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Authors: Louisa Trent

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Blooming: Veronica

BOOK: Blooming: Veronica
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Blooming:

Veronica

 

 

Louisa Trent

 

 

 

 

 

Blooming: Veronica

Copyright © September 2010 by Louisa Trent

All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the purchaser of this e-book ONLY. No part of this e-book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without prior written permission from Loose Id LLC. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

 

eISBN 978-1-60737-856-3

Editor: Crystal Esau

Cover Artist: Christine M. Griffin

Printed in the United States of America

 

Published by

Loose Id LLC

PO Box 425960

San Francisco CA 94142-5960

www.loose-id.com

 

This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Warning

This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers. Loose Id LLC’s e-books are for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.

* * *

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Chapter One

 

Boston, the year 1890

 

Talbot Bowdoin presented his invitation to the butler at the front door and then handed over his bowler and topcoat. In return, the manservant gave Talbot the bad news.

“Tonight’s reading is over, sir.”

Talbot hid his dejection in righting his slightly askew silk necktie, modish red stripes against a black background, all the rage in Europe that year, and then asked, “Might I inquire if the author is still here?”

“At the podium, sir. A book signing to follow. Go right in. Front parlor to the left.”

Passing a buffet table laden with finger foods, Talbot stepped into the overcrowded room and took up a position against the back wall, wedged between a potted fern and a predatory shark otherwise known as Sidney Rowe.

They exchanged cordial nods.

Boston cultural society was a small and shallow fishbowl. Generally speaking, painters floated alone, musicians treaded water in concert, dancers toed the surf in pairs, actors paddled around in groups, while writers clung to established schools. With the exception of poets, naturally, who swam against the tides while trying to make rhyme or reason of it all. And they all, every fish in the tank, from grandiose goldfish to gingerly guppy, avoided the bottom-feeding Sidney Rowe lest his sharp teeth rip them apart.

At the moment the shark was munching on a tuna salad sandwich. Hopefully, a full mouth would keep the predator at bay.

But no. The reporter moved in, his jaws working.

“Bowdoin, old man, how could you have missed the single most controversial literary event of the season?”

The mud press could blacken a person’s reputation, estrange a marriage, make a disaster out of a flourishing career, or any combination thereof, and Rowe, a particularly malicious yellow journalist, delighted in the kill.

In no mood to fight off a feeding frenzy, Talbot answered with discretion in mind. “True, I missed the reading, but the butler informed me the author would remain at the podium to sign books.”

“The butler would be James.” Rowe licked some leafy garnish from the corner of his mouth. A smack of his fleshy lips followed. “Thanks to him, I now know who here tonight is in bed with whom, both personally and professionally. Grease a palm, and what can be learned would surprise you.”

Talbot doubted it. Nothing under the sun surprised him anymore.

Nevertheless, he forced himself to smile at Rowe. “Paying a sop to Cerberus, eh?” Talbot did so love showing off his intellect, and he never let an allusion to classical mythology pass him by. “Do tell.”

After brushing sandwich crumbs from his rumpled suit, Rowe wiped his fingers on his lapels. “If that clever bon mot means I pay greenbacks for gossip, hell yeah, I do tell, and far too much according to some people. Present company excluded.”

“Naturally,” Talbot replied, his smile thinning along with his patience.

Ready to attack, the shark bared his toothy sneer, the gleam directed at Talbot. “So, old man, what kept you away from the book reading—the writer’s foul language or the obscene subject matter? Or do those not concern you?”

When did you last beat your wife, kick your puppy…strangle an impertinent scandal sheet reporter?

Loaded questions. And only the last applied. Talbot could easily throttle Rowe.

Obviously, the shark smelled blood. Say anything off-the-cuff, and Talbot would find his name plastered all over the next sensationalized edition of
Around Town and in the Know
, his words twisted, his remarks taken out of context.

“Kept me away?” Talbot drawled noncommittally. “Why, nothing kept me away. I always make a habit of arriving fashionably late to social engagements, style dictating I make a grand entrance and all that.”

In actuality, his tardy appearance at the Beacon Hill house party hosted by famed mystery writer Roger Rogers had been governed by circumstances beyond his control and therefore completely unintentional.

