The mysterious device in Prudence Hastings' basement could be the answer to her prayers, if she could just figure out what it is. Needing William Foreman's help, she's prepared to do whatever it takes to gain it. Even putting aside her dislike of machines and volunteering to test the risque apparatus he's developing for the Acolytes of Concupiscence.
Will's expecting a lightskirt for a test subject and is horrified when he realizes the tempting woman he just debauched is very much a lady. But despite his best intentions, something keeps drawing him back to her, and it isn't just the thought of discovering the inner workings of her uncle's last invention. Unlocking their passion is turning out to be a far more pleasurable, if dangerous, job.
Beset by desire, automatons, secrets, an unintelligible maid and the danger of utter ruin should their association become known, Will and Prudence haven't a chance in hell of remaining unscathed.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Beyond Prudence by Anya Richards
"Bloody hell, is there anyone there? Speak up, or get the blazes away from my door."
The angry voice shocked her back to her senses and Prudence gasped in a quick draught of the damp air. Gripping her shawl tighter she took a deep, steadying breath and quickly, before the man inside lost patience, licked her dry lips and said, "My name is--"
"What? I can't hear you. Stop mumbling and tell me what it is you want."
Prudence felt annoyance rise within and welcomed it as being far more effective than fear. Stepping close to the door, she bellowed into the hole, "I'm here to see Mr. William Foreman."
"Dammit, no need to deafen me." There was the sound of shuffling and a muted, stronger curse. When he next spoke his tone was even more irritated, bordering on accusatory. "You're early. An entire day early to be exact. I distinctly told them Thursday, and this is only Wednesday. Why can't people understand the need for precision? The AS isn't ready for testing. You'll have to come back tomorrow."
"Oh for God's sake, what more is there to say?" At the interruption, Prudence snapped her mouth shut before she said something she shouldn't and further antagonized the surly brute. "I told Brumblie Thursday."
There was another scuffing sound, tinny and magnified by the door's device, and Prudence imagined the old man already turning back to his papers, getting ready to dismiss her from his mind. At least she now knew he was expecting his test subject the following day. She'd return then.
She was smiling with relief as she said, "I'm sorry for the inconvenience--"
"I could, I suppose, test the GSS tonight and the AS tomorrow." Prudence gritted her teeth at being once more cut off as she spoke. Insufferable, ill-mannered... "As long as you realize you'll have to come back tomorrow night too, you might as well come in. Oliver will show you the way."
Before she could even formulate a reply, the little aperture slammed shut and the front door swung soundlessly open. Instinctively stepping inside, Prudence found herself in darkness until, with a click and a hiss, a massive chandelier high above her head came on. Blinking against the sudden, almost blinding brightness, she looked around and caught her breath.
The entryway of Mr. Foreman's house was sheer magnificence. Gleaming black-and-white marble tiles, set in a Harlequin pattern, marched across the floor, and a pair of intricate staircases swooped and soared to the floor above. The walls flanking the staircases on either side bore a series of arches, each capped with keystones carved with a variety of exotic animals.
Enchanted by the beauty of her surroundings, it took a moment to realize the room was entirely bare, without chairs or benches, pictures or tables to welcome guests or add interest and color. The only adornments, if one could stretch the meaning of the word to its uttermost limit, were a strange wooden stand on one side and a haphazard pile of envelopes and cards in the corner nearest to the door. Walking a few steps closer to the teetering tower of paper, Prudence recognized her own handwriting amongst the other envelopes and shook her head in annoyance.
No wonder he never replied to my missives. I wonder if he ever reads his mail.
A strange whirring and whooshing drew her attention to one of the passages leading farther into the house. Fighting back a scream she spun around in time to see a white-and-gold form come barreling through the air into the entranceway. It circled the chandelier once then came in for a somewhat ungraceful landing on the wooden stand beside the door. With a rattling of feathers, the large mechanical owl settled itself more firmly, great talons gripping the crossbar, and turned its golden eyes on her.
"How do you do? My name is Oliver, although you may call me Ollie if you like. All lovely ladies are welcome to do so." It winked and clicked its beak as though laughing. "Just don't tell the master I said so. Stuffy fellow, he is. Wouldn't like to hear I'm flirting with the guests."
Charmed despite her dislike for automatons and mechanical beings, Prudence found herself replying, "Your secret is quite safe with me, Ollie. I do so adore a charming rogue."
Ollie dipped his head, for all the world as though embarrassed, but Prudence saw him looking up at her from beneath feathery brows, still chuckling and clicking. "Too kind, too kind," he said. "And just the diversion this moldy pile needs on a foggy night, eh what?"
Before she could reply, a bellow rang through the house.