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Delaney and the Autumn Masque

Delaney and the Autumn Masque

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Delaney and the Autumn Masque

Lunghezza:
131 pagine
3 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Oct 3, 2016
ISBN:
9781370213740
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

A spicy harvest treat from Devon and Dee.

Delaney, former pickpocket and now a member of the Andrews theater clan, performs magic tricks as Billbo the Magnificent. Hired to entertain at a fancy dress ball, the magician is struck by the lurking, dramatic figure of the Grim Reaper. He follows Death to a quiet room for a glorious, lustful encounter.
With his identity hidden, impoverished gentleman Bartholomew Bancroft dares to indulge in an out-of-character moment to quench his forbidden yearning for another man’s touch. But in the light of day, he can’t dismiss his memories of the mysterious magician or a craving to see him again.

Bartholomew enlists the dexterous conjurer to teach him to pick pockets. His plan: to retrieve his hand-crafted jewelry taken by a vengeful ex-lover. During the lessons, Bartholomew and Delaney yield to desire, certain their affair will last only until they retrieve Bartholomew’s stolen work.
At another costume ball, the gentleman and the magician work together to foil the thief, but when all masks are abandoned at last, can lasting love remain?

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Oct 3, 2016
ISBN:
9781370213740
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Whether you're a fan of contemporary, paranormal, or historical romance, you'll find something to enjoy among my books. I'm interested in flawed, often damaged, people who find the fulfillment they seek in one another. To stay informed about new releases, please SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER. Help an author out by leaving a review and spreading the word about this book among your friends. You can join my street team at FB. Learn more about my backlist at http://bonniedee.com or find me on FB and Twitter @Bonnie_Dee.

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Delaney and the Autumn Masque - Bonnie Dee

DELANEY AND THE AUTUMN MASQUE

By Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee

SMASHWORDS EDITION

Copyright © 2016 by Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

Smashwords license notes: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

Chapter One

October 1886

Smoke scorched Delaney’s nose, making him cough as he hurried past the park where custodians burned the day’s fallen leaves. His long fingers moved restlessly, conjuring, then vanishing a coin. As Billbo the Magnificent, magician extraordinaire, constant practice kept his hands supple and swift. As William Delaney, occasional petty thief, it also behooved him to have fast hands. Even as a boy, he’d never been good at remaining still. His body wanted to move all the time, and his brain was equally restless.

Tonight he was headed to a house near Hyde Park to perform magic tricks at a masked ball. He would draw coins out of ladies’ cleavages to shock and titillate the guests, and perform card tricks and other sleight of hand that didn’t require props. While he was there, he might nick a few items that no one would miss.

He couldn’t afford a cab, so he’d walked many streets to reach his destination. But the autumn evening was crisp, cool, and clear—aside from the shroud of smoke that wreathed the city this time of year. He crunched through a delightful pile of dead leaves on the cobblestones, then splashed into an unexpected puddle hidden beneath them. Not so delightful. His shoes and socks would be wet for the rest of the night.

Delaney shifted the pack he’d slung over one shoulder. In it was his magician’s robe and a mask to make his appearance more mysterious. No extra footwear, however.

He was nearly at the address he’d been given. The wealthy widow hosting the event was a friend of Simon Harris, his brother Christopher’s lover and benefactor of the Extravaganza Theater where most of the Andrews clan worked. Simon had suggested Billbo the Magnificent to entertain Lady Margaret Waverly’s guests. Delaney was grateful for the extra work and hesitated to do anything that might reflect badly on good old Simon, so he decided not to even attempt to snag any trinkets.

He rarely stole anything these days.

"You have a shoddy moral compass," his sister Lilah often told him. But the woman was prone to scolding the various members of the Andrews family about one thing or another. She also seemed to think it her duty to offer advice on her siblings’ and adopted siblings’ love lives. Now that Christopher, Will, and Mike all had serious lovers, Lilah had made it her mission to find somebody for Delaney—or Billbo, as she’d dubbed him the day the Andrews family took him in. Too many Wills and Williams in one family, she’d declared. He would rather have used his surname, Delaney, but she’d begun calling him Billbo, and Billbo he remained to the family.

Delaney thought Lilah needed a match of her own so she would quit interfering in everyone else’s lives. As far as he was concerned, Will could have his Hugh, and Mike could have his Lucas, but William Delaney Andrews was quite happy to be alone, thank you very much.

