Today, dearest Gentle Reader, I have a sample of Defy or Defend: A Delightfully Deadly Novel for you.
But first I thought you’d like a peak at the chapter titles of this book. You know how I love me my chapters.
Chapter One: In Which There May, or May Not, Be Sparkles
Chapter Two: Wedded Bliss & Other Complications
Chapter Three: In Which There Are Pointy Bits
Chapter Four: Why Not Be Tidy?
Chapter Five: In Which Sir Crispin Critiques Tennyson
Chapter Six: Dangerous Buttons
Chapter Seven: The Tragedy of the Colors
Chapter Eight: The Vampires Are Convinced to Throw a Party, Despite Themselves
Chapter Nine: On the Transcendent Nature of Interpretive Dance
This book opens with our hero, Sir Crispin, visiting his eccentric friend and learning about his new frustrating assignment.
DEFY OR DEFEND ~ CHAPTER ONE
In Which There May, or May Not, Be Sparkles
(Just prior to the introduction of the bustle. No, really, it’s important to know this.)
Sir Crispin Bontwee chivvied up to an impressively large chartreuse front door with a sense of overwhelming relief. Not because of the color of the door, mind you (which was a touch assertive, frankly, for a door – what did it think it was playing at?) but because of the possibilities that lay behind it.
The door opened, and the possibilities proved themselves to be a female of biblical proportions and eccentric dress. She was that particular style of solid British womanhood that held firm against both military invasion and recalcitrant pie crusts, rolling pin wielded with consummate skill in either case.
Sir Crispin knew her of old.
He bowed slightly and hid his grin, because both woman and door demanded respect. “My dear Madame, what a pleasure to see you again.”
“It’s you, is it?” Mrs Bagley pursed her lips to hide her delight and threw the door wide.
“At your service.” He strode inside, fairly vibrating with suppressed excitement. It had been ages since his last mission. He was restless with a need to fix something, or rescue someone, or perhaps both.
Today Mrs Bagley was dressed like a butler. She looked rather dashing, truth be told. Her cravat was chartreuse to match the door and her striped waistcoat was cut to perfection. Cris was mildly perturbed by the fact that trousers suited her demeanor better than they did most men of his acquaintance. It could have been worse – Mrs Bagley had once answered the door dressed as a yellow butterfly. Or was it a moth? Regardless, a winged cape had been involved. One was never certain what exactly Bertie’s housekeeper would be wearing on any given evening. It was one of the most exciting things about Bertie’s household.
“I’ve been summoned, Madame.” Cris always referred to Mrs Bagley as Madame. Mrs Bagley suited her ill, and anything more informal from Cris would cause a one-woman riot. Mrs Bagley took meticulous handling. He didn’t envy Bertie.
Mrs Bagley widened her eyes at him in pretend shock. “Summoned, were you indeed? Wipe your feet, young man.”
Cris was already wiping them. Mrs Bagley’s favorite thing was to give orders she knew were already being obeyed. She didn’t even pause for breath. “A new mission, is it?”
“Now, Madame, I can’t discuss such things with you, even if I had an inkling.” Cris drew himself up, but only a little – wouldn’t do to loom over a woman like Mrs Bagley.
“As you’re very well aware, I’ll hear about it later.”
“Of course you will, although I’m not supposed to know that. I must say, it’s a good thing you’re on our side.” He twitched towards the hallway, needing to move past niceties into useful activity.
“Are you sure about that?” She pretended a wicked glare.
“I live in fear, dear Madame. We all do. No doubt the fate of the War Office rests upon your discretion. Now, where is he?”
“In the conservatory, of course. Is he ever anywhere else?” Mrs Bagley marched off. Cris strode eagerly after, careful not to overtake her. It was pleasing to trail behind a woman who walked like she had places to be and people to kill.
The hallway was scrupulously clean and well maintained, despite the fact that the walls were lined with hundreds of tiny drawers topped by glass-fronted curio cases. There might, just possibly, have been wallpaper behind it all, but no one would ever know.
Bertie was a dedicated dilettante who picked up and put down interests obsessively. They walked past a beautifully mounted collection of wooden ladles (not spoons, ladles) and a display of Bertie’s own taxidermic caterpillars. It was a little like the natural history museum, only more eclectic, and with no apparent curation or connection between one case and the next.
