First Exclusive Excerpt of The Dark Days Deceit!
The jaw-dropping conclusion to Alison Goodman’s The Dark Days series is almost here and we’ve got the inside scoop.
If you’ve been keeping up to date with all the epic monster hunting shenanigans, you know we’ve been through a lot with our favorite demon hunter, Lady Helen. In fact, you’d think she’d be able to take a nice little break from fighting evil, right? Not so, friends. And we’re grateful!
After The Dark Days Club and The Dark Days Pact saw Lady Helen kicking butt and taking names, as well as some truly swoony banter with Lord Carlston – it all comes down to THIS!! Can our favorite demon hunter have her wedding and save the world WITH THE TWO DIFFERENT MEN IN HER LIFE!? Oh yes, TWO DIFFERENT MEN! Is that a triangle we hear?!
Check out an exclusive excerpt of The Dark Days Deceit below!
Helen drew her legs up under the warm bedcovers and rested her chin upon her knees, staring at the fire already lit in the hearth. Her wedding day. Just thinking the words brought a gripe in her innards. Here she was, a Reclaimer who had fought and killed the Grand Deceiver, and yet the prospect of saying her vows before family and friends made her feel sick to the stomach. Absurd.
Perhaps the nausea came from the prospect of walking down the aisle with her uncle. He had arrived late last night, his pouchy-eyed bluster still intact. Nothing about him had changed, except the wariness that had emerged on the night of her presentation ball had hardened into outright distrust. He would not look her in the eye and spoke to her only through Aunt. He did, however, issue one comment through his small, flaky dry lips when no one else was near. “Selburn is mad to take you, but I am glad you are going.”
She contemplated the day beyond the open shutters. Gray and gloomy but dry; the ball and night fair would not be ruined by rain. The evening was all prepared: hundreds and hundreds of lamps ready to be lit around the formal gardens, musicians hired, the dance pavilion—by all reports—finished, the Queen’s rooms prepared, the supper cooked, and the stalls and kitchens ready for the villagers in the lower fields. A grand celebration for the marriage of a Duke to his new Duchess.
She listened, finding Darby’s quick tread along the passage, the hot water she carried slapping against the sides of its pitcher, her breath quicker than it should be. Perhaps she was nervous too. After all, she was in charge of the bride’s toilette.
Helen stretched her hearing further, but a house preparing for a royal visit and a ball was not a silent place. With all the kitchen noise and the workmen and the cleaning, it was hard to discern anything particular beyond the passageway.
The door opened, and Darby peered in cautiously. Seeing that Helen was sitting up, she widened the crack of the door with a deft bump of her hip and entered.
“I have a letter from Mr. Quinn,” she whispered as she shut the door and curtsied. She bustled across the room to set the pitcher upon the washstand.
Helen sat up straighter. News of Carlston, finally. “What does he say?”
Darby drew the letter from her bodice. “Mr. Quinn’s not one for writing much more than the facts,” she said wryly, and handed it across.
Helen unfolded the paper; thick and rough, the kind supplied at inns. Quinn’s hand was as big as the man himself, the single paragraph covering all of the page.
The Dolphin, Portsmouth, 30 December 1812
Here I write as promised, with little to tell. We’ve sailed the yacht from Southampton to Portsmouth, where all is busy with war—hundreds of ships coming and going, heading to America and France. No one can venture into the Channel without escort. It’s taken his lordship until now to secure a place in the Christian VII convoy that sets out for Cherbourg on the 1st January. As close as we can get to Calais. We will sail on the night tide. Tell her ladyship he is healing well.
Your devoted husband,
Helen released her breath, only now realizing that she had been holding it. They were still in England, and he was healing well. Thank God. She hunched her shoulders, resisting the impulse to focus upon the Reclaimer beat. She had made her promises—to retire from the Dark Days Club, and to stop seeking that solace—and she must abide by them if her marriage was to work.
“They sail tonight,” Darby said. “Cherbourg. Where is that?”
“To the south of the Channel. Quite a way from Calais.”
“Does that mean they will have to go by land?”
They looked at each other. A dangerous journey in Bonaparte’s France.
“They have traveled there before without incident,” Helen said, as much to console herself as Darby. “They even went into Paris.”
“True.” Darby picked up Helen’s dressing robe, holding it out. “I just wish they didn’t have to go at all.”
Helen thrust her arms into the sleeves and wrapped the robe around her body. God knew, she wished the same. That there was no Calais, no Lady Elise, and above all, no little Viscount Collingate. A dreadful, selfish wish that she could not admit even to Darby.
Two hours later, Helen studied her image in the full-length mirror. Mrs. Langdon—Bath’s finest dressmaker, whose clients included such ladies of eminence as the Duchess of York—had worked a miracle in just five days. After Aunt’s and Helen’s hurried selection of fabric, the dressmaker and her four assistants—two of them taken on just for Helen’s order—had toiled around the clock to produce four wedding-day gowns.
For the marriage service, the celestial-blue velvet robe-pelisse trimmed in ermine that she was wearing now atop a fine white cambric gown. To greet the Queen, a pale olive cambric robe with plaited bodice and long, full sleeves to be worn with a lemon Cossack cloak. For dinner, a superfine round gown in the new Russian Flame color with a ribbon-trimmed bodice. And for the ball that evening, a round, low gown in willow-green satin, embellished with pearls and beads. All the latest style, Mrs. Langdon had assured Aunt, and perfectly suited to Lady Helen’s tall, slim frame.