At last he reached Lady Waverly’s Mayfair house, where the fancy dress ball was taking place. About time too, because his wet feet and the night breeze were making him shiver. Delaney went straight to the servants’ entrance, presented his card so they’d know he wasn’t a second-story man come to pick the place clean, and entered the hustle and bustle of below stairs.

In there. The footman who’d let him in gestured to a small room where Delaney could change. Or metamorphose, as Uncle Dion liked to say backstage, but the old queen was prone to the dramatic where the theatrical arts were concerned. No need for stage paint tonight since he’d be wearing a mask. His deep purple cape, glittering with stars and sequins, looked tawdry and worn—better seen under stage lights than up close in a crowded room, but it would have to do.

Delaney dried off his shoes and shook his socks, but they were still very damp when he put them back on. He hoped he didn’t track on the carpets or polished parquet floors. Likely the party guests would be too drunk and too dazzled by their own splendor to notice such details. Besides, he’d be distracting them with his amazing feats of prestidigitation.

Transformed into Billbo the Magnificent, Delaney spent the next fifteen minutes tucked away in a corner of the servants’ dining room, amusing the kitchen maids and footmen with his tricks when they weren’t busy skimming up and down the stairs to serve the guests. At last, he was summoned to begin his show, moving from group to group to entertain anyone who appeared the slightest bit bored.

The hostess had informed Delaney in a note: You’ll mostly be here to make the wallflowers feel admired and to distract those deadly dull chaps who insist on cornering people and boring them to death. If you see any of those sorts, do your best to keep them out of the way.

He wondered why she bothered inviting those she didn’t like, but supposed it was a matter of etiquette. The titled could behave as they liked or snub whomever they wished. He was right glad he had no social standing to consider and that his eccentric theater family accepted all kinds.

The ballroom was decorated with swaths of shimmering black silk, glittering gold garlands, and boughs of fabric leaves of orange and scarlet in keeping with the season. In the center of the room, couples dipped and swayed, while a chamber orchestra at one end of the room supplied the music. It was an autumnal paradise, and the denizens were glorious in their varied costumes, which ran the gamut from kings and queens to witches and demons and everything in between—as well as the usual count of Pierrots. Many guests had coordinated their dress to match the hostess’s color scheme, but some apparently hadn’t gotten the message. A pair of sad-faced, plain ladies, one a Dresden shepherdess in pale pink and the other some sort of fluffy animal, sat huddled in a corner.

Delaney made a beeline for the out-of-their-element wallflowers and proceeded to charm and dazzle them. He made roses appear from thin air, turned heads to tails on coins they held in their hands, then ended the show by pulling a handsome knave of hearts for each of them from his special card deck.

He fanned the deck, which only a moment before the shepherdess had checked to make certain was normal, then he turned the fan to show that every card was the knave of hearts. There is love for all, my dear ladies, a special someone for every man or woman who walks the earth.

The women smiled and clapped their hands in delight. The fluffy animal, perhaps a Persian cat, said, I suppose you have another deck containing all queens of hearts to display to the gentlemen.

Delaney’s smiled below his half mask. Perhaps some men, like myself, would rather receive a knave of hearts. It is all true magic, ladies. Of that you can be sure.

He touched the shepherdess’s crook with a flower, and she gasped as he seemed to turn a flower into the earring he’d taken from her moments earlier.

How did you do that! She giggled and made a swipe for the earring he dangled in front of her face.

Magic, of course!

He turned with a dramatic swirl of his cape and made his way around the party, entertaining pairs or clusters of people. The sheer number of bejeweled necks and wrists made his fingers twitchy. He would play that trick with the earring only once, just to prove to himself he still could. He had no desire to succumb to the temptation of making easy money—or to point out to the whole world he could pick a pocket faster than an eye blink. Though he’d been Billbo Andrews since he was ten, his early training as a pickpocket was still ingrained in him. Delaney sometimes thought he was a bit like an alley cat taken in by a family too late, its feral nature already established.

"Et voila!" he proclaimed as he produced yet another rose for a lady, almost the last in his hidden arsenal, so he’d have to give up that trick. Satisfied ahs and polite clapping followed.

Delaney glanced up as he drew the deck of cards from one of his many pockets. Then he looked again and froze. A hooded Grim Reaper, minus his scythe, stood at the perimeter of the small group Delaney was entertaining. Even shrouded in a shapeless robe, the man’s imposing build was obvious, tall, broad shouldered, and

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