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Illicit Passion Blog 1

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ILLICIT PASSION

Prologue

Lisette Marsh sank onto one of the few sofas left scattered in a ballroom at The Westin overlooking Times Square. The premiere of the Broadway musical Night Magic had ended with a twenty-minute standing ovation, and she’d been on her feet for over eight hours prior to the all-night party. Three of them had been spent on a gruelling, unscheduled rehearsal caused by a malfunction in the mechanics of a swing that needed her, not a stand-in, to test it. She’d overheard the set manager swearing at technicians, and praying her understudy wouldn’t have to take over at short notice.

Bart, one of her two bodyguards, winked and moved between her and the chattering groups. She smiled back and closed her eyes. It was March the eleventh already: less than two days to her twenty-first birthday and Grant, and his wife, were laying on a party at Gramercy Park Hotel. Grant was Night Magic’s leading man and still the centre of attention, which took the pressure off her for a while. He was generous like that; he never failed to acknowledge her, his leading lady, in the second musical running.

‘Lisette, long time no see, darling.’

Her eyes shot open and she found herself staring into black ones she’d never expected to see again. Kevin Tyrone, the man so like her famous father, Michael Marsh, in looks, but his complete opposite in every way that mattered. ‘What are you doing here? How did you get in?’

‘My sister plays a minor role… Lisette, I came to apologise.’

‘Oh.’ Not the most brilliant of answers, but he’d astounded her. An apology over two years ago would have changed her life. He could have been an international star in the musical, Love without Chains, which had launched her career, and they might well have been married.

He took her left hand in his and examined her bare ring finger. ‘I embarrassed you, and I guess that was unforgivable.’

Bart tactfully kept his back to her, though it would only take a call would bring him instantly.

Kevin persisted. ‘I understand how your father felt about me. I’d feel the same if anyone upset a daughter of mine.’

Embarrassing her was the least of it. Kevin Tyrone had mauled and bitten her under cover of rehearsing a scene where she was naked, half-hidden in a shadow. The lighting had been so low the director had noticed nothing.

He gripped her whole hand.

‘Don’t you think Clement Fynn was harsh? He didn’t just sack me, he made sure I never worked in Britain again. It’s different in America, Lisette. His work is known, but he’s one of many… and he’s dead.’

Clement had been more than the director of Chains. He’d been the multimillionaire producer who wrote all his own librettos… and a friend. More than a friend. He’d been like an uncle to her. Was that why he’d done his best to scupper Kevin’s showbiz career forever? ‘Maybe Clement was tough on you but he loved me, and I loved him.’

‘I didn’t realise that…’ He dropped her hand and shrugged. ‘I was hoping now you’re an established star in the States you’d put in a word for me. You must have contacts.’

She did, and Grant had more. A word to him and Kevin would be on his way. ‘You’d be starting at the bottom, and this time you’d have to work.’

‘You could do better than that, darling. My sister Kia says Grant Lincoln’s understudy has health problems. The man who replaces him will take the lead when you and Grant go with the show to Los Angeles.’

Kevin Tyrone was capable of taking the lead, and equally likely to rely on her name and not bother giving his best. ‘I’ll mention you to a few people, and that’s all. You could make your own way if you tried. Kia is.’

His eyelids dropped over a hint of menace. ‘I never thought of Fynn as the father of your baby… and he wasn’t, was he?’

Her heart pounded and cold sweat chilled her body. Harriet, the chubby toddler with Michael’s black curls and her emerald eyes, had been born in secret and safely hidden as one of her mother’s twins for almost two years, until now. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. Kevin was guessing: he could prove nothing. ‘If you want my help, apologise. If you don’t my guards will escort you out, related to a bit-player or not.’

He moved closer. ‘Gossip about the true relationship with your father was all over the press, until you conveniently disappeared for long enough to give birth to a brat. You’ll do as you’re told, darling.’

A brat… he could calculate dates but he had no way of knowing if her child was Harriet or Kit… and what difference did that make? She couldn’t risk danger to either of them, or to Lizzie who cared for Harriet like her own even though she knew Michael had been unfaithful to her with her eldest daughter. She wouldn’t put Michael in jeopardy either. She’d turned down two proposals from men she’d dated; they weren’t him.

‘You will obey me… you will do everything I say…’

The voice went on, almost unheard. Incest was a crime in the eyes of the law and the church. Tyrone could ruin the lives of everyone she loved, or to whom she owed silence. The doctor who’d delivered Harriet and supplied false papers, Gran, her brother… and the shock would kill Grandfather. He’d assumed Kevin was Harriet’s father, and with his weak heart…

‘Kevin, Grant’s understudy strained his leg. He’s having physio… he could act now if he had to. The most I can do is ask around, and what can I say? You took a minor part in one of Clement Fynn’s less successful musicals…’

‘You will do it, darling. In the meantime, I have to live.’ He produced a card from his pocket with the logo of one of New York’s top dress designers, and printed below it was Tamsin. An unknown trying to make her name?  ‘From now on you will commission every gown for occasions like this… every costume for the concerts that promote your albums… from her.’