Cris was so accustomed to the spectacle he barely glanced at the curiosities.
Mrs Bagley paused mid-hallway (much to his frustration) and turned on Cris, contorting her face into one of concern. It didn’t work well, as she was not a particularly sympathetic person, so her face went a little twitchy with the effort.
“Most distressing to hear about your father, Sir Crispin. I am sorry for your loss.”
What Cris wanted to say was, Hang my father, everyone I know is delighted that he’s dead, but one didn’t do that to a housekeeper, especially not Mrs Bagley. Plus, as an Englishman, Crispin didn’t like making others uncomfortable with real feelings.
So he drew his own face into an expression of sorrow and said politely, “Thank you kindly, Madame.”
Niceties observed, the housekeeper marched on, eventually opening the double doors to the conservatory with a jerk. Then, because it would take too long to find him amongst all the plants, she raised her voice in the manner of a governess, and yelled into the teeming verdancy, “Bertie, you blighter! Sir Crispin is here to see you.”
Bertie was undergoing a cactus stage. Had been for near on a year now. It was getting increasingly prickly at his house, particularly in the conservatory.
Accordingly, Bertie appeared from behind a large, fluffy bit of shrubbery clutching a pot from which protruded a small round cactus with a single bright pink flower. It so closely resembled a hedgehog wearing a hat that Cris was mildly startled not to see it sprout little legs and waddle off.
“Crispy, my dear fellow! What a lovely surprise to see you.”
“You summoned me, Bertie.” Cris spread his hands wide in supplication.
“Did I? How very peculiar of me. Have you met an Echinocereus engelmannii before? Isn’t it remarkable? This one just flowered. I think it’s rather jolly, don’t you?”
“Looks like a hedgehog in a hat.” Cris was one for honesty when it didn’t matter or hurt anyone’s feelings. He then took off his own hat and looked for a place to put it. There wasn’t one. So he put it back on his head. He’d never dare give it to Mrs Bagley.
“Fantastic, I say. I shall name it Wobesmere. Note the shortness of the internode? Just there? No, don’t touch! Nasty things, cacti. Now, let me tell you, one of the most remarkable things about them is the areoles. You see this bit here—”
Mrs Bagley interrupted him, crimson-faced. “Really, Bertie, Sir Crispin is suffering a great loss at the moment. Do stop prattling on at the poor fellow.”
“Really? What’s he lost?” Bertie had a large straight nose, beady dark eyes, and a wide smiling mouth. He had unfortunately fine hair, close cut, that had gone gray when they were at university together and begun a brave retreat some years later, so that he now resembled a surprised but cuddly mongoose. He mostly acted like one too, chattering and familiar, unless a snake was about. Then he proved quite deadly.
“His father, you nubbin.” Mrs Bagley indicated Crispin’s mourning attire with a flick of two fingers.
Cris would have preferred Bertie continue on in ignorance and get to the mission, but Mrs Bagley was clearly having none of that.
Bertie, a true friend, instantly forgot about the cactus and its areoles and dashed forward to clutch one of Crispin’s hands in his own, waving the cactus about dangerously with the other. “My dear Crispy, forgive me. I entirely forgot. Do come in. Sit down, sit down. Oh, there isn’t anywhere to sit, is there? Wait a moment. Eudora, would you be a dove and move those whatever-they-ares off that bench-seat-thingame there? Yes, I know, this is business. We ought to go to the study, but I don’t feel right leaving the engelmannii alone right now, not when it’s in the midst of flowering for the first time. Might put it off. You understand, don’t you, Eudora? No, you don’t, do you. Well, Crispy understands, don’t you, old chap? There, see? Sit down, do.”
Cris sat, minding his posture and trying desperately to sit still, while Mrs Bagley scowled affectionately and made room for them both.
Bertie plonked down next to Cris, cactus on his lap.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
And there you have it. Incidentally, it was because of this scene that I lost my tiny mind over this image when it came across my feed…
I really hope you enjoyed this sample and if you want to read the book you can find it at your vendor of choice.
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Tags: Behind the Magic, DEFY OR DEFEND, Delightfully Deadly