London Harcourt's father is bent on subjugating the world's magic to British rule. But since London is a mere female, he hasn't bothered to tell her so. He's said only that he's leading a voyage to the Greek isles. No matter, after a smothering marriage and three years of straitlaced widowhood, London jumps at the opportunity--unfortunately, right into the arms of Bennett Day.
Bennett is a ladies' man, when he's not dodging lethal attacks to protect the powers of the ancients from men like London's father. Sometimes, he's a ladies' man even when he is dodging them. But the minute he sees London he knows she will require his full attention. The woman is lovely, brilliant, and the only known speaker of a dialect of ancient Greek that holds the key to calling down the wrath of the gods. Bennett will be risking his life again--but around London, what really worries him is the danger to his heart...
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September 30, 2010
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Excerpt from Scoundrel by Zoe Archer
A Chance Encounter
Athens, Greece. 1875.
The bloody problem with magic was that he wasn't allowed to use it.
Bennett Day ducked as a heavy marble bust of Plato flew toward his head. It smashed into the wall behind him, leaving a sizable hole that could have easily served as the philosopher's allegorical cave.
Bennett tutted. "Not very enlightened of you, Captain. What would Plato say?"
"English swine! I kill you!"
"How un-Platonic." He dodged as the German ship captain, graceful as a drunken bear, lunged for him. Somewhere, Elena screamed. Bennett sighed. She proved herself to be all too typical with her theatricalities, a woman who loved show more than substance.
Bennett easily avoided the German's paws. Yes, things would have been much simpler if Bennett could use an immobilization spell--that one from the Maldives that had been used on him once before and stung like the devil. But he couldn't use that spell or any other. He was a Blade of the Rose. He could only use magic that was either a gift or naturally belonged to him. Which left him with precisely nothing.
Yet, when it came to eluding angry husbands catching him in their wives' bedrooms, Bennett needed no magic. He was well versed in extricating himself from this very situation. He avoided such entanglements, generally, but sometimes it couldn't be helped, especially on assignment.
"Stand still!" roared the captain. "Fight like a man!"
"Like this?" asked Bennett with a neat jab to the German's chin. The heavy captain stumbled back but did not, alas, go down as smaller men would.
Business for the Blades had brought Bennett to Athens, and following a lead brought him to Elena. Her seafaring husband was known as an ally of the damnable Heirs of Albion, and thus a likely wellspring of information as to what the Heirs were doing in Greece, what magical Source they sought. Bennett needed the German's last manifest to know if those pilfering buggers were here, and, if so, which ones had come. Two choices: break into the German's house and steal the manifest; or, and here was the possibility Bennett favored, seduce the captain's wife and nab the manifest along the way. He did so enjoy combining business with pleasure.
She proved herself ripe and eager for seduction. But no sooner had she and Bennett sequestered themselves in her bedroom than her husband had returned at a most infelicitous moment. Ah, well. At least Bennett was still dressed.
He didn't want to run through the streets of Athens without any trousers.
Sadly, the captain blocked Bennett's path to the door. Which left him with only one option. Out the window.
"I am English," he said to the German, judging the distance. "A little known fact--I'm also one-eighth Greek, on my mother's side. From Olympia. Home of the ancient athletic games."
"Why do you tell me this when I will tear off your handsome, smirking face?"
"One of the events of the pentathlon is--" and here he ran for the window, Elena shrieking, and vaulted over the railing before coming to land lightly in a crouch a story below, "jumping."
He stood and dusted off his palms, grimy from the cobbled street, while the captain shouted the most ungentlemanly epithets from the window above. Elena wept and tugged at her husband's coat. She seemed to be enjoying herself, delighting in the theatrics like a melodrama heroine.
"Come now, sir," Bennett called back to her husband, "you've never met my sister, so I strongly disbelieve your assertions about her."
"And your mother is a goat!" With that witty salvo, the captain disappeared from the window, but Bennett knew that, in such situations, husbands seldom retreated to their libraries to indulge in a revivifying and reflective glass of brandy. Sure enough, Bennett heard the captain's pounding steps as he barreled down the stairs. Bennett decided not to wait for the man to make his appearance on the street, even if it was the polite thing to do.
"Another event in the pentathlon: running," Bennett added before sprinting away. He patted his inside jacket pocket, where the manifest rested safe and secure.
Elena and her husband lived in Plaka, one of the oldest parts of Athens, as attested by its narrow, winding streets that seemed to have no reason to exist other than to drive foreigners to madness. White buildings stacked one atop the other like demented sugar cubes. As Bennett sped down these cramped and twisted streets, he deftly sidestepped donkeys laden with baskets of pistachios. The German captain bellowed behind him. Women and men shouted from windows and doorsteps, eager to join in the fun.
This wasn't exactly what the Blades had in mind when dispatching him to Greece. A cable had reached Bennett in Bucharest, where he had been returning a Source to its homeland. The Star of David medallion had been used in Mongolia to summon a Golem in a pitched battle between Blades and Heirs. Bennett and several other Blades, including a now-initiated Thalia Huntley and her husband Gabriel, had defended an ancient Asian Source against the Heirs. It had been a tight, tough fight, but the Blades had been successful in their mission. That camel's turd and Heirs operative Henry Lamb had been killed, and his crony Jonas Edgeworth fled back to England and his father. The Mongolian Source was now well protected in a monastery deep in the Gobi Desert.