She shook her head. ‘I won’t have time for concerts for years. I’m contracted on Broadway for six months and then I’m going to Los Angeles with Night Magic. That could be another year, and I may be offered…’

‘Then you will buy gowns for the future, but you will buy them.’ He sneered, and memories of the real Kevin Tyrone flooded back. How he’d pretended to love her because she had influence with Clement… ‘I’m her new scout. It’s my job to persuade stars like you to buy from her, and I get fifty percent commission on every sale.’

Blackmail, and absolutely no way of proving she’d paid him a penny. Luckily he was still a fool: he’d found a way of extorting money, but so little compared to her earnings and the income from Fynn Productions, the business that she inherited from Clement and Michael ran for her. She could pay it and forget Kevin Tyrone.

 

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare

 

Chapter One

 

Harriet shielded her eyes from the sun glinting off the waters of Kinloch. Their mother, Lizzie, leaning back against Greta’s weight, was swinging her sister in a circle, feet off the ground and shrieking. When she’d been ten and Greta a toddler, she’d been able to swing her like that. Now, her sister was so tall she couldn’t make her fly and they ended in a heap.

A touch on her shoulder made her jump. She turned to find James grinning down at her, offering his hands.

‘Want a go, Harriet?’

Her brother was tall. ‘Yes, please. I’m too heavy for Lizzie. Michael swings me sometimes.’

A shadow crossed James’ face, or a cloud hid the sun for a few seconds. ‘You’re lucky. He was never around when I was a kid.’

She held on tight as the world spun and her thoughts with it. Michael Marsh, superstarsuperstarsuperstar… It was a lot to live up to and she couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing her father.

Breathless, she leaned against James. Michael was around now, mostly. He hadn’t come with them to Kinloch but he’d be staying with them at Lisette’s country house.

‘What’s up, Harriet?’

‘We’re spending the rest of the summer at Lisette’s.’

‘So?’

‘I don’t feel in the right place. I never know what to say…’

‘Lis is okay.’ He passed her his binoculars. ‘Quick… there… below where the red squirrels are playing. See it?’

She fiddled with the focus. ‘What am I looking for?’

‘A wildcat. Guests come year after year hoping to see one.’ He chuckled. ‘I wonder how many repeat visits Gran books, thanks to wildcats. The rest of the animals are so tame these days we can pretty much guarantee sightings.’

‘When will you need a secretary? Gran’s ancient.’

‘You applying for the job?’

Was she, sort of? ‘I can’t do anything else… can’t sing… can’t dance… I don’t even look right.’

James tousled her short curls. ‘You got black hair, like Michael.’

‘I’m short and fat.’

‘You are not fat!’

She was starving and it was two hours to lunchtime. ‘I would be fat if I ate as much as I’d like to… and look at them. Lizzie and Greta, and Lisette, are tall and they’ve all got Gran’s long red curls, only hers are going a bit grey. The longest my hair ever got was to my shoulders and it looked so awful I chopped it off.’

James laughed. ‘I heard about that, and Lizzie taking you to have the job done properly.’

Lizzie arrived beside them. ‘James, if you’re going out will you take Greta, please? I want to talk to Harriet.’

That made a change. It was usually Greta, Greta, Greta, unless it was Gran talking. She used Greta’s real name, Mairead, Gaelic for Margaret. ‘What about?’

‘You’re fourteen, so I think the time’s come.’

She followed her mother to the suite she shared with Michael, when he could get away from London. Lizzie couldn’t be thinking of a biology lecture. School had beaten her to it.

Lizzie waved her hand to the sofa in the living area and called as she disappeared into the dressing room. ‘Sit down, Harriet. I’ve got something for you.’

She’d been fourteen since the first of May, and her parents’ gift of a ruby pendant was so valuable it was kept in the safe at Mere House. Why would Lizzie give her anything else valuable now? Safes here were located in dressing rooms, and she could hear the taps Lizzie was making opening it. Perhaps it was an identical pendant with a spinel instead of a ruby, which she’d be allowed to wear more often.

Her mother returned carrying a tissue-wrapped parcel about the size of a thick paperback, far too big for a jewellers’ box. ‘I’d like you to have this now, Harriet, while you have the rest of the summer free to study it.’

Study… as if school hadn’t given her enough to do… She unwrapped the tissue and gasped. The book in her hands was no paperback. Covered in soft leather, it had a Tudor rose on the front and the rubies were pigeon-blood red, and the diamonds real, like the white ones in a necklace Michael had given Lizzie when Greta was born.

She peeped inside, where one of dozens of scraps of modern paper was trapped between pages that she thought were made of vellum. Writing, cramped by the printed text, was unreadable, but the paper carried what must be a copy, in Lizzie’s handwriting.

This sixteenth day of October the Year of Our Lord 1541, Methven Castle. I tire yet I must write for my beloved’s daughter comes hence. I pray I live to give unto her this book and charge her to give it also unto a daughter conceived in love. I direct and beseech my heirs to find love where they may. Love is a gift of God, not of kings.

