"Witty and Refreshing" - Reckless in Red by Rachael Miles - Excerpt & Interview

“Rachael Miles’ knowledge of the time period she writes about adds a depth of authenticity that enriches every page.” –Jodi Thomas, New York Times bestselling author

Reckless in Red by Rachael Miles

Book Description

Lena Frost is a force to be reckoned with. A woman who has made her way in society without family or fortune, she’s about to realize her first big success as an artist . . . Until her business partner makes off with her money, leaving her with little more than her hopes—and a dead body in her studio. Now Lena is at the mercy of a strikingly handsome stranger demanding answers she dare not reveal . . .

Is it her seductive eyes, or his suspicion that she’s up to no good that have Clive Somerville shadowing Lena’s every move? Either way, his secret investigation for the Home Office has him determined to uncover Lena’s hidden agenda. But the closer he gets to her, the more he longs to be her protector. Is she a victim of circumstance? Or a dark force in a conspiracy that could destroy everything Clive holds dear? Discovering the truth could have dire consequences, not only for Lena, but for his heart . . .

Reckless in Red was a 2019 finalist for the Holt Medallion in Historical Fiction and a first-place winner in the 2020 National Federation of Press Women’s communications contests in the category Fiction for Adult Readers: Novels.


Reckless in Red by Rachael Miles - Blog Tour

Enjoy an Excerpt from

Reckless in Red


Winter 1820


“That damned swindler.”


From the office door of Calder and Company, Lena Frost could see the key, left precisely in the middle of the empty desktop. Everything else was gone: Horatio’s inkwell, his penknife, his little toys, even the carved bird he’d been toying with for the last several weeks. She knew what it meant: Horatio had left. For good.


But did he take the money? She snatched up the key as she rounded the desk. Perhaps he’d left it—or at least enough to pay the remaining craftsmen and open the exhibition. Perhaps: the word felt hollow.


Five of the six desk drawers stuck out several inches. Horatio had left in haste. She looked through the drawers, now a jumble. Unused correspondence paper in a variety of sizes. An assortment of bills, paid—because she had paid them—to the end of the quarter. A handful of artist’s crayons, almost used up. She picked up the sanguine pencil, its tip a ruddy red against her hand, then tossed it back into the drawer. Horatio was a talented artist, but his real skill was with words, most of them lies.


Nothing in the drawers was of any importance.


Only the drawer where she kept the money box was still shut. If the money was gone, her only hope would be to keep it quiet until she could open the exhibition. Subscribers had paid in advance to see what everyone was calling the most important art exhibition of the year. If she didn’t open, she’d have to refund their money. If she could make it two more weeks . . .

She hesitated before turning the key, torn between needing to know and dreading the knowledge.


No. Whatever is here—or isn’t—I will face it, as I always have. She turned the key. The drawer opened about four inches, then stuck. Hope bloomed for a moment. Perhaps the money box was still there, wedging the drawer in place, its banknotes and coin all still neatly arranged in divided trays. She pushed the drawer in, then tugged it out. But nothing would make it open wider.


She slid her hand in flat; there wasn’t room to make a fist. Then she inched her fingers forward. She felt nothing but the wooden bottom of the drawer. When she reached the halfway point, her stomach turned sour. The box was gone. But she kept reaching, needing to know the drawer was empty before she let herself sink into the despair already pooling inside her.


At the very back of the drawer, almost past her reach, her fingertips felt the edge of a thick piece of paper. A banknote? Perhaps he had left her enough to open the exhibition? Or at least to pay her rent? Pressing the tips of her fingers against the paper, she dragged it forward and out. The note was folded over twice, and she hesitated a moment, afraid of what it might tell her.


The paper was fine, well made, one of the sheets she used to correspond with wealthy patrons and subscribers. That in itself was strange: Horatio normally wrote on paper with a large watermark of Britannia in the middle of the page. He’d play a game with the ghost image, positioning his salutation so that Britannia would look at the name of the addressee or so that her spear would intersect with his period to make an invisible exclamation at the end of his sentences. Lena had shaken her head at his games, finding it hard to remain angry or frustrated with him. But if he’d endangered the exhibition, she might remain angry with him forever.


Tightening her jaw, she unfolded the page. In the center, Horatio had lettered a single word: “RUN.”


The despair in her stomach turned instantly to an unreasoning fear. Every creak, every groan of the old building sounded like a warning. Run.


