into a world of wailing mediums, spiritualist societies, man-eating lions, and a consulting detective with more ambition than sense. Will this case be the end of his career, or the start of an unexpected liaison? Or will the mysterious forces at play be the death of them both?
And just who is Hieronymus Bash?
A figure loomed in the hallway. Silence fell anew. The head butler gave one last great harrumph... and Hieronymus Bash sauntered in with a little wave for his disciples.
He was the most extraordinary man Tim had ever seen. Tall as an oak but sleek as a panther. Bedecked in opulent mauve velour save for the dragon pattern of his waistcoat, the cape he did not remove billowed with his every gesture. A man in constant motion, posing and gesticulating as if life were a grand comedy, and he its star player. He wore the black waves of his hair overlong and lush, skimming his shoulders as if to frame his face in perpetual portrait. His dense but meticulous moustache ill-concealed his pillowy lips. His skin was of a rich brown hue that pointed to foreign origins or ancestry, but his eyes were the main attraction, black as sin and blazing like a dark star, their mercurial glint could bedazzle the Archbishop of Canterbury. That and the clasplike gold earring that studded his left lobe, a wink at piracy that would have had Tim rolling his eyes if he were not too busy wagging his tongue.
He was, in a word, magnificent. Tim felt suddenly as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. He fought to measure his breaths, to slow the percussion of his heart. He stole a handkerchief out of his pocket, not that anyone was looking at him, to blot his hands. If only there was some balm that could dull the tingling constriction in his groin, staunch the flood of shame that suffused him. He hadn't planned to confront his opponent half-hard and sweat palmed and unbalanced. But that, he would learn, was the effect Hieronymus Bash had on people. At least Tim hoped it wasn't just him.
It wasn't. As soon as the footmen retreated, the dam broke. The guests poured over him, by turns flattering and admiring. Those not seeking to seduce him solicited some favor: to find some long-lost bauble, to fetch an absconded relative, to feast as a guest at their table. The star of his celebrity seemingly outshone any reservations they might have about his exoticism.
When at last he tore his eyes away from the dashing Mr. Bash, Tim noticed a bear of a man standing apart from the crowd beside a statue of Osiris. The bushy muttonchops that carpeted his face only added to the menace of his frown. Tim made a mental note to seek the man out later, but for now he had only one appointment. Unfortunately he appeared to be the very last in the queue.
Their host intervened. The guests fell away like heads of wheat as Lord Blackwood sliced through them. This permitted Tim a view of Bash's two companions: an elegant young blonde woman, likely his ward, and a man with such a regal mien he might have been the Emperor of China, improbably dressed as a manservant. A more mismatched threesome he'd rarely observed.
"Bash," Blackwood hissed, his spine coiled as tight as a preying cobra. "You are not welcome."
"Precisely why I came. You are aware, my lord, that a priceless artifact was stolen right under the noses of," he scanned the crowd, taking in everyone and everything, until his gaze lighted on a startled Tim "everyone in this room. Save you, sir. Fascinating. Have no fear; I'll get to you in a bit." He again confronted Blackwood. "I have been charged with investigating that crime, and since you are hosting a virtual recreation of its circumstances, excepting you are fool enough to display the fang in this very room, how could I fail to attend? Invitation or no. Besides, Goldie will vouch for me."
"Goldie's fang was pilfered doesn't mean, et cetera, et cetera." Bash yawned theatrically. "My good man, if you're going to put on a show, you cannot fail to invite the main attraction." He addressed the crowd. "Is that not so?"
A chorus of "Hear, hear" and unanimous approval rang out.
"Mr. Bash, this evening's aim is a serious exploration of the..."
A loud snore interrupted him. Bash startled as if being woken from a nap.
"Blackwood, I assure you, no one is trying to prevent you from dissecting the spiritual ramifications of your underclothes. But a real crime has been committed, a crime that may be repeated tonight, in this very room. No matter what you may think of my abilities, I will not sit at home, quaffing port and smoking cigars, while another house is burgled and these fine people are left at risk." If the guests were on Bash's side before, they would now pledge him their firstborn. "May I proceed? Or will you again prove yourself an enemy to common sense?"
Tim could only imagine the expression on Blackwood's face. Bash confronted it with a cunning smile. In the end no other words were exchanged. Blackwood simply stepped aside to murmurs of approval. Bash and his companions, with an elderly military man in tow, formed a barricade around the giant tooth. Baffled, Tim sought to ingratiate himself with his fellow guests, hoping to ply them for information.
He devoted as much of his full attention as he could spare to them, his eyes lured back to Bash's mesmeric presence again and again. Though Tim was under no illusions as to the Bash's true nature, criminal, if not an outright fraud, there was something undeniably magnetic about him. The way he played to the crowd. The way he flouted authority. The pride with which he carried himself. If that was an act, then it was a convincing one.
Tim would take great pleasure in bringing this wild dog to heel.
Selina's aim is to write genre-spanning romances with intricate plots, complex characters, and lots of heart. Whether she has achieved this goal is for you, gentle readers, to decide. At present she is hard at work on future novels at home in Montreal, Quebec, with her wee corgi serving as both foot warmer and in-house critic.
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