Lizzie closed a gentle hand over her arm. ‘It’s yours now, Harriet, but I ask for your promise to obey Queen Margaret.’

She worked saliva into her mouth. ‘Henry the Sixth’s queen, Margaret of Anjou?’

‘No, this was James the Fourth of Scotland’s queen. Henry the Seventh’s eldest daughter. Gran gave this book to me when I was eighteen, and I’ve deciphered a lot of it, and cracked codes she used to hide her secrets. It’s up to you to carry on with the next generation, if you give me your solemn promise to find love.’

‘Me, not Lisette?’

Lizzie stared at the mountains towering over the woods beyond the loch as if she was wondering how to answer. ‘The queen says nothing about the daughter being the first-born.’

‘What about Greta?’

‘Greta?’

Her churning stomach carried a warning from Kit: never let her see you’re jealous. ‘She’s more like you, and Gran.’

‘Harriet, that doesn’t mean I love her more, or less. All five of you are equal. Margaret…’ Lizzie smiled. ‘I asked the queen if she minded me calling her Margaret years ago. I had the oddest feeling she didn’t mind. I talk to her sometimes, and sort of feel what she wants me to do.’

‘That’s spooky.’

‘Not at all. I know her instructions and her answers really come from what I’ve read in her Book of Hours, but they do pop into my head at the right time. Harriet, this book shows a direct line of descent from the queen, through females, to… to me, and I have three daughters, all conceived in love. I didn’t have to choose which of you should be next to have it. Margaret told me… choose Harriet. You’re very special to her: don’t ever forget that.’

She sniffed, hard. She was the strong twin: the one who never cried. ‘I won’t, and I promise to find love.’

‘And to pass on the book to a daughter of your own one day?’

‘Suppose I don’t have one?’

Lizzie gave her a hug. ‘I expect you will, but if you don’t there’ll be plenty of time for a son to grow up and have children.’

‘And that would be okay?’

‘It’s only happened twice in five centuries, but yes.’

‘I couldn’t give it to Greta?’

‘She was conceived in love. You all were, but it isn’t what Margaret wants.’ Lizzie opened the page where the last piece of paper marked the place. ‘This is where the translations end, where Jeanne, Margaret’s own granddaughter, gave the book to the girl you were named for, Harriet.’

She gazed helplessly at words surrounded by St Luke’s gospel. ‘I can’t read anything.’

‘You will, when you break the code. Your great-grandmother worked out the line of descent and the first few entries. I… I wrote out the rest…’ Lizzie bit a nail. ‘Actually I gave up writing them when I got to Jeanne… hers are computer printouts. Harriet, none of the codes were as difficult as Margaret’s, but she risked her life to give birth to Lisette. If King James had found out she’d taken a lover…’

‘Married to a reigning monarch? That’s treason. What would have happened to her?’

In Scotland, back then? I think she’d have been burnt at the stake. You’re the one who gets top marks in history. Ask your teacher next term, but be careful. This is so secret only the women who own it, or have owned it, like Gran, know it exists.

She rewrapped the book and crept to the suite she shared with Kit. She was supposed to sleep in the dressing room, and now she did have something precious to hide in the safe. There were instructions for setting the code: they’d played safe-breakers when they were younger, by guessing the code set by the other. This must be a combination of numbers Kit would never guess, which ruled out their birthday… anybody’s birthday…

She had one more peep before she placed the book inside. Written on the flyleaf were words she could read, slowly and allowing for s looking like f.

This thirtieth day of November 1489, Richmond Palace. I bestow this gift on my first begotten daughter Margaret on this her Christening Day. Tis my will and pleasure that she doth live humbly and reverently in obedience to God, to Henry VII by the Grace of God king of England, and to her lady mother, Elizabeth the queen.

 

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  1. Sarah Stuart

    Hi Annie. So pleased you're looking forward to reading the next book in the series. It will be out in 2015, but I can't give you a date yet. It would help if the characters told me the end but, like with Dangerous Liaisons, they're all keeping quiet.

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  2. Annie

    Hi Sarah, love this... so looking forward to Illicit Passion!

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  3. Sarah Stuart

    Hi Rebecca. You didn't see one shock coming, and it is grounded. So is the next -)

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  4. Sarah Stuart

    That's great, Rida. As you know, that was my second draft of a prologue. I think this one, opening the story with the next generation, is better. It also opened the way to a hint of menace.

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  5. Rebecca

    It's going to be a great sequel, Rita. I've read a little of it and it's keeping me guessing and is going to have some more surprises, I think.

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  6. Sarah, This prologue is excellent. It really connects Dangerous Liaisons and is very well written. I am waiting for your next drafts :)

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  7. Hi Rita I'm glad you're looking forward to Illicit Passion. I could suggest someone might like to kill Tyrone, but suppose nobody volunteers?

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  8. Sarah, I can't wait for Illicit Passion to be finished now! This excerpt has rekindled my enthusiasm from the first book, Dangerous Liaisons. I'm hoping you don't let Kevin Tyrone continue to blackmail Lisette. Can you kill him off?

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