The Tangier, Covent Garden, 1671
Sally Green is tired. When she meets me at a table in the corner of the Tangier in Covent Garden, she sinks onto the stool heavily, clutching a glass of anise seed water. She leans on the table, her weariness making her appear much older than her 20 years. Her gaze darts nervously through the tavern. “I don’t have long,” she says. “Can we start now?”
What’s your idea of a good marriage?
Why would you ask me something like that? My experience is limited to the husbands of these “good marriages,” and I’m not at all certain that’s something I’d want.
Not what generally is considered to be a good marriage, but if you, Sally Green, could get married and have your perfect marriage, what kind of a marriage would that be?
That’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to. I find it pains me to dream of impossible things, so I try to avoid dreaming at all.
What sort of a man do you like?
I don’t like a lot of men. The only man I ever fancied the way I think you mean is dead.
You’re talking about Claude Duval. How did you meet him?
We meet when we very young back in Normandy. Well, I was very young, and he was perhaps 14. Already gorgeous, mind you. He was the nephew of Madame Toulouse, the matron of the kitchen where I was raised. He lived all over, Paris, England, but he would stop by on occasion. We grew up together, I suppose.
What was it that you liked about him?
I don’t look. I see the bad, mostly, and I find that I rarely have any desire to see anything else. Claude was gallant, courteous, and brave. He snuck me out of France on the back of a horse when he knew full well that he could be killed for it. In all his years on the highways, do you know that he never hurt a soul? Not a single soul. Not that some of them didn’t deserve it, but that takes a certain chivalry that you don’t often see, I think. I always admired him for that; I don’t think I could be so...reserved. (She nods to the door behind me.) They showed his body there after he was hanged. That’s what mercy gets you.
Describe your perfect man.
My life is hard enough as it is without dreaming up impossible men. No one is going to save me. Who would want someone like me? I’m a whore. Do you understand what that means? How people see me? I’m not even a person, let alone a woman a man would consider spending longer than about five minutes with. My best friend is a syphilitic molly, and I am stalked by a madman who likes to poke holes in anyone I spend too much time with. No man in their right mind would want somebody like that!
What if things were different? What if you were free and you could have anything you wanted?
I suppose I would go back to Hyde Park. There’s a highwayman there I’ve met a time or two. He is like Claude, and not like Claude. He is chivalrous and kind, and he smells wonderful. If I could have anything I wanted, I suppose I’d run away with him and never look back.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Yes. Things aren’t different. My life is no fairy story. I will find a way out of Covent Garden, and when I do, I will put things right. Tell Wrath I’m coming for him first.
Sally Green is about to die.
She sees Death in the streets. She can taste it in her gin. She can feel it in the very walls of the ramshackle brothel where she is kept to satisfy the perversions of the wealthy. She had come to London as a runaway in search of her Cavalier father. Instead, she found Wrath, a sadistic nobleman determined to use her to fulfill a sinister ambition. As the last of her friends are murdered one by one, survival hinges on escape.
Nick Virtue is a tutor with a secret. By night he operates as a highwayman, relieving nobles of their riches to further his brother’s criminal enterprise. It’s a difficult balance at the best of times, and any day that doesn’t end in a noose is a good one. Saving Sally means risking his reputation and may end up costing him his life.
As a brutal attack throws them together, Sally finds she has been given a second chance. She is torn between the tutor and the highwayman, but she knows she can have neither. Love is an unwanted complication while Wrath haunts the streets. Nick holds the key to Wrath’s identity, and Sally will risk everything to bring him to justice.
Unless the gallows take her first.
Darkness had fully settled over the forest and he was in no danger of being seen as they headed for the city. There were no new street lamps so far out of town, and as often as she glanced at his face, all she could see was the outline of his profile by the light of the moon. He moved soundlessly through the night as criminals must, the warmth of his hand in hers the only reassurance she had that he was still beside her.
They reached the edge of Hyde Park and Sally felt Tyburn looming near before she saw it, the residual tragedy of the gallows rippling along the field in a mournful, near perceptible howl. Because she could not look away, she turned toward the evil and saw the fearful silhouette of the triple tree dark against the violet sky.
This is your future, they seemed to whisper.
In her heart, she answered, I know.
She heard the brutal crack of Claude’s strong, young neck reverberate through the darkest corners of her memory, felt his cold lips against hers once more in a terrible promise, and in her bones she felt the stillness of one who is certain they are about to die. She was immediately aware of the unique texture of every breath she drew, the sweet sigh of the breeze whispering through her hair, and the dirt, the calluses, the very fingerprints of the hand in hers.
So little of Sally’s life had been left up to her.
She might have days, hours, mere moments left, but she would be damned if she wasted them.
Liquid Silver Books http://www.lsbooks.com
Jessica Cale is a historical romance author and journalist based in North Carolina. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in history and an MFA in creative writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in a place where no one understands his accent. You can visit her at www.authorjessicacale.com.
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