"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
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.
Enjoy an Excerpt from
Reckless in Red
“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.
“It appears we both have business with Calder, and we are both disappointed.” He stepped away from the door- way, giving her ample room to escape.
Then, as she passed, he offered her a low bow, as if she were a princess or queen. She felt his stare on her back as she walked purposefully, but not too quickly, to the outer office door. She refused to look back at him, afraid to reveal her fear—or her interest.
When she reached the outer door, she allowed herself one last look at her Greek-god-come-to-life, but he had already moved into the office and out of sight. She stepped into the hall, listening. A subscriber likely wouldn’t wait too long for Horatio to return.
She heard the desk drawers open and close, and papers rustle. Not a subscriber then, and her disappointment felt like a rock in the pit of her belly. She waited another minute, but when she heard him wrestling with the stuck drawer, she finally took Horatio’s advice.
End of Excerpt. Copyright © Rachel Miles
"The suspenseful fourth in Miles’s Muses’ Salon series (after Tempting the Earl) captivates with clever prose and an unconventional heroine. In 1820 London, painter Lena Frost drifts on the fringes of society due to her checkered past, but she hopes that her upcoming exhibition will catapult her into artistic fame. Her hopes are dashed when her business partner disappears with all of their money. Then several people, all with some connection to Lena, are murdered. Enter Clive Somerville, who is the younger brother of a duke and is a surgeon who serves among the Home Office’s investigative ranks. His inquiries into the rash of killings lead him straight to Lena’s doorstep. His fascination with Lena blurs the lines between suspicion and desire, and his urge to question her quickly transforms into a need to protect her. The only flaw in this intricately crafted historical romance is the unbelievable speed at which the connection between the protagonists develops. Readers looking for a change from Regencies will find this witty Victorian tale refreshing." - Publishers Weekly
Q&A with the Author
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
For me, being a writer requires more than feeling strongly. I must understand the craft of writing and work hard to master that craft. In fact, the idea that one needs to feel emotions strongly to be a good writer is a pretty new one. Shakespeare and his Renaissance peers, for example, demonstrated their wit (intelligence, cunning, skill) by refashioning common metaphors and ideas into something new and surprising. Shakespeare’s near contemporary John Donne even transforms a flea into a marriage bed. But around 200 years ago, at the beginning of the nineteenth-century, writers began to claim that the power of their prose was tied to the depth of their emotional experiences. I suppose we could blame it on William Wordsworth. He claims in the 1800 Preface to Lyrical Ballads, that his poetry originated from “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings … [to] emotions recollected in tranquillity.” It’s a memorable statement and frequently quoted, even today. Sadly, it encourages lots of people who might be fine writers that they must weep over the page to be successful, and that just seems to me somewhat exhausting.
Who are your main characters? Tell as a little about what makes them tick.
In Reckless in Red, Lena Frost is a talented painter, but she hasn’t been able to overcome the limits of her gender to garner the best commissions. She’s decided to throw her future on the tastes of the middle classes, and to that end, she’s about to open a monumental panorama in a purpose-built circular building three stories high. But then her partner steals all their money and someone tries to kill her. Then there’s the handsome Lord Clive Somerville who saves her life, but who won’t be satisfied until he learns all her secrets. Can she trust him? or should she follow her partner’s advice and run?
A surgeon and teacher, Lord Clive Somerville, in his spare time, investigates murders for the Home Office. He may not be the most diplomatic of men — his family jokes that he once told a woman she was going to die over soup — but he knows that Lena is in trouble. And it’s equally clear that she isn’t telling him everything he needs to know to protect her. But if he is to catch a gang of murderers before they strike again, he has to discover what she knows, even if it means risking his heart.
What are three things people may not know about you?
I always used to have my students introduce themselves by playing two truths and one lie, and the class would vote on which was the lie. We did this across the semester, so some students took the time to build elaborate illusions so they could “win” by deceiving their classmates. So, I am tempted to make one of these a lie.
I had just finished my first novel when a black lab puppy showed up on my porch. At the time, we lived in a neighborhood where people often dumped unwanted pets. When it became clear that she was going to be part of the family, I named her after the heroine of that book.
My father died before my first book came out, so though he knew I’d signed a contract he never got to see the books in print. Each year, for his birthday, I try to do something that would please him. Last year, I started learning bird songs; this year, I dug a pond and put koi in it. My dad—a native Texan—once dug a pond in the shape of Texas.
I live on the edge of a town in what I call the almost woods. We have lots of deer and other critters—so many that I’ve decided to post pictures on them on my facebook page on Tuesdays. Critter Tuesday. I’ve trained one of this year’s fawns to come to the yard for bird seed when I whistle.
B&B: *If one is a lie, it's a good one!*
Were there scenes you ended up cutting you wish you could've kept? Describe the decision-making process.
I always write far more scenes with my villain than can appear in any of the books. Charters is such a delicious character that it’s hard to keep him in check. There’s only way to decide what goes in and what stays out: what kind of story am I writing? And that decision has more to do with genre than anything else. If too much of the book is devoted to the bad guy instead of to the lovers, then I’m not writing a romance any more, and readers will be disappointed. But I have dozens of scenes with him, his back story, his family, his fate—and none of them will likely ever appear in a book. I hope that richness of his back story, even if it doesn’t appear explicitly in the stories, gives Charters depth and texture.
What is your favorite non-writing pastime?
I love to garden, but I’m not terribly good at it. I really love growing herbs—and I’ve finally figured out that if I want to eat pesto more than once a season, I have to plant lots of basil. So this year, I think I have twenty plants and five varieties. This year, since I’m working from home, I’ve also experimented with flavored oils and vinegars, and even herbed butters—and that sentence makes me sound way more clever at culinary things than I actually am. I simply had a cookbook that needed to earn its space on my shelf by me using some of its recipes.
I’m not so good at growing vegetables. I planted a lovely Italian zucchini (zuchetta da pergola) this year that has in the last month taken over most of a fence. But since it just started blossoming this late in the season, I’m letting the baby woodchuck eat as much as s/he wants. All of my cabbage went the way of the deer, though I did get to eat a handful of snap peas off the vine. Next year: way more peas, no cabbage.
Meet the Author
Rachael Miles writes ‘cozily scrumptious’ historical romances set in the British Regency. Her books have been positively reviewed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, which praised her ‘impeccably researched and beautifully crafted’ novels, comparing her works to those of Jo Beverly and Mary Jo Putney. Her novel, Reckless in Red, won first place in adult fiction: novels in the National Federation of Press Women’s writing contest. A native Texan, Miles is a former professor of book history and nineteenth-century literature. She lives in upstate New York with her indulgent husband, three rescued dogs, and all the squirrels, chipmunks, and deer who eat at her bird feeders.
Visit her at rachaelmiles.com
Genre: Historical Regency Romance
Publisher: Kensington - Zebra Books
Series: Book 4 in the Muses' Salon Series
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Heat Level: 5 Hearts