Bennett wasn't so well protected. The German neared and lunged for him. Nimbly, Bennett ducked under the man's arms, falling behind the captain. Momentum carried the German forward, nicely helped by Bennett's boot planted square in the middle of the man's arse.
Bennett raced past a group of men gathered in a square. One of them held a long walking stick to aid in traversing Athens's uneven streets. Without breaking stride, Bennett grabbed the stick from the man's hand and raced on, ignoring the man's outraged yelp.
Down a set of steep stairs. He paused at the bottom, pivoting on the balls of his feet. The captain ran toward him, panting. With a smooth and easy motion, Bennett hurled the walking stick like a spear at the furious husband, and it smacked the man straight in the chest. The German bent over, gasping, as he lost his air.
"Javelin," Bennett said with a grin. "That's event number three."
But the captain was determined, and, even as he turned purple, forced himself to straighten up and continue his pursuit. Bollocks. Bennett sped on.
He was a good agent for the Blades, serving as their resident cryptographer. Bennett could unlock nearly any code or cipher, but when he had to, was more than willing to get into a scrap or two. There was something so deeply satisfying about going toe-to-toe against a man, rather than an encoded Aztec manuscript.
If he didn't shake this German, there'd be one hell of a fight. He doubted any of the Orthodox churches he passed would offer him sanctuary. A black-clad priest on a church step shook his head and beard at him. Clearly, the holy man knew that Bennett had broken nearly all of the Ten Commandments. At least Bennett honored his father and mother. He didn't make too many graven images, either.
Two out of ten wasn't so bad.
The cheerful din of a daytime taverna announced itself before Bennett saw it. Men sat at tables outside, drinking ouzo and nibbling on plates of octopus, palavering. Deftly, Bennett seized one of the empty plates and, glancing quickly over his shoulder, launched the plate at the German's head. It was sheer bad luck that the captain stumbled over a basket in the street, and the plate missed him by a bare inch to shatter on the wall behind him.
"Opa!" shouted the men at the taverna.
"Discus, that's four," Bennett muttered. "Damn it. It'll be a complete pentathlon after all."
He rounded a sharp corner, then quickly sprang up to grab the lower bars of a balcony's railing. Bennett pulled himself up, but did not climb inside. Instead, he turned around, heels balanced on the edge of the balcony, hands gripping the railing behind him. Not a soft-bellied, weak armed nob or an Heir, hiding behind a gun or hired muscle. Working for the Blades kept his body strong. Thirty-two years old, and as fit as he'd been during those two years he spent at Cambridge, before he found his true calling as a Blade.
Judging by the smile of the young woman who was currently sitting on the balcony, she also appreciated his athleticism. She started to speak, but Bennett shook his head and winked. She adjusted her kerchief, giving him a better view of her bosom.
The German stormed down the street, then stopped, looking about in confusion. He didn't see Bennett hovering above him. Then came another lilting melody of Teutonic swearing, a delightful combination of seafaring and Germanic oaths, as the man whirled around, searching for Bennett.
Light as a cat, Bennett launched himself from the balcony and onto the back of the persistent captain. A less bull-like man would have fallen to the cobblestones, but the German only staggered under Bennett's weight. Bennett looped one arm around the captain's neck and held it fast, bracing one arm with the other. The German snarled and choked, spinning around and pawing frantically at the strong arm pressed tight against his throat. Bennett did not relinquish his hold. The captain ran backward and slammed him into a wall. Stars swam in Bennett's eyes, but he didn't let go. Another slam. And another. Bennett held tight. Surely Hercules had an easier time of things with that Erymantian boar.
The captain's movements began to slow, his fingers weakening as they tried to pry Bennett loose. Then the German stumbled and sank to his knees before, at last, growing limp. Carefully, Bennett released his hold. The captain slid in a soundless heap to the ground. Turning him over, Bennett contemplated the man's red face before pressing his ear to the captain's chest.
"And that's wrestling," Bennett murmured. "A true pentathlon. Mother would be so proud."
"Is he dead?" asked the young woman from the balcony in Greek.
"A beauty sleep," Bennett answered, also in Greek. Standing, Bennett dragged the captain's limp body into an alley. He took a wash line and used it to quickly truss the German up like a chicken. Ready for Sunday dinner. Once the captain woke, it would take a goodly bit of maneuvering before he got free.
Bennett dusted himself off before slipping from the alley. With a wave for the woman on the balcony, he headed west, toward the old market in Monastiraki. He had the manifest, but there was more investigation to be done. A pity that the captain had to return before Bennett could savor the fruits of his seduction of the man's wife. Elena had held such gymnastic potential.
Cuckolded husbands and thrilling chases aside, he was here in Athens for serious business, and he meant to succeed in his objective. As much as he enjoyed female company, his true purpose was and always would be to find and protect the magical Sources. But when the two coincided, well, that was just good fortune.