Archive for March, 2013

The Duel

DuelingPistolCambridge, England. March 1733.

Revenge required precision. Good thing he’d drunk only two bottles of Lord Oxford’s claret last night. ‘Twas fine, indeed, leaving barely a headache this too-early morning.

Stomping in his boots, Thomas Caldwell lit a taper and huffed in the cold air.

God’s blood! His breath could set the room ablaze. He tripped on the hearthstone and stabbed and thrust at the embers with the fire iron as if he were preparing for a swordfight instead of–this.

At least practice was improving his confidence.

“Robin!” He kicked at the chamber pot and fumbled with his breeches. The boy was surely awake. Servants, like soldiers on campaign, and swindlers, and god-forsaken swine as he knew himself to be, all regularly rose before dawn. Ruffians, the lot of ‘em.

The lad appeared in the doorway, head bowed. “Shall I stir thy fire, Sir?”

“No, no–too late for that.” Trying for a measure of kindness, Tom softened his voice. “Warm me some water, and have Mrs. Lang send up coffee and bread.” He sprawled against the mantel and massaged his temples.

Sure, drink was a Devil, alone. Better to have followed the late Baron’s example. Alex had spent a final evening in besotted revelry, with the company of tavern mates and a sweet miss by his side.

Would he had a Moll for a quick, rousing rub. His **** twitched when Mrs. Lang’s comely maid entered.  But the girl was not his to command. The pot of bitter black coffee would have to do. He poured himself a cup and leaned on the window casement.

The room faced east; the light was gathering there. He’d kept vigil with his elder brother’s battered body in a room like this. Two floors up, with bullet-glass panes making shadow patterns on pocked, red-painted floorboards.

Why the devil had Alex challenged a demned earl? A man of reason could have no cause to quarrel with a carbineer officer. Tom slammed down the mug and tore off a crusty bite of rye, then followed, frowning, as the boy carried the fire-warmed pitcher into the adjoining chamber.

“Thank you, Robin. See to the horses.” His voice was low and scratchy. Water splashed from the basin. Tom wet his cheeks, pulled his skin taut, scraped his chin smooth with the sharp-edged razor as he breathed in steam and heat. What did a man wear, when he might die before sunrise?

Crossing to the clothes press, he pulled out a crisp linen shirt and smelled the spring green bushes where it had dried and been sun-bleached after laundering. He buttoned his waistcoat, the indigo one, with silk-embroidered buttons, sewn in Spitalfields. Not his finest but well-fitted, dark enough to blend into the early morning shadows, loose enough to raise his pistol-arm swiftly. Handsome enough to meet his Maker.

With thanks to the readers at Dear Author First Page Features (June 2012) and Miss Snark’s First Victim Secret Agent Contest (Aug. 2012) for their critiques.

Read more excerpts from THE DUEL and its sequel HERE.

Read Full Post »