Helen turned to the side, admiring the rich fall of velvet from the three diamond fastenings under her bust. Aunt had insisted upon ermine rather than swansdown at the collar, lapels, and cuffs; a nod, she’d said, to Helen’s new rank as Duchess.
Darby had dressed her hair to sit in a tumble of becoming curls at either side of her face, only allowing Sprat to hand over the pins and warm the curling iron. The placement of the headdress—a small bandeau of diamonds, white roses, and folds of blue velvet from which a transparent Mechlin lace veil cascaded—had been a tense moment, and Darby had been forced to slap away Sprat’s hand.
Helen glanced at the girl, standing sullenly near the door where she had been temporarily banished. “What do you say, Sprat?” she asked kindly.
“Yer look like an angel, my lady.”
Helen leaned closer to the mirror, not quite convinced. The necklace of graduated turquoises that circled her throat—a gift from Selburn—seemed a little heavy. It was beautiful, of course, and had been chosen by him to suit the velvet robe-pelisse, but for the service she wanted something more delicate. And with more meaning.
“Darby, I think I would rather wear my mother’s cross instead of these turquoises.”
“The ruby cross?” Darby opened the jewelry casket.
They both looked up as the dressing room door closed. Sprat, gone without a by-your-leave.
“That girl’s behavior is getting worse, I swear it,” Darby said, shaking her head. She lifted a few of the boxes within the casket, finding the small leather case that housed the cross. She turned to Helen, opening it, then stared down, frowning. “It’s not here.”
“Is that the right box?” Helen asked.
“Yes. I put it back in here after you wore it on Christmas Day. I swear.”
Helen glanced at the closed door. “I think I know what has happened to it.”
Darby followed her gaze. “You think Sprat’s taken it?” She snapped the lid shut. “Of all the ungrateful little wretches. Why would she do that, my lady? You’ve taken her in, given her a good livelihood, and she steals from you.”
Helen sighed. “It is not that straightforward. I didn’t tell you that she took a pearl ring from Miss Cransdon’s room after her death. For her, I think it is like showing an attachment to the person.”
“Stealing from them? A strange way to show affection.” Darby shook her head and placed the box back in the casket. “She’ll be off to one of her hiding places. I’ll get Geoffrey and that other footman to look for her.”
“No, I do not want any chance of this coming to the attention of the Duke. Especially not today. I’ll wear the turquoises, and when we return from the Abbey, I will speak to Sprat. She will be sorry, I know, and I am sure she will return it.”
Even so, the theft and Sprat’s broken promise left a sour taste in her mouth. And it felt like a bad omen.
There was no time to dwell on such gloomy thoughts for, at that moment, her aunt, Lady Margaret, and Pug arrived to oversee the last of her toilette.
They stayed until Helen asked for a few minutes to collect herself before they left for the Abbey. Finally alone, she opened her prayer book to read through the service, hoping to find some measure of calm within its pages.
At eight o’clock, a footman knocked on the adjoining bedchamber door and informed Darby that the coaches were ready.
Helen put aside the prayer book, any calm she had recovered gone in an instant.
“Everyone is waiting downstairs to see you leave, my lady,” Darby reported. “Are you ready?”
Darby had donned the navy-blue silk gown and paisley shawl that Helen had given her for her own wedding and carried her own prayer book. Much to Darby’s pleasure, and Aunt’s disapproval, Helen had insisted that she have a place in one of the coaches to the Abbey to witness her nuptials. She was not going to be married without Darby nearby, and all of Aunt’s arguments of what was right and proper for the wedding of a Duchess could not persuade her otherwise.
Helen rose from her chair, waiting for Darby to twitch out the veil at her back. “I feel so . . . .” She stopped.
“Like you want to be sick?” Darby offered. She met Helen’s gaze in the mirror with a sympathetic smile.
At least part of how she felt. She was fasting prior to taking communion during the service, so some of the gnawing in her stomach was no doubt hunger. The other part was something she could not—no, must not—voice. A dragging sense of dread, as if she were making the worst mistake of her life.
“I felt the same way, my lady. It is just nerves. Every bride feels it.”
They trod the length of the passage in silence. As they approached the grand staircase, Darby stopped. “I’ll say good luck now, my lady, for I’m sure I won’t get a chance at the Abbey.”
Helen caught one of her hands. “Thank you. For it all.”
Darby squeezed her hand. “We’ll pray for them, my lady, at the Abbey. For a safe journey and a safe return.” She gave Helen’s toilette one last assessing glance, then with a nod of approval headed for the side stairs.
Helen looked up at the dome above the foyer. The morning was bright enough to see Eros and Psyche in their embrace, the young god tenderly waking his lover from her sleep. Their story had ended in marriage too, after poor Psyche had suffered many trials. Perhaps a good omen for the day, Helen thought, except that she was seeing good and bad omens in everything, and she did not even believe in them.
She looked down to where all of the household stood waiting to bid farewell to the bride. She searched their upturned faces; all, it seemed, except Sprat. And, of course, Selburn and Lord Henry. They had gone ahead to await the arrival of the bride at the Abbey.
Helen gathered the hem of her gown and descended the steps. She smiled at Mrs. Clarke at the head of the line as she walked to the door. The housekeeper flushed at the attention and bobbed a curtsy, prompting all the servants to bow and curtsy, a murmur of blessings rising like a wave at Helen’s back.
The Dark Days Deceit will be unleashed upon your TBR lists on November 20th!