Excerpt: The Gentleman and the Rogue
It was midnight in the Winter Garden. The dark ivy that crawled up the walls and stonework was flecked with crystals of ice, and a sparkling white coat of frozen snow covered everything, glistening in the moonlight. The night sky had undergone a fierce battle in its quest for dominance, or so it looked to the Gentleman, for it was peppered with sparkling punctures and the moon was a fierce slash, perhaps from a sickle-blade, glowing brightly above the heads of the party-goers.
He had only escaped the company of the others for a few short moments to gaze at the sky before he was hailed back by his mother and forced to endure another round of petty discussions. Michael Pennington, it seemed, was determined to engage in a proper struggle with him over the hand of Miss Betsy Clarke. Although he had little to no interest in the woman, his mother had been holding up his side of the fight for him for the last several weeks, and now Michael was bound and determined to get the better of him, whether or not the Gentlemen cared to be gotten at all.
He disliked Michael Pennington, and did not often campaign to make a secret of the fact. Michael was a year or two younger than him and already high on his status as the heir to his father’s lucrative manufacturing business. The Gentleman was slated to take over for his father as head of the police force, but he felt no need to parade around lobbying the information to any and all passers-by. The cocky look in Michael’s dark eyes and the monotonous drawl of his voice only served to aggravate the Gentleman further, and so he was more than happy to be presented with a distraction in the form of his father.
Despite having grown up under his father’s tutelage, the Gentleman was not very like him at all. While the Gentleman was tall, well-built and reserved, his father was short, stocky and ridiculously extroverted. His favourite activity at socials such as this was waddling around to make jovial small talk with the attendees. Unfortunately, this was also his favourite activity at work. The Gentleman was bound and determined (upon his appointment as police commissioner of course) to set the police force straight and restore the officers of London to their former glory. Until then, however, he settled for quietly shadowing his father at work, and practicing his sword and gunplay religiously after hours.
“I thought I ought to draw you away from Miss Clarke and your mother there,” said his father conspiratorially. “They looked rather ready to swallow you whole.”
“Oh yes, thank you father,” said the Gentleman with a small laugh. “I do appreciate it.”
“Of course, my boy.” The Commissioner patted his son on the back. “Listen, why don’t you take your chance and run on home? The party’s bound to keep on for another few hours, and I know you want to get back to your training.”
The Gentleman was rather taken aback by this unexpected leeway from his father, but accepted it gratefully and ducked into a covered walkway, making his way to the exit. A nice cup of tea was in order, and then perhaps a few hours of endurance training before bed.
He had almost made it to the door when he heard his name called from down the walkway. He sighed, recognising the voice as Michael’s.
“And where do you think you’re going?” demanded Michael, striding up to the Gentleman and glaring up at him. “I was just beginning to inform your mother what I thought of her plans to host a luncheon next Saturday after the ball.”
“Yes and that has nothing to do with me,” sighed the Gentleman, “so I really don’t see why it’s necessary for me to—”
“It’s rude,” snapped Michael. “In fact, you have been nothing but rude to me or Miss Betsy for the past fortnight. I really haven’t the slightest clue what she sees in you at all.”
The Gentleman was about to reassure Michael that he hadn’t the faintest idea either when they were interrupted.
A loud bang sounded from the garden, and then, after a very long moment of hushed, tinkling silence, the screaming began.
The Gentleman’s instinct kicked in, and he rushed back to the garden, Michael hot on his heels.
It was difficult, for a moment, to process what had happened. The garden which had until recently been peaceful and still was suddenly awash with chaos. The colourful dresses of the women swirled frantically, like a saturated nightmare as they ran to escape. And blood … yes, there was blood on the snow, and a man was yelling furiously, his voice suddenly cut off with a snap. The scent of gunpowder filled the air as another blast went off, blindingly bright and disorienting. The Gentleman shaded his eyes, and then turned to face the attackers.