Excerpt: Infamous Rival

Below you can view images of places featured within Infamous Rival and read the opening chapter. 


She was once the darling of the beau monde, but Georgette Lady Beaumont’s reputation lies in tatters after the apparent suicide of Lord Brockenbury’s heir. Shunned by society she embraces a secretive lifestyle in which she endeavours to evade Adam Brockenbury, whom she loathes as much as he desires her. Believing him capable of murder to gain his heart’ desire, she is not alone in thinking his elder brother’s death as somewhat suspicious, and whilst on a clandestine visit to her dearest friends she encounters a stranger of note.

Her travelling companion, although of charming disposition and of considerable handsomeness, something about him airs dark and secretive but unmitigated mutual attraction exists that neither can deny. Unfortunately he’s a Brockebury too, and as love, jealousy and hate take precedence, three murders are committed and Georgette quite believes she will be the murderer’s next victim, but who is the real murderer?        

Monkton Abbeyfields where the Brockenbury family resides.

The shared carriage ride in which Georgette first meets Edwin Brockenbury.

Fenemore where the Knightley's reside, where Georgette is staying whilst in Batheaston
The house is in actual fact Bailbrook House Bath.

The swans at the Bishop's Palace in Wells (Somerset) where
Georgette unexpectedly encounters Edwin for a second time.

The walk from Wells to Dulcote where Edwin kisses Georgette.

Wells Cathedral to which Adam Brockenbury lures Georgette under false pretences.

The cloisters along which Georgette takes flight.

The Royal Crescent - Bath - Where the Marquis of Rantchester resides when not at his London  house or at his estate in Wiltshire.

Infamous Rival.
Copyright © Francine Howarth 2012
Black Velvet Books

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior consent of the author.