She pushed the drawer closed, locked it, and replaced the key in the center of the desktop.


Surveying the room, she tried to imagine where Horatio might have hidden the money box. But, other than the desk, two chairs, and the old engravings stuck with pins to the walls, the room was almost empty. Everything was just as it had been for the last two years, except the money was gone, and Horatio with it.


All he’d left her was the note. She held it out, examining the way Horatio’s R curved oddly beneath the bottom of the U, and the final stroke of the N trailed upward. An extra blotch of ink widened the line slightly before the tip, like the hand of a clock. She held the page up to the light. No watermark, no secret design that played with the letters.


She stood, her arms wrapped around her chest, the note limp in one hand. She’d never expected him to betray her, to leave her with no way out but to run. All her energy, her passion, drained out onto the wooden floor and seeped away between the boards. The exhibition would fail. She would fail. And this time she had nowhere to . . . run.


She traced the malformed letters of the note once more, then she crushed it against her palm and shoved it in her pocket.


From the outer office, the hallway door creaked open. When Horatio’d said run, she had no idea he meant so soon. Suddenly afraid, she scanned the room. The inner office door was partly open. The drop from the window to the street was three stories. She had nowhere to hide, and only seconds to make a decision.


Heavy footfalls approached. Though the crew and the ticket seller had left soon after she’d returned, the office door remained open to prospective subscribers until she or Horatio left for the evening. But should the intruder be dangerous, she would have no help. She looked down at her clothes, her best dress and coat worn to meet a publisher who’d agreed to sell engraved prints of the panorama. With only a moment to imagine a plan, she flung herself into a chair before the desk. Her only hope was to pretend to be someone else.


A tall man, strongly built, pushed the door open. Standing in the doorway, he seemed like one of the statues from the Loggia dei Lanzi come to life. And he was beautiful. His clothes caressed his form, revealing powerful shoulders, narrow waist, and firmly muscled thighs. His black hair curled in thick waves like Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus. In Florence, she’d marveled at the sculptures of the classical gods, their muscles detailed in marble or bronze. But she’d never realized how breathtaking it would be for those ancient heroes to come to life.


He examined the room slowly before he turned his attention to her. And when his eyes met hers, it was both exhilarating—and terrifying.


“Are you Mr. Calder? I wanted to subscribe to the exhibition in your Rotunda.” She kept her tone breathless and a little naive. “I saw a panorama once when I was a child—the Temples of Greece—and I’ve never forgotten it, how you could stand in the middle and feel as if you had been transported to a different place and time.” She spoke quickly, letting her words jumble together in a rush of enthusiasm. “I’m looking forward to seeing your painting. I’ve read all the clues you’ve advertised for deciphering the topic. I think it must be Waterloo. What else could be painted in such a grand scale? How hard must it be to paint all those figures—the horses, the flags, our men marching valiantly into battle? It must be such a glorious scene!”


“Don’t forget the carrion birds and the jackals ripping apart the bodies of the dead.” His voice was stern, but the sound of it resonated down the line of her spine. “Or the bodies broken apart by the cannon or the bayonet.”


“Well, sir!” She rose, feigning offense. “If you treat a prospective subscriber so rudely, I will spend my sixpence elsewhere.” She walked briskly toward the door. When he didn’t move out of her way, she stopped just out of his reach.


He was considering her carefully, examining her clothes and her figure beneath them. Under the focused attention, Lena felt exposed, like a rabbit who’d encountered a hungry hawk.


Refusing to be intimidated, she examined him in turn. His eyes were a cold green, his chin firm. His cravat, tied loosely around his neck, made her wish it was tied even more loosely. Her fingers itched for her sketchbook and pencil. Oh, that he would be just another would-be subscriber! Then—perhaps—she could convince him to sit for her. She pushed the thoughts away. He might be handsome, even devastatingly so, but if he were Horatio’s enemy, he would likely be hers as well.


He remained in the doorway, and his stare intensified. She felt the heat of it along her neck and cheeks. Her stomach twisted, but whether in attraction or fear, she couldn’t be certain. The silence between them grew, and Horatio’s message echoed in her ears: Run.


“Will you at least be a gentleman and remove yourself from the doorway?” She pulled her shoulders back, as she did with suppliers who wished to take their fee from Horatio instead of from her.


For a moment, he looked abashed, as if he hadn’t considered that his behavior was ungentlemanly.