All the week prior, printing production at his small publishing company had faltered due to the erratic operation of the infernally temperamental linotype. As he made ready to depart for that evening’s soiree, the equipment had screeched to a grinding halt altogether.

Hellish nuisance and damnably inconvenient.

And none of Rowe’s blasted affair.

To make a bad situation worse, the sole responsibility to get things moving again fell to Talbot, as he alone knew how to fix the ancient equipment.

Some said he had a gift for machinery, wheels and widgets and weights, and not to forget, whatchamacallits. Others said he understood mechanical devices better than he did people. Both were documented facts, and he never argued facts. If given a choice between man and machine, automatons would get his pick every time. Without question, the linotype needed replacing, but they went back a long way together, and Talbot held on to worn screws and bolts; they were the closest he came to old friends. Regardless of his prior commitment, he loosened his starched white collar, rolled up his pristine linen shirtsleeves, and commenced to tinkering as he had done in his apprenticeship days.

So much for his lofty sense of self-importance, of having his enormous conceit stroked. When it came to the printed word, nothing was beneath his overblown dignity. As his ink-stained knuckles would testify, he had worked like a common journeyman to fix the moody type caster. Afterward, he had raced—a relative term and loosely applied here—to the book reading.

No reason for Rowe to know any of that either.

“How about I bring you a chair from the drawing room, old man?” asked Rowe in pretend solicitousness. “A nice comfortable seat to rest your leg while we talk. I notice how heavily you lean on that red cane of yours.”

The ill informed and badly intentioned—dirt slingers like Rowe—might view the object in his hand as a cane.

It. Was. Not.

An insult to all well-groomed gentlemen everywhere to call his walking stick anything less than a stylish accoutrement, one from an assortment of many. All complemented his impeccable wardrobe, an attention to detail that never once slipped into obnoxious dandification. Like the waistcoats he changed daily, his sticks acted as haute couture accessories.

Without which he would soon fall flat on his face.

Talbot replied to Rowe’s condescension with stiff formality, “No reason for a chair. My
walking stick
is sufficient to my needs.”

As any mad inventor would, he had built his mechanical sticks so that no two were alike; each had a wide range of skills and personalities. He had engineered his ladies—and he did think of them as such—to provide him with various functions, some lethal, most benign. All would prove helpful should a certain backstabbing reporter ambush him in a dark alley late at night. One stick acted as a hypodermic syringe and could inject from the bottom a systemic dose of laudanum, the opium enough to induce sleep. Or morphine, enough so an attacker would lose all interest in murder or thievery or any similar criminal pursuit. Another stick gave off a puff of smoke from the handle, a smokescreen, as it were, that temporarily blinded an attacker. The billowing cloud that was emitted would cloak Talbot’s shuffled escape. In his youth, he often used aphrodisiac perfumes in his amorous encounters. The touch of a button on the side of his favorite “love stick” would dispense the odorless aid to romance. Naturally, all of his sticks could be employed as weapons, from guillotines to nooses to one that could outshoot a Colt 45. The way he figured it, he pretty much had all bases covered. With the help of his gals, he could kill, escape, numb, put to sleep or seduce an attacker. But irrespective of which stick he chose or how hard he used her, each member of his harem kept him…er…
erect
all day and into the night.

Ruby accompanied him today, a lady he took far but never took fast. Her slowness in…er…
coming
had contributed to his late arrival at the event he had cleared his calendar to attend. To be precise, author Veronica Cooper’s book reading. She was scheduled to read an excerpt from her first novel, the critically acclaimed and breathlessly anticipated, semiautobiographical masterpiece entitled—

Drum roll, please.

Diary of an Eager Virgin
. What could he say? In the publishing business, there was no accounting for taste.

Miss Cooper had courage; he would grant her that. Rather than hide behind a pseudonym, she had written the work under her real name, thus leaving herself open to ridicule by reviewers, censure by both church and state, and attacks by sharks like Rowe, all of which she had received in amounts equal to book sales.

A disgustingly large number of book sales.

Citing the work as obscene, lewd, and lascivious, as well as offensive in the extreme, a judge had banned the book in Boston under the Comstock Act. Immediately, underground distribution shot
Diary
up to bestseller status. Avant-garde types lived to thumb their collective noses at the law. All those deliciously naughty words the author delighted in using also boosted sales.

BOOK: Blooming: Veronica
7.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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