Chapter One


Georgette drew her velvet cloak tight about her and glanced out at the forbidding moonlit landscape. She was rather glad the horses were keeping to a steady trot, for her previous sense of excitement was now overshadowed by angst and dread. She knew the private drag had begun to pass close to Monkton Abbeyfields: the locale all too familiar.
    It was so silly to be feeling anxious, for Adam Brockenbury could not be in residence at Abbeyfields. After all, he was spied at White’s Chocolate House only yesterday, and luckily her grandfather had overheard news of Adam’s engagement at a dinner party that very evening. It was also common knowledge he was due at Blenheim Palace for a grand masque ball of Friday next.
    Nevertheless, of all the men in London, Adam Brockenbury remained the one man she wished never to set eyes on ever again. Such avoidance was easily accomplished within the great metropolis. In the City of Bath everyone knew everyone else and it was less easy to travel about incognito.
    Should Adam for any reason return to Batheaston on the Saturday she would be long gone from Fenemore Cottage by then. But, Abbeyfields itself remained a disquieting reminder of her last trip to this part of the Avon Valley.
    She cast a fleeting glance at her travelling companion, a perfect gentleman in every way and conversation en route had proved most convivial: silence having now descended for the last mile or so. Although it was inappropriate to watch a sleeping man it was nonetheless rather pleasing; his head slightly forward and chin resting on lace-trimmed cravat, his shoulder wedged against the window. He seemed none the worse for the odd jolt or two as the coach swayed and rattled over ruts, and in all their conversations she had not established his name, nor thought to ask.
    He was as she had seen a man of broad shoulders yet slim of form and of good height: the latter belied when seated. His handsome face, although a tad grave whilst in argument with the booking agent, had soon creased with smiles most charming upon her suggestion they might care to share the drag, despite both having assumed private hire of said coach.
    It was all rather strange how a mistake could have occurred in the first place, for the coaching company had gained excellent reputation for discretion and efficiency. Nevertheless a mistake had occurred, and as they were travelling to almost the same destination it had seemed only polite to offer him a seat even though he had said he would give sway to her and wait another day. Such grace had seemed contradictory, for when in heated exchange at the inn his grey eyes had implied murderous thoughts toward the booking clerk, though manner alluding otherwise.
    She glanced again through the window: frost glittering on hedgerows and grass of fields. Jack Frost had now begun to paint beautiful pictures on the glass as though embalming them in his icy grip. Barely able to feel her toes despite fleece-lined rug about her knees, she moved each foot in turn and rubbed gloved hands together and all the while her breath lingered on the ether.
    How foolhardy to have undertaken the journey at all, but too late now to turn back. Fenemore lay no more than a mile hence, and at least her arrival so late in the evening would likely pass unnoticed by villagers. Once safe within the confines of Fenemore, who could possibly know she was there? Her travelling companion was bound for Bath not Batheaston, so encounter with each other again was most unlikely for she had no intention of parading herself in public places. And if she again departed undercover of darkness come Friday, her stay would bring no shame to bear on the Knightleys.
    With her reputation sufficiently ruined in the County of Somerset, invitations to houses of note would never come her way again. Yet for several seasons prior to her disgrace her presence had been sought quite regular by wealthy parents eager to see their sons wed to a lady of high rank and substantial dowry. She had her dowry as before, but who would wed her now?
    Thankfully her grandfather had never believed a word put about by Adam Brockenbury at her having had a hand in his elder brother’s untimely death. It was all so unfair. She had barely known James Brockenbury other than as acquaintance of her lady friends, and had no prior inkling he was going to declare undying love and ask for her hand in marriage. Such was his drunken enthusiasm he dragged her into the garden at Abbeyfields, and thence to the stable yard for a so-called elopement. Utter madness.
    With no recourse but to say she did not wish to marry him she had asked him to go away. What else was there to say to a man so inebriated he could barely stand upright? With his brother in attendance and several other young men gathered around it was plain to see he was in no fit state and better they had put him to bed. But no, they had set about to tease and taunt him and it all became quite frightening to be penned in by them all, and his younger brother all the while aiding and abetting in their silly game.
    She had not flirted with James on that fateful night, nor with Adam whom she hadn’t much liked once his rakish manners were known to her. Nor had she had a hand in their drunkenness. Blame of that kind fell solidly on the shoulders of Adam, who became heir to the Brockenbury fortune on that very black night. If not for the shock of it all she would have accused Adam of murder, for he was the last person to see James alive.
    She shivered, the memory of James fate too awful to dwell upon and her own equally unbearable. Oh yes, Adam Brockenbury was the very devil incarnate, and his father would forever remain unaware of the truth because Adam had brutally induced a pact of silence and allegiance between him and the other young men in his attendance.
    How dreadful it all was, for whilst James lay dying in the arms of one of Adam’s friends, she then dragged to the stable loft in pretence at hiding her to save her from the outright shame of being caught un-chaperoned in the company of so many men. But it was all a ploy, and Adam was soon astride her with intent. If not for the head groom roused from his bed due to ribaldry of Adam’s friends before the dreadful incident and that of a pistol fired, her fate might have been far worse than mere escape from the loft with just her hair and clothing in disarray.
    Nothing said in her own defence had lessened outrageous accusations she was little more than a trollop. Her host, Lord Brockenbury, had asked her to leave with immediate effect. The shame of her episode in the hayloft then recounted and exaggerated upon throughout the county, her reputation in tatters.
    She had every reason to loathe Adam Brockenbury for he had ruined her life, her only friends now the Knightley girls. Both had refused to believe his account of her having jilted James and thrown herself at Adam, and neither believed James had reason enough to take his own life. It was all so terrible, so shocking and so unexpected.
    Aware the horses had begun to slow their pace she surmised they were on approach to the bridge, the Avon before them. She braced herself, for it always felt as though her stomach collided with heart when crossing humpback bridges. As the horses once again settled to a steady trot the coach suddenly lurched as though its wheels had passed over something in its path.
    Thrust sideways her companion’s head banged against the window, she likewise thrown to her left and now stretched out across the seat opposite to his. “Damnation,” he said, clutching at his head. “What happened?”
    She pushed herself upright, terrible thoughts milling and fear of someone lying hurt and injured. “I think we shall know soon enough, for the coach is slowing down.”
    Indeed it finally came to a standstill and within seconds her companion had the door open and shouted up to the coachman. “Why have we stopped?”
    The coachman’s reply, “We rode o’er somethin’ on the highway back a ways.”
    “Did you not see what it was?”
    “Nah, not a thing for ‘tis dark, sir, but Jim is a going to see what it were.”
    “Good God, man. A moonlit night, frost on the ground and almost as bright as day. How could you not see whatever in your path?”
    “I tells yer I didn’t see nothin’ so it must have come at us from them there trees back away, by the bridge, ‘cause twer rear wheel as run o’er it. What’er it be.”
    Her companion alighted from the coach and walked back along the highway, and although curious she decided it was best to stay in the coach and await news of what had caused the coach to lurch so badly. It seemed an age before he returned along with the armed guard who immediately clambered up beside the coachman. In silence her companion stepped aboard, and upon closing the door and retaking his seat he shook his head in the manner of no hope afforded the victim of the collision.
    “I can only guess it was not a person, for surely we would not drive on with someone left lying dead or wounded on the highway.”
    “We lay it on the verge, and I shall arrange for it to be picked up first thing in the morning.” The coach lurched and then proceeded onward. “Little harm will befall the poor creature on a night such as this.”
    “May I ask what it is?”
    “A hound, and why it was out and about strange indeed. I cannot recall its ever deserting my father’s side.”
    Her stomach tightened. Breath caught in her throat, as dread and fear gripped her. Oh no, not a son of Abbeyfields. “You live near here?”
    “Indeed I do,” his reply, his grey eyes levelled on hers. “I fear I have been somewhat lax with introduction, despite our having conversed in genial spirit. May I say the tinkling ring of your voice is most delightful and sweet music to the ears, unlike the caustic tones of erstwhile colleagues and clients.”
    If not in fear of who he might be she could well have laughed in coquettish manner at his bold inference, for he’d fallen asleep whilst she talking to him, instead her tongue rallied quite sharp, “And you are?”
  “Edwin Brockenbury.”
  Her heart began to race, bile rose in her throat and silence became deafening. She could not muster a word, her thoughts collided with memories, yet try as she might she could not recall Edwin Brockenbury’s face as one of those present on the night of James Brockenbury’s tragic death.
  “Does the name Brockenbury distress you?” He leaned forward elbow to knee, hesitant in stance, his face rigid calm though genuine concern etched thereon. “Reaction such as yours is not so uncommon. My brother it seems is wont to leave a trail of broken hearts countrywide, which has rather tarnished the name Brockenbury. Hence Ranulph and I are forced to suffer the consequences of bitter tongued beauties when introduced at social functions.”
  “Broken heart  . . . I with broken heart, and left in Adam’s wake? I think not.”
  “Forgive me, please. I had no right to suggest or imply you might harbour bad feeling toward a Brockenbury.”
  He sat back, his eyes not leaving hers for a second and it was most disconcerting, but in a nice way. Throughout the journey air of authority and reserved calm had emanated from his very person, though his manner caring at the coaching inn or they would not now be sharing the drag. His deep timbre of voice, too, had sounded sincere and not once had it raised sense of alarm to falseness nor implied him a man of ill repute.
  She had to say something. Break the silence. For he looked most concerned that he had wrong-footed her and made bold on wild assumption. “No, please, forgive me. Supposition is unwise at the best of times, and our journey, until the accident, indeed, most pleasant. To have company on a long journey always lessens what is otherwise a tedious and lonely experience.”
  A tentative smile creased his face. “In that case, would you mind terribly if I leap from the coach at the gates to Abbeyfields?”
  “At the gates. Not be driven to the house in style?” He chuckled, a deep-throated chuckle. In other circumstances such might have caused her heart to flutter. “Please, you cannot walk in these freezing conditions.”
  “I fear you are chilled enough young lady, so home with you straight away. I’ll not freeze to death trudging the drive to the house. As it is, the hound’s death has raised a needling question as to why he was where he was at the time of his death.” He reached for his gold-topped cane previously abandoned on the seat beside him. She had already surmised it to be a swordstick, its dragon head handle ornate and curved to fit neat to palm of hand, which he promptly used to thump the roof of the drag. “Shall you be at Fenemore for a long or short stay?”
  Her heart lurched. “How did you know I am to stay at Fenemore?”
  “You booked for a drive from London to Batheaston and I from London to Batheaston, and when I arrived at the inn it was assumed I to be the passenger for Fenemore, Batheaston. Hence your arrival coincided with and interrupted a heated argument that although I, too happened to be bound for Batheaston, it was Abbeyfields I wished to be taken to.” A smile creased his face. “I am not sure how, but you seemed to think my intended journey was to Bath. And gentleman that I am I chose not to reveal otherwise.”
  “So you had intended escorting me to Fenemore and then returning to Abbeyfields?” She laughed. “Oh how gallant, and now you wish to leap from the coach and abandon me.” She immediately corrected her outburst. “Please, I do beg your forgiveness. That sounded terribly remiss, when you must be quite worried about your father.”
  Aware the drag was slowing down with verbal encouragement to the horses from the coachman, Edwin Brockenbury once again leaned forward only this time he extended his hand. She accepted his gesture of friendship their kid gloves coming together, and not for one minute had she expected him to dip his head and kiss her gloved fingers.
  The contact was fleeting, but when his eyes levelled on hers something indefinable sparkled within and, “Good night, Lady Beaumont,” came as quite a shock. But his smile was enough to melt the coldest of lady’s heart and somehow as reassuring as were his final words. “Be assured your presence at Fenemore will not slip my tongue.”
  With that he departed and closed the door and disappeared from view. So he had known her identity all along and said not a word. He was most certainly nothing like his hateful brother. She could, if he were not a Brockenbury be quite taken with him.
  It was all but a few moments before the drag moved off and there he was standing in front of magnificent wrought iron gates, a large leather valise at his feet. He waved, turned, pushed one of the gates and that was her last sighting of him.
  Yes. Indeed, there was something about Edwin Brockenbury that was most appealing. But, who was he really? For all she knew he could be a married man. After all, who would say no to a man of his looks, good manners, and